Around the Table: there is grace.
These thoughts started a conversation that was had at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, January 22, 2017. The discussion was based upon a reading from Luke 5:27-32.
I have developed a handout to accompany this teaching and, hopefully, further the conversation in your home or small group. You can download it here.
Click here for the readers guide and outline for this series. It is based upon the book, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, & Mission around the Table.
You can find other messages in this series using the following links: Around the Table there is Jesus (1/15/17).
Around the table there is grace. Grace is a thoroughly church word. The Church doesn’t have exclusive rights to the word, but it’s a word we throw around a lot. In the Common English Bible translation of the Bible, the word is found some 132 times—114 times in the New Testament, 12 in the Old, and 6 in the Apocrypha.
Strong’s Concordance notes that the Greek word, charis—from which the English word “grace” is translated—is used 157 times the new testament alone! The fact that in each instance we do not translate the word as “grace” goes to show the many different ways in which we understand the word”
How would you define the word grace?
I’ve thought a lot about grace this week and the best, most succinct definition I could derive was this: grace is kindness that bestows undeserved worth and value.
When Jesus sat down to eat with Levi (see Luke 5:27-32), there was grace. When God-in-the-flesh sat down with the tax-collector, grace was enacted.
Tax-collectors were pariah. They existed as outcasts in society. They used their position to cheat people. And, for the Jews in Jesus’ day…
[Tax collectors] were collaborators. They were working for the enemy. But there’s more to it even than that. The Jews were looking for the day when God would defeat the Romans and re-establish his kingdom. So it wasn’t just Jews verses Romans, it was God verses Romans. And the tax collectors had opted for the Romans. They were traitors to the nation and they were traitors to God. They were God’s enemies.
And here they are partying with God’s Messiah. God is sitting down and eating with his enemies.
Jesus, as a respectable Jewish teacher, should not be seen, let alone eat with such a person. He was colluding with the enemy. Eating with someone who was uncouth, unclean, and undeserving of his time. In the end, thought the Pharisees, God’s wrath would come upon such people. They couldn’t perceive how the Christ could keep such company.
Jesus unapologetically responded: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to call righteous people but sinners to change their hearts and lives” (Luke 5:31-32, Common English Bible). “The Pharisees are asking Jesus to behave like a doctor who avoids sick people. Such a doctor clearly couldn’t do his work. Jesus the Savior can’t do his work unless he’s with sinful people.” And that creates a dissonance for people who think themselves too good to keep such company. But, the truth is grace can’t be received by people who think themselves worthy.
Grace can only be found for the sinner and the lowly. Grace takes the first and makes them last, and takes the last and makes them first. Grace reaches out to and takes time to be with people who are treated with little or no worth, bestowing upon them a worth others do not see nor care to give.
Jesus took time to eat with sinners and tax-collectors because that is where grace is given and found. By taking time to break bread with outcasts, Jesus said through his actions that his dinner companions mattered.
The people we eat with are people are the people that matter to us.
Who do you eat your meals with?
Every parent has to feed their kids somehow, some way. If you choose to feed them Big Macs while they watch TV or play games on their iPads, you have made a value statement: “Our family connection is less important than your personal entertainment,” perhaps, or “I’m too busy to have to deal with you while we eat.” But the value statement isn’t whether you are a single parent and have limited time to cook or you work late into the evening. The value statement isn’t whether you have money to cook a homemade three-course dinner or whether you pick up take-home from McDonald’s. The value statement is about the choice of spending time together, whenever you can find it, at least several times a week, around a table, where you can connect together, talk together, bond together, share food (even if a snack) together. The value statement is about choosing relationships over isolation, making time even when time is scarce. Steve Jobs, one of the greatest innovators in human history, limited his kids’ use of technology in the home. The inventor of the iPad wouldn’t let his kids have iPads at the table. Every evening, Steve sat down for dinner with his wife and three kids at a long table in the kitchen, where no devices were allowed. Table time was reserved for discussions of history, politics, books, and current events, both on the world stage and on the stage of their own lives. It’s easy to say you’re too busy to spend time with your kids, neighbors, friends, church. But the truth is, you have made a value statement about what is important to you and what priorities claim top shelf in your life.
Who and how you eat with people is a value statement. What value do you really place on your kids, neighbors, friends, and church?
Jesus ate with Levi—a social outcast—and in so doing showed him that his life mattered to God. By choosing to eat with those most wouldn’t care to forget, Jesus demonstrated that “those people” were important.
The task is the same for us—those who strive to follow after Christ.
We can’t do our work of pointing [people—sinners or otherwise] to the Savior unless we spend time with them. The first thing Levi does after following Jesus is to throw a party. Maybe like Levi you introduced Jesus to your friends when you first became a Christian. But after a while you lost contact with those friends. Perhaps the church schedule left little time. Perhaps your new behavior made it hard to hang out with old friends. Perhaps you were warned of the influence they might have on you. But those who avoid the contamination of sinners are like the Pharisees. Those who earn the label “friend of sinners” are like their Savior.
And that’s what we’re called to be: a people who eat with the outcast, a people who are defined by grace, a people who through their kindness bestow upon others undeserved worth and value.
 Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, & Mission around the Table (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 18-19.
 Chester, A Meal with Jesus, 26.
 Leonard Sweet, From Tablet to Table: where community is found and identity is formed (Colorado Springs: NAVPress, 2014), p87-88.
 Chester, A Meal with Jesus, 26-27.