A Sermon for Series C Proper 17 – 2016 “Who is hosting who?”

Old Testament Lesson  Proverbs 25:2-10

Second Lesson  Hebrews 13:1-17

Gospel Lesson  Luke 14:1-14

Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read [Luke 14:1-14].

A very wise man once told me, “First impressions are everything.”  Don’t slouch.  Don’t lean on the doorway.  And be on your best manners.  So how did Jesus handle “first impressions”?  Did he follow traditional rules?  Did he observe proper etiquette, ‘put his best foot forward’ or ensure that his best side was facing the camera?

Most often we see Jesus making his ‘first impression’ as he encounters lawyers and Pharisees on the Sabbath Day, and frequently on that Sabbath Day what we see is Jesus attending a meal hosted by one of those lawyers or Pharisees.  Meals provided the setting for many encounters between Jesus and the various strata of society.

Eastern culture had strict rules about table fellowship.  People then and now were highly selective about who they invited to their table and whose invitations they accepted.  If you were a host who carefully followed the religious laws regulating foods and ceremonial cleansing, it required attention to detail in table fellowship.

One of the earliest attacks on Jesus was provoked by his eating and drinking with sinners and tax collectors who invited themselves to one of those pharisaically hosted meals.  The sinners and tax collectors came, uninvited, risking the embarrassment of being kicked out of this exclusive ‘by invitation only’ meal, because they wanted to hear Jesus; they needed to hear Jesus … and they knew it.

The lawyers and Pharisees, on the other hand, were so self-confident … self-righteous … that they saw no need to listen to what Jesus had to say.  And the fact that he ate and drank with all kinds of people, without regard to the religious laws and the necessary cleansing ceremonies, got him labeled a ‘glutton and a drunkard.’

They often invited him just to keep an eye on him; to see if there was some way to trip him up and find fault with him so that they could get rid of him once and for all.  That’s what we see in our lesson today: a Sabbath meal, with Jesus invited in order to keep an eye on him; and Jesus breaking all the rules.

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”  But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away.

Of course they didn’t think it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath.  They didn’t think it was lawful to do any work on the Sabbath; and Jesus knew the Pharisees would consider the healing he did ‘work’.  But, he did it anyway, ‘in their face,’ and then he made matters worse by challenging the rules, the laws the host lived by:  he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.

Why would Jesus act this way?  What kind of first impression does that leave?  I mean, if you’re trying to win people over to your way of thinking, don’t you do it by befriending them, by ‘putting your best foot forward,’ by observing the rules of etiquette followed by your host?

Of course you do; but the question here is: who’s the host – the Pharisee who sent out the exclusive invitations – or Jesus?  No matter who was the host who arranged the meal, when Jesus arrived, he became the host; and as the host, he set the rules, the agenda, for all those present.  He transformed ordinary meals into heavenly feasts, as he walked among the people and the kingdom of God made its presence known.

That’s what the parable Jesus told was all about; a wedding feast where the last will be first and the first last.  A wedding feast where Jesus is clearly host and will seat people as he sees fit, according to his ordering, not according to the order established by those who rush to sit at the head table to assert their own self-importance.  A wedding feast where the poor and the outcast will be invited; where servant leaders will join in, but those who serve only to glorify themselves will be absent. Let’s listen to the parable again.

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in 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 table with you.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” 

So much for my ‘teaching’ sermon.  Now, let me ask you, how often do we concern ourselves with following the rules established by society, in order to make a good first impression; even though we know the rules we need to follow are those of the one who’s truly the host of our lives?  How often do we get along, blending in with the ones who make the rules in our society, even though we see those rules change from day to day; blending in only because it’s less painful than standing up for our faith; standing firm in the ‘rules’ established in our hearts by our Savior, Jesus Christ; the one who’s truly the host of our lives?

Humble yourself before your host, Jesus Christ, that he may exalt you before his Father.  Repent and follow his rules.  They’re really very easy to follow.  He simply says to do the work of God; and he even tells us what this ‘work of God’ is.  In the Gospel According to John, Jesus says, “The work of God is this: that you believe in him whom he has sent.” That’s it – Nothing else – That simple.

The Spirit leads you to repentance; and he calls you through God’s holy word, to be his own.  He gives you the faith you need, to do the work of God; to believe in him whom he sent.  And because you believe, he’s become the host of your life, dwelling in your heart.  You have an exclusive invitation to a never ending banquet, the wedding feast of the Lamb in his kingdom which has no end.

You’re attending that feast right now.  Your host welcomes you every time you listen to his holy Word; you celebrate with all the guests as you sing his praises and pray to your host together; and each time you come to the communion rail you get a foretaste of the even greater feast to come.  Your faith is strengthened.  You’re united with your Lord and Savior, and all those who worship with you this day.

God’s Son, Jesus Christ, came from heaven to earth to rescue you; and through his life, death, and resurrection you stand before your heavenly Father pure and holy.  Despite your sin, despite your failures, you have no need to worry about making a good impression.  Jesus, the host of this heavenly banquet, the host who makes the rules, the host who’s with you always, dwelling in your heart; has made, for you, the best impression ever.  Amen.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle