Sunday Worship Service 5th September 2021
A prayer of adoration
All-inclusive and ever-loving God,
we praise and adore you.
With you there is no south or north,
no east or west – no borders or status.
You care for each one of us.
You are a healing God, who heals us
wherever and whenever we need your touch –
whether in body, mind or spirit.
We look upon you now,
our hearts ablaze with love for you.
Read Luke Chapter 14 verses 1, 7-14
Sermon by Rev Peter Lyth
Dinner Parties have a bad press in some quarters but are popular in others. But they raise all sorts of dilemmas: what to serve, what to talk about, how to decorate tables and how the guests are positioned and so on. It’s also the stuff of “Reality” shows such as “Come dine with me” etc. But above all, it revolves around who is invited. On a grander scale, there are protocols for who is invited to fancier occasions. Royal weddings bring forth much speculation as to who will be invited and there’s usually a tussle between who is officially approved (dignitaries etc) and who the couple actually want. Needless to say there are “snubs” along the way.
Those of you who have been on cruises will know of the invitation to sit on the captain’s table - an honour. But what if someone did so uninvited? I guess that the person would receive a polite tap on the shoulder before being steered to another table (steerage perhaps?).
There was a character invented by the comedian Harry Enfield whose opening line was “excuse me but I can’t help noticing that I appear to be considerably richer than you”. Until one day he came across someone that was considerably richer than him. And then a neighbour won the lottery…..
What Jesus was talking about made clear sense. In the society of the time, meals were important social ceremonies. Little was left to chance. After all people noticed where one ate (people’s homes rather than Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck Restaurant) with whom one ate and whether someone performed the full ritual washing before eating. Also important was where someone sat. One’s social position relied on all these factors. Pliny the younger described how discriminatory the meal process could be in one of his letters, “Some very elegant dishes were served up to himself and a few more of the company; whilst those which were placed before the rest were cheap and paltry. He had apportioned in small flagons three different sorts of wine but you are not to suppose that the guests might take their choice; on the contrary, that they might not choose at all. One was for himself and me; the next for his friends of lower order (for you must know that he measures out his friendship according to the degrees of quality); and the third for his own freed-men and mine”.
Jesus addresses two groups in succession. Firstly, he addresses the guests, having seen them jostle for position at the table. Then, he addresses the host. The way in which Pliny described the meal gives us some kind of hint as to the background of what he was talking about. You can imagine the disgrace and shame that someone might feel as they are ushered from the prestigious place to one less exalted - it’s pragmatic common sense to take the opposite approach so that one might be invited to the top table.
But as one might expect, there is more in what Jesus says than merely a bit of advice on social etiquette. If you remember, James and John had argued about who were the most important disciples and had requested that they could be sat one at the left and one at the right when Jesus was glorious. Jesus was saying that the kingdom of God was not one that relied on status such as this. In Mark Chapter 10 Jesus addresses James and John “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant”. Jeremiah had a similar message, delivered in his own uncompromising fashion. He was speaking to the Jews of the day (some 500 years earlier) and spoke of them elbowing their way to the top, trampling others underfoot in the rush and not acknowledging God as being head of the top table. Instead, the vacancy was filled with all sorts of fake gods. He used the image of them abandoning the spring of living flowing sparkling water and instead digging cisterns (reservoirs) for themselves that were cracked and the water impure.
You could sum his (and Jesus’ too for that matter) message up as God first, then whoever God chooses thereafter, but do not put yourself first.
But then there is the second part of Jesus’ instruction. Going back to Pliny’s party, the “chosen few” got the good stuff. It was rather like Business Class versus Economy. A source of income for football clubs and Wimbledon amongst others is “Corporate Entertainment” where companies wine and dine clients in an attempt to get or retain custom. One of my childhood memories was the series “Terry and June” which seemed to have a revolving number of plotlines mainly around the boss or the vicar coming round for dinner and Terry having no trousers. The boss would be invited as an opportunity for Terry and June to impress. Like Hyacinth Bouquet in Keeping up Appearances, these attempts at self aggrandisement were doomed to failure.
Jesus’ point is that all these are contrary to the way the Kingdom works. I think that there are, amongst others, two things to take out of this: On a personal level, we do not do good simply for payback. Instead giving to those who cannot return the favour is part of being a Christian. Giving to the poor crippled lame and blind, caring for them is what we are all about. We are promised repayment at the time of the resurrection of the righteous but I am sure that this should not be the motivation. Then there is the idea of the Kingdom itself. Is it there for the worthy, the self important, the people who wear their status on their sleeve? Or is it there for the humble and excluded?
Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
And at the head of the table is he who humbled himself most - he who emptied himself and became man. He is the example to us all.
Prayers of intercession
Loving God, who rescues us and restores us,
we think of those who need your help today.
We pray especially for those who feel ignored,
those whose problems are swept under the mat,
whose cries for help are downplayed or devalued.
We pray for those who feel they do not have a place to belong,
a safe place to find support and friendship.
We pray for those in situations of captivity,
in whatever sense of the word,
for those who cannot see a way through the darkness,
for those who feel their lives are in pieces.
We ask that you would touch their lives,
that they may know you as healer and as friend.
As for us, make us their advocates and their champions;
where the world has abandoned them,
help us walk beside them,
showing your love to all who need it.
In Jesus’ name.
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