Sunday, August 28, 2016

Jesus Teaches Knife and Fork School...or Something Like That

Luke 14:1, 7-14
A Sermon for the People
Of Messiah Lutheran Church
Montgomery, Alabama
August 28, 2016
Let’s pray.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

We read the gospel lesson every Sunday, and every Sunday, I am struck by some quality of Jesus.  He’s kind to the woman at the well, he’s angry as he cleans the Temple of moneychangers, he’s terribly brave (and maybe a bit foolish) as he is questioned by Pilate, he is clearly human on the road to Emmaus as he asks his companions if they have anything to eat.  This

Sunday, I am struck by just how smart and how good a teacher Jesus is.

As I described Jesus last night, I used the words “incredible theologian”, and then I was struck by how funny that sounds.  We tend to spend so much time tending to the divine Jesus Christ that sometimes I think we forget that Jesus of Nazareth was beautifully human as well…and so as God put on flesh here on this little planet in the first century, God was a diligent student of theology…of the study of God. 

As he studies and teaches, Jesus has this really neat way of interpreting scripture.  He does it this morning in the gospel lesson, did you catch it?  Jesus teaches the lesson from Proverbs, the same passage as our 1st lesson. 
6 Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great; 7 for it is better to be told, "Come up here," than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.
Jesus demonstrates that he is a credible teacher (and yes, an incredible theologian) as he quotes from the wisdom literature, says it in his own words, and adds to or expands on the scripture.  He does this frequently, and our own Martin Luther uses this model of teaching, too, it is especially notable in his explanations of the 10 Commandments, for example. 
Here, Jesus takes a two line bit of advice intended for young men being trained for leadership in politics as a way to avoid embarrassment (knife and fork school for those of you in the armed services), and he turns it into a lesson on pride and humility.  “all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  In other words, this Proverb warning against pride becomes, in the mouth of Jesus, a word against self-promotion.  Jesus uses his by now very familiar language of the first will be last the last will be first to remind us of the upside down kingdom of God. 
And this remains in this day and age very, very counter cultural, doesn’t it?  If you are trying to get ahead in politics or in a military career or in most business or entertainment environments, you are SUPPOSED to be self-promoting!  If I don’t tell you how great I am (whether that be based in reality or fiction), I may never be noticed.  I may not get that raise, people may never listen to what I am saying or value the art I am making…if I don’t stand up and make some noise and draw some attention to myself.  In a culture that values the flashy, the loud, and the pompous, to be meek and humble most often means to be overlooked.
But once again, the humility requested and required of us by Jesus is the opposite of the pride and self-promotion requested and required of us by the world.
After his lesson on pride, Jesus spends a moment talking about rules for who to invite to a banquet.  (I get pretty tickled at all of the places Jesus helps us to figure out the guest list for our lives.) think that everytime I have hosted a dinner party or a luncheon, I have absolutely invited my friends or my neighbors…and I am sure that they would all balk at being called “rich”, but in reality and on a global scale, they are all absolutely rich.  Looks like I still have some work to do in my own life.
  "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Here’s the thing, Jesus is not just talking about hosting dinner.  As with all of his parables, there is a deeper meaning here.  Jesus is talking about all of the places where you might be in position to invite or to welcome someone…especially the poor, the sick, the lonely, or the socially undesirable. 
I want for you to do something, and I apologize in advance to the introverts in the room, but I think this will be helpful.  Take a minute to think of a time you were the host or a time you were the guest at a metaphorical banquet.  So maybe it wasn’t a dinner, but maybe you needed something, something you were unable to provide for yourself, and it was provided for you with no evidence or expectation that you could repay that kindness.  Or maybe you remember a time when you were able to provide that for someone.  Then, in groups of two or three, share that time with your neighbor.  Ok, go!
(5 minutes, tops, depending on the noise from the congregation)
Did your neighbors have good stories?  Do you feel a little changed from sharing your own?
What you have just described for one another is the tender beginning of authentic relationship.  Real relationship born in love, genuine care, and concern for one another.  This kind of relationship is so very rare out in the world, isn’t it?  It’s upside down Kingdom of God relationship…free from pride. And that kind of grace and love and mercy is transformative and healing. 
Most of our relationships are transactional…we invite and welcome those who can repay us or who can do for us.  Quid pro quo…a favor or advantage expected or returned for something.
But to quote theologian Karoline Lewis, “…then here comes Jesus, who basically says, ‘yeah, that whole quid pro quo thing? That’s not going to fly in the Kingdom of God.’”
The problem with a quid pro quo mentality is quantification. How do you measure or calculate repayment of love, of mercy? ...We tend to forget that our beliefs about faith and discipleship are also claims about who we think God is. If we insist that our faith, our salvation, is dependent upon an equal rate of exchange between God and us, then we need to ask ourselves, in what kind of God do we believe? What happens if we don’t measure up?[1]  
And as we seek to fulfill our baptismal call to be the body of Christ, the hands and feet of God in this world, we are called to mirror God’s intended relationship with us.  A relationship that is true, grounded in love, and reliable.  We’ve been invited to a banquet, now we are blessed to extend the invitation.
God relentlessly pursues us with mercy, with love, with grace upon grace and calls us into authentic relationship with God and with our neighbor who is anyone.  In that calling, we are blessed, and we are blessed to be a blessing.  We’ve been invited to a banquet! 
Thank you, Jesus.


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