January 31st, 2010

197 Browning  Boulevard, Winnipeg, Manitoba  R3K 0L1


Sermon on Luke 10: 25-37

Working out wedding reception seating plans is an interesting challenge for couples. Who to put with whom - you know those two cousins have not talked in ten years so they can't be at the same table? But just as importantly what table to put people at - Uncle Jim is such a pain it would be great to put him at table 37 way at the back - but he will just be a worse pain if we do that. And Sabrina will be upset if she is not able to sit at a table with number 10 or lower ­because she wants people to know how important she is. And so it goes. You can almost read what guests are thinking from the looks on their faces - "We are sitting at table 27 - we won't be able to see anything." "We are at table 7 - I'm surprised we haven't been that close to the couple in the last couple of years."

In our society there are times when the table you sit at does indicate how important you are ­does indicate what people think of you. Now imagine going to a wedding reception and there being no map telling people where to sit - it is just a free for all - and you have to guess where to sit. My guess is that there are a number of strategies that people would employ.

There would be those who would head for the tables closest to the front - they are worthy guests, close friends of the bride - just not close enough to be in the wedding party. And so they plop themselves right up front.

·         Another approach would be to calculate - "We are not family so we can't have the closest tables - but we are close friends - so we will leave 6 tables for family and we will aim for tables 7 or 8."

·         A still different approach would be to just sit at the back and be done with it - at least at the back no one will be pushing to get your chair.

Imagine the chaos at a wedding reception if there were no map and 200 guests were trying to find seats at tables.

That kind of chaos happened at most dinner parties in Jewish culture in Jesus' day. A clear hierarchy of seating existed - from the top of the room to the bottom of the room - from most important seats to the least important seats. And in the passage that was read from Luke, Jesus was invited to a dinner party and he watched people trying to find seats.

Jesus had some advice for the people trying to find seats - "Don't try and grab the best seat you can find - what if someone more important than you arrives late - and the host realizing that the important guest is going to be too far from the front - comes along and says to you -­"Please move down the table - I need these seats for these very important guests who have just arrived."" Imagine the battering your ego would take if that happened - you have managed to get everyone in your group to table 7 at the reception - and then the groom comes to you and says - "Sorry my cousins from Australia have come for the wedding - and I need this table for them - you are going to have to move - I understand that table 35 is available."

Instead Jesus suggested that guests sit at the back of the room - that guests be humble - and wait for the host to move them up - if that is what the host wanted to do. Jesus was inviting guests to just be happy with being in the room - and to leave their egos at the door.

I can imagine the host at the dinner party Jesus was at listening to Jesus and laughing to himself as the guests got taken to task. But then Jesus turned to the host and challenged him. In the children's story we heard the challenge to not invite people who can return the favour - to not use our ability to invite people to dinner as a way to create opportunities for ourselves to get invited to dinner. That when we give a party, we are to invite people who can not return the favour.

This changes how we think about dinner parties - about inviting people - about who comes to dinner. I believe I have told this story before - but it bears repeating. A family in Toronto had the habit of inviting street people to Christmas dinner at their place - and using the best china and silverware to serve the meal. Year after year they did this even though each year some of the silverware went missing almost certainly walking out the door in the pockets of the street people. Each year the silverware was replaced and the Christmas dinners were held still using the best china and silverware. That family understood something about the cost of doing what Jesus is suggesting.

As Jesus was speaking someone said - "How wonderful it will be to eat at the feast in the kingdom of God."

This person recognized that Jesus was not simply giving social advice - Jesus was not writing an etiquette book - Jesus was saying something about our spiritual lives. The way we think about hospitality given and received - the ways we think about being guests and hosts in this world - will impact the way we eat the feast in the world to come. Earth is a dress rehearsal for heaven - and the ways of that world should impact the way we live in this world.

At the banquet in the kingdom of heaven - we are invited to simply be happy to be there ­ that is enough. It is better to be at that meal even if it means eating that meal in the most distant corner of the room - as far from the head table as it is possible to be - that is enough - that is something worth rejoicing in. If we start to say - "But I did this and this and this - I deserve a better place at the table" - we are in danger of exaggerating what we have done - and under­estimating what others have done. Let us simply rejoice that we are in the room - that we are at table in the kingdom of God.

Jesus makes explicit that he is talking about the world to come in the parable he tells about the great banquet. The story goes like this: A king (hear God) plans a party - he does a double invitation. First, he sends invitation to a variety of guests telling them the day and time of the party. Then when the day of the party arrives the king sends out servants to go and knock on the doors of all the people he had invited telling them that the party was ready so please come to the party.

The guests began to turn down the invitation, saying they would not make the banquet. One said he had just bought a piece of land and needed to check it out. That is a ridiculously flimsy excuse - who puts down hard, cold cash on a piece of property they have not even seen before ­and if you were that foolish to buy sight unseen - what would waiting until tomorrow to see it matter. The second said he had bought 5 yoke of oxen and needed to test them out - he just bought a fleet of 5 tractors without ever having test driven them - this person too is raising a completely ridiculous excuse. The third is a little smarter - he says he just got married and is unavailable. Getting married does not mean that people cease to have lives in which they socialize - in which they go out - and anyways the king's place is huge - there would have been room he could have brought his wife. Jesus is suggesting that some may put family first as a reason for not coming to the banquet. Jesus reminds us that God trumps family. God comes first.


With a banquet getting cold the king orders the servants to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame - beggars, street people, those who look hungry, those who could use some cheering up - anyone who will accept the invitation to dinner. And still there is room - so the king says - look under the bridges, along the river bank, down the back alleys, head out to Selkirk if you have to - and pull them in - make them come to the banquet.

Notice the difference between those who turn down the invitation and those who come to the banquet. Those who say "No thanks" believe they are self-sufficient they have no need to come to the banquet - it will do nothing for them. The very thought of coming is "boring" - they believe they do not need the banquet. The second group - know that they need the banquet ­they could use a good meal. The challenge for these people is getting them to understand that they have been invited. It would be so easy for the poor, the crippled, the street people to say "what - you have to be kidding - there is no way that I have been invited - you can't mean me."

While the first group arrogantly turns up their nose at the invitation - the second group is astounded that they have been invited and need to be convinced that this invitation is for them. As Jesus so clearly indicates the first group - although invited twice - will not come - pride prevents them from seeing their true state - from understanding that they need the banquet. The second group - broken as they are know they need the banquet - and need no second invitation once they are convinced they have been invited.

To be honest I can't imagine the first group - self-sufficient, proud, believing they are self-made - being happy at the party God is throwing. God's party had people who were broken ­ hurting - street people - people who were "not like us" - people who do and say strange things. They would not be happy at a banquet made up of nobodies, of people who would never have got to the party except for God's unexplainable grace that invited them. The first group knew why they had been invited - because God needed them at the party - they would add to the party - in fact, God's party would get so much better if they showed up.

The listener who said, "Blessed are those who will eat at the banquet in the kingdom of God" was right - those people are blessed. But notice from Jesus' story the invitation to the banquet has been given to all - everyone gets invited - everyone gets an invitation. So it is not as though some people get missed - no everyone gets an invite. The question is what are we going to do with the invite. Are we like the people in the first group - self-sufficient not convinced that we need to be at the banquet - not convinced it is worth the effort - not sure that we want to be at the same dinner party with some of the people who are going to be there. For certainly there will be people at God's dinner party who are going to surprise us. Or will be like the second group, somewhat stunned that we have been invited - shocked that we have been included on the guest list. But not needing a second invitation once we know we have been invited - simply rejoicing that we get to eat at the table of the king. Caring little about where we are sitting - just thrilled to be there.

      The invitations have gone out - we have each received an invitation to be at table in the kingdom of God - what will we do with that invitation? The choice is yours and the choice is mine. Blessed are those who will eat and drink at the feast of the kingdom of God.

Teaching the Word