The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evening Prayer online      21st June 2020
Who's invited?
Jeremy Fletcher

Luke 14. 12 - 24
Remember what it was like to eat a meal with more than just your household? Eating with others reveals their preferences, their physical make up, their style. Some people treat food simply as fuel, for others it’s art and culture. The way you eat in a community says a lot too – remember school dinners? I always found silent breakfast at theological college a bit of a trial, but you did learn to anticipate people’s needs. You can learn a lot at a meal.
Perhaps that is why Luke the Evangelist depicts Jesus at lots of dinners, and why he sets much of Jesus’s teaching and ministry in that context. There are 19 meals in Luke, 13 of which are unique to his account. The whole of Luke 14 is told by Luke as if it’s one meal, and the food references go on into chapter 15 as well – the prodigal son’s older brother gets most annoyed at the banquet thrown by his father. This may well be Luke gathering together a number of events and stories with a common theme, but Luke likes food, and the occasions it’s eaten. When Jesus ate with people, more was remembered than what they ate. In these meal stories much is to be found about how the Kingdom of God works. 
For instance, where should you sit at a big ‘do’? If you’ve ever had to sort the seating for a wedding reception, or been annoyed at where you’ve been put, you’ll know this problem. People jostle for the best seats, the ones near the important people. Jesus watches the way people assemble, and teaches them a lesson in humility. Rather than heading for a place near the top. Jesus told them to start at the bottom. A simple lesson about feeling better when you are promoted rather than demoted takes on a whole new meaning when we apply it to the way we act as Christians in a world obsessed with success and prestige. Our place is at the bottom, not the top. Having been given everything by God, we don’t need to claim a prestigious slot in the gatherings we go to. There are greater things at stake.
Jesus goes on to test our motivations for inviting people to a meal. He challenges his hearers that if the invitation is about what it will do for you – either by gaining credit by having someone prestigious, or by using an invitation to engineer a reciprocal invitation round to their place - then you will already have had your reward. Jesus says that if you invite someone who will do your reputation no good, or who can’t repay you by an invitation in return, then you will gain much greater credit in heaven. Do notice Jesus’s exaggerated style here. He’s not saying ‘don’t ever invite your friends’. He’s saying that ‘if you invite your friends, then how much more should you invite people you wouldn’t normally expect to invite’. 
Luke 14 continues with the story of those who are invited to a dinner and refuse, and the way that the host then extends the invitation to the most unlikely. If we are sitting round the table with people just like us we’re probably not doing our own inviting very well. It doesn’t take much reflection to see this as God’s call to us to answer the invitation, and to extend that invitation to others. Many have seen in this parable a challenge to Jesus’s first  hearers, keen to ‘fence their table’, but at the same time unwilling to hear God’s call for themselves. The early church heard this as a call to extend the welcome to the Gentiles. We can hear it is a call to ensure that we have received the love of God – we have accepted our invitation - and to extend that not just to those we think will fit, but to all - not giving up until all have been invited in a way which makes sense to them. 
There are some very practical things which are a challenge to me from all this. The church is quite good at doing non humble humility. Just look at the way processions are organised, and the way the servants of God try to ensure their place in the pecking order. Just look at the kind of people who find it easy to come to church, and then ask yourself why others may find it difficult. If your restaurant is attracting fewer people, it may be time to redecorate, review the menu, look at the opening hours, think about the welcome. How can we reshape what we are inviting people to, and check that our menu is attractive? The pandemic has required us to look carefully at who is welcome and how they are invited, as well as the nature of how we relate to each other and how our table is set out. 
There is so much here that is challenging about the way we welcome and invite, to ensure that we are not just replicating ourselves, but genuinely making the love of God open to all. There is a challenge to ensure that we get out there and make the invitation plain. There is also much that is practical about the way we make actual food available to those who have little. If we are inly inviting the already full we are failing to make any sense at all of God’s invitation to us. If he are fed and others aren’t, we are condemned. Lots of that has happened over the last 12 weeks, and more will be needed.  And we should ask whether, if Jesus spent so much time eating with others, how can we both make food available and, eventually, share it with others. 
What we do with our food, how we eat together speaks of how we live together, and relate to each other. If the food is good here, and the atmosphere is genuinely enriching, what’s stopping us inviting others to enjoy it? They can only say no. Pray that they don’t – for this is the bread of life.  

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