Sermon – 29 August 2004


I?m not sure what you think about Jesus. He certainly was not the perfect guest.

Here he is in this week?s gospel causing all kinds of trouble. He notices where people are sitting and proceeds to give them a rather pious lecture on giving up their places to one another so that they won?t get embarrassed by someone of a higher standing appearing and demanding their seat. No doubt the other guests at the table were embarrassed enough by this angry parallel. But then he turns on the host and tells him that he should have invited, not just the well-to-do and the comfortable, but those who were written off and discarded by society.

It is hard not to share a sense of horror at the behaviour of the hothead young preacher out to dinner.

After all, if I treated you this morning as Jesus treated the fellow guests, you would not be best pleased. There would be red faces and harsh words used before very long.
In those days, if you wanted to learn something, gathering over a meal to hear the new speaker in town was one of the ways that you did so. It was a mark of being civilised and educated to attend dinners such as this one and there was strict protocol and a pecking order that was understood by everyone.

One of the most obvious points of protocol was that you did accept an invitation unless you were capable of reciprocating it. And if you were invited, you would sit in your proper place and eat with your social equals.

Now, all this can seem quite remote, but protocol at dinners is still with us.

One of the things that I get involved with in my ministry is the planning and preparation of weddings. One of the things that I have learned is that those who own hotels and places where wedding receptions take place, prefer people not to number tables. When you go to a big wedding reception, you are much more likely to be put on a table named after a brand of whisky or something than see the tables numbered off, 1, 2, 3 etc.

And the reason for their preference? Well, if tables are numbered, the likelihood is that someone will feel that they should be on a higher table than they have been placed. Someone?s feelings will be hurt and there will be tears before the cake is cut.

Now, is that so very far away from the world in which Jesus was living?

One of the great themes of Luke?s gospel is hospitality. There are countless times when Jesus is placed at a dinner or a feast. He speaks as he eats. He is mostly the guest ? moving from table to table on his journey to Jerusalem, where he, at one last supper becomes the host to end all hosts and gives his all for his guests.

There is food and drink aplenty on his journey. And it goes on after his death. Remember the story of the road to Emmaus ? a story which only Luke has? It is in his hospitality that Jesus is recognised. It is in breaking bread and pouring wine and blessing them ? holy hospitality at work that the disciples know that they are with the risen Lord whom they initially do not recognise.

Indeed so strong is the hospitality theme in Luke?s writing, that it would not be out of place to say that he seems to think that the world is performing radical hospitality by playing host to God incarnate who lives for a while as our guest. A guest who seems to want to invite more people to the party than we might at first be comfortable with. A guest who just doesn?t seem able to keep with the rigid prohibitions that could keep people from the party and keep the poor from God?s table.

And, though we may be discomforted by the behaviour and the harsh words with which he harangues the fellow guests at the house of the chief Pharisee, we ultimately have to ask ourselves ? is he right?

Is he right to want a world where more and more and ever more and invited in to receive what is good? And remember that it was more than food that was on offer at that meal. It was more than social precedence too. What was on offer at the meal was the chance to talk about things that mattered. It was as much education that was on offer as food at this kind of meal.

And Jesus want to share what the privileged have with those who had little.

Is he right?

Was he right to question authority? Was he right to make people feel uncomfortable? Was he right to embarrass people? Was he right to turn on his host and show him up in front of other?

And was he right to want a world where education and food went to those who needed them?

One of the things about the parables of Jesus is that when you read them they are hard to ignore. That is why they have lasted as long as they have.

For the way you answer the questions that the parables raise will tell you a lot about God and even more about yourself.

In the second of the readings that we heard this morning, the writer to the Hebrews closes the letter with admonitions to live a good life. There has been plenty of theology and half-remembered history in the letter up until now, but it ends in a pastoral way ? with tips on how to live.

And hospitality is one of the top tips.

Give and expect nothing in return.

Giving and expecting recompense is not really giving at all.

But generous hearts are one of the signs of the Spirit of God at work. Hospitable to others. Hospitable to God.

There if you like is a creed to live by. Be hospitable to others. Be hospitable to God.

And find and welcome the God who dwells in others.

And find and welcome the otherness that is God dwelling here on earth.

Hearts open to new ideas, even from hot-headed young preachers. Hearts open to discovering holy hospitality.

Hearts open to others.

Hearts open to God.


  1. Anonymous says

    Re: Sermon – 29 August 2004
    Thank you.

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