Jesus’ Parable: The Wedding Banquet 8-28-16

Sometimes I find the study of scripture to be a humbling experience. Today is one of those times that the scripture feels like it challenges me rather directly. That’s a good thing – even though it is not a comfortable thing. I would rather have been comforted, but I offer this reading to you anyway. May you be comforted and challenged – in whatever way you really need it. Either way, you are held loved and included in God’s beloved community

Luke 14:1, 7-14 One Sabbath, when Jesus came to eat a meal in the house of one of the leading Pharisees, the guests watched him closely.  Directly in front of Jesus was a person who suffered from edema…. Jesus went on to address a parable to the guests, noticing how they were trying to get a place of honor at the table. When you’re invited to a wedding party, don’t sit in the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished has been invited. Otherwise the hosts might came and say to you, ‘Make room for this person,’ and you would have to proceed shamefacedly to the lowest place. What you should do is go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your hosts approach you they’ll say, ‘My friend, come up higher.’  This will win you the esteem of the other guests. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Then Jesus said to the host, “Whenever you give a lunch or dinner, don’t invite your friends or colleagues or relatives or wealthy neighbors.  They might invite you in return and thus repay you. No, when you have a reception, invite those who are poor or have physical infirmities or are blind. You should be pleased that they can’t repay you, for you’ll be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

August 28, 2016

Parables of Jesus: The Wedding Banquet

You are held loved and included in God’s beloved community….

There’s a nice swimming pool in my neighborhood of which my family has been a member for the last 15 or 20 years. It’s a beloved community, a sweet place that brings together people from all parts of my multi-ethnic neighborhood. A few years ago, a group of members decided it was time for a major renovation. They raised a lot of money and managed to rebuild the whole area to put in all new pools – a lap pool, diving pool and leisure pool. It’s very nice.

We were a little worried that this renovation would force up the fees and change the character of the pool, making it more difficult for poorer and less advantaged folks to join. That may be true, but it hasn’t been noticeable. The pool is still a refuge for a broad swath of people who are willing to pay for it from all parts of West Philadelphia.

The other day as I came into the pool, I struck up a conversation with an old friend. As we talked a group of men walked by us and she commented, “Oh, there go the cool guys.” Most of them were white men who had been key to the task of renovating the pool, and they relate to each other with an easy, cool way that I recognize as something I want to be part of. I want to be one of the cool guys.

I have always wanted to be one of the cool guys – those easy going groups of laughing athletes, who walk like they own the world, who laugh with each other and rib each other and only seem to want to be with each other.

 

I looked at my friend, a Black woman who has taught me a lot about racism and is willing to talk to me quite openly about many issues, a woman who rarely finds herself included in those supposedly cool groups. I felt very privileged to be talking with her, but I could still notice a tug of envy about that other group across the pool.

As I get older, those in-groups and out-groups don’t mean as much. I realize that they form and re-form all the time. Growing up I kind of thought that all the cool people in the world knew each other and conspired to keep out those of us who were too skinny or too fat, or who wore glasses or talked different or just couldn’t be suave and attractive in a certain way.

It’s absurd, but the truth is that my envy feeds into the whole pattern, as I decide not to include in my circles others who might be longing for a little attention and inclusion. I was noticing yesterday for example that I was avoiding my next door neighbor, who is white and poor. Her grandson was in a motorcycle accident and she’s sick. She’s a difficult person and needs some grace, not judgment, but I’m avoiding her.

Jesus speaks directly to these common dynamics in our parable this morning. After he heals a seriously ill person, breaking the Sabbath and offending the rather cool and proper religious people around him, he tells this story to them about a banquet where all the invited guests are vying for the best seats to show that they are honored and respected by the host, that they are the cool people.

A little cultural context may be helpful here. At a Palestinian feast, the men are invited to recline on couches, with the center couch being the place of honor, reserved for people with the highest wealth, office, or power. If a more powerful person arrives later and deserves to be at that center couch, earlier arrivals may find themselves displaced to a less prestigious location.  [Feasting on the Word, year C, vol. 4, p. 21]

in the parable Jesus advises people to sit in the less prestigious location first, so as not to be embarrassed. He says, those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Clearly, Jesus is thinking not just about human relations, but about his hearers relationships with God. God knows and welcomes each one of us into the new realm. All people are held loved and included in God’s beloved community. Within that community God gives some a word of grace and some a word of judgment.

Now, you may have noticed as I have that those who most need to hear a word of grace are more likely to hear a word of judgment, and those who might benefit from hearing a word of judgment are more likely to hear only grace. Humility is certainly a virtue, but exhortations to be humble can be dangerous to those who already have little sense of their own worth. [Feasting on the Word, year C, vol. 4, p. 21]

All of us may at different times need that word of grace and/or that word of judgment. It’s just hard to put ourselves in front of it. I know that this passage makes me notice the times when I have judged others and kept my distance from folks in need. So I hear it as a kind of message of judgment. Still, most of us, I think need a word of grace Moore overnight than we meet a word of judgment.

I love this congregation for it’s grace, welcome and inclusiveness. I was so proud that my friend, Rev. Sanders felt such a warm welcome from the children and the congregation last week.

Let me just say something here about the particular welcome that we give through our music. We decided this spring that in order to expand our welcome to younger generations, we would try some different things this year with our choir. We voted that we would take the money we had been paying to the quartet soloists in the choir and use it to hire a guitarist, percussionist, and two vocalists.

We are working on this project. We have interviewed some wonderful people and we will report details to the worship team after church today about our progress, but mostly we will be talking about the fact that we are still very much a work in progress. We have hit several bumps in the road and we are not going to be ready the way we would have liked to be in September.

It may take us a while in fact to get the music program the way we would like it to be. I am sorry that it is going to take longer and be more disruptive than we hoped, but I am still excited about the possibilities for expanding our welcome and our music in the coming year.

While we are working on making the music program what we want it to be, I have to ask you my dear congregants to step up the welcome in other ways – to sit with new people and get to know them, to act as a servant minister each week and, not seeking to sit in an exalted place, to humble yourself and sit with new folks, .. to speak a word of grace and welcome to each person who comes looking for a church home or a home away from home.

Everyone who comes to church comes for a reason. Everyone who comes to the banquet has a particular hunger. They come looking for something specific and important in their lives – and it’s very easy for them to feel like the cool people are all hanging out together and that there is no room for their particular need and their particular concern.

So I am asking you to be the people who let go of your own need while you are in church the next couple of weeks – your own need to be with and re-unite with old friends in the church -  and to open yourself to making some new friends, to making room for some other needs and other gifts in this place.

Jesus is saying that by becoming a servant, by paying attention to other people’s needs before our own, letting go of our judgment and offering our grace, we will all find ourselves welcomed, loved, accepted and nourished by the love of the Living God. We are all held loved and included in God’s beloved community, not just the currently cool people, but every single one of us.

This is God’s good news.

Responsive Hymn 2176      Make Me a Servant