Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
August 28, 2022
By: Deacon Ben Remmert
Readings: Proverbs 25:6-7, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, Luke 14:1, 7-1
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
One of my favorite sung graces that we have learned at camp begins with the words “Be present at our table Lord, be here and everywhere adored…” But considering our Gospel lesson for this morning, I wonder if this is a very wise thing to pray for. Do we really want Jesus to come to our dinner table? Let’s face it, Jesus was not always the most pleasant of dinner guests.
Throughout the Gospels, but especially in Luke, Jesus uses the occasion of meals to teach and reflect upon the meaning of the kingdom of God, and what should characterize our relationship to him, as his disciples. Our Gospel lesson for this morning provides us with such an occasion, as Jesus is invited to have dinner on the Sabbath at the house of a leader of the Pharisees.
And it doesn’t take long for Jesus to spring into action. When he noticed how the various guests, presumably friends of the host and perhaps Pharisees themselves, came in and jockeyed for places of honor at the table, he told them this parable. “When you are invited to a banquet, do not sit down in a place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited, and arrive after you. Then, upon this guest’s arrival, the host might embarrass you by asking that you give up your seat in honor of the more distinguished guest.
Rather, Jesus suggests that when we are invited to a banquet, we should humble ourselves, and take the lowest place of honor at the table. In this case, the host may come to you and invite you to take a place of more respect, and you will be honored in front of all who are invited.
And then Jesus turns to the host, the one who had invited him to dine with him that day, and told him that when he gives a dinner, he shouldn’t invite his friends, or relatives, or his rich neighbors, who would be able to return the favor. Rather, he should invite the poor, and those who would not be able to return the favor, for then he would be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
The meaning of these teachings of Jesus are quite clear. In the first case, when we are invited to be a guest at the table of another, we should accept the invitation with humility. If the host chooses to bestow on us a greater honor, that is his or her choice, not ours to assume. And in the second case, as disciples of Christ, we are called upon to humble ourselves, to care for the poor and those in need, rather than cultivating earthly status.
Should this surprise us, as teachings of Jesus, who, as the Son of God, totally humbled himself through the incarnation, coming among us in flesh and blood to reveal the grace of God and redeem us from our sins? Jesus identified with the poor and the needy, and those in need of God’s forgiveness, that he lived his life in total dependence upon the grace of God and the caring of others.
In one of the commentaries that I read, this point is driven home. It is one of those interesting insights that I’m sure not many of us have ever pondered in trying to understand the Gospels, and what characterized the life Jesus and his disciples. It was for me, anyway. Think about this for a moment.
How did Jesus and his disciples get the food that they ate, and the bare necessities of life? We know that in the society of his day, sons were trained in the occupation of their fathers, and so we assume that in his early life, Jesus was a carpenter, working beside Joseph in the family business. But following his baptism and the beginning of his three-year ministry, there is no record of Jesus ever doing any carpentry to earn the money needed to support himself. Jesus lived as one of the poor, depending on others to support his ministry and existence.
And think of his disciples. Some of them were following various trades, like fishing and tax collecting. But once Jesus called them, none of them are reported to have ever took up their trade again, to earn money to sustain themselves, as Paul is reported to have done, making tents. They all became poor, dependent upon the generosity of others to sustain their ministry, and literally, their lives.
According to Dr. Willimon, “Jesus and his disciples must have been beggars. All those meals that Jesus and his disciples attended, none of them were at Jesus’ home. Jesus and his disciples were utterly dependent upon invitations to other people’s homes. If no one was there to offer hospitality, how could they have survived? This is really a counter-cultural, challenging insight. We live in a society where begging is always bad. At worst, it is a sign that someone is lazy or inept… [To be independent] is what our society honors. We are very big on looking after ourselves. To us, one of the worst possibilities is to be reduced to the level of begging. As people grow older there is a great fear – to be dependent upon their children, to be dependent on anybody. We yearn to take care of ourselves.”
And yet, that is how Jesus and his disciples lived. From the time of his incarnation, Jesus lived a life of humility, trusting that he could teach us that if we place our faith in God, and truly care for one another, God would provide for our needs. He does not call upon us to become idle, lazy, or to avoid the responsibility of earning our living. On the contrary, Jesus and his disciples did work, as they went about the countryside, proclaiming the kingdom of God. They were not idle beggars, but those who were called to witness to the grace of God.
And so are we! Every person who has ever come to receive the waters of baptism, have not only received the redeeming grace of God, but have also been called as one of Jesus’ disciples. We have been called to care for those in need, and to proclaim through our witness and support of the church, that we have humbled ourselves, and have accepted our Lord’s invitation to join him at his table. For at the end of his ministry, Jesus did invite all who have faith in him to join him at his table, for the feast of life.
And how do we come to this table, this feast that our Lord sets before us? We come in humility, as beggars. We come with empty hands, kneeling or standing, but with hands empty, outstretched to receive the gift of nourishment our crucified and risen Lord has to offer – the gift of himself to sustain us as children of God. We come, as did his disciples of years past, trusting in the grace of God, to sustain us in our search for God’s truth. We come, and we receive more than we deserve.
We all come as beggars, in need of God’s redeeming grace. And we are all called to humble ourselves before him, and to serve those in need. We are called to acknowledge our need. To admit that we are dependent upon the grace of God, and through our recognition of dependency upon God’s grace, to care for those who truly are dependent on us for their very existence. May God, through God’s grace and the power of God’s Spirit, give us the power to amend our lives, that we might truly reflect God’s love to others. Amen.