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Luke 14_1, 7-14

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TITLE:  A Different Kind of Luncheon                SCRIPTURE:  Luke 14:1, 7-14

I was taking a class at the university when I was challenged by one of the students.  He said, "The Bible says, 'Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth' -- but that isn't true!  It's aggressive people who inherit the earth -- not the meek."  Then he waited for my response.  The room got very quiet.

I had a sermon on the Beatitudes that I had preached a couple of times, so I remembered it well.  It was based on William Barclay's commentary on Matthew.  In that commentary, Barclay talked about the Greek word praus -- the word that is translated "meek" in our Bibles.  He said that, in Greek literature, praus is often used to describe a horse that has been domesticated -- tamed -- a horse that has learned to take orders.

So I broke the uncomfortable silence and explained about praus and horses that had been tamed.  Then I took it another step and explained that horses in that time and place were an instrument of war.  Soldiers rode horses into battle.  Those horses were praus -- broken to ride -- tamed -- but hardly what we would call "meek."  I said that praus isn't really about meekness, but is about power under control.

I was proud of myself for answering the challenge.  I was especially proud of remembering that Greek word, praus, and being able to explain it.

But later, I found myself replaying that little scenario and becoming less and less comfortable with my answer.  The more I thought about it, the more I felt that I had given a "this-world" answer to that young man's question when Jesus, in the Beatitudes, was talking about something completely different. 

It occurred to me that, in the Beatitudes, Jesus hadn't been trying to tell us how to get ahead in this world.  He was giving us a glimpse into the kingdom of God.  He was like a tour guide preparing us to enter a foreign land.  He was explaining local customs and rules of the road.  He was preparing us so that we wouldn't get a rude shock when we entered the kingdom of God with its very different culture.  He was inviting us to start living by Kingdom Rules so that we could start life in the kingdom of God here and now. 

I wish I could turn back the clock so that I could answer that young student differently -- so that I could get it right this time.

Our Gospel lesson today reminded me of that incident.  Jesus was eating dinner on the Sabbath at the home of a leader of the Pharisees.  This Pharisee had invited a number of people, and they were jockeying for the best seats -- the "places of honor" (v. 7) -- the seats nearest the host.  That's where everyone wanted to sit. 

But Jesus saw what was happening, and gave them some advice.  He said:

     "When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,

     do not sit down at the place of honor,

     in case someone more distinguished than you

     has been invited by your host;

     and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you,

     'Give this person your place,'

     and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.

     But when you are invited,

     go and sit down at the lowest place,

     so that when your host comes,

     he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher';

     then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you."

When I read that part of the story, I was reminded of the student in that classroom -- and my regrettable answer about "Blessed are the meek."  It occurred to me that we could make the same mistake here that I made there.  We could explain Jesus' advice about sitting in a low place as "this-world" advice -- "How to Use Humility to Make It Big." 

But Jesus wasn't telling us how to get ahead socially or professionally.  He was pulling back the lid on the kingdom of God to let us see how things work there.

Then Jesus turned to the host and offered him a bit of advice.  The people at that dinner were movers and shakers.  That's why the Pharisee invited them.  This was a gathering of the elite.  They ate together often -- had much in common -- owned much of the town's property -- made the town's rules.  And they were in a position to help each other.  "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours." 

You don't break into a group like that easily.  These men were lucky to be there, and they enjoyed their privileged status. 

But Jesus advised his host:

     "When you give a luncheon or a dinner,

     do not invite your friends

     or your brothers or your relatives

     or rich neighbors,

     in case they may invite you in return,

     and you would be repaid.

     But when you give a banquet,

     invite the poor,

     the crippled, the lame,

     and the blind.

     And you will be blessed,

     because they cannot repay you,

     for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

To understand what Jesus meant, we must first understand the extent to which he turns this-world wisdom on its head.  That is especially apparent in the Beatitudes:

     -- Blessed are the poor, not the rich.

     -- Blessed are those who mourn, not those for whom life is one big party.

     -- Blessed are the meek, not the powerful.

And it is apparent here as well, when Jesus says:

     "When you give a banquet,

     invite the poor,

     the crippled, the lame,

     and the blind.

     And you will be blessed,

     because they cannot repay you,

     for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Jesus didn't come to earth to teach us how to get rich as this world counts riches.  He came to teach us how to be rich in the kingdom of God. 

That might not sound very interesting, because most of us would be thrilled to be rich as this world counts riches.  Being rich in the kingdom of God sounds pretty remote. 

-- But this-world riches go by fast -- and aren't very satisfying for people who lack spiritual values. 

-- And kingdom of God riches start now and last forever.  Note that the kingdom riches start now.  We don't have to die to begin enjoying them. 

On several occasions, Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God as having come near (Luke 10:9, 11; 21:31) or as being among us (Luke 17:21).  The kingdom of God is near when we invite the poor and the crippled and the lame and the blind to sit at our table.  The kingdom of God is among us when we extend Christ's blessing to those who cannot repay us. 

Jesus promises that God will repay us "at the resurrection of the righteous" (v. 14).  But I have noticed that kingdom of God people don't have to wait that long.  Kingdom of God people live blessed lives here and now.

And kingdom of God people help to bring about the answer the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray.  He said:

     "Pray then in this way:

     Our Father in heaven,

     hallowed be your name.

     Your kingdom come.

     Your will be done,

     on earth as it is in heaven"

     (Matthew 6:9-10).

When we take care of people in need, God's kingdom comes in our lives.

Roy Fairchild wrote a book entitled Finding Hope Again.  In that book, he tells this story:

"I had come to Vienna after a two-week illness in a little Austrian village.  I had spent most of my travel money on medicine and doctors and used my last bit to take a train to Vienna.  I had no clue as to where I could find my friends who had been waiting for me earlier.  I was lost and hungry and depressed. 

"As I was standing in one of the street car stations in the center of the city, tired, discouraged, and trying to figure out what to do, a little, old wrinkled woman (whose job it was to sweep out the station) came over to me and asked if I was hungry.  Even before I could answer, she took her lunch from a brown bag and offered me half.  I was moved.  She not only helped my aching hunger, but lifted my spirit in an unforgettable way.  I have never forgotten her -- the warmth of her face, the graciousness of her gift, the youthful sparkle in her eyes. 

"We talked for more than an hour about her life.  It had not been easy.  She was raised in the country, knowing nothing but hard work on a farm.  She had lost her husband and two sons in the Resistance.  Only her daughter had survived.  She was thankful, she said, for many things.  She was at peace with her story. 

"Finally, I asked her why she offered me her lunch.  She said simply, Jesus is my Lord, God is good. She understood and lived the story of Jesus in a way that the most sophisticated scholars could never do.  Her faith touched mine." 

And then Fairchild asked this question:

     "Who was it, after all,

     that I met that day in Vienna?"

He doesn't give us the answer to that question, but the answer is clear.  He met Christ.  He met Christ in the presence of a woman who was very ordinary by the world's standards -- but who was part of the kingdom of God.  Her kingdom of God values blessed him, but they also blessed her.  God had not given her an easy life, but he had given her warmth of face, a sparkle in her eyes, and a thankful heart.

Jesus promised that such people will be repaid "at the resurrection of the righteous" -- but I believe that God starts blessing kingdom of God people here and now. 

We have such people present in this congregation today -- kingdom of God people.  They bless us all.  Let us thank God for them, and let us all become kingdom of God people.

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