Sunday, August 28, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Luke 14:1, 7-14
When was the last time you received a special invitation? You were excited right? Was it to a birthday party? Anniversary? Graduation? A wedding? Whatever the occasion they are all reasons to celebrate. We all love to be on a special guest list. And often we want to know who else will be going? Whose going to be joining in on the celebration with us? The guest list is pretty important for many people. If it’s someone well-liked or famous we want to make sure we’re there and we don’t miss it, hoping to get close to them. There’s a sense that when you’re around someone important, you feel important and special too.
With the rise of social media and sites like FB a person can take a photo with someone important or famous and share it with everyone they know. It could be a famous singer, sports figure, or even an author. Whoever the celebrity is the pictures are shared so everyone can see you were with this person. You fell special that you got to be in their presence. If Jesus were walking around on earth as he did thousands of years ago, I’m sure people would be taking selfies with him on their phones and posting pictures of them all over Facebook. It’s human nature to want to be near important people like that. It makes us feel special.
The questions Jesus wanted the Pharisees back then and us today to think about is, “Who are the important people? How do we determine that? and is there enough room for everyone on the guest list?” In ancient times dinner feasts were places wehre a person’s status was deteremined by who you associated with. You wanted to be seated next to the distinguished guest. And if you were around them, then your status was immediately elevated. “Wow, did you see who he/she was hanging around?”
That hasn’t changed over the centuries. It’s happens in schools where the popular kids are treated great and those who are considered nerds, or geeks, or some other negative name are not. There’s a line drawn between who is part of the “in crowd” and who is not. But it doesn’t just happen at schools, it happens at places of work, with people we meet, and yes, even in churches. Judgements are made as to who is good and who is bad. Judgements are made as to who is doing what is acceptable in God’s eyes and who is not. Well-meaning people trying to do the right thing put the law in front of Jesus’ command to love.
That’s the very thing Jesus was trying to point out when he cured people on the Sabbath. The gospel lesson last week was about the woman who was bent over and crippled for 18 years and Jesus healed her on the Sabbath. This week, our gospel lesson in verse 1 says the Pharisees were again watching Jesus closely. Verses 2 – 6 were omitted – probably to make the lesson shorter – but they are very important because once again they deal with Jesus healing someone on the Sabbath. To Jesus – love is more important than rules. He was not saying that rules are not important, but caring for people, loving people always comes first.
And that’s why Jesus caused so much commotion when he was preaching and teaching on this earth. He hung out with all the people that all the so called good or religious people said were bad – tax collectors, people who took money for themselves, prostitutes, people who led shady lives, poor people, outcasts, people who were unclean, those considered enemies, and people who had nothing to offer society. These are the people Jesus hung out with and these are the people he said should be invited to the banquet table. He said not to invite those who we expect could give back, but put those people on the special invite list. And the reason is that in the kingdom of God there is room for everyone. And there, no one is better than anyone else. In God’s eyes, everyone is important. Everyone is deserving of love.
Paul reiterates this in his letter to the Hebrew church. He says “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” So who is important? Everyone. What if we treated everyone as angels in disguise? What if we treated everyone as if they were Jesus? Wouldn’t the way we treat each other be a lot different? We’d go out of our way to make sure they had everything they needed. We’d give up whatever we could to show them generosity and hospitality. We’d go the extra mile and never let anything or anyone hurt them. We’d put ourselves in their shoes and feel their pain, and do whatever we could to bring them joy. We’d pour out an abundance of love and blessing on them. They’d all be welcome and loved by us even if they looked weird or acted strange or did things we didn’t think were right. We’d treat them differently if we thought there was a possibility they were God’s angels.
Yet, angels are messengers. And God still speaks through messengers today. Messengers of peace, messengers of hope, messengers of love. These messengers are all around us. The Holy Spirit is speaking through them and inviting us to come and worship God around the banquet table where we receive forgiveness and grace. We come to the table knowing we are sinners, yet at the same time saved by God’s grace through Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus we all have a place at the table of God. The invitation has been extended to all of us beginning in our baptism. This is exciting news and this is news and news we ought to be running to share with everyone.
There are people who do not know about Jesus and the only way they will ever know him is if each of us invites them to come and know him. We are all welcome because we are all God’s beloved children, even those people we may think are not deserving. The most important person on the guest list is Jesus and whenever we gather together Jesus promised that he is present among us. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” When was the last time you received a special invitation? The answer is today. Jesus is here and wants everyone to come and join in the feast and the celebration.
This week, extend that invitation to someone else. Invite someone – anyone – to worship with us. It could be someone you go to school with, someone you work with, someone you randomly meet in the store or even on the street. That’s what Jesus did. Let them know they don’t have to look a certain way, or act a certain way, or even believe a certain way. Let them know God loves them just the way they are – because God does. Invite them to come as they are and that there is a place at the table for them. Show them God’s love and let them experience God’s grace. Be God’s messengers. Let them know that a place at God’s table is by invitation only and there’s an invitation for everyone. Amen!