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Andrew Krayer-White - July 25, 2021

Open Table

During his time on earth, Jesus shared many meals, with a wide variety of dinner guests-tax collectors, religious leaders, skeptics, prostitutes, fishermen... Just as Jesus reveals his character through the words he spoke and the miracles he performed, he shows himself through the meals he shared and the people he sat across from. ___________________________________________________________________________

Hi, church. It’s good to be with you. In case we haven’t met, my name is Andrew. I serve as one of the pastors here. I’m super excited to open God’s word with you today. This weekend we’re kicking off a brand new sermon series called “Meals with Jesus.” Over the next several weeks we’re going to look at a number of passages from the Gospel of Luke, that take place, around you guessed it “Meals with Jesus”.

I think in some ways doing this series in 2021, seems very different than had we done back in say 2018, 2019, or just about any other non-pandemic year. For starters many of you are probably experiencing a little nostalgia, thinking oh yeah, I remember when we used to have people over, and eat food with them. Inside. Wasn’t that fun? Seriously, before 2020, most of us wouldn’t have thought much about our meals or the guests we entertain. But for the last year and a half, who we eat with, and how we do it, has actually taken on a lot of intentionality. Do you social distance, or not distance, masked or unmasked, is everybody bringing their own food, order out, or do they trust your handwashing etiquette?

I remember late in the spring of 2020, we decided we were going to have a socially distanced outdoor pizza dinner with our neighbors. Everybody picked up their own pizza. We had a fence between us and the neighbors on one side and lined up a few chairs to separate the kids from our other neighbors, and by and large, we followed all the guidelines. As we wrapped up dinner and began to clean up and fold up chairs and tables, our social distance measures started to wane. Right at that point, a couple walked down the sidewalk in front of our house. They saw us gathered with our neighbors and you could see the horror, the judgment, and disdain on their masked faces. How could you?

It’s not a perfect analogy, but it gives us a small taste of what it was like in first-century Israel. In Jesus’ day, the who and how of eating together was really important. Eat with the wrong people, or in the wrong way – and you were bound to get some disdainful looks or worse. It didn’t seem to bother Jesus that much, in fact, he worked pretty hard to flip those expectations on their head. But that is the context that surrounds many of the meals we’ll be looking at throughout this series.

The message we’re looking at today is called "Open Table", though it doesn’t begin at a table, it begins on the road. If you’d like to open your Bibles or your Bible App, we’re going to be in Luke chapter 5, beginning at verses twenty-seven. The first thing I want to suggest about this story is that it follows an odd progression. You might say that it begins with a response to a call, followed by a method, and lands with the motive. That is we see someone respond to Jesus, and subsequent to that we learn more about Jesus’ method of doing ministry, or the how of ministry, and conclude with his motive, or the why. That’s how we’ll walk through the text: response, method, motive.

Throughout the preceding chapters in Luke, Luke has been telling us of all the things Jesus has done, of the miraculous healings, teaching, and a recurring theme of amazement that Jesus provoked in all he encountered, even despite some opposition. Luke chapter five, launches a new stage, as Jesus began calling disciples. Given the notoriety that Jesus was accruing his first choice of calling a few unlearned fishermen to follow Him was a surprising turn. That being said, nothing would have prepared a Jewish audience for the next invitation he extends later in the chapter. In verse 27, of chapter 5 Luke tells us, “After this” that is after another miraculous healing “he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

Shortly before this, on the Lake of Gennesaret, Peter and Andrew, James and John had been a part of “The great catch of fish,” an event so miraculous that, Peter, a seasoned fisherman fell at Jesus’ feet and responded, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” We appreciate Peter’s self-awareness and confession. Most of us will admit with Peter that we are all sinners. But the subsequent calling of Levi, a tax collector, for observant Jews in Jesus’ day that was taking this embrace of sinners thing a bit too far. For so many reasons tax collectors were seen as enemies in Jewish culture. They were viewed as siding with the pagan occupying force: the Romans. Every time you paid a toll to one of these tax collectors, part of that fee supported the roman soldiers housed in your region. On top of that this ongoing interaction with gentiles made the tax collectors perpetually ritually unclean. But worst of all, they weren’t just unclean, complicit bureaucrats. They were businessmen. They were out to make a profit, at the cost of their fellow countrymen. They never just took what was required they took the required and a little more. Or a lot more. They were political, religious, and socioeconomic outcasts.

In the two stories that precede Levi’s call, Jesus miraculously healed a leper and then a paralytic. Many commentators have suggested that Levi’s call is the greater miracle. For turning a rich tax collector away from the love of his ill-gotten gains is far harder than cleansing the leper or enabling someone to walk again. Whether or not that’s true, the point is well taken. There is something miraculous that happened here in Levi’s call and transformation. The way Luke has stacked up these stories is intended to establish that very point. The Gospel has the power to change everything for anyone. No one is too far gone or beyond the pale, it has the power to change all of us. Yes, we have a part to play in responding, as Levi did, but the power to change resides with Jesus. Peter and the others got a sampling of Jesus’ teaching, they got signs and wonders in the catch of fish. Levi got two words “follow me” and inexplicably he was on his feet with his life in the rearview.  We’re told Levi left everything and followed Jesus.

But clearly, everything requires a bit of nuance. For Luke tells us “Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them.” In other words, the “everything” that Levi left did not include Levi’s house, did it?

Let’s unpack what everything does mean. We know, from the other gospel stories and church history, Levi – is the disciple and Gospel writer Matthew. Don’t let that confuse you. There were many in Jesus’ day who had a Hebrew name and an Aramaic name, so maybe that accounts for the difference, or perhaps Jesus renamed Levi Matthew, as he renamed certain other disciples. The point is, Levi or Matthew is counted as one of the twelve disciples. Leaving everything for Levi, clearly meant leaving his identity and calling as a tax collector and embracing a new identity as a disciple of Jesus.

Perhaps the best way we make sense of his home, is that while in a way it remained his, for all intents and purposes he had surrendered it to gospel ends. In following Jesus he embraced something that hopefully we all can embrace. That all that we have is the Lord’s. We’re given stewardship over it, but that’s not so much about possession as it is responsibility. As disciples of Jesus, we should regularly ask ourselves the question: How am I using the things God’s blessed me with for Kingdom purposes?”

Levi does that with his home and does it with his wealth. With his wealth, Levi threw the great banquet. That word banquet is kind of lost on us. It sounds like something stuffy, formal, and with too many speeches. But it means a great feast. Whatever the best food was in Jesus’ day it was there and copious amounts of it. Probably wine as well. We’re Baptist so I’m contractually bound to suggest it was non-alcoholic. But this is a party. What incredible way to respond to the gospel? So jubilant was he with the new call on his life and relationship to Jesus that he threw the most lavish party he could.

Even at the party, there’s a kingdom purpose involved. As a tax collector, the only people Levi would have known and hung around with were other tax collectors and the kind of people that associated with other tax collectors. It’s certainly not the cream of the crop in their society. This was a collection of outcasts and outsiders, and in many cases, they were not victims. Levi was thinking this Jesus of Nazareth transformed my life and invited me, a lowly tax collector to follow him. I’ve got to get him in a room with all my friends. They’ve got to hear His message. Levi wasn’t just surrendering all his possessions to Jesus, he was surrendering his relationships as well. Jesus, all of my life, it’s yours. Whatever you want to do with it. It’s yours. In the house that was Levi’s life, there was not a room into which Jesus was not invited. Man, if that could be said of us. You know what I’m talking about don’t you? We invite Jesus to be Lord of our lives, but there are areas that we keep just for us. Rooms that we keep closed, locked, and off-limits to Jesus. Jesus, you can have it all but this. All but my finances, they’re mine. All this - but my career. My dreams, my friendships, or my sexuality. Whatever it is, we say, no Jesus you can’t go in that room, that’s still mine. Following Jesus means saying Jesus, here’s the key: you get it all.

In the brief section Luke is demonstrating the power of the gospel to transform, and the appropriate response to the gospel. The Gospel, when fully understood and fully embraced leads us to joyfully surrender everything to Jesus. We might not leave a job, home, or our family to follow him, but in a very real way, they are all under new ownership and for a new purpose.

Not everybody was as excited about this as Levi was. “The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” What they’re questioning is Jesus’ method. If you keep reading through Luke you see that this becomes such a regular habit of his ministry, that Jesus gains the reputation as a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’”

The Pharisees weren’t just the fun police. We tend to read them through the lens of their conflicts with Jesus and the early church. But before Jesus came on the scene they were revered and honored. We can take issue with their method, but what they were aiming at: the renewal of Israel, wasn’t a bad thing. They looked around and saw a world that is not as God intended it to be. As mentioned earlier, there was foreign rule over the promised land in the form of the Romans. The lack of a Davidic King on the throne. Corruption and defilement in the Temple priesthood. Not to mention the normal everyday sin and brokenness in individual lives and their communities. The general perspective was while a remnant of God’s people had returned from Exile in Babylon, God’s people remained in a form of spiritual exile. The Pharisaic solution was a program of rigorous purity and holiness. If only they were more devout. God would respond. They took the purity codes in the book of Leviticus that were intended for the Priests to be observed certain seasons of the year. And they brought it into their homes, particularly the table, and prescribed it for all Israel. They believed that if all Jews were able to maintain a certain level of holiness, God would bring about His messiah, his reign, and the long-awaited renewal. Those who failed to maintain these codes, whether, by omission or commission, sinner or sick were excluded in their minds and practices from being the true Israel. This is cancel culture before cancel culture was a thing.

I hope it’s not lost on you, but in our political culture, both sides of the spectrum are promising renewal, whether through it’s a secular egalitarian utopia or in an America made great again. Either way, it’s the result of our effort - through a pharisaical strict adherence to ideological purity. Failure to abide by the vision of the left and you’re a fascist, failure on the right and you’re woke or a rhino.

But that’s not how our world is renewed. It’s renewed through Jesus. His statement at the outset of his ministry in Luke claimed as much “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The Pharisees didn’t have a problem with that. When Jesus recited this in the synagogue in Nazareth everyone spoke well of Him. What they had a problem with was the way he went about it. Eating and drinking with those they deemed ritually and spiritually unclean. In direct opposition to the Pharisee's exclusivism, Jesus embraced a radically inclusive form of table fellowship. It was like an enacted parable, a depiction of what God’s kingdom is like: celebration and embrace. Jesus knew renewal doesn’t come through devotion to religious practice and exclusion. That’s not what’s going to make Israel great again. Jesus claimed renewal comes through a relationship with me. His ministry is characterized by incarnation and invitation. When I say incarnation most of you probably think of the big picture second person of the trinity leaving heaven and coming to earth, and becoming human. And that’s certainly part of the method, but more specifically, it’s how he showed up in their zip code. He sat with them in their homes, ate with them at their table, and invited them into a relationship with Himself. Especially those who no one wanted to enter a relationship with. Incarnationally, Jesus met us in the grit and grime of life, rejoiced with us, grieved with us, bore our struggles, and invited us into a life that’s truly life.

It’s important that to read this story in its broader context. Jesus’ ministry was to sinners, but it’s also for the Saints. It’s inviting people into the kingdom, but also discipling them into maturity. We followers of Jesus, are called, to do what Jesus does. That’s what discipleship is. When Jesus told Peter “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” this is what he meant. Peter, this is how we do it. This is how we catch people. We’re going to a party.

When the Pharisees ask the disciples the question “why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners” it’s not the disciples who answer, is it? It’s Jesus. This is just me, but I think the reason the disciples didn’t respond is because they didn’t know the answer yet. Jesus hadn’t explained it to them. This was on-the-job training, learning to catch people. So now when Jesus answers the Pharisees question, he is he’s also teaching the disciples, this is what it looks like to follow me. Sitting with these kinds of people, hearing their stories, and love them. Inviting them into Kingdom life and celebrating when they return. Jesus’ method was incarnation and invitation and establishing a church that would continue, His work of proclaiming the gospel incarnationally and invitationally.

This is a message that a lot of us have forgotten. We love Jesus’ embrace of sinners and boundless grace and forgiveness when it’s for us. We have a lot harder time being the embracing body of Christ we’re called to be when it’s the other. When it’s messy. Do you want me to enter their lives and spaces, and form a relationship? Really, Jesus? Won’t they think that we’re approving of their sinful actions? Won’t they think I’m embracing their worldview? How many of us are actually in danger of being slandered for being a friend of sinners? Not because we’ve assimilated, and lost our saltiness, but because of how often we’re stepping into the lives of the lost around us…not just standing at the door, but reclining at the table with them. That’s Christ-likeness.

The Pharisee's question to the disciples “why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?” is built around a world view that in the last eighteen months we’ve become intensely familiar with. As health care workers told us one of the riskiest things we can do regarding COVID-19 is eat with others, lest someone sick passes the germs to us. In Jesus’ day, eating with sinners and tax collectors was considered not just risk, but dangerous because of the widespread belief that eating with someone unclean will contaminate you and make you unclean.

Do you know who wasn’t worried about that? Jesus. I shared this passage was preceded by two healings, in the first, a Leper approached Jesus and bowed at his feet and begged Jesus, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He recognized Jesus’ power, that at his command, Jesus could heal and restore him. At this “Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him.” Jesus didn’t need to touch the leper, but he did. He didn’t fear becoming sick as the man was sick, made unclean as the man was unclean. Jesus knew that the life that courses through him overtakes impurity and conquers sin. In calling Levi to follow him, eating with sinners and tax collectors, he wasn’t in jeopardy of becoming as they were, quite the contrary, our relationship with Jesus is the very process by which we become as He is.

In answer to the question posed to his disciples Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” The word for repentance in greek metanoia means to change your mind, in Hebrew it’s teshuva, return or turn around. Either way, the idea is to leave the destructive course you’re on and come back to God. Jesus defines his ministry and purposes as one built on calling sinners to that kind of repentance. But there’s more to it. So far in Luke’s gospel, Jesus has described his role as a healer, and of course, he’s demonstrated that countless times, and now he’s calling himself a physician. It’s one thing to heal a paralytic or leper, other prophets have done that. It’s another thing entirely to heal someone of their sinfulness.

Jesus seems to be drawing on Isaiah 53. There Isaiah spoke of the suffering servant. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

This is our physician's work. To heal us of our sinfulness, turn us back to the Father, and to establish peace in our broken relationship with Him. Our physician didn’t catch our sinfulness, he bore it, in order that through His death, our eternal illness might be healed. This is what drove Jesus, not only to proclaim the message of repentance but to become the very avenue by which repentance was made possible. The why, Christ’s motive, was the restoration of us sin-sick sinners.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis has a chapter called the good infection. In it, Lewis says “Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the things that has them.” If you want to be healed, you must come to the healer. If you want to be restored, draw near to one who makes restoration. If you want to be loved, knock and the door shall be opened to you.

As we close, I know some of you feel cold and far from God. My invitation to you is to come sit by the fire. You who are dry, jump in the pool and get wet. As James says, draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Confession and repentance. Prayer. Worship. Reading his word and gathering with his people. These are the practices through which we experience the fire.

My encouragement to the disciples among us is that we would be the kind of church that reflects the method and motive of our Lord. At Pentecost, we’re told that fire of the Spirit has come to rest on us. In John, we’re told that the Spirit within us will flow like rivers of living water. Let’s not wait for them to come to us, as Jesus did let us go to them, draw near to the outcast and outsider, that they may be warmed and they may be wet, by the one who powerfully resides within us. Let us be bold and may our community and our world experience the presence and proclamation of Jesus our risen Lord through us His church as we enter into their lives, recline with them at the table, and love as we are loved.

Let’s pray...

Gracious God. We praise you that you saw us, not mending our nets, or sitting at the tax booth, but from the very creation of the world, you’ve known us. It was you who knit us together in our mother's womb, and you who know the number of the hairs on our head. Lord, we will never fully understand your love, but we know what your word says about it “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Lord help us to live lives shaped and defined by the truth, of your unimaginable love for us. And Holy Spirit, help us to extend that love to those it’s so hard for us to imagine loving at all. Would you make us into the kind of people that reflect your son to the world in all his scandal.

From Series: "Meals With Jesus"

During his time on earth, Jesus shared many meals, with a wide variety of dinner guests-tax collectors, religious leaders, skeptics, prostitutes, fishermen... Just as Jesus reveals his character through the words he spoke and the miracles he performed, he shows himself through the meals he shared and the people he sat across from.

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