Dinner with Jesus
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 14:1–14
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 28, 2022
A sermon by Rev. William B. Mann V
Among Lutherans there is something that is known as “The Common Table Prayer.” Raise your hand if you know what I mean when I say, “The Common Table Prayer.” Let’s say it together—“Come Lord Jesus, be our guest and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.” That’s great! What I want to focus on this morning is the beginning of this prayer—“Come Lord Jesus, be our guest”—because after hearing the gospel lesson for this morning you may be wondering whether you really want Jesus as a dinner guest. A famous theologian once said, “If a prophet is really a prophet you only invite him to dinner once.” And that seems to be the case with Jesus. Jesus had a habit of saying and doing embarrassing things at a dinner. Like the time a woman of the street came in and started washing his feet with her hair. Today, we are going to be joining Jesus for dinner as he teaches his host and the other guests a hard lesson about compassion and humility.
We find the story in Luke chapter 14. Here’s the scene—It’s Saturday—the Sabbath—the Jewish Day of Rest. Jesus is invited for dinner at the home of prominent Pharisee. The guest list is made up of a number of other important Pharisees and experts in the Law. Make a note—when the Bible says “experts in the Law”, we’re not talking about traffic violations. We’re talking about THE LAW—THE TORAH—the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These dinner companions are theologians who have spent their lives studying the Scriptures. They have accepted this dinner invitation because they are curious about this young rabbi—Jeshua bar Joseph—Jesus son of Joseph. They have some questions: “Who is this Jesus and what does he have to say for himself?” But at dinner today they will discover, Jesus has some questions for them.
The room is large. It’s starting to fill with people. Invited guests are staking out the best seats trying to get close to the action. There are uninvited guests too, standing around the edges and even sitting on the floor. Everyone wants to see Jesus. And suddenly he appears, escorted by his host. The room falls silent as they take their seats in the center of the room.
Jesus’ first lesson is about COMPASSION. All these important people and the first person to catch Jesus’ eye is a guy sitting on the floor with painfully swollen legs and feet. Definitely NOT one of the invited guests. Luke tells us the man had “dropsy.” Today would say, “edema, painful swelling, he’s retaining water as a result of congestive heart failure.” Today this man would be on the way to the emergency room. Jesus turns to his host and the other invited guests—these experts in the law—and asks, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” They could all see the man suffering, dying, on the floor in front of them. Jesus asks, “Should I heal this man (should I do work), even on this day of rest?” No one says a word. You could hear a pin drop. Hearing no answer, Jesus heals the man and sends him on his way.
Now you can feel the tension building in the room. The Pharisees and experts in the law are scandalized by what Jesus has done. The Law is clear—the 3rd Commandment—Exodus 20--Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.” Would you agree that most Christians today are not real serious about keeping this commandment. Some of us work 24/7. Not God’s plan. Not healthy. If you told Pastor Meehan he ought to rest and not do any work on the Sabbath Day, he’d probably laugh. Perhaps some of you think that preachers only work an hour on Sunday, but it ain’t true. Being a pastor is a 24/7 calling and I hope you appreciate what a blessing you have in a good pastor.
But back to the lesson on compassion. Jesus can feel the tension, the eyes drilling into him. He knows they are judging him. So, Jesus asks, “Which of you, if you have a son or an ox, and your son or your ox falls into a hole on the Sabbath Day, won’t you get to work and pull him out?” So, why won’t you have compassion on this poor man I’ve healed. Again, silence. Another awkward pause in the conversation. No one knows what to say.
That means it’s time for a story. And Jesus always has a story, perfect for every occasion. Today’s story is about HUMILITY. So, we’re on to the second lesson. Because, the second thing Jesus notices (after the man with dropsy) is how all the dinner guests are jockeying for the best seats. This story is about a wedding reception. You probably know about wedding receptions. In my own family we are in a wedding time of life. My son was married last October and then, this October and in May and in June, we have two nieces and a nephew getting married. Here’s what you need to know about a wedding reception. Apart from the food, the two important questions are—“Who are you going to invite? Where are they going to be seated?” These are the big issues. I did a wedding once where the father of the bride had been kind of a stinker. He and the bride’s mother had divorced years ago and sadly he was not involved in his daughter life. So, he got an invitation, but at the wedding reception, the father and his new wife were seated at a table for two back by the restrooms. Please, don’t do that at a wedding. Sure, somebody has to sit by the bathroom, but it’s not the best way to heal family relationships.
Jesus is concerned about the seating arrangement. “Be careful,” Jesus says, “when you are invited to a wedding feast, be careful not to take the place of honor (apparently they didn’t have seating charts back then).” Jesus said, “Don’t take the best seats, become someone more important than you might be coming and then, in front of all the other guests the host will have to ask you to move to a lower seat.”
I don’t know, are any of you old enough to remember Bob Euker? Johnny Carson called him “Mr. Baseball.” He played ball for the St. Louis Cardinals back in the day and even helped them win the World Series in 1964. After he retired as a player, Bob started announcing games in Milwaukee for what was then the Milwaukee Braves. Bob was such a character that Miller Beer hired him to do a series of commercials for a brand new beer—Miller-Lite. One of the commercials is a classic. Bob Euker is at the baseball stadium. He’s pushing his way down the row trying to get to his seat, saying, “I got these tickets from the front office. They’re box seats, right in front, directly over the dugout.” Then, as Bob settles into the best seat in the house, an usher arrives and shouts, “You’re in the wrong seat buddy!” The next shot is of Bob sitting in the nosebleed section, all by himself, cheering on the team. Today, those nosebleed seats in Milwaukee are still called “Euker Seats.” The moral of the story is—“Be careful how you choose your seat.” Jesus is saying to us today, “Be careful how you choose your seat.” It’s better to have a little humility.
Finally, Jesus turns to his host and gives him some advice on whom to invite. “When you give a dinner party,” Jesus says, “do not invite your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors. They are just going to invite you to their homes and you’ll be paid back. But instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. These are people who can’t pay you back. But you will be repaid on the Last Day at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Suppose you pay out $10,000 for a huge wedding banquet. Then, some tragic event happens and the banquet has to be cancelled. The caterer says, “Your money is non-refundable.” What would you do? Well, you could do what Kathleen Gooley did. This 41-year-old bride was left at the altar when the groom backed out of her wedding. So, the jilted bride decided to give a party for 150 homeless people in southwestern Connecticut. “We would have been doing this at this time anyway,” Kathleen said as she watched her guests dance to the music of a disc jockey who donated his time. “I would hope, somebody else in the same situation would do the same thing.” Busloads of homeless men, women and children arrived at the banquet hall just after noon. Some were wearing t-shirts and tennis shoes, others, shirts, ties and dresses. Many hadn’t had a hot meal in weeks. “You’re blessing us with your day,” said Eugene Patenande, age 50, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict to sleeps at the local shelter. “We’ll never be able to repay you.”
Today we’re getting a lesson about humility and a lesson about compassion—from Jesus. “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest.” How comfortable are you with the idea of Jesus being in your home and sitting at your dinner table? To tell the truth, I think most of us would have to do some cleaning up—and I’m not talking about the house. The thing is, Jesus has invited you to dinner with him—to a Communion meal here, this morning, and to a heavenly banquet—a feast to come. You have an invitation. You have a place at the table. Not because we deserve a place. But because your sins are forgiven. Jesus gave his life so you will have a place at his table. And if you want to continue praying the Common Table Prayer I have a little assignment for you that might make Jesus a bit more comfortable at your house. First Compassion--Be open to the opportunities God gives you. Maybe you can’t heal a man with dropsy, but have enough compassion to reach out and help someone you meet who is hurting. Second, humility. You may not be able to throw a party for the homeless, but have some humility. Be willing to take a back seat and put the needs of others before yourself. Practice humility. Practice compassion. And in this way share the grace of God.