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Luke 15: 1-10
15 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
3 And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
5 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
8 Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
9 And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.
10 Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
Last week Rosemary and I went to a concert and supper at stationers' Hall. It was an excellent concert and then we moved into another part of the hall for the formal supper. There was a table plan, and I saw that Rosemary and I were not sitting together: we were seated at some distance from each other between strangers.
Now one's heart sinks a bit when this happens because we've all been to functions where you find yourself sitting next to someone with whom you've nothing in common, or who has no conversation at all: it can be very hard work.
On this occasion that didn't happen. We both found ourselves next to people with whom we found things in common, topics to share. The conversation flowed, and the evening went splendidly. We connected, and strangers became if not friends then people it would be a real pleasure to meet again.
That's the great thing about dinner parties - they can be wonderful opportunities for bringing people together, breaking down barriers and mixing people up as you share food together. That's why people have a big party after a wedding, so that the two families can get to know each other, even if they don't have much in common and may not see each other much. Sharing food is good - it brings people together.
Jesus seems to have been rather good at bringing people together over supper. He certainly enjoyed eating with all sorts of people - indeed he got a bit of a reputation for enjoying a good time and mixing with the wrong sort of company. In today's Gospel story Jesus, we are told, welcomes sinners and eats with them: that's what the religious authorities say, and they don't like him for it.
Now the word sinner to us tends to have the meaning "morally bad person" but in Jesus' day and in Judaism it was a technical term for someone outside the Mosaic Law, a Gentile, or just the common people generally who didn't fulfil all the complex traditions of the Pharisees, the religious elite. So "sinner" tended to mean 'outsider', and from the Gospels it is obvious that Jesus had a particular concern for them. The despised tax collectors were an obvious example of outsiders, people like Matthew and Zacchaeus.
Jesus makes a point of associating with outsiders, with the common people, with the poor, the marginalized, and the morally dubious, and mixing them up with the wealthy and the well-to-do, often over a shared meal, and he does so to make a point: However different they/we are, however little we have in common, when we eat together we share something of our common humanity, the barriers are broken down, we begin to meet each other as human beings and in so doing- in that very act the Kingdom of God is being built.
Because Jesus sees the Kingdom of Heaven as being like a big banquet, to which all are invited, from East and West, rich and poor, black and white, the elite and the ordinary people- all jumbled up together, because we all belong together, all are welcome, all will share. And the communion service in which we are taking part this morning is in a way a foretaste of that heavenly banquet.
Just look around this morning at your fellow diners - possibly not people you would see on a day to day basis - many unknown to you, and yet all of us worthy to eat with each other, all of us invited to the table, because whatever happens in the world, in God's Kingdom we all belong together. However unlikely a group we are - for this hour we are a community gathered around the Lord's table, in love and acceptance of one another in our shared humanity, yes, all sinners together, because we all fall short, but all children of God. Amen.