The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke the 14th Chapter
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
He said also to the one who had invited him, "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. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
He told them a parable. He just HAD to go and make it a parable! Because if it wasn’t a parable, it would just be a good lesson in etiquette, like Emily Post, but Jesus made it a parable. So the lunch isn’t just about lunch and the wedding banquet isn’t just about choosing chicken or fish.
Jesus used parables to tell folks things that he knew would be hard for them to hear. His parables always started with something familiar, like lunch. But then they always ended up more challenging the deeper into them you went. So Jesus starts this parable with just a light lunch, set out in the shade of a backyard tree. But then, Jesus makes lunch harder by insisting on inviting the poor, crippled, lame and blind. But his parable doesn’t stop there either, because Jesus isn’t just asking us to find someone who is hungry and make them a one-off meal. Jesus is calling us into deeper, forever relationships with every sort of people. Where the world says NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) Jesus says LIMBY (Lunch in My Back Yard)! You see, it’s building a thriving community including ALL people that's Jesus’s deeper concern, in other words, Jesus is talking about more than just lunch, he’s talking about the Kingdom of God.
There’s a flip side to this parable which may be even harder to hear. That happens when it’s YOU or ME who are the ones hurting or in need, because when WE are the ones in need, Jesus calls US to set aside our pride and allow ourselves to be the ones drawn more deeply into a caring community and not try to go it alone. It’s hard to throw a lunch for folks who are different or facing life’s challenges, it much harder to admit that I am the one facing life’s challenges and accept an invitation to lunch and to more than lunch.
So lunch turned out to not be just about lunch. Now dinner isn’t just any dinner, but a banquet and not just any banquet but a wedding banquet! And when Jesus talks Wedding Banquets he’s ABSOLUTELY talking about the Kingdom of God and remember, when he talks about the Kingdom of God, he’s not talking about the sweet by and by… he’s talking about this world, our everyday, figure out dinner, commute to work, pick up kids, do homework world and he’s talking about changing our everyday world so it works God’s way, not the way it works now.
While the world’s way of living often leads to great disparities, with a few having much and many not having nearly enough, God’s Kingdom is our world transformed so that it works like an all inclusive, great banquet, like the prophet Isaiah describes... a feast with meats rich with marrow and well aged wines strained clear... a world where everyone has enough.
But even with all of that, Jesus still isn’t quite finished making things all parable-ly and difficult. Because now Jesus says, “When YOU give a banquet.” Yup, it gets harder, because this is OUR banquet to give... OUR world to change. Not alone. Not without God, but together as God’s people we are called, as Martin Luther King said, to "bend the arc of the moral universe slowly toward justice." That task often seems daunting but I find a quote from the Talmud helpful (The Talmud is a sort of Jewish commentary on the Torah), it says, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Jesus is calling us to host much more than just lunch and throw more than just a regular banquet. Jesus is calling us to create a space right in the midst of our every day lives for ALL people… right here in our own back yard… to build a place for ALL people into our community and work on building that community into the Kingdom of God.
Our congregation is actually a beautiful example of a group of regular folks trying our best to do much more than just lunch. One of this congregation’s Spiritual gifts is making a place, right here in our own backyard, for all sorts of people. But we aren’t alone in this work. God has given us partners in the work of throwing this banquet and building the Kingdom.
Our work in this community really is like a Divine pot-luck. While we bring the correct liturgically-colored Jell-O, our Catholic friends brings the chicken, the Unitarians bring the brownies, the Synagogue brings a tofu casserole, the United Way brings burgers, the Muslim community brings falafel, Bread of Life brings the beans and all our other friends bring the cookies and cakes. Together, in spite of many challenges, we really are helping to prepare a banquet, right here in our own back yard! May we continue to do just that! May we continue to set a place at the table for ALL people and may we continue to work with our friends and neighbors until one day, we all look up from preparing this feast and realize that while we were busy trying to get the Jello out of the mold, God went ahead and transformed our little pot-luck fully into the Kingdom of God. Amen.