Sermon – August 28, 2016

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Scripture: Hebrews 13:1-3, 5-8, Luke 14:1,7-14
Title: Table Politics

**Sermons are meant to be heard, so listen along here**

In the next few days and weeks, kids in MN are heading back to school.
I know.
It’s joy and agony at the same time.
(Agony for kids, joy for parents)

A new school year brings with it a combination of fear, excitement, and nervousness to the minds and stomachs of most kids.
The first day of school especially.
If you’re a student, you know this already, but for you adults in the room, take a minute and put yourself back there.
That first day in a new room. Maybe a new school.
There are new people. Not all friends yet.
A new teacher.
New places to sit.
A new locker.
And in study after study, when asked what is the main source of anxiety and fear on that first day of school, the largest percentage of students answer??
Not the new teacher or classroom or locker…but… Lunch.
Where am I going to sit in the lunchroom?

And while it might seem far away in our memory as adults, if we take a moment, we can remember feeling this way too. Maybe we’ve even felt it recently…
I went to a conference a few weeks ago and on my first day there had the same thoughts – will I know anyone?  Who am I going to sit with?
I was suddenly 13 again.
What’s my place?
Where do I fit?

Meals are important.
Gathering around a table is a significant part of how we build connections with each other.
It doesn’t have to just be our friends at school, but at home, with friends… sharing a meal, gathering around the table is significant.
It’s one of the reasons why we incorporate meals into important days, like holidays and birthdays.  
Eating together does something that can’t happen anywhere else.

So it’s no mistake that so much of Jesus’ ministry happens around tables.
It’s where he does the majority of his teaching.  
Meals in that time were filled with layers of additional meaning.
Usually, if you had a meal that you invited others to be a part of, they were often of the same social class as you.
If you were the host of the party and invited someone of a higher status, and they came, it was a big deal and they were shown a lot of honor (A NT scholar once said that if you wanted people to fawn over you, you would always accept the invitations from people lower than you on the social ladder).
If you invited someone lower than you, it was understood that you would likely be called upon later for a favor of some kind to pay it back.  A quid pro quo of sorts.
In a lot of ways, this system still operates in a lot of arenas today. It’s not completely out of the realm of our understanding.

So Jesus gathers for a meal with some followers and Pharisees.  

And the guests were all asking the same question internally – what’s my place?
They were wondering where they fit in the scheme of this dinner party.
And as they looked around for their place, they all did the same thing – they all chose the highest places.
Jesus takes note of this.
And then tells a parable.
Actually, I’d call it a “parable”
Because Jesus doesn’t really hide what he’s saying in too much metaphor.

He uses the example of a wedding banquet to help explain this other meal.
So this “parable” goes like this:  When you are invited to a wedding banquet, don’t sit at the highest place, because what if you’re not the most important one there?  Then when someone higher up than you comes, you’ll have to move lower, and wouldn’t that be embarrassing? Instead, sit at the lowest place, and then if your host sees you there and thinks you should be sitting higher, he’ll move you and that will really wow the crowd.

Jesus is basically telling people to stop thinking of themselves as the most important person in the room.

And then Jesus turns to his host, the one who made all the invitations and says:
14:12 – “When you give a luncheon or 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.”

Next time you do this don’t invite all these yahoos. They are here for what they can get for themselves. And you’re inviting them to get something in return.

You’re all operating in the quid pro quo mindset.

Jesus takes it one step further.  
Not only does he tell them to stop inviting the people who only want something in return, or people they can get something from later – but instead, start inviting the people on the fringes.


Alabama pastor Ron Lewis talked about this kind of thinking… Video: the guest list

Start thinking about the guest list – Jesus says.
Jesus wants us to stop thinking in terms of social capital and start thinking in terms of the Kingdom of God.
The world operates (then and now) in terms of power and position.

But as successful as this might be in terms of building social collateral – it’s not how God operates in the world.
While the world is scrambling and fighting to find a place at the top, God is down at the bottom – in the depths. Not sitting with the cool kids at all, but with those on the outside, on the fringes, those usually excluded.

And for those hearing this story – then and now – the parable is heard in two ways depending on social position;
1. If you were in a position of power, this parable is a call to humility.  

  1. If you were a person on the fringes, this parable is pure hope – come on up! There’s a place for you.

In this parable today, Jesus reminds us to stop the fight to the top and instead look to the outside, the bottom of  the ladder, and it is there, in the encounters with the outcast and forgotten and stranger, it is there where we meet God.

And really this is because this is what the table is like when the host is God.
God doesn’t care where we sit.
We’re all invited, there’s a spot for everyone, and even better, God never, ever expects anything in return.
There is no quid pro quo in the Kingdom of God.

So I don’t know what brought you here today.
I don’t know if you are hurting, if you are anxious, if you are doing ok.
What I do know is that there’s a place at the table with your name on it.
No RSVP needed.
But what I do know is that not everyone in the world outside of this room knows that this table is big enough for them.
Not everyone out there knows that there’s a place at this table with THEIR name on it too.
So that’s our job.

Not to look around for the best and most beautiful to sit next to, but to find the people who don’t think they have a place here, who think they aren’t worthy or good enough or God doesn’t care or that there are some kind of steps or a certain prayer they have to say first… it’s our job to expose that for the lie it is.
All are worthy.
All are welcome.