The Least Eating at Banquets
A sermon based on: Luke 14:7-14
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio, September 1, 2019 *
by Rev. Scott Elliott
I am pretty sure I have mentioned before that Nancy and I moved to LA in 1980 so that I could make it big in show business. I humbly note that I think we all know how that turned out. What I don’t think I have mentioned up here before is that shortly after arriving in LA with barely two dimes to rub together my brother Darin who lived in North Hollywood somehow got us a gig in the television industry. When we accepted the job we were going to be working with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars at the time and have dialog with TV personalities! Listen to this line up of just some of stars we were originally hired to work with: Alan Alda, Lauren Bacall, Ed Ansner, Patty Duke, Henry Fonda and Bette Davis.
That is all true . . . only our work with them was probably not what you are thinking. Our job in the television industry was to work for the caterer of the Emmy Award’s celebration dinner, a very garish affair where we were to serve very expensive food and drinks to the stars and their guests. But as luck would have it 1980 was the only year the Emmy’s were boycotted as part of an actors’ strike. So instead of serving exquisite papaya stuffed with crab to rooms full of superstars, we got to serve it (and other delicious fare) to a sparse crowd of used-to-be and wanna-be stars. Dick Clark and Steve Allen replaced then top draws of the day Bob Newhart, Michael Landon and Lee Remick as the hosts.
And sadly at the dinner area we served, Dick and Steve were nowhere to be found. I did see the Smothers Brothers and Rip Taylor walk by. I also personally got to serve Jane Kennedy, a very pleasant B actress back in the day. Jane was quite nice. She even answered the one question I got up the courage to ask. I went right up to her table, cleared my throat and I said . . . “Would you like some more coffee?” And I have never forgotten her response . . . she said “No, thank you.” See I did get to have dialog with a TV personality.
Although working that dinner gig did not result in our getting close to any bigger stars it did provide an unexpected benefit. Since only a small portion of the expected crowd showed up, there were mounds of those papayas stuffed with crab in the back along with other delicacies. So, after the guests all got their serving, the caterer sort of did what Jesus suggested in the lesson, he exalted all of us humble servers by allowing us to partake of the exquisite food. Granted we had to eat it standing up in a back room, but we got to share in the Emmy feast. All of us humble servers got our fill of those epicurean delights. And this part is really cool, while the honored guests did not have seconds, we got seconds, thirds and fourths, stuffing ourselves with high quality food . . . I mean that was some spread.
I doubt the caterer had today’s story in mind when he invited us to partake but, he certainly did not expect us to replay him for the favor. We just got the glorious gift of that scrumptious spread for free. Plus I got to talk to Jane Kennedy and see Rip Taylor’s toupee and I can honestly say I ate dinner at a banquet with the Smothers Brothers! Although I am pretty sure Jesus did not have any of that expressly in mind in when he gave instructions in the lesson Kris read, it’s as close as I have had to being on the receiving end of his command that “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 . . . ”
In Jesus’ day getting a taste of gourmet food was not the issue. Access to food in general was. It was a big deal. When Jesus taught his followers to pray “give us this day our daily bread,” he literally meant it. To have daily nutrition was a primary goal in first century Palestine. People were hungry most of the time, often starving, or on the edge of it. The Hot Meals program in this town, which meets here every Tuesday is an amazing example of Jesus’ teaching being played out today in our community.
I am grateful for how Kris and Beth have headed our share of the Hot Meals banquets this past year. They, and the other wonderful volunteers do a remarkable job of not just feeding the gathered, but welcoming them and treating them as honored and respected guests. It is a remarkable meal done in the manner Jesus sets out.
Meal gatherings are especially a big deal in the stories about Jesus because meals were a huge social event in his day. People met with people they knew broke bread together. Just like today people did not get to the table to get to the bread unless they were invited– and just like today at parties and dinner gatherings those invited often tried to sit in the best seat. Jesus uses this need for food, the meal customs and the seat of honor struggles to make two points, a literal one and a metaphoric one. Jesus is all about making everyone equal at the human level and in human institutions. Jesus wanted – and wants– the constructs that oppress people, those that raise one above the other, taken down.
And Jesus saw no better place to start than at the local meal custom. He tells his followers at those meals to not exalt themself because “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” If we think and act like we are better we will always be humbled to learn we are not, because no one in God’s eyes is better than anyone else. On the other hand, if we humble ourselves we will always be held in higher esteem. See, the one who claims to be exalted will be humbled. And the one who is actually the humblest will be exalted. As we heard in our Lectionary reading Jesus says
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.”
Jesus meant that. Food was hard to come by. Meals were the place people shared food. Only those invited to meals got a share of that food. “The poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” were outcasts. They were not invited to share in the food at most banquets. So Jesus literally commands party and dinner hosts to invite them. Jesus saw uninvited people needing feeding and he urged His culture’s version of BBQs and dinner parties to affirmatively be open to all so everyone could literally get their daily bread. To eat is to live. Jesus’ lesson at the literal level is about feeding all, including the less fortunate. It’s about making sure all have enough!
What would the world be like if churches made an effort to feed those in need in every community, to literally apply Christ’s command today? Just a few faith communities do that in Mount Vernon and everyone in need of food can get it every day. If just that happened in communities around the world, God’s will would be done on earth. All would have daily bread.
If the literal meaning Jesus intend was that all are to be invited to meals and be fed, what metaphoric meaning did Jesus intend? It is that the openness Jesus wants for tables needs to apply to community all the time, so that all may be nourished spiritually– as well as physically. Jesus is all about making everyone equal at the human level and in human institutions. He wants the human constructs that hold people down to be taken down, not people. Jesus is not anti-anybody. He is pro-everyone. And Jesus call his followers to be pro-everyone too.
When Jesus says that the exalted are to be humbled and the humbled exalted we tend to hear it as a negative and a positive– one gets pulled down to the bottom while and one gets pulled up to the top, swapping places. But is does not have to be heard that way. If it is heard as being about equality then “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” means when the constructs come down no one is worse off than the other. We are all pulled to the same level.
Why do this? Well as our nation’s most revered document, the Declaration of Independence, puts it “all men are created equal,” which updated to modern English means all people are created equal. The effect of the reality of that secular and religious truth is that if you think and act like you are better you will always be humbled to learn you are not. If you are humble you will now be held in higher esteem. That’s Jesus teaching. And it does not put anyone above or below the other it just makes everyone equal on the same plane, because all people are created equal.
So the metaphor of the table where all are invited, where all are equal is Christ’s community. Jesus understands heaven as needing to break in on earth– in all things we do, not just at meals. Heaven in that context is not a lofty domain of gold reserved for ethereal beings in the afterlife. It is an earthly existence where there is love and fairness and justice and enough for all. FOR ALL, ENOUGH! That existence must begin in Jesus’ communities, like this church – as well as other places God by any name is breaking in. And one day the hope, the promise, is that the world itself will be heavenly, because God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus’ table and communities are meant to be places where everyone who accepts the invitation can come. The invitation has no barriers or boundaries. The invitation is equal to all, and those who accept it are to be treated as equals – with equal access to resources, RESPECT and God’s love. 1 Jesus’ table and community are places very different from the world out there.
That Emmy Awards Banquet Nance, Darin and I worked at was a place of decadence, and although we literally came in the back door we got invited to partake of the food offered at the table. We got invited because of some odd circumstances. Mostly a whole bunch of workers with nothing much to do and an abundance of leftovers with nowhere else to go. Jesus wants the invitation– indeed Jesus commands that the invitation– not be to table leftovers available by happenstance, but to the table itself. No one is barred from any part of the banquet.
That means you and me and whether we like it or not everyone else in the world. Even those we don’t like or hate or those who don’t like us or hate us get in. The reason Jesus wants this is simple. ALL ARE LOVED AND ALL MATTER MUCH. It’s true. And that truth comes from Jesus– and it is at the very heart of today’s lesson.
So if anyone asks you what the sermon was about this morning. You have two choices: You can tell them that it was about the pastor and his wife eating with Tommy and Dicky Smothers. Or you can tell them that AT Jesus’ table and community all are invited and all are equal because all are loved and matter much to God.
* based in part on a sermon I wrote in 2010.
1. See, Patterson, Stephen, The God of Jesus, (1998), 86
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