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September 2, 2018

This morning we will begin a five-part worship series called, “Come to the Table.” In this series, we hear the call to dine with Jesus at God’s table- an invitation that means much more than a simple dining experience. Jesus often did ministry around the table, as we have just heard in today’s passage. You will see a banquet table in the narthex today which represents God’s heavenly banquet and the kin-dom of God. So over the next few Sundays, I hope you’ll join me as we explore the theme of God’s table.

 

Today’s main story from the Gospel of Luke is a parable of Jesus about a banquet. In Matthew’s version, it is a wedding banquet, and most scholars assume that is likely what the banquet was about in Luke’s gospel as well. Let me just say in my line of work, I have been to a LOT of wedding banquets over the decades. The one that stands out most in my memory was a wedding banquet for a young Chinese American couple that Paula and I were invited to after I performed their wedding ceremony. It remains the largest wedding banquet I have ever attended.

 

The place for the banquet was at least 4 times the size of Calvin Hall, and by the time we arrived, it was filled with people. We were ushered to our table, which had our names written on placeholders and we sat down. I am pretty sure we were one of only two white couples there in a crowd of about 500. The newly married couple came and sat by us briefly, and when I asked about the size of the crowd, it was explained to me that in Chinese culture, when there was a wedding, EVERYONE even remotely connected to the family was invited. So if you were the first cousin’s nephew twice removed, there was a place at the banquet for YOU.

 

And it was quite the banquet- many courses of Chinese food including the exotic sea cucumber and jellyfish, along with much more mundane courses, including a chicken with its head still on smiling at us. As long as I live, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that particular banquet.

 

Today’s passage has a banquet setting as well, although it ends up being even more dramatic than the Chinese one I attended. But before we get too far into that parable of Jesus, we need to set the tone, for the beginning of chapter 14 sets the tone for today’s passage, and it all begins around a table.

 

Jesus was invited to the home of the leader of the Pharisees for dinner. Perhaps this particular Pharisee wanted to know more about Jesus, to see if he really might be Messiah. We don’t know his motivation for certain. We only know that he and those also invited to the dinner were watching Jesus closely. One of those in attendance had something called “Dropsy,” which according to my Webster’s Bible dictionary was a condition of swelling from abnormal fluid retention. A part of me wonders if this was a form of congestive heart failure. At any rate, Jesus healed him and did it during the dinner party in front of the leader of the Pharisees and his friends on the Sabbath. This holy healing or any other work was forbidden on Sabbath, but Jesus said to those gathered at the meal, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?” None of those gathered could deny that, and so they remained silent.

 

Then came another teaching, having to do with honor game and where one was to sit at a wedding banquet. Honor was very important in the first-century culture, and where one sat at a social gathering helped one attain either more or less honor, depending upon where one ended up. Jesus told those gathered to take the lowest seat, the one with least honor, and then let the host move them up if he felt so led. Jesus ended this teaching with, “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

 

Finally, we get to today’s section of scripture, and Jesus continues the theme on who to include when putting together a list and then hosting a banquet. Don’t invite the A-list, Jesus says. He understood another game, the debt game, where a host is gracious with strings attached. ”If I host a lavish banquet for my friends, then, in turn, they will be in debt to invite ME to one of their lavish banquets,” Jesus tells them to host gatherings with no expectation in return, and to invite the poor, the lame and the blind. You will be blessed, Jesus says, “because they cannot repay you.” You can’t expect anything back from someone who has nothing. Instead, they will inherit an eternal reward.

 

At the Bible study last Wednesday I asked, “Is it possible or practical to invite the people Jesus tells us to invite to come to a dinner party in our home, or birthday party?” Most said, “No.” There was one woman in my last congregation, however, who did take this passage to heart. She invited the poor out on the street to have dinner with her, and occasionally into her home for shelter. I am not telling you all to follow her example, but she took this and other passages seriously and tried to live them out. How might you try to live out verses 12-14 in your own life?

 

That brings us to Jesus’ parable about a banquet- Matthew’s version calls it a wedding banquet, put on by a king. In Luke’s version, it is a “Great dinner, put on by a wealthy patron.” Whatever it was, it was a big banquet. It apparently was customary in those days to send an invitation. If accepted, then the master would send a servant, the day of the banquet to let the invited guest know the event was ready. Perhaps accepting the invitation initially showed intent that the guest was coming?

 

At any rate, those who had been invited originally made excuse on the day of the event. I used to sing a song at the Christian camp Paula and I worked at back in the 1980’s during campfire. “I cannot come to the banquet. Don’t bother me now. I have married a wife; I have bought me, a cow. I have fields and commitments that cost a heavy sum. Pray hold me excused I cannot come.” Anyone else knows that one?

 

So, were the excuses valid? The one who bought field needed to go out and take a look at it… Not the other way around? Wouldn’t you want to look at a piece of property prior to buying it? The one who purchased 10 Oxen wanted to see how they performed in the field… Not the other way around? Wouldn’t you want to see how a team of oxen performed in the field prior to buying them? The third person’s excuse is perhaps the most valid, having just been married- That is a decent excuse, and according to Deuteronomy 20:7, one could get out of serving in the Israelite army if one had just gotten married. Even so, the new groom could have brought his new bride to a lavish dinner. And consider all of them had the invitation ahead of time, so, therefore, knew the date. Yet those invited, and apparently many others were unable to attend.

 

The host had the food ordered and ready to go, so he told servants to invite folks off the street, the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. The servants did so, but there still was room. So the guest list was expanded to include those living on the highways and byways, for the host of the meal, wanted his house filled. Jesus concludes the parable by saying, “for I tell you, none of those originally invited will taste my dinner”.

 

What does this parable mean for us personally, and for us as a church? Let’s unpack the story-

What does the banquet represent?- First and foremost it is the heavenly banquet, a glimpse of life in eternity at a holy feast in heaven, and almost like that Chinese wedding banquet, ALL are invited- those on the A-list; people off the streets, both the good and the bad, the poor the blind the lame, those living on the highway or in the bushes.-This parable provides a glimpse of what the kingdom of God is like, and an invitation to participate in the kingdom and make it an earthly reality. It also represents the communion table- an echo of the heavenly banquet, of the heavenly kingdom…

 

I want to focus on the word “Kingdom”- some theologians today suggest changing the word to “kin-dom.” Seminary Professor Raj Nadella from Columbia Theological Seminary says it is important to “critique the idea of a kingdom as a top-down monarchy” and “reimagine it as kin-dom, a more horizontal structure of power in which everyone is a beloved child of God. Kingdom tends to be very exclusive,” says Nadella. For example, people may be excluded because of their race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or other factors. “The metaphor of kin-dom allows us to envision an inclusive community, built on common humanity and shared values.”

 

In contrast to the top-down version of a Kingdom, the kin-dom of God is built “not through competition but in mutual cooperation and solidarity,” Nadella says. “People who are part of kin-dom use their resources and privilege to advocate for others who are less privileged.” So then, who was invited to be part of this kin-dom?

 

 

First invited- historically it is the Hebrew people, the Jewish nation. Some scribes and Pharisees rejected Jesus and his message. Others were interested, intrigued. Perhaps the Pharisee who invited him to dinner took the invitation and became a follower. And today, I believe that those who worship at Temple Emek Shalom and other temples are indeed part of God’s kin-dom. We may not have the same Messiah, but we have the same God.

 

What about today? Who are the first invited today? It is us and our friends and neighbors. We primarily white suburban middle-class Protestants are invited to the table, invited to participate in God’s kin-dom. God invites us to work for the kin-dom and bring others to the table- people who don’t come from the same social strata we do, LGTBQ people, people who speak differently than we do, the good and the bad, the homeless, the blind, the lame. That invitation is getting a bit uncomfortable, God. Let me get back to you. I think I may have had something come up…I cannot come to the banquet, don’t bother me now…

 

How can we have a place where all are welcomed? Isn’t that just pie in the sky? Has there ever been a banquet ever like the one Jesus describes here on earth? Yes indeed there has and in fact, it was a wedding banquet. But there was no wedding.

 

Sarah Cummins and Logan Araujo of Indianapolis, Indiana were supposed to get married back in 2016. The two young people had been planning a dream wedding for two years — a $30,000 extravaganza. A week before the wedding, she called it off (she prefers not to say why), and both were left with broken hearts, a nonrefundable contract for a venue and a plated dinner for 170 guests on a Saturday night at a banquet hall. "It was really devastating," said Cummins, a 25-year-old pharmacy student at Purdue University. "I called everyone, canceled, apologized, cried, called vendors, cried some more and then I started feeling really sick about just throwing away all the food I ordered for the reception," she said.

 

She decided to bring some purpose to the couple's pain. After discussing it with her ex-fiancée, she worked to rearrange the reception area, then started contacting homeless shelters in Indianapolis and inviting residents to her party. "We’re doing all the same stuff, just arranging the tables differently, so there's no head table for the bridal party, no cake table or gift table," she said. She and her mother arrived early that Saturday to set up the centerpieces they designed themselves — gold Eiffel Tower vases with roses. On the menu-bourbon-glazed meatballs, goat cheese, and roasted garlic bruschetta, chicken breast with artichokes and chardonnay cream sauce and, yes, even a wedding cake.

 

With help from friends, Cummins arranged for two buses to pick up shelter residents and families late Saturday afternoon to take them to the Ritz Charles. She ended up with at least 150 guests, from off the streets, the poor, the crippled, the lame, etc.

 

The onetime bride-to-be said she doesn't feel particularly generous. "I will at least have some kind of happy memory to pull from," she said. "I wanted to make sure it would be the perfect wedding." Instead, she made it the perfect wedding banquet even though there was no wedding, at least in God’s eyes. Sarah now volunteers once a week at a homeless shelter in Indianapolis. She is working to bring the kin-dom of God to reality.

 

This parable is a warning for us, the established church to be more than just a group of likeminded folks with similar financial status, backgrounds, and educations. We must guard against our church becoming an exclusive community, and work for it to look more the way God intends the kin-dom to look like; more like the banquet, Sarah Cummins threw. We need to find new ways of being the people of God, and invite those not on the A-list to come to God’s banquet table.

 

As you go from church this morning, after our banquet feast here at God’s table, you’ll notice the banquet table you all passed as you came into church this morning. (OR, 8 am folks, invited to go out a different door and follow me into the narthex. You’ve all been invited to participate in the heavenly banquet, to make the kin-dom of God reflected more and more here on God’s earth. It is not an invitation to be taken lightly. I encourage you this morning to take your nametag and consider what it means to participate in the heavenly banquet and to invite others. God be with us as a church and as individual followers of Christ, as we wrestle with the meaning of this parable and take it to heart. And now as we gather around God’s communion table, may we find strength to be workers in the kin-dom. Alleluia! Amen.

 

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