Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14
1st Reading: Proverbs
2nd Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Based on the Gospel, I thought about handing out a seating chart this morning, but I didn't want to be looking for work, come Monday morning. I suppose throwing you off with worshiping outside is already pushing my luck! It is pretty amazing how some of us can get so attached to a particular spot and others can be so flexible able to adjust to something so simple as a new seat.
We might not realize, but where we sit says something about who we are and where we fit in. Think of the first time you walked into the sanctuary. How did you decide where to sit? How did you end up where you are now? Do you normally sit on the aisle or mid-pew? Do you sit in the back or near the front? Have you ever ended up stuck on a hump between the pews—very uncomfortable! What are your sight lines? Can you hear? What are the distractions around you?
There is a spot near the back where many times no one sits. I've been told the last three people who sat there died and now the people in entire back row are protecting the rest of us. Of course a seat doesn't kill you. It is partly a reminder of those who have gone. We haven't forgotten them. In a way we are saving a seat for them in our hearts. It is a way to remind others of those we have cared together about and continue to share stories and memories about them. If they let you sit there, I guess you know they don't mind if you're the next to go!
You can tell a lot about someone's position in life by their location. We live in the US where people tend to be on the wealthy side compared to a lot of countries. We live in Oregon, so we are awesome, of course! You can tell something about someone's social status by what neighborhood they live in, what stores they shop at, and where they work.
It gets more subtle when you start talking about where someone sits at the table. The more power you have, the more choices you have about where you sit. Once the most powerful has chosen, then it is up to everyone else to decide where they fit in the
power structure. Sitting close to the person with the most power shows you are friends and have influence with them. It means you share their values and views. You know when someone makes a seating arrangement for a dinner party or wedding reception, you don't put two people next to each other who are going to argue.
So here is Jesus at this dinner party. I'm not sure I'd want to invite him to a barbecue at my house. He's kind of a lose cannon. He’s looking at this group and he’s critiquing it. While everyone is standing around, watching Jesus to see where he’ll sit, watching each other, to see where they will sit, Jesus is watching them. Even though he’s among all these important people, he’d rather be somewhere else. This isn’t his scene. He’d rather be out preaching on the mountain or the field. He’d rather be among the poor, who don’t waste all this time trying to decide where to sit or whose the greatest, but plop down wherever they are and take in Jesus’ generosity, pull out whatever food they have tucked in their pocket and share it with their neighbor. They don’t look as good or smell as good. They are just regular people and they are starving for his teaching, his attention, his food and aren’t ashamed to admit it. They don’t care who they sit next to, as long as they get a chance to be near Jesus.
So Jesus just lets these important people have it. “You think you’re hot stuff! What a waste of time! Take a good look at yourselves! Quit trying to be more important than you are.” He’s insulted every guest. Then he goes on to insult the host. “You’ve got your guest list all wrong. You just invite people who can reciprocate. How about inviting people just because of their value as people instead of what they can do for you.” Jesus doesn’t like to play the games we play of where to sit and giving the most attention to the most powerful. He knows that God is the only one that’s truly good. The rest of us fall short. The rest of us are all even. We think we’re better because we’ve got more money or drive a better car or can afford to get our teeth fixed or got an education or don’t smoke or are healthy or whatever. The truth is, wealth, health, age, mental faculties, all that is temporary. And the truth is, we have all fallen far short, we’ve all been self-serving, we haven’t valued every person for who they are, we’ve all invited people because of what they could do for us. There is God way up here. Then there’s the rest of us—none are better are worse. We’ve all fallen short. No one is better than anyone else or worse.
That’s one of my favorite things about church. When I was growing up, I didn’t have new clothes. My mom might have put $5 in the offering a week and that was truly all she could afford. No one in my family had been to college. We didn’t know what fork to start with. We came in a dirty, white one-ton van with seats my dad made himself and we occasionally snagged our nylons on. Yet, we were truly a part of that community. Nobody judged us or the runs in our stockings. That church was family to us and we were to them.
During my vacation, I got to go back to my home congregation for the first time in many years. It was like coming home—seeing all those people who had given me summer jobs and encouraged me and prayed for me. I could have been trapped in a life of boredom and worked at National Frozen Food for the rest of my life, but because this group took me under their wing and believed in me, I learned there were other possibilities. Because of them, I was inspired to go to college and then Seminary. Because of them, I’ve seen something of the world. I’ve been invited into people’s lives in good times and bad. I’ve had the chance to begin live up to my potential and found myself pretty fulfilled and definitely challenged and often delighted!
This is the Kingdom of God, to me, when those who aren’t valued much in the world get some attention and care and it lifts them to their potential. The important people, who normally wouldn’t be bothered with these little guys, don’t differentiate, but stoop to make support networks and families with those who are different from them and lift them up to new levels. Actually both groups benefit from associating with each other. Our whole world is made better. Someday even those in upper classes with all their ducks in a row are going to find themselves in the lower position, needing someone with power and influence to help them. Hopefully, we all build relationships among many different groups so that we can be that support to each other in different times in our lives.
There are so many people that we run into each day. It is a matter of whether we will see each other with fear or with interest and hope. When we are fearful or don’t know any better, we try to position ourselves in a better place and be more powerful and important. But as we go through life, we realize that is temporary and that people can have value beyond their money or attractiveness or job or car. There are some people in life who have a natural positive attitude about other people. When they see other people, they are hopeful. They see the angel in each person. They see the potential. They invest in all kinds of people generously without regard for superficial, temporary traits. They get a lot out of life. Yes, sometimes people take advantage of them and they get hurt. But more often than not, people come through and show a side of themselves that might have been unexpected. May we all keep our eyes open for the angels among us. And who knows someone might then see an angel in us.