Psalm 112, Ecclesiasticus 10:12-18, Hebrews 13:1-8,15-16, Luke 14:1,7-14
“Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ”Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.”
Words on today’s reading sheet from the book of Proverbs.
Both our Vicar Melanie and my fellow Reader Richard have very recently had to arrange table sittings, Melanie for her wedding and Richard for a dinner of the Nikaean Club in Canterbury to mark the end of the Lambeth Conference. As you can guess not an easy job in deciding who should sit next to the Archbishop of Canterbury?
I am sure many of you here this morning have had similar problems when trying to arrange who sits next to whom, or even who would or should not be invited, to party or celebration. Position and standing were all important for the Jews in the time of Jesus and indeed had been so through out their history. Yet again and again God had warned His people through the prophets that their pride would only bring them down and cause them anguish.
We hear clearly from our reading from Ecclesiasticus that this is the case. “The beginning of pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker. For the beginning of pride is sin, and the one who clings to it pours out abominations. Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities, and destroys them completely.”
The problem that the Pharisees had, was that they did not know where, within their hierarchy, that they should place Jesus. This man who consorted with sinners, the unclean, the very dregs of society, who was followed by fishermen, tax collectors and women of very uncertain moral values. This man who so often went against the laws and traditions of the Jewish people. Yet Jesus had no intention of playing the Pharisees’ game, “When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable.”
The banquet Jesus was telling them about and the people who may very well be invited to it, was not to be an earthly banquet given by an earthly host, but a banquet provided by none other than God, a banquet in heaven where all who were invited were equal and a place where no repayment was needed other than the love of God and neighbour, who ever that might be, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”
Our reading from Hebrews outlines the lifestyle of those who have based their lives on the gospel of Jesus. Hospitality renounces pride of home and family; identifying with political prisoners renouncing pride of social status. Worshiping the true God, and sharing the good things you have. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.” Jesus also said “ I will never leave you or forsake you.”
It is for us very often that we leave Jesus; for in those moments when we are more concerned about our own status and standing, when we feel perhaps just a little aggrieved at not having been invited or even recognised and included, then it is ourselves who are moving away from Jesus. It is so easy now in this day and age when success and respectability always seem so important. When showing our children or grandchildren how good or clever we are at this and that, and quite often, certainly in my case are merely greeted with “ silly grandad” by my 3 year old granddaughter. It is then that we forget that God is also not impressed by fame or fortune, but by kindness, patience with those less able, with humility and above all with love. Love for all our fellow human beings and love for the wonderful creation that God has blessed us with.
As Jane Williams writes;
“The first step to remember that we ourselves have done remarkably little to earn our own invitation, [to God’s banquet] so why should we be resentful about God’s grace to others? When the poet George Herbert took up the theme of God as host, he reminded us that the banquet is about God’s generosity, not our merit. When invited to the feast, the guest in the poem hangs back, suddenly aware of how dusty he is, and how he has come to the party unprepared, ungrateful and unkind. But Love, the host, is under no illusions about his guest. He knows what he is doing:
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve,
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat;
So I did sit and eat.”
These are lines from George Herbert’s Love Bade Me Welcome. We are all welcome at God’s table it is simply down to us.