Bishop Irja Askola, 9.6.2013 FELM Mission Festival, Messukeskus,ordination and blessing the mission workers.Sermon at the Mission Festival, Luke 14:16-24

The feast table has been set, an invitation has been given to enjoy the delights of the table and one’s friends’ happy chatter. This is the image Jesus presents to us when he tells us about God’s kingdom and our Christian communion. We sit at the same table, enjoy the same delicious dishes together, and meet those next to us and those opposite as friends.

Sometimes we may be seized by temptation, though. Maybe we’d like to draw the lines of that image into a slightly different shape? Sometimes, instead of one common table, we might prefer there to be several different place settings and groups of tables far enough from each other? And could the content of the meals be adjusted – surely not everyone needs to be served the whole menu? Couldn’t some people make do with a slightly smaller assortment of delicacies – surely not everyone is worth an entire feast?

We probably find ourselves with these kinds of thoughts at the start of the parable told by Antti. Every one of us comes up with all sorts of excuses when God’s open grace starts to seem suspicious, even annoying. What will come of it if the full membership and all the full plates of God’s kingdom are available for everyone? Offered and available without any conditions, without control, or even the promise of success in the struggle. The precise dialogue changes from one century to another, but I occasionally recognise in myself and my fellow Christians the same rejection of open grace and a dinner table open to all. Understandable as such; God’s grace sets no conditions, so of course it stuns, it shakes us orderly people.

Is the thought of God’s open table too wild for us?

However, Jesus is absolute in his teaching. There are no separate serving tables based on faith, lifestyle or skin colour. There is one God, one common table and equal places at the table for all people.

It almost feels as if there aren’t even any walls around the table, no lobbies with security locks, no doorkeepers to check if we can enter. There is only an open table and words of welcome! They are enough.

And the power of the parable only grows as the story goes on. All sorts of people are invited to the feast: unknown people, riffraff, and people who have gone off the rails. They get a personal invitation and at the same time, they get their human dignity. They become visible, recognised, invited into the group together with the others, and welcomed.

This is what it is to live as a Christian – to take joy in the shared table where treats are served for everyone.

What is on the menu at God’s dinner table, then?

There I find grace that can’t be made worthless by any shame, incompleteness or guilt.

I find forgiveness, which comforts me at the very moment when I was going to get stuck in the past and forgot that there was a chance for new beginnings.

I find an invitation into a communion where different people belong in the same group. Then people paralysed by shame or tied up by wrongdoing will be invited from the prisons of their loneliness into the joy of the encounter.

And again the core message of Christianity rings out: welcome!

Welcome to enjoy all the delicious treats, in spite of everything or precisely because of that.

Friends, this feast is strength and vitamins for us, in order for us to have the energy to use it also for our one-way ticket. So that we can go from this celebration into places where mercy has been forgotten, human dignity trampled on, or the trust in people’s mutual love has been broken. Our feast table feeds us and we can sweetly internalise its nourishment. But the secret of God’s dinner table is that it opens up our attitudes, doors and wallets. It directs the steps of our being into places where hunger, shame, mockery or rejection have taken control.

All of these things exist both near and far.

Very near and very far.

The vitamins of God’s festival table encourage us to cross borders and walls of all kinds.

God’s table of delights is one and shared by all.

People invited to this feast table and those who are fed at this dinner table will share their experiences: from God’s dinner table and Christians’ meetings will spread the aroma of freedom, joy and trust!