St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Amarillo, TX

"God's Honored Guests," a sermon for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, Year C

Today we join Jesus as he does something he does a lot in Luke - share a meal with friends - friends both old & new - in a home not his own.

As Jesus continues his travels to his destination city of Jerusalem, a leader of the Pharisees in the town through which Jesus & his friends are passing invites them to his home for sabbath dinner.

After the dinner is well underway, and probably about the time dessert & coffee are served, Jesus tells his host & all the guests a parable - a short story with a punch.

Throughout the evening, Jesus has been noticing the manner in which the dinner guests have been seating themselves. The guests have been arriving at various times. As new guests arrive, they quickly assess the social pecking order in relation to both their host & to one another — & the seating is adjusted accordingly. This means that up until the point of the last guests’ late arrival, people are routinely having to get up & shift their seating whenever anyone of higher social standing comes to the table.

In the honor culture of Jesus’ day, this was normal, expected behavior. Everyone knew his social ranking, and everyone more or less stayed there.

Jesus has a larger, more liberating message than routine social etiquette for the hosts & guests of his day.

Jesus’ parable is not about an ordinary kind of dinner party. Jesus’ parable is about a wedding banquet - which is another way of saying God is hosting this parable’s lavish feast.

As host, God is the one assigning places of honor. The guests clearly have no intrinsic idea of their worth.

When left to their own devices, the guests’ in the parable seat themselves in perceived relation to one another. But God has a reality very different from human social standards. So God goes around re-assigning seats - the proud, who have seated themselves in places of honor near God’s host table, are being shuffled farther away, while the humble are moved up closer.

It is important to understand that Jesus speaks about God’s feast
to his friends & his new acquaintances in terms they can understand - which are the customs of an honor-shame society in which social status is very fixed & very scripted.

We know today, from our experience around this altar — this table of the Heavenly Banquet which is Holy Eucharist — God’s great meal is in the round — there are no higher or lower places around this banquet table. As daughters & sons of God through our baptism into Jesus Christ, we all have a place of equal honor around the table. We are each honored & cherished guests.

Our worth is not determined by how we perceive ourselves in relation to others — better, smarter, thinner, richer, poorer, fatter, duller, or lower. Let all your anxious comparisons go! Be liberated into the true nature of your worth, as a beloved Child of God, gifted in very particular ways - which means you cannot be anything you want … challenged in very particular ways by things that happen or do not happen to you in life - which means you are not the sole author of your life.

Today, we celebrate a wonderful addition to our Holy Table - Mother Jill joins us at this table for the formal beginning of many celebrations of worship & praise. Her place is not “higher.” Her gifts & her dedication have called her to a place at this Table that is one of both privilege & sacrifice, of love poured out for all of God’s people.

Participate in today’s worship around this table with your eyes & hearts wide open with expectation.
∙Notice who is at this feast, and just how varied & vivid God’s imagination, creativity, & care can be.
∙Notice how people with vividly-colored hair & with gray hair, with tattoos & with naturally-hued skin kneel near one another with hands outstretched to receive the nourishment of Christ’s body & blood.
∙Notice how people with magnificent homes & no home at all celebrate & are fed together.
∙Notice how the quiet & the boisterous all shine like the sun from the deep joy of shared worship.

Then, when the offering plates, along with the bread & wine are brought forward, at the same time offer your own social judgment of yourself or of others, your own social discomfort: whether it’s anxiety, resentment, awkwardness or pride — offer such problematic thoughts & feelings to God’s transforming, redeeming love.

After you are nourished with the body & blood of Christ, or blessed with God’s touch through the hands of a priest, go forth remembering in a lively way this Holy Feast.

∙May you see those around you with a renewed heart & mind, and may you act on that refreshed sight.
∙May your eyes & hearts be opened to the liberating, mutual joy of
noticing & somehow including in a new & compassionate way at least one person who has been on the periphery of your vision or your life.

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Amen.

JESUS MAFA. “The poor invited to the feast,” from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48397 [retrieved August 27, 2016].
JESUS MAFA is a response to the New Testament readings from the Lectionary by a Christian community in Cameroon, Africa. Each of the readings were selected and adapted to dramatic interpretation by the community members. Photographs of their interpretations were made, and these were then transcribed to paintings. See: www.jesusmafa.com and www.SocialTheology.com.

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