Sunday, 25 September 2016

on saying yes to an invitation

Harvest Thanksgiving

‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ Psalm 34.8

These words remind us that God’s offer to be present to us and draw us into the kingdom of Heaven is an invitation.

‘Try this.’

It is something that is freely offered. We cannot discover it through belief, nor can we cannot earn it through good behaviour — though many Christians have tried both. It is only through participation that we discover how God will nourish us and feed us with spiritual fulfilment.

If I hold out a plate of cake to you and say, ‘Here, have some,’ you will have to choose whether to accept or decline. It is only in accepting the invitation that you get to participate in the pleasure of eating the cake. There’s no point in just looking at it and saying, ‘Well that looks good.’ Neither is there any point in saying, ‘I don’t deserve it.’ I’m not offering it to you because it looks tasty, or because I think you’ve earned it. I’m offering it to you because you’re my friend and I want you to enjoy something good that I have to share. And when we eat it together, there is a kind of special bond that comes from participating in the shared experience.

Eating together has always been something that unites people. An invitation is given, food is prepared, the guests arrive, then everyone sits down together and takes part in the meal; during which they are drawn closer together by conversation, and a shared experience of table fellowship.

Jesus was very big on table fellowship. He chose to eat with those who were most looked down on in society — the poor, the prostitutes, the thieves and swindlers. These were the people to whom he said, ‘I want to be part of your conversation, your shared experience, your table fellowship. I want to draw closer to you by sharing food together.’

And, then, on the night before he died, having supper with his friends, he commanded them to continue eating together in his name, because he would always be present to his followers when they shared bread and wine together.

This is the invitation that the church continues to extend, for you, and for others, to participate in. It's an invitation to participate in something that brings us all closer to the loving heart of God. And in this experience of sharing a love feast together, we are changed. We become closer to Jesus, and closer to one another, just as if we were sitting down to have dinner together.

Christianity is a religion that, first and foremost, is about participation, about accepting the invitation to taste and see that the Lord is good. We are not invited because we believe the right things, or even anything at all. Nor are we invited because we are on our best behaviour. We are invited because Jesus loves us, loves everyone, and wants us to know how good it is to be close to him.

Jesus didn’t ask the sinners he dined with to become perfect before he would sit with them. He didn’t ask them to sign up to a statement of belief before tucking into dinner. They were changed as a result of their encounter with him. When they dined together, participating in the experience of being accepted by him, belief and new behaviour followed.

I know some of you feel that you cannot take communion without passing some sort of test or qualification. Others of you may have been expected to jump through some hoops before you were allowed to take your first communion. But Jesus simply invites you to come forward, to taste and see that he is good. Eat the bread. Drink the wine. Step out on the great journey that is life with him.

When we accept the invitation, Jesus becomes a part of us. When we take his body and his blood into ourselves, we carry him within us, out into the world where we can extend his loving invitation to others. Not judging people first, simply offering them hospitality and generosity, to taste and see that the Lord is good.

Here at St Anne’s we pride ourselves on being a friendly and welcoming congregation, inclusive and hospitable. And we are. Which is why I want us to put these things at the heart of our mission to this community, this parish. That we continue to welcome the stranger, the outcast, the sinners, the frowned upon, and the hungry - whether a physical or a spiritual hunger. And also that we look for new ways to do this for people in our parish and beyond. We have something to share that is priceless. And having accepted the invitation and discovered for ourselves that God is good, we are not here to keep that to ourselves. Just as Jesus has freely and graciously given himself to us, and shown us the way to new life in God, so we must continue to share him with others.

It is hard, though, for us to enjoy table fellowship with one another when we know that there are people both in this neighbourhood and in the world who are hungry. Spiritually hungry, yes, and also physically hungry. So this harvest time we will be supporting people in need in this community, through our donations to the Foodbank. This, of course, is not just something we do once a year. Every week many of you bring in food for people, and put it in our Foodbank box at the back of church. It is one of the ways that we give something back, mindful of all the good things we have received. This is just one practical act of hospitality for those in need, one way of saying to them, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’

And so, shortly, we will bring our offering of food up to the front. As you bring it, you might want to give thanks for all that God has given you. You might want to think about the person to whom this food will be given, and pray God’s blessing on them. That as they share this meal that God has given them through us, they may know what it means to be accepted and loved by a God who gives freely without conditions.