Sermons from Rev Julie Wagstaff
Sunday 28th August
Once again, our gospel reading gives an account of Jesus on the Sabbath. The missing verses 2-6 tell us about another healing – the man with the withered hand - and Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees about the Sabbath law.
However, unlike in last week’s gospel, none of this took place in the synagogue but during a meal that Jesus was attending.
Inviting Jesus to this meal was not the result of hospitably, but to put him on the spot. Wherever he goes now he is under scrutiny, everything he does and says is being critically watched, often in an attempt to catch him out. Luke tells us that They were watching him closely. In a rigidly hierarchical society they would have been hoping to see exactly where he thought he fitted in, which position at the table he would take. But, as usual, he turns the tables on his watchers – they become the ones under the spotlight.
After observing the jostling for position that goes on around him he tells two stories about banquets or dinner parties – but they are, of course, parables – simple stories used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson - in other words they have at least a double meaning, and they are both clearly critical of the party he is actually attending.
On the surface, the first could be taken simply as good social advice on how to avoid embarrassment in front of your fellow guests.
But when has Jesus ever been bothered about being in embarrassing social situations – indeed he has often been the cause of them - keeping company with ‘undesirables’, allowing a woman with a dubious reputation to cry over his feet, wipe them with her hair and anoint them with expensive perfume. And actually, telling these stories will undoubtedly result in embarrassment for those present. No it’s about something far more serious than being embarrassed.
He points out that rather than it being down to the guest’s opinion of their own importance, it is the up to the one who is the host of the dinner party to decide where they will sit.
The second parable, warns about inviting friends and relatives and rich neighbours rather than the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind to your banquet which, if taken literally today, sounds a bit OTT .... but what Jesus is saying is that hospitality, generosity, kindness don’t seek reward .... they are an outworking of what is in a person’s heart.
An example today could be the difference between inviting family and friends around to get together over good food and drink and enjoy each other’s company ..... rather than inviting them around to impress them with how prosperous you are and going out of your way to outdo the host of the last party you attended, angling for an invite to another event which will be attended by the hoi polloi or the crach ach as my father used to call them. In other words, doing it all for show, to emphasis and improve your social standing.
What Jesus has said already probably hasn’t gone down very well ..... but it gets worse ..... as soon as he mentions the resurrection of the righteous, his listeners are left in no doubt that the host he is talking about is God and that if they do get an invitation to God’s banquet ..... which sounds anything but certain, they are likely to find themselves in very unexpected company.
Jesus has already accused them of being hypocrites, today his warning to the Pharisees is against trying to push themselves forward in the sight of God, imagining they are superior to those who are not well-off or legally trained, expecting to be rewarded for keeping all their rules and regulations, sticking to the letter of the law, whilst at the same time living lives that are selfish, corrupt, lacking in compassion and caring. God, he is telling them, sees things very differently and in God’s kingdom life will be very different.
As we have heard repeatedly in our readings during the past weeks, the gospel message turns upside down worldly values of wealth and power and fame and success and honours those who are prepared to admit that they have little to offer other than themselves .... and what Jesus was trying to tell his listeners was that actually we are all in that position in the sight of God.
Tom Wright also points out that for the world in which Luke was writing – not the people Jesus was speaking to but those reading Luke’s account - ‘There would also have been an obvious wider meaning. Within Luke’s lifetime thousands of non-Jews had become Christians – had entered into the dinner party prepared by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As we are told in Acts, many Jewish Christians had found this difficult, if not impossible to understand or approve.
They were so eager to maintain their places at the top table that they could not grasp God’s great design to stand the world on its head. Pride, notoriously is the great cloud which blots out the sun of God’s generosity: If I reckon that I deserve to be favoured by God, not only do I declare that I don’t need his grace, mercy and love, but I imply that those who don’t deserve it shouldn’t have it.
As the writer of Ecclesiasticus says, the beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.
In telling this parable Jesus is not encouraging people to be falsely humble, He doesn’t want false humility, he wants our relationship with God to be restored and through his sacrifice on the cross all that we need to do is to overcome our pride – a pride that tells us we don’t need God, we can do it on our own and accept his grace, mercy and love.
‘Jesus spent his whole life breaking through that cloud [of pride] and bringing the fresh, healing sunshine of God’s love to those in the shadow......... All Christians are called to the same healthy dependence on God’s love and the same generosity in sharing it with those in need.’
As the writer to the Hebrews says ‘let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.’
It can be very difficult to relate to those who are different from us .... those whose lives are outside our own experience. But that is not the way of God – his message of welcome is addressed to everyone and to everyone equally. Someone once said ‘those who look up to God rarely look down on others’.
We’ve all heard the phrase that, as Christians, we are to be in the world but not of it which originates from John 17. In other words we live in the world but we are not to conform to its ways. This doesn’t, however, mean we must remain aloof from it, unaffected by the needs of others.
Jesus wasn’t of the world ..... but He loved the world enough to die for it ..... if our relationship with Jesus is one of love then as his disciples we are to reflect that love, to draw people to recognise the love of God through Jesus Christ and we can only do that by both maintaining our relationship with God, restored to us by Jesus, and reaching out to those who have not yet heard the good news ..... and remember Jesus’ words – whatever you do for the least of my brothers you do for me. Amen.