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All Are Welcome

This is the sermon I preached on 8/28 at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran churches. The text was Luke 14:1, 7-14.

Are we all familiar with Tupperware? We all know how Tupperware is sold. Someone has a party and invites friends to come to the party and buy stuff.

Have you ever been to a Tupperware party? What are your two biggest fears about going to a Tupperware party? The first is that you’re going to be asked to hold your own party and the second is that you know everyone who is at the party is going to have their own Tupperware party later on and you’re going to be invited. Although Jesus is not talking about Tupperware in today’s gospel, he does talk about parties and whom to invite and whom not to invite. And where do we find Jesus in today’s gospel? We find him attending a meal. 

Much of the action in Luke’s gospel takes place around meals. Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal. Jesus always appears to be eating. He’d fit right in with our congregation, wouldn’t he? 

True to form, Jesus topples the status quo for mealtime etiquette in the same way he turns everything else upside down.

From the very first verse of our gospel lesson, Luke gives his readers plenty of clues to let everyone know that this will be no ordinary meal. The host of the gathering has status. Chances are the others gathered around the table were those of similar status. The host is a Pharisee and we know the kind of run-ins Jesus has had with them. And to make matters worse, this meal was on the sabbath. Haven’t there been other times Jesus has caused a stir on the sabbath? Finally, Luke tells us that the Pharisees are monitoring Jesus and his activities. They want to make sure that the law is observed just so.

In Jesus’ time, one would be invited not necessarily because the host liked you, but for other reasons such as the host can honor his wealthy patrons, to whom he is indebted, he can repay his clients or put them in his debt, he could broker new relationships and generally maintain contacts with his whole network.

So...why was Jesus invited? Besides the fact that the Pharisees wanted to keep an eye on him, He was a pilgrim en route to Jerusalem. Jesus was a noted teacher, so in that respect his presence would carry some weight. We must remember too, that not all Pharisees were alike and some did like Jesus.

The status quo of society in Jesus’ time excluded the poor. The poor and outsiders don’t help with the social advancement of working one’s way up the ladder of success because the poor cannot reciprocate. Jesus said, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (v.11). Who is it who does the humbling and exalting? Not the individual and not the host, but God.

From Jesus’ perspective, who should and should not be invited to a feast? Jesus lists four groups whom the host should not invite:  friends, your brothers, your relatives or rich neighbors.  Jesus leaves them out because they could reciprocate the invitation. Four groups whom are to be invited are the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. These people were not only unable to reciprocate socially, they were the ultimate outsiders. According to Jewish law, they were even forbidden to serve as priests.

Meals and banquets are a metaphor of relationships in God’s reign. Jesus included everyone. He did not exclude the religious in order to include the common people and sinners and he did not exclude the common people and sinners to include the religious. Jesus welcomes all into the kingdom of God.

What does this mean for us? Jesus challenges us to open our eyes and see those who are pushed outside our own circles, those who would be deeply grateful to be included in the larger community. When we invite the outcast, we will catch a glimpse of the way things will be in the reign of God, not because we have condescended to welcome those "beneath" us; just as “the way we’ve always done it” excludes outsiders in our churches today; rather, because Jesus has changed "the rules." (Kathryn Huey)

The New Testament understanding of hospitality is not just providing for the needs of the poor and disabled, but to develop a relationship with them. Writing a check is easy. Getting involved in someone’s life is not. Jesus directs us to invite outsiders to dinner—to the unending feast of God’s love.  We are to not only give to the food pantry or send over food to a neighbor, but we are to develop relationships with the people we are serving. How can you help someone if you don’t know their needs?  The New Testament word for hospitality literally means “love of a stranger” (Fred Craddock). Life in the kingdom of God is the reverse of our expectations. Hospitality is not reaching out to people so they will join our church and we won’t have to struggle so much financially.

We often think of ourselves as hospitable people because we do a lot of entertaining, but that isn’t necessarily God’s idea of hospitality. Jesus teaches us that hospitality is welcoming those who cannot reciprocate.

Noted teacher, Fred Craddock sums things up this way:

In the kingdom,…God is always host, and we extend God’s invitation to those who cannot repay. After all, who can repay God? Jesus…is calling for behavior that lives out this conviction about the kingdom;…inviting to  table…those who have neither property nor place in society…these, too, are kingdom people” (Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year: C, 394).  



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