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Big, USA-exclusive holidays like Thanksgiving can do lots of things to you when you live outside your native culture. They can cause homesickness, anxiousness, and uneasiness…but they can also give you a chance delve into some fond memories and consider personal values that were formed through these celebrations.

Barcelona doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, of course, but our church community here loves any excuse to eat copious amounts of food, so Alisha took the opportunity to teach (in Spanish!) on Jesus’ practice of extending the table , a theme echoed by an article by our mission agency. Below is an English-language adaptation of Alisha’s teaching:

This week on Thursday, the United States will celebrate an important US national holiday Thanksgiving. The origin myth of this tradition — while not historically accurate — is quite beautiful. Here’s how I remember it:

When the first pilgrims migrated to what is now known as the United States they faced a difficult winter with inadequate shelter. In spring, they began forming relationships with the indigenous peoples and soon learned how to cultivate gardens and had a very prosperous farm season through spring and summer. In the fall, the pilgrims had grown enough food to last them through the coming winter. As an act of gratitude, the pilgrims invited the indigenous tribes to join them for a great feast, celebrating their friendship and abundance. (Alisha Garber, November 2018)

Now, while the holiday varies from family to family, the idea is the same. Friends and family gather to celebrate over food and give thanks for their prosperity and bounty.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE thanksgiving. In my family we’d start the morning watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with huge balloons floating over New York City and a spectacular with the Rockettes! Later in the afternoon, we’d drive to Aunt Toni and Uncle Patrick’s house to eat together. My Aunt June would always bring the veggie tray (with olive and pickles) and Uncle John brought fun-size bags of M&Ms. We’d say prayer as a family, go around in a circle and express what we are thankful for, then EAT AND EAT AND EAT. Afterwards the guys would fall asleep watching American football and the kids would play table games and watch a Charlie Brown cartoon until it was time to go home.

When I got a bit older, I even developed special recipes for cornbread stuffing and cranberry relish two special Thanksgiving dishes. Josh’s Grandma Grace later shared her recipe for Squash pie, so it’s now an important annual tradition as well.

Thinking about this Thanksgiving holiday got me reflecting about gratitude and sharing a table with friends. Considering we now live in a new culture here in Barcelona, away from these American traditions, I thought it could be interesting to consider how Jesus shared a table — which he did often. Most of us eat three meals a day — or here in Barcelona, maybe four if you count merienda. Multiplied out over a the span of a year, that’s almost 1,100 meals!

In the book of Luke alone, there are 10 stories of Jesus dining with various people. Let’s revisit these stories and ask how the tables of the first century after Christ’s birth could relate to ours today in 2018. These next ten stories may be VERY familiar to you, but as an act of hospitality, let’s re-read the scripture together so we can enter this message as equals.

Take comfort in hearing these familiar stories and imagine yourself at the same table with Jesus.

1. Dining with the Enemy (LUKE 5:27-32)
Jesus Calls Levi

In Jesus’ time, tax collectors were pretty hated by the people. These were Jews who were taking advantage by collecting Rome’s taxes PLUS a surcharge to line their own pockets (Luke 19:8). To many, they were considered “outsiders” and just as much enemies as the Romans.

Jesus eating a meal with a tax collector would be like you having dinner with a loan shark. How would your friends and family react to that?

We know that Jesus wasn’t just responding to an invitation; he sought Levi out and had a purpose in mind:

Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. (Luke 5:27 NLT)

Jesus wanted this man this enemy of the people to be saved. Each of us, before we came to Christ, were God’s enemies (Romans 5:10). Yet God loved us so much that he not only wanted to make us friends, but he wanted to make us a family (Ephesians 1:5).

What you should ask yourself:
Do you know of any enemies that need Jesus?

2. The Uninvited Guest (LUKE 7:36-50)
Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman

Have you ever had to host a dinner party only to have someone unexpected (and possibly unwanted) show up?

Jesus went to Simon the Pharisee’s house for a prestigious dinner, where the topics of the day were to be discussed. Since the dining areas of the homes of the elite were often particularly open to the street, the public could listen to the conversations.

Enter the “sinful woman” (Luke 7:37). She crossed the invisible barrier into the invited, elite space and shocked all in attendance with her actions. Although self-righteous Simon was indignant, Jesus welcomed her because he saw her heart. She was coming to seek forgiveness.

This story is from where our friend Conche’s favorite song originates Perfume en Tus Pies. This unwanted guest anointed Jesus!

Jesus was often interrupted in his ministry from those who called out from the sidelines or touch him in the crowd. He wasn’t angry with any of them for messing with his agenda. Instead, he had compassion and stopped to think about their needs.

What you should ask yourself:
Could an unexpected guest in your life be an opportunity to minister?

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3. Feeding the Hungary (LUKE 9:10-17)
Jesus Feeds Five Thousand

In Luke’s account, Jesus fed 5,000 people (not including women and children) who had come to hear them speak. He didn’t have to feed them, after all, they were getting fed truth. Wasn’t that enough? Jesus knew they also had physical needs.

In Matthew 25, Jesus reveals that those who truly know him serve others in very real ways, such as feeding the hungry and giving a drink to the thirsty. This can apply to feeding the homeless or simply offering a visitor a drink of water. Meeting the basic physical needs of people often ministers more than words and ultimately gives you a kind of integrity that can lead to deeper conversation.

What you should ask yourself:
Is someone around you hungry or thirsty?

4. Smell the Roses (LUKE 10:38-42)
Jesus Visits Martha and Mary

Just like us, Jesus had friends. Siblings Lazarus, Mary and Martha were dear to him and no doubt they enjoyed spending time together, Martha the hostess with the mostest was often working hard to prepare Jesus a good meal.

When Martha complained about her sister, who was just sitting and listening to Jesus, she was probably surprised when He rebuked her. Essentially, Jesus said that Mary’s choice to sit and listen to Him was better than all the work Martha was doing!

The problem wasn’t the work, it was that she was so busy, she was missing the opportunity to spend time with Jesus. Whenever you have friends over for dinner, or are serving at church, make time to enjoy the people you’re serving.

What you should ask yourself:
Are you too busy to spend time with people? Is your focus in the right place?

5. Wash What Matters (LUKE 11:37-53)
Jesus Criticizes the Religious Leaders

Life is messy.

In Jesus’ time, the roads were dusty and traveling guaranteed a certain measure of dirt on your person. When he was invited to dine with a Pharisee, he was criticized for not washing. We’re not talking about washing your hands before dinner they were judging Jesus because he didn’t perform their complex washing ritual.

Jesus, always perceptive, saw their error wasn’t about hygiene, but about the heart:

“You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy — full of greed and wickedness! Fools! Didn’t God make the insides as well as the outsides?” (Luke 11:39-40 NLT)

When your guests come over or you’re considering whether to invite someone, what are you looking at?

The perception of holiness is sadly often tied to outward appearance. The heart of a godly or truth-seeking person isn’t subject to clothing, style, or even personal care. Don’t judge what you can’t see. Instead, wash your own heart to love and accept all as they are so God and use you to wash them with the water of the word (Ephesians 5:26).

What you should ask yourself:
What in your heart needs to be cleansed to receive all kinds of people?

6. Consider Your Conversation (LUKE 14:1-24)
Jesus Heals on the Sabbath, Teaches about Humility, Tells Parable of the Great Feast

When Jesus accepted a dinner invitation to the home of a Pharisee, he came prepared to speak on the hot topics of the day: working on the Sabbath, places of honor (at the table) and who gets to sit at God’s banquet table.

Hot topics and touchy subjects still come up at the dinner table today so how do you deal with them? Do you observe the rule of “We don’t discuss religion or politics?”

When Jesus had to make a point on a difficult subject, he didn’t go on a long, drawn-out monologue. He asked well-thought-out questions that engaged people and told interesting stories (the parables) to make a complex subject understandable.

His words were grounded in a solid understanding of the Word and a deep desire to bring people into right relationship with God.

What you should ask yourself:
Are your dinner table conversations encouraging and biblical?

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7. Invite Yourself Over (LUKE 19:1-10)
Jesus and Zacchaeus

Zacchaeus was curious about Jesus and only expected to observe him from afar. The “Wee Little Man” of Sunday School fame couldn’t see over the crowd, so he climbed up in a tree to catch a glimpse. He was probably surprised when Jesus noticed him.

As the chief tax collector, he was even more surprised and even excited when Jesus wanted to have a meal at his house. Zacchaeus was a “sinner” and wasn’t going to reach out to Jesus, the respected Rabbi. He didn’t know he needed salvation, an he likely had little hope of acceptance in the community.

It might even seen ironic that Zacchaeus’ name means “pure” or “innocent.” But not when you consider that Jesus came to make us white as snow; he saw Zacchaeus’ potential.

What you should ask yourself:
Is there someone who needs you to reach out?

8. Put Your Guests First (LUKE 22:14-30)
The Last Supper

[SPOILER ALERT: The Last Supper is not Jesus’ last supper in the gospel of Luke.] Jesus’ last supper with his disciples the Passover meal is filled with meaning. The scene that is set reveals that Jesus is the lamb of God, that in Christ there is a new covenant, and that we are to remember his sacrifice through communion (Luke 22:14-38).

Jesus is clearly the center of this meal. Yet Jesus didn’t host this dinner for himself. He was thinking of his disciples, who had very little time left with Him to understand the significance of what was about to happen. His death and resurrection were going to change their lives and the world itself. He could have talked about his terrible suffering to come but instead focused on what they would need to remember from that night.

What you should ask yourself:
Do you see meals as a way to serve others’ spiritual needs?

  Our church’s pre-Thanksgiving centerpiece.

Our church’s pre-Thanksgiving centerpiece.

9. Discipleship Over Dinner (LUKE 24:28-32)
The Road to Emmaus

After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus. With his identity cloaked by God, he talked with them about all that had happened and explained the importance of the Scriptures:

Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27 NLT)

They couldn’t get enough of what he was saying and implored him to continue at dinner. As soon as he gave thanks for the bread and broke it, as he had at the Last Supper (Luke 22:19), their eyes were opened. They were dining with the risen savior! Not only that, but they had also been taught to understand the scripture.

What you should ask yourself:
Is God asking you to reveal Jesus over a meal?

10. Serve Comfort Food (LUKE 24:36-43)
Jesus Appears on the Road to Emmaus

When the two followers from Emmaus went back to tell the disciples, suddenly Jesus appeared. They were very afraid because they thought they had seen a ghost!

But Jesus reassured them with a simple gesture; he sat down and ate with them. Then Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scripture” (Luke 24:45 NLT).

By eating, Jesus wasn’t just proving he wasn’t a ghost, but he was doing something familiar to put their minds at ease. Like the ultimate comfort food, Jesus was ministering to his disciples’ weary hearts.

Meals can still work that way, melting away a frazzled work day or soothing an aching heart.

What you should ask yourself:
Will you join me for some comfort food?


Extending the Table in Practice

Next Sunday I’ve invited friends from church and school to join me after the church service for a pitch-in-style Thanksgiving dinner. We’ll all contribute something to share and pause to reflect on the act of Thanksgiving. I’ll make a few of my favorite foods for the holiday (like the cornbread stuffing, cranberry relish and Grandma Grace’s pie) and we we can spend the afternoon breaking bread together.

I look forward to making new Thanksgiving memories with my Barcelona family.

Closing Prayer

Today we give thanks for our many blessings,
as we pray for those in need.

We give thanks for our family and friends,
as we pray for those who are lonely.

We give thanks for our freedoms,
as we pray for those who are oppressed.

We give thanks for our good health,
as we pray for those who are ill.

We give thanks for our comfort and prosperity,
as we share our blessings with others.

As we reflect on thanksgiving, may the love of God enfold us.
May the peace of God dwell within us
and may the joy of God uplift us.

May we consider today how we can better open our tables,
using the example of Jesus, to guide the way.

Amen

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