Eating and Drinking with Sinners

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Several years ago I was listening to the author Leonard Sweet talk about how the modern church has forgotten what it means to be the people of God. The first thing he said when he walked on stage was, “Good morning sinners.” He waited a moment and said—”and good morning saints. We’re all here.” It was a pretty large congregation but he treated it like a home Bible study, throwing out questions and responding to whatever people answered. He said, “What’s the first thing God commands in the Bible?” People were a little shy at first but eventually someone yelled out “Don’t eat the forbidden fruit.” Dr Sweet was like, “No, that’s not the first command. Anyone else?” Then the answers got crazy so he gave us the answer by reading Genesis 2:16 “the Lord God said to man, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden…” The first command in the Bible is to eat freely!

Then he said, “What’s the last command in the Bible?” Someone yelled out, “Don’t add anything to the Bible or take anything away.” Which was a really good answer, but not what he was looking for because it’s not a direct command quoting God—so he read Revelation 22:17 “Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.” God’s last direct command in the Bible is to drink freely.

This was all leading up to his big punchline—not so much a funny punchline as a punch in the gut. He said, “Eat freely. Drink freely. That’s what God has told His people to do, and yet when we walked into this room this morning we all passed a sign that said ‘No food or drink allowed in the sanctuary.” We’ve forgotten what we’re supposed to be doing here.

Worship in the Old Testament would have looked a lot like a Texas BBQ. Plenty of fire roasted meat, baked bread—lots of beer, wine and strong drink. Families eating together with the priests. There was prayer and singing.

There were annual feasts like Passover and Purim where they were commanded to feast together. Commanded to eat and drink and be merry. I mean, if we have to! Right?! That’s pretty harsh of God to command His people to enjoy themselves.

The prophets encouraged the people in hard times by reminding them of the great feasts that were gonna happen when the Messiah comes to rescue them and save them. Isaiah 55:1–3 says:

“Is anyone thirsty?

Come and drink—

even if you have no money!

Come, take your choice of wine or milk—

it’s all free!

Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?

Why pay for food that does you no good?

Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.

You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open.

Listen, and you will find life.

I will make an everlasting covenant with you.

That sound pretty good. I like good food! This sounds like my kind of religion. The Gospel according to Foodies.

Jesus kicked off His ministry at the wedding in Cana—notice they didn’t run out of wine until Jesus and His posse showed up. His mother goes to Him and says, “Son, they’ve ran out of wine.” Jesus is like, “What do you want me to do about it?” She looks at the servants and says, “Do whatever He tells you.”

I just want you to picture what’s going on here—Jesus is at a big wedding party, it’s been happening for days, the guests have drank the place dry but the party's still going strong. Most Christians probably think Jesus should have scolded them on the virtues of moderation and sobriety. Right? Instead He turns a couple hundred gallons of water into the best wine they had ever tasted. That’s gotta be confusing to fundamentalists who think drinking is a sin.

But Jesus spent His whole ministry eating and drinking with sinners. He told parables of great banquets and feasts—then in a surprising twist—just before He went back to heaven, He said that when we get together in His name, we’re supposed to remember Him by having a special covenant meal together—with bread and wine.

I think we have the wrong idea about what it means to be a Christian. God wants us to eat together and enjoy our lives. It’s supposed to be the core activity of the Church—our basic mission—we’re supposed to eat and drink with sinners. Sinners like us.

I want us all to wrestle with some questions this morning:

  • Are you deliberately using your mealtimes to do something other than fill your own belly? Eat your feelings? Drown your sorrows?

  • Who might God be calling you to give comfort to—uplift, encourage, and challenge through a meal that you share with them?

  • How can you use your mealtimes to serve other people’s spiritual needs as well as their physical needs?

  • Who do you know that might be hungry?

  • Do you know someone who would really appreciate it if you would reach out and invite them to dinner or lunch?

  • Are you deliberate about your conversations?

  • Are you willing to eat with people who make you uncomfortable? Do you avoid parties and situations where you might have to have awkward conversations with people?

  • Do you think you’re too busy to stop and eat with your family or friends or whoever it is that God might be nudging you to spend some time with?

  • Are you willing to embrace the spontaneous opportunities? The uninvited guest?

  • What about people you don’t like? Are you willing to sit and eat with them anyway?

I think those are some challenging questions for all of us.

Let’s pray as we get started with this: Father in heaven, help us to understand who You want us to be. Beyond our fears and in spite of our insecurities and selfish preferences—help us embrace the mission You have given us, help us to redeem every part of our life for Your glory—including our mealtimes. AMEN

There are so many examples of Jesus eating and drinking with sinners as the main setting for His ministry and conversations with people—it seems so obvious to me that a modern version of Jesus’ ministry would mostly consist of going to bars and hanging out at food trucks. Modern religious leaders would hate it of course—the religious leaders of Jesus’ day certainly did. They didn’t like when He invited Matthew the tax collector to be one of His disciples and celebrated with a big party at Matthew’s house—with a bunch of Matthew’s dirty rotten scoundrel friends. They said, “Why do you eat and drink with such scumbags?” Do you remember Jesus’ answer? He said, “Healthy people aren’t the ones who need a doctor—sick people do.” He didn’t come for the people who thought they were righteous but for those who know they’re sinners and need to repent.

There was the party at His friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s house—Martha thought she was too busy to sit down and enjoy the moment, critical of her sister Mary for not helping with the dinner. But Jesus said Mary had figured out what was more important—and it wasn’t being fussy over all the details of the preparations. Sit down. Enjoy the people God has put in your life. Make it about them. I might add that this is especially true if Jesus Himself is at your dinner party.

Jesus fed the multitude on more than one occasion. He invited outcasts like Zacchaeus to eat with Him. He welcomed the intrusion of party crashers like the prostitute who poured the perfume on Him feet and worshiped Him. He used meals to ask hard questions, to forgive people, to comfort people.

Jesus and the disciples went to so many parties that they had a reputation for being gluttons and drunks. A lot of the religious people of their day, just like today, were pretty uptight about drinking and having fun. It looked to them like Jesus was having too much fun, and hanging out with all the wrong people. They didn’t like it.

Jesus used mealtime and parties to do some of His most important ministry. He had some of His most intimate and important conversations in the context of dining. To eat with people is to accept them, to forgive them, to welcome them into fellowship with you—those are all things Jesus was doing by eating and drinking with people.

I think that’s what we’re all supposed to be doing. I think we’re supposed to be eating and drinking with sinners until we’re accused of being gluttons and winos ourselves. I think it’s part of our mission. Part of our worship. We’re not doing our job if we always eat alone. We’re not doing our job as the people of God, if we’re not throwing parties and inviting all the wrong kinds of people to them. People who need hope. People who need joy. People who will probably disappoint us and make us feel awkward. Our job is to eat and drink with sinners.

Sinners like us. We’re only here because Jesus invited us to the table ourselves! That’s kinda the whole point. We only get to come by grace. We’re only here because we were offered the comfort food of the Gospel. We drank the new wine, and drank enough that it changed our attitude.

Our job is to eat and drink with sinners like us. Not only so they can come to know the hope that we’ve found in Jesus—but also because it’s part of how God is changing us into the people Jesus is calling us to be. We’re not gonna become the people God wants us to be in isolation—we gotta do this in community.

But you say, “I don’t like having awkward conversations with people about spiritual things, about Jesus and whatever.” Well duh! No one likes awkward conversations, that’s why they’re awkward. Look through the Gospels, which of those Jesus conversations do you think were particularly pleasant at the time? Most of them end with someone getting the idea that Jesus should probably be killed.

Don’t be a coward. Don’t be afraid that the conversation might get a little awkward sometimes—it’s all part of the design. All I’m saying, all I’m asking is that you make an effort to be present, to be involved in conversation with people—and look for opportunities to encourage each other, challenge each other, comfort each other, listen to each other’s heart and speak the truth in love.

On the night when our Lord was betrayed—that meal called the Last Supper—there was certainly some awkward conversation. Even in that small gathering of disciples, Jesus was eating and drinking with sinners. He mentioned that someone at the table was going to betray Him—and they all wondered if He was talking about them. Every thought about that? They didn’t all look over at the obviously worst sinner and say, “Judas!!! What’d you do now?!” They all wondered if Jesus was talking about them.

That’s probably a good place to be. When I say it’s our job to eat and drink with sinners, I don’t want anyone thinking that somehow I think we’re better than them. Us versus them. There’s no them, there’s only us. Come ye sinners. We’re the sinners. All are welcome to join us—in fact, the thing that qualifies you to come is to admit that you’re a sinner.

A lot of churches have what they call an altar call. That moment when the preacher tells everyone to bow their head and close their eyes, raise their hand if you’re a sinner and need the forgiveness and salvation found in Jesus—then once a few people raise their hands, the preacher will ask them to come forward to the altar. The altar call is a powerful thing.

So why don’t we have them then? People ask me that all the time. My answer is “we do.” We’ll do it again today. In a few minutes I’ll lead us in a confession of sin, then I’ll invite everyone—all the sinners—to come forward and receive absolution. Forgiveness. If you’re a baptized Christian who calls NewChurch home then I’ll invite you to eat the bread which is His body which was broken for you on the cross—I’ll invite you to drink the wine which is His blood that was poured out for the forgiveness of your sins. If you’re not baptized, you’re still welcome to come forward in our altar call—to cross your arms as a sign that you have confessed your sins and desire God’s blessing and the forgiveness that is only possible in Jesus. You’ll receive the same grace, the same forgiveness, the same mercy and promise of life and hope that was offered in the bread in wine.

That’s the Gospel. That’s our altar call for sinners. Available to everyone—even you.

Jesus said He wasn’t gonna drink wine again until He returns again to usher in the great feast at the end of time as we know it—the beginning of the new heaven and new earth. Until then, we’re supposed to get together and and feast in His name.

It’s our job to eat and drink with sinners, inviting as many as possible to the table, so everyone has the opportunity to celebrate with us on that glorious day.

I don’t want to ever have a sign on the door at NewChurch that says “no eating or drinking”—I want us to take this idea of eating and drinking with sinners as a mission strategy. Marching orders. To be as deliberate and serious about it as Jesus was. Let’s not be like all those religious people who have forgotten what it means to be the people of God.

That’s why the vision for this place is to be some kind of restaurant pub someday. A place that’s open all week long with great food and beverages—and the place where we gather to worship on Sunday mornings. Spending time hanging out all week getting to know people through eating and drinking with them, then inviting them to join us in worship.

That’s why we have HangTime every week. But I want to challenge you on this—we have to actually do it. We have to make ourselves available for the kind of conversations that can actually do some good.

When my kids were growing up, we never catered to their palate at all. We cooked the food that we liked and expected them to eventually come around. I used to say all the time, “You don’t have to like your food, you just have to eat it.” Don’t worry, they were never in danger of starving to death.

Maybe you’re the kind of person who doesn’t really like parties. Doesn’t really like small talk. Feels awkward in those kinds of situations.

I think God’s got a strange sense of humor sometimes. Here we are starting this new church that’s all about throwing parties and eating and drinking with people—and we’re like 90% introverts around here. We’re like a bunch of cats who wanna just go hide under the bed when company comes over.

I’m sure God knows what He’s doing. We’re the ones He’s called to be here and do this.

Maybe you don’t like parties. Fine. That’s probably why Jesus said we have to deny ourselves and lay down our life for others and all that. It’s all part of making it less about me and more about other people. Less about you and more about Jesus.

Anyway, this is the mission of NewChurch. If you want to really roll up your sleeves and be part of it—and I’m hoping you do—then show up each week with a crockpot full of something delightful to share with people. Spend some of your tithe money and make it something special. Then, rather than immediately scooting out of here to get home—make sure to sit down ready to really do some good—to comfort people, invite them to join you, encourage them, discuss what God’s doing in your life, how He spoke to you during the worship service, what they can be praying for you about, what you’re struggling with. Just listen to each other. This is part of what we mean by worship God and love people.

Our job, as the people of NewChurch, is to eat and drink with sinners until we get accused of being gluttons and winos, or at least until we’re made into the people that Jesus is calling us to be, until Jesus returns at the end of time and invites us to His table and says “well done, good and faithful servant.” It’s not a bad gig, like most jobs the hardest part is just showing up and doing it. So eat freely. Drink freely. Until Jesus returns and the party really begins.


donna schulzComment