Weekly Seeds: Receive the Invitation

Sunday, August 28, 2022
Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost | Year C

Focus Theme:
Receive the Invitation

Focus Prayer:
God, we accept your invitation to a party where the seating is a circle and karaoke is never necessary because we can sing our own stories. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Luke 14:1, 7-14
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
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. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “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.”

All readings for this Sunday:
Jeremiah 2:4–13 and Psalm 81:1, 10–16
Sirach 10:12–18 or Proverbs 25:6–7 and Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1–8, 15–16
Luke 14:1, 7–14

Focus Questions:

  1. Can you recall an occasion of ‘table-awkwardness,’ perhaps when seven eight-graders made the eighth-and-empty chair disappear, when your romantic reservation was lost, when a host seated you next to someone with whom you disagree deeply, when the eating implements were strange to you? Do recall how you felt or any way it changed later behavior?
  2. What kinds of eating events do you like to host ¬– small ones with congenial guests or likely-to-be-congenial ones with no food sensitivities, small or large ones with guests of significantly different backgrounds, or open houses that invite everyone and expect ‘everyone’ to bring a friend or two?
    Do you feel like you are supposed to answer this question in a particular way?
  3. What role do you do best – host, guest, cook, person who always comes with a host-gift, person who always offers to help clean up, person who drives home criticizing most events?
  4. (For self-defined introverts) If gatherings of any kind are difficult/work for you, how have you chosen to engage with people who are different from you?
    5) Two church members meet, and one says to the other, “Are you coming to the potluck?” The second one replies, “No, I am coming to the potgrace.” How would you define the difference in these expressions? To whom does it matter?

By Maren Tirabassi

Table manners. Jesus talks about table manners, how to be a guest and how to be a host. The setting was already tension-filled on the journey to Jerusalem, but uniquely here the Pharisees are the “good guys” warning Jesus of Herod’s plot against him. Some Pharisee, maybe Nicodemus, has heard the preaching and wants both words and healing to continue. Then another Pharisee, a leader, invites Jesus to dinner. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin and therefore a leader. These were both known as followers of Jesus as well as members of the most holy of Jewish groups, but surely there were others who did not agree with the antagonists who often questioned Jesus.

Jesus is enjoying this meal and notices that people are awkward in finding their seats, and it leads him into a parable about table manners. Meals from the time of Sarah and Abraham’s hospitality to three strangers who turned out to be God, through the history of settled and nomadic people basing honor on their willingness to invite and then protect anyone who needed food, to these tense days of Roman occupation, remained a central proof of faith. It was central to staying alive by filling both hunger for food and hunger for community.

Awkward guests do not just come from long ago times. Eating together is still one of the most complicated of human relationships. Tension can be high for a middle schooler finding a table to join in a school cafeteria or for a blended family sorting themselves out at a wedding to support the couple being married. Coffee can be kindly or brusquely served to a lonely person in a roadhouse, and a friendly smile added to the first jello or broth after surgery makes a long-lasting memory. For everyone, past Quinceañeras enjoyed, past invitations unreceived or received, past Christmas joys at a shelter for unhoused people, or a single thoughtless family lack of courtesy can flavor new occasions and behaviors.

In this passage, Jesus, known by his friends and enemies alike as both up-for-anything guest and holy host, gives simple guidance to fill these roles. Both of the roles are hard, and Jesus does not diminish the challenge. A host is to invite the least likely of guests and the guest is simply to accept every invitation and not presume to define it, or their place within it.

This etiquette of acceptance and inclusion that Jesus teaches in this parable is widely present in the gospel through the stories of his presence at such different tables ¬as Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, Simon-the disapprover, Zacchaeus the repentant cheat, Martha, who wanted the James Beard award of her day, and the two Emmaus travelers who threw together an impromptu supper. Later, in the Acts of the Apostles, perhaps the strangest tale is Peter’s dream to include everyone and call no one unclean. Each of these stories are about ordinary eating. Jesus words to the anonymous Pharisee’s party does not foreshadow Communion so much as make inclusive Communion possible because everyone learns to both sit and receive and offer the recipe of love. We, too, receive the invitation, because we have learned to be guests and hosts nimble enough to change those positions with grace because of Grace.

Prayer for Fiesta with God
At the beginning of our journey,
we gather as your people, Lord,
looking for life, for our life.
Thanks for having us in your home
and for opening the doors of your love.

Your Word nourishes us,
hugs from us renew our brothers and sisters,
Your Spirit encourages us
to celebrate – FIESTA!
For your grace abounds
in your eyes and caresses.
We sing, clap, smile
and open the soul to find
your presence and generous solidarity.

We are a happy people
and we want to serve you with joy.
In times of confusion and so many doubts,
in moments of selfishness and ambition,
we walk your ways of justice,
hear your words of release,
learn from your lawsuits serene
extend, like yours, our open hands …

May this meeting to renew in us
the ability to follow you and love you,
every day, wherever you call us.
Gerardo Oberman, Argentina, trans. Katherine Fiegenbaum in Gifts in Open Hands (Tirabassi and Eddy, Pilgrim Press, 2011)
En el comienzo de nuestra jornada,
nos reunimos como tu pueblo, Señor,
buscando vida para nuestra vida.
Gracias por recibirnos en tu casa
y por abrirnos las puertas de tu amor.
Tu Palabra nos nutre,
los abrazos de nuestros hermanos nos renuevan,
tu Espíritu nos anima
y celebramos FIESTA.
Porque abunda tu gracia
y tu mirada nos acaricia.
Cantamos, aplaudimos, sonreímos
y abrimos el alma al encuentro
de tu presencia solidaria y generosa.
Somos un pueblo feliz
que quiere servirte con alegría.
En tiempos de confusión y de tantas dudas,
en momentos de egoísmos y de ambiciones,
queremos caminar tus caminos de justicia,
escuchar tus palabras que liberan,
aprender de tus juicios serenos,
extender, como la tuya, nuestra mano abierta…
Que este encuentro renueve en nosotros
la capacidad de seguirte y de amarte,
cada día, allí donde tú nos llames. (Gerardo Oberman)

Prayers of people who seek food justice
Good and gracious God, you are asking us to see the earth as you do—as so very, very good: trees with fruit, bursting with seed; green plants for food, for humans and for every living creature; as a holy place for everything that breathes and to whom you have given life. We live now in a time of barrenness and winter. But we know, even though our supermarkets are full, others struggle with drought, famine, and hunger. Make us mindful of how we might live faithfully in the wilderness so that we are not dependent on unjust systems and structures that widen pain and deepen hunger. May our fasting help us to experience true feasting. Amen.
Michael S. Mulberry in A Child Laughs: Prayers of Justice and Hope (Mankin and Tirabassi, Pilgrim Press, 2017)

Let’s renew life —
wherever hands intertwine,
wherever bread is broken and broken again;
wherever life is celebrated by an embrace,
by an attentive look.
Your love, oh God,
is like the perfume of spring,
the air of September,
that announces the awakening of life,
coloring our dreams and our hopes.
Let’s renew life
throw away the old hue,
let’s paint with new and bright colors
such that we can be your collaborators
in the space where we build
and reconstruct our life. Amen.
Maria Dirlane y Edson Ponick, in Gifts in Open Hands (Tirabassi and Eddy, Pilgrim Press, 2011)

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
Two follow:

May our courage to fight for a living wage
Shine bright as the moon in the midnight sky
May the sound of our voices
Reach the peak of the highest skyscraper
And the depths of the lowest valley
May the movement of our hands and feet
Be felt in the boardroom
And celebrated in the throne room
Moving from the assembly line to the picket line
Enveloped in God’s care.
Secured by God’s call
Making a place at the table for all. Amen Eric C. Jackson in
A Child Laughs: Prayers of Justice and Hope (Mankin and Tirabassi, Pilgrim Press, 2017)

On Psalm 146
O wondrous, giving God, we know who you are.
You are the compassionate and merciful One who cares for the poor, the oppressed, and those on the margins. You made us in your image. Therefore, it follows that we, too, should be caregivers, advocates, and defenders of those in need.
We pray fervently as disciples of Jesus Christ that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we may be able and willing to do so. It is in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Dr. Devoree Clifton Crist, Spirit Prayers: Praying Through the Pandemic and Social Unrest volume 2

For further reflection:
“I used to walk about the world pretending to be so tall. I would lift my chin higher, hopeful that in some small way I was actualizing my desired grandiosity. But I was not grand. I was not good or pure. I was only human. Now, I walk about the world aware of the grandiosity that surrounds me. And instead of feeling overwhelmed or small, I feel invited. Invited to explore a life that offers experiences much greater than any I have had thus far.” ― Marquita Burke De Jesus”
“A beautiful path does not need to invite people; the beauty itself is already an open invitation!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan
“The most sacred invitation that a person can extend to us is to invite us into their pain. But that means that we have to choose to knock on a door that we often prefer to pretend is not there.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

Maren C. Tirabassi, has been a UCC pastor for forty-one years, author of many Pilgrim Press books serving local churches in innovative liturgy, youth ministry, LGBTQI issues, elder care, and global worship connections. She is a published poet and novelist.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.