This sermon is a consideration of Luke 14:7-14.
Now, I am not judging, but I am guessing that most of you really did not pay attention to the scripture. The way our worship service is set up, it is difficult. You just get to hear it read once quickly before the next thing starts, my sermon. Then human nature kicks in and keeps us from focusing. Jesus eating, reminds us of the family picnic we are going to this afternoon up in Findlay. Findlay reminds us of our grandmother’s house, right outside of Findlay in Fostoria. Fostoria reminds us of a real cool candy store you used to walk to with your cousins when you stayed at grandma’s for a week. They had sweet and sour Charms suckers. You can’t get those anymore. I wonder why not. Suddenly, the pastor is saying, The Word of the Lord and the congregation responding, Praise to you Oh Christ. And you are thinking, what, it’s over? I am not judging. I have been there, in your place in the pews. I know how it is.
I say all this, because if you were paying attention, you may have come to the same conclusion I did this week when I read it. What does this teaching of Jesus have to do with me? First, you and I don’t go to parties where there is a rigid order for seating. I know, I know, we all have stories of crazy Aunt Ethel that always had to sit in the winged back chair by the fireplace, but that was because she was crazy Aunt Ethel. Sure, we have favorite seats, dad always sits on the end, etc…but that is a far cry from what Luke is describing. The closest experience you and I may have like this is a wedding, and even that isn’t that strict. Who hasn’t taken their table card and moved it quickly because there is no way you are sitting next to cousin Steve as he drinks way too much free booze?
The rigid seating arrangement Jesus attacked was there because of a rigid class structure in his day. We probably have a more rigid social code then we like to admit, but few of us go to parties with people outside our class, which is another reason this scripture seems to have little to do with us. We go to parties with people that look like us. Uncle Jeff may look down on the rest of us because he went to Miami and we went to community college, but Uncle Jeff is still in the same social class as us. The income disparities between people at our middle class parties are in the tens of the thousands, not millions. Uncle Jeff is fooling himself if he thinks his Miami degree is going to get him a better seat at my party.
Which leads to another problem with this scripture, we don’t sound like this. In Jesus’ parable, the oaf is the guy who sat in the wrong seat. At our parties, the oaf would be either the host who came up and said to the guy in the wrong seat, hey give that seat to someone more important or the guy who put the host up to it because he thought he was more important. Can you imagine the whispers at a party if something like this happened?
Finally, what do you do with these teachings of perfection anyway? I mean surely, Jesus does not intend that we never throw a party for our friends, family, neighbors and coworkers, right? This teaching is similar to the one about giving away all our wealth or not worrying about tomorrow. How many retirees brag about taking that advice? Because these teachings are so far out there, we tend to either skip them, lest we feel horrible about ourselves, or try to fulfill them and soon tire of the complete isolation or chaos that doing so makes of our life. The only people that can live these kinds of teachings fully are monks in a monastery isolated somewhere.
When you heard this scripture read this morning, you may have gotten as frustrated as I did when I first sat down and tried to figure out what to do with it. Or you may be a lot smarter than me and got it right away. Jesus is simply teaching us how to throw a great party. Even though the parties that Jesus went too looked a lot different than our parties, his teaching about how to throw a good party still applies and still seem crucial for the Kingdom of God.
We need to pay attention to who we eat with. We may not be like the host, rudely telling our guests to move over. Yet, we are often like the host in that we only eat with people that look like us. Jesus does not tell us just to love the poor, blind, handicapped or disadvantaged or even only share our wealth with them. He is telling us to invite them over for a hot dish, good conversation and dancing afterwards. This is something else altogether.
If we are to be Jesus people, we are to seek opportunities to welcome and eat with those the world wrongly looks down upon. We do this by not just serving in soup kitchens, but gathering a plate at the end of the serving and sitting down, too. We do this by not always sitting with our friends and family at Messiah Night but with strangers, especially the ones we would never eat with normally. We do this by inviting everyone to the table, weekly in worship here at Messiah, that God set. The Eucharist is the table of God’s nourishing grace that sees no differences between brother and sister who come with their hands out to God.
To throw great Jesus’ parties with people from all walks of life, social class, sinfulness and peculiarities, we need to be marked by humility. The moment we think we are better than the other people at the party, the music dies and Jesus leaves the room. True humility is not a function of low self esteem that needs years of counseling to overcome or a rough veneer to hide our arrogance underneath. Humility calls us to recognize that God has given everyone at the party abundant gifts.
If your gifts bring you fame or wealth like Lebron James, they still do not cancel out or trump my gifts. God has blessed each of us so we should delight and celebrate in each other’s gifts. We should never allow these gifts to elevate one person or denigrate another. To deny our gifts would be denying God’s goodness. For me to deny your gifts would be denying God’s goodness.
To truly love all the guests at our party, we need to be honest with ourselves about just how success rolled our way. I was born in a house that emphasized education. I was able to go to college and seminary because of wealthy parents and in laws. I had chance opportunities in teaching, management and sales. All this has served me well as a pastor and allowed me to hone and sharpen my gifts in a way that made them shine bright. How can I feel superior to another, when my success cannot be separated from my good fortune?
To throw a great party we need to be a great host, one that looks like Jesus. This was a guy that had a lot of gifts. He didn’t deny them or even hide them. He didn’t use those gifts to make others feel less human or worthy, nor did he claim special privilege because of them. The only seat he claimed was a really uncomfortable one, the cross. He used his gifts to serve others.
Jesus is the first Adam of the new creation, the resurrection, heaven. Our character in heaven will be marked by humility. When we live humbly now, we give honor to God’s creation by loving others and ourselves. We reveal God’s Kingdom, by acting as Kingdom people now.
In this teaching about how to throw the perfect party, Jesus is letting us know what the world will look like when the Kingdom of God comes. We still live in the Kingdom of Humanity, but if our actions reveal to others the Kingdom of God, we will help them believe and trust God, too. Our true humility and our joyful welcome will reveal God to others. Jesus wants us to throw good parties now, with all sorts of people, so the greatest party ever thrown, heaven, will be jam packed, wall to wall, with God’s good creation. Amen