This was our message at St. Paul’s in Eureka on Aug. 28, 2016. I am a bit behind on posting. As part of my contribution to the service, I brought a vase of zinnias for on the piano. Here are some pictures of that vase of flowers after I brought it home. Those are the perfect cut flowers because they seem to last forever. I may need to go and cut a few more for the Empty Nesters meeting tomorrow night. The vase was completely reversed if you might think it is the same picture, it is a little different.
The scriptures we had were: Luke 14 1, 7-14, Jeremiah 2:4-13 and Hebrews 13:1-8 as mentioned above the title was “Seating Arrangements.”
Today is one of those days when you can hear a story and say it is interesting the way things work sometimes. Today, I am going to tell you one of the things that began the ball rolling so to speak that ended in me being here with you. And this is not the story of me going to a volleyball match and visiting with Toni. No, this story is much older and more far removed, and though I have thought of that moment a few times over the years, it is something I try to shove to the back of my mind, and in fact it isn’t even a story I have shared with James or any of the others in my family. And the only reason I bring it up today, is because of how well it fits in with the lesson from the gospel. See once upon a time, I was that person who sat in the wrong chair and was forever embarrassed and forever marked for it.
If I have done my backwards counting correctly, this event happened in the fall of 1987. I had taught for two years in Jud, ND, and was just beginning my job as the physical education teacher at the Children and Adolescent Unit School of the State Hospital, which was technically a part of the Jamestown School system. I was sure this would be a way for me to get that proverbial “foot in the door” and help me eventually to get an English teaching job at the high school. Well, as things go, I believe my little blunder on that fateful day in August probably put a swift end to any hopes that I might have had.
See, all new teachers were required to attend a special meeting with the Superintendent and the new Assistant Superintendent during the course of the in-service workshops. Our meeting was scheduled promptly at 1 p.m. in the board room of the administration offices which was downtown. For some reason James and I decided that day we needed to take Jessica and Victoria to McDonald’s for a back to school lunch. We were running late getting out of our morning in-service and had to go pickup the girls from the sitter then back to the area of McDonald’s and on and on, and soon it was getting really close to the time of my meeting, and as traffic and all turned out, I entered the building after the door closed to the meeting.
I was told to go inside and when I got there the place around the table seemed filled. I could only see one open chair and I quickly went to it and sat down. It was in the front right beside the speaker, only it was the chair of the speaker, the superintendent. He and his assistant had reserved the chairs on either side of the podium for themselves. The chair that was open for me was crowded tightly into the middle of the side facing the door and right where I walked in, and a friend was trying to hold it for me to enter quickly and unobtrusively, but I was in such a hurry I didn’t pay any attention, and instead I was thoroughly humiliated and probably forever labeled as a bumbling idiot by the administration. Come to think of it I never got along with the superintendent’s daughter when I was in college, and was probably lucky to have gotten the job I had even when no one else applied. At any rate, I can completely relate to the idea of not sitting too near the head table in order that you are not embarrassed by being asked to move farther away from the guest of honor.
In fact, I was afraid that last night James and I were in nearly that same position. We were at a wedding reception in Linton, the second one in two weeks. I actually teased him that the only time he asks me out for supper on a Saturday night is when we are going to a wedding reception. All the other Saturdays we are either on the way home from seeing one of the girls of vegetating on the couch after working in the garden all day. Anyway as the host and hostess were telling people to get in line for the food, they asked if anyone at the table was an immediate family member. My first reaction was to say, “No, do you want us to move?” I thought we had taken a spot off to the side and out of the way so that we wouldn’t be sitting in a designated spot, but I wasn’t totally sure, and really didn’t want to cause a disruption. It ended up that we were in the last of the tables to get in line and that was fine. James was basically invited because he had been the teacher of the groom and coach of both the bride and groom. As we looked around the room, we only saw a couple of other teachers, and one was there because her son was in the wedding. It was quite interesting.
We have one other wedding to attend in the near future with the reception in that same hall. I think for that one, we will attend the wedding and get to the reception a bit earlier. I am tired of looking around for an open seat and feeling squished. The table next to us last night was actually the end table and they were so tired of trying to get in and out that they actually moved themselves over a little bit. I was visiting with the lady sitting there and told her how when we set up the tables for our reunion this past summer, we sat back to back in the chairs at the tables and had someone walk between us to see if there was enough room.
Now if you look at some of the background materials of the wedding feast mentioned in the passage we read from Luke today, you find that their tables were not set up the way we are used to seeing a banquet or a wedding reception. In their day they did not sit up at a table to eat, remember it was the times of the Romans, they lay on couches to eat. Interesting, I wonder how many times they choked on their food from eating in that manner. Anyway, the Interpreters commentary noted that the couches usually held about three people and they would be arranged in a circular manner at a banquet or a feast with the main or most important couch being in the center of the room.
It was not quite like we are used to sitting at one end or the other. I can really see how humiliating it would be not just to be taken away from the front when you are removed from the most important spot, but to be removed from the middle, where you have to walk through the whole crowd to get yourself out of the way for someone else. I know that exiting from the front would also be embarrassing, but at least there you might be able to sneak along the side as you are leaving, but not so much if you are in the middle. Yikes!
Jesus gives this instruction, this information as we can see mostly for the benefit of the religious leaders who it seems are so bent on being the ones who want those seats of importance. And maybe they really believe they deserve them. When you think about it, they are the ones who have taken the time to learn the religious laws. They are the ones who work at the temple keeping things in order. They are the ones who are living a life in the manner of the laws following the orders that God has given through Moses and the commandments. Certainly they are entitled to the respect of the people. Certainly they should be held in great esteem. Yet for some reason, Jesus is always pointing out their short comings. He is always letting them know when they are putting the laws above the real love of God. And as he does it, Jesus is letting those leaders know that a little compassion even a little humility is not such a bad thing.
Through this parable Jesus wants us to understand that it is not for us to put on airs and give ourselves more importance than others. What God asks of us is not just that we follow the commandments and morals and ethics of being a good Christian, but that we practice the love and compassion and true mind set of doing as Jesus did in how we treat and care for others. This isn’t just about how we worship or how we give, but how we act and how we speak and how we behave not just around fellow church goers, but in all aspects of our lives.
Then as Jesus finishes this parable, he also gives instructions about how to host such an event. The final verses that we were given notes that guests should not be invited just because they are important and might return the invitation, but that all should be invited, especially those who are not able to return the favor, the poor, the lame and the blind should also be on the guest list. Again the target is likely the religious leaders who have denied entrance to the temple to the lame and the blind because they didn’t seem to be worthy to enter the house of God. [What an idea!]
Here again it seems that the deeper meaning is that Jesus is telling us who is invited to join him in paradise. He is telling us who is on God’s guest list and who is invited to God’s banquet hall. But there is also another meaning; the other aspect of this parable is for us. He is letting us know that the doors to God’s place of worship here and now need to be open and welcoming to all people. In the lesson we read from Hebrews, we are reminded to show our hospitality even to strangers. And we are also reminded to share what we have because doing so is pleasing to God. May we always keep that attitude of: “everyone is welcome here no matter where you are on your faith journey.” And may we exude that attitude in our daily dealings with those around us. Let us always be about Christ’s way of welcoming. Amen!