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Sermon on Luke 14: 1, 7-14 - Rev. Jennifer Gleichauf

Posted on September 1, 2019 by Kathy Miller


Luke 14:1, 7-14

Rev. Jennifer Gleichauf

September 1, 2019

In the gospel story today, we hear right off that Jesus has been invited to the Pharisees house where they are “watching him closely.”  They are watching him in the way opponents in a political debate watch each other.  They are watching to see him make a mistake, say something wrong, do something out of line, so they can jump on him.  And unconcerned with who is watching, or perhaps precisely because of who is watching, Jesus goes right ahead and is the kind of dinner guest that makes everyone uncomfortable.

My friend and fellow preacher Mamie put it this way: “Think for a second about your rules for being a good guest at a person’s house that you really don’t know very well. My initial ones are:

  1. Listen more than you talk. Not Jesus’ strong suit here. 
  2. Be wary of talking about religion and politics. Jesus does both. 
  3. Don’t insult your hosts; that feels basic. Jesus does that. 
  4. Don’t talk with your mouth full of food. I have absolutely no proof that Jesus was talking with his mouth full, but at this point I have no confidence that he doesn’t either. I mean, geeeeeesh.”[1]

Jesus, the one we call Lord and Savior, has plenty to commend to him, and he wasn’t always a bad dinner guest - he did turn that water into wine - but with some frequency, polite dinner party guest does not seem like one of his gifts, or at least not one of his goals.

Now, honor and status were extremely important in Jesus’ time and place, as they are in almost every time and place, but in Jesus’ culture they were also very structured.  There were very particular seats each person was to sit at, at a dinner like this one and those places were based on the honor and status of each person in the room.  You were expected to know your place and any mistake would be a great faux pas.

We might think that today we are much more relaxed about who sits where, but we still have some of these rules.  How many of you would go into a new person’s house for dinner and when it came time to sit down, just place yourself at the head of the table?  There are plenty of rooms still today that come with a clear sense of who sits where.  I had the chance to visit the West Wing of the White House in May and many of those rooms have people’s names or titles on the chairs so everyone is perfectly clear about who sits where.  And, the presidents chair is just slightly bigger than everyone else’s.  But that is usually true in a boardroom too, where the CEO sits at the head of the table.  Even in our own houses, parents typically sit at the head of the dining room table with children on the side.  And then there are a variety of places which require tickets, and the more money or status you have the better seat you have, like sporting events or theater productions.  If you can afford to get in at all.  And status, honor and money still dictate who is allowed in fancy restaurants, banquets or galas, and private clubs.  I mean, even here in church, if a visitor came in and walked up and sat in one of the pastor’s chairs, we’d likely direct them back to the pews. Where you sit still matters in plenty of contexts.    

So, Jesus isn’t just giving a lesson on table etiquette and proper party manners here.  He wants people to pay attention to honor and status – who has it, who doesn’t, and why.  These stories around meal tables are Jesus’ analogies for the kingdom of God and instructions on how we might bring about the kingdom of God here on earth.  Jesus, again and again, uses the customs and culture around a meal table to turn the tables (as it were) on who is typically thought to be important and who is left on the side or left out altogether.   

And on this subject, Jesus makes two clear and different points at the banquet:

First, we are to be humble, to have humility.  Preacher Fredrick Buechner says “humility is often confused with saying that one is not much of a bridge player when you know perfectly well you are.”[2] Being truly humble doesn’t mean false modesty.  It means not taking the seat of honor because we don’t see ourselves as more honorable than anyone else.  And it is also not understanding ourselves as lower than others, but believing we are as good and unique and special as every other person.  Humility is having eyes to see, at least some of why God loves each and every one of us.  Humility, humbleness, is a virtue we are called to pursue.

And when we are humble, we can ask sincere questions about our relationships with others.  Which is why Jesus goes on to talk about guest lists – the people we surround ourselves with.  Jesus says our guest lists should not be people who can give us anything in return – people who can elevate our status, repay a favor, do things to help us out or make us look better. 

Instead, Jesus says we should invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind, which today we can understand to mean any people who cannot elevate our status, repay a favor, in some way help us out or make us look better.  Who are those people in today’s society?  Certainly, still the poor, but I’m sure we could all imagine other individuals or groups of people who have little to offer as far as status, popularity, power or financial gain. 

We can take this teaching of Jesus’ literally and assume he means we should physically get up, go out, and invite the poor and oppressed, the under-served and marginalized members of our society to our table.  And we can imagine this table might be a dinner table, but any place where we can connect, hear each other’s stories, do something to help another person, whether that is feeding them, or meeting other needs, would be a great start. 

There are lots of good ways to help people on the margins of society and I think Jesus would be glad to hear that we do a variety of things like: give money to organizations that work with the marginalized or advocate for justice and equality in various institutions or within the political arena for those who aren’t often given a voice, but Jesus is pretty insistent that there is no better way for us to be disciples than to go ourselves and break bread with the poor, the stranger, the one who is foreign to us.  Jesus encourages his disciples to put ourselves into situations where we wouldn’t normally find ourselves; to talk to people we wouldn’t normally talk to and to get a little, or a lot, uncomfortable and see what it teaches us.  While we may not gain status or power or favors or financial gain, Jesus knows we will certainly find new, and hopefully transformative, knowledge about ourselves and the world we live in.

And perhaps, in being true to the gospel, that is the end of story, it’s as simple as that – we are called to pay attention to who is at our table, or whose table we are at, who gets which seat, and who is never invited.  If people of faith aren’t about the business of caring for those who have less, then who will be?  And I have to make a plug here that if you’d like to try something like this, then a relatively safe place, perhaps uncomfortable but easy enough to get started with, is to go with Covenant to serve at the Hospitality Center or the Veterans Outreach Center when we go, and while there, do your best to get out from behind any counter and talk with the folks who are there.

So, we can take Jesus’ encouragement literally but we can also let it work on us on other levels as well.   Jesus invites us not only to serve others, but to think about our intentions and our motivations in our interactions with others.  What kind of relationships are we prioritizing in our lives?  Do we have relationships which are merely transactional?  Do we base our relationships, even a little bit, on what we will get from people in return?  How much importance do we place on relationships with people who make us look better or more popular or more powerful?

Jesus calls us to reach deeper.  “The goal (for our relationships), in a word, is love. But not just any love. Jesus envisions a love freed from all crass attempts at exaltation, at scoring points, at earning righteousness. A love for its own sake, without ulterior motive, without scheme or advantage, without quid quo pro.  A truly generous love, a love that does not seek to be “repaid.”[3]

This teaching asks us to consider who we are serving and who is serving us each day; and to look deeply at the motivations behind our relationships. 

And then, because why not, we can go a step further and hear this teaching on an even bigger scale and consider the “global banquet,” as it were. When we look beyond just our own lives and day to day and think globally about who is sitting at the head table, who is at the table in the corner, who is serving the meal, who is cooking in the kitchen and who is digging for leftovers in the trash after the party is over?  Which one are we?  And if we are at the table, what could we do to pull up more chairs or make more room or even offer our chair to someone else? 

These are hard questions and the actions they lead to can be challenging. Which is one reason we come together in worship and service so we can encourage each other and go with each other to reach out of our comfort zone; to be challenged together; to look at our intentions and motivations together.  We read these teachings of Jesus and remember who it is we are striving to become individually and together, even when it makes us uncomfortable, maybe particularly when it makes us uncomfortable.  Together we ask questions about the ways we have accepted honor and status without paying attention to our intentions.

So, together, let us look for the strangers, the vulnerable, the marginalized, the outcast, the poor, the suffering, the one who has been told they don’t belong, and invite them to our table, or perhaps even ask if we might go and sit at their table, not in a seat of honor, but just together, and see how it changes us. Discipleship of Jesus is meant to change us, grow us, transform us. So, are you working on humbleness?  Do you have work to do on considering who is on your guest lists?  Do you have ideas about who you, or we, should be inviting?  What do the tables in our homes, in our church, in our community and in the world look like now and if we think they look different than what they will look like in the kingdom of God then what can we do to change them now? All through the Bible, there are stories of how when people do this, they encounter Jesus or they find unexpected angels in their midst, offering blessings, marking them, and changing them for good.  May we find such blessings as we walk this journey together.

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