Pastor Megan preaches the final in a 3-week series on Biblical Jubilee. Featuring “The Parable of the Grand Dinner,” also known as “The Parable of the Lame Excuses!” How might we be compelled beyond what blocks us and into the joy of Jubilee?
Seattle Mennonite Church
4 October 2016
Sermon: Biblical Jubilee: A Grand Dinner
Megan M. Ramer
In the Mediterranean world of the first century,
dinner invitations were political.
In some cases, they still are.
We trade in dinners like a commodity.
Can each of you think of someone you’re due to have over?
They invited you to their home and now it’s your turn to return the favor?
Just about all of you are on a list like that for me,
given this past year of being in so very many of your homes!
Which leads me to this…
Can each of you think of someone who’s due to have you over?
You’ve had them to your place, maybe even a couple of times,
but they’re not returning the favor.
And you wonder if you did something wrong…
if they’re just not as into you as you are into them…
if it’s just fallen off their radar…
if you should invite them again or just let it go…
Yes: dinner invitations were political.
And in some cases, they still are.
Then there’s the commodification of children’s birthday parties.
From what I’ve observed and what I’ve been told,
it sounds like quite the messy racket.
You have to throw your kid a party.
You have to invite all the kids that invited your kid to their parties.
You have to throw a decent party,
keep up with the Jones’s party,
maybe even subtly one-upping them,
but not so dramatically as to cause public shaming.
Ahh—Get me out!
For those of you who are naturally or consciously free of these internal calculations,
God bless you!
Teach the rest of us!
Yes: dinner invitations were political in Jesus’ world.
And in some cases, they still are.
In the honor-and-shame culture Jesus lived in,
the politics of dining were far pronounced than in our own.
Who you shared meals with,
whose invitations you accepted,
and who you invited into your home,
said an awful lot about you and your status.
Folks dined with others in their social class.
And, if anything, you definitely wanted to dine up.
But you didn’t want to aim too far above your weight class
or you might risk rejection.
Delicate balance and fancy footwork definitely required
for this political act of party-throwing and meal-feasting.
The parable we heard this morning…
The Parable of the Lame Excuses…
comes in the middle of Luke’s gospel,
in the midst of a substantial section where Jesus is dialoguing with the Pharisees.
We’re told at the start of chapter 14 that the Pharisees are “watching him closely.”
Jesus is making his way to the home of a leader of the Pharisees for a Sabbath meal.
Along the way he heals a sick person,
and while doing so,
explicitly challenges authorities about the legality of Sabbath healing.
When he arrives for the Sabbath meal,
Jesus notices and then calls out the guests
who are jockeying to nab the best seats at the table.
At first blush it seems a simple lesson in manners.
You should aim lower than your actual status
so that your host can honor you by inviting you further up the totem pole of seats.
But the rather benign lesson in manners
takes a turn for the personal
when Jesus confronts his host
and calls him out on the unacceptability of having only invited those of similar status.
The right and better approach, Jesus admonishes,
is to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”
Well, well, well…
But Jesus doesn’t stop there.
He goes on to tell the parable we heard this morning.
The parable of the “great dinner” and lame excuses.
A wealthy master prepares a grand dinner
and sends his slave out to remind all his invited guests that it’s time to show up.
Each guest ends up declining the invitation,
each responding with their uniquely lame excuse.
Upon hearing the report, the angered master sends the slave out again,
this time to bring in a few social rejects—
the same “poor, crippled, blind, and lame”
that Jesus had just mentioned to his actual host.
These folks indeed come in, but there is still room at the grand dinner table.
So the wealthy master sends his slave once again,
this time to the narrow lanes of the town
with a completely random invitation to any and all.
The slave compels those at the even further reaches to come in
so that the wealthy master’s house may be filled.
And then, for the bitter finale, the wealthy master proclaims:
“For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.”
Dinner invitation were political.
These stories and parables and teachings about God’s table
and who is welcome at God’s table
set the stage for the next portion of Luke’s gospel,
which is all about the cost of discipleship.
Clearly, Luke is linking radical hospitality
(something very different than the politics of dining)
with radical discipleship.
Radical, of course, doesn’t just mean “awesome” in a hippy 60’s sort of way
No: Radical means rooted.
And so I first wondered if hospitality and discipleship were each rooted in the other—
hospitality rooted in discipleship and discipleship rooted in hospitality—
in a sort of chicken-and-egg phenomenon.
And that may be partly true.
But then I began to wonder: do they share a root and, if so, what is that root?
What is the rootedness of radical discipleship and radical hospitality?
You may recall from last week’s sermon that I reported listening to an Iconocast episode
in which Mark Van Steenwyck,
co-founder of the Mennonite Worker community in Minneapolis ,
was the interviewer.
Because I’m prone to bunny-trail web-surfing,
especially when I’m trying to write a sermon and looking for any sort of distraction,
I soon found myself on the website for the Mennonite Worker community.
There, I read this:
“Hospitality (welcoming the stranger) is not only a relational posture, but also an economic practice. For the Mennonite Worker, hospitality leads to jubilee (redistribution that leads to a gift economy). Any act of hospitality that doesn’t hold the potential for jubilee isn’t hospitality. Likewise, any practice of jubilee that is closed to outsiders rejects Jesus’ call to love neighbor and enemy.”
Okay…perhaps discipleship and hospitality are both rooted in Jubilee.
And frankly, given what we know of Luke’s gospel,
starting with Jesus proclaiming Jubilee in his inaugural sermon in Nazareth,
and then living it throughout,
this is quite possibly what he’s getting at in this middle section of the gospel.
Hospitality and discipleship are inextricably linked—
sort of like [singing] “love and marriage, love and marriage…”
you can’t have one without the other.
Hospitality and discipleship are inextricably linked,
and they’re both rooted in jubilee—
economic sharing with outsiders and marginalized folks,
mirroring God’s welcome of strangers, widows, orphans, outcasts, the brokenhearted;
the least, the lost, the last.
Here’s Jesus proclaiming and practicing Jubilee.
And it begs the question…
What are my lame excuses for not coming to the grand feast God has set before me?
What are our lame excuses as a congregation for not fully receiving the gift of jubilee?
These are challenging questions to face into.
And they so quickly go to a guilt place,
and a blaming place,
and a should place.
So I pause again to open my heart.
Because Jubilee, rooted in that Exodus story, is ultimately about liberation.
And there are things that I (and we!) need to be freed of.
So that we can step fully into the joy of Jubilee.
And that IS what I want! That IS the desire and longing of my heart.
So I gaze at this question—what are my excuses, distractions, blocks—
I gaze at this question with compassion for myself.
It makes me think of a Rumi quote that a dear girlfriend of mine framed and gifted me.
It sits on my desk at home and reads:
“Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.”
And so it is, I believe, with Jubilee.
Our task is not so much to seek for Jubilee,
to make it happen,
but merely—haha: merely! as though it’s an easy and small task!—
but merely to seek and find all the barriers within
that I and we have built against it.
And then it shall be ours!
Then the gift will be available for the receiving.
Then the feast, the grand dinner, will be shared with all.
You probably know a few of your barriers; I know a few of mine.
And we probably know a few of ours.
And in all cases, I’m sure there’s barriers that are yet unconscious and uncovered.
This week, I received in my inbox, La Concha,
the monthly digital publication of the American Pilgrims on the Camino.
Camino pilgrims spend a lot of time honing their packing list,
and many—myself very much included—
are proud of the savvy selection of the contents of our packs…
what we brought and, maybe even more importantly, what we didn’t bring.
A pilgrim wrote a different sort of packing list for this month’s newsletter.
One section called “Pack it!” and a second section called “Ditch that stuff!”
Here’s the “Ditch that stuff!” list as food for thought:
Heavy hiking boots (they can weigh you down)
Death grip on your mobile device
Death grip on your opinions
Tired, old stories that make you feel small
I know I could “ditch” some of “that stuff” for this Season of Jubilee discernment.
However much I remind myself to hold all of this compassionately,
it’s still so easy to slide into guilt and shame and shoulding all over myself.
Jubilee can start to feel like a huge burden.
So I want to dwell for a moment with one part of this morning’s parable.
In the final excursion for the slave,
he is instructed to “compel” folks to come.
It sounds a bit forceful to me.
And some English translations are more forceful: “make them come…”
But I wonder if there’s something to the compelling nature of the feast of Jubilee.
The image that comes to mind for me is snowshoeing through the mountain.
Or cross country or even downhill skiing, if you prefer.
After a long and cold adventure,
in the fading light of dusk,
you look ahead and see a cabin
illuminated from the inside by firelight.
Even before reaching the door you can almost hear the crackle of the sparks,
smell the aroma of burning wood,
taste the steaming mug of tea that surely awaits,
and feel the warmth radiating out from the mesmerizing fireplace.
And that’s the vision that might compel us forward.
Might we be compelled by the Holy Spirit into that joy of Jubilee?
Might we come to the grand dinner because we are hungry?
Because we are hungry for food that is qualitatively different than what the world offers?
Because we want a different sort of dinner politics…
a politics that scandalizes those who would like to keep some decorum,
thank you very much.
After all, it’s not a party until the guests arrive.
I recall the SMC dance I decided to throw last winter.
I recall the anticipation as the hour of the “start time” approached.
Who would come?
Would anyone come?
For any party, for any feast, for any grand dinner,
guests are needed just as much as hosts.
There’s an inherent mutuality with host and guest.
This week, Jonathan was describing GLA in this way—
that there’s a posture of hospitality,
a posture of spaciousness in a Jubilee community
in which one ultimately experiences mutuality.
Not precise reciprocity—
eye for eye, tooth for tooth, dinner for dinner, kid birthday party for kid birthday party;
the trading in the commodity of dinners and parties—
No, not precise reciprocity, but mutuality.
What each gives and receives is uniquely different,
but every last one—
from the halls of power to the narrow ways—
has the shared experience of giving something we have to give
and receiving—God willing—something we need.
Today we come to the table of Jesus
to receive a taste of the feast,
a taste of the grand dinner to which all are invited,
a taste of the joy of Jubilee
that lures us in like a fire-lit and fire-warmed cabin in a snowstorm.
Come hungry and be filled.
One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to [Jesus], ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’