We are now counting down the days until the official start of the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation, which will begin Reformation Sunday, October 30th. But we are also cheating a little bit here at St. Matthew’s, offering some events in celebration of the Reformation in September and October, starting with the Kaffeeklatsch with Bp. Bedford -Strohm from Germany and the organ concert and rededication on 9/7, which will be Reformation themed. So be prepared to hear and learn a lot of Martin Luther and the Reformation, and to think about its implications for our day and age.
Now a lot of things can be said about Martin Luther, the father of the church we today call ‘Lutheran’; but one thing I would like to highlight today is that he was a great host, much to the chagrin of his wife, Katie. The house they called home in the city of Wittenberg was a former monastery with many rooms, and, as it was custom in those days for university professors, the Luthers’ home also functioned as a room and board for some of Luther’s students.
So Katie Luther had not only to manage the household for her own family, which included five children, but had to make provisions for the students as well. But Martin went above and beyond just providing a couple of meals for the students; he made it a habit of sitting down and eating with them, and he would invite friends and colleagues as well, and, yes, the occasional beggar from the street, too. Can you imagine, Martin telling his wife some time in the afternoon, ‘Oh, honey, by the way, we’ll have 10 extra people for dinner tonight’?
Martin Luther was a generous host; there are stories that Katie, who already did her best in raising most of her own food stuff and even brewing her own beer, made ends meet by making many secret trips to the pawnbroker, surrendering the often very precious trinkets Martin would get from some prince supporting him.
But for Martin Luther, it wasn’t just about generosity and eating together. For him, the fellowship around the table was of utmost importance and meaning. It was so meaningful to Martin that he wrote in a document called the ‘Smalcald Articles’ from 1537 that meals, by all means, should be shared, for they give the opportunity for ‘mutual conversation and consolation’ and are thus symbolic for the participation in God’s grace.
And Luther’s musings we know as his famous ‘Table Talks’ show with how much depth, wit, and humor Luther looked at God and life.
I know, many make fun of our Lutheran potluck meals, we as Lutherans even make jokes about it, but now you know that we have a theological reason to eat together whenever possible. Whenever we come together and eat, be it here around the altar for communion or for one of our potlucks, we foreshadow God’s heavenly feast, to which everyone is invited. Around the table, we get a taste of what God’s grace means, for us and for all.
In Jesus’ days, table fellowship was almost an art. It was political in a sense, and statements were made by who was invited and who was placed where around the table. Well, I guess we still have some of that at fancy wedding receptions these days, right? I know that quite a few couples spend hours deciding who to invite, and then to pour over seating charts again and again. Usually with the result that someone is still going to be unhappy or insulted.
However, in Jesus’ days, a dinner would often be used by the host to ‘put somebody in their place’, quite literally. Favor or disdain would be expressed by simply placing someone around the table.
But then, of course, some guests had to be honored, due to their importance or status. And such people could assume they’d have a seat of honor, next to the host. Such people even would feel entitled to their seat of honor. And many would work hard and manipulate and what not to climb up the social ladder to end up in such a coveted position.
Jesus is observing all that as he is sitting down with some Pharisees, accomplished teachers of God’s law. And, as so often, Jesus seizes the opportunity during a meal to teach about God’s kingdom and God’s grace – and how it affects us.
First of all: all are invited. The high and mighty, the accomplished ones, but also those without a place to stay, those who are wandering, those who feel unworthy. There’s room for everyone. Otherwise, God’s grace wouldn’t be amazing if it didn’t include all, no matter, what walk of life they are on.
That’s the fairly easy and uncomplicated part. The harder part is: where is my place at this heavenly feast, the kingdom of God? Which also leads to the question, where is my place here and now, as the kingdom of God is breaking into our world and into our lives each and every day?
Are you happy with the place you’re in right now? Do you believe that this place is the place God wants you in? Is it maybe a place you got yourself into, without asking God if this is the place you should choose?
Have you become too comfortable with the place you’re in? Have you maybe outgrown your seat?
Especially in a church, many seem to settle into a certain place, and expect to stay there forever. That’s what I do, that’s what I’m comfortable with, I don’t want to change. Or even worse: I’m good at what I’m doing, and I will not allow any new person with possibly crazy new ideas to take over my place.
Can you imagine how hard it must be for someone who comes in as a new person, trying to find their place, afraid to maybe step on someone’s toes? Or to be offered the seat nobody else wants, oh, we need people to do this, why don’t you step up?
It is easy for someone who’s been around for a while to feel entitled to their spot, instead of asking, ‘God, where do you want me?’ That would be the humbling part Jesus talks about – that we go to those places that maybe are not the most desirable ones – but the places where God needs us most.
But what disconcerts me right now quite a bit is that throughout society, we’ve recently had so many things happening that show that those established ones, those very comfortable in their seats, seem to have this weird sense of entitlement – and deny others even a place at the table. The immigrant debate, the discomfort around the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, the opposition of some in this country to grant the freedom the founding fathers established in the constitution to moderate and peace-seeking Muslims in this country – you may think about these issues how you want, and I know these are not simple or one-dimensional issues, but just think for a moment – don’t we, who don’t have to fight for our survival and our dignity each and every day, don’t we, who are quite comfortable in the places we are in, don’t we feel a little too entitled as it comes to our status, and a little too judgmental about the proper place for others?
Who are we to say who’s invited and who’s not? Is this how we understand grace?
We can take nothing for granted. We are not entitled to anything. I am what I am through God’s grace alone, says the Apostle Paul. God puts us in our place. Which is, if you think about it, a great place to be: A place around God’s vast table. There is food enough to go around for all. And, to go back to Martin Luther – around the table, around a shared meal is this great opportunity for shared conversation and consolation. When we make the effort to sit around the table with those we usually wouldn’t sit with, there is a great opportunity for listening to one another’s stories and for learning, and maybe for overcoming misunderstandings and misconceptions we have about and the fear we have of each other.
I think Martin Luther definitely was on to something when he compared our table fellowship as a glimpse of the heavenly banquet, a place of amazing grace. And I hope that, as we celebrate the reformation anniversary, that we make an effort to come together around the table with friend and stranger alike, share food, share our conversation and consolation, and ourselves with those around us.