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Pentecost 14: Jesus the Prophet and the Banquet of God

Isaiah 55
Luke 14: 1, 4-14

Delivered by Rev. Elisabeth Jones

This is the last in a series of sermons in which we have looked at the Old Testament Prophets, asking the question “Who do they think God is?”
By exploring this question we have allowed these prophets to open for us their particular window into the heart of God.

From Hosea we were given the image of the Mother-love of the God who will not let us go, no matter what.
From Isaiah we discovered the heart-ache and anguish of God when the people, created to be a blessing in creation, aren’t.
We listened in anguish to God’s lament for a broken dream.
From Jeremiah we encountered a God who calls, all of us, from young kids to the very old, to partner with God in world-building according to God’s dream.

Thanks to these prophets, we’re beginning to get a sense of this God as an engaged, committed, passionate, Justice-loving God who delights in this world’s beauty and goodness,
weeps at its suffering
and is outraged by its injustices.

As we gather these images together, a pattern emerges,
something fundamental to God’s heart,
which seems to be focused most acutely, most protectively, most passionately, on the littlest, the weakest, the poorest, the most vulnerable, those whom the world considers to be the last and least.

Where in the world as we would design,
the spoils go to the victor, the strongest,
in God’s economy, as seen and spoken of by the Prophets,
that is not the case:
– the second or spare son (Abel, Jacob, Samuel, David) is constantly getting the nod from God for assignments of special blessing
– likewise women, whose socially conditioned occupations as concubines, slaves, prostitutes, refugees, or childless women (like Rahab, Esther, Hagar, Ruth, Sarah,) would normally render them outcast, become agents of God’s healing, restoration and saving.
– and on the larger scale, when God could have chosen from the mighty nations of the world the ‘people who would be blessed to be a blessing’ – he rescues an amorphous huddle of slaves led by a murderer, leads them across a desert into a tiny plot of land already occupied by others, and calls them his Beloved!
– And as we saw with Isaiah’s song of the Vineyard two weeks ago, whenever God gets steamed with this chosen people, it’s because they (we) have forgotten their origins, and are now trampling all over the widow, the orphan, the landless stranger.

[What’s more, not only is God most acutely attentive to the “little-ones” the “poor and outcast” and the “lost”, – it’s precisely with these that people and creatures that God intends to build and rebuild the Commonwealth of blessing, justice, and peace!]

The Jesus who walks into our line of vision today is the living, breathing embodiment of this topsy-turvy God-dream of inclusion of the mighty with the lowly,
the blind with the sighted,
the poor seated and sated at a feast fit for the richest.

This Jesus it is who heals on the Sabbath,
talks to children, to foreigners,
to those others consider religiously suspect,
because he, like the prophets before him,
uses a prophetic imagination to envision, and then embody,
God’s dream of the community of creation.

We also find him, like the prophets before him, giving voice to the anger and anguish of God when he witnesses those with something persecuting or crushing those with nothing, and thereby undermining God’s dream of rolling down justice and loving-kindness.

This Jesus it was gathered around him as his closest followers an unlikely combination of government bureaucrats, fishermen, Pharisees, zealots, and women.
This Jesus known to eat with ‘tax-collectors and sinners’
now sits down to dinner with the leaders of the religious establishment.

The passage is a little strange,
for Jesus doesn’t come across as a prophet on fire for God’s dream, like Hosea, or Jeremiah.
One commentator confesses to stifling a yawn at this Jesus,
who is apparently indulging in an etiquette lesson for the upper classes.
The advice he gives out is conventional, proverbial –
“Sit low, and get called up higher, rather than be embarrassed when you take the best seat in the house, only to be told there’s someone more important in the room than you.”

(Not so different from the admonitions we give our children at the Church pot-luck… “Don’t barge in line, don’t fill your plate too full, make sure there’s enough for others.” )

But that same commentary author warns…
“If we’re yawning at Jesus, we’ve missed something in the story. We’d better dig til we find it, and get our socks blown off” (a paraphrase actually, but the gist is the same.!)
Jesus is in fact reciting ‘conventional proverbial wisdom’ – from the Book of Proverbs no less. (25:6-7), at least to begin with. I’m sure the guests – I imagine a clergy cluster, or perhaps Jesus attending the annual sherry shindig with the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill – are nodding sagely. “Wise advice” they mutter, with perhaps a couple of them feeling somewhat sheepish that their social ladder climbing was noticed.

But then he goes on and targets the leader who invited him, that his guest list sucks! Now he’s looking a little more ‘Jeremiah-like.’ In fact, he’s not that attractive at this moment, pointing a long finger at a man who after all is doing his best to live faithfully, follow the rule book intelligently, and after all, he did invite this itinerant healer to his table!

It’s taken me a few attempts to keep digging til my socks are blown off, I’ll be honest. But I think, thanks to the prophetic imagination in which we’ve been steeped these past weeks, I realize that yet again,
in prophetic mode, Jesus is opening a window into the heart of God, for us – and the Pharisee host – to peek in.
Rather than a “Miss Manners” admonition,
Jesus is saying
“If you want to live faithfully,
you need to follow the heart of God.
You need to see the way God sees.
Let me show you.
You see, God’s banquets don’t look much like ours. We tend to invite people of our own kind, who speak the same literal or theological language, we tend to gather in tribes of relative homogeneity, and that’s safe, comfortable.
But God, well, we know what God said to our ancestors who were penniless outcasts, refugees in Babylon
“Come, with all the money you don’t have, and with all the aching hunger and grating thirst, and you can buy, eat and drink
bread and wine that satisfies!
Come to me and sit down at a riotous feast where not only people are feasting, but where the mountains surrounding us are singing
and the trees are clapping!”
When God throws a party – EVERYTHING is invited! No one is left out.

So, Mr. Pharisee, if you want to see the world as God sees it,
if you want to live as God lives in it,
you’re going to have to go out of your way,
move out of your comfort zones,
rub shoulders, share soup, and swap jokes
with people you’ve never met before.
In God’s dream, quid-pro-quo means absolutely nothing.
You don’t need to scratch anybody’s back, or watch where you sit
at God’s banquet, so if you want to make God’s reign come on earth,
run your parties like God does.
People that the rule books say don’t belong at your table,
they have special, gold embossed invitations to God’s party.
(Because after all who isn’t lame, or blind, or poor, or hurting in some way, some how).
If you want to partner with God in world-building
according to God’s dream,
try issuing the same invitations to your table too.

Then, Mr. Pharisee, you will be blessed!
Surprised at who you meet, you will be so blessed!

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