August 28, 2022 – Message

Gospel lesson and Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from Sunday, August 28, 2022

Message from August 28 by Pastor Pokora

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

As some of you already know, hospitality and welcome are at the top of many lists when it comes to the way we live together in community. And, when extending hospitality to others, one of the best ways to show welcome is by sharing a meal together and spending time in meaningful conversation with others. In fact, I really believe that extending hospitality to others by eating together is a vital aspect of what it means to be human.

The writer of Luke’s gospel understood meal-time hospitality and table fellowship. Luke’s gospel contains more meal-time scenes than any of the other gospels. In fact, meal-time experiences and parties were one way in which the writer of Luke described and portrayed a vision of the Christian life and Christian community. In Luke, Jesus is frequently eating, drinking, partying, and participating in table fellowship with all kinds of people. Eating with people from various backgrounds and walks of life was a frequent occurrence for Jesus whether it was on the way to Emmaus, in an upper room, in the fields along the road as the disciples plucked heads of grain, in the home of a despised tax collector, in the homes of respected religious leaders, or as we see today, in the home of an unnamed Pharisee who offers Jesus hospitality for a Sabbath dinner.

The respected, social climbing, religious Pharisees are watching Jesus very closely, watching his every move. And Jesus has been watching their behavior.  Having observed how they chose banquet seats and noting how they elbowed themselves into the place of honor, Jesus begins to give advice on table fellowship and hospitality Jesus’ style. He says, “When someone invites you to dinner, don’t take the place of honor.  Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host.  Then he’ll come and call out in front of everybody, ‘You’re in the wrong place.  The place of honor belongs to this man.’  Red-faced, you’ll have to make your way to the very last table, the only place left.  When you’re invited to dinner, go, and sit at the last place.  Then when the host comes, he may very well say, ‘Friend, come up to the front.’  That will give the dinner guests something to talk about! What I’m saying is, if you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

Quoting the book of Proverbs Jesus advises the hustling guests to not rush to the head of the dining room, but rather sit in a humbler location on the happy chance they should be invited closer to the attractive host.  Well, Jesus’ words would have been very disconcerting and offensive to these guests. They lived in, and were the embodiment of, an honor-shame culture in which issues of status and recognition were of utmost importance.  Jesus’ words would have been very humiliating because moving to a lower position would mean a lowering of prestige and social capital.

Well, to their dismay, this was not all Jesus had to say. There is more to come because Jesus is not done with his critique.  After criticizing the group regarding guest etiquette, he daringly turns to the host and gives a lesson in hospitality. Jesus says, “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor.  Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks.  You will not only be a blessing; you yourself will experience a blessing because your guests won’t be able to return the favor. However, the favor will be returned – oh, how it will be returned! – at the resurrection of God’s people.”

In this scene, the writer of Luke’s gospel inverts traditional, cultural banquet etiquette and table fellowship.  First, he criticizes the behavior of the prestige seeking guests, then he lectures the host about how he should have invited all those they considered losers in the community. I have to say Jesus’ words and methods were not going to win friends and influence people. Jesus was never a candidate for the congeniality award. But as theologian Robert Capon suggests.

Jesus is at pains, as he has been all through his final journey to Jerusalem, to set forth death and lostness, not life and success, as the means of salvation.  And at this dinner party he has found himself in the presence of a bunch of certified, solid-brass winners: establishment types who are positive they’ve got all the right tickets, religious and otherwise, and who think a fun evening consists of clawing your way to the top of the social heap.  Therefore, when he addresses them, he is principally concerned to redress the imbalance he feels all around him, to assert once again his conviction that a life lived by winning is a losing proposition.

My friends, we are a people who specialize in bookkeeping. We like to strive to be first, to be important and be winners.  And we do this by keeping records and keeping score, by focusing on being on top and being front-runners, by constantly juggling accounts in our heads.  We are enslaved to our bookkeeping, our ladder climbing and our score keeping.  And, in the person of Jesus, God has announced that God has once and for all, forever, pensioned off the bookkeeping department!  God has in fact rejected our bookkeeping.  Jesus warns the host and each one of us to not consult the records we keep on people:  not the Friend/Foe ledger, not the Rich/Poor volume, not any of the Nice/Nasty, Winners/Losers, or Good/Bad journals and books we keep on people.  I have to say, letting go of that is hard.  But, as far as God is concerned, that way of doing business is over and done with.

Jesus is saying to each one of us, “Listen, you are mired in your score keeping lives.  You are so busy trying to hold the world together by getting your accounts straight that you hardly have time to notice that it’s falling apart faster than ever. Why don’t you just let go?  Look, I’m on my way to Jerusalem to die so you can be saved, free for nothing.  I’m going up there to give you a dramatic demonstration of shutting up once and for all the subject of divine bookkeeping.  What’s the point, then, of your keeping records when I’m not?”

Yes, meal-time experiences and parties were one way in which the writer of Luke described and portrayed a vision of the Christian life. And the banquet is a symbol of the reign of God. Table fellowship becomes a metaphor for the kingdom of God, where social boundaries and unjust divisions in human community no longer exist.  Jesus embodies radical hospitality.  Jesus invites us to stop the bookkeeping and let go of all the imposed boundaries and distinctions we try to create.  Jesus invites us to be the community of God’s people we are called to be.   Jesus’ words reach across boundaries of place and time and call us to bear witness to the fellowship that exists between God and all of humanity.  Jesus’ words call us to let go of our score keeping and live into the joy and freedom of fellowship with God and all others.  Such fellowship is all about grace, the grace and love in which God holds not only us, but the entire cosmos. That is table fellowship, Jesus’ style!

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.