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"Where is your Seat?" "Where is your Seat?"

The ruins of Qumran
The ruins of Qumran
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"Where is your Seat?"

Posted on Sun, Sep 1, 2013

Luke 14:1, 7-14

September 1, 2013

15th Sunday after Pentecost

Gospel Text: Luke 14:1, 7-14


Jesus Heals the Man with Dropsy

14:1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely.

Humility and Hospitality

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’ 12 He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’



There is nothing more terrifying for this introverted, Norwegian, Lutheran pastor is to be invited to a formal or public dinner.


Every culture has different rules as to where it is appropriate to sit when you are a guest at a dinner event. I love it when the host puts names on the plates, so that there is no question where we are to sit. Sometimes the host may have some creative ideas on who will dine with whom, but at least that is their decision and I don’t have to worry about screwing up… especially when I am wearing my collar.  


In the culture I grew up in, a rather high-strung, thriving on guilt-inducing rules of etiquette and expectations, if you made the innocent mistake of choosing the wrong seat, people would remember your blunder onward to your 40th following generation!


This is a story I heard in Japan. Whether it is correct or not, I am not so sure. The host is seated first, seated farthest from the door, but facing the door with his back to the wall, preferably the corner… why? Because in the days of old, they carried swords, and the host wanted to be able to see each guest as they entered and make sure he was safe and he wouldn't be stabbed in the back… nice friends…


Here in Hawaii, with all of the different cultures and groups, I am never sure what to do, and since that goes for everyone else as well, it is hard to screw up! Just take it easy and welcome whomever sits with you, or never turn down an invitation to sit next to somebody, even a stranger!


In Jesus day, they seemed more stressed about where you sat around a table than uptight Midwestern Scandinavian Lutherans!


Did you catch the one text, verse 1, that we had to have to help us in to understand what was going on from verse 7-14?


It says that the Pharisee’s were watching where and with whom Jesus was eating with ON THE SABBATH! In Jesus’ day, there were very specific rules and traditions that had to be followed if Jesus was to be viewed as a proper righteous teacher, rabbi or a Man of God. Jesus was being watched and judged!


In the Orient/Middle East in Jesus’ day, and for centuries earlier, where you sat at the table had very little to do with everyone being equal and being given a chance to chat with everyone. Where you sat oftentimes had strict religious and social connotations. Where you sat indicated to the community your status among your colleagues and it was strictly followed.


In Qumran, where the Essenes lived, even the entering procession into the dining hall was strictly established with the priests and the Levites and all the people one after another, each “according to the perfection of their spirit… that every Israelite may know his place in the Community of God according to the everlasting design. No man shall move down from his place nor move up from his allotted position” as is written from a Qumran scroll (1QS 2:4ff.) Meaning, where you sat was already predetermined ‘according to the perfection of your faith,’ and announced to the community where you stood in your righteousness… and there was no moving up or down, unless you screwed up, for which you would be assigned a seat of lower ranking!


I am sure this kind of thinking is behind why the Pharisee’s were watching Jesus so closely and to judge the “perfection of His spirit?”


The only thing we know from this is that these men were doing the judging according to their ‘human made’ tradition. Jesus then, breaks with tradition, and turns everything they understood about the ‘order of righteous’ before God in order to help them understand the order of things, if they are to walk ‘in the discipline of God.


During the meal, Jesus has already began teaching; Last week we learned how Jesus put the meaning and role of the Sabbath into proper perspective; The Sabbath is not the Lord of our lives, The Sabbath is a gift from God who is the Lord of our lives.


Jesus is changing the picture, and the important thing is not where we would sit at the table, but as Jesus in now speaking in a story or parable, Jesus is teaching us the way God thinks about our status before God, the real question is: What if God is the host, who would the guest be, and in what order would God have them be judged?


If we buzz into the future we hear from Jesus that it is clearly God is the one who “justifies” and exalts the humble. In referring to the confessing tax-collector verses the pious priest, Jesus says, 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’ (Luke 18:14)


The Pharisees were using the texts from Leviticus to justify their position and status: 18For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, 20or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or … (crushed testicles… OUCH!) (Leviticus 21:18-20).


Doesn't that sound familiar? Using Old Testament verses written by Levitical priests, in the name of God, to justify all sorts of discrimination and division. No one who wasn’t born without a “blemish” were ever to enter the temple, let alone approach the altar.


Jesus, as the FULFILLMENT of ALL THE LAWS AND PROPHETS sets things right while he was the guest at this luncheon! Jesus says: Speaking to the religious people, especially to the host of that day’s meal Jesus says: ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid (they know the rules and regulations!). 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed (by God), because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’


Jesus is taking the teaching from Leviticus and turning it upside down. Jesus can do this because Jesus is teaching the religious leaders as their Messiah: What if God was the host? Who would God invite? The answer we see? Who did Jesus spend the most time with? The poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Why? Because they cannot repay… and that is what makes the host ‘blessed.’


On Thursday morning, when I wrote most of today’s message, I was really looking forward to ‘writing.’ I was in ‘the zone,’ albeit a rather ‘myopic’ zone. I was thinking about the meaning of the text and what relationship it might have in all of our complex lives. How do I put together a message that will inspire, comfort, or move our congregation to act upon our faith in light of this text… but as I pulled into the parking lot at 9 am, I noticed that an ANC client had parked their pickup in MY PARKING PLACE! The parking lot was full of cars, and the line of people waiting for a few simple bags of food stretched way down the road. In my own indignation, I immediately began to say snarffy things like, “what’s the deal? Can’t that person read the sign that reserves that place for me?” Then I walked to the crowd asking (shouting) for the person who owns the truck to move it so that ‘I can park in MY spot.’ A nice woman came out of the line and began apologizing to me telling me that it was her first time to ANC to get food and since the parking lot was full, she wasn’t sure what to do… she moved her car and I parked in MY SPOT. As I reread the Gospel text, I felt like the hypocrite that Jesus was talking about in last weeks’ text, and the so-called religious leaders in today’s text. According to the text, I was soooooo busted and convicted!


I just came home from my own home, with a refrigerator filled with food, complete health insurance for my entire family and even a healthy dog who conveys unconditional grace of God better than I could ever do…


This woman, who I didn’t even bother to ask her name, was the one who was exalted by God that morning… I was laid low. She was exalted because she was in need, could not pay for the food she received and had the humble heart… unlike me.


She, and all the other people standing in line, were the ones that God was thinking about and caring for that morning, and if I would not been so “into myself,” I would have seen Jesus in each of our volunteers and those standing in line.


Jesus was being the host in our volunteers and the Glory of God was seen in humble service, compassion and the protecting of dignity of all the people that come to our campus to either receive food from the foodbank or the bread and wine of Jesus around our holy altar.


Who are you in the text? Where are you at the table? As a host, whom would you invite to your banquet? I know whom Jesus would invite… Thankfully for me, it would be those who are convicted and looking for forgiveness and release. I found release in the scripture and hearing that I was forgiven in the absolution! Amen. 

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