Lunch Table Politics 8/29/10

Luke 14:1, 7-14

I.                  Jesus as Ms. Manners

Jesus, it seems, is taking a first century turn at being Dear Abby this week.  Of course, he goes a bit further than simply offering advice and his instructions have some meaning for a spiritual life as well as our social life, but once again, Jesus is doing some teaching at meal time.  One wonders if he knew how well that would appeal to modern church-goers.  “Will there be food?  Sign me up!”

He talks about two “faux pas” not to make at a dinner party, the first is directed to the guest and the second to the host.  1) To the guest, he says don’t go expecting that you will be the life of the party and that you are the sole reason this dinner is being offered.  Don’t exalt yourself, because you might just end up embarrassing yourself.  I’ve been watching a bit of TV with Sam and this reminds me of the very beginning of the movie, Cars.  Three cars finish a big race in a photo finish that cannot be determined who has won.  As they are waiting for the ruling to be announced, Lightning McQueen is arrogantly thinking that he will the winner.  As the announcer says “For the first time ever ….” Lightning McQueen jumps onstage saying , “A rookie wins!” only to discover that it in fact had been a three-way tie.  Pride is not always a bad thing, but arrogant pride can have some bad consequences like alienating friends and making yourself look /act like a fool (perhaps rightfully so, even).

2) To the host, Jesus speaks to who should be invited to the table of a dinner party.  He says don’t invite people who in turn will invite you to their house for dinner.  Don’t offer hospitality with strings.  Rather, invite those who cannot repay you.  Sometimes, we do that, don’t we?  We act like we have this bank account of karma and we expect to be repaid for the nice things we do.  We may not act like we expect something in return, but we’d be hurt if our nice gesture wasn’t somehow reciprocated.  Jesus sees the emptiness of this approach and says that’s not the right perspective. 

Do Good because it is the right thing to do, not because you’re banking up “karma” and expecting to be repaid.

Jesus is making a comparison from a dinner party to the life of the faith – who is honored?  Who is included?

II.               The Lunch Room Drama

Jesus, as usual is saying something pretty important in this passage, and I wonder what it might be telling us at the beginning or our school year.  In fact, it reminds of a very important event during the school day – lunch.  Especially at the beginning of the school year, when our schedule is new and our routine is unfamiliar, lunch time can be an anxious time of the day.  Where will I sit?  Who will sit with me?  Do you pack your lunch or buy it?

1.     Whom do you sit with and why?

I remember when lunch time suddenly moved from being an appetizer to Recess to becoming a Social Event in the life of the school.  Suddenly, what you ate, what you were wearing, who you were talking to and sitting with was all very important. 

I am positive that all of us have memories of the awkward and difficult time that is junior high, or we know friends or loved ones that have had difficulty navigating this rough terrain.  There are the tales of betrayal and hurtful gossiping that bring to mind the recent movie Mean Girls in which a new student is taken in by the popular girls only to find herself in competition with them.  The social environment of school, for this age group, seems to almost become a battle ground just like baby lions that pretend fight with one another to hone their fighting skills as they grow.

We might like to think this kind of thing happens only in Middle School, but I think if we’re really honest we will recognize that it happens all too often, and not just in junior high cafeterias.

In fact, Jesus was having dinner with the Pharisees.  That is, one of the Pharisees had invited Jesus to a Sabbath dinner.  Very often, Jesus and the Pharisees are involved in some theological argument and someone gets called a hypocrite.  This does not mean they were enemies.  In fact, “Gary Peluso-Verdend observes that Jesus behaved more like a Pharisee than like any of the other groups of his day.”[1]  It’s better to view their conflicts as debates within community and not as an effort to destroy a tradition.  Jesus, it seems, is always trying to get at the reason behind a tradition and make sure that it is doing what it should do.  So, Jesus lectures the Pharisees.

Personally, I think it is mighty amusing to imagine the Pharisees as junior high girls trying to figure out which girl to include in their elite circle.  As Kate Huey notes, however, “It is helpful and perhaps a bit painful for us to remember that today we would consider the Pharisees faithful, active church members who are trying to live virtuous lives.  In other words, we might best read this text through the eyes of insiders who shift uncomfortably in our seats when outsiders come into the dinner party we know as church. (Think of that infamous but familiar line, ‘You’re sitting in my pew.’”[2]

2.     Knowing your Neighbor

Who will you sit with at lunch?  Will you sit with them because they like you and you like them?  Will you sit with them because it makes you feel good?  Will you sit with them because they are your friends?  Maybe a better question is who will you not sit with at lunch?  And why?

Who in our church goes unnoticed?  Who do we ignore because we do not know what to say to them or how to say it?  Who is not here that should be?  What keeps them from being here?

“Jesus’ challenge reaches across boundaries of place and time, calling us to be more aware of those from whom we are inclined to avert our eyes and to follow him rather than those who baptize common prejudices as virtues.”[3]

As I was thinking about this passage this week, I couldn’t help but think of our great commandment to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  It suddenly struck me: It’s hard to love someone that you do not know.  If we do not know those around us, how do we know how to best love them?

3.     True Humility

Finally, to truly be able to welcome all to God’s table, we must recognize that we, ourselves, are guests at the table.  And we should not exalt ourselves, but humble ourselves.  As Jesus is the host and he admonishes other hosts to invite those whom will be very grateful for the meal, yet unable to return the favor – it should remind us that we have been invited to a table, the Lord’s Table.  We do not deserve this honor nor can we earn it or repay it.  We are simply guests.  When we understand our humble place at the table, it is easier to appreciate the value of everyone else who is sitting around the table.  Jan Richardson observes that “The table, for Jesus is always about right relationship, about how we are to live in community and communion with one another … when approaching the table, Jesus says, our stance is to be one of humility, a posture that leaves room for surprise and grace.”[4] 

When we are truly humble, we see other people as being as valuable in God’s eyes as we ourselves are to God.  Humility is a practice that is relational and it has to do with learning to value others, with developing empathy for the weaknesses of others that makes it impossible to judge others out of our own self-righteousness.  We know how little we can offer God in response to Jesus’ invitation … and so we can have no room to judge what others can bring.

III.           Making Room at the (Lunch) Table

So, we come to the thrust of Jesus’ message: making room at the (lunch) table.  If someone new came into our church and wished to come here regularly, where would they fit into our ministries?  Do we have room for new ideas? New perspectives?  New people?

I charge you all with one simple thing: sit with someone you normally wouldn’t.  Ask your best friend to join you, and when others ask why, tell them you thought it might be nice to get to know someone better.  Value that person for what they are:  a child of God.  In doing that, we will be blessed.

 God of wonder,
Fill us with belief in ourselves
Help us to see the possibilities that lie within us
Show us the potential in the child before us.
Give us courage to nurture and call forth the gifts you have given us.
May we use our talents, and find new talents for things we never dreamed possible.
Show the possibility of the impossible and fill us with hope for tomorrow.
For that is an education.  Amen.

Listen to the musn’ts child.
Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts,
the impossibles,
the won’ts,
Listen to the never haves,
then listen close to me …Anything can happen, child.
Anything can be.Shel Silverstein


[1] Kate Huey, Weekly Seeds.

[2] Kate Huey, Weekly Seeds.

[3] Kate Huey, Weekly Seeds.

[4] Jan Richardson, The Painted Prayerbook: The Humble Seat.


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