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Monday, August 30, 2010

Sermon from August 29, 2010

“Table Manners”
Luke 14:1, 7-14

As I read the gospel for this day I thought of the news paper columnist, Miss Manners. The gospel gave me an idea for a letter to Miss Manners

Dear Miss Manners, I went to a banquet the other day I went right to the head table and sat down. The host asked me to move, I was annoyed but I moved. I found another seat in the middle of the banquet hall, however after a few minutes the host came again and asked me to move. This time I was irritated, but when the host took me by the hand a brought me to a seat by the kitchen door I was downright insulted. Throughout the entire banquet the servers where going past me. I was served last. During the meal the pots and pans were banging in the kitchen, I could barely hear myself think. Also, because I was way in the back of the banquet hall I was unable to meet the important people I had come to see. I paid good money to come and I have a right to be treated better. I think the host was rude. What should I do? Signed, Seeking My Rights

That is a letter we could maybe see ourselves writing at one time or another in our lives. If not in this blatant form we have nuances of seeking our own advantage. How about those times were we see other people schmoozing and rubbing elbows with big name, important people. We feel anger at that person for always seeking their own advantage. How about the name dropping game that some people play? “You know the other day when I was having lunch with President Obama.” Or “On my way into the grocery store I ran into Ron Gardenhire...” Or “When I have coffee with Osma Vänskä…” If we don’t do this ourselves, we find ourselves jealous of those who do. I wish I could have lunch with President Obama, I would love to have chat with Ron Gardenhire or Osma Vänskä. There is something innate in us that seeks our own advantage, we may not be blatant about it but we do want to get close to the people with influence.

Notice what happens at company parties. Everyone is trying to bend the ear of the CEO and VP’s, but do you see people busting down the door to rub elbows with the custodians or the 3rd shift press operator. We want to seek our own advantage.

I think the football player Randy Moss epitomizes this natural instinct the best. Many years ago, when he played for the Minnesota Vikings, and had an exceptional year, John Madden said of Moss, “without a doubt, excluding quarterbacks, Moss is the best player in the game.” Moss responds, “Excluding NOBODY, I’m the best player in the National Football League.” That’s self exaltation and seeking one’s own advantage.

What’s so wrong with wanting to be exalted or even just noticed for the good that we are doing? Maybe it is not even the exaltation we care about maybe we just want to be noticed. I look at some of the youth today, I see them crying out loud to be noticed. They may not be using words but they are using different ways to have others notice them. Clothes, hair, pierced body parts, noticeable tattoos. They are crying out for attention, even if they don’t realize it.

What’s wrong with wanting to be noticed? When you do a big project at work you want your name on it so others (mainly the boss) can see how valuable you are to the company. When you get an award you want it published in the paper.

What’s wrong with seeking your rights? Well according to Jesus, when you seek your won advantage, you get in the way of Jesus doing the work. You can’t exalt yourself as high as or higher than Jesus.

Let’s look at the gospel passage again. This is a parable Jesus tells, after he sees people seeing places of honor, seeking their own advantage. His parables do two things, one they teach about the kingdom of God and two they turn everything upside down.

If we see the banquet as our right and it is something we deserve then we get caught in this self exalting business. If we deserve it then we will get into a continuum of earning it, “I really earned it,” “I kind of earned it,” “I worked hard,” “I could have worked harder.” It was worked for or earned.

But if we see the banquet as an invitation into God’s kingdom that we did not work for or earn, that would not have come to us at all, then we are just happy to be there at all.

You see when we think it is our right we miss out on the meaning. When we think we don’t deserve it, it tastes better and you don’t care where you sit because you are just pleased to be there. You also don’t care who you rub shoulders with because all who are there are worthy in God’s eyes.

Jesus invites us to a banquet, in which there are no bad seats. Where all are welcome not based on what they have done but what Jesus has done. We come empty to the table, we hold out empty hands and we seek to be filled by the one who has the power to forgive and lift up those who are in need. Proper table manners for Jesus’ table are this: to remember it is a gift.

How might Jesus respond to the letter from Seeking My Rights and the banquet?

Dear Gentle Soul,
Welcome to my banquet. I am so delighted you are here. You know some people would say you don’t deserve to be here, but I love you and I am so happy to see you. I didn’t have to invite you but I wanted to. I want you to know that you cannot control whether you are exalted or humbled, that is my job, relax and let me do it. Enjoy the banquet. This is a feast to celebrate my kingdom in this world. Come take and eat. The wine is forgiveness of sins. The bread is release of that which troubles you. These are gifts for you, to strengthen you in the meanwhile, to strengthen you until I come again. This is my gift to you whether you deserve it or not. This is my gift: I come to you. Drink deep and let me take control of your life. Signed, with great Love for you and all people, Jesus.

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