Sermon for September 1, 2019

A couple trying to break into society hosted a dinner party.  As the guests were enjoying their dinner salad, the maid called the hostess from the table. The maid informed her that the cat had climbed on the kitchen table and eaten a large portion of the salmon's mid-section. The hostess decided to fill the eaten portion with some canned salmon and other camouflage.

As the guests were enjoying the fish, the maid called the hostess into the kitchen and announced while wringing her hands, "Madam, the cat is dead." The hostess and her husband informed the guests and suggested it might be best if everyone went to the hospital and had their stomachs pumped. Returning home, the couple asked the maid where she had put the cat. "It is still out on the road where the car ran over it.” 

Our gospel for today contains a parable by Jesus. He offered some advice about how we should live. He emphasized two words that begin with H; humility and hospitality. The dialogue occurs in the midst of a dinner. But the outcome was much different than what happened in the story of the couple I began with. Let’s spend a few minutes considering how the words of Jesus might teach us about our life today.

We have been reading from the gospel of Luke during this Pentecost season. Luke had a special interest in food. He mentioned nineteen meals in his gospel. Meals symbolize nourishment and celebration. Luke used meals to describe healing, hospitality, fellowship, forgiveness, teaching, and reconciliation. These are all part of what we should expect when Christians come together. Luke also emphasized the ministry of Christians to the outcasts, for victims of oppression and those at a disadvantage in society {Mark Allen Powell New Testament). Jesus said early in his ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Luke is consistent Jesus talks about the sin of pride and helping those less fortunate.

Jesus was invited to dinner by a leader of the Pharisees. There were times when Jesus got along well with the Pharisees. They seemed to enjoy debating issues of faith with him. And the Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod was out to kill him. But the Pharisees did not like the fact that Jesus ignored the religious rituals about eating. They didn’t like Jesus healing people on the Sabbath. And they didn’t like the fact that Jesus associated himself with sinners and poor people. The Pharisees thought that Jesus should avoid or even shun the poor. Jesus did just the opposite. I suppose that is why the Pharisees watched him so closely to see what he would say. Jesus didn’t disappoint. He gave them a lecture about their behavior.

I believe the Pharisees expected to be honored for their learning and their position and possibly their background. They all wanted to be respected. We know this from an earlier passage in Luke when Jesus said to the Pharisees “you love to have the seat of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the market-places”. Can you imagine the jockeying for position that must have happened at the dinner?

Can you imagine how Jesus reacted to seeing these Pharisees seeking a place of honor? I don’t think that they had a printed seating arrangement but there must have been unspoken rules about who was most important. People came early to grab the most important seats. But prominent people often came late and those less prominent were forced to move. They would be shamed by the public slight that they endured. Jesus told us that we should take the less important seat. Then when we are moved up, we are treated and feel more honorable. His words seem to be like just good advice. This advice is consistent with words found in the Book of proverbs.

Jesus was telling us not just how to behave in a social setting but sharing the importance of humility and the risk of having too much pride.   Pride is such an easy trap to fall into. We want others to know how important we are. We might do that by taking an important seat when we don’t deserve it. Or we might show our pride when we take the lower seat and then we are asked to go to a better seat. That is when we gleam with pride. Hey everyone, look at me. I am way more important than all of those who are down at the bottom of the list. When we try to look humble, we may be showing our pride underneath it all.

In the broader sense I don’t think Jesus is just talking about dinner meals. I think he wants us to be humble in everything we do. Jesus showed us that in how he lived his own life. Everyone is important in this world and we are better off when we don’t try to make ourselves more important than others.  

The second story is about whom we should invite when we host a meal. Jesus told us not to offer food just to win over friends or to get a higher place in society. Jesus said that we are to feed the poor and the homeless. This story hit me in an unusual way this week. I often look at a website called TextWeek as I prepare my sermons. The front page always has some kind of image. It is usually a painting or an icon with a biblical theme. But this week it was a black and white photograph titled “children in a democracy”. It was taken in 1940 and looked like a family in difficult straits. There was a mother holding a baby in front of a small house. There were two older children timidly peeking out from the doorframe of the building. It turns out that it was taken on Arizona Highway 87, south of Chandler in Maricopa County, Arizona. It was a migratory family living in a trailer in an open field without sanitation or water. They came from Amarillo, Texas. They pulled cotton bolls near Amarillo, picked cotton near Roswell, New Mexico, and in Arizona. They planned to return to Amarillo at the close of cotton-picking season for work on Works Progress Administration. I thought isn’t it good that we have made so much progress in our economic situation since 1940. Some of that is true. But we still have many families who struggle to survive. We will always have the poor with us.

Today’s story about Jesus begins with the words, “Jesus told them this parable”. I find that interesting and a little confusing. Once again, it is more than just social advice. Making this a parable creates an understanding that this is a story about something else. I believe Jesus was talking to us about God’s kingdom. It may be talking to us about the heavenly banquet that we will look forward to. If so, then Jesus is telling us that the heavenly banquet is a place where all are welcome. It is also suggesting to us that we are to invite everyone to be a part of that heavenly banquet with us. It is also a reminder that God is the host of all things on earth. We are just supporting God’s will when we host a meal for those around us.

When we do something special for a stranger, we may get a pleasant surprise. I call to your attention a verse in todays passage from Hebrews, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” You see, we may benefit more from hosting the poor and suffering that they ever will. I remember when I traveled to Central American. I encountered many poor people. But the poor people changed me because they were always so happy. They lived their lives with joy. It reminded me that you don’t really need to have anything except God in your life to be happy. They also encouraged me because they always shared what they had with others who were in need. We once shared a meal with some ladies who were to prepare our lunch and eat with us. The ladies cooked lunch for us and we paid for the meal. It was their way of raising money to help those who were really in need. However, right before the meal others from the town arrived and sat at the table in the cooks chairs. We asked the cooks to give each of us less food so they could join us along with the other guests who’d shown up. They refused to do so because they felt those joining us deserved to eat also and they wouldn’t shortchange us on what we paid for.

Luke gives us some tough lessons to live by. But in all things we should take heart. Yes, we should be humble and yes we should help the needy. Let us not lose sight of the fact that Jesus told these stories to remind us that God welcomes people of all types into God’s kingdom. All of us have sinned and all of us have failed to follow God’s will. Still, we are welcome in God’s kingdom, God is waiting for us with open arms.   Let us give thanks. Amen.

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  • Romans 8:38-39
    “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”