Inspired by Luke 14:1, 7-14
How many of you adults, remember having to eat at a kids table? Usually for big family events right, like Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? I wasn’t a big fan of the kids table. I was one of those weird kids who liked to sit among the adults, to watch and listen to them converse, debate, laugh, or whatever was going on at the adult table. I remember feeling like that was the place where things were happening, and I was missing out, on something, which I know now as an adult myself, was probably nothing.
I’m not a big fan of kids tables now either. Maybe because I remember what that felt like as a kid but also because I like my kids at the table. I enjoy including them in conversations, they may not but I do! Not to mention the fact that their presence adds something to the table, in spite of the age difference. They make me laugh like no adult can. And they bring a perspective that has been lost long ago in my life.
I don’t know whether they like it or not but if I see an empty seat at the kids table at our Wednesday evening meal here at the church, I’ll grab it. I see that table and think to myself, that is where things are happening, just the opposite of when I was a kid—funny how that works. And sure enough, I leave that table having had a fun, vibrant, engaging conversation with them. And I think to myself, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in a world where we all sat together, where things like age, gender, class, race and all the other things that we allow to separate us, don’t matter? But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Today we have a strange story that our author Luke shares with us. It’s strange on a variety of levels. It’s strange because it sounds very simple and straight forward, and we know that Jesus is never that simple. So it leaves you wondering what Jesus is really getting at here. It’s also strange because he calls it a parable when it really isn’t like any other parable in scripture. I remember learning in Sunday school that a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. But this isn’t even a story! It’s more like a description of a scene in order to teach something—more like a proverb really than a parable. And it’s also strange because what Jesus is teaching here, at least on the surface, doesn’t seem to jive with the rest of his teachings.
So, let’s dig in by first going over what this story is not teaching us. This story is not teaching us to be humble. Don’t get me wrong, humility is supposed to be a characteristic of us Jesus followers but if that is all we take away from this then we have really missed the point. Especially because, what Jesus teaches here about humility sounds more like a false humility that we are going to be rewarded for.
Jesus says that we are supposed to take the worst seat so that we can be told to take a better seat in front of everyone. That’s not humility, quite the opposite I’d say. Not only that but taken at face value, the false humility seems to work on a reward system. And we know, as good Lutherans, that salvation doesn’t work like that, grace doesn’t work like that. So, it forces us to conclude that there’s something more here than just a lesson on humility.
This story is also not teaching us to be polite. Jesus had better ways of spending his time, more important lessons to teach his followers, than a lesson on manners. This wasn’t his way of telling us how we are to behave at a party. This wasn’t Jesus’ Finishing School. Now, again, don’t get me wrong. Manners are important. Giving up your seat for someone else is a good sign of character. Knowing what is inappropriate behavior at a wedding reception is good advice for anyone! I’m sure we’ve all encountered wedding parties that could have used that lesson beforehand! But if that is what we leave this text with then we have missed the point.
So what is this story trying to teach us? What is Jesus getting at!? This story is about knowing your place—but not in the way you’re probably thinking right now. This is about knowing where we stand in the grand scheme of our lives. And then looking around to see who is standing next to you. And then looking even farther to see who is less fortunate than you, who is more fortunate. Who are the ones in our society that are getting the best seats in the house? And who are the ones in our society that aren’t even getting an invitation? And then asking yourself, what can we do to help level the playing field.
Two answers come to mind directly from this story: making grace visible, and inviting all. At the beginning of our story Luke starts out with, “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to share a meal in the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees, they were watching him closely.” I laughed out loud when I read that last week because Jesus knew that! Jesus, time and time again, intentionally put himself in places that needed his grace and mercy the most. Not just with the less fortunate but also in the hearts and minds of the most fortunate, the ones with the means to make a difference in the world. He knew they were watching him closely, he was counting on it! And then comes another example of God’s grace and love for all to see and experience and learn from.
And then Jesus urges, pushes us, to invite—and in order to invite, we’ve first have to be present with those we are called to invite don’t we? And let me say that it’s more than just being welcoming. We can open our doors and roll out the red carpet but without an invitation people are not going to come flooding into our church. Those days have come and gone. We cannot operate as if it’s fifty years ago. So, here’s my homework for you this week. I want you to think of ways that Bethlehem can be intentionally present in our community outside these four walls so that we can not only reflect God’s love to a world that desperately needs it, but so that we can invite all to come and see and experience it, here, in this place, at those baptismal waters, at this table.
Because the ground around this table, is always level, is always equal, and the footing is sure. There’s no kid’s table here. Althooooough, we are all God’s children. So, maybe this is the kid’s table, only everyone’s invited. Because this, is where it’s at. This is where things are happening. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Inspired by Luke 13:10-17
My dad, like I’m sure many of yours, has always been larger than life to me—even when I passed him in height when I was in junior high. Still, larger than life. He could do anything, fix anything, overpower anything, create anything, there was no hurdle that was too high for him. I may physically look down at him, but will always look up to him. But, as often happens, time catches up to us, as it has with him.
I’ve noticed that many of our conversations evolve around sharing stories of each other’s physical ailments that come with age. A few months ago, we were having one such conversation, when my dad disclosed just how bad his back was. He told me that he could no longer stand upright, he could barely stand at all, but when he did he had to walk almost facing the ground. There was dead silence on my end.
I was trying hard not to react too strongly to that news because I was glad he was sharing this with me but I was having a hard time holding back tears. Here was this larger than life man in my life, who could once do anything, fix anything, stronger than an ox, in spite of his size, no longer being able to stand upright. I could not even imagine this in my mind’s eye as he was describing this to me. I felt like a robot who could just not compute the information that was being given to me. I was stunned, as I continued to listen to the frustration, anger, disappointment, in my dad’s voice. I can scarce imagine how that experience must have been for him. If it was me I’d think I’d feel incomplete, broken, alienated.
So, the what isn’t important, the how is apparently not important either, and unfortunately the who doesn’t seem important either because here we have another case of another woman who doesn’t get named. She doesn’t even get a title, at least the man in this story gets described as a synagogue leader. She gets, woman. Now, it’s no secret that that these stories come from a very male dominated, misogynistic society but the reason I want to quickly point that out, even though I’m going on a bit of a tangent, is because this behavior hasn’t gone away. If you’ve been following the Olympic coverage you know that we have a long way to go before sexist perspectives and language stop being the default. But I digress.
So, if it’s not the what, how, or who, then that leaves the why, where and when. Let’s leave the when for the end, and let’s tackle the why and where of this story together because they are closely tied. It’s no accident that this story takes place in the synagogue, which was not only the spiritual center of Jesus’ Jewish brothers and sisters, but it also contained it’s leaders who considered themselves over and above Jesus, they thought they were Jesus’ leaders too! That sounds preposterous doesn’t it? But that was their world view and to be fair, they didn’t know Jesus. They didn’t know who he was, let alone what he was, the son of the living God, the ruler of the cosmos that they couldn’t even fathom in the first century mind.
And Jesus knew that. And so Jesus brings his compassionate ministry of healing and restoration to the synagogue for all his “leaders” to see—because he knows their hearts and minds. Those who have been following him for the last thirteen chapters are already starting to get it, starting to understand who this Jesus is. But these synagogue leaders, well it seems this one is only there to criticize Jesus. He’s been waiting for an opportunity to pounce on Jesus. He’s had to deal with these guys for thirteen chapters now and I’m guessing he’s reaching his breaking point. But rather than lash out, he chooses to teach them something pretty radical—so radical that they are going to consider this blasphemy, heresy, an evil in their sight.
Jesus was going to heal someone on the Sabbath. [Gasp!] Gasp! That was supposed to be your reaction. Let’s try that again. Jesus is going to heal someone on the Sabbath! [Gasp!] If you were a first century Jew reading this for the first time that would have been your reaction. Even if you were a fan of Jesus, you’d be saying to yourself, “What are you thinking Jesus! No! Don’t do it!”—because in their minds this was breaking a commandment. The third commandment, keeping the Sabbath day holy meant not working on that day, doing nothing that day but worship. And they took this to the extreme! Even your food had to be prepared the day before! And like we humans do, they ended up using this to judge others any chance they got.
And Jesus says no, to all of this nonsense, in a very dramatic, controversial, and offensive way. How about that, Jesus wasn’t afraid to offend people for the sake of the gospel! What a concept! There’s the beginnings of another sermon right there! But I’ll move on. He heals this woman, in the synagogue no less, on the Sabbath, as his way of saying the Sabbath was never about not working, it was about restoration—restoration of the body, mind, and spirit. It was supposed to be about intentionally opening yourself up to being transformed by the healing, restorative power of God, which is why we come here, to this place, to that table, to that font, week in and week out.
Before I give you my final thought I want to give you some homework. It’s only fair, our children and youth just went back to school! This week I want you to think about your own ailments. Maybe their physical, and that’s ok, but go deeper than that. What do you suffer from that needs healing and restoration? Anger, fear, prejudice, a past hurt? Only you know. But I encourage you, I dare you, to be brutally honest with yourself. Because here’s the danger if we don’t—those ailments can become debilitating in the blink of an eye. Before you know it, you’re walking bent over, half the person you were the day before. And an even bigger danger than that, years go by and walking bent over becomes the norm, and you’ve even stopped asking for healing. Did you notice that she never asked Jesus to be healed?
Which brings me to my final thought. This story is dripping with grace. It has its challenges too, especially if we were to put our feet in the synagogue leader’s shoes but maybe next time we can do that. But overall, this story is just overflowing with grace as we hear Jesus deal so compassionately with this unnamed woman. But the most grace-filled moment for me in this story has to do with the when of this story, and I don’t mean that it occurred on the Sabbath. Jesus saved this woman from a long life of suffering, and when did that happen? It was before she even knew it because she was not asking to be saved any longer, she was not seeking out a savior, she was not looking for Jesus. He saw her. And “when he saw her, Jesus called her to him.” That is the most grace-filled moment in this story. “When he saw her, Jesus called her to him.”
Our job in this crazy life of faith that we lead is not to seek God out, not to search for God, not even to call out to God. God is finding you. God is finding you in this chaotic crowded life that we lead. And when God sees you, with your list of ailments that you pastor asked you to think about, God calls you to God's self—ready, willing, and able to heal, to restore, to transform, to love you like no other can. Thanks be to God for that. Amen.