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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Dinner Lessons - Full House, Full Table (Luke 14.15-24)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; June 24, 2018 - Luke 14:15-24; Isaiah 25:6-9

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Scripture and Music ::
Creation Sings the Father's Song (Getty/Townend)
Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy  (Indelible Grace)
Solo: Jesus Loves Me Medley (Gwen Ingram, soloist)
O for a Thousand Tongues/One Great Love (David Crowder)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

We are in the middle of a dinner party with Jesus and some religious people. For several weeks, we have been reading about this event where Jesus healed a man and then began teaching about what God and the Kingdom of God is like, using the dinner party as a way to explain these things. Last week, in the passage immediately preceding this one, Jesus reminded us that we can’t buy, earn, or deserve God’s invitation. Rather, God’s invitation is entirely on His terms, a gracious act extended to the world. At the end of that teaching, in Luke 14:15, one dinner guest exclaimed, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God!” I suggested last week that he got it… that he understood what Jesus was saying. It’s hard to know for sure, because we weren’t there. But, Jesus responds to him in today’s text as if to say, “Yes, that’s right; but I’m not sure everyone here understands (maybe you either)!”

So, in today’s text, Jesus clarifies God’s invitation. Another way to say this is that the man’s exclamation is correct – blessed IS everyone who will eat at God’s Table. But perhaps some of the assumptions around that earthly table were wrong… many not around that table might be included; and maybe everyone present at that table would not be at God’s Table. That’s what Jesus is addressing here.

The Invitation (v. 16)

In verse 16 Jesus begins his parable: “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many….” In some ways, Jesus is just clarifying what he has just taught. He has been describing God as the gracious and inviting Host, who calls people to him without regard for what they can offer in return. That is not to say that behavior or faith is not important to God. Rather it is to say what the Apostle Paul later said so clearly, “God demonstrated His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

In other words, God invites us to Himself entirely on His own terms. The particular struggle the Pharisees had – and remember, that’s who was at the table with Jesus – was that they were trying to come to God on their own terms. Now, please know that they weren’t evil people. Just the opposite; the Pharisees were trying their hardest to follow God’s Law and live religious lives. Jesus was correcting a wrong assumption that often comes with that kind of diligent religious living. That wrong assumption is that we somehow can make ourselves worthy of God’s love and salvation. That assumption also can lead to the second wrong assumption that those who are not practicing diligent religious living are unworthy of God’s love.

This is one of many examples of Jesus teaching something that is later echoed by the Apostle Paul. Paul would pick up this theme in Romans, where he wrote that in fact none are worthy of God’s love; yet God loves us anyway. That is the heart of Jesus’ table-teaching here… that the invitation to salvation is extended to all, because we all are “sinners.” That is the heart of the Good News – that whoever you are and whatever you have done, God invites you to Himself through Jesus.

The rest of Jesus’ teaching here is addressed to his table-companions. The unfortunate result of assuming we can secure our own place with God is that we come to God and relate to God on our own terms.

Excuses and Priorities (vv.18-23

So the word goes out – it is time to come; everything is ready. And they began to make excuses (v. 18).

    I have bought a piece of land and need to go look at it… (v. 18)

    I have bought five yoke of oxen and I am going to try them out… (v. 19)

    I have married a wife… (v. 20)

What is Jesus saying here? That work and family keep us from God? No, one of the main differences between parable teaching and allegory is that in allegory every single thing has a corresponding spiritual point. You go through and ask, “Who is the wife? What do the oxen represent? Etc…” In a parable, and this is almost always what Jesus used, there is really one main spiritual point. The rest of the details are just stuff we understand from everyday life to help us understand the one spiritual point.

Here, Jesus is saying that if we treat God’s invitation as one more part of everyday life, we run the risk of missing it altogether. These are important things – work and family. They are perhaps the most important things of life in this world. But Jesus is saying that there is something infinitely more important, because it affects life forever, both in the present and in the Kingdom to come. Elsewhere he compares it to a pearl of great price, a thing of such value that it reprioritizes and shapes all of the rest of life. He’s going to go on in the next chapter of Luke, when he’s back out among the crowds, to teach this point with even more glaring contrast and strength.

The question raised for the Pharisees was not literally about work and family, but about their practice of religion displacing actual relationship with the Lord of the Banquet, God Himself. The question raised for us might be asked any number of ways: “What excuses do you make that distract you from a living relationship with God?” Maybe it is work or other obligations. Is working a few more hours’ worth missing what God is saying and doing? Maybe it is family? Maybe your husband or wife or parents aren’t interested in church or God. Are you willing to persevere in coming and continue to invite them?

But there is a deeper question for us, underneath the specific examples of things that distract us from God. That is the question of place or priority. What place does God have in your life? Is God important? Is He in the top 10? Is He in the top 3? Many Christians will list God, work, and family as the top 3. Maybe that’s why Jesus used these particular examples. But what is Jesus asking through this parable?

And why does he go on to describe the host going out to get the poor, crippled, blind, and lame? It is partly to once again describe God’s compassion for these grappling most with human need. But it is also partly to illustrate the clarity that can accompany true human need. If you are truly alone, outcast, sick, or in great need, would not an invitation to relationship sound quite appealing? This is not always true, of course; sometimes need blinds us to God; but Jesus is here trying to “punch through” to the Pharisees, and all that deafens them to relationship with God. I can imagine Jesus’ audience thinking, “Of course those folks would come to such a banquet!” But that’s the point – why is that not the response of the first guests… “of course we’ll come; we wouldn’t miss it!”

For most of us, relatively wealthy in the things of this world, it is so easy to make God one more hobby or appointment or disregard as “not pressing right now.” Jesus is making the case that if we really understand who God is and what God is inviting us to, then not only will God be in our “top 3”, but God will be our #1. And he will actually press beyond this in the next section of Luke to say that God should not only be our #1, but our only one. Jesus is describing the first and second commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make or worship idols.”

That’s what I mean by coming to God on our own terms. When we do that, we are actually fashioning our own god – an idol. We are saying, “I want to worship a god who I can worship on my schedule. I want to worship a god who asks nothing of me.” In the language of Jesus’ illustration, “I want to worship a god whom I can take advantage of… always inviting me, but at my beck and call.”

Jesus is calling the Pharisees at the table with him away from that, and he is calling us away from that. God is who He is. That’s what God’s name, Yahweh, means! And God invites us to Himself on His own terms.

The Result and Invitation (v.24)

The shocking result, in Jesus’ words, is that if we insist on reshaping God into a god who is at our disposal, then we will have no seat at God’s table. In other words, if we don’t see and acknowledge God as the gracious, inviting host, who is inviting us now into relationship and worship, then we may miss it all. Jesus’ last words here are horrible and tragic:

I tell you, none of those men who were invited [and made excuses] shall taste of my dinner. (v. 24)

That is, however, not God’s desire for you, me, or those Pharisees. So hear both the challenging warning and the winsome invitation of the Gospel.

Re-examine your life and your faith. Is your hope in God alone or is it in self or some other earthly ‘god’. I know what answer comes quickly to my lips. But Jesus’ challenge is that our choices of time and priority will give away what is true in our hearts. Do you give God first priority? Will you come to God on His terms?

And here is the invitation. It is the same Jesus has been giving around the table in all of Luke 13 and 14.

Come; I choose you and invite you because I love you. You cannot earn that love and you cannot lose that love. You can only ignore that love. Come eat and live with me.
Listen again to those words spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before Jesus. This is what God said He would do and this is the invitation God has issued through Jesus Christ and his death on the hill of Calvary:
6 The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, And refined, aged wine. 7 And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, Even the veil which is stretched over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken. 9 And it will be said in that day, “Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation!” (Isaiah 25:6-9)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Dinner Lessons - Blessed Guests (Luke 14.12-15)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; June 17, 2018 - Luke 14:12-15; Isaiah 55:1-3a

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Scripture and Music ::
Shout to the North (Martin Smith)
Let the River Flow (Darryl Evans)
Welcome Table (African-American spiritual)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

The story continues today. Jesus is still around the table at the home of one of the leading Pharisees. Last week we looked at his words to the guests who were trying to maneuver to get a good seat at the table. Jesus taught that God honors humility, which involves a submission of the will, heart, and mind. We had the opportunity to put ourselves in the role of guests, invited into God’s presence.

This week, Jesus addresses the host of the dinner. In order to understand his teaching, we must identify ourselves not only as those who are invited to the banquet, but also in the role of the host. As the gathered Church, we are the earthly stewards of God’s Table and those who extend God’s invitation into the world. Jesus’ teaching today raises key questions for us as we try to understand what it means for us to be those receiving and bearing God’s invitation!

So, as Jesus says, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner…” (v. 12), understand that his words apply to us… when we give a concert, when we help someone in need, when we share our building space, when we gather to eat, when we gather to worship, when we study God’s Word, when we have VBS. Jesus is talking to us here. We are earthly hosts, bearing the invitation of the Lord.

Do Not Invite… (v. 12b)

In verse 12, Jesus goes on to tell the host:

…do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors…

If the exclusion of these seems strange, the reason may sound stranger:

…otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment.

This exclusion sets up the punch line of the parable because this is not expected, nor is what follows about whom to invite. The broader point Jesus is making here is so obvious and given that it makes taking exception to it seem shocking. When we invite a friend or brother or rich neighbor to dinner, there is something in it for us. That is not a bad thing; that’s just the way it is. That’s why most of us invite folks to dinner. We invite friends because we enjoy their company. That’s our “payment” – we enjoy them. We invite family (sometimes) for the same reason. We might take a wealthy business contact to lunch hoping to score some business out of the event. This exclusion sets up the punch line of the parable because this is not expected, nor is what follows about whom to invite.

Jesus’ point is not that we should never take these folks to lunch. Instead, he is continuing to use the dinner table as a metaphor for the Kingdom of Heaven. And in the Kingdom, we don’t buy our way in. People are invited out of God’s good and gracious pleasure. Remember, that was the point last week. God is an inviting God and has called out to all who would come to him through Jesus.

Do Invite… (v. 13)

Instead of inviting only those who can “pay” to come, Jesus paints a different picture of God’s Table. And this really is the punch line of the parable, the unexpected twist. This Table is set for all who would come, regardless of ability to ‘pay’ for a seat. In fact, these seats can’t be bought at all. This is made most clear when those whom we would not expect to come in fact show up and are given a seat: the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. Expanded into the spiritual realm, the guest list is even more mind-boggling. There are the broken, the despairing, the weak, the wounded, the sinful, and the dying. No one is there except those who have accepted the invitation to come.

Listen again to our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 55:
Ho! (Hey, listen!) Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you. (55:1-3a)
Not only is that startling news about who all will be at God’s table, it also has pretty significant implications for us. Do you know that you are going to Heaven? How do you know? What gives you assurance?

Is it because you are “basically a good person?”
Is it because you are a member of a church?
Is it because you give regularly?
Is it because your mother or grandmother was a strong believer?

After hearing this parable, how do you think Jesus would answer those questions?

You may know that there are more than a few parables about rich people. The problem with riches (whether money, talents, education, or anything else we value) is not so much that wealth is evil, but that it blinds us to the gift of God’s invitation and salvation. It’s kind of like going to a child’s birthday party and the child opens up presents – a shiny bike, an electric guitar, a first smart phone, and a note from one child that says, “I’ll be your friend.” How hard it is to see what is really valuable!

Jesus’ testimony is this: the Lord of the Banquet invites you not because you can pay for, earn, or even deserve the invitation, but because He chooses to.

Blessed… and Repaid (v. 14)

This parable is important to understand from two perspectives. The first is that of those who are invited to God’s Table, not from deserving it, but out of God’s grace.

The second perspective is that of the Host. We are not God, but as believers gathered as the Church, we share in God’s mission to the world. We are in a position to extend the invitation of the Good News of Jesus Christ into our world. And here is where I believe this parable is critical for who we are as a church.

This summer we are talking about being an “open house church.” That kind of church is one with open doors, inviting people to come to where we are and share in the light of Christ. That is so very important, and at first blush, that seems to be what Jesus is talking about in v. 12. We are to invite people in to the banquet. But here’s the reality: being truly welcoming is just the first step. If that’s all we do (and we do have to do that!), then the folks who come will primarily be just who Jesus is talking about here: friends, relatives, and business or social contacts. In many cases, the folks who come will already be Christians who have moved nearby or who are just looking for a different church. And by all means, invite these folks – they are all welcome!

But Jesus’ point is this: if we really want to live out the Gospel – show the Good News of the love of God – then we need to be about reaching those with whom we have little or no connection. We need to get up and get out and invite those who are not being invited. That is our mission in the world! Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” We are to get up and get out and invite those who are not on anyone’s guest list.

I’m not saying to disregard your family member who is not a Christian. By all means, continue to pray for them and invite them to Christ. But as the Church – the gathered believers – we are earthly hosts for the Banquet of Heaven. We are the ones who speak God’s invitation out into the world. If we could really grasp that, it would revolutionize church. It would revolutionize our lives and our faith. It might even turn our religion upside down. And that is what Jesus was doing with his dinner companions.

Light has come into the world, and we are not to hide it under a bushel, whether that bushel is our building or the comfort and safety of our social circle. Get up, get out, and shine – that is the mission of an inviting God!

Perspective (v. 15)

Verse 15 is kind of a bridge verse to the third parable which follows. But it also has a place in this parable. It gives the perspective of one who understands what Jesus is talking about here.

When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

At least one person there understood. The blessed ones are not the ones here at this table. The blessed ones are not those of you here in this room, because you are in this room. The blessed ones are those who respond to the invitation of God and who will gather around the Banquet Table of God in Heaven. It is my hope that many here will be at that Table, but the point of the Gospel is that every time we leave this room, we search for the least and the lost, to speak God’s invitation to them that they might be found.

Again, the point of the Gospel is that every time we leave this room, we search for the least and the lost, to speak God’s invitation to them that they might be found.

Is there one of you who will hear this and understand? – Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!

If there is one, it will revolutionize our church. If there are three, it could change our neighborhood. There were 12 who followed Jesus whom God used to change the world. Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Dinner Lessons - Guests First (Luke 14.7-11)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; June 10, 2018 - Luke 14:7-11; James 4:5b-10

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Scripture and Music ::
Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service (BEACH SPRING, arr. Austell)
Humble Thyself - Awesome God (Hudson - Mullins)
Have Thine Own Way, Lord (ADELAIDE)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

There is this guy driving down the road. He’s got 17 penguins in his car. This cop sees him, stops him, and says, “I don’t know what’s going on here. But you’ve got to take these penguins to the zoo.” The guy’s like, “OK.” The next day the guy is driving and he has the same 17 penguins in the car. The same cop pulls him over and says, “Look, man, I stopped you yesterday and I told you to take these penguins to the zoo.” The guy says, “I took them to the zoo. Today we’re going to the beach.” (Ezra Feinberg from the band Citay)

So, what am I doing? Is this a new fad in preaching… being a stand-up preacher? No, I began with a joke because a joke is a good template for understanding how a parable works and we are looking this week and the next two weeks at parables Jesus told around the dinner table. Last week we looked at the first verses of Luke 14. Jesus was invited to a dinner at the home of a prominent religious leader. And this was no ordinary dinner; it was packed with folks who were out to get Jesus – to trick him, trap him, and get him in trouble. The host was one of the Sanhedrin, one of the religious judicial court. The table was filled out with scribes, who were experts in the religious law, and Pharisees, members of a religious political group who wanted to make that religious law the law of the land. And then there was Jesus and one sick man. And in those opening verses Jesus faced the test of whether to help and heal the sick man on the Sabbath, with all those religious folks waiting to catch him doing something against the religious law.

He did heal the man and asked them a series of questions that silenced them. And before they knew it, he started telling parables, not meant to be funny, but with a similar form to a joke with a punch line. I want to talk briefly about how parables work, then look at this first one of three in verses 7-11, then at the punch line Jesus delivered through that parable. And maybe, if we pay attention, we’ll get the joke that’s not a joke, but a pointed Word from the Lord for us today.

The Parable (vv.7-11)

With the disclaimer that analyzing a joke can really kill it, what I want to do briefly is analyze what makes a joke a good one. I can think of at least three things (there may be more): it’s interesting, draws the audience in with points of connection, and then delivers an unexpected ending: the punch line. Let’s look at those three components.

Interesting – Any number of things can make a joke or a parable interesting. It may be about something unusual or even ridiculous (17 penguins in a car), it can be about something relevant (a wedding banquet), or it can even appear to be uninteresting (“Did you hear about those actuaries in the news?”) but quickly surprise the disinterested listener with a connection or punch line. Sorry, I don’t have a good joke about actuaries. But you have to be careful for the intro to not be so inaccessible to the listener that they don’t make it to the connection or punch line. I may have lost the average listener at ‘actuary’ (or they would have been stuck on “What’s an actuary?”) But the key is something that makes the audience want to pay attention while also not giving away the punch line. Jesus did this here by talking about a wedding banquet. For most people, a story that starts with “If you are invited to a wedding banquet…” makes you want to hear the rest of what’s coming.

Connection – And what makes a good joke (or parable) even better is if there is a point of personal connection with the audience, like if I had told my opening penguin joke at a gathering of police officers or if I told it to a youth advisor with a van packed full of middle schoolers. If the audience feels like this story has something to do with them it draws them in even more. Jesus did this masterfully in today’s text. He could have simply said what the scriptures taught about humility, using Hebrew scripture like Proverbs 25:6-7, which his hearers would have been very familiar with:
Do not claim honor in the presence of the king, and do not stand in the place of great men; for it is better that it be said to you, “Come up here,” than for you to be placed lower in the presence of the prince, whom your eyes have seen.
Or he could have told a parable with any kind of story line that tied into humility. But we read in verse 7 that “He noticed how [the invited guests] had been picking out the places of honor at the table.” Using what was happening right in front of him at the dinner table, he told a parable that would not only be interesting, but connect directly to his audience, their attitudes, and their actions right then and there.

Punch Line – In a joke the punch line happens when the story or expectation shifts. The listener has a kind of ‘aha’ moment which, in the case of a joke, is supposed to be funny or ridiculous or silly. But it’s unexpected. Even in the ridiculous scenario of 17 penguins in a car, we thought the driver had disobeyed the policeman. But he had taken the policeman’s instructions in a literal, but unexpected way. Sometimes jokes make you groan or belly laugh, but there’s that twist or punch line that delivers at the end. In a parable, there is often a twist or unexpected turn. In Jesus’ parable today, that unexpected moment is two-fold: there is a point about humility that they didn’t see coming AND because of the immediate connection to what is going on around the table it is a point TO THEM in particular. So let’s look some more at the point and the punch line of Jesus’ parable here.

The Punch Line (i.e., the Point) (v.11)

Two unexpected things happen in Jesus’ parable for the listeners at that dinner. One is that the imaginary wedding feast didn’t go as it should. Invited guests did not show appropriate humility and the expected hospitality was disrupted. It would have been a great spectacle and shame to be escorted from the lead table to the back of the room because you inappropriately sought out the best seat. Even though there is a huge distance between our culture and that of Jesus, can you imagine if you went to a seated wedding reception and you decided to go sit at the head table with the bride and groom and their family and then were asked to leave? So part of what makes this story interesting is that the scenario is pretty unthinkable. Who would do that? What disrespect to the host! Any proper guest should ask the host where to be seated. That was true then as it is now.

I think verse 11 is the punch line, but it is in a “you had to be there” kind of way. Here’s how I can imagine it playing out in the listener’s heads:

Jesus ends his story with v.11, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

If I’m at that table I think: Right on, that guest was way out of line and got what was coming…. wait, he said EVERYONE… not just the wayward guest. Is he making some kind of point here about humility? That sounds a lot like the Psalm (138:6 “Though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly, but the proud He knows from afar.” referenced in James 4:6)… wait, we were all scrambling for a good seat when we got here… is he talking about ME?!?!

That punch line started happening at ‘everyone’ and unfolded by the end of the sentence when an interesting story suddenly pierced the heart of all those sitting in the room with Jesus. These were the scribes and teachers of the Law, all the folks who knew every verse and rule about pride and humility and could quote it. But their behavior had betrayed them. Those who put such a premium on literally doing good all the time by obeying the smallest parts of the Law had been caught and called out for breaking one of the most flagrant sins: pride.

And the beauty of the parable: Jesus hadn’t said, “You there, you are being prideful.” He could have delivered a teaching on pride and humility much like we heard this morning from James 4. But instead he just told a story and each one there heard themselves in it and were self-convicted. Perhaps some missed it, but I think that would have been hard to do. That’s what a parable does – if you really get it, it gets YOU!

A Parable for Us?

So in an ideal world, the way I’d love to preach this passage is to tell you a parable that interests you, connects to you, and provides that punch line where you find yourself in the story, thinking “I got it!” and the thing you got is God’s Word to you. If I could do that and the message be humility, then I’d be right on today’s text. But I couldn’t think of one. Plus, you have Jesus’ parable on humility to think about. So, I’ll tell you this one instead:
There was a grand opening of a new coffee shop in the neighborhood shopping center. This was an endeavor by a local family in a market flooded with Starbucks, Caribou, Dunkin’ Donuts, and many others. But they would make it homey and personable, the kind of place where you’d come in and stay a while. It would look and feel like your own den or family room, with comfortable furniture, quiet music, and friendly staff. The owners had great hopes and dreams for the place. They had the opening night and they invited their closest family and friends to come. And come they did! They filled the place and bought coffee and stayed and talked and enjoyed the furniture and the music. Other folks had heard about the opening and came to see what was going on. They waited in line and met the owner and bought the special blend made just for this occasion. And it was standing room only. For those guests and new customers, it was standing room only. All the family and friends were nestled down in the comfy chairs listening to the quiet music and enjoying conversation with each other. And after standing and looking around a bit, those other folks who weren’t family or friends slipped back out. Sometimes they stopped back in a few days later, but the family and friends, out of a sincere desire to support the couple, always filled the comfortable seats, and the other folks neither lingered nor stayed.
Now I’m not a great creator of parables. In fact, I think that’s my first. And everything in me wants to go back through that and preach it regular-like. But I’m going to just let that sit and trust the Holy Spirit to help it marinate. We have two more weeks of parables, so maybe I’ll come back to it next week and say a bit more. Amen.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Dinner Lessons - Help is Hospitality (Luke 14.1-6)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; June 3, 2018 - Luke 14:1-6; Matthew 12:1-2,7

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Scripture and Music ::
Prepare the Way (Evans, Nuzum)
Come, Ye Sinners (Matthew Smith, Indelible Grace)
That's Why We Praise Him (Tommy Walker)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Listen to a story...

There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man. A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’ What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?

“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded. Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:30-37, THE MESSAGE)

This is one of the better-known stories Jesus told. Jesus told it to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” But it also describes a tension between religious responsibilities. The religious men were on their way, no doubt, to some religious place or function, perhaps even something required by God’s Law. What does God desire?

Well, I’m not preaching on that story this morning, but it’s the same tension and the same topic that comes up in today’s text. Jesus is at the house of one of the leading religious people of his day. He’s there on the Sabbath to eat with the religious leaders and is faced with the same situation in his story. Does he follow the “religious rules” or go against them when he encounters a man in need of help? Add to that that Jesus said of himself that he did not come to do away with God’s Law, but to fulfill it. So what does God desire?

Today we are beginning a summer-long series inspired by our recent anniversary lunch and open house. I was working with Mark Katibah on the flyer for the event and trying to think of a theme. I saw his wording about HAVING and open house for the neighborhood and I thought, “What God wants is for us to BE and open house to our neighbors.” So that’s our theme for this summer series. I want to look at a number of encounters with Jesus – many around themes of hospitality and welcome – and see what it means for us to be an “open house church.”

Sunday Lunch (vv.1-3)

When I was growing up, Sunday lunch was a big deal. I suppose it still is for some church-going folks, though it may be more likely to be out at a restaurant than gathered around a table at home. But when I was young it was pretty inviolate. If you wanted to go over to a friend’s house, it was well after Sunday lunch. It was like an extension of worship and a part of family tradition and you didn’t mess with it.

That’s a flavor of what’s going on in Luke 14. It is a Jewish context, so it’s the Sabbath meal rather than our Sunday. But it’s a meal tied to weekly worship and observance of God’s commandments. It was also the perfect place for the religious leaders to test Jesus, because a number of the religious laws came into focus at the Sabbath meal. The gist of the Sabbath was that God set the pattern of resting on the seventh day after creating on the first six. And like His creative work, God’s rest was also good. Then God gave Moses the Ten Commandments which included “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) Then, to underscore that, there were a number of specific commandments about resting from work on the Sabbath. It was not just a “take it easy” command, but “on the seventh day there is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord.” (Exodus 31:15) Keeping that Sabbath commandment was a sign of the covenant relationship between God and Israel, so it was a big deal.

This particular meal in Luke 14 was no random social occurrence either. This was a setup and a test. Verses 1-3 describe who all is at the meal. There are ‘lawyers’ or scribes. These were not attorneys, but experts in the Jewish religious laws – that is, the Mosaic Law and all the interpretation of it. The Pharisees were a religious/political party intent on putting the scribes interpretation of the Law into practice. And the leader of the Pharisees hosting the party was probably a member of the Sanhedrin, or Jewish judicial council, also a religious and political position of power. And finally, there was a sick man suffering with dropsy (sometimes now called edema), which we think was a disease in which fluid collected in parts of the body. It seems very unlikely that he wandered in or would be allowed to wander in. It seems evident that he was brought in specifically to see how Jesus would respond, much as in another Gospel when the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery before Jesus to see how he will interpret the religious Law.

In fact, Jesus had previously healed people twice on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-11 and 13:10-17), so this seems like a specific test and trap, designed to get Jesus in trouble or even bring charges against him as not just teaching against, but breaking the Law of Moses and violating the Hebrew scriptures.

The Test (vv.3-6)

So, Jesus had taken heat twice before for healing on the Sabbath and now he was faced with it again, with a room full of scribes and Pharisees in front of him in the home of one of the judges of Israel. What would you do? Remember too, that Jesus taught and believed that he didn’t come to do away with the Mosaic Law, but to fulfill it. The Law and the Sabbath Law was not bad, so he had no desire to thumb his nose at it. But there was also a man in need.

First he asked all those experts and devotees of the Law: What do you say? “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (v.3) That’s a bit of turning the tables… will they take the same test they are trying to put him through? No… they kept silent. (v.4) Now, Jesus could have also chosen to keep silent or not act, but he would not ignore the man in need.

As they stood silent, he took hold of the man and healed him, and sent him away. (v.4) That’s all the detail we get, but it’s all we need. No stalling or “meet me later” or “on another day.”

Then he spoke again to the room full of experts and devotees of the Law: “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” (v.5) And they could make no reply to that either, for saving a life (for human or animal) was allowed in the Law and they knew they would do the same. In effect, Jesus claimed that this diseased man as worth of the same attention. In doing so he also demonstrated his intimate knowledge of the Mosaic Law and how he was interpreting it.

Now you may be thinking, “Where in the world does it say in the Old Testament that you can’t help a sick person on the Sabbath?” Well, it doesn’t! But centuries of interpretation of the Sabbath commandment had led to a long list of do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts) about what could happen on the Sabbath. But again, Jesus didn’t just thumb his nose at the Mosaic Law, but demonstrated how well he knew it AND was keeping it: namely, that God is a God of compassion, mercy, and healing, and rest from work was not the same as rest from compassion and mercy.

What Does God Desire? (Matthew 12:7)

So what DOES God desire? In another situation of supposedly breaking the Sabbath, Jesus is challenged for his disciples picking some grain from a field to eat on the Sabbath. But they weren’t harvesting (work); they were hungry and just having a bit of extra grain (also provided for in God’s Law for the hungry!). In that instance, Jesus quotes scripture to the Pharisees; this was the other text you heard this morning, from Matthew 12:7, which was quoting Hosea from the Old Testament – “For I desire compassion and not a sacrifice.” There and at this meal in Luke 14 Jesus is reminding them that God desires mercy and compassion all the time, for that is one of God’s defining and holy characteristics.

So, while we are to rest from working 24/7, it is for our well-being and ordering of human life; it is not to neglect human need, worship of God, or any other number of things. Doing so is an example of legalism. Legalism is appealing because we don’t have to think or evaluate or weigh our actions. Legalism can also be appealing because we can hide behind it. Think about that parable of the Good Samaritan again. The two religious people that passed on by might well have said, “But I can’t be late; I am on my way to do the Lord’s work.” But they were missing the Lord’s work right in front of them and may have been using a legalism to avoid helping a hurt Samaritan, a person they had no affinity with and even despised for cultural and religious reasons.

Jesus spends a significant part of his ministry teaching and demonstrating what God desires. In his “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-8, he teaches directly about God’s Laws. That’s where he says he doesn’t come to do away with them, but to explain and fulfill them. So, he says God isn’t looking for external conformity, but inward understanding. It’s not enough to not kill, we must also endeavor to love and forgive neighbor and even enemies.

So what about for us? Do we ever use religious practice in a way that misses God’s intent for us? I think the answer is a resounding yes.

Sometimes we get it right: I think of the event that inspired this whole summer series. We were queued up to have another anniversary celebration of our church’s founding… a meal, in fact. And there is nothing sinful or wrong about that. In fact, it’s great! Let’s eat, enjoy each other, and celebrate what God has done and is doing here at Good Shepherd. But what of the 10,000 people who live within a mile of our church, many hurting, lonely, and without connection to the community of God? When someone suggested reaching out and inviting the neighbors to our special meal we could have said, “No, this is just for members; we can do something for them another time.” But that members-only perspective is a misreading and misapplication of scripture and God’s intent for His people. Even with ancient Israel, God’s covenant people to whom God appeared and revealed His Law, it was always for the sake of the world. They were blessed in order to be a blessing. And then in the New Testament, there is no missing the call to the church out into the world. And thankfully, we knew that and folks poured themselves into inviting and opening up and welcoming even when it meant some extra logistics and considerations.

Other times, like with our politics or finances or Facebook posts I think we can justify attitudes and behaviors as somehow rooted in our faith, but let ourselves off the hook of digging deeply into God’s character and desire for us to be engaged with the world around us. That’s the kind of thing we are going to dig into this summer, so I’ll leave up a question to take with you here at the beginning of the series:

How do I appeal to faith or religion 
that may miss God’s intent for me 
as His child and follower? 

Dinner Continues…

This was not the end of the dinner or Jesus’ exchange with those at the dinner. In fact, after he heals the man and there is no response to his questions, he launches into three parables or stories in a row, each using imagery from a dinner party and immediately applicable to those present. I imagine by the end they were probably regretting their attempt to trap Jesus!

Over the next three weeks we will look at each of those parables as a “dinner lesson” from Jesus to us as we seek to grow in our understanding and capacity to show godly hospitality and help towards those outside our walls. Amen.