A Beautiful Banquet

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                                        Sermon August 28 2022

                                     Quote St. Vincent de Paul

“You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread.  It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.”

            In Luke’s reading this morning, we return to this parable that Jesus shared at a time when he was on his way to eat at the home of one of the leaders of the Pharissees on the Sabbath.  He knew he was being watched and more importantly, he was being judged by these men and so he shares this provocative parable to impart a lesson that was challenging to hear then and continues to be important in our day as well. As Jan Richardson writes,  “Throughout Jesus’ ministry, we see again and again how in much the same way that he never passes up an opportunity to share a meal with others, he rarely misses the chance to use a table as an occasion to teach. Whether it’s welcoming a woman who anoints him, or using the table as a way to talk about the kingdom of God, or employing the elements of a meal to describe who he himself is: the table, for Jesus, is always about right relationship, about how we are to live in community and communion with one another.” Let us pray,  O Holy One, you continue to teach and to guide us.  Inspire us to hear these words today, these teachings with new ears and an open heart to the lessons you wish us to learn.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

            Who among us has not been offered the gift of hospitality at some time in our lives?  I can still recall some very special meals that I was invited to share with friends or extended family.  There are people who are wonderful at preparing beautiful tables and serving lovely meals and it is an honor to be invited to such gatherings.  I wonder too if we have ever been invited to a gathering and felt rather out of place.  Perhaps we felt that we were an afterthought or that other invited guests were not very welcoming, never mind that the host…

But what about folks who are rarely, if ever, invited to fine tables?  What about those who themselves barely have a table at which to sit? 

            When I spent six weeks in Central America many years ago, I lived with a family as I studied Spanish in this small community called Esteli in the mountains of Nicaragua.  I slept on a cot in the main room, surrounded by a simple curtain.  There were perhaps a couple of chairs upon which to sit and a rugged wooden table that was too small to gather around and so the family ate in shifts.  And they fed me from their table.  Often, I would see that they would give me the best portions, the bowl with more meat than the children would get…and that often meant maybe two spoonfuls….not a lot.  They wanted to offer hospitality to me and it was humbling to say the least.  Often, I would suggest I wasn’t that hungry or that I didn’t really eat meat because I knew that what I did not eat would go to those who needed it much more than I did…and yet, like any good guest, I had to be gracious and never behave in any way that was less than grateful, because they were sharing what they had with me.  Their dignity was linked to their ability to provide care and sustenance for me. But yes, it was humbling. 

At the table of which Luke speaks, Jesus turns his attention not only to the kind of hosts we are to be—inviting those who owe us nothing—but also to the kind of guests we ought to be. When we receive an invitation to share in the table of another, Jesus says (a wedding banquet, in this case: Jesus’ ultimate image of the kingdom of God) we should come with no expectations, no intent to grasp at a seat of honor—from which, Jesus says, we might be ejected. When approaching the table, Jesus says, our stance, is to be one of humility, a posture that leaves room for surprise and for grace.”JR

Of course, this reading can be troubling to think about, both in terms of our own lives but also in terms of how to make sense of it.  The problem, in one way, is that Jesus seems to be providing some type of ‘strategy’- you know-that if we go to the lowest place and then you’re noticed you’ll be brought up and everybody will be amazed and then you’ll have the respect of all the guests.  But this kind of planned way of getting noticed doesn’t sound like Jesus at all.  So then maybe we have to approach it with a difference lens.  Perhaps it is much more about an attitude that we should cultivate, a way of thinking and being mindful?

I think Jesus may also be inviting us to be aware of how we think about ourselves in relationship to others.  We want to have a healthy sense of self, but we know it should never come at the expense of another.  We only need to visit a middle school to see all of the jockeying for position and that sometimes the ones with low self esteem put others down or make others feel less than so that they can feel better about themselves or look cool to other peoples.  But sometimes there are people who have such a deep sense of themselves and their connection to others in the world that they are authentic in the ways they treat every single person with respect, with dignity, and yes with grace.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Those are the people who speak right to you and are not looking over your shoulder at a party looking for someone of higher status to cozy up to. 

            I honestly believe that when we know who we are and whose we are, namely, part of the family of God, a beloved Child of God, then we can be comfortable sharing their company of another, no matter who they are.  It’s a life lesson certainly; it’s something of great value to cultivate in our hearts and minds. 

The other part of the lesson that Jesus shares in the parable is word to the  host where he says, You know what.  Don’t invite people who will necessarily be able to return your generosity, who will be able to invite you back.  Invite the people who could really use the banquet.  Imagine if every so often we really embraced that spirit. What if we looked around at our circle of friends and aquaintances and considered who we might actually invite to share our table who could use the meal or the company? 

You may have heard this expression, “Life is a banquet” and it can be for so many.  But I am certain that Jesus understood well that too many didn’t have enough to eat…in his time or in our time.  And he is saying to the host, saying to us…invite those people.  They are the ones that could use the banquet.  Jesus is trying to explain that a banquet is for everyone, if they are invited.  And this wonderful image of the banquet flows into the after-life as well for Jesus.  Isaiah tells us-you want a picture of heaven?  This is it.  God is a waiter and you can come and you sit with all the people at a long table filled with every kind of food.  God waits on you.  It’s a banquet and God is the waiter.  What an amazing image.  And any type of banquet or wedding or celebration includes amazing food and drink but it is also about more than just the food, isn’t it?  It’s about the grace of God flowing through us and lifting us up.  It’s a reminder of the Kin’dom that God has in store for us-a place where everyone is welcome at the table and everyone will be fed equally, lovingly, compassionately and treated with the utmost dignity. 

Maybe that’s part of what Jesus is getting at this week. When we open our doors and throw a party, when we reach out in ministry and mission, we have to be willing to take some risks. Results aren’t the point of our hospitality. Success by the world’s standards isn’t the proper measure. This whole discipleship thing isn’t about honor, glory, reward, or prestige. And it’s not a competition.

Serving God and neighbor is more like a community potluck than a gourmet meal in the finest restaurant. It’s less about perfection and more about improvisation. It’s less about form and more about function. It’s less about looks and much, much more about love. It’s has something potluck  to do with rubbing elbows with strangers and kin alike; after all, both can present challenges. Instead of a guest list carefully crafted to reflect our wishes and wiles, Jesus crafts a “grace list” that is an open invitation to the party. The point is this: At Jesus’ banquet table there is room for everyone. (Sharron Blezard)

Resources;  The Humble Seat © Jan L. Richardson

Blessings to you at the table and beyond.