Luke 14:1, 7-14
At the end of this blog is a sermon I preached in 2013 on the Luke 14 text. There’s not much difference in how I have translated the text from the Greek from the typical versions:
Now it happened, as Jesus entered into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, that they watched him closely. [The missing part in verses 2-6 is that Jesus helps a man who has dropsy on the Sabbath.] 7 Then Jesus shared an image with the guests, noticing how they chose the places of honor, saying to them: 8 “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the highest place, lest one more dearly valued than you was invited by him; 9 and the one who invited you having spoken aloud will command you, ‘Give up this place,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 Instead, when you are invited, go sit down in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 Because anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be lifted up.” 12 Then he also said to him who invited him, “Whenever you give a breakfast or a main meal, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and it would be repayment to you. 13 Instead, when you give a feast, invite the poor, the disabled, the lame, those who cannot see. 14 For you will be fulfilled because they cannot repay you. Therefore, you will be repaid in the rising of virtue.”
Are we going to be repaid by going to heaven because we go to church on Sundays or will we be “repaid” because we do good things for people? What did Jesus say? You are repaid in the virtue you demonstrate. If that messes with your theology, then reexamine your theology, not Jesus’s words.
You will be repaid for actions that come from the compassion in your heart that says, “I want to help you whether you are important or not—and whether it serves ME in eternity or not.”
James wrote: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble” (NIV). That sounds a lot like Jesus. Christians wear the cross like it’s a sign of their commitment to the teachings of Jesus, and never do they visit orphans and widows. Interesting, isn’t it?
Is virtue about going to church every Sunday, or is it about helping those who are in need regardless of your eternal future?
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09-01-2013 “What’s For Dinner?”
It’s really embarrassing to be caught red-handed, bragging about yourself. I had a high school wrestling coach who preached to us, saying, “If you are any good – you won’t have to tell anyone about it because they will tell you how good you are.” In other words, your reputation will precede you if you deserve to be honored.
Of course, being a teenager, I had to see if that really applied to me. The wrestling team had finished a wrestling match in a town fifty miles away from our high school. A teammate and I were walking down the hallway after both of us had won our matches. My opponent came up to us to talk, and as part of the conversation, I piped in that “Charlie here and I won the County Wrestling Tournament last week.” And he said, “I know. I was there.”
I felt about two feet tall. Instead of impressing him with my claim to greatness – I felt humiliated by my haughtiness and pride. Had I been quiet about our accomplishment, he might have mentioned that he attended the tournament and I could have felt honored by his recognition – rather than feeling ashamed for bragging on myself.
I was the one that the Host of the Banquet served some humble pie. I was moved from a chair of higher importance that I chose for myself to a chair of lower importance – and that was an uncomfortable feeling. Jesus summed it up with, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” That’s an important lesson in the gospel story.
Another important lesson has to do with inviting people to a banquet. When I was wrestling, I had to watch what I ate very closely. Refusing food wasn’t easy as a growing teenager. I remember using my study hour going to the library and page through Good Housekeeping magazines to look at the food and dinners laid out on banquet tables. And wrestling season was during Thanksgiving and Christmas! There was so much to eat and I denied myself all those delicious pleasures.
Sometimes we do that as Christians. We deny ourselves the feast that is available and waiting on the table. We do it because we think discipline, hard work, and denial of pleasures are the keys to getting what we want—which we think is the kingdom of heaven. We work so hard at being Christians when we are really the guests at the banquet. We are invited to the feast. No charge. No work. The moment we took our first breath, we were invited to the feast—life in the kingdom of God.
Since we are invited to a banquet, and we are called to invite others to the banquet, what’s for dinner? What do we tell others is on the table for them? What’s for dinner is the kingdom of heaven? The feast is already laid out on the table in front of us. We don’t have to die to receive it. It was John the Baptist and Jesus who said that the kingdom of heaven is at hand – it’s within your grasp – help yourself!
Help yourself to what? What’s on the table for us to share when we invite others to eat dinner in the kingdom of God?
The apostle Paul told the church in Rome what’s for dinner. He said the kingdom of God is not found in meat or drink; instead it’s in doing the right things, and in peace and joy in a spirit that is worthy of praise (Rom. 14:17). To the people of Galatia he said the banquet consists of these things: peace, joy, hope, love, goodness, kindness, patience, faithfulness, and self-control. These are the things available to you and me right now.
Let me take a moment to remind you of the Old Testament’s concept of heaven. This is from Genesis 1:6-9 (NKJV). 6 Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.\
The kingdom of heaven is the space around the earth between the clouds and the oceans.
Then Jesus told us who we should invite to share in the peace, and joy, and hope, and love that is ours today. He said, “Invite the poor, the lame, the crippled, the blind.” Who needs more peace and joy in their lives than someone who has physical pain, hunger pains, mental and emotional pain, or spiritual distress? If you share your peace with them, you’ll be honored when those who do what is right are lifted up. Being lifted up (raised up) isn’t a reference to the resurrection. Jesus is talking about receiving honor from others.
There are some real advantages to interacting with people in pain, people for whom money or fame or power cannot bring joy or peace. For them, life is no longer about surface appearances – how can you look great in a hospital gown that doesn’t close tightly in the back? People in pain recognize that the $100,000 car sitting in their garage can’t help them find relief when they hurt too much to go anywhere. They are the ones who will appreciate your invitation to join you.
Another important point to remember: When you invite them to dinner – take your time! How can you find peace if you’re chomping at the bit to move to the next activity? Live in the moment. Quit trying to get out of it so soon. In the moment is where joy and peace in life are experienced. Learn to take your time. Let things unfold in their timing rather than rushing it.
Jewish meals took a more time than we are accustomed to spending at a meal. Meals took longer fifty years ago that they take today. Families don’t sit around the table as much as they used to. We mimic the culture when we put a four course meal on one ridiculously small dinner plate at a potluck and wolf it down so we can get to the next activity.
A Jewish meal was kind of like a Labor Day barbeque, very leisurely. Or better yet, it was more like fonduing, where there is time to sit around the table for conversation and getting to know each other, eating one course at a time, very slowly. Meals within a community are as much about connecting with others as they are about filling the stomach. Invite someone to share in your peace and love who will appreciate your gift of time and presence rather than those who think life is a competition rather than a time to offer their own unique self to the relationship.
The image our symbolic meal of Holy Communion reflects the relationship we have within the body of Christ. God invites all people to the feast of the kingdom of heaven. This is God’s table and God’s meal offered to us to bring peace to our spirits. It’s around this table and the tables in Fellowship Hall where we get to know others. Their gifts, their joys, their sorrows and pain, and they get to know ours. We find out that we’re more alike than we are different. And that makes people less scary.
It’s interesting that the church has made this sacrament meal exclusive to those who agree with what a group of men decided sixteen hundred years ago. Jesus ate with sinners and outcasts. It’s around the table that the bonds of love are built and strengthened.
Wherever we gather to serve or eat or worship, we are building relationships, becoming one, united as the body of Christ. That’s how our spirits are fed and we can share in peace, hope, love, joy, and all the blessings of God.
In Christ’s name, I invite you to the feast – the kingdom of God, for the kingdom of God is within your grasp. Come to receive his peace and joy, to be assured of His love and forgiveness, and to share this invitation with those you know who are hungry for peace, hope, and love. And then God will bring healing and wholeness to their soul.