I was privileged to preach at my church today.
Listen to this sermon here.
The readings for today are at the bottom of this post.
In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus gets invited to a dinner party at someone’s house.
Not just any dinner – but the Sabbath meal.
Not just any house – but the house of a leader of the Pharisees. A leader among the most traditional and conservative of the priests in the city of Jerusalem.
Most of us who have had some success in our careers, get opportunities like this. We get invited to the Boss’ house, and we make polite conversation. We admire his or her home, we accept a seat at the table, we watch how much we drink. We don’t express our opinions too forcefully. We just try to make a good impression.
Jesus does not act the way we usually do.
Over the last two Sundays, our gospel readings have shown Jesus as the revolutionary, the firebrand, who came to bring fire to the earth!
Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!
Who rebukes the leader of a synagogue with
“You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”
All too often, when I see some problem with our country, or our community, I feel this outrage!
Something must be done about this right now!
I sometimes then waste my limited time and energy confronting people, rather than finding some way to work with them.
In our gospel readings of the past couple of weeks, Jesus seems to be feeling this outrage, this need for action.
But Jesus knows when to be forceful, and when to use a different approach.
A leader of the Pharisees invites Jesus, this wild, rough, Galilean prophet, the son of a carpenter from the countyside, invites this Jesus to his home for the Sabbath meal.
Jesus could have been loud and reactionary. He could have blamed the Pharisees present for many of the problems with their society. But, Jesus does not see the Pharisees as his adversaries.
Jesus ministered to everyone, even the Pharisees.
Can you imagine Jesus at this Sabbath dinner?
Jesus is the special guest, with all these high status religious leaders. He could claim if not the best seat, at least the second best seat at that table. Maybe, one of the Pharisees, has not gotten the word and has already claimed the seat reserved for Jesus. The other Pharisees are whispering to this man, you should move to another seat, we want Jesus to sit here so we can question and watch him closely.
Jesus is watching these men, with the love and regard he has for everyone.
Jesus then speaks,
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, 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 honored 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.”
After Jesus said this, I wonder if there was a sudden rush for the seats at the foot of the table?
Jesus, once he has their attention, also gives them a bit of his revolutionary, kingdom of God stuff, which he addresses directly to the leader of the Pharisees who invited him to this dinner.
“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.”
I am sure, that Jesus’ tone was friendly, but this message is a rebuke, because this is exactly who the leader of the Pharisees had invited to this dinner.
“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.”
I wonder how the leader of the Pharisees received this message from Jesus?
It seems that Jesus was not invited to dinner again.
We do not see in the gospels that Jesus regularly attended the sabbath dinner at a Pharisee’s house.
How are we to spread the message of the good news of Christ Jesus?
How are we to move our society towards the kingdom of God?
It is very easy for us to demonize people who do not agree with us. We disagree about some issue, and we label them as liberals or conservatives, progressives or libertarians. Once we have labeled them, they in turn label us. Their and our positions on issues harden as our hearts harden, so that even if we talk to one another, we are shouting slogans at each other, rather than listening to each other in the give and take of a conversation.
We start to see these people as our adversaries,
as an obstacle to be overcome.
As I was writing this sermon, I remembered two people who lived lives of protest. Who creatively and courageously worked to bring about the kingdom of God. Who also consciously and consistently refused to see the people who disagreed with them as adversaries or opponents to be overcome, but saw them as neighbors, friends and collaborators who had not yet joined with them.
John Woolman was born in 1720 in the colony of New Jersey. As a young man he learned how to tailor clothes, and how to run a business. He was a Quaker, and came to a personal realization that slavery was wrong, and that he must do something about it. With the support of his local Society of Friends meeting, he traveled to Quaker and other church meetings throughout New England for over 30 years, speaking against slavery, asking everyone who owned slaves to free them. In 1772 he traveled to England presenting the case to end slavery to the Yearly meeting of British Quakers. This one man, working throughout his life to convince his fellow Quakers to end slavery, led to the Quakers getting slavery abolished in Pennsylvania in 1790. Converting people who owned slaves on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line to give up the institution of slavery; convincing them to free their slaves by talking to them one on one.
Mahatma Ghandi was the other person who came to my mind as someone who creatively and courageously protested British rule, seeking freedom for the people of India.
Ghandi felt very strongly in the worth of every person he met. So when he was invited to a gathering where there was a servant present waiting on himself and the other guests. He would take the serving tray from the servant, thank them, and serve the other guests himself. Ghandi would do this at meetings with Indian leaders to remind them that the people were not protesting just for the Indian leaders to replace the British ones. But that those Indian leaders should see themselves as public servants of a free India. Ghandi’s act of service to others is a great example of a personal act of protest and awareness.
Before we protest,
before we work to change anyone elses’ opinions on the great issues of our day,
we have our own inner work to do.
In our hearts and in our minds, we should know that these people, our neighbors,
who disagree with us,
who we are protesting,
who we are confronting, are not our adversaries.
These people, are our brothers and sisters of God, our Father and Creator.
We should strive to strike that balance, as Jesus did, delivering our message of protest to the powerful, in a creative way.
With the resolve of John Woolman, pleading for the dignity of all people for over 30 years; never giving in or giving up.
With the moral force and firmness of our own conduct and example as Mahatma Ghandi did throughout his life.
Courageously seeking to convert,
always seeking to speak to our common humanity.
Always listening to that small, still voice of the spirit.
Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:
What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, “Where is the Lord
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that no one passes through,
where no one lives?”
I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination.
The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?”
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal,
and went after things that do not profit.
Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord,
and I accuse your children’s children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has ever been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for something that does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
says the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
that can hold no water.
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the
love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same
yesterday and today and forever.
Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share
what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
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 honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit
down at the place of honor, 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 honored 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
neighbors, 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.”