MESSAGE July 10, 2016 The UMC of the Abundant Harvest
Pastor Marilyn Kasperek
God, here we are: tired from too many things of this world weighing heavy on our hearts and minds. Grieving the loss of people we love and things we hold dear. We ask for a word from you that we may capture your vision for our personal and congregational lives in new and refreshing ways. Amen.
Spring and summer is often filled with parties. We celebrate graduations, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. Some of us plan parties just because good weather deserves a celebration with family and friends.
I don’t know about you, but when Ken and I plan a party I have a number of lists: what chairs, tables, plates, silverware, crockpots and grills we need, a menu, a list of groceries to buy, and a guest list, upon which all of the other lists are developed according to the invited guests’ likes and dislikes, as well as their particular needs. If I misplace a list, another has to be created to replace it, and if circumstances change, all of them need reworking. You can offer Ken your sympathy later
Guest lists are featured in this morning’s scripture.
Jesus was among those on the first list mentioned.
He accepted an invitation from a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath. The book of Luke tells us that all those invited are watching Jesus closely. This is guest list of people who are the “Who’s Who” of the religious community. It is not likely that Jesus was on the list because they thought he should be honored, more likely he was on the list so they could show off who they were and what they knew. It is probable as well that they were a bit curious as to what he had to say or wanted to discredit him.
Jesus is in a position to observe how the other guests are selecting their seats. To see how they are trying to get the seats of honor.
Social ranking was common at meals to which guests were invited in this time period. Such meals were settings which highlighted social disparities in the first-century world. Where you sat, and by whom you sat spoke volumes about your importance and offered networking opportunities which could help you move up the preverbial ladder. Not much has changed today, as many attending social functions hope to sit at the head table, with the host, or among special guests.
While at table with these influential leaders of the Jewish faith community, Jesus offers a lesson of humility. He discourages his listeners from seeking the seat reserved for the most honored person at the table. He offers the practical rationale that by taking the lowest seat you won’t be embarrassed by being asked to move lower than you are, and you might be invited to move up. On the surface he offers them a way to “save face.”
On another level he suggests intentionally and with thought, choosing to live beneath one’s presumed status in order to receive greater honor at a later time. Some scholars speculate that this teaching would particularly apply to Luke and his first readers as they were higher status Gentiles, and the mixed-status Christian communities would require them to live beneath their comfort zone.
I think it shares a glimpse into the way things work in the Kingdom of God. It is God who develops the guest list and God is the only one who determines where everyone sits. In reality, when accepting God’s invitation, all are equal at the table, the only place of honor is that of Jesus who sits at the head of the table as well as beside each guest. Humility was rarely considered a virtue in Greco-Roman moral discourse. Yet, over and over in New Testament witness, humility is part of the character of followers of Jesus.
Jesus goes beyond advising the other guests how they should select their seats. He begins advising the host on who should be invited to the table. As we talked about a little last week, Jesus was someone who liked to eat good food with people who didn’t have it all together.
His suggested guest list includes the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind: people who had no way to improve the host’s social status and no way to repay the host’s hospitality. It calls for those revered in their culture to extend higher class privileges to those found lacking by society, to respect their gifts and contributions. His list went against all of the social norms of his day, and highlights how in God’s kingdom there is no system of social payment and repayment.
It should not surprise the religious leaders of the day, or us, that this is the list Jesus suggests. In declaring his ministry as recorded in Luke 4:18 he says:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Nowhere does he say, I came to make those who culture recognizes as important and powerful, more important and powerful. He doesn’t set those with more financial wealth or political power at the head of the table. He came to bring good news to all. In many ways we are all poor, unable to see in the ways that God calls us to see, oppressed by a myriad of demands from our culture, and longing to experience God’s grace.
In the weeks ahead we will develop some guest lists together.
Guest lists of persons called into leadership: those serving now, as well as considering others who would like to serve.
Guest lists of persons we love seeing in worship every Sunday
Guest lists of persons we haven’t seen in awhile
Guest lists of those in our community who may be looking for a faith community into which they would feel welcomed.
Guest lists of those who may need our help in some way, but who probably will never join us in our sanctuaries.
Guest lists of people who our community has forgotten or set aside.
And probably some guest lists we haven’t imagined yet
As we work together to develop those lists and to prepare invitations to join us at God’s banquet, I encourage us to reflect on the teachings we received from Jesus this morning.
We need to walk humbly with one another, looking for ways to honor what each of us brings to the table.
2 Corinthians 5:14-16 reminds us 14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.
We need to be open to all the possible guests for our lists, realizing that the best choices may be the ones counter to what our culture would suggest.
As we pray, sing, study, and eat together I hope we can hear the invitation of Jesus to live differently because of our relationship with him, continuing to build a faith community founded on grace rather than status and upon what God has already done for us and not on what we can do for each other.
As we live into that hope, others will be drawn to Christ through us and more and more will join us at the table we share.
Please join me in prayer
God, we come to you today confessing our love of the first chair
The seeds of “healthy competition” sown in childhood have borne misshapen fruit in adulthood.
We love the best seats, bask in recognition, and covet the “edge” that brings us honor.
Forgive us, God, when our competitiveness yields more pride than excellence.
Forgive us, God, when we forget that we work for you, and not for ourselves.
Forgive us, God, when we forget that humility and hospitality are close relatives, and that those who would be your disciples are called to hold hands with the stranger.
Make us less eager to fight for power and position and more willing to make room for those who have neither name nor strength. Amen.
 The Abingdon Worship Annual 2016