Sermon: Messy Hospitality

I invite you to turn in your bibles with me to Luke, chapter 14, beginning in verse 1. Luke 14, beginning in verse 1. Luke is in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If you do not have a bible with you, feel free to grab one from the pew in front of you and leave it open as we read and study God’s word together.

We are joining Jesus around the table this Lent. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost and he works out this calling during his earthly ministry at various meals. Meals were places of mission. Our hope is that by looking at Jesus’ meals, we will be opened up to the gospel in a new way and empowered to follow Jesus in hospitality toward others.

Luke 14, beginning in verse 1. Before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.

1One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

5Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” 6And they had nothing to say.

7When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9If so, the host who invited you both will come to you and say, “Give this person your seat.” Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, “Friend, move up to a better place.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

12Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brother or sister, your relatives, or your rich neighbors. If you do, they may invite you back and so you will be rewarded. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

15When one of those at the table with him hear this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16Jesus replied, “a certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who were invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.”

18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, “I have just bought a field and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.”

19Another said, “I have just bought five yoke of oxen and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.”

20Still another said, “I just got married, so I can’t come.”

21The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered the servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.”

22“Sir,” the servant said, “What you ordered has been done, but there is still room.”

23Then the master told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. (you may be seated)

How many of you have been to a wedding reception? Show of hands. What sort of things do you usually see at a wedding reception? (Food, Dancing, Speeches, Family, Friends). Yes and yes. Wedding receptions are filled with food, fun, but most of all – joy.

It is not an accident that Jesus compares heaven to a wedding banquet. After Jesus offers a parable and advice to his host, one of the other guests calls out, Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God. In reply, Jesus tells another parable to describe the heavenly feast. The kingdom of God is like a banquet. Like at modern weddings, invitations were sent out and people responded that they were coming. Israel had long anticipated the heavenly banquet of God. They had received the invitation and eagerly responded that they would love to be there. The owner of the house had prepared and on the day of the feast, he sends his servant to tell the people to come and join him around his table.

But they all alike began to make excuses. Not even good ones. They all knew the banquet was coming, but everyone has an excuse. Everyone has something better to do. Israel had long awaited the arrival of God’s kingdom and the heavenly banquet that was promised, but when Jesus arrived and declared that it was in their midst, that today was the day, many found they had better things to do.

The servant reports back and the owner is angry, he calls the servant to go and bring in the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Instead of being filled with prominent guests, the banquet now has the weak and the outsiders. These are the people at the heavenly banquet. These are the people who sit around God’s table – the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. But there is still room, so the servant is sent outside of the town to bring in strangers and foreigners, while those originally invited are excluded.

This is unlike any wedding reception I have ever been to. What an incredible picture – a joyous wedding feast filled with the broken and needy. Jesus tells us that if we want to sit around his table in the kingdom of God, we will be sitting around the table with the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.

This is what heaven will be like, and Jesus invites us to have our meals now reflect that future feast. How we eat today should be shaped by the future banquet table of Jesus. Listen to verse 12 and following:

12Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brother or sister, your relatives, or your rich neighbors. If you do, they may invite you back and so you will be rewarded. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Notice that the same four groups that Jesus mentions in his parable are mentioned here: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. The same people that are welcome around Jesus’ banquet table in heaven are to be welcomed around our tables here and now.

With few exceptions, this is not what it looks like around our tables. We long to have the poor and the weak, the sinners and the broken, come to Christ and join us in fellowship in the church, but we do not have them around our tables. How can we say we want to join them in an eternal feast in heaven when we won’t eat with them right now?

There is a disconnect between what we profess to believe about heaven, about the grace of Jesus, about the future kingdom of God, and how we eat today. I hope that when we hear Jesus speak of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, we rejoice. I hope that when we hear who will be sitting around the table in the kingdom, we rejoice. I hope that when we hear Jesus tell us that heaven is a banquet, a party, a celebration, we definitely want to be there.

But the way we live says something different, more often than not. Jesus invites us to eat with the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame – to have them around our tables, to show them hospitality. Yet, we find there are barriers in our lives to this kind of kingdom hospitality. Jesus reveals two barriers to hospitality that are as true today as they were two thousand years ago.

First, we want to eat with people like us. 12Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brother or sister, your relatives, or your rich neighbors. If you do, they may invite you back and so you will be rewarded. We are gracious and welcoming people. Every time a stranger walks across the threshold of our church, we shake their hands, make sure they see a smiling face. But that is easy to do when most strangers that walk through our doors look like us, talk like us, act like us. It is easy to invite someone over for dinner when you know they will take their shoes off at the door, not break anything, and may invite you back to their place next week.

We want to eat with people like us. It is safer to invite people like us. It is more comfortable to invite our cousin into our home than our neighbor. Because eating together fosters relationship, it is a statement of equality, it is a way of saying that ‘you are one of us.’

We regularly talk here at Stout Reformed about reaching out to community for the sake of the kingdom. We know that mission begins here. Yet we, myself included, often love the comfort of familiarity more than we love the kingdom. There are people who live down the street or around the corner from me that, for three and a half years, I have said I want to get to know, but I haven’t taken the risk of relationship. I have loved comfort more than I have loved Jesus.

It is good to put food in our grocery cart to care for the poor in Grundy County, but Jesus says it is better to have them around our table. It takes courage and vulnerability to treat a stranger as a person and not a project, but that is just what each of us needs, just what Jesus calls us to do. But the idol of comfort serves as a barrier to this kind of kingdom hospitality.

The second barrier to hospitality is pride. Listen to verses 7 and following: 7When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9If so, the host who invited you both will come to you and say, “Give this person your seat.” Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, “Friend, move up to a better place.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Not only do we face the barrier of comfort and familiarity, but we face the barrier of pride. We get so easily caught up in comparing ourselves to other people. We believe we know where we stand. We profess that every person is equal before God – equally fallen in sin and in need of a savior – but our meals reveal that we believe there is a hierarchy. We know we are not at the top of the ladder – we aren’t Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, or Norma Adams. We aren’t quite at the top end of the scale, but we think there are plenty of people below us. I’m not perfect, but at least I don’t do that. At least I’m not like her. At least I’m not doing what he is doing. And we close the doors to hospitality.

Instead of pride, Jesus calls us to humility. We are to humble ourselves. We are the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. We are the spiritually poor – the ones who can contribute nothing to our salvation. We are the spiritually crippled – made powerless by sin. We are the spiritually blind – unable to see the truth about Jesus apart from his grace. We are the spiritually lame – unable to come to God on our own.

In humility, Jesus calls us to see that we are them – whoever they happen to be. All of us need the work of Christ on our behalf. All of us can only find rest in the finished work of Christ, not in our own goodness. That heavenly banquet that Jesus spoke of – that feast filled with the weak and the outcast. That is a table of grace.

Jesus calls our current meals to reflect the reality of that heavenly meal. Just as one day we will sit around a table and feast with the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, they should sit around our tables now. They should be welcome here, just as we are.

How we eat reveals our hearts. The fact that we so often eat only with people like us reveals a heart problem. We cling to the idols of comfort, security, and pride.

But Jesus does not leave us there. Go back with me to the opening scene of our story. 1One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

Jesus sees a man in front of him who is suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Another name of this is dropsy. My research indicated that this is a disease of unquenchable thirst. You drink and drink but never stop feeling thirsty. The water collects in your joints and causes pain, but doesn’t stop the thirst. In the worst cases, you can drink and drink and drink until you die, but never stop feeling thirsty.

A man stands before Jesus crippled by unquenchable thirst. But Jesus takes a hold of him and the man thirsts no longer. He now goes on his way, satisfied. I don’t think it is mere coincidence that immediately after healing a man with unsatiable thirst, Jesus notices a group of people with unending thirst for honor, for the best seat at the table, and a host who longs for the comfort of his exclusive banquet. It is not just the man on the outside who needs healing, but those at the party. It is not just the man with dropsy who must be healed, it is us.

It is only when Jesus takes hold of us that our hearts can be turned to hospitality. It is only when we see ourselves truly, and rest in the work of Christ, that we can turn to our neighbor, the stranger, the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame and welcome them around our table.

For Jesus, hospitality was mission. And it can be for us as well. Hospitality is rarely a black-tie dinner. It is more often a cup of coffee, a few pieces of bread, or a slice of pie. It is lifting our eyes to notice and pay attention to the people right in front of us. And mission can means sharing the scriptures with a neighbor, telling of the wondrous name of Jesus. But it can also mean eating together with a passion for Jesus – listening and sharing life, faith, and compassion.

As we close, I want to issue again our challenge for this season of Lent. Follow Jesus by eating with someone this week. As God has welcomed us around his gracious banquet table, and as we will eat in that day, let us show hospitality to others in the way of Jesus. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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