Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Luke 14:1, 7-14
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’
Seats At the Table: Luke 14: 1, 7-14
A Sermon for Our Blessing of the Backpacks and Lesson Plans
Everyone grab a pencil and your bulletin. Or, if you don't have a bulletin or a pencil, use your imagination. Imagine that you are going to throw a party or go out to dinner. You can invite five people you know. People that you go to school with or work with. Maybe even people that you go to church with. Pick five people. You don't have to tell me who you would pick. I'd like to ask a different question: How did you decide who to pick? The congregation shared some of their criteria for who they pick. Some picked friends who they know enjoy one another's company. Some picked people that they don't get to see very often. Others picked people who they knew would bring a positive spirit to the dinner. Great! Those are very good ways to decide to invite people to dinner. Now, remember who you picked, and set it aside for a second.
I have a second question for you. Imagine that someone has invited you to a party or out to dinner. You know that usually the most important guests sit next to the person throwing the party or maybe, if it's a wedding, the guests closest to the person throwing the party sit at a special table. So, you walk in the party or the restaurant, and look around. Where do you sit? Next to the person throwing the party? Somewhere in the middle? In that tiny, rickety table over by the kitchen? How do you decide where to sit? The congregation answered. Some said that they chose to sit with people they know. Some people chose to sit with people they don't know so they could make a new friend. Those are all smart ways to decide where to sit. Now, remember where you think you would sit, but put that aside for the moment, too.
In today's story from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was having Sabbath dinner with some Pharisees. What do we remember about the Pharisees? They care a lot about their religious laws and try to help everyday people figure out how to live according to how God asks them to live. They are well respected. They know a lot about the Bible. In some books of the Bible, they try to get him trouble. In Luke, they've helped him a couple times. Mostly, though, we see them arguing with Jesus. This story says that one of them invited Jesus over for dinner and everyone was watching Jesus really closely. Why do you think they were watching him so closely? I think they were waiting to see if he messed up... if he said something wrong or silly. They wanted to try to outsmart him or at least maybe see if he was really as good as people thought he was.
They talked about all kinds of stuff. First, a guy who was sick wandered in and Jesus asked aloud if everyone thought it would be ok to heal someone on the Sabbath. He talked about that in our reading last week, too. He helped this guy like the helped the woman in the earlier story. Then, Jesus wanted to talk about how people act when they get invited to dinner. It seems funny, right? Why would he want to talk about that? It says in the story that Jesus was paying attention to how people chose where they sat at dinner. It was the kind of dinner where people who were special in some way got to sit in certain places. Jesus noticed that people were picking seats according to how important they thought they were. When Jesus taught people, he often used examples from everyday life to try and show people something about God. He decided that since they were at a dinner together, he would use the things they did at the dinner party to teach them something about God. That's why he ended up talking about table manners and party invitations.
Ok, let's try to remember some of the ways we said we would use to figure out where to sit at a party. Does anybody remember how Jesus said to try to figure out where to sit? Right. He said don't pick the best seat unless somebody invites you to take it. It's important for us to remember that he doesn't want you to take the bad seats because you did something wrong. He just thinks it's more important to make sure everyone has a seat. And, he thinks it's important to worry more about how other people are doing than to make sure you always get the best stuff. He talks about being humble. What do you think he means when he says it is good to be humble? I think at least part of what he means when he asks them to be humble is don't try to get the best stuff for yourself all the time.
After talking about this with everybody, he turned around to the person who invited him to dinner and gave him a specific example of how he can think more about what other people need and less about getting all the good stuff for himself. He said that the guy might need to invite different people to dinner. Remember all of those reasons where shared for inviting people to dinner. They are good reasons to invite people over. There are some other not-so-good reasons for inviting people to dinner. Jesus knew that sometimes people invite others over so that the other people might do something nice for them in return. Like, if I invite this person to dinner, maybe they'll invite me to go to a concert with them next week. Or, maybe if I'm really nice to my boss at work, they will give me the promotion that I want. This way of being nice to people is less about actually being nice and more about finding a way to get stuff that you want. Jesus said that's not the best way to throw a party.
Here's what he said to do instead. He said not to throw big celebrations for people who will do stuff to pay you back. He said, instead, when you have enough food and money to through a big party to celebrate, invite people who can't throw big parties themselves. Invite people who probably won't be able to pay you back with something you really want. Practice doing something for people without thinking about whether or not they can pay you back. God helps people and creates stuff and knows that we can never repay God for how awesome our lives our. So, we should try to pass that goodness on to others. We should help people without hoping for something in return. That's the way that you can put your faith into action.
So, what does that mean for us, especially for those of us who are heading back to school and back to work over the next week or so. How can we practice living the way Jesus says is the best way to live? I have one idea that I'd like to share I learned from a teacher named Carolyn C. Brown. Look back at or remember those five people you wanted to invite to your party. Now, see if you can think of two people in your class or at work or who live on your street and who don't seem to get invited to play at people's houses very often. Do you know anyone like that? Now, imagine what it would be like if you invited them to your party. How do you think it might go? Now, imagine how that person might feel about being asking to come to a party. Do you think they would feel good about being asked?
Now, I think it's also important to remember one other thing. It doesn't actually help if you invite people who don't usually get invitations and then tell them that they should be happy that you invited them. That is kinda of like doing a good thing and hoping they will do something good for you in return. Also, it's probably not helpful to pretend to be really humble so people will say nice things about you, but to not actually be humble. That's not what Jesus said we should do either. But, I don't think anyone here would do those things. I think you'll try to think of others first and try not to worry so much about always getting the best stuff and I think the beginning of the school year is the perfect time to practice. So, good luck. I hope that you can find some new and fun people to sit at the table with you. You never know. You might end up hanging out with somebody who is like Jesus.
Resources Pastor Chrissy consulted to write this sermon:
David Schnasa Johnson: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2957
Karoline Lewis: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4700
Carolyn C. Brown, Worshiping with Children: http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/07/year-c-proper-17-22nd-sunday-in.html
Emerson Powery: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1754
Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching The New Common Lectionary: Year C, After Pentecost (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1986).
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.