We are blessed beyond measure … so how will we respond? A sermon on Luke 14

13041435_1159982794033037_1825211134944730220_oBy the Rev. Anna Doherty

One biblical scholar compares today’s gospel story of Jesus at the house of the Pharisee…

…to being in middle school or high school, trying to find a place to sit in the cafeteria.

As a student in school, where you sit and who you sit with at lunch, are huge social indicators.

There are hierarchies of shame and honor going on in a school cafeteria, which the casual observer may not immediately notice.

But, if you’re the one who is not invited to sit down, or if you’re the one who is told to move, the shame can be difficult to bear.

Now the dynamics of the school cafeteria may seem shallow and superficial, but it is not too far off to compare it to banquet seating and dining in Jesus’ day.

The weight of honor and shame of where you sat, what you were served, who you dined next to, were much the same.

You could be made or unmade socially, in Jesus’ day, based on your position at the dining table.

Pliny the Younger, who was a Roman contemporary of Jesus, actually writes about being invited to a dinner,

where guests were served different meals at the same banquet, based on their social standing.

It would be like some people getting served lobster, while others get served spam, all at the same dinner party.

People were asked to drink different kinds of wine, based on where they were sitting at the table.

Some people got served more food, others got served less, all because of the social standing of where they were sitting at the table.

This sense of banquets being fraught with social dynamics and tension, actually comes through in today’s gospel reading…

When it says that the other guests at the Pharisee’s house were “watching Jesus closely.”

Jesus it seems, is watching the other guests closely too, which is why he tells them the parable of seating oneself with humility at the banquet table.

And while it is tempting to see Jesus as offering ironic, and perhaps sly social advice to those gathered at the table…

In fact, Jesus actual says something very profound about what it means to be honored, where honor comes from, and what the appropriate response to honor is.

While in the midst of the social dynamics of the Pharisee’s banquet, what Jesus teaches the Pharisee and his guests is not how to shrewdly climb the social ladder—

But instead, Jesus teaches them about the fact that honor cannot be seized or taken for ourselves, honor must be given by others.

Particularly, it seems, when we talk about the honor given to us by God.

Contrary to the school cafeteria, or the Pharisee’s banquet table, God’s table is different.

God’s blessing and honor is given to us by the grace of God, we cannot seize or strive after it ourselves.

We cannot really be “social climbers” at God’s table.

And there’s certain humility in realizing that.

There’s humility, a humility that Jesus alludes to, in the fact that all we have, all that we are, …

we have, we are, not through our own striving and seizing, but through God’s blessing.

It is an interesting and profound spiritual exercise to take an inventory of what we have thanks to the blessing and honor of God.

We could do it now, in fact, inventory how we’ve been blessed and honored by God, not by what we’ve accomplished for ourselves, but by what God has done for us.

Between the time we woke up this morning and now, here is a rough—and by no means comprehensive list—

Of how we’ve been blessed and honored by God.

We all woke up this morning, we have life and breath, thanks be to God.

When we woke up, we woke with a roof over our heads, thanks be to God.

We were healthy enough to get out of bed and come to church, thanks be to God.

Most of us likely had some kind of breakfast this morning, and we were able to feed ourselves and our families, thanks be to God.

We have families and friends with which to share a meal together, thanks be to God.

Unlike 92% of the rest of the world’s population, most of us have a car or a mode of transportation with which to get to church, thanks be to God.

We have a loving faith community to come to, we feel safe in worship, we are not persecuted for worshipping or gathering together in public, thanks be to God.

We experience joy in our time together as a faith community, thanks be to God.

This is only a short list, but all this, all this blessing and came from God.

All this, and it is only ten o-clock in the morning.

Yes, my friends, we are profoundly and generously blessed and honored by God.

As Jesus reminds the dinner guests, God is a gracious and loving host, so gracious and loving, that we sit at God’s table with deep humility.

Because all the honor and blessings that we possess, we possess \ from God, pure and simple.

It comes from God and no one else.

And while there is a certain humility in recognizing that honor and blessing is given to us by God, that we cannot take it or make it on our own…

… there is also tremendous power in this as well.

To start, it frees us from needing to prove our worth and honor to anyone else—not to ourselves, not to anyone else.

We don’t need to strive for a place at the table.

The cafeteria and the Pharisees’ become meaningless.

We already have a place at God’s table, thanks to the incredible honor and blessing that God gives us.

We know, indeed we feel and see how blessed and loved we are by God.

And here’s the other powerful thing about sitting humbly and with deep gratitude at God’s table.

Once we know the degree to which God has honored and blessed us…

The one thing we can do, the means at our disposal to thank God and to use the incredible honor and blessing that we have received from God…

Is to invite other people to know and experience for themselves what it means to sit at God’s table.

That’s why Jesus follows his parable of where to sit at the banquet, with a teaching on who to invite to the banquet.

“When you give a banquet,” Jesus says, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The long and short of it, Jesus says, is that there is no way to repay God for the honor God has shown us…

…except to show the love of God to others who do not know it.

The response it seems, to the honor and blessing that we have received from God, is to show God’s honor and blessing to others.

We don’t sit at God’s table and keep all that blessing and honor for ourselves, we share it, we show it to those who aren’t yet at the table.

So, what does this look like?

Think back to that inventory of blessings that we took a few minutes ago.

Think back to the ways in which you have been blessed and honored by God.

And then turn that around and offer it to others.

We are blessed with a home, so let’s help those who are homeless, through programs like Hope for the Journey Home, Habitat for Humanity, and others.

We were healthy enough to get out of bed and come to church, so let’s visit and care for those who are sick and unable to come to church,

let’s pray for them, send them a card, give them a call.

We were blessed to be fed and to feed our families today, let’s feed those who are hungry, by donating to the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelp, helping with Loaves and Fishes, and other programs

We have families and friends with which to share a meal together, so let’s remember and reach out to those who are lonely and alone.

We have a loving faith community to come to, so let’s invite and welcome others into sharing that love.

These are just a few examples.

I once went on a mission trip to Appalachia among some of the poorest people in this country—

And they sang us a song that was both poignant and powerful, and very appropriate:

They sang, “God has blessed me, beyond all measure.”

By these standards and many others, we are so, so blessed my friends.

We are blessed beyond all measure.

When we take the time to think of how much we are blessed and honored by God all we can do is sit humbly and with deep gratitude at God’s table.

And then invite, show, and lead others into that honor and blessing, and give others a seat beside us, at the banquet that God prepares for us.