First Congregational Church
August 28, 2022
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 14:1, 7-14
“The Restorative Hospitality Characteristic of God’s Realm”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A six-year-old said grace at family dinner one evening. "Dear God, thank You for the pancakes.” When she concluded, her mother asked her why she thanked God for pancakes when they were having chicken-pot pie. She smiled and said, "I thought I would check to see if God was paying attention.”
Two caterpillars are escaping a spider…. They climb up a small branch and get to the edge, but realize they are now trapped.
"Hold on tight!" says the first caterpillar, and he quickly chews through the branch. It snaps and they begin to fall, but he grabs two protruding twigs and steers the branch through the air with grace and finesse. "That's amazing!" says the second caterpillar. "How are you doing that?!” The first caterpillar scoffs. "Am I the *only one* in the whole forest who knows how to drive a stick?"
To set up this morning’s scripture passage, it comes from a section of Luke in which Jesus was going through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Last week our text was from the 13th chapter of Luke; this morning’s from the 14th. Between last week and this week, Luke describes really short versions of the mustard seed and yeast parables, Jesus’ teaching about the narrow door and his lament over Jerusalem, ending up with the healing of a man with edema, right before today’s passage.
Luke 14:1, 7-14
1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:
8 "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.
9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.
10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.
11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
12 Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.
13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,
14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Thank you, Julie. When Billy Graham was driving through a small southern town, he was stopped by a policeman and charged with speeding. Graham admitted his guilt but was told by the officer that he would have to appear in court.
The judge asked, "Guilty, or not guilty?" When Graham pleaded guilty, the judge replied, "That'll be ten dollars - a dollar for every mile you went over the limit.”
Suddenly the judge recognized the famous minister. "You have violated the law," he said. "The fine must be paid - but I am going to pay it for you." He took a ten-dollar bill from his own wallet, attached it to the ticket, and then took Graham out and bought him a steak dinner!
Fiorello LaGuardia, was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII. He was called by adoring New Yorkers 'the Little Flower' because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel.
He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids.
One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.
Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. "It's a real bad neighborhood, your Honor." the man told the mayor. "She's got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson."
LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said "I've got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions - ten dollars or ten days in jail." But even as he pronounced the sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: "Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant."
The following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.
Years ago, Jeffrey Zaslow’s father coached a team of eight-year-olds. He had a few excellent players and some who just couldn't get the hang of the game. His dad's team didn't win once all season. But in the last inning of the last game, his team was only down by a run.
There was one boy who had never been able to hit the ball - or catch it. With two outs, it was his turn to bat. He surprised the world and got a single!
The next batter was the team slugger. Finally, Mr. Zaslow’s players might win a game. The slugger connected, and as the boy who hit the single ran to second base, he saw the ball coming toward him. Not so certain of baseball's rules, he caught it. Final out! Zaslow's team lost!
Quickly, Mr. Zaslow told his team to cheer. The boy beamed. It never occurred to him that he lost the game. All he knew was he had hit the ball and caught it - both for the first time. His parents later thanked the coach. Their child had never even gotten in a game before that season.
They never told the boy exactly what happened. They didn't want to ruin it for him. And till this day, Jeffrey Zaslow is proud of what his father did that afternoon.
Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker both had churches in London in the 19th century. On one occasion, Parker commented on the poor condition of children admitted to Spurgeon's orphanage. It was reported to Spurgeon however, that Parker had criticized the orphanage itself.
Spurgeon blasted Parker the next week from the pulpit. The attack was printed in the newspapers and became the talk of the town. (Thank goodness the newspapers don’t print my sermons!) People flocked to Parker's church the next Sunday to hear his rebuttal.
"I understand Dr. Spurgeon is not in his pulpit today, and this is the Sunday they use to take an offering for the orphanage. I suggest we take a love offering here instead." The crowd was delighted. The ushers had to empty the collection plates 3 times. Later that week there was a knock at Parker's study. It was Spurgeon. "You know Parker, you have practiced grace on me. You have given me not what I deserved, you have given me what I needed.
Yale Divinity School Professor of Hebrew Scriptures, Carolyn Sharp, wrote a line this week in her commentary on this morning’s scripture passage that does a wonderful job of describing the gospels, especially the accounts in Luke. “Jesus invites hearers to imagine a transformative web of relations woven in mercy and strengthened not through patronage or obligation but through joyous connection across lines of difference.”
Not long after that sentence, she wrote the phrase that became this morning’s sermon title; “The restorative hospitality characteristic of God’s realm.” Let that roll around in your head for a second. The restorative hospitality characteristic of God’s realm.” It’s grace, isn’t it?
Sitting at the end of the banquet table is not so that we will be ushered to a more prestigious spot, but gives us the ability to avoid humiliation. Brett Blair of sermons.com posted his take on this passage, and he asked a wonderful question. “How do you stay humble in a haughty world?” First of all, bonus points for the word “haughty.” Secondly, it’s a great question.
Mr. Blair said there are two things we need to do to answer that question. First, don’t put yourself in a position to eat humble pie. And second, expect to be honored only in the life to come. In terms of our own hospitality, Mr. Blair said, “Kindness to people who can repay us in kind is not charity.”
He ended with this thought. “Jesus did not choose a palace but a stable in which to be born. He did not choose the priesthood but carpentry as his profession. He did not choose world leaders but world losers, to develop his plan. He did not choose a throne but a cross from which to govern.”
Mother Teresa was once asked, "How do you measure the success of your work?" She thought about the question and gave her interviewer a puzzled look, and said, "I don't remember that the Lord ever spoke of success. He spoke only of faithfulness in love.
It is said that Charlemagne was the greatest Christian ruler of the early Middle Ages. After his death, a mighty funeral procession left his castle for the cathedral at Aix. (ex) When the royal casket arrived, with all pomp and circumstance, it was met by the local bishop, who barred the cathedral door.
"Who comes?" the Bishop asked, as was the custom. "Charlemagne, Lord and King of the Holy Roman Empire," proclaimed the Emperor's proud herald. "Him I know not," the Bishop replied. "Who comes?”
The herald, a bit shook, replied, "Charles the Great, a good and honest man of the earth.” "Him I know not," the Bishop said again. "Who comes?” The herald, now completely crushed, responded, "Charles, a lowly sinner, who begs the gift of Christ.” To which the Bishop responded, "Enter! Receive Christ's gift of life!” Let us pray.
Holy and Hospitable God, you well know that sometimes it is easy and sometimes it’s hard to realize, much less embrace our common humanity. You also know how human we are, in competition and fending for ourselves. But this morning we pray that you help us be mindful of humble hospitality, especially its low material cost and its high divine value. Give us extra portions of grace for making apologies when needful and for stepping up to moments of recognition, when those are needful, too. While we are mindful that these requests are not about making points for eternal admission to your kingdom, move our hearts and minds to do the work that you need of us to do until the day we enter eternity. For these and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.