One of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had wasn’t just one meal, It is a series of meals, it is having a Polish Sausage in Chicago on Taylor street while I was in college. The place was located in a single wide trailer just off the highway on Taylor street, just blocks from the University of Illinois Chicago. You ordered at a window and then had to stand outside and eat it. The one rule we had when we would go there is that you absolutely positively couldn’t eat in your car. You see what made the sausage delicious wasn’t the sausage, although that was good, it was the grilled onions, mounds of grilled onions, piled high and deep. There were so many onions on it that if you ate it in the car the car would smell for a few days, and not only would just your car smell you yourself would smell. So there was absolutely no eating in the car. I still remember in the winter standing outside at 1 am eating a sausage in 20 degree weather, watching the steam rise off of it. My friends and I loved that place. We would go at least once or twice a week… I even got to know one of the men who worked at it by name. His name was Silvia. My roommate and I would talk to him every time we went. I remember coming back a few years after I had finished college and he remembering me. That’s how much I ate there during college. I will never forget that place… Here is a picture…
Eating together bonds us as humans. It creates shared memories and experiences. It is one of the few things that engages almost all of our senses, taste, sight, smell, touch, and hearing. What else in life does that? This is why we can remember significant meals and food for a long time. They are burned into our memories. Eating is also cross-cultural. Eating is significant in every culture I know of. Most cultures have rituals or holidays that involve eating. Here in a American we eat turkey on Thanksgiving and ham on Christmas. Many people drink champagne on New Years.
Eating was very significant to the people we read about in Scripture. One of the first words spoken to humans by God were instructions about what to eat. In Jewish culture meals were very significant. Meals could be used to ratify covenants and treaties between two parties, they were used to celebrate a child’s circumcision or a marriage. Meals were celebratory.
Most significantly the ancient Hebrews were instructed by God to celebrate three festivals Pesach or in English Passover, which celebrates God’s rescue of his people from Pharaoh in Egypt. In biblical times, the final night of Passover involved the killing a lamb and eating it together. Today Passover is celebrated with large meal. The 2nd festival, the festival of weeks takes place 7 weeks after Passover and celebrated the first crops of the year. To celebrate God’s provision, the people again gathered together and feasted on the firstfruits God had provided. Finally, the third biblical festival is the festival of tabernacles, or Succoth. This festival recalls Israel’s time in the desert after their captivity in Egypt. In remembrance of this time, to this day the Jewish people make shelters and share meals together.
Very early in the Christian tradition meals took on great significance. As many of you may remember on the night before his death, Christ ate a meal, probably a Passover meal, with his disciples. During this meal he instructed them to eat together in remembrance of him. The early church seems to have shared a large meal together whenever they gathered together.
In one of Paul’s early letters to the church at Corinth he speaks directly about these shared meals, instructing people in church oddly enough to not get drunk while eating together. In Jude, another early Christian letter found in the Bible these meals are given a name, Love Feast.
I say all this about food because the context for our text is a meal. As Carl talked about last week, Jesus was at the home of a Pharisee for a Sabbath meal, another Jewish tradition that revolves around food. While there he heals a man, causing quite the discussion over whether or not he had violated the Sabbath. Our verses continue the discussion as Jesus gives two pieces of advice, first to all the guests attending the party and then to the host of the party.
To the first readers of this story, early Christians, they would have immediately recognized two things about Luke’s story of Jesus. First they would have recognized what kind of meal this was. It was a very specific Greek style meal called a symposium. At a symposium, educated Greek men would sit on low couches around a table, in a u shape, and have deep moral and philosophical discussions. If you were facing the open end of the couches, to the front and left would be seated the most important person at the meal. To his right, would be the next most important and on down the line. While they were eating they would recline, to the back and to the left, resting their head on the man next to them. The word “seat” in our text today doesn’t actually mean that, the Greek work used here means recline.
Luke’s readers would have then recognized this type of meal and Jesus’ words would have made sense to them as being a rather typical discussion between educated men over party etiquette.
But… they would have also recognized another thing, they would have recognized that Jesus’ commands weren’t just for the Pharisees, they were for them. Jesus was giving them instructions for their shared meals, their love feasts.
Or more broadly Luke was using Jesus’ words to the Pharisees concerning parties to speak to the early church about how Jesus expected them to behave as the church.
In other words, Luke is answering the question, what would Jesus have to say to us if he showed up to our church… The meal in the story, symbolizes the church, both in Luke’s day and in ours.
The question for us this morning then becomes,
What would Jesus have to say to us if he walked through the door?
READ Luke 14:7-11. If Jesus came through that door today he would tell us to stay humble… Take the worst seat, volunteer for the worst jobs, don’t seek power or fame in the church… Allow God to give you praise and see what you do. A commentator I read this week stated Jesus’ teaching this way, “the scribes (Pharisees) err not in wanting to be exalted, but rather in seeking to exalt themselves instead of waiting for someone else (another person or God) to exalt them.”
Humility is as simple as putting others first and trusting that God will reward you for it.
A humble person is hard to describe but they are easy to recognize. My wife is humble. If you spend any time around her you will notice this. When we have people over to our house she listens. I talk. I interrupt. I want my thoughts to be heard. I think I have something every important to say. She listens. She asks questions. She sees value in every person. She wants to hear their thoughts, to hear their perspectives. Sometimes, when I can control my urge to talk, I just listen and start counting how many different questions she can ask. She doesn’t ask these questions for fun or to make people think she cares about them, but because she is genuinely interested. She makes everyone feel love and valued.
She is humble. She puts others first. If she would have come into Jesus’ party she would have sat in the back and she would have looked around to see if anyone was without a seat, if there was someone left standing she would have given them her seat.
Jesus’ wants our church to continue to be humble… To model corporately this attitude of putting others first.
He wants us to continue to do the things that don’t get noticed in our community. He wants us to continue serving our school and the children in our community, bringing treats to our teachers, reading to students, and mentoring in the Middle School and High School. He wants to continue hosting funerals and weddings for people who have no other place to go. He wants us to serve kids every Tuesday this summer. No great glory will come to us for doing these things, but we must continue on. We must continue to humbly serve God even if we are never recognized for it.
Why? We do this for 2 reasons, because Christ has commanded us to, and because we have seen the power of humility. It was through humility, God taking on human flesh and dying an unjust death, that the world is saved and we want to participate in that. If Jesus came to visit us today, he would say, stay humble.
Now READ Luke 14:12. Who is Jesus talking about? Who was Jesus’ telling the early church to invite into their community? Who were the poor, crippled, lame, and blind? In the book of Leviticus the Israelites were given instructions about who could go serve as priests in God’s temple. All priests had to be sons of Aaron. One of the chief duties of the priests were to offer sacrifices to God and to enter into the most holy place at the back of the Tabernacle. According to Leviticus no one who was crippled, lame or blind could perform the major duties of a priest because their presence would defile the temple. The only thing they could do was eat the food leftover from the sacrifices. They were left out of the community of priests.
1 Peter tells us that the early church, understood themselves as being priests, that is because of what Christ had done they were now able to go directly before God. The Jewish model of sacrifices and going to the temple was replaced with gathering together and sharing a meal.
In our text today then Jesus is telling the early church and also us this: No one should be excluded from the priesthood. No longer is anyone excluded from God’s presence. Jesus is challenging us to continue to welcome the poor and the lame into our church. More than that I think he is challenging us to welcome sinners into our community, not just the guy who is greedy or prideful, but the person who everyone in the community knows is a sinner. The adulterer, the alcoholic, the addict, the liar…
One of the most controversial aspects of Jesus’ ministry was that he fellowshipped with sinners. This is what really made the religious people in his day upset. Sometimes we think, sure Jesus hung out with sinners, but he demanded that they repent of their sins. You know, love the sinner and hate the sin… I don’t think this was always the case. I don’t think the Pharisees and such, would have been upset by Jesus bringing more people to repentance. I think they were upset because Jesus fellowshipped, ate, hungout with people who were openly sinners and prostitutes before they ever repented.
In our culture this would be truly shocking… Can you imagine if during his prime, Billy Graham would have dined with prostitute or a gay couple? Can you imagine how much opposition he would have gotten at his next rally? and the opposition wouldn’t have been from non-Christians, but Christians. In Christian culture, at least in America, many times we demand certain changes in people before we welcome them into our communities.
Jesus is teaching here that we must invite sinners to dine with us… before they ever change or repent. If Jesus walked through those doors today he would say, Sumas Advent Christian Church, keep inviting sinners into your community. The Love Feast is open to all.
Finally, let me tell you about another memorable meal… The church I was part of when I was in Israel celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles by setting up a tent, a huge canvas military tent on the shore of the Red Sea. On the last day of the festival the whole church was invited down to the tent for a meal and a baptism. I will never forget that. One of the really cool things I remember about that meal was making peta bread over the fire. John, the pastor, had huge metal bowl, probably 3 feet across that he used to make it. To use it you build a fire. Place the bowl over the top of it and then lay a thin layer of bread dough (which was just a mixture of flour, water and some oil and salt) onto the metal. Once it was cooked we would take it, throw some humus on and maybe some grilled meat and eat it. Delicious. I will never forget that.
Remember how we talked about how there were three festivals in the Hebrew scriptures. Passover, Feast of Weeks, and Tabernacles… The gospel of John tells the crucifixion of jesus in a unique way. In Matthew and Mark Jesus is crucified on the day of preparation for the Passover meal. That is the day before the Passover started. What is unique about John is that in John’s account Jesus dies on the first night of Passover. In John’s mind he is the Passover lamb that was sacrificed, and eaten; whose blood was put on the doorposts. Jesus’s death is presented as the fulfillment of the Passover.
And 7 weeks after his death, on the feast of weeks, Pentecost happens, that is God sends the Holy Spirit to the church. The festival of weeks was done to as a celebration of God’s provision but also to remember the giving of the law on Mt. Sanai… If you remember, Moses went up on Mt. Sanai in order to receive God’s commands. While Moses was on the Mountain the people waited at the base of the Mountain for him to return with a word from God. In the same way, after Christ ascended to heaven his followers gathered together in a room in Jerusalem to wait for the Holy Spirit, which came upon them as tongues of fire. Christians are now guided by the Spirit not the law or at least are guided into a correct understanding of the law through the Spirit. According to the New Testament writers, two of the three festivals have been fulfilled through the death of Christ.
The third festival is the one I was celebrating on the Red Sea, the festival of tabernacles. This festival looks back to the time when God lived with his people and looks forward to the time when he will live with his people again. It has not been fulfilled but it will be when we are resurrected life with God. This promise of resurrection and life is what provides the logical justification for everything Jesus says in this passage.
READ Luke 14:11 and Luke 14:14…Jesus is saying… Why be humble? because one day, when the righteous are resurrected, we will live with God and he will reward us for how we live. Why invite sinners into our community? because one day, when the righteous are resurrected, we will live with God and he will reward us for it.
What’s the bid deal though… if we are already with God why does it matter if we have rewards? Isn’t heaven enough… Why would I need rewards?
I have wondered about this… Here is my conclusion, as best as I can tell… Is an idea that mainly come from the writings of C.S. Lewis. First, lets be clear, what we are talking about when we think of rewards… Its not as if Jesus is saying that when we are resurrected God will hand out sports cars to us like Oprah, for inviting the poor to our church.
Rather I think the rewards Christ is talking about might be something like this…
When I was in high school there was kid who was pretty much the biggest dork you could imagine. Now, my parents had taught me and repeatedly told me I needed to love the poor, to love the outcast, to love the outsider… And Eric was all three. And being a good Christian kid, or at least a kid who wanted to please his parents and gain their approval so I started to befriend Eric.
I have a lot of memories of him, one of which was him coming over to my house and being shocked to the point of cussing when my mom made an apple cobbler for us while we watched a game together… “Hell would freeze over before my mom would make me anything” he said.
Anyways, I reached out to Eric and I started to love him. There were times it was hard… Times he made me cringe… but as I worked at showing him love I began to change… I began to enjoy him… I laughed at his jokes… I got him. Eventually it was no longer work at all. He became my friend. I enjoyed being with him. My reward for obeying God was the enjoyment I got by being his friend.
The reward was directly connected to the good act… It was outcome of it…
Marriage is kind of this way… As you love your spouse the experience of marriage gets better. The work you put into it leads to a richer, better experience… something different and superior than it was when first went on a date or got married.
It is possible the rewards in heaven are something like that… Maybe, what we do on earth opens up new experiences for us in heaven, experiences that won’t be available to others.
I don’t know how it all works but what is clear is that what we do in this life matters. We will be rewarded for obeying God’s commands, in this life and in the next… If Jesus walked through that door this morning he would remind us of that… What we do matters.
Today then, what Is Christ saying to us? What would he say if he walked through those doors…
Keep inviting sinners into your community
Live with eternity in view
I’m sure he would say more than that actually but lets start with those three… Lets pray…