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Invite Whom?
September 2, 2007

Wesley United Methodist Church

LUKE 14:1, 7-14

Invite whom? The Pharisees must have thought, “He must be kidding!” Jesus was invited to dinner one Sabbath day by a leader of the Pharisees. The Jews of Jesus’ day were divided into groups or parties.

There were the Zealots who advocated a violent revolution to overthrow the rule of the Roman Empire.

There were the Essenes, ascetics who separated themselves from society.

There were the Sadducees, composed of chief priests, elders and scribes. They were the ruling, upper class.

There were the Pharisees, the party of the middle class. They were respectable citizens. They maintained high standards of purity. They strictly obeyed the ritual laws and tried to impose them on others.

And, then there were the poor. The poor were the disenfranchised. Most of them had been forced into homelessness and poverty by high taxes, taxes for Rome and taxes for the temple. Farmers had lost their farms and they often stayed on as tenant farmers.

The Sadducees and Pharisees had nothing to do with the poor, because they could no longer pay the temple taxes

How shocked they must have been when Jesus said, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors…When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.” Invite whom? The poor? In my house, no way! The lame, crippled and blind? No way. After all, they must have done something bad and are being punished.

But, Jesus told them to widen their circle, widen their embrace, widen their table and invite those who are disenfranchised, invite those whom society considers unworthy, the sinners, the weak.

Today we celebrate Holy Communion. We gather at the Lord’s Table. We feast at the heavenly banquet where Jesus Christ is uniquely present, where the Holy Spirit gathers us together as one family. Whom do we invite? How big is our table?

A few weeks ago I shared part of Esther Oda’s story. In 1943 she left the internment camp in Washington to go to Mississippi to marry her fiancé who was a solider in the United States Army. They asked the chaplain to marry them, but he refused to marry them because they were Japanese! A friend said, “Don’t let him upset you. I’ll take you to the YMCA. You can have the wedding there. I’ll ask my minister if he would officiate.” The minister not only came but he brought a crowd from his congregation as well. What a wedding they had! The Caucasian minister and congregation were Methodists. They had a wide embrace that included Japanese.

What about us? Whom do we invite? Who are welcome here? Are Latinos and African Americans welcome? Do we invite gays and lesbians? Are they welcome? What about AIDS patients? Are they invited? Are single mothers and their children welcome? What about the mentally disturbed, alcoholics, drug addicts, drug dealers, the poor and the homeless?

When Jim Crawford was appointed pastor of San Jose’s First United Methodist Church, five blocks south of us, the sanctuary had just burned, and they were using the education building until just recently. All sorts of homeless, alcoholics, and drug addicts hung out on the steps of the education building. When Jim arrived, the staff and congregation were intimidated by them. They found it difficult to enter the building, but no one dared to call the police in case the rowdies would retaliate. 

Then Jim came upon the scene. He went outside and began to talk to them. He treated them with respect and engaged them in conversation. He explained that they were welcome as long as they respected the property. He told them he would not tolerate any drinking or drugs or profanity. He told them if they observed the house rules, they were welcome. If not, they must leave and if they didn’t leave, he would call the police. In the beginning they did not quite believe him, so he called the police. A policeman had been shot across the street from the church, so when he called them, five or six police cars came blazing down the street with sirens blaring. The crowd was now intimidated and they quickly dispersed.

They learned respect. They learned that Jim meant what he said. They felt welcomed when they observed the rules. In fact, Jim occasionally invited them inside. Recently, the education building was torn down to make way for new construction. That solved the problem! But San Jose First Church has chosen to remain on Santa Clara Street. They could have sold their property for a considerable sum, and built elsewhere; but they chose to remain downtown, and to minister to the mentally ill, the poor, the homeless, the alcoholic and the drug addict, inviting them to the table.

A poem by that popular author, Anonymous:

I was shocked, confused, bewildered

As I entered Heaven’s door,

Not by the beauty of it all,

Nor the lights or its décor.

But it was the folks in Heaven

Who made me sputter and gasp---

The thieves, the liars, the sinners,

The alcoholics, the trash.

There stood the kid from seventh grade

Who swiped my lunch money twice.

Next to him was my old neighbor

Who never said anything nice.

Herb, who I always thought

Was rotting away in hell,

Was sitting pretty

On cloud nine, looking incredibly well.

I nudged Jesus, the sin bearer, “What’s the deal?

I would love to hear Your take.

How’d all these sinners get up here?

God must’ve made a mistake.

And why’s everyone so quiet,

So somber? Give me a clue.”

“Hush, child,” said He, “they’re all in shock,

No one thought they’d be seeing you.”

The Lord’s Table is big enough to include you and me. Who else shall we invite to the banquet?

There is another group in our community who are struggling. They are those who work but are not paid enough to live. We call them the working poor, folks who are doing their best without going on welfare or begging.

Elly Matsumura from the Interfaith Council will tell us more. We are asked to join churches across the county to urge corporations to pay all their employees a living wage, provide health care benefits, a safe and humane workload, and treat them with dignity and respect.

© 2007 Douglas I. Norris