September 2, 2001
Proper 17
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary

If you are using the alternate Old Testament Reading from Jeremiah 2:4-13,
there is a sermon here>>  
"On Asking the Right Questions"
Proverbs 25:6-7
Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14


"Jesus Is Coming To Dinner"
Luke 14:1-14

"Jesus is coming to dinner, and you're all invited!"

We have to use our imaginations a bit about just how this invitation got passed around because there are precious few details given. We know Jesus is coming to dinner. We also know that there was growing conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders. The dinner gathering was made up of a leader of the Pharisees, a few of his fellow Pharisees and some local bible experts. (Called the "scribes" or "lawyers" in the bible)

We can safely assume then,  that the invitation was somewhat disingenuous. Listen once again to these words in the beginning of our scripture. "... Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a mean on the sabbath, {and} they were watching him closely."

There are two key ingredients that make up the charged atmosphere of this meal time. The scribes and Pharisees watching like a hawk, hoping to get something on Jesus that will enhance their case against him. Jesus, on the other hand, is focusing in on the radical disconnect between the desires of God and the practice of their religion. The passage points to, but can not fully show the tremendous passion that underlies this meal.

As the passage progresses, Jesus by his actions and his words addresses the issues of healing, humility and hospitality. It is perhaps no accident that the healing comes first. It is the healing ministry of Jesus that ignites much of the protest against his ministry. Not so much because of the fact that he heals, but because of the time that he heals. Amazingly, the joy of the healing presence of God in the lives of hurting people is lost to Jesus' nay sayers. While the crowds of common people are recognizing and rejoicing at the work of God, the because they get all worked up about the legality of whether healing on the sabbath is against the prohibition of working on the sabbath.

Let's look more closely at how this meal time goes as Jesus addresses:

[1] Healing

 As the Pharisees are "watching him closely," Jesus encounters a man with dropsy. The term dropsy is no longer used in medical literature. The condition is swelling caused by edema or water. One modern version of the bible translates this incident by describing the man as having, "swollen arms and legs."  In any case, the man is there before the meal actually gets started.

The language of the text suggests that the man with dropsy may have been a plant for this occasion. It was not long before this event that Jesus had been teaching in a synagogues. A woman who apparently suffered from severe osteoporosis was present for his teaching. [Luke 13:10-17] Jesus healed her and the ruler of the synagogue lodged a bitter complaint that the woman could be healed on any other day. This healing, he reasoned, was not legitimate because it was done on the sabbath.

The guy totally misses the point. Jesus tells the whole gathered crowd that these religious leaders would not hesitate to walk one of their thirsty donkeys to a place where they could drink on the sabbath - but they would deny this woman (a member of their own faith to be sure) an opportunity for healing. The crowd, however, understands. They break into joyous celebration. What better day to see this woman of faith released from her long burden? How wonderful that she should be healed on God's day of rest which should be honored by all God's children!

All of us know people like these Pharisees - don't we? You know - the person who never sees the positive and can always pick out the negative. There are those folks who can walk into a room with 99 good things to make a positive comment about and perhaps one thing that deserves a bit of criticism - and what do they see first? Right! They can spot the flaw in a microsecond and miss the good things entirely.

Jesus addresses the lawyers and Pharisees before he begins to deal with the sick man who stands before him. He is way ahead of them. They are not interested in the health or illness of the man who stands before Jesus. Talk about manipulation!

He asks them a question. "Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?"  They don't answer a word. Of course this is a setup. No words are exchanged between the man who is ill and Jesus -- at least Luke does not record any conversation. The man is healed and sent on his way. What a great day it was for him. Especially if he expected no more than to assist the religious bureaucrats in trapping Jesus. He goes back to family and home a new man having experience something of the coming of God's reign.

Now Jesus turns back to his host and his entourage. "If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?" This time there is more than silence. They, "Could not reply to this."  The disconnect between the desires of God for the children of God and the devotion of the lawyers and Pharisees to the letter of the law  brings shame to his adversaries -- to say nothing of increased anger and opposition.

The essential point of this lesson is that Jesus brings hope and healing while his detractors bring rules and regulations to those who are seeking the presence of God in their lives. 

[2] Humility

Now the meal begins to get underway and Jesus observes how the invited guests begin to head for the head table. In Jesus' day, tables were closer to the floor than we are used to and guests would recline at couches round the table. The honored guests would be closest to the host. The tables at a larger gathering would be in the shape of a U with the host and most honored guests at the head table.

In the event a honored guest would show up a bit late, someone who had taken a position near the host might be asked to find another spot so that the more important guest might be seated near the host.

Jesus tells a parable which is central to the way God's kingdom works. If the guests take the lowest position possible at the meal, chances are the host will ask them to move up in position. On the other hand if they come to the meal assuming that they would surely have a seat at the head table, it would be terribly embarrassing to be asked to move to a less favorable seat.

Humility is one of the hallmarks of a person of authentic faith and a central principle in the kingdom of God. Luke 18:14 details the story of how a Pharisee and a sinner went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee suggests to God that he is so thrilled he is not a wretch like the man who prays beside him. On the other hand, the sinner can do nothing but hang his head and beg for God's mercy. Jesus responds, "I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

James spells out how it is that humility is the way of advancement with God. "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." [4:10]

[3] Hospitality

Now Jesus turns to the host of the meal and talks about hospitality. "Don't give a dinner for your friends or family and rich neighbors. Rather invite people who have no possible way of paying you back. Invite the poor and dispossessed and you will be blessed by God in the end."

Throughout his gospel, Luke has focused on Jesus' heart for the poor and socially unacceptable people of his day. In fact, the sure sign of the presence of God was to be, "good news" for the poor. Messiah's mission was to bring healing to the sick, sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed.

Hospitality is one of the marks of the faithful community. "Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers," Paul wrote to the church at Rome. [Rom. 12:13] The writer of the letter to the Hebrews enjoined his readers, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." [Heb. 13:2]

***

Those who sought to entrap Jesus in the breaking of sabbath laws missed the point of his healing ministry, failed the test of humility and were self serving in their hospitality.

And so let us be aware that, "Jesus is coming to dinner!"  Whenever we reach out to bring hope and healing to others, or open our hearts to those who others reject, Jesus comes to dinner. We are called as people of faith to become a community of hope and healing -- a place of hospitality where humility is the mark of greatness.


  Although the lectionary text skips verses 2-6, we include this in our sermon because it is essential to the dynamic of what Jesus is doing with the leaders who seek to find fault with him.


Reflection on the Texts

Each of the texts contributes to the wider theme of humility, hospitality with Luke also bringing the theme of healing to the mix. All these qualities are marks of the kingdom of God. There is a marked difference between the ways of God and the ways of the world - even when those ways are wrapped up in religious  garb.

NOTE: We are experimenting with linking the lessons to Bible Gateway over the next few weeks. You need to be online to use this function, but when you click on the lessons (and some texts referred to in the notes) you will go to the passage at the Bible gateway site. The text will be in RSV, but you can read the text in several different versions when you are at the Bible Gateway site. If you explore the different versions, there are footnotes and other helps that may enhance your study along with our notes and sermon suggestions.

Let us know if this is helpful for your study.  It takes a bit of time, but if it helps we will continue the practice. If we do not hear from you - we will not continue the links.

Proverbs 25:6-7

This text is the background to Jesus' parable which is addressed to the Pharisees and lawyers. We approach God in humility knowing that grace alone can make us worthy. The example of Christ who makes himself nothing and takes on the form of a servant is the model for Christian community. "And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name..." [Phil. 2:8-9]  In other words, the way up with God is down. By exalting ourselves, Proverbs warns and Jesus will reiterate, we are in danger of bringing about our own, "put down."

Luke 14:1, 7-14

This incident is Luke's fourth mention of the difficulty between Jesus and the religious leaders over the sabbath. (See:  6:1-5, 6:11; and 13:10-17) On this occasion, Jesus brings up the possible objection first, the Pharisees and "experts" do not answer and Jesus moves ahead with the man's healing. Again Jesus grabs the initiative and shames his host and guests with their evident hypocrisy.

Jesus remained in control of the dialogue throughout the portion of the dinner-conversation Luke records. It may be that the silence of the other guests was intended - this is more of a grand jury appearance than it is a real conversation among equals. They are there to judge and Jesus is there to continue to press the authentic meaning of the Kingdom of God. Jesus words, "For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." are not simply words of formal teaching - but words that describe his own life. He, as noted above, took upon himself the "lowest place" and was exalted by God.

Humility leads to "passive exaltation," it is not something we achieve or gain for ourselves but something that is conferred upon us by a gracious God.

Finally, Jesus suggests that to be blessed by God, they should invite and welcome those who otherwise would have no chance of invitation of the blessings of a feast.  For those who give this kind of grace to those who can not repay, so also God will give to those who could not deserve divine favor, the reward of heavenly blessings.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

The Hebrews passage puts together in teaching what Jesus portrayed in his dinner with the Pharisees and lawyers.

The Christian community, bound together in mutual love, is to live as a visible demonstration of the Kingdom of God. Hospitality and reaching out to the captives and suffering are marks of the people of God. Honor and fidelity in family living and freedom from greed are signs of connectivity with the One who will never leave the faithful.

Christians live in light of the teaching of their leaders, acknowledge the continuing Lordship of Jesus Christ and are in continual worship of God - both in their inner lives and outer actions.

The sum of the texts is this: Authentic people of faith have a walk that is congruent with their talk.


 Worship Helps

A Call To Worship   

Leader:    Let us affirm that we love the Lord.
People:  We love the Lord who hears every prayer.  
Leader:   God is forever waiting to hear our cries,
People:  And we can call upon the Lord as long as we live!
Leader:   We will serve the Lord all the days of our lives,
People:  God's praise will always be in our hearts and on our lips!

A Prayer of Confession
O God of grace and mercy, we confess that we are too often stuck in our wayward ways.  You have offered us love and we choose the disappointment of the world. You speak to us of forgiveness and new life and we stop our ears.  Your patience and love toward us are beyond our ability to understand.  And yet, because of your Son Jesus Christ, we are assured of your steadfast love as we come humbly seeking forgiveness and new life.  Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

The love and mercy of our God is available to cleanse and restore all who humbly turn to the Lord.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, because of the wonderful grace of God, you are forgiven.  Rejoice in the Good News. Amen.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

Thank you Lord for all the ways you have come to us and given us faith and hope in the face of difficulties that have plagued us. Our hearts are filled with gratitude today as we ponder the incredible extent of your love for us.

How is it possible that you should surrender your very own son for the like of us?  No human heart can imagine a sacrifice like this.  It is a love we can not describe with words, but a joy we can sense in our hearts and sing with our tongues.  We can only pray that you will enlarge our hearts by the work of your Holy Spirit until we are fully shaped by your love and given to the sharing of that love with others.

Come into the midst of your people even now, O Lord and touch every heart with your Spirit, lighten every burden with the power of your touch. Call forth praise from our lips and the world shall know indeed that you are God and there is no other god before you. We are created to know and love You forever.

May we go from this place today with a fresh understanding of just how wonderful your grace is and commit ourselves to following more closely the example of your Son.

All praise and honor, all blessing and glory we give to you this day.

 Amen!

A Prayer of Dedication

We give thanks to you, O God, for the wondrous gift of your love and grace.
You have loved us with a deep love, long before we could love you in return.
You offered the gift of life everlasting when we were undeserving.  The gifts we
present to you today are but meager tokens of the love we feel for you.  O Lord,
please grow your love in our hearts so that we can perfectly worship you and
worthily magnify your holy name.  Amen