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Summary: A sermon for the 14th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 17, series C

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14th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 17] August 19, 2010 “Series C”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, through your Son, Jesus the Christ, you have invited us to come to your table, to hear your teachings for life in your kingdom, and to follow our crucified and risen Lord as his disciples. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, turn us from our self-seeking ways. Help us to realize that power and prestige are not as important as humbly revealing your grace to those in need. Give us grace to live our lives reflecting true and honest discipleship. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

One of my favorite sung graces that we have learned at camp, begins with the words “Be present at our table Lord, be here and everywhere adored…” But in light of our Gospel lesson for this morning, I wonder if this is a very wise thing to pray for. Do we really want Jesus to come to our dinner table? Let’s face it, Jesus was not always the most pleasant of dinner guests.

According to our text, Jesus had been invited by a leader of the Pharisees to join him and his friends for a Sabbath dinner. When Jesus shows up, he notices how the other invited guests had chosen the seats of honor around the dinner table, sitting close to the host. Perhaps these persons had been invited to this leader’s home for dinner before, and assumed that they might well be granted those seats, as they had in the past. Our text doesn’t say.

But no sooner does Jesus enter the dinning room, than he tears into those who are seated at the table. He tells them, via a parable, that when they are invited to a banquet, they should not seek the positions of honor, in case the host had invited someone more distinguished and honored than they, to be his guest. In that case, they would be disgraced when the host asked them to give their seat to the more honored guest. Rather, Jesus suggests that they should humble themselves and assume the lowest seat at the table, and if the host asked them to move closer to him, they would be honored.

Of course, had these guests realized that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God, they most certainly would have made room for him. But they didn’t know the true identity of Jesus. Nor did the host, whom we are told, invited Jesus in order to watch this young itinerate preacher closely, perhaps to find some fault that would enable them to dismiss his teachings. And before the meal is even served, Jesus has given the other guests plenty to talk about, as he called on them to humble themselves.

“Be present at our table Lord.” Is that not also what we pray will happen when we enter this building to worship on our Sabbath, and gather around our Lord’s table. Here, too, as guests of our Lord, we should assume the posture of humility, as we take our seats for worship. From my vantage point, it is easy to notice that many of you, week after week, assume the same pews for worship. I don’t have a problem with this, as long as we don’t come to feel entitled to those seats.

I remember an incident that once happened in a congregation that I had attended, in which pastor had visited with a family that had recently moved into the community, and invited them to come to worship. The next Sunday, they came to church, and took a seat in the middle of the nave. Shortly after they were seated, an established family from that congregation arrived for worship, walked down the center aisle to where the new family was seated, and rather curtly told them, “We’re afraid that you will have to find a different seat. If you look at the plate on the end of the pew, you will see that we purchased this pew. This is our seat.

“That was an unfortunate day,” that pastor told me, a month or so later. “Not only will that new family not come back to our church, but we have also lost two families who had purchased pews during our remodeling of the nave, when I convinced council to remove all the plaques designating those who donated the pews. No one owns a seat in this congregation. As long as I am pastor, we take our place before the Lord’s table in total humility, and solely by the grace of God.”

“Be present at our table Lord.” Not only did Jesus lay into the guests who had assumed for themselves positions of honor, but he also challenged the host who had invited him. He said to the host, “When you give a dinner, do not invite your friends, relatives, and rich neighbors, who will able to return the favor and invite you to dine with them. But when you give a meal, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, who most likely will not be able to repay your hospitality. In doing this, you will be blessed at the resurrection of the righteous.”

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