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September 1, 2013 - Luke 14. 1, 7-14

“At the Table”

Luke 14:1, 7-14

September 1, 2013

 

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.

7When 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; 9and 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. 10But 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. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12He 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 or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

 

Jesus is at the home of a Pharisee.  The inclusiveness of his gospel does not exclude the publicans and religious leaders.  It is an inclusive gospel in the broadest sense of the word.

 

It is in the small and sometimes trivial acts that character is truly revealed.  Like sitting down at the supper table.

 

This is Jesus speaking, not Emily Vanderbilt.  This is not about etiquette or manners; it is about the kingdom of God.  There is more here than the idea of providing for the needs of the poor and hungry. Jesus says to invite them to dinner.  Heb. 13:1-2.  It is a clear sign of acceptance, Host and Guest sitting down at the table together.

 

Verse 11 – for those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those that are humble will be exalted. This seems to be the key verse in this passage.  The passive voice of the verbs indicates that God is the one that will be doing the exalting and the humbling.

 

Jesus is urging us to have a social system that is based upon doing for others, without any concern for what they can do for us.

 

If we are going to be present at the table with Jesus then we must be willing to be instructed by him in the peculiar behavior of disciples who eat and drink with Jesus.

 

There is a great difference between inviting someone to your table and merely sending them some food.  In our meals we are to act out the truth of God’s kingdom – good news to those who are on the bottom, to those who have known mostly bad news.

 

The White House has a person employed there called the “Chief of Protocol.”  That person does little more than decide where people will sit at state dinners.  His job is to decide who gets to sit where. Only the most important people will get to sit at the head table, etc.

 

Automobile commercial.  Just married, small car.  Kids, get a bigger, better, but not glamorous car.  Then, their head is tinted with grey, and they are driving the biggest black luxury car they can find.  They have arrived and now have all their dreams fulfilled – or so the commercial would have us believe.

 

Our culture does a good job of convincing us that if we can just improve our status just a little, then we’ll be happier.

 

Even restaurants cater to the idea that when it comes to eating, rigorous enforcement of social divisions is mandated.  There is food for the poor, and there is food for the rich.  There are “high class restaurants” that charge you and extra $8 for the parsley and the low lighting; and then there are places that serve it to you under fluorescent lights and ask you if you want fries with that.  The food is remarkably similar, but the company is not.

 

Our social boundaries are no more rigorously enforced than at the table.  I am too young to remember personally, but many of you will remember it vividly – what it was like to go into a restaurant for “Whites Only”.  There is this little place in downtown Anderson where the so called “colored” patrons were required to stand outside at a window counter, while the white patrons sat on the stools inside, not three feet from one another.  White segregationists, like my beloved grandfather, knew that there was something about sitting down together at a table that was…well, intimate.  It is dangerous to sit at a table with someone…it means that you have accepted them as your equal.  It is there that we really begin to form community.  Dining with someone will change how you treat them.

 

We are taught this idea that different kinds of people have “earned” the right to sit at different kinds of tables.  Well, the fact is that we are all beggars, so far as our relationship with God is concerned. What we need is not ours to earn. What we need is only God's to give. Open your hands and give the gifts you have to give. Open your hands and receive the gifts you need. Be a beggar.  Surely you have heard that definition of evangelism by the Sri Lankan missionary, D. T. Niles: "Evangelism is one beggar telling another where to find bread." That's a great definition. Even in our affluence, even with all that we have, we are all beggars. Thank God.

Christianity is training in the art of dependency. We are those who know our dependence upon God's grace and upon our neighbor's help. We are also those who, having acknowledged our dependency, seek to be helpful to those who are in need of our help. In a society that values independence and self-help, Christianity is a faith that, inspired by the example of Jesus, cultivates dependency and admission of need.

My mother had a special tablecloth.  We only pulled it out on special occasions when we would have visitors in the house for a big meal – when it was a big deal, you know?  The reason it was special is that whenever a guest visited with us, my mother had our guests sing their name on the table cloth, and the date.  Then my mother would embroider that person’s signature.  It was a really neat thing that made our guests feel like they were special.  It taught me that welcoming people and including them is a Christian value.

 

Fred Craddock tells the story of his first church. It was a beautiful little white church on a hill in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The church was beautifully maintained. The pews had been hand-hewn from giant poplar trees that had grown nearby. Little kerosene lamps on the walls provided light inside the church. This little church was 112 years old, and most of the charter members were still living and active in the church. The church had a pump organ, and Miss Mary, the organist played it just as slow as possible. Needless to say, the Spirit seldom moved.

One day, somewhere in the Pentagon in Washington, someone in their wisdom decided to put a nuclear power plant in this scenic, ideal little town. People began showing up with license plates from such places as Pennsylvania, Washington, New York, Oklahoma and yes, God help us all, Texas. In every hill and holler there were to be seen travel trailers and even motorcycles. It was clearly a satanic invasion.

The pastor called the elders together ... you know what elders are?... just like deacons except they are more spiritual. He suggested that they begin an outreach program to reach all of these new people in town.

The elders were appalled. What if these people were allowed to stay in town, why they might intermarry with our people. Surely we don’t want them coming into our church. They probably don’t sing our songs. After more discussion it got quiet. Finally, everyone got hungry and decided to go home and resume the conversation next Sunday.

After church the next Sunday, Fred called the elders together a second time. Before he had a chance to say anything, the number one leader in the church said, "I move that we change the locks on the church and nobody can have a key who does not own property in this county!" And somebody else said, "Amen! I second the motion!" They voted it in unanimously except for the preacher, and they told him his vote didn’t count anyway. He became a little nervous since he lived in the pastoreum and didn’t own property in the county.

Years later, Fred and his wife were driving through that part of the country. He said to his wife, "Let’s go by and see the old church." He said they had a hard time finding it because interstates had been built and things had changed a lot.

But they kept driving around and stopping at stores to ask for directions. They finally found where the church was. It was still on a secondary road. So they drove to the top of the hill, and there is was .... a beautiful little church, gleaming white on the hillside.

But there was a difference. The parking lot was full of cars, trucks, RVs, and motorcycles. People were going in and out of the building. Fred and his wife were thrilled. When they finally found a parking place and began to walk toward the entrance, they finally found the sign. It read, "Oak Ridge Barbecue."

Fred considered the people who were present at the tables and thought of what the elders had decided so long ago. He said to his wife, "You know, it’s a good thing this place is not a church now because these people couldn’t come here."

 

The root word for community and communion is the same.  It means to come together.  The observance of communion, the Lord’s Supper, is a holy moment.  It is where we come together, to the table together, to partake in the act of remembrance that makes us a community.  One thing that makes this ordinance so holy for me, is that you all come here empty handed.  Regardless of your station in life, your job, or your house, your family name, you all come to this table empty handed.  God provides the food.  It will be given to you by a member of this family – the family of God.  Each of you will be served by another.  In the face of what God provides for us, all of us come empty handed, hungry, needy, more so than we want to admit.  This table is open for all you would come and be filled by God.