In life we all receive invitations. These invitations take on many forms. In some instances we are invited to social gatherings and in others we invite people and events into our lives. Just as we are able to receive invitations we are also able to invite others into our own lives. Who we invite and how we invite them speaks to who we are as individuals. Today we consider what does it mean to invite someone as a Christian.
Text: Luke 14: 7-14
You may not know it but today you have me at a disadvantage. You know that the Pulpit Swap that is occurring is in support of the Better Together Refugee Sponsorship. As a result you know that today I will preach in some way about the Refugee Sponsorship. You have read the bulletin before worship started, you have seen the scripture references and perhaps read them ahead of time.
You see as a preacher the congregation may know what the readings are but they do not necessarily know the approach you will take on the passage. Which part will the preacher focus on? How has a week’s worth of study and life in the pastorate affected how the Word will be shared? So on a normal Sunday you have some sense on where things may go, but you could be surprised. Not so today. Today you are armed with all the usual information plus the purpose of my being here.
Now, you are an intelligent group. You have the scriptures and the sermon title. You also have a sermon title I developed days before I put a single word to paper on the sermon. Even if you did not read the scriptures ahead of time they have now been read to you by Margaret. You know why I am here, you have heard God’s word read. You are more than capable of connecting the dots and figuring out what I am going to say.
Which is why I am going to tell you about the wedding I attended last weekend. The wedding is for some old friends of mine. It’s a unique honour as I am able to attend the wedding, reacquainting myself with old friends and I also have the privilege of presiding at the wedding. As I am sure you are aware there is a lot of planning that goes into weddings. You need to pick a venue, food selected, flowers need to be ordered, the bride needs her dress, and the list goes on. Of course the guest list also needs to be set.
Weddings are fun that way, you get to invite all sorts of family and friends. Many of which you may not have seen for some time. It is also interesting to note the seating arrangements that go into weddings. At the time of the ceremony people customarily sit on either the bride’s side or the groom’s side. Forgetting that in a short time they will be one family. At the banquet itself careful attention needs to be paid to where people sit. You need to put the friends who are loud and rowdy at the back. The next closest is the friends who have already married and have kids. Especially, if the kids are at the wedding because kids are loud. Then comes close friends and finally sitting closest to the head table comes family.
I once attended a wedding where the staff mis-numbered the tables. It was a wedding for a friend from college, I should have been sitting at the back. But due to the staff error I found myself sitting next to the head table. The grooms mother was not happy about that.
Weddings make it easy for us when we are guests. Our very seat has often been designated for us. We don’t have to worry about which table to sit at, nor which chair to select. We simply hope that we will enjoy the company of our table guests.
It is a little different from entering into a room full of people you don’t know. When we enter a room we are normally there for a reason, as is everyone else. The question becomes where should you sit or stand? Who should you approach? Are you better to stand on the periphery near a wall or should you move into the center of the room. Do you sit at the front or at the back? You begin to make judgments about everyone else in the room based on how they are dressed, who they are standing with and how they look at you. Which by the way when they look at you they are making the very same judgments that you have been making.
The same thing happens when we arrive at church. If it is the first time you are attending a particular church, whether because you are on vacation or you have just moved you are always conscious of where to sit. I am from the Presbyterian tradition and the answer on where to sit is very easily answered. As close to the back as possible, as long as the pew is empty. If even one other person is in a pew move you must move forward one.
Of course we all know what it is like to arrive at church and find someone sitting in our pew. It leaves us with a dilemma. Do we say something, embarrassing a new comer or do we move to another location? But where do we move, we don’t want to displace anyone else do we? Before I was ordained I loved walking into the sanctuary with my family. We let our boys decide where we should sit. Which meant we sat somewhere different every week! It was like a game of musical chairs played out weekly in the sanctuary.
Fortunately, at weddings we have our seats assigned, removing the embarrassment of sitting in the wrong seat. All of which says something about the way we order ourselves as people or as a society. We intuitively and subconsciously rank ourselves. It happens at work, we all have a boss. There is a pecking order of how work is distributed. Certain employees are valued, rightly or wrongly, more than others. It happens with families, which is a great shame. We all have that uncle or cousin who is just a little off, the black sheep. Sibling rivalry happens: we want to be viewed as the good child who is there for our parents or who has a successful career.
The church does it too. In my tradition we have adherents, people who attend the church but aren’t members. After that comes members, then there are those members who have been ordained as elders. In the Presbyterian tradition we have two types of elders, ruling elders and teaching elders. They are supposed to be equal. But I will tell you that teaching elders, our clergy, rank higher in the pecking order. I don’t say that as someone who is a teaching elder enforcing my status, but as someone who was a ruling elder for fifteen years before I became a teaching elder. It’s not supposed to be that way, but very often it’s what happens.
We want to feel important, to be reminded that our lives have worth. For the most part we travel around in our own little world, in our own circles and we are the center of that universe. Occasionally, an event will transpire that knocks us down a few pegs as we remember that there are other people in the world.
Therein lies one of the insights in our gospel reading this morning. The tragedy of the human need to be valued, to elevate our own honour and ego over others is that it ultimately creates a chasm between us. In elevating ourselves we also distance ourselves from being in a good and full relationship with other people.
We forget that we are to practice humility, that if we are comfortable with our own worth we can allow others to shine. We forget that that in practicing this same humility God will lift us up. For where can we flee from God’s presence? God’s hand is upon us, we are hemmed in. The need to feel worth, the need to feel loved, valued. The need to feel important is uniquely human. Yet, before God we recognize that we are all worthy and that we are all loved.
Yet, we strive for and crave attention. And so we invite friends and well to do neighbours to our social functions. We are seen with and rub shoulders with people who will elevate our own social standing. We invite them to our gatherings in the hopes that we will receive a reciprocal invitation to theirs.
Yet, Jesus reminds us that he came not to be served, but to serve and give his life (Matt 20:28). The same Jesus also washed the disciples feet (John 13), yet who John the Baptist said “I am unworthy to untie the thong of his sandal” (John 1:27).
In many ways Jesus acted like we do. He was watching where all the guests sat. Like us he walked into the room and observed, getting a sense of who was present. He watched them establish a pecking order of importance. It makes you wonder what seat Jesus was given that day. If Jesus were to arrive at the churches next potluck, which table would we give him? I’m sure we would put him at the head of the table, for he is our Lord and Saviour. Jesus Christ is the only King and Head of the Church. But I am not so sure that this is where Jesus would want to sit.
I suspect that Jesus would be very comfortable sitting in the back with our rowdy friends and the cousins we hope won’t disturb the party too much. Jesus says to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. It sounds to me like Jesus has extended an invitation to us. To each and every one of us. We are invited to the banquet, we are invited guests. For surely if we are not poor, crippled or lame then we are blind. For we flail around seeking to get ahead, we wish to be seen as good Christians and sometimes that means we act a little less Christ-like than we should.
We forget that we are called to act with justice and compassion. We forget to invite the poor, the cripple, the lame and the blind. We think we have already arrived and we forget that we have received an invitation. In our haste to arrive we forget that we are encouraged to invite others to the banquet. As Paul writes in Romans, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).
And so friends we come full circle. You know why I am here. You knew the message before I opened my mouth. We do not provide refuge and hospitality because it feels good. We do not do so because it makes us look good. We don’t even do it because it is the right thing to do.
We have opened the doors to our hearts and our homes because we are commanded to do so by God. We welcome people as Christ welcomes us, with a love which conquered the world, with a love which shattered the bonds of death. We have extended this hand to help refugees because we have also been invited to the banquet. We can do no less than follow in the example of our Lord and Saviour and also extend an invitation to those who are in dire need into the safety of this community. Amen.