“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. . .
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. ‘Your brother has come,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. . .
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
We know the story; we’ve heard it many times. I want us to hear tonight the father’s invitation to his sons. The younger son had just returned from squandering his wealth in wild, hedonistic living. To him the father said, “I’m preparing a feast. Come, sit and eat with me.” The son returned home hoping to be received as a servant or hired hand, but he was invited to the table as a son.
And to the bitter, older brother, the father also said, “I’m preparing a feast. Come, sit and eat with me.”
The brothers received the same invitation. Both had wronged their father, each in his own way, but their father’s desire was that they come and sit with him at his table. Why was this? I believe the father knew it is at the family table that things are made right, hearts are opened, and relationships are restored. In sharing a meal with someone, we share so much more.
Let me tell you a little about the kitchen table of my childhood. We had a round oak table that stood in the middle of our kitchen. It was the heart of our home, for here our family identity was established. This was the one place we gathered on a daily basis, together, all seven of us, at the same time in the same place. Here we learned what it meant to be a Luke. My parents were fairly strict, but their strictness was rooted in love and laughter. Supper around that table was a time for teaching, mostly by example. Here we observed our parents’ interactions with one another and learned respect. Here we argued and laughed and talked over one another and claimed the last pork chop on the platter and gagged over our vegetables (well, that was mostly just me…). And here, over the years, we began to pattern our interactions after our parents and learned how to honor and enjoy one another. Here the exciting and happy and frustrating and unfair and frightening and humiliating aspects of the day were shared and were reframed in the security of our family gathered around the table. Here we learned how we Lukes lived, how we handled adversity or success or injustice, and we were given the Foundation for our lives. And here, daily, at the old oak kitchen table, in an atmosphere of love and belonging, the reset button was pushed; we were reoriented; and we found rest. We were home.
Pastor Aaron has mentioned several times lately the “ABCs of Faith” (Admit, Believe, Confess, and Devote). Often we don’t get very far past the Admit and Believe and Confess of Christianity. We often feel stuck and frustrated and wonder why we can’t seem to find victory over sin or joy in our lives. And when we hear the call to be Devoted, we receive it as a demand to do better, do more, try harder, or run faster. But I don’t think that’s what it means at all.
We know the verses, like John 3:16, where we are called to believe. And they are important, the foundation for everything that follows. But let’s look at some of the other invitations Jesus gives us:
- “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)
- “Remain in me, as I also remain in you.” (John 15:5)
- “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. (John 7:37)
- “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)
Follow me, come to me, remain in me, be yoked with me. These are “around the kitchen table” kinds of words. Our faith isn’t one of “try harder, run faster.” The devotion God wants from us is to come to his table, to invite him to ours. He wants us to spend time with him, to get to know him, to learn from him in much the same way that my brothers and sister and I learned from my parents around our old oak kitchen table.
“You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.” Have you ever thought about that? When you are surrounded by your enemies (literal human enemies, menacing spiritual forces, accusing voices, unending demands on your time, kids home from school for one too many days…), he “sets a table” for you? Why does David use those words, that image? A table in the middle of this battle? We’re going to sit down in the middle of this and eat? Wouldn’t a fortress be better? Or an escape hatch? Or a battalion of angels fighting on my behalf?
But could it be that to sit at a table with our God is exactly what we need in the midst of the battle?
I’m learning to make the time to sit with God at my kitchen table, my favorite place now in my home. I ask God the Holy Spirit to sit with me in that time, to lead me into truth, as Jesus said he would do – to teach me about himself, about his ways and his kingdom; to teach me about myself, to show me the depths of my heart; and to shape and mold me. I read the Bible in these times and I write a response to him from those scriptures. I also read a bit in some other book or article and ask him to speak to me through them.
God is preparing a feast, the Great Wedding Banquet, for heaven where we will sit with him at a table, and he invites us, pleads with us, to be there. We cling to the hope of that glorious day.
But he also sets a table for us NOW, in the presence of our everyday lives – HE prepares it, isn’t that cool? – and he invites us to come to it. I encourage you to come to the table. Often. Regularly. Be reminded that he is your Father, your provider. Listen to him, learn from him, ask him for help, ask him to teach and correct you. Know that he sees you and he wants to hear your stories. Rest in the fact that you belong at the table as his daughter, let him renew your identity. You are his child.
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you with me.
Come to the table.