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January 2012

A Great Combination: Epiphany, Mission and Meals

Epiphany is the season of mission: from stories of wise men from the East to miracles of healing; from mountaintop experiences to water turned into wine at a wedding in Cana. Epiphany is about mission and thus, according to Luke's Gospel, a season for a lot of meals.

The kitchen table is the key. Food and household gatherings are much more for this Gospel than occasions for families and friends to gather for feasting and fellowship. One of the most important dimensions of Luke's mission theology is an ever-expanding table fellowship. Mission happens around food—especially within the home. In fact, the key to the Lord's universal mission finally comes down to who you will invite around your table for fellowship (see Cornelius in Acts 10-11).

So what does this mean for us? Christmas celebrations and other special holidays—at least in some political discourse—are often declared as opportunities to celebrate freedom, family and faith. For Luke, Jesus gives his church a "kingdom slant" on these same themes; that is, he gives particular attention to a family's table fellowship with marginalized persons. That is how our faith is expressed.

Jesus is free to eat with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5:30; 15:1-2). He feeds the 5,000 (Luke 9:10-17). Jesus breaks his own culture's taboos by including unclean people and outsiders in the meal of fellowship. The parable of the great banquet (Luke 14:16-24), combines an open invitation to "outsiders" with the rejection of the invitation by the "insiders" to the table. "Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!" (Luke 14:15). Consequently, an invitation into our homes to "outsiders" lies at the heart of God's mission. It's an Epiphany tradition.

So, who should we welcome to our tables this Epiphany season—and throughout the year? If table fellowship is the sign of the Kingdom of God, who do we invite to share this good news around the kitchen table with our families? In Luke's view, the house church represents a providential place of opportunity for mission. In Luke and Acts, the house functions as a place of evangelism and growth.

Our Epiphany message to Luther Seminary students is simple: One of the best mission tools they have is their home, the kitchen table and the invitation to join in good food fellowship. It's a sign of the kingdom! As the hymn testifies (ELW # 486):

"God extends an invitation to the table of creation,
Where there's wine and light and bread.
Here we gather in thanksgiving and we offer all our living.
Here the feast of life is spread; here the feast of life is spread."

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