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Sermon for August 28, 2022 – Proper 17

Speaking of Life Script 4040 | Living Your Best Life

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life Script 4040 | Living Your Best Life
Greg Williams

You’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t settle for less!” It’s a well-meaning attempt to motivate you to not give up on the best life you have envisioned for yourself. You’ve likely heard the challenge in regard to relationships, your career, financial dreams, or even your personal growth goals.” It can be any number of things where you are challenged to not settle for less. Add to this the number of motivational gurus who “know” the secret to not settling. They will gladly share their discoveries with you in their latest book or video, for a small price of course (since they are not settling for less).

But how do we know if we have settled?

If we were ever asked if we are living our best life, I think most of us would say “No, of course not.” We are creatures who are always longing for more. How could we ever honestly say we have arrived at our best life?

This is where a Biblical and Christian perspective is helpful. The believer already knows it is not up to him or her to envision or bring about their best life. That has been settled in Jesus. He is our life and to choose anything less is what the Bible calls idolatry. The Bible is full of dire warnings against idolatry because God loves us, and he knows that choosing anything over Jesus for our life is to truly settle for less on a catastrophic level.

King Solomon’s story recorded in Ecclesiastes speaks vividly to how more gold, more women, bigger palaces, and faster horses simply do not bring the lasting fulfillment — a fulfillment that can only be found in a relationship with the true God of the Bible.

Here is another such warning painting the same picture of settling for less.

Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones, even though they are not gods at all? Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols! The heavens are shocked at such a thing and shrink back in horror and dismay,” says the Lord. “For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me—the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!”
Jeremiah 2:11-13 (NLT)

Jesus is the fountain of living water, and our loving Father has given us our best life in Jesus Christ. We can never achieve for ourselves more than God gives us by his grace. And he has given us his Son, in whom we can live our best life by the Spirit. We have all spiritual blessings in Jesus now, so let’s not become distracted by shiny things and get caught up in the striving for what we already possess in Jesus! Know this: you can trust the Father – after all, he never settles for less when it comes to you and me.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 81:1, 10-16 • Jeremiah 2:4-13 • Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 • Luke 14:1, 7-14

This week’s theme is faithful following. The call to worship Psalm presents the stubborn resistance of Israel. The Old Testament reading from Jeremiah also takes Israel to task for its unfaithfulness. The epistolary text in Hebrews presents various exhortations that give a picture of a faithful disciple. The Gospel reading from Luke challenges fearful hearts reluctant to follow Christ.

Our Seating Doesn’t Determine Our Standing

Luke 14:1-14 (NRSV)

Our text today presents us with yet another story of Jesus around a meal table. Why do so many stories of Jesus involve eating and tables? The stories abound. One of the first attacks on Jesus had to do with him eating with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus ate with many different people and even got the label “glutton and drunkard” for his trouble. Jesus restores Peter at a breakfast fish fry and opens the eyes of two travelers on the road to Emmaus at an evening bread breaking. And who can forget his miracles involving wine, fish, and bread. And we haven’t even mentioned the last supper and his institution of communion by which all his followers would remember him . Jesus seems to love teaching around the table. There is even that odd little story of Jesus turning over some tables that created a major disturbance in the temple. Perhaps we should pay close attention to this metaphorical use of tables, eating and banquets. Luke 14 will give us just that opportunity as we see Jesus at yet another banquet, teaching some dinning etiquette, and once again turning the tables, only this time not so literally.

There are essentially two scenes in this story and our lectionary has us focus primarily on the second scene. But it also throws in the first verse for some important context.

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. (Luke 14:1 NRSV)

If you have been reading through Luke and are familiar with the Gospel stories, this one verse prepares you to anticipate confrontation. Let’s see, we have Jesus with a religious elite, around food, and on the Sabbath to boot. Yeah, here we go again. This will not end well. And if you missed Luke’s clues to conflict, he gives us one final detail that gives it away: “…they were watching him closely.” Have you ever been under the watchful eye of someone you know is against you? You know what’s up right? They are intently watching Jesus in hopes they would see him do something they can use against him. This invitation by a leader of the Pharisees is a trap.

The lectionary doesn’t include the scene that comes next, but we will look at it quickly to set up scene two. Besides, what Jesus does next is too good to miss. He springs the trap.

Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this. (Luke 14:2-6 NRSV)

How interesting that the man who had dropsy just appeared in front of Jesus seemingly out of nowhere. Typically, a man with this ailment, which we would call edema today, a condition of swelling due to excessive fluid, would be considered impure by Levitical standards, and therefore wouldn’t be allowed in this setting. This Pharisee seems to have taken steps to position this suffering soul in front of Jesus hoping to trap him in some way. The man with dropsy is the bait. And we have already been shown the trap—this takes place “on the Sabbath.” All this unfolding under the hostile eyes of the “lawyers and Pharisees.”

It’s possible these religious elites are acting out of fear of Jesus because he often challenged the status quo of the cultural fixation on status and standing. Remember, Jesus is the one running around eating with sinners and tax collectors. But we can relate, right? When we measure our worth according to our position or prominence, we will fear losing this standing and be tempted to use others to protect it if necessary. But Jesus is not fooled. He knows our fears and he knows the healing we need.

Jesus anticipates the Pharisees’ trap and asks them, “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath or not?” Perhaps Jesus is not referring only to the individual man with dropsy who needs healing. He used the plural “people” in his question instead of “this person!” It is also the people, you and I included, who have calloused hearts swelled with fear that need healing. They had no answer to his question that wouldn’t jeopardize their plan. So, they remained silent.

Jesus then heals the man and sends him away. He is not going to let him be used any further by these calculating authorities. He follows this healing up with another question about pulling a child or an ox out of a well on the Sabbath, an allowance made by the supplemental body of Jewish law. This question exposes the hypocrisy of their hearts. The Pharisees again refuse to answer. With this double silencing of his opponents, Jesus has ensnared the Pharisees in their own trap.

Now we can move to the second scene, which is the focus of our Lectionary passage. It begins with verse 7.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. (Luke 14:7 NRSV)

Before we look at the parable did you notice a change in the story? Who is doing the watching now? That’s right, Jesus now becomes the one who is doing the watching as “he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor.” He is watching the guests instead of being watched by the host. Now that Jesus has silenced his opponents, he is presented in the story as the host of the banquet. And that is how Jesus “turns the tables.”

And we will be glad he has done just that, not only in this story, but in our stories as well. When Jesus is the host, the banquet will be enjoyed by those who live by the table manners of grace and not soured by fearful attempts of self-promotion. Jesus knew Proverbs 17 well:

Dry crumbs in peace are better than a full meal with strife. (Proverbs 17:1-2 ISV)

Now to the parable Jesus has for his “guests.”

“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.” (Luke 14:8-11 NRSV)

And why we may ask is Jesus telling this parable? On the surface, this may look like straightforward wisdom talk common to the ancient world. Is Jesus just reminding them of Proverbs 25?

Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble. (Proverbs 25:6-7 NRSV)

On the contrary, he is not just giving them advice on how to avoid embarrassment at a social gathering. Jesus is not concerned about the appropriate way to rise to the top. He is addressing the heart that seeks self-exaltation by any means. This parable is aimed at the fearful hearts of the Pharisees (and you and I when the shoe fits). The last line of the parable makes this clear. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Notice the passive “will be humbled” and “will be exalted.” The seating arrangement is determined by the host, not the guest.

It’s the heart of the host that ushers in the wedding banquet of all banquets. And if you will bear with me for one theological excursion, we will take a quick look at that heart. It is the heart of God, the triune God, who invites us to be his guests.

You can use a diagram below, which consists of a triangle to illustrate some foundational truths about the Trinity. Notice each line of the triangle has its own label. One line is labeled “One God,” another is labeled “Three Persons,” and the final line of the triangle is labeled “Equal.” Also note the label on each corner – modalism, tritheism, and subordinationism.

This triangle illustration is used to show how each foundational truth about the Trinity guards against a corresponding heresy. Each of the three sides of the triangle is a foundational truth. When any of these truths is denied, the other two sides make an arrow that points to the resulting error. Don’t get distracted by all the “isms” and big words. We just want to look at one foundational line of the Trinity triangle. The one labeled “Equal.” This is meant to convey the orthodox understanding that the three Persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, Spirit, are all equally and fully God. This truth guards against a heresy known as “Subordinationism.”

Essentially what this means in its simplest expression is that there is no hierarchy in the being of God. It is this foundational understanding that God is not hierarchical that sheds the most light on our passage in Luke 14. If we are created in the image of God, and God is not a God of hierarchy, then we must take seriously the implication for our lives. With Jesus as host of the banquet, why would we attempt to position ourselves hierarchically. This banquet does not operate by stepping on people in order to climb one rung higher on some arbitrary ladder of success. We don’t need to clamor for a seat at the VIP table. Jesus has invited us to enjoy the meal. And more importantly, to enjoy him, and his relationship with his Father by the Spirit.

Jesus’ parable is aimed at correcting the mindset that our standing is dependent on our position that we obtain for ourselves. In his parable it is the host who determines our standing. As we see Jesus as the host who has invited us to the banquet, we need not be concerned about seating arrangements. We have been seated at the right hand of the Father in Jesus Christ. Our standing with the host has been settled through his own humbling and exalting through his death and resurrection.

After Jesus addresses everyone in the room with his parable, he then gets more personal by adding a word to “the one who had invited him.” If you are still listening to the words of this scripture, you are the one who has invited Jesus. May we listen to his final words personally spoken to us today:

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.” (Luke 14:12-14 NRSV)

Jesus wants to personally give us some instructions on extending invitations. Instead of inviting only those who can help our standing, Jesus wants us to participate in his life that has no need of hierarchy. Imagine the burden lifted to live free of such pressure and constraint! As we come to know our standing in Jesus – that we are loved, embraced, adored, cherished, and adopted into the life of Father, Son, and Spirit, called sons and daughters of the King – then we can lay down all our attempts of bettering our position by using others or by posturing and maneuvering. Instead, we can “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” and receive the blessing of sharing in Jesus’ life as we play host in our world. These guests represent an invitation that is free of any desire for self-promotion. There is nothing they can give us in return. With Jesus as host, there is no fear of others threatening our identity. Besides, for all our clamoring for better seats, for all our positioning of ourselves for greater power or prestige, for all our manipulating and using of others to our own end, wouldn’t you agree that we are none the happier?

The blessed and happy life is the one found in Jesus who knows nothing of hierarchy but only of self-giving love. May we embrace this life that has so embraced us in Jesus Christ. Amen!

Humble Hospitality w/ Chris Breslin W4

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August 28 – Proper 17
Luke 14:1, 7-14 “Humble Hospitality”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

Resources:

Kendall Vanderslice’s ministry, Edible Theology

Painting / Iconography “Hidden life in Nazareth” by Ivanka Demchuk, a Ukrainian icon writer

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Program Transcript


Anthony: We have one more passage, which is Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14. It’s a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 17 in Ordinary Time, which is August 28. Chris, read that one for us, please.

Chris: Sure.

It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. Now He began telling a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “Whenever you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and the one who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then in disgrace you will proceed to occupy the last place. 10 But whenever you are invited, go and take the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are dining at the table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” 12 Now He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “Whenever you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor wealthy neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you to a meal in return, and that will be your repayment. 13 But whenever you give a banquet, invite people who are poor, who have disabilities, who are limping, and people who are blind; 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Anthony: The upside-down kingdom. Not the way we anticipate it. This passage tells us that our Lord is sharing a meal with the leader of the Pharisees, and I just think it’s one of the most profound aspects of Jesus’ ministry. And that is his meal-sharing ministry, the intimacy of it to be face to face with another.

What are your thoughts, Chris? And what does a church have to learn?

Chris: The church that we came from that sent us to plant [Oak Church] had over the years done a lot of meal sharing together. In the early days, we had weekly potluck and then that shifted to biweekly and then monthly, and then periodically.

So, when we started Oak Church, the intent was to do weekly potluck meals and to create a culture around that. And that has been such a journey of learning. And again, predicated on: Jesus does this, so let’s figure out how to do it. But it’s been really interesting because eating that much together and we’ve tried to do it without a safety net.

At the other church, one of the reasons why it became less frequent is because people get tired, and you wouldn’t bring that much. And then, there was always like the potluck brigade that would like, oh no, we don’t have enough food. Let’s call on some Dominos or go get some stuff from Costco. And there is a lot of hospitality around that impulse, but we’ve not done that at all.

And we’ve found that it’s really self-regulating the potluck meal, because if you have a bad week, you are reminded, oh shoot, I need to participate. If you don’t bring it, we don’t eat. We always say that we are less without you, and that is mathematically true, but it is no more obvious than at the table. You learn how to accent, and you learn how to account for others’ gifts.

You learn that person always brings mac and cheese, so I probably don’t need to do that. It’s a really beautiful, dynamic life that happens around the table. I think I would love to know more detail about Jesus’ meals, not just who he ate with but what he ate and how those meals went and who provided the food.

I think for the local church, a life around the table as an extension of the communion table is a really beautiful like culture-maker. And so, you get the chance (we do each week) to come forward to the communion table with empty, open hands, ready to receive from God’s grace. You don’t bring anything to that table. And then 10 minutes later or so, you arrive with plenty of stuff in hand. You arrive with a full instant pot to add to an armada of instant pots to try to feed friends and neighbors and show off your new recipe or figure that stuff out.

Life around the table also makes you, in Paul language, think of others more than yourself. Especially if you have friends that have to navigate food allergies. Or we’ve had to navigate, as a very potluck-centric church that is so core to our culture, two plus years of that not being a safe thing to do—sitting across from each other in a fellowship hall. We’ve done that with outdoor meals, with prepackaged things and all these different arrangements, but it’s always a negotiation and an improvisation, trying to figure out how to be together.

I really love a friend here in Durham, Kendall Vanderslice, who’s a Dukey also, has a ministry called Edible Theology. And she’s a trained baker, also has a degree in food studies and theological studies. And so, she’s really putting these things together, specifically about bread and dinner church, and talks really beautifully about how these things interact.

Anthony: it’s a good resource. We’ll put it in the show notes, and it makes me think of somebody you’ve already referenced, Robert Capon, who loved food and loved Jesus and loved the combination. And I think he shared a cookbook

Chris: Yeah, that’s right, The Supper of the Lamb.

I will say that again an early ministry experience was that the table also became a site of discipleship. Again, being in a place with a bunch of grad students and people passing through, and also being in the South, we would have people come to the church and they would be so game and so equipped and so expectant, to sit in a folding chair (at the time) and drink deeply of a 40-minute sermon and take detailed notes. And then you’d ask them, or expect, invite them, “Hey, you guys are staying for potluck, right?”

And they would demur [show reluctance] because it was so awkward for them to sit across from someone they didn’t know or to eat something they weren’t sure that they liked. It was a place of deep discipleship to become the sort of people that could do that, and that could be at a table possibly with someone that you have nothing else in common, other than Jesus and the Spirit that is connecting you. I don’t discount that power of the table either. And I think that’s also why some of Jesus’ tables are so controversial because he is putting people at a table that don’t have any reason to be together apart from him.

Anthony: The potluck brigade. I have a feeling we need to design a t-shirt and I’ve got a few people in mind to share that with.

Chris: Yeah, we’re trying to get sponsored by instant pot. That’s key.

Anthony: Jesus instructs the listeners to sit at the lowly place during a feast. And of course, later in scripture, we see in John 13, Jesus doing this very thing, embodying it when he gets up quietly from dinner and washes the disciples’ feet in the upper room.

Why do you think it matters that we have a God, revealed in Jesus, who practices this? Who practices what he preaches?

Chris: I don’t think it’s just that Jesus somehow needs to be like logical and coherent or even like non-hypocritical. I think in these stories of Jesus being with people in normal places, that Jesus is saving us in these stories.

This is before the cross, this is after the incarnation, but Jesus is saving all humanity, all creation when he feasts and when he washes feet and when he brushes by the shoulders of someone in the crowd or is touched, when Jesus is walking around Galilee or when Jesus is a boy growing up in Nazareth.

I’m looking over my shoulder here at my desk at this icon called “Hidden life in Nazareth” by this Ukrainian icon writer [Artist, iconographer Ivanka Demchuk]. And it’s Mary and Joseph, and Jesus is taking his first steps as a boy. And there’s a clothesline in the background. I think when Jesus is filling up diapers in Mary’s home, and all of these hidden moments, that Jesus is saving us because he is bolting divinity and humanity together and creating a new humanity.

So, I don’t think it’s just that Jesus is practicing what he’s preaching, but he’s becoming familiar to us. He’s coming close enough to people that they know what he smells like and what his hands feel like and what his voice sounds like. That’s how close God is to us in Jesus.

That’s how sensible God is, that it is not any longer a mystery of what God is like. God is like Mary’s boy. For the disciples, God is like their fishing buddy. God is like a journeying storyteller who loves a good party. God is like a guy who isn’t afraid to stick his nose in an unfair fight.

God is like someone who’s been put through the ringer or is the victim of state violence or who has been lynched. God has become one of us. And I think that means we stand a chance to become like God, that we’re forever bolted in Christ to God. So, when we read these stories, we just can’t forget what God looks like and smells like and acts like and sounds like.

Anthony: There’s a great documentary. It’s just a short film (maybe 18 minutes) called Godspeed. [Godspeed: the Pace of Being Known]

Chris: I love it.

Anthony: Yeah. Is it Brian Canlis? Is that his name?

Chris: Yeah, that’s right. Brian and Julie in Vancouver.

Anthony: And one of the things I was struck by, they were interviewing one of the folks in Scotland. And he was talking about God’s speed being the speed of three miles an hour, the speed of walking.

And he was saying, that’s when he became a believer, when he realized Jesus couldn’t hide, the people knew him, the villagers knew him. That’s Joe and Mary’s boy. And that’s powerful for us, that we can’t just parachute into people’s lives, but it’s meant to be lived face to face because we were made in the image of a God who is in face-to-face unity, the Father and the Son.

And I think meal-sharing and all the things you’re discussing here, as far as taking the lowly place, that just lives into what reality is, this is reality. This is what it looks like. It looks like Jesus.

Chris: Yeah. I live in walking distance to where we minister at the church and that I’m learning that in my ministry.

My across the street neighbor, Jim, is not super church interested, but he thinks it’s hilarious that he knows a pastor and probably hears me yell at my kids. And he thinks it’s hilarious that I’ll drink a beer with him. So, I’ll get these little offerings from Jim: a magazine that his daughter who’s way too old for them now still subscribes to and he leaves for our girls and a Belgian beer, because that’s what he likes.

I think it’s just that presence that has connected to Jim. And again, I’m not trying to stand in for Jesus here, but it helps me imagine that both the incredibility and the credibility of Jesus’ life in Nazareth, because he was known because, he was there.

Anthony: Yeah. Amen. Chris, this has been fun. And I’m so grateful. I’m so grateful you’re willing to do it, especially as the countdown is on toward your sabbatical. So, thank you for your time.

And it’s our tradition here on Gospel Reverb that our guests share prayer for our listening audience, for those who are out there ministering in the neighborhood, as you just described. Would you be willing to do that for us, please?

Chris: I’d love to.

Lord Jesus, help us be awake and attentive to your presence in our midst. Help us be receptive and generous to all the gifts that you give us. Help us be invitational and expectant as you show up in the midst of the least, the last, the lost, the littlest, and the closest to death. And help us feast with you and look forward to feasting with you for eternity. We pray all this to the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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