Love claims your kitchen table!
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
28 August 2016, 10:30 (THE FOURTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY)On your marks, get set ...BAKE!
Yes, we know the summer must be drawing to a close because The Great British Bake Off started again last Wednesday.
I don’t know how many of you watch it and like it but certainly its national viewing figures were a record-breaking 10.4 million!
People really do love cookery and baking programmes: chefs have become entertainment celebrities, and cookery books and websites abound!
Strangely though, many people don’t really cook at all: ready meals, convenience food and restaurants, bars, and fast food takeaways are everywhere!
We watch and read and eat; kitchens are refurbished as state of the art fashion statements – but many, many people eat from a tray on their lap or graze through the day.
However, in a week of summer sunshine and tragic news, why am I talking about a baking programme?
Italy mourns its dead from the earthquake in the central mountainous region, people have drowned off our beaches, children, women and men have again been slaughtered, maimed and tortured in Iraq and Syria.
Along with the digging out, treating the injured, housing the homeless and persisting in peace talks, the other great thing that we can do, and which is part of the life of prayer, is share bread, thoughts and love at table.
That is what Jesus is teaching us in today’s Gospel passage and throughout his earthly life.
Indeed the writer of Ecclesiasticus might have added that God’s revolution is achieved through the bread roll!
What am I saying or rather, what is God saying?
The table in your home is precious, holy and distinctive if it is used and enjoyed as Jesus did.
It is a missional and revolutionary place – it is a part of the altar of every church and a sign of Jesus’ radical life in the world today.
Throughout history the home and the table have been a holy sanctuary where from early times people according to primitive hospitality etiquette removed their weapons and ate together.
I won’t varnish it by saying that in itself this ancient hospitality has stopped feuds, murders and wars because patently it hasn’t.
However, our homes and the table are at best in our human lives a place of reconciliation, where dialogue can replace violence and where encounter can replace estrangement.
Our problem is that we have compartmentalised God and the holy away from our everyday lives.
For Jews and Hindus, the home is holy and hallowed – a place of prayer.
We in Christianity have lost this sense of the holy – we don’t even value our food and see it as precious so as to be treated with reverence and gratitude.
As Christians, the faith is not really effectively taught in our homes and families anymore – our lives are fragmented and people eat on their own and live in their rooms and their cyber worlds.
We are not connected as people but only as electronic entities. This destroys our humanity and also our sense of the holy in one another, the physical world and the encounter of sharing in body, mind and spirit.
It is this complete communion that eating together brings about.
Christians have holy places like this cathedral church and the altar and its food lie at the heart of Jesus’ command in the scriptures to remember him.
But he also needs us to meet him in our homes and in all those we meet and to recognise him in the stranger, the outcast and the unlovely.
It is only recently in our country since the 1970’s that people have begun increasingly to eat outside of their homes whilst at the same time still retaining the menial status of those who wait at table.
This is in contrast to our European neighbours who regard serving food and waiting at table as a lofty vocation and a noble art!
But let us return to Jesus and the parable that he tells us in today’s Gospel reading.
In the setting of a Pharisee’s home he warned of the need for humility amidst the prevalent closed society and status-ridden mindset of the religious elite.
And he ends with the anarchic injunction to break with the conventions of social niceness and have an open table, an open mind, and invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.
These people are outcasts and can never repay you; inviting them invites God’s eternal blessing.
This is shocking and reflects the very nature of Jesus’ lifestyle and social habits.
A biblical scholar, Robert Karris, concludes in his book Eating your way through Luke that "Jesus got himself crucified by the way he ate".
Yes, Jesus' table ministry was subversive and untrammelled.
Well versed in Jewish law and tradition, Jesus was called to the same table hospitality of that tradition but instead he opts for a diversity of table companions beyond the acceptable and respectable
The gospels record how Jesus feasts with religious leaders and old family friends; he dines with the rich and in the homes of the poor; he shares intimate meals and public feasts; he breaks bread with women and men, newlyweds and children, Gentiles and Samaritans, the revered and the reviled.
Jesus does not just celebrate table inclusivity but he also breaches the contradictions of Jewish law and Jewish sensibilities.
He eats with Gentiles, spends two days with the Samaritans around Sychar and clearly eats with notable sinners.
So that is where Jesus stood in terms of his table etiquette and choice of guests.
And the question I ask of you and me today is, can Jesus eat with us in our homes or do we keep him here exclusively in church?
I wrote about this in an article 14 years ago, recognising that God and his love reclaim our kitchen tables – which themselves form the very roots of the Eucharistic and its transcendent presence and gift.
Here, I said, was a common fragile need.
“Amidst these complex and confusing developments, people still find meaning and solidarity in television soaps and football, in clubs and leisure.
Telling the story of God and his love has to start where people are and it is food and faith, the kitchen table and eucharistic living, that I believe challenge the Church in this land to listen and to proclaim.
The human power of self has in its independence and freedom managed successfully to separate the sacred from the secular, the spiritual from the material, and God from his creation.
The kitchen (or dining room!) table of our homes carries the sacred species of bread and wine quite naturally – and people still can stop and talk and share.
The Eucharist is Jesus’ meal where he is both host and guest, and claims all human living with the promise of transcendence and glory.
The life and the mission of the Church wells from our common human hunger – our daily need for bread and our mortal need for Jesus, the bread that comes down from heaven.
The bakehouse and the brewhouse, the field and the kitchen, the pub and the party are holy ground. The incarnation claims all: love knows no barriers – the Eucharist claims the kitchen table! “
Reclaiming the kitchen table:
the domestic roots of eucharistic transcendence 2002
Our Jewish brothers and sisters still to this day lay a place for Elijah at the Passover Seder meal in their homes every year.
In the Letter to the Hebrews we heard this morning that hospitality shown to strangers is sometimes nothing other than entertaining angels unaware.
Our faith is to be caught and understood by the manner of our living and not by words and argument alone.
Christians need to show that God is to be celebrated – with warmth and friendship, laughter and care in the everyday holiness of food and in the social act of eating together.
The table of our homes extends out into the world – and the crucified and risen Christ is present on the altar and in our fellowship of the table in our homes and beyond.
This is the very heart and nature of the incarnation where food and flesh, nature, humanity and all creation become one.
Forgiveness and reconciliation begin in our hearts and our homes; the table is the distinctive sign of the God who is society, who is our neighbour, our friend, our host and our guest, our saviour Jesus Christ.
So watch The Great British Bake Off and bake your own showstopper day by day by opening up your table as the place of distinctive Christian joy and belonging! Amen.