Preached at Advent Lutheran Church, September 1, 2013.
For the audio inclined,the sermon can be heard on Advent’s website.
Please be seated.
Jesus…Jesus liked to eat. As he travels through scriptures, he never seems to turn down a meal or a party. Wedding banquet, Saturday afternoon dinner, a little fish and chips on the beach ‚Äì no problem, he is there. But he’s more than just some divine foodie ‚Äì we never hear about the quality of the food that Jesus eats ‚Äì but we always hear about the experience of the meal; that seems to matter to Jesus. Because his meals in scripture are not just times to stave off hunger ‚Äì they are events. There are people to see, conversations to share, teachings to make, networking to be done. If Jesus had an iPhone, he wouldn’t be instagraming the food ‚Äì he’d be taking photos of the people, of the conversation, of the relationships ‚Äì because that, that is what Jesus saw in meals and gatherings. Where food was shared, relationships were explored, experienced, and lived.
So our gospel reading today begins with a Pharisee throwing a little dinner party on the Sabbath. Jesus’s name is on the guest list, he walks in, past the velvet rope, and begins to do what he does ‚Äì he watches. He sees guests come in, pick their seats, and sit down. After a bit, Jesus opens up with a parable. He noticed something and, when Jesus is eating, every meal becomes an opportunity for a teaching. Jesus saw that where they sat told something about their relationships. The host had final say on where everyone could sit ‚Äì but the guests seemed to be choosing their seats on their own. If they felt they were the right kind of folk with a good relationship with the host, they would sit closer to them. If they were lower class, or felt on the outside, or were on the outs with the host, they would sit farther away. This was the basic behavior of these types of gatherings in Jesus’s day. Meals were never just about eating ‚Äì there was always a public component to it. It’s like the wedding reception of today. If you’ve been blessed to plan one, you know the heartache and hours that can be consumed as we try to make sure that all the right people are sitting at all the right tables and, hopefully, we pray, no one will get mad about where they sat. Someone will, of course, and we’ll hear about it for the next dozen family reunions, but the less of that, the better. In Jesus’s day, the stakes were much higher. Business deals, marriages, bank loans, anything and everything was determined at meals and where someone sat. Where someone sat, or where someone was told to sit ‚Äì that was an investment in the future.
This is still a common thing, really. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has, on occasion, been on their very best behavior when they have dinner with their boss or a potential future boss. We maybe use our napkin a little more, keep the elbows off the table, maybe skip dessert to make sure we look sensible ‚Äì we put our best manners on display ‚Äì that is an investment in our future. And Jesus ‚Äì I think Jesus gets that. But Jesus doesn’t let his party hosts and fellow guests off easy. Instead, he calls them out ‚Äì he asks them really, who’s future do they have their trust in ‚Äì in the future they can carve out at the dinner table ‚Äì or in God’s future to come?
That last line of Jesus – when he says “for you will be blessed at the resurrection of the righteous” that’s the one that gets me ‚Äì because that frames all of Jesus’s prior comments. Jesus takes a look at all the future investments being made at the dinner party and raises the stake ‚Äì he brings up the resurrection, he brings up the end times, the day of the LORD, he doesn’t hold back ‚Äì and, to top it off, he throws around that word righteous. I can handle his earlier comments about being humble ‚Äì I think I can do that, and even the harder stuff on inviting those who can never throw their own dinner parties ‚Äì if I push myself, that seems possible. It seems doable, like Jesus is laying some steps out on how to live in God’s graces. But then Jesus brings in righteousness – calling out all my prior belief
in myself, in my own motivations, in my own reasons for doing what Jesus is calling us to do here. Jesus doesn’t just lay out a blueprint on what to do ‚Äì he points forward to God’s future and seems to narrow it to only include the righteous, the pure of mind, the pure of heart, the ones who would never need to be told to be humble or to invite the lame, poor, and blind, because they would just do it! He’s laying out before the gathered guests and the host their current, present, situation ‚Äì not their future one. They, in a sense, have already lost the bet. God’s future, for the moment, doesn’t include them.
It’s a harsh word, really. How, like the writer from Hebrews, can we in confidence say “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” after the harsh word that Jesus laid out here. Where is the grace in this passage?
I think Jesus points to it by using another r word in that passage ‚Äì resurrection. His dinner party guests, they believed in the Resurrection. The Pharisees taught that and Jesus’s language would not have surprised them. But the host wouldn’t have seen what we can see. For that host, the day of the resurrection is always in the future, forward; it belongs to God and God will decide when it happens, but it isn’t here yet. It is…coming, down the road. But that r-word means something a little different to Luke, to the community that Luke wrote for, and to us ‚Äì because we’re already living in a resurrected world ‚Äì a world where Jesus was mounted to a cross, died, experienced a complete death, only to be resurrected ‚Äì renewed ‚Äì created into something new. The resurrection isn’t just a future event ‚Äì it’s a now event. As Paul says, we are baptized into a death like his and a life like his too ‚Äì as Christians, we’re claimed by God to be the active, present, resurrected body of Christ in the
here and now. There’s no waiting; there’s no steps to cross; there’s no hoops to jump through. When the Holy Spirit calls us out individually by name, when the waters of baptism are poured over us, when we earnestly pray to God in our time of need, that’s it; we’re done; we’re wrapped up in God’s promised end. That’s God’s grace ‚Äì that’s the gift of faith ‚Äì that’s what Hebrews is talking about when it says that Jesus will never leave or forsake us. The dinner guests as they gathered around Jesus couldn’t have foreseen what we are blessed to see ‚Äì that the end is already here, we are living it, and that Jesus is still a part of it.
Jesus’s words are not a step-by-step guide on how to obtain righteousness, be perfect, or have the most admired dinner party on the planet. No, Jesus’s words are a reminder that we, in this post-resurrection era, are caught up in God’s end. We are living out God’s investment in the future. Jesus is the first fruits of resurrection, but he isn’t the last.
We’re living in that middle time, when the beginning of the end has already started but there is still time to go. Jesus’s words are a description of what God’s future is ‚Äì a future where the poor, the lame, the blind, the immigrant, stranger, disabled, rejected, they are invited to a
place at the table. Those who are unable to invite anyone due to their exclusion from society, they have a place at God’s table; they have a relationship with God; and Jesus’s call is to honor that present reality. This is a call for an expansion of welcome, not a restriction of it. It’s a call for the intentional building of relationships with those unlike us. It means taking the leap that faith gives us to reach across the aisle, break bread, and share some time together; to get to know each other. There’s no time to wait here. Jesus is with us. Where two or three are gathered and in the meal that we are all invited to share ‚Äì Jesus is there; Jesus is present; we are not asked to invite the poor to our table alone. Rather, we are asked to see that all tables are God’s tables; that all meals are Jesus’s events; that all opportunities for relationship building is the Spirit working in our midst. We don’t invite because we, on our own, will ever be able to be as righteous as Jesus calls us to be. No, we invite because we know we belong to God and that we have been given a seat at God’s table. And if we have a seat ‚Äì then everyone else has one there too.