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01.10.2021 Eating Grace Luke 5:27-35 Sermon Summary

by on January 11, 2021

Today we begin a new season focusing on “Dining with Christ.” For the past year our routines have been interrupted. We haven’t had weekly Communion or fellowship following worship. We haven’t enjoyed festive potlucks or receptions. And when we would have enjoyed meals at some meetings, we haven’t been able to.

My intention with this season’s focus on dining with Christ is that we will remember that Christ is always present with us even, maybe especially, when we are apart.

Since the liturgically ornate worship of the church emerged, with official Christian theologies, during the 4-5th centuries A.D., one meal of Jesus has been emphasized: The Last Supper. Before that it was another meal, namely the resurrection meals and especially the one in Emmaus.

But since the liturgical movement popularized in the 1960s Jesus’ other meals have been studied with great value for us today. The question has evolved over these years: First, What does Communion have to teach us about other meals? Then, What do other meals have to teach us about Communion? And most recently, What do other meals teach us about our own lives with Christ today?

Jesus eats in all the Gospels. Sometimes he is the guest, other times the host. He feeds the crowds, and of course he celebrates his Last Supper with his disciples. But meals and food are especially prominent in the Gospel of Luke. One biblical scholar notes, “In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.” (Robert J. Karris, Eating your Way Through Luke’s Gospel, p. 14)

Why are meals so important to Luke and to Jesus? One reason is that food is identity. You’ve heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” And I’ve heard people say, “I can’t function without my coffee.” And this Christmas we all missed the tamales that have become a Faith Presbyterian Church tradition.

Secondly, meals are so important because our identity comes also from our fellow diners. Perhaps you’ve had the experience where you’re sitting with people you admire or even idolize and you say to yourself, “I can’t believe I’m at this table!” Who we are comes in part from with whom we eat.

From the perspective of Luke’s emphasis on meals, one could argue that Jesus was killed because of his meal practice. He ate the wrong food, and he ate it with the wrong people. For example: Levi. Jesus had been preaching by the sea, healing in the city, and forgiving sins in a house. Then he sees Levi the Tax Collector.

What was Levi doing? Collecting taxes, of course. Where was Levi doing this? At a tax collector’s booth. Jesus commands Levi to follow him and Levi throws a banquet with his tax collector colleagues and others Luke simply calls “sinners.”

Think about this. Where are you likely to encounter Christ? You come here to worship expecting an encounter. And we design worship to facilitate this encounter. But you’re more likely to encounter Christ like Levi did: When you’re doing what you do, and where you’re doing what you do. And what do you do all the time? Eat meals.

Religious types don’t like this fact. The Pharisees and teachers didn’t like Jesus preaching at the seashore instead of the synagogue, or Jesus healing whenever he wanted, even on the Sabbath, or Jesus forgiving sins apart from the Temple rites. And at Levi’s banquet they can’t take any more. They ask Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Anthropologist Mary Douglas refers to meals as “boundary markers.” What you eat, and with whom you eat, show which tribe you’re a part of. They mark your social boundaries. Religious types believe that religious people, as Jesus claims to be, shouldn’t eat with Levi’s sorts.

There is a long tradition of boundary marking by religious types. They make the rules, but ordinary types can’t keep them. Consider Leviticus 21:17-20: “No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long,or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand,or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles.” (Ouch!)

According to the religious types of his day, Levi and his sort don’t get meals with God.

When I was in college at a very secular institution, I enjoyed going to the cafeteria with my Christian friends. Just as I was beginning to eat, they would say, “Aren’t you going to pray?! You need to identify with the tribe! Don’t be ashamed; stand up for your faith!”

And I would reply, “Oh, I’m sorry. Did YOU not see me pray? Didn’t Jesus say something about putting on a show with one’s prayers?”

The Christian tribe wanted me to “say grace,” to do the religious thing. But I saw that Jesus ate with Levi and his sort, and instead of just saying grace, Jesus taught us to “eat grace.”

Grace is present wherever God is present. Jesus brings grace with him. Grace was at Levi’s banquet. And where there is grace, there is salvation. The religious types couldn’t fathom this. Grace comes only through the Temple, they say. Today some would say grace comes only through Jesus but you have to come to Jesus for grace.

But didn’t Jesus come to seek and to save the lost? Jesus came eating and drinking with Levi and his sort. He comes to eat with you and your sort. And he comes to eat even with those you would be uncomfortable eating with. Jesus came, with grace and salvation, to eat with those on the margins. Tim Chester asserts, “If we reject salvation at the margins, then we reject the grace of God.” (Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus, audio book chapter 1 about 39:00)

As we contemplate Jesus’ meal with Levi and his sort, let me encourage you to envision one of two things. First, imagine Jesus walking by your doings, walking by your place. Imagine Jesus at your table this week. And second, imagine a table full of your personal “tax collectors and sinners,” the people you as a good religious person would never eat with. And imagine Jesus eating and drinking with them.

Then ask yourself this question: Will you follow Jesus, as Levi did, and eat grace with him this week? P.S. I think the reason the Pharisees ask Jesus’ disciples and not Jesus why they eat with tax collectors and sinners is because Luke is writing to his audience. The disciples of Jesus after the resurrection continued his practice of eating with the tax collectors and sinners of their day. Luke is offer them assurance that they are doing the right thing.

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