Hospitality on the Way

Published: Monday, 29 August 2016

This sermon, given by Geoff Pound at ABC on 28 August 2016, is the seventh in a series entitled, ‘People of the Way’. Check out the introduction to this series and Study 7 for personal and group study that accompanies this sermon.

Reading: Luke 14:1, 7-14 Hospitality 0816 GP

14:1 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.

14:7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.

14:8 "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;

14:9 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.

14:10 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.

14:11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

14:12 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 or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.

14:13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

14:14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Hospitality on the Way

Several decades ago I served as an Interim Pastor of a church in the Pacific. I decided to get the pulse of the church by meeting one by one, the leaders responsible for all the different ministries.

One morning I was invited to a leader’s home. We sat in his lounge but he went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. We kept talking as we could see each other through the serving slide.

He came through with the drinks and at one point he asked me what I thought about the Youth Leader and the state of the church youth work.

Having met the Youth Leader and seen her in action at one Youth event, I said, “I’m new. My assessment is very superficial. From what I can pick up the youth work seems to be at a low ebb. From what I gather the youth leader is struggling.”

With that comment, the man got up, went through to the kitchen bench and he pressed what I soon discovered to be a tape recorder. He ejected the tape, came through to the lounge and said: “I’ve got you on tape.”

I said, “What a low act that is!” This was in the seventies when the Watergate scandal was happening so I said, “Your dirty trick is like Richard Nixon bugging—secretly recording his political opponents.”

He said, “I’m sorry. You have the tape.” I said, “I don’t want your tape.” So we carried on talking about the wonderful spirit of trust that existed in the life of the church!

That episode gave me just a taste of how Jesus must have felt so often. Luke says:

14:1 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.

Can’t you sense trouble brewing? Especially when you hear the words: Pharisees, Sabbath. Meal?

This is a set up. A trap.

The Pharisees separated themselves from the riff raff. They’re pictured as holier-than-thou types. They felt they’d earned a right to sit at God’s table. They criticized Jesus for not separating himself from ‘sinners and tax collectors’.

With the Pharisees so opposed to Jesus, it’s remarkable that he accepted the invitation to dine with one of their leaders.

Luke says: 14:7 When Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable.

It’s not just in the place of worship but at our everyday dining room tables that Jesus is interested. Jesus is noticing. Jesus is offering some food for thought.

Do you have any rules at your dining room table? Television off while eating? Phones on silent at meal time? No texting while chewing?

Is Jesus training people in etiquette? Table Manners? Wash your hands before meals? Serviettes must be provided. Butter knives please. Don’t bolt down your food and be the first to finish. Always offer to do the dishes.

Or is this going to be a first century version of My Kitchen Rules or Just Desserts—how to cook and plate up the most sensational dishes to give your guest’s salivary glands the greatest workout?

When we lived in the UAE I went to lots of special functions and weddings, sometimes as a guest, more often as part of the media brigade.

Members of the royal family would usually arrive one hour late. Their entrance was always grand. They came with an entourage. There was the fanfare, the flash of cameras. They’d be shown to the gold class seats and given the best food and drink. Other dignitaries had designated seats close at hand. Then for everyone else there was a scramble to get close to the VIPs. To get a selfie with the top dogs. Because a photo in the newspaper with you shaking hands with royalty could advance your cause. It would raise your status. Increase your worth.

Jesus says:

14:8 "When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host;

 

14:9 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.

 

14:10 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.

Jesus challenges our jockeying for position, our angling for approval and our lust for recognition.

He says, “Don’t get ahead of yourself by stepping up to the important places.” In that culture of honour and shame, he points up the disgrace they’d feel if they were asked to take a lower position.

Better he says to sit in cattle class and then to be upgraded to business or first class.

Humility can be faked so don’t play the humility card to come out on top.

Jesus is challenging the status quo. He’s turning the social order on its head. This isn’t something the Pharisees want to hear.

The meaning of this parable about tables and chairs is that our acceptance by God isn’t a matter of achievement, hereditary, beauty or wealth. With God there’s no pecking order. We’re all given the place of honour. This is the grace. Therefore we’re simply to love others as God loves us. Thus we’re to place ourselves before God and before others in an attitude of humility.

The verse we’re to memorise, our mantra for every meal, the truth on which to munch is this: 14:11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

Humbling yourself doesn’t mean being a doormat. Humility comes from the same word as humus. It means being down to earth. Not up ourselves.

Having talked about being a humble guest, Jesus now shows us how to be a generous host. And guess who’s coming to dinner?

14:12 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 or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.

In some cultures there’s an interesting ritual that happens at the table. Almost as the signal that the meal has finished everyone gets out their business cards. With two hands they give their card to you and with two hands you accept it as if you are receiving precious chinaware. You do the same with your business card. As you take their card you are showing them honour and respect. This is part of the science of networking. I have hosted you and now you might invite me. I have invited you so take this card and remember me. Here are the services I offer. I scratch your back. You scratch my back. It’s the ancient law of reciprocity.

Now listen to Jesus turn the tables:

14:13 But when YOU give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

This is upside down! This is back to front. So counter cultural.

See the different Guest Lists?

Don’t invite your friends—that’s people you like.

Don’t invite your brothers and relatives—they’re the people that you know.

Don’t invite your rich neighbours—people you like and people you know and people you’d like to be.

Invite the poor—the people who don’t have the resources to return the favour.

Invite the crippled, the lame and the blind—the people we don’t know, the people who don’t fit, the people who don’t impress, the people who on the surface can’t advance your cause, your worth, your standing or your business.

Of course Jesus doesn’t mean to have nothing to do with your friends, your family and your neighbours, but when you throw a party be aware of who’s on your guest list.

When we come on Sunday morning, especially when we gather around the Lord’s Table, let’s look out for those who are new. Engage with those who are different. See Christ’s vision? The young connecting with the old. Singles with married. The well off with the hard up. Jesus is smashing the hurdles of race and culture, gender and sexuality. That will be tough. That’ll move us out of our comfort zone.

When we come to the HUB Community Meal on Thursday nights[1]let’s not just sit with our mates, the people we like, the people who like us. The people who are like us. Let’s sit with the stranger. Let’s eat with the lonely. Dine with the different, the despised and the difficult.

What a crazy meal this is! There’s no return on our investment. Why waste a good business opportunity by dining with those who’ve got nothing to give to us?

This makes you wonder how much we do for others to get some payback?

How much we do in the church to get some return.

So we see the way God treats us. God loves us with no strings attached. No conditions.

14:14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Yes, there is a blessing, in the fullness of time. There are also other blessings as on another occasion Jesus said that we’ll encounter Him when we welcome the stranger, when we give the cup of cold water and when we serve the least.

So we come back to our dining room tables, our café tables and our church table.

Our table is the place where we say grace, receive grace and extend grace.

Our table is the place where we are acting out the hospitality of God.

When we show hospitality God’s way, we never know what might happen.

When we invite someone for a coffee or a meal, it might be life changing. Because we’re sharing the amazing love of God. How exciting that might be!

Enjoy your eating this week. Bon appetit.

Prayer[2]

Lord Jesus Christ, you took your place in the cheap seats, far from the host and near the neglected.

You see our jostling for significance, our anxious attempts to be on top and in the limelight.

Yet instead You show us what shines with eternal value.

You humbled yourself, followed a lonely vision.

You took your place among the lost, the poor, the forgotten and the despised—those who couldn’t pay back the treasure of your compassion. You embraced the shame of every person.

You call us now to follow in your way, to lift the dignity of others, to value the worth of every person and to know we are ministering to You in the face of every single person.

In doing this we will be blessed.

Amen

 


[1] More on ABC’s HUB Community Meal.

[2] This prayer was inspired by the article and poem by Rick Fry, The Cheap Seats,