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Faith United Methodist Church

August 28, 2016

15th Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Luke 14:1, 7-14

Prayer of Illumination: (Responsive)

Whom does God exalt?

God resists and opposes the proud,

but gives grace to those who are humble.

Whom does Jesus exalt?

Those who exalt themselves will be humbled,

but those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Whom does the Spirit exalt?

Those who exalt God!

Sermon:                                                            Choose Carefully

This morning we meet Jesus at a dinner party. And this is a fancy affair. We expect him to eat with outcasts and share his meals with the poor, but on this occasion he is among a different class of people. He is hobnobbing with the elite. The Scripture tell us that a Pharisee asked Jesus to his house for a Sabbath meal and Jesus accepted the invitation.

As with many of the actions of the Pharisees, we find an ulterior motive in this “generous” invitation. Luke writes simply, “…they were watching him closely.” Jesus had been up to some things, with his healing and his teaching, and the Pharisees did not approve. So the invitation was probably not out of pure kindness. They most likely wanted to keep their eye on him.

So, knowing that the Pharisees were watching him, Jesus hung back and kept his eyes open as well. The first thing he noticed was how the Pharisees chose their seats. Elbowing to get to the places of honor, the dinner guests jockeyed to be seated next to the most prestigious people present. Jesus saw this and said, “Don’t all try to sit at the place of honor. Instead, when you come in, sit at the lowest place. Then your host may call to you to move up!”

And not only that, Jesus says, when you have a dinner party, don’t invite only your friends, those people who can repay you, but invite people who would not be able to reciprocate – the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. Jesus asked his listeners to review their place cards and their guest lists.

But, why all this fuss about meals? Didn’t Jesus have more important things to do?  Yet especially in ancient times, and to some degree in our day, meals are symbols of broader social relationships. As William Willimon observed, “Show me how a person behaves in the smallest, most everyday practices of life, and that tells you all you need to know about what is most valuable in that person’s life.” As for the Pharisees, they believed that eating with an important or prominent person conveyed some of that same honor or status on to them by association. Whoever actually sat next to the prominent person shared a greater amount of that person’s status, accomplishments and honor.

Willimon, in his sermon Mind You Manners, described this passage as Jesus’ meditation on manners, or “Jesus on how to act in the cafeteria.” Yet Jesus’ words on table manners were not just tips on how to entertain guests. Jesus’ manner-minding pointed to a future banquet when all would be equal and feast together.

All this talk about seating and table manners may be a good opportunity for us to think about how we choose our seats, who we sit next too, and what we might expect from our guests. I imagine that, if you are like me you have a pretty standard seating arrangement at home. The same chair at the dining room table night after night. Often times we get so accustomed to our regular seat that we end up sitting there even when we are the only one home!

But think about how you choose your seat when you go out to a restaurant with business associates? When you attend your high school reunion? When you visit with friends in their living room? When you come to church? Do you sit in the same, familiar pew each Sunday, or do you like to move around, try different spots, get a new perspective? Do you sit next to people you know, or do you see an unfamiliar face and slide in next to them?

In this passage Jesus is challenging us to go beyond our comfort level, to take a risk, issue an invitation, or change our seat.  There is a national movement taking place in our schools called “Mix it Up” day. This movement recognizes that the school lunchroom is one of the most segregated places (racially, culturally, and socially). Students are asked to pick one day and mix it up. Sit with someone they don’t know. Choose a different table.

There are other passages in the Bible that speak of this kind of hospitality. The author of Hebrews writes, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angles without knowing it.” Yet our popular etiquette – ethic says, “I give, so you may give to me.” Often when we give we expect in return. We give gifts so we get gifts. We issue invitations so we are invited. Any etiquette guru will tell you that reciprocity is the cornerstone of good manners. Yet, as Jesus so aptly points out, hospitality as a quid-pro-quo has no religious merit. Sorry Miss Manners! We don’t give so we can receive but we give so that someone else may receive and share together in the banquet.

The Good News this morning is that we are all invited and God is our host. It matters not where we sit. So, as we come to the end of our Scripture study, we see that the Pharisees had good reason to keep a close eye on Jesus. He not only healed on the Sabbath and hung out with sinners and tax collector, but he couldn’t even leave their dinner party alone! Yet Jesus message is not just for the Pharisees. There is a challenge for us in this message as well.

Are we concerned more with reciprocity or generosity? With etiquette or hospitality?  Maybe we need to mix it up! Give God a chance to work through us. So choose your seat carefully ~ not with an eye to prestige, but with an eye to the Kingdom. Watch the heavenly banquet unfold, toss the place card aside, and invite someone to sit next to you. Amen!