Sermon for C Pentecost 12 September 1, 2019

Senior Pastor, Duane Larson
Based on Luke 14: 7-14

It’s a common question here in Houston, one of the top Foodie Amusement Parks of the nation. “Where do you want to go for dinner?” We have choices on top of choices. Even our all-time favorite lists are too long to memorize. Dining out can be a “little” pricey even for the few middle of the middle class folks who are still around. But the prices are not as high as elsewhere.

Did you see the map this week about the average cost for a date in each of our fifty states? New York is the highest at $297. That’s 2-9-7. For two people. For a date. On average. Assuming the date might be like dinner and a movie, that average would be the middle between a couple who dines at the top of the City Corp building in New York City and another couple enjoying Fish Fry night at the local Catholic Church in Rochester.

The lowest average date cost? That’s in South Dakota. Where the high price is fish at the Catholic parish and the low is shooting rats from atop one’s Ford 150 at the local garbage dump.

You think I’m kidding. That’s a real thing.

And the average cost for a date in Texas? $111. That’s like excellent Tex Mex for two. Like something between a Whataburger and a superb French place in Mid-town. If guns are involved in the date, that means dinner is fresh feral hogs off somebody’s private land.

What’s my point? No matter whether romance is involved or not, the very fact that it was important to compute average dating costs state by state signals something that is central to human being: sharing a meal together, whatever the cost and style. There are also many more social factors that factor into the “total” costs of a date, of which we and the poor statistician who had to research all the data are surely unaware. It’s not just about the bill delivered to the table. What about the preparatory costs of getting a babysitter or buying flowers or the gas for the car or the on-call coverage or everything of two lives that entered into that evening’s conversation or everything of innumerable lives and historical trends and public policy decisions and public safety measures and medical progress that made the date even possible? All because sharing dinner is so important in the total human scheme of things.

Have you noticed how often Jesus is invited to dinner by many and especially so by elites like the Pharisees? I can’t tell you the average cost of those group dates. But I can surmise that they cost a lot. Invisible costs included the huge servant/slave effort required to ramp up a banquet for a local celebrity. The costs eventually included Jesus’ own life. Come to think about it, the costs of hope and purpose and lives of all human beings are included. But I get ahead of myself.

Jesus has become known as the local thought leader. He’s trending on the “let’s invite him to dinner” circuit, even among those who have, shall we say, “severe” reservations about him, like a Fox News commentator inviting a leading democrat on for an interview, cuz, you know, “ratings.” In the Pharisees’ case, there are many who genuinely are open-minded and love a fine dinner conversation. There are others, of course, who just want to set him up for a fall, like the interviewer who pretends amiability to the guest until the right “gotcha” moment happens. Even so, guess what? Jesus doesn’t hold back. He subtly points out the weak spots in his host’s character while happily sipping their wine. Other times he not so subtly calls them out for snobbery and religious hypocrisy, of neither loving God nor neighbor. On this occasion told by Luke, Jesus was likely invited to a high-class feast along with other admired Rabbis like Jesus. Among them even a certain hierarchy exists. Thus, their jockeying for position. But since Jesus is the center of attention, we can infer that he sits where he can see and hear all and where he can be seen and heard by all. That way everyone then can make their judgments and gossip about him on the donkey-Uber ride back home. Of course, the talk at dinner is especially about religion and politics, the very stuff of their trade. After all, what would all you religiously faithful lawyers be most interested in talking about at a dinner party, say, with the legally-trained former Archbishop of Canterbury?

Knowing their wheelhouse, all that they should know (including today’s Proverbs text), Jesus poses the parable as would a lawyer setting up the witness in the dock, or maybe like a professor would the candidate at the oral defense of the dissertation. The point? Those who self-identify as faithful to God and yet use social status to quantify and qualify human worth are in deep trouble. In the real Kindom of God, the self-righteous will be humbled and the humbled will be raised up, Jesus teaches from the dinner table. These also are the very words with which Luke will describe the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection a few chapters later. A person can pay huge bucks for a “good” table at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast in DC. Notwithstanding the privilege gained to advance one’s power, and no matter the appearance of righteous piety from wide-smiling faces, those dollars do not and will not mark the real average worth of that person’s soul. Because God, thank God, computes so differently. God computes from the grace of God’s holy heart, not from the hierarchies of privilege and pretense.

When one gets Jesus point, when one understands from deep gratitude what it means to be and live in the rule of God’s Kindom, where God communes with and lifts up the lowly, then even the invisible—the undocumented, the refugee, the fearful, the laboring children, all those with no place to lay their heads, the latest shooting victims, all the morally and spiritually traumatized, the very people whose hands and feet produced the very stuff of the banquet, all the invisible people of no societal status and all the people like you and me who carry our own gaping but invisible wounds of suffering, and fear, and broken hopes, and limited options, all who get it that we’re all from the same place and all destined by God’s same promise—when we get it we come then here or wherever it is to this head table and we celebrate that the average cost of dinner and so a life with God is both nothing and everything. And what a date that is!

Duane Larson       Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston, TX