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Is Jesus Welcome at Your Dinner Party?

Speaker: The Rev. Darrell Goodwin

May 9, 2021

Sermon, Sunday, May 9, 2021
The Rev. Darrell Goodwin
Executive Conference Minister,
Southern New England Conference, UCC

Hello, Friends.  My name is Darrell Goodwin and I have the privilege and honor of serving as your Executive Conference Minister.  The Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ is made up of a compilation of over 600 congregations, over 1200 authorized ministers and about 120, 000 of God’s faithful here in the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.  So, it is a joy for me to greet you on behalf of all your other siblings in Christ, who are also worshiping in varying ways today.  I want to ask you to join me in a word of prayer, then I am going to sing a song, and we are going to move into more of the worship experience you have already been having.

Creator of all things, I ask you to send us a word that will strengthen us, that will enliven us, that will help us to see you, God, to see you more clearly, more authentically, a word that will help us be who you are calling us to be this day and this hour.  Amen. 

Listen to the words of this song:       

I will do a new thing in you,
I will do a new thing in you.
Whatever you ask for,
Whatever you pray for
Nothing shall be denied,
Sayeth the Lord.

Imagine God saying this to you:        

I will do a new thing in you,
I will do a new thing in you.
Whatever you ask for,
Whatever you pray for
Nothing shall be denied,
Sayeth the Lord.

What a powerful song: I will do a new thing in you!  The song is very personal because when we think about a new thing, we are often wanting to know about a new thing happening in someone else’s life.  We want to know about the new thing happening in an organization, or the new thing happening in something we are connected to, but we often don’t make a personal invitation for God to do a new thing in us. 

My friends I am here to talk to you today about a Scripture that many of us want to avoid.  The Book of Revelation is a little confusing, there is a lot of imagery, and sometimes it is hard to enter fully into the text.  But I want to focus specifically on the Scripture you heard read today Revelation 3: 20:  Behold I stand at the door at knock.  And anyone who would open that door to me.  I will come in and eat with you.  I will sup with you.  I will befriend you.

Friends, I am offering you this understanding that I believe that in this day and in this hour, Jesus is indeed knocking on the door of the Church.  Not only is Jesus knocking on the door of this church, but because we are the people who make up the church, I fundamentally believe that Jesus is indeed knocking on each and every one of our doors.  Another way to say that is Jesus is knocking at your heart even now.  And the question is: will you open the open the door?  Will you say: come on in!  Will you say you have a seat at this table, Jesus.  If Jesus has a seat at this table our table, our heart’s table, then we might assume Jesus just might have a seat at our church’s table. 

Because you see, my friends, what God is doing in you will affect what God is doing in the life of the local church.  Vision and mission and everything we say we want to be is birthed in who God is creating us to be.  Individually and collectively we make the dream work happen.  Imagine the Southern New England Conference over 600 churches each living out its own version of the good news.  When all 600 of us come together, living out our version of the good news to change the face of New England, then the world begins to change.  Each of us collectively are in communion, a community of people gathered together in one common vision towards transformative and strategic change, and that’s when things begin to happen.  It’s not that things were not happening individually, but its something about the power of over 120,000 people coming together to demand change: change around racial justice, change around gender justice, change around economic justice that the powers that be just might listen. 

Now I want to come back to you.  Again… to Jesus knocking on the door of your heart with the question: will you let him in?  Let’s go to the image of a dinner party.  If you had a chance to read some of my bio you will know that I am an avid dinner party host and occasionally kind of a pretend-bartender which means that I don’t really know what I am doing but I mix things up and hopefully people enjoy themselves when they come over to my events.  I got into hosting these events because I wanted to give people something to do, something engaging, something fun, something they might remember.  

I remember one 4th of July it was my great-aunt’s birthday, who is over 90 years old There must have been 90 people all over the house upstairs, downstairs, outside, and on the front lawn.  She had the most glorious birthday party she could have ever imagined. And here was the interesting thing: who exactly was invited to that party?  

Over time we have events.  With the coronavirus we have not been able to do that, but for the most part we all have engaged in some sense of how to welcome people into our homes.  We have a guest list.  There are the people you invite because you can’t wait to see them.  There are those you invite sometimes out of obligation because you know their feelings would be hurt if they weren’t, or the person who talks too much might tell them they weren’t invited, and then there are those who just don’t quite happen to make the list- and we might say we not longer had their email address or didn’t know how to make contact with them, or to be honest, they never came in the first place.  In each one of those, it is about who we are curating on our guest list.  You want to invite certain people who will make the event lively, people who are fun, who won’t make people feel uncomfortable and who are good-natured.  You aren’t going to invite people who will irritate other people, or who are going to distract from what is going on, or they are going to somehow bring the party down, as opposed to bring it up.  

Friends, if we do that at a dinner party at our house, imagine the dinner party in our hearts and the dinner party in our church.  You see, if we invite Jesus to the dinner party, he is going to be annoying.  Jesus is going to frustrate us.  Jesus is going to want to talk about things that we don’t want to talk about, things that make us uncomfortable, and frankly that we don’t want to hear.  You see Jesus is first and foremost going to bring up who is not at the table.  Jesus is going to mention the people we didn’t invite.  Jesus is going to talk to people about privilege.  Jesus is going to talk about racism.  Jesus is going to talk about how we threw money at a concern as opposed to intimately getting our own hands dirty.  Jesus is going to talk about our budgets, oh yes!  Jesus is going to talk about what we are investing in, and what we choose not to invest in.  Jesus is going to bring up the conversation that we do not want to talk about.  Jesus is going to make us feel uncomfortable.  But you see, my friends, we have been creating a table with a Jesus that only makes us happy, a Jesus who makes us feel good, a Jesus who pats us on the back because of the things we have done in his name.  But the real Jesus said I didn’t come just so you could feel good, I came to challenge you.  I came to stretch you.  I came to help you grow.  

You see my friends, when we invite Jesus to the table, it only complicates things.  He asks too many questions.  And again, he will make too many people uncomfortable.  I want to tell you a story.  My church had a ministry for helping those people with food insecurity, or maybe they didn’t have a place to live.  Because I wanted to be a good and thoughtful pastor, I said let’s not just serve meals, let’s introduce ourselves so we can have communion and community with the people we are serving, so we don’t think that we are just here to “do” something, but realize we were having a human encounter.  And friends, I felt very good, thoughtful and clear-minded.  And so we served a hot meal prepared in our church’s kitchen and we would say hi I’m Darrell, what is your name?  And we would offer a word of prayer or a love note the children had made- and we were doing the work.  So one Sunday after preaching a great sermon and collecting even more food and financial gifting to this ministry, a friend and I were walking downtown.  We were going to have a bit of a celebration after church – a late, late Sunday brunch.  So here we were, this friend and I, walking in downtown Seattle looking for a restaurant that we might rest.  As we were walking around, we encountered someone, one of our siblings who didn’t have food.  My sibling came up to me and said, “Excuse me sir, sorry to interrupt, but I am wondering if you can direct me towards where I can have some lunch?”  And I said, “Of course, tell me what you’d like and I will go and grab you something.”  Then the friend said, “Well excuse me, where are you headed?”  “We were going to grab something to eat, but that’s no problem, I can stop here and pick you up something.”  And the person said, “Well I wonder if I could go eat with you?” 

You see my friends, service was on the table.  Giving was on the table.  But this was Sunday and I had already preached about giving all I had, and I had given all I had up till now!  My sibling wanted to come eat with me?  But I had just preached relationship about introducing yourself and saying your name.  And  I had to question: was Jesus welcome at my table?  Because Jesus was in the hot meal, and please introduce yourself.  But could Jesus really be in the person asking to have lunch with me and my friend?  So, I found myself convicted about whether or not Jesus was really invited to the dinner party.  And I told this person, “Absolutely, come.”

I remember walking into the restaurant, and the restaurant folks immediately came to us to be sure that me and my friend were not being bothered by this individual, this other human being.  They wanted to be sure we were ok.  I said, “Yes, we are ok.  We were wondering if we could get a table.”  They looked at me quizzically, again curious, because, was Jesus welcome at this table?  So, after they sat us down, and someone else came over and asked to speak with me for a second and they pulled me to the side, and asked, “Sir, are you ok?  We want to make sure everything is ok,” because again was Jesus really welcome at the table.  And I said, “It’s fine, everything is great.  This person is joining us.”  “Well, do you know this person?”  “Sure, they are a guest of ours.”  “Are you sure you’re comfortable?”  “Yes”.  “Ok, we just wanted to be sure,” because the person didn’t look like a person who should be in a restaurant.  The person didn’t smell like someone who they thought should be in a restaurant.  They were unsure that this human being was somehow connected to the other human beings.  

I sat at the table with this other child of God and we began to converse.  And friends, you see I thought I was doing ministry because I was going to buy them something to eat.  As the conversation went on, they began to minister to me.  Everything I thought I was going to impart unto them, they began to overly impart unto me.  And though I thought I was touching them, they were touching me. 

When I ask you the question, “is Jesus invited to your dinner party?” what I am really saying is are you willing to get your hands dirty- proverbially?  Or are you willing to invite your sibling to sit with you?  Are you willing to get to the point in your own life where they make you uncomfortable towards a place of change?  You see, it wasn’t enough just to preach “introduce yourself,” God said are you willing to sit at the table.  And it wasn’t just: are you willing to let this other human being sit at the table, Jesus was saying, will you let me sit at your table?  You see this person I met on the street who came to me after a sermon was Jesus incarnate yet again.  It was an opportunity for me to stretch beyond the rhetoric of the mind, and stretch with the rhetoric of my heart.  So, I ask you, my friends, is Jesus welcome at your dinner party?  Jesus is going to make us feel uncomfortable.  Jesus is going to ask questions and you think, why would you ask that?  Jesus is going to make somebody so upset that they might leave. 

But at the end of the day, we are not doing the work of Christ if that kind of Jesus is not at our table, if that type of Jesus is not curating our dinner party, challenging us for what is next, and inviting us to a more fully alive place of worship, place of gathering, a place of community.

As your Executive Conference Minister, I want to be sure in the Southern New England Conference, that Jesus is invited to this Holy Ghost party… that Jesus is invited to what we are creating together, who we are being together, and what new thing God is going create through you, and me and us together.  

Invite Jesus to that dinner party! 

God bless you.

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