Lectionary Reflection for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 1, 2013
But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Luke 14:13
When was the last time you threw a party and invited anybody and everybody who wanted to come? Most of the time party planning involves a guest list, or at the very least, a sign-up sheet if there’s a covered dish or potluck involved. Much thought is given and effort put into seating arrangements, menus, entertainment, and other important details. We want our friends and family to have a good time; we want our carefully planned event to be successful.
My spouse’s congregation hosts a Fiesta every year and invites the entire community. They plan all year long for this one Saturday in August, and it is quite an undertaking–food, games, displays, entertainment–all free and all for anybody who wants to show up. This year some 300 people came to eat hamburgers, tamales, tinga, nachos, and sno-cones. Cake walks, a bounce house and miniature train, games and prizes galore, and three musical groups ensured something to interest everyone. It was a lovely event that was once again well-received.
It was also an event that required a lot of planning, investment of time, energy, and money, and an element of risk. When you invite everyone you can’t exactly guarantee the results. This rural Pennsylvania Lutheran congregation has a vision to serve their neighbors, and they are willing to take some risks to do so. The Fiesta, now in its fifth year, hasn’t resulted in a huge influx of new members, and the coffers of the congregation are not fuller because of this event. But what it has done is created a lot of goodwill. It signals welcome and a willingness to do something without expectation of specific returns on the investment.
Maybe that’s part of what Jesus is getting at this week. When we open our doors and throw a party, when we reach out in ministry and mission, we have to be willing to take some risks. Results aren’t the point of our hospitality. Success by the world’s standards isn’t the proper measure. This whole discipleship thing isn’t about honor, glory, reward, or prestige. And it’s not a competition.
Serving God and neighbor is more like a community potluck than a gourmet meal in the finest restaurant. It’s less about perfection and more about improvisation. It’s less about form and more about function. It’s less about looks and much, much more about love. It’s has something to do with rubbing elbows with strangers and kin alike; after all, both can present challenges. Instead of a guest list carefully crafted to reflect our wishes and wiles, Jesus crafts a “grace list” that is an open invitation to the party. The point is this: At Jesus’ banquet table there is room for everyone. Great Aunt Mabel’s lime Jello salad can exist peacefully with vegan Valerie’s fresh green bean vinaigrette. Homemade mac and cheese can sit side-by-side with a bag of store-bought potato chips. Hamburgers and tamales and sno-cones co-exist and complement one another in delightful ways. When everyone brings his or her best offering, when we all show up, the banquet table groans with the goodness of God.
Showing up, sitting down, and sharing our abundant blessings is the kind of banquet Jesus is talking about. Every place is a place of honor in God’s economy. Humbling oneself in our 21st century culture might mean trying ministry in new ways or allowing new folks to bring their best “dishes” to the congregational table. Take some risks, explore new tastes and talents, and most of all celebrate that our God has a heart for every last rag-tag, bumped, bruised, dented, broken, and tired one of us. We’re all included on the “grace list,” and that, dear friends, is good news indeed!
Consider singing the wonderful hymn “Let us Go Now to the Banquet.” The words work well with this lesson and could even form the framework for a sermon. How is worship like a banquet? How is our life together like a banquet? How might you incorporate the image of a potluck where everyone brings something to the table–resulting in an amazing feast? If you’re not familiar with this hymn, click here for the lyrics in English and Spanish and here for an MP3 sample of the music and lyrics (in Spanish).
Today’s epistle lesson is a good one to consider with youth. Not only does the author give some good instructions for the disciple about how to live, one also finds an important statement about the nature of Jesus Christ. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v. 8). Another wonderful pull-out from this lesson is verse six: “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” in a world filled with fear, uncertainty, and many conflicting messages, this verse is a powerful statement by which to live. Engage the youth in a conversation about how these verses can be used to help them formulate a creed or faith statement to help them not only survive the stormy seas of life but also to thrive wherever they find themselves.
You might also want to check out David Lose’s (Working Preacher) reflection on this week’s gospel lesson. He compares life in today’s schools with the honor and shame culture that permeated Jesus’ world. You won’t have to think hard to find ways to incorporate his timely thoughts about the gospel lesson into your work with young people!
Everybody loves a party, especially children! Today bring some party invitations, some decorations, and maybe even some cookies or cupcakes. Ask them to help you plan a party like Jesus would do it. You can ask all the typical party planning questions about menu, venue, decorations, and time of day. Then ask them about the guest list. Who should be invited? Tell them there are no limits to whom they can include. Honor what they say. Some precocious children may pick up on the idea right away and say “everybody.” If so, great! If not, help them to see that Jesus welcomes all to the feast. Perhaps you can arrange after worship to take some cupcakes or treats to an area nursing home, homebound members, or a homeless shelter. Helping children put faith into action reinforces the message.