Eating with Publicans and Sinners

I love Sundays.

My children love Sundays. In fact, they love them so much I’m sure they learned the days of the week so they could know when the next Sunday was coming.

“What day is it daddy,” they’d ask. “What day comes next.” Then they would keep asking until they knew just how many days there were until Sunday.

I might be stretching it a bit, but they may have learned to count for the same reason.

Each week our anticipation rises as we make ready our home for the covenant families who will share the Sabbath with us.

Our kids start naming the families by their vans and cars as we pull in the parking lot.

Once we are all inside they shuttle back and forth from the community center’s doors announcing new arrivals like a butler announces guests to a Jane Austen ball.

As toddlers weave in and out under hugs and handshakes, conversations begin to fill the room like the tuning up of an orchestra. Once all the “Beautiful People,” as we call them, are present and accounted for we begin our worship service.

We pray, answer our call to worship by singing His praises and confessing our sins. Next we read a lengthy passage from scripture and then hear the preaching of the word. As each sermon comes to an end the anticipation begins to rise in all our hearts. Everyone knows what is coming next and the preacher closes his message with a reminder that we, the people of God, have been invited to join our King at His table.

This is my favorite part of my favorite day and from the way some of our younger members glow with enthusiasm as they come, it must be theirs as well. They know that whether they’ve been naughty or nice, Pastor is still going to give them a large piece of fresh homemade bread and a big drink of wine.

When they close their eyes and bow their heads as a family, I often find myself overwhelmed at their innocent beauty in the same way I am when I look into the faces of my sleeping children. There is something transcendent in their collective countenance that reminds me of heaven.

But even at this moment of spiritual serenity there slithers into our garden an unwelcome guest seeking to conceal himself in our midst. He takes this opportunity when we should be most aware of our sinfulness and sooths us into a hypnotic state of our own goodness. We’re so used to him reminding us of our sins that we might be tempted to allow him to help us forget them.

Our clothes are tidy, our hair is in place, we smell of soap and cologne and we are gathered with the loveliest people we have ever known. Standing at our best receiving the body and blood of our Lord by invitation of the King of Heaven, our pastor prays a blessing over us. What could be more wonderful than this!

But at this moment the enemy of our soul offers sweet words to our sinful hearts we find hard to resist. He tells us how good we’ve been and how our righteousness has earned us this place of honor where we now stand. But as the proverb says, “put a knife to your throat as you consider his dainties for they are deceitful meats.”

There is only one guest of honor at this table and it is Christ. We are the publicans and sinners He has not given up his habit of eating with. We are the blind the halt and the maimed pulled from the highways, the byways and the hedges when others refused to come.

Even though we find ourselves clothed in his robe and wearing his ring, we need never forget the home we had with the hogs as we wallowed in our sinfulness.

God has indeed taken our sins and cast them in the sea of forgetfulness never to remembered against us evermore, but He invites us to remember them. In fact the memory of our sinfulness should set our hearts soaring with gratefulness and remind us further of the grace that comes in our humility.

As God called the Children of Israel to remember the Passover each year they were reminded of their former slavery and the great salvation needed and provided by God.

Paul reminded the Corinthian church they were fornicators, idolaters and adulterers before they were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

He taught this point so strong he was worried the saints might get the impression they should continue in their sin that grace would abound. “God forbid,” he said.

The fact is, their utter wretchedness and ours brings glory to God by showing His grace to an undeserving people.

May we think of the words of David as we come to the Royal Table.

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

May our sins be ever before us as we come with humility to the feast of forgiveness. May our righteousness be as filthy rags in our own eyes as it is in His. And may we never forget His Grace that loved us before we knew Him and sought us when we were not seeking Him.

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