September 1, 2013
15th Sunday after Pentecost, Labor Day Weekend
Luke 14: 1, 7-14
"A Tough Call on Humility"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So Sven goes into a restaurant for a Labor Day breakfast while in his hometown for the holiday. After looking over the menu he says, "I'll just have the Eggs Benedict." His order comes a while later and it's served on a huge fancy chrome plate. He asks the waiter, "What's with the fancy plate?" The waiter replies, "There's no plate like chrome for the hollandaise!"
What is a pirates favorite kind of cookie? Ships Ahoy! What do pirates like to eat? Barrrbecue! Why didn't the pirate get hungry on the desert island? Because of all the sand which is there!
For those who haven't looked at the scripture yet, perhaps you have surmised that this morning's passage has something to do with meal time or food. If you did so, you would be correct.
A man named Emerson Powery wrote a commentary on this morning's lectionary passage that talked about meal time being the time of catching up on the day's events and a respite from the busyness of life. In his family, no texting is allowed at the table. Maybe part of that "rule" is because with four sons, the noise level would be such that it would cover any text rings on a phone. But a greater reason for the coming together in such fashion is that it is a time in which families can make large decisions together. Other times it can be an opportunity to put family pressure on one who is facing an ethical decision. Mr. Powery said, "Character building and value shaping are central, even if not plotted, to the time we share together around the evening meal." For those who live alone, we get some of those opportunities when we get to eat with someone else.
Then Mr. Powery pointed out that Jesus, too, was interested in mealtime. While Jesus is at a banquet, he tells a parable about the meal setting, which is followed by another story about another banquet.
Luke 14:1-24 The Message
1-3 One time when Jesus went for a Sabbath meal with one of the top leaders of the Pharisees, all the guests had their eyes on him, watching his every move. Right before him there was a man hugely swollen in his joints. So Jesus asked the religion scholars and Pharisees present, “Is it permitted to heal on the Sabbath? Yes or no?”
4-6 They were silent. So he took the man, healed him, and sent him on his way. Then he said, “Is there anyone here who, if a child or animal fell down a well, wouldn’t rush to pull him out immediately, not asking whether or not it was the Sabbath?” They were stumped. There was nothing they could say to that.
Invite the Misfits
7-9 He went on to tell a story to the guests around the table. Noticing how each had tried to elbow into the place of honor, he said, “When someone invites you to dinner, don’t take the place of honor. Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host. Then he’ll come and call out in front of everybody, ‘You’re in the wrong place. The place of honor belongs to this man.’ Red-faced, you’ll have to make your way to the very last table, the only place left.
10-11 “When you’re invited to dinner, go and sit at the last place. Then when the host comes he may very well say, ‘Friend, come up to the front.’ That will give the dinner guests something to talk about! What I’m saying is, If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
12-14 Then he turned to the host. “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned!—at the resurrection of God’s people.”
The Story of the Dinner Party
15 That triggered a response from one of the guests: “How fortunate the one who gets to eat dinner in God’s kingdom!” 16-17 Jesus followed up. “Yes. For there was once a man who threw a great dinner party and invited many. When it was time for dinner, he sent out his servant to the invited guests, saying, ‘Come on in; the food’s on the table.’
18 “Then they all began to beg off, one after another making excuses. The first said, ‘I bought a piece of property and need to look it over. Send my regrets.’ 19 “Another said, ‘I just bought five teams of oxen, and I really need to check them out. Send my regrets.’ 20 “And yet another said, ‘I just got married and need to get home to my wife.’
21 “The servant went back and told the master what had happened. He was outraged and told the servant, ‘Quickly, get out into the city streets and alleys. Collect all who look like they need a square meal, all the misfits and homeless and wretched you can lay your hands on, and bring them here.’
22 “The servant reported back, ‘Master, I did what you commanded—and there’s still room.’ 23-24 “The master said, ‘Then go to the country roads. Whoever you find, drag them in. I want my house full! Let me tell you, not one of those originally invited is going to get so much as a bite at my dinner party.’”
Thank you, Michael. I will openly admit that this morning's message has been greatly influenced by a Rev. Dr. Sam Matthews, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Marietta, GA. In fact, I completely stole his sermon title, "A Tough Call on Humility."
Part of what grabbed my attention was Rev. Matthews' point that whatever Jesus is talking about in these verses, he's certainly not talking about seating arrangements or etiquette in general. If that were the case, we might have found references in some verses about four-way stops or giving way to people with one or two items in the grocery store. He then went on to talk about the "prosperity" gospel that is preached in some places, where humility and sacrifice are merely means to an end - mainly in tangible and immediate rewards. To get an idea of this line of thought, take the example of our church secretary Candace.
Before I begin the story - with her permission, of course, I have to tell you that Candace is the queen of squeezing out every last cent of a coupon. She may not be able to squeeze blood from a turnip, but she sure can with a coupon. On top of that, she even reads the sermons from the Sunday's she can't be here!
So Candace was in line at Glen's a week ago yesterday - Fishing Frenzy Saturday. For those who don't know, that's the day when this town explodes with vehicles and empty trailers in Goose Park - by the public boat launch. And since fisherpeople need food and refreshment, they would naturally stop at Glen's - before or after their contest. And it was sort of a last-hurrah weekend, so there were people with great cartloads of food, waiting to check out, way down the coffee, cereal and bread aisles. And there was Candace, with her lone loaf of Texas bread.
Looking at the woman in front of her and her mounded cart of groceries, Candace realized that she had a choice. She could get all cranked up over this woman who didn't seem to even "see" Candace. Or she could rely on the profound message she had read in a recent sermon - about not knowing why people cut you off in traffic and other such slights - because you haven't walked a mile in their moccasins, as the saying goes.
In the end, it seemed that the woman - not Candace - was maybe overwhelmed with trying to get her chores done amidst the clamor of the morning. And since the woman didn't have a Glen's card, when all was said and done and the woman realized her situation, she gave the grocery points to Candace. In some places, times and people, the gift of 900 Glen's points may be a reward for "humility" and not jumping to conclusions. (pause) Aside from such a "point gift," I think that Candace's greater gift was in the deliberate decision of not allowing someone else's actions to ruin the start of her day.
There is a bit of such thinking in this morning's scripture passage. Maybe more than we realize. Maybe Jesus' point - certainly understated - is about not letting the situations that surround us determine our moods and attitudes. Truthfully, I hadn't even thought about that "understanding" of the middle part of the scripture passage until I was writing this message.
Anyway, the lectionary reading for this morning was just the middle section of what Michael read - the parable about the dinner seating. When I first read it, I was struck by Jesus' suggestion, "Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host." I don't know about anyone else, but wasn't Jesus about including everyone into the kingdom of heaven? Why would he "suggest" that some were "better" than others?
One of my favorite authors, Scott Hoezee, suggested that we needed the first few verses of this chapter 14, because it is important to realize that Jesus was telling this parable at a dinner with Pharisees, some of whom may have thought themselves above others. Mr. Hoezee pointed out that the three segments that were read were cut out of a single piece of story fabric.
So we need the third part of this passage to remind us that Jesus really was about welcoming who ever is willing to come to the table - literally and figuratively. I don't think it was an accident that in Luke's gospel, Jesus doesn't attend any other dinner parties with religious authorities. The next dinner he attends is in Luke 15, one that is attended by tax collectors and "sinners."
The point, at least for today, is that Jesus wants a full house. Here - maybe in your work place or where you volunteer - maybe in your home for a meal or cup of coffee - we know who Jesus' kind of people are. The big question is whether Jesus' kind of people are our kind of people - no matter their social situation, their spiritual situation, their health situation, whatever situation. Perhaps we might just pray about that.
Gracious and great God, you do put a tough call on our humility. Remind us that what we do, especially for you, is not about any reward we might obtain here, but is about an eternal fullness of house with you. We know you want us to be true and real and hospitable, and we know that you understand when life gets in the way of those ideals. So forgive us when we fall short. Encourage us when we may waiver. And remind us always that we are more than ourselves, that we are your children, brothers and sisters, not by choice, but by fact. And all your children say, Amen.