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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
August 28 2022
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Grace to you and peace from God, our creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
One of my favorite movies is “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I love the book, too, but the movie is one of those that when I’m channel surfing, I’ll stop and at least listen to it while I’m doing something else. And often I’ll just stop whatever I’m doing and watch it.
In the movie, on the first day of school, Jem and Scout bring home a classmate for dinner (lunch) – Walter. It was unannounced, but a place is made for him at the table, no questions asked. After Atticus serves him his lunch, Walter asks whether he could have some maple syrup. Calpurnia brings it to him, and then he pours it all over his roast beef and mashed potatoes.
Watching all of this, Scout flips out and embarrasses Walter. Calpurnia calls Scout in to the kitchen and reminds her that that boy is her guest. And that if he wants to eat the tablecloth, she’ll let him.
That piece of the story always comes to mind for me when I read today’s gospel. Jesus is talking to the religious leaders about where to sit when they’re invited to a meal, and then who they should or shouldn’t invite into their homes for a meal. Because they likely would never invite someone like Walter.
It’s no secret that Jesus like to stir things up. And Luke’s gospel, it often happened at a dinner party.
We know that eating is an essential practice for humans, both physically and symbolically. Food sustains and enhances our communities and cultures. But when there’s too little or too much of it, people get greedy and desperate. Food brings people together, but it also divides them.
In Biblical times, the shared meal was at the center of social interactions. And the people at the table reflected who was “in” and who was “out” in society. It was a place where social power was flaunted, and often gained or lost. And there are places where that still happens today.
And because mealtimes tended to be a mirror-image of society, Jesus used those opportunities to teach about justice and inclusion. And in today’s story, Luke doesn’t tell us what the audience thought, but they probably weren’t too happy about what Jesus said.
Especially when he gets to the part about the “guest list.” For people then, it was unthinkable to extend meal invitations to anyone that wouldn’t be able to reciprocate in some way – whether by helping to build the host’s prestige, or by becoming indebted and dependent on them.
To host a meal for the sake of hosting a meal just wasn’t done. And neither was sitting down with people who were strangers and often social outcasts.
So, when Jesus said what he said, he didn’t do it just to upset people. He did it to remind them of the social structure of God’s realm. And that did upset people, because God’s realm looks nothing like the societies humans have built.
Because, as theologian Debie Thomas reminds us, God’s realm isn’t built on arrogance, but humility. Its foundation isn’t stinginess, but generosity. And it isn’t a place of fear, but of hospitality.
God’s realm is a place where everyone not only has a place, but a place of honor.
Jesus’ advice to invite people who can’t reciprocate the invitation is as counter-cultural today as it was then. Especially here in the U.S. where we’re so deeply divided about so many things – including what determines a person’s value.
Our congregation feeds people well – especially people who don’t have access to enough food. But Jesus asks us to take it a step further, and not just feed people but also to sit down and actually share a meal with them. To have a conversation with them and get to know them, and to let them get to know you.
And Covid made that a lot harder to do – it was even impossible for a while. But if we’re truthful, most of us – most of the time – share meals with people who are like us. We know the people we sit down with at a table. We have some things in common with each other. And in some way, reciprocity happens.
We say things like, “Next time we do this at my place” or “Next time I’ll pick up the tab.” But approaching people that aren’t like us and inviting them to a meal without expecting that they’ll repay you somehow is a whole different thing.
Sharing meals is central to who we are as human beings. And making sure people have a place at the table is foundational to God’s realm. And it’s on us to make sure people know that they have a place.
In my previous congregation, two of the young adults went on a synod-sponsored trip to meet the young adults in the Lutheran Church of Senegal – the companion synod for the Grand Canyon synod. One of the things they talked about when they got back was the profound hospitality that they received.
One of the ways that hospitality was embodied was that the groups they were with almost always sat in a circle when they ate together. And when someone new came into the room, the people in the circle shifted to create a place for that person.
No one complained. No one said, “Oh man, I just got comfortable.” The most important thing was making sure that everyone had a place.
God’s realm is a place where everyone not only has a place, but a place of honor. This is the realm Jesus asks us to embody – it’s the one he embodied for us. It’s built on humility and generosity and hospitality. It’s a place where people are known and valued and loved for who they are – not for their social standing or where they live or their material possessions.
And in our society, which we know has almost an obsession with pressuring people to have more and do what it takes to be better than anyone else, the idea of a place like God’s realm is very upsetting because it threatens the system that we have in place. But God’s realm is the one Jesus embodied – and it’s the one he asks us to embody.
When we think about what that means, it sounds like a lot. And it is. It can be overwhelming to think about magnitude of embodying God’s realm on a large scale. But like most things, it starts in here with us. And more to the point, it starts at this table.
When we come to God’s table – even receiving Communion in our seats, we all come with hands outstretched to receive the same gift. We come knowing that there is enough and that we have a place. We come knowing that we are valued, known, and loved for who we are.
There’s no competition, no comparison, no worry about who has more or who is better than someone else. That is what we carry with us when we leave here. That is what we carry into the world as a building block for God’s realm.
And every time we receive Christ’s presence, we receive another building block and carry it into the world. And as we do, we share the humility and generosity and hospitality we have received. Not just with the people we know, but with whomever we happen to meet. And maybe we even invite a group of strangers to share a meal.
But as we come to this table and receive, and carry it back out again, God’s realm gets built one person at a time. And that’s doable.
We’re able to do this, to come and receive and go back out again because at God’s table, every place is a place of honor and there’s always enough to go around. And there’s always a place for you. Thanks be to God! Amen.