Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14; First Reading: Jeremiah 2:4-13
A couple of years ago, there was an article that came out on the Kitchn, a website full of recipes and articles to inspire every aspect of home cooking. The title of this article is “5 Rules for Hosting a Crappy Dinner Party (And Seeing Your Friends More Often).” In it, the author talks about her stress toward inviting friends over for dinner in the midst of her life with three kids. She would stress over cleaning, including snapping at her kids to do their share, and the added time for shopping and preparing a special meal.
A friend of hers moved back from a small community where she said the people would just show up at each other’s houses, unannounced, and feed each other whatever happened to be in the fridge. Inspired by this, they decided to begin having crappy dinner parties where they could do this and achieve what they really wanted – time together – without all the stress. They came up with 5 rules:
- No housework can be done prior to the guest’s arrival.
- The menu must be simple and not require a special grocery trip.
- You must wear whatever you happen to have on.
- No hostess gift allowed.
- You must act like you are surprised when your friend and family just happen to show up at your door (optional).
She admits that the first party required many deep breaths on her part, especially as her kids tracked mud through the house and started to brawl before she knew the guests would arrive. But, she says, the payoff has outweighed the anxiety, and she and her friend actually spend more time together, placing priority on the value of relationships, and embracing life for all the beautiful and messy things. They were able to work at letting go, and enjoy table fellowship as they are. https://www.thekitchn.com/5-rules-for-hosting-a-crappy-dinner-party-235815
It matters who you know, or at least that is what our culture would have us believe. Our culture is based largely on social capital, that you just need to know the right people to get ahead. This has been true in the church, too. In some places, especially, it matters what church you go to because it connects you to the “right” people, whoever they are, so you can advance your place in society. Again, it matters who you know. Even church becomes this place of social laddering.
There are churches that used to help make this quite obvious by assigning where you would sit in worship. The Council or other leadership body and Pastor would decide who got to sit where, based on some form of social standing. You wanted to be front and center where everyone could see how prominent and important you were. Some churches even had pew rentals, where if you were wealthy, you could buy your place of honor. Or rather, your place said something about how socially “honored” you were.
Wedding receptions are a form of this too. There is almost always a table of honor, at least for the bride and groom, and often including the wedding party. And sometimes the seats for everyone else are assigned, usually based on the social standing with the couple. If you get table 25, you can probably assume you will be sitting way over in the corner with everyone else who barely made the invitation list for the party.
Today in the Gospel we hear Jesus talking about tables, particularly dinner tables. He had been an invited guest to a dinner himself as he’s doing this. It’s hard to imagine he was making friends with what he said. More likely he ended up being the guest that everyone now wished hadn’t been invited. The other guests were probably vying for their seats, trying to make sure they sat next to either someone they wanted to sit next to and have conversation with or next to someone that had the possibility of increasing their social standing. We still do these things today. There are people we want to sit next to and people we don’t want to sit next to. And Jesus calls them out. He calls their social laddering into question.
And then he tells the host that he should have invited all the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. I don’t imagine the host thought that being repaid at the resurrection of the righteous was worth doing those things. It doesn’t sound like something that’s going to pay off in the here and now, which is what they were looking for – what we’re all looking for, to some degree – in our interactions with others.
I want to say something about Jeremiah for a brief moment, especially because that text may have felt a bit condemning to some of you. Jeremiah is beginning his prophecy for the Israelites, and that prophecy from God is to call them out on their lack of faithfulness. It’s part of a section in Jeremiah’s book where God is building a case against the Israelites, which was a common part of prophecy in his day. So it sounds a bit strong. But the punchline is that the people haven’t stayed faithful to God and have been trying to find their own way. They have turned away from the living water of God and tried to find their own through cisterns or water containers that are broken. What they are doing won’t work, it’s not life-giving. They are putting value in what is ultimately worthless. They are chasing that which does not give life, much like stressing about throwing a dinner party or stressing about where your seat is at the table.
Jesus, on the other hand, is inviting us to let go. Let go of your desire to put off this perfect picture of your home and your life. Let go of your desire to sit next to the right people so you can get ahead. Let go of your need to be seated in a place of honor. We have a table in our midst that we would say belongs to Jesus, which might be ironic considering that he may have never owned a table. It would appear in scripture that he fulfilled every invitation he was given, and it doesn’t seem like he ever ate alone. At this table that we call his, we are all gathered together, as equals, no matter your status, no matter your appearance, no matter your abilities, no matter your skin color, your gender identity, your sexual orientation, your political party, your criminal record, your salary, your debt…there is no discrimination here. This is a table where all are welcome, where all are valued and given the same thing (except I know which of you need a bigger wafer today because God told me…just kidding!).
We all receive the same thing – bread and wine, life and forgiveness, goodness and love. None of us deserves these things. We can’t do enough to earn them. Our social standing doesn’t matter. You can’t buy your honor here. The only thing that matters is who you are in Jesus and that you come. You – child of God – with all your self doubt and pity and questions and fears and brokenness. Come to this table where there is life and promise for you. This is the most open invitation any of us will ever receive. It is the Lord’s table. And you are invited to come. In a few moments. Thanks be to God for God’s faithfulness and love for us. May God’s goodness inspire us to extend the invitation at our own tables and within our lives.