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Summary: A sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, 2007

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14th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 17] September 2, 2007 “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 the death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus the Christ, you have given us the gift of your love, your redemption, and the hope of life eternal in your heavenly kingdom. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to realize our dependence upon your grace for our lives, and empower us to care for others as your forgiven disciples. This we ask in Christ’s Holy name. Amen.

Throughout the Gospels, but especially in Luke, Jesus uses the occasion of meals to teach and reflect upon the meaning of the kingdom of God, and what should characterize our relationship to him, as his disciples. Our Gospel lesson for this morning provides us with such an occasion, as Jesus is invited to have dinner on the Sabbath at the house of a leader of the Pharisees.

And it doesn’t take long for Jesus to spring into action. When he noticed how the various guests, presumably friends of the host and perhaps Pharisees themselves, came in and jockeyed for places of honor at the table, he told them this parable. “When you are invited to a banquet, do not sit down in a place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited, and arrive after you. Then, upon this guest’s arrival, the host might embarrass you by asking that you give up your seat in honor of the more distinguished guest.

Rather, Jesus suggests that when we are invited to a banquet, we should humble ourselves, and take the lowest place of honor at the table. In this case, the host may come to you and invite you to take a place of more respect, and you will be honored in front of all who are invited.

And then Jesus turns to the host, the one who had invited him to dine with him that day, and told him that when he gives a dinner, he shouldn’t invite his friends, or relatives, or his rich neighbors, who would be in a position to return the favor. Rather, he should invite the poor, and those who would not be able to return the favor, for then he would be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

I think the meaning of these teachings of Jesus are quite clear. In the first case, when we are invited to be a guest at the table of another, we should accept the invitation with humility. If the host chooses to bestow on us a greater honor, that is his or her choice, not ours to assume. And in the second case, as disciples of Christ, we are called upon to humble ourselves, to care for the poor and those in need, rather than cultivating earthly status.

Should this surprise us, as teachings of Jesus, who, as the Son of God, totally humbled himself through the incarnation, coming among us in flesh and blood to reveal the grace of God and redeem us from our sins? As a matter of fact, Jesus totally identified with the poor and the needy, and those in need of God’s forgiveness, that he lived his life in total dependence upon the grace of God and the caring of others.

In one of the commentaries that I read, this point is driven home. It is one of those interesting insights that I’m sure not many of us have ever pondered in trying to understand the Gospels, and what characterized the life Jesus and his disciples. It was for me, anyway. Think about this for a moment.

How did Jesus and his disciples get the food that they ate, and the bare necessities of life? We know that in the society of his day, sons were trained in the occupation of their fathers, and so we assume that in his early life, Jesus was a carpenter, working beside Joseph in the family business. But following his baptism and the beginning of his three-year ministry, there is no record of Jesus ever doing any carpentry to earn the money needed to support himself. Jesus lived as one of the poor, begging from others to support his ministry and existence.

And think of his disciples. Some of them were following various trades, like fishing and tax collecting, except for those who left John the Baptist to follow Jesus. But once Jesus called them, none of them are reported to have ever really plied their trade again, to earn money to sustain themselves, as Paul is reported to have done, making tents. They all became poor, dependent upon the generosity of others to sustain their ministry, and literally, their lives. [1]

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