Rules for Dinner Parties – Sermon on Luke 14

Proper 17C – An invitation to top table
Luke 14: 1, 7-14

This parable always reminds me of the first time I had dinner with Bruce Willis.

I had been involved with the financing of his film the Whole 9 Yards and had been invited to a dinner to celebrate the closing of the deal.

We were introduced to the quiet and diminutive bald-headed Hollywood action hero at the beginning of the meal. This was in the manner of a receiving line and I had taken a position at the end of the queue – knowing my place was rather down the pecking order behind the star-struck investors and scantily clad aspiring actresses.

As I waited I had time to think. I knew that Bruce liked golf and was coached by a family friend in the US – a certain Claude Harmon III – and so when we were introduced I used this point of connection as a conversational gambit. Bruce seized on this. “Oh you know CH? I love that guy. He’s the best. Come here – sit down – have a drink – grab some lobster – tell me how do you know him…”

And so I found myself sitting next to Bruce as the dinner began, at his right hand – the seat of maximum honour.

I looked up and met the eyes of the host

I was sitting where his actress girlfriend was supposed to be sitting and getting the attention of the star. Instead of her minimalist outfit he was looking at me in my banker’s grey suit and Ferragamo tie – very elegant I thought but not what he had in mind for the meal

His face was bright red with fury.

I was not sure what to do – I didn’t feel I could break off my conversation but I knew I was doing irreparable damage to my client relationship.

Eventually the boss of the film company leaned over to me and whispered – “Chris, you need to move. Now!” And I left with my tail between my legs and took a place, far away, at the other end of the table.

It was deeply humiliating.

It was this same utter shame and humiliation which Jesus was warning was coming to the Pharisees

For the world was to be turned upside down – Luke writing after the destructions of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD could write with confidence that the Christians and not the Pharisees would be on the right side of history, let alone sitting at the right hand of God.

This was the reversal which Luke had foretold at the beginning of his gospel in Mary’s hymn of praise, the Magnificat

He has filled the hungry with good things

The rich he hath sent empty away

This is the reversal which Jesus had promised when he read from the scroll in Nazareth.

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free, (‭‭Luke‬ ‭4:18-19)‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Here he puts that reversal in the context of a dinner

Dinners are interesting – they are about so much more than food. They are times of bonding and speeches or building relationships and showing respect, of showing and returning hospitality, of displaying wealth and showing generosity, of telling stories.

As such, meals appear to have been important to Jesus – indeed the son of Man came eating and drinking (Lk 7:34). They are especially prominent in Luke’s Gospel and in particular in this central chapter 14 where Luke groups together a series of stories which are based upon dinner parties.

Two of these stories we have in our reading this morning

In the first, Jesus is warning that those who think that they have a right to sit at top table will be disappointed in the new order which is coming

In the second, Jesus is warning those who invite people to dinner to make sure that they have invited the poor and hungry– for they are the people who shall be ‘filled with good things’ while ‘the rich shall be sent empty away’.

The ideas of these two parables are brought together in a third – the famous Parable of the Great Banquet – which follows immediately after our reading.

This famous and important parable is omitted from the lectionary this year.

But perhaps you remember it? A wealthy man holds a feast and invites all his important acquaintances – but they make excuses

Eventually he has his servants go to the streets and byways and pull in all the tramps and outcasts

Jesus is saying that those who should have sat at table have rejected the hospitality and instead it is the poor and lowly who join in the feast.

As such these three stories of dinner parties interrelate and inform each other and they inform us as we prepare to share this Eucharistic feast this morning

The stories remind us of the disruptive and transforming power of God

Of the reversal which sees a poor man seated at the rich man’s table, where the hungry are fed and – in the context of this Parish of St Martin of Tours – where a soldier becomes a bishop.

This is the table which we humbly share – putting ourselves at the mercy of God that we will not be asked to leave

We do not presume to come to this thy table, merciful Lord trusting in our own righteousness but in thy manifold and great mercies

Thus our Eucharistic liturgy reminds us of the need to come humbly before the Lord’s table.

What it perhaps omits – just as the lectionary omits the story of the great banquet, is the need for us to open the invitation which we have received and share it with others

The meal we share with one another here today, we share with the apostles and saints who have gone before us.

But if we are faithful disciples and followers in the way trod by Luke and the other apostles, if we have listened to the parables we have just heard, then we must look around us and ask ourselves who is here and who is not here?

Where are the hungry, the disabled, the deaf the blind, the poor the miserable, the homeless, the tax collectors and the sinners?

Most of all, where are the people that we personally have invited to come and share in this most precious meal, the Eucharist of our Lord?

Have we been like Bruce Willis – asking the sinful banker from the end of the line to sit next to him at the table – or have we been like the proud host – reserving the pew for only our friends and family?


Sermon preached by Rev Christopher Hancock, St Stephen’s-on-the-Downs, Langley Vale on 28th August, 2016