Text: Luke 14: 7-14
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
August 28, 2016
One of the things that struck me when I first started attending St. Paul’s is that this is a congregation that loves to eat! More precisely St. Paul’s love to eat together. On many occasions after I was hired as part of the clergy staff, Bonnie would tell me what she was planning to have for dinner that evening and I would say: “oh please don’t, I have been invited out to lunch,” or “Today is the monthly parish luncheon.” And of course, during season there seemed to be a Parish dinner at least once a month as well. It is a wonderful tradition and I love it!
Of course St. Paul’s is not the only church that loves to eat together. We come by it naturally. Jesus loved to eat. The Gospels are filled with such stories. Indeed, he was once accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard” (Luke 7:33) and he didn’t deny it!
Although Jesus obviously enjoyed the fellowship experienced when eating a meal, he also used the occasion to tell many of his parables and other teachings. This is a practice less common among churches, but is often used at seminary in the training of ministers. During my first year at Asbury, I was asked to read Table Talk, written by Martin Luther. It is a series of theological discussions that he had with his students over meals that his wife Kate cooked for them at Wittenberg.
I looked forward to the few times I was invited to share a meal with faulty during my seminary days. But the meal that has stuck most in my mind left me in sober reflection because of the content of the lesson I had experienced. On this particular occasion I was a guest of my New Testament Professor. He had invited 10 of his students for dinner. We all looked forward to spending time around the table with him. He was one of Asbury’s best teachers. When we arrived, we smelled the aroma of steaks cooking in the kitchen. Our mouths were watering with anticipation. But when our professor led us into the dining room we were surprised to see only six place settings at the table and five additional chairs along the wall. He handed us a glass bowl from which he asked each of us to draw a slip of paper. Five of us drew a number 1 and we were invited to sit down with him at table as his wife Judy brought in steaming hot plates of food. To those drawing a number 2, our professor cordially invited them to sit at the chairs along the wall.
He then sat down at table with the five of us who had drawn a number 1, blessed the food, began to eat and carried on a lively theological conversation with us while totally ignoring the five who sat along the wall. He did most of the talking because we were all uncomfortable and really didn’t enjoy the delicious meal that his wife had prepared for us. We kept wondering when he would say, I think you got the point and then ask Judy to bring in five more plates of food. We got the point all right. That morning in our Greek class we had discussed Jesus parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich many was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. Lazarus, on the other hand, laid at the rich man’s gate covered with sores and hoped to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Five of us when home hungry that night, all ten of us went home to do some serious thinking.
In eight of his twenty-four chapters, a full one third of his Gospel, Luke tells us that Jesus accepted an invitation to dinner. In our reading today, he is the honored guest of a Pharisee. Jesus goes with the knowledge that he is under close observation, very similar to what Donald and Hillary experience in this year’s presidential campaign. Every word, every action is analyzed, looking for a comment that can entrap Jesus in a “got yah” moment. Luke opens today’s reading this way: “One Sabbath, when Jesus to eat at the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. Luke does not tell us who was watching him, his host, the other guests, or the Jerusalem Post press corps. But as our Lord entered the hallway he knew immediately that he was being set up. There in front of him sat a man suffering from dropsy. The man, like Lazarus, had probably been sitting outside the Pharisee’s home in this gated community hoping to get some scraps of leftover food when they were thrown out for the dogs to eat. Someone, obviously with the host’s knowledge and permission, had brought him inside and now all were watching to see what Jesus would do.
Luke has already told us in previous chapters that on at least two occasions, Jesus had healed the sick on the Sabbath. He had come under great criticism for this because in the Jewish interpretation of the law this constituted work, on a day they were supposed to rest. Jesus was not at all intimidated. He immediately healed the man and before anyone could say anything, he challenged them with a question. “If any one of you had a donkey or an ox that fell in the ditch on the Sabbath day, would you not pull him out?” The implication is clear, “if it is ok to alleviate one of God’s creatures from danger or suffering on the Sabbath, is it not even more important to relieve the suffering of one who is created in God’s image?
Even my father who was so conservative that he would not let me go biking or listen to a Detroit Tiger baseball game on the radio on Sunday understood that one. On Sunday night when a neighbor stopped by to inform him that our cattle were all on the road, he did not hesitate one second. The whole family was immediately out rounding them up, getting them back into the pasture and repairing the fence!
As they went into the dining hall, as the guest of honor Jesus was asked to sit next to his host. From that vantage point, he could help but observe how the other guests jostled one another hoping to get a seat close to him and his host. Have things changed all that much in the 2000 years since? It almost reminds me of a Trump or Clinton fundraising dinner! And like Donald, and certainly not like Hillary, our Lord decided this was not the moment to be politically correct. Rather he spoke with conviction articulating his kingdom values. Demonstrating that the best defense is to go on the offense, he gave a two-fold response to what he had just observed. The first directed to the other guests, the second aimed his host.
To the guests he stated, when you are invited out to dinner you shouldn’t seek a place of honor, rather take the lowest seat. Then if your host desires that you to sit closer, he will let you know. While this advice makes sense to us, we don’t get the full impact of what he was saying. Within first century people lived in a “shame culture.” To be humiliated publicly, was not simply embarrassing, it could have dire consequences for the person and his family both economically and socially. On the other hand, to be publicly honored, carried the real possibility of social and economic benefits. Our Lord’s comment was excellent advice within that culture.
However, his comment to his host challenged this “shame” culture by turning it on its head. In effect he said to his host: “As I look around me, it seems that you have invited all the prominent people in town to dinner tonight. And undoubtedly sometime during the year they will invite you back to dinner as well. Instead, why don’t you invite persons, like the man I healed in your hallway, that is the poor, the lame, and the blind? Although they cannot respond in kind, you will discover that it will bring you a real blessing, and God will reward you in heaven.”
This is good advice for us today as well. When I first moved to Naples three years ago, Bonnie and I seemed to be invited to a party almost every week. Our hosts were all friends Bonnie had made during the ten years she lived in Naples while I was working in Washington. I could not help but notice each time we came home after a party Bonnie would write down the hosts name down in a notebook she was keeping. “Finally, curiosity got the best of me. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Oh,” she said, “I am making sure that I don’t forget anybody. At the end of the year we will have a party and I want to make sure that I don’t leave anyone out who had us over. If I do, they won’t invite us to their party next year.”
Our Lord’s point, however, wasn’t that we shouldn’t invite our friends to dinner. Rather he is reminding us as Christians, that we should never forget those who are less fortunate than we and that we should give all we can to assist them in having a better life. No one in our day has provided a better role model for us than Mother Theresa. When she saw awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she refused the ceremonial banquet that is usually given at the time of award. Rather she asked that the $192,000 that was budgeted for the dinner be given to the poor in India.
But the Pharisees in India didn’t get the message. Instead they basked in the honor she had received and insisted on giving her a banquet when she returned to Calcutta. Not since India’s independence, had they seen the likes of this party. Held in Calcutta’s finest five-star hotel, all the Who’s Who of India was present. The ladies came wearing their most expensive jewels and finest saris. The men were dressed in their best tuxedos. The room shimmered under crystal chandeliers. Freshly cut flowers were in abundance and the tables sparkled with real silverware.
Everyone was there waiting for the guest of honor to arrive and all were hoping to get their photograph taken with her. Finally, she came dress in the same blue and white sari she had worn will ministering to her friends on the street that afternoon. Walking directly to the microphone, she thanked them all for coming. Then she said “follow me.” With that she went over to the buffet table, picked up a dish and a silver serving spoon and walked out the door. Those who understood followed her example and the rest did the same to avoid embarrassment. They left the hotel and went into the streets where, within a block, they found the starving and the needy. They fed them the meal that the hero of the evening found too extravagant to eat.
In coming to St. Paul’s, I have been deeply moved by all the ways you have worked together to raise money to get to outreach and to the poor. I have often heard many of you express a regret that both individually and collectively we cannot give more. One of the shining examples of our past is the role St. Paul’s played in the establishment of St. Matthew’s House. Next month we have an opportunity to contribute to their on-going expenses. Three weeks from today, the East Naples Ministerial Association is sponsoring a concert at East Naples United Methodist Church at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 18th. All seven churches will be providing music. St Paul’s offering with feature Eleanor Phelps, Dan Dickout & Sally Blanchard. Following the concert, a free will offering will be taken and then we will all go down to St. Matthew’s House where the collection will be given to them. They in turn, will treat us to a reception. I expect all of us to be there and to come prepared to enjoy an incredible concert and to give generously! Amen!