Luke 14:1, 7-14
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. 7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “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, 9 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. 10 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. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 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 and sisters or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
In her article, “20 tips to throw the best stress-free dinner party ever,” Sophia Breene says that the number one thing to do when throwing a dinner party is to “pick a good group.” “Choose friends who get along well, have similar interests, and have at least some things in common. If you’re looking to spice things up with a wildcard invitee or two, make sure they’ll fit in and won’t make the rest of your guests uncomfortable” This makes a lot of sense to me.
Whenever you are going to spend time and money to host an event, you want to make sure that everyone is going to get along well and that no one is going to leave upset. That’s why we sometimes have parties and don’t invite family members right. Sometimes, the best are informal gatherings that take place on the porch or in a driveway, or a shop.
The summer before I went away to college there was a group of people that lived on Vickie St. that gathered almost every night in the summer. They would bring a chair and their own beverage, maybe a pack of smokes and many tall tales to tell. They would laugh and share until their sides hurt and they were out of happy tears and then turn around and do it all over again the next night. They continued to meet for several years when the weather warmed up; they were my parents and their neighbors.
We see this happen all the time in the groups that we associate with. However, Jesus and the writer of Hebrews has other ideas for us. Jesus has been invited to a dinner party hosted by a Pharisee on the Sabbath. Luke also writes that Jesus is being watched very closely. Our passage from last week was an argument that arose between Jesus and the church authorities over healing a woman who was bent over for 15 years on the Sabbath.
They subscribed to the old saying keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. These Pharisees were going to make sure that Jesus was not doing anything “Hinky” as Abby Sciuto would say on NCIS. Also notice it was OK for the servants to prepare the meal and for the guests to arrive. They were upset about the Sabbath rules and doing work and distance traveled and all those other rules as long as it did not interfere with their dinner plans. Jesus begins talking to them about what theologians call the “Great Reversal”
This term can be summarized in the scripture where Jesus said, “The first will be last and the last will be first.” Jesus is quoted as saying this four times in the gospels and Paul uses it in both letters to the Thessalonians. Everything that we know as important is not really going to amount to a hill of beans in God’s kingdom. And Jesus tells the guests at the Pharisees party that when they are invited, they should sit in a “lower place” than suffer the embarrassment of being told to move by the host. This concept of dinner parties needs to be unpacked just a bit.
Think of a wedding reception. The bridal party sits at the head table with the bride and groom seated in the middle of that table. That is the place of the most honor. The bridal party then flanks either side of the happy couple. Looking out from that table in the center is where the parents and grandparents are usually seated. Next level of importance. Then flanking that table are the other relatives that had to pay to get there. And then way in the back are the rowdy friends of the couple that came for free food and an open bar. If one of the rowdies tries to sit at the wrong table they are quickly ushered to their proper places.
Same in Jesus day, only it would have all been dudes, while the women were either in another room, or doing the work. The society that Jesus lived in was one in which people were expected to reciprocate the gifts for one another. Those who could do the most were given more honor than the beer guzzling, buffet eating people in the back. We can see the benefits of the and places of honor at our weddings today as being accepted. But Jesus then begins to meddle, as he always does.
He tells them that if they are going to have a big party, they should invite the ones who can’t return the favor. He specifically names the poor, crippled, lame and blind. The writer of Hebrews throws in the stranger should receive hospitality as well. The writer of Hebrews says, when we welcome the stranger, we never know if we are welcoming angels among us. This is a direct link to the story of Abraham and Sarah…
This is hard teaching on a personal level and even on the church level. If we look at the church level we worship together on Sundays. We say hi to folks, wave across the aisle maybe shake hands or hug after the service. But what happens when the person walks in that is not a part of the normal, the wildcard invitee? Three things can happen. One, is we totally ignore someone and hope they have a good day. Two, we inundate them and hover over them and then almost forcefully drag them to the coffee pot or the cookie table. Three, is we greet them and ask how we can serve them? Seems dumb right, but when was the last time you went to a new church? What made you feel welcome and what made you upset? What if someone is dressed different? What if someone is having a hard time during worship? What if they just need a place to hang out and they hoped God might speak to them that day?
Each case is different and each person has different needs. So, if you ask how, you can serve them, they might tell you. Maybe a stranger is too much for you. That’s OK. Start small. Walk across the sanctuary and invite someone you don’t always talk to, to have a cookie. Invite them to a meal, or an event in the church. The writers of Hebrews shared these words, “Let mutual love continue.” (v1) How can we love someone if we don’t know them? It can begin right here in a safe place to practice your faith. Because when the big stuff hits the fan like a death or hospitalization, a birth, a tragedy, we are the front-line care givers.
When was the last time you picked up the phone and said, I was just thinking about you today—how are you doing? If you want to get churchy you can even say, the Lord laid it upon my heart to call you today—but you don’t have to because you and God know why you called. Learning to love one another is a skill that needs to be learned. This is the safest environment to do it in. Call someone this week, if you feel comfortable get in your car and make the drive, only if you feel safe. Be up front and say, I am practicing to learning to love my neighbor and I want to get to know you.
When we reach beyond ourselves, we are doing the work of Jesus. When we love one another, we want that person or that group of people to have success. It does not cost us anything other than an extra potato and a dish to wash. When someone reaches out to you, be willing to accept as well. Find the time and make room for them because God is also laying it on your heart to accept someone new also. Love is hard to do. It is always easier to keep to yourself and stay within your lane because you won’t get hurt. Love requires a great risk but the rewards are even greater. We never know, we might actually be the wildcard that someone invites to the party. Amen.