Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14
August 28, 2022
Don't invite Jesus to your party...
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"Don't invite Jesus to your party..." I will admit, it a pretty controversial sermon title. Who wouldn't want Jesus at their party?!?! I mean, he can turn water into wine. Why wouldn’t you want Jesus at your party? Not only that, imagine having a celebrity at your party, your family reunion? When I was a kid back in the 90’s Cal Ripken Jr was breaking all these records and not only that, he lived in Owings Mills. I would have loved for him to have come to my party. Now a day, I would love to have Patrick Stewart show up at a Christmas party. I would be the envy of all the nerds and trekies.
Why wouldn't you want Jesus at your party? It has been a while since we have hosted a party at our home. Our house in Charles Town was about three times the size of our current home. It was perfect for large get togethers. It fit both of our councils and their families every Christmas. We held Thanksgiving meals with like 8 dogs and 20 people in attendance. And we even got in a few birthday parties. Lately, we haven't had many large gatherings our of concern for our families safety and the safety of those we invite, but I still miss having get togethers at our home. I miss the meal planing. I miss the cooking. I miss picking out the serving plates and where they will go on the table. I miss the setting of the table. I even miss cleaning the house.
Though if I had to guess, this is probably one thing I know Pastor Diane does not miss. Because I am someone who thinks if you are going to have people over, you clean the whole house. Upstairs and downstairs. All the rooms. All the bathrooms. Everything gets cleaned and tidied up. Even though people are not going to go upstairs, you still clean it. Pastor Diane did not agree with my philosophy and takes the approach “You only clean where it was necessary. Yet in my mind, I have this fear that people, upon entering our home are going to run to all our bedrooms, garage, and basement and say, “Yup. I knew it. They didn’t clean in here. Caught ‘me red handed.” I know its crazy. It’s crazy, right? People don’t do that…or do they?
Regardless of my crazy tendencies, when we host something at our home, we strive to be good host. We want our guests to leave full and happy. And I will admit, I do like to show off a bit—impressing our guests. I remember many a Council Christmas Parties where I wanted to have like 20 different sides to along with two main course items. And Pastor Diane telling me that it was too much and she was right. The reality is that we don’t need to impress our guest. They loved us already. When we had church people over, we didn’t need to impress them because we were already their pastors. We impressed them enough already for them to call us. Yet still, I didn't just want to set out a cheese tray and some crackers and call it good enough. So, as I was pondering this text this week, one of the first things I was wondered about was about my motivation to have people over to our home, especially church people? Was it to impress them, thank them, or are we hoping that they would in-turn reciprocate by remembering us when it came time for other concerns we would bring up later in the year—You scratch my back and I scratch yours type of thing?
I mean, that is just normal, right? The mutual-back scratching…the quid pro quo. All the high school business classes taught me about the importance of networking because so much in the business world is knowing people in order to get ahead. I mean, that is how we ended up here. We weren't looking to leave our calls but because we already had developed and fostered a relationship with the staff of the Synod and the bishop, they decided to call us. It is so normal to look at people and wonder if having a relationship with this particular person can help me advance my cause. Yet, how many of us today, upon hearing these words from the gospel, thought like we normally think, "Yeah, that doesn't happen anymore. We don’t act this way anymore. We don’t care about honor and shame like they once did." Our system today might be as formalized as it was 2000 years ago, but the things that Jesus challenges his host and fellow guests still happen today as well. We still do this all the time.
I was listening to this woman the other day on tiktok talk about her experience working for a megachurch. One of her jobs was to make sure the first couple rows of the church were always filled because it looked better on the camera. But she couldn't just fill those seats with anyone...they had to look a certain way and act a certain way. Usually, they were staff and volunteers who were interviewed and determined whether or not they were appropriate to sit up front. People were denied a seat up front if the staff at the church thought they would look bad on camera.
During my first time at St. John’s, I put a sign out in front of St. John's saying food and worship—most of the people who came were from our Monthly feeding ministry. They weren't the people I was expecting to walk through those doors. In my mind, I wanted young families and people who looked like me. I intended the meal to attract a certain cliental but instead I had "the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind" show up. And I remember at the time feeling like I failed because I believed the thing that could save St. John’s was more young families, working professionals, recent college graduates. Yet the ones who showed up at my door were none of these. Reading this gospel really convicted me this week.
In Jesus’s day, the society was structure using a patron/client system. In this system, a mutual arrangement between a person that has authority, social status, wealth, or some other personal resource (patron) and another who benefits from their support or influence (client). In this model, you only interact with people who can elevate your social status. Luke refers this by noting Jesus’ observation of the way people acted. Verse 7: [Jesu watched] how the guests chose the places of honor. Jesus’s advice is actually really good advice in this patron/client model, however I really doubt that it would have been heeded. Because the patron/client system was so ingrained into the social interactions of the people, I doubt they would have ever considered or thought to act in this way. It would almost have been equally shameful to take a lower seat. You are saying to the rest of your family and community that you are a lower status, or at the very least, view yourself as a lower status. Jesus’s words, while they might fall in line with the wisdom literature and the words from Proverbs 25:6-7, are indeed highly controversial because they are. Yet these highly controversial words from Luke 14 describes how the in-breaking divine realm, as heralded by Jesus, comes by dismantling worldly hierarchies of social status and economic power.
And notice where Jesus is saying all these highly political, highly controversial sayings—at the party where he was invited to come. It is like having a guest come over and complain about the meal during dinner. Jesus was invited to the party by the host as probably a way to elevate the host’s social status. The host saw Jesus as a celebrity who could things that nobody else could. However, I think Jesus becomes a bit of a liability. He challenges his host and all those in attendance and demands that they abandon social norms and cues of the day.
The text reminds us that disciples of Jesus find honor when they invite and serve those who typically don’t get invited. The tables that we set should not be meant for those who can return the favor. For Luke, disciples do not care about the society norms around honor and shame because what really matters is creating a place where’s God’s kingdom can break-in. For when we turn the tables and invite the lowly to sit in the honor places, we see, a glimmer of the coming kingdom of God.
But this gospel message should not come as a surprise. The blessed mother herself once sang about the lowly being lifted up into the seat of power while the tyrants being cast away. Mary’s words are coming to fruition through her son. The tables are literally being turned in God’s coming kingdom. God’s kingdom breaks open into our world when we Christian’s welcome and those who have never been invited; those who have nothing to offer in return of the invite, those who have been excluded from the table.
So yeah, you probably will want to avoid inviting Jesus to your party if you doing it for honor/shame issues. You should probably avoid inviting Jesus to your party if you are afraid of those who might be joining him. And you should probably avoid inviting Jesus to your party if you are not comfortable with Jesus challenging you and your honored guests. The reality is of course, as Christians, we should always want Jesus at your party, we should want Jesus here at this party that we call worship every week. But we also need to be a bit careful and not focus on only asking those to join us who have something to offer. Rather, let us invite and open our tables, our doors to all who wish to encounter Christ. The table is set. The food is about to be prepared. But, who is missing from the table?
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.