I Saw Them Eating, and I Knew Who They Were

Ascensioncast

Sermon by The Rev. Patrick J. Wingo, September 1, 2019

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The Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14

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.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “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; 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. 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. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

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. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Sermon Text

Sermon for proper 17C 9-1-19 CAK The Rev Patrick J Wingo   I was on my high school basketball team, so I was able to see and experience first-hand a dynamic that happens on probably every high school basketball team. Just before the game starts, and also during time-outs, all the players gather around the coach for instructions. They put their hands all in together, yell something like “team” or “break”, and the starting players go out on the floor. But over by the bench there is a traffic jam, because all of the substitutes are vying for the seat next to the coach. The rationale is that if you get the seats next to the coach he will notice you and you will get into the game faster. This rationale didn’t work very well for me, however, because although I was pretty good at getting the seat next to the coach, I never seemed to get into the game any faster.   A similar dynamic is going on in our Gospel lesson this morning. Jesus has just gone to the house of a very important religious leader for a Sabbath meal—in other words, it’s a big game. When it’s time to sit down at the table, everyone tries to get the best places so that they might be near the important people and participate in their conversation—in other words, get into the game. This may not seem all that unusual to us. When we go to a dinner party, we certainly want to sit with the people who make good conversation. But in the ancient Near East, not just the conversation but everything around the dinner was important. In that culture, one’s table habits said a lot about them. An old Near Eastern proverb says, “I saw them eating, and I knew who they were.”   In the culture of Jesus’ day, when you were at the dinner table, not only was it a time to eat, but it was also a time to teach and a time to learn, when philosophers or elders imparted their wisdom. It was a time to remember, to tell stories about one’s heritage, one’s ancestors, one’s culture. In Jesus’ day there were many threats to Israel’s culture. They were occupied by the Roman army. Greek culture was extremely influential in their part of the world. In many ways it was a struggle for Israel to continue to tell their story of how God brought them out of bondage in Egypt, gave them a land and established a covenant with them. This story was told at the table over and over. In fact, when someone sat down at a Sabbath meal, he automatically identified himself with the Covenant that God made with Israel. Just by being there he was saying that h was one of Israel’s chosen people, set apart for “perfection”, according to the Law. And this is exactly where Jesus got himself into trouble, because Jesus didn’t just eat with the chosen ones. Jesus ate with everyone, law-keeping Pharisees and law-breaking sinners alike, he ate with despised tax collectors and outcasts. And St Luke tells us that the religious folk of the time, “murmured” against him because of his table habits, his table customs, the company he kept. “I saw them eating, and I knew who they were.”   My parents lived in the same house for 47 years, and the whole time they lived there, there was an oak table there, too. It originally was a dining room table, but it eventually got moved to the kitchen. There is nothing all that unusual about it—it is a pretty oak, a simple design, and it got nicked up from years of use. One of my daughters and my son-in-law now use it for their table. You all probably have something similar to it at home. We probably don’t think much about these tables. We throw mail there before we sort it, or eat a hurried meal on it. But these tables are focal points in our lives. Those nicked up kitchen tables are where homework is done, where cookies are cooled, where checkbooks are balanced, where meat and potatoes or pasta and veggies happen. Kitchen tables are where Crayola masterpieces are created, where serious family discussions are held; they are places where friends cry over coffee and families laugh over cake and ice cream. So much of life happens around our tables. If our tables could speak, what would they say about us? “I saw their tables, and I knew who they were.”   As a church, as God’s family, we, too, are identified by a table, a holy Table. Much of our life together centers around our Table. At this Table we come to be fed, we laugh together, we cry together. At this Table we celebrate when there is a new birth through Baptism, when new life is created in marriage; we grieve the loss of loved ones and yet we look with hope to the Resurrection of the dead. Around this Table, we identify ourselves. “I saw them eating, and I knew who they were.   The Eucharist is our common meal, a meal meant to feed us spiritually. But in the early church, the common meal was also meant to take care of the physical needs of the Christian community. It was a way of feeding everyone who was in need, so that no one was embarrassed by their lack of resources. There was no distinction between the haves and the have-nots when they gathered together around the table of the earliest Christians. St Luke knew that this was extremely important to the survival of the early church when he wrote his Gospel, so he gathered together several of Jesus’ messages about eating at the Table in the Kingdom of God, and Chapter 14 of Luke gives us a good picture of how Jesus saw Table fellowship. For Jesus, the Table is a place where all are fed—it is a banquet, a celebration. There is no one who deserves to be honored at the Table any more than anyone else. For Jesus, the Table is a place where anyone can come and eat, not just those who are chosen or think they are chosen, but even anyone is might be considered an outcast, or who might consider themselves as an outcast. For Jesus, the Table is where hospitality should take place; and the word ‘hospitality’ does not mean simply being polite—it literally means “to love a stranger.” Hospitality is not just meeting physical needs, it is loving someone without regard to their status or whether of not they can even love us back—it is bringing everyone to the fellowship of the Table. This is what the Table meant for Jesus.   As God’s family, we are identified by a Table. At this Table, God is the gracious host. Is there anything that stands in the way of this Table being a place where all are made equal? Is there anything inside of you that keeps you from approaching this Table? Even though we could be considered strangers to God because of our sin, God shows hospitality to us. St Paul wrote to the Ephesians that “We are no longer strangers and aliens but citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God. We are strangers who have been brought into God’s family. And we have a family story to tell about how God redeemed us and made us God’s own. Every week as we gather at this Table our family story is told.   The Eucharist is the place where all have the seat of honor. God is throwing a banquet and we are invited—we who are the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. We who are the outcasts, adopted into the family of God. And when we are loved and fed, we become the ones who go into the world to feed, to be hospitable. To love the stranger and alien among us. At this Table we are identified, but we are also identified by how we take what we receive at this Table out into the world.   Let it be said of us: “I saw them eating, and I knew who they were.”