Wednesday, September 05, 2007

jesus at a party

image from

so this last sunday i preached on luke 14:1-14, where jesus is invited to a party. i was particularly interested in verses 12-14 where Jesus says that when we throw parties we shouldn't just invite friends, relatives and rich neighbors. 'instead,' he says, 'invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.'

i have preached most every week that i've been here in clinton, which is 14 months now. but no sermon i have preached has resulted in so much discussion and feedback as this. i'm not exactly sure why it struck such a chord, but it did, and i've been doing some reflecting on this.

the basic thrust of my sermon wasn't exactly a revolutionary point; it is a fairly constant theme in Jesus' message: include the outsider. i began my sermon by trying to get the congregation to imagine with me what it might look like if Jesus was a dinner guest at our own home. i was hoping to help people understand that, in this story in luke, Jesus is showing a blatant disregard for social norms and polite expectations. he doesn't do well with good behavior. instead, jesus criticizes the guests for competing for honor, and then turns his attention on the host, calling into question the guest list. i wanted people to see that Jesus could sometimes make things awkward. part of my reason for doing this is that, despite my complete comfort with being comfortable, i absolutely believe that most of our churches and most of our christians in america are TOO COMFORTABLE. and i'm not speaking strictly financially, because there are many financially uncomfortable churches and christians in america.

when i read a story like this one in luke, i can't help but wonder about how comfortable i am. where are the 'crippled and lame, the poor and blind' at my table? what would jesus say if he came to my house for dinner? i don't think it would be something that would give me warm fuzzies. i don't think jesus would say, "hey thanks for a great meal. the stuffed mushrooms were particularly delightful. next time we'll all come to my house and watch 'america's got talent.'" i just don't think that is what he would say.

i'm not sure what he would say, but i think it would have to do with who is not included in my life. who am i excluding? who am i not loving? who am i ignoring? these are interesting questions in a world that is increasingly global, where our neighbors are not just our suburbanites in the cul de sac, but people all around the world.

and so i keep wrestling. who needs to be sitting at our table? what would Jesus say in my home? i need to surrender my allegiance to comfort and daily deal with the potentially awkward: i am wildly rich in many ways compared to the rest of the world. how will i live with that?

one thing i can say is that you should be careful before you include jesus on the guest list to your next shindig; he probably won't say what you'd like him to say.

consider yourselves warned.



Anonymous said...

Hey Greg.....Christina's friend Rachel here. So, I'm curious as to what the discussions were about at your church? Were people upset at the suggestion to invite "outsiders" or were they claiming to not know any "outsiders".

Please expand....


cathyq said...

I can bet the discussions were interesting. The guilt is obvious. Of course we don't do this. We are too comfortable, but how to break out of that safety zone is the question. i would also like to hear about the discussion/ideas/solutions that your parishoners came up with!

Secret Seminarian said...

I'd also be interested in hearing about what these discussions were like--who are the outsiders in question?

Anonymous said...

I think you hit the nail on the head. This is probably the major reason the Church is on the down fall numbers wise. We are comfortable with people we know. We often don't make people feel welcome when they come into our church. We definatley do not go out and invite strangers into our churches and home. The question is what will be done about it?

julid said...

i'm one of greg's "parishoners" (i use the term loosely - if you ask him, i'm probably one of his pains in the a**!)and you are all correct that this sermon was a good jolt from the holy spirit. greg is a "hit the nail on the head" kind of preacherman so we are becoming accustomed to this kind of thing, to the glory of God!!

You should listen to the sermon which we have somewhere on the CUMC website - it was complex and struck a cord with lots of people and of course, in God's way, uniquely to each listening ear.

I'm actually okay with the "whose at my dinner party" portion of the sermon. I live in a pretty transitional neighborhood where the empty bud cans and tatoos outnumber the suv's by a large margin. I have a special love for the folks around me and God has blessed me by putting me there.

the 2 questions and the one prayer(plea) that came up for me like a baseball bat to the head during this sermon were (1) how much is enough to have and to give? (2)does all this stuff start with the individual or the church? My prayer is dear God don't ever let me go numb but keep me agitated in my spirit so i won't miss what you need me to see.

I believe, Lord, help me in my unbelief.

I know this hit all of us uniquely and i hope we will continue to conversation.

God's grace and love are sufficient. He's large and He's in charge!!!!

Thanks again greg for the word and for showing us Jesus

greg. said...

hello friends, sorry it has been so long since i've responded. as juli indicated, the responses weren't so much about not knowing any outsiders as about what it might be like if Jesus came into our homes. i really tried to paint a picture for the congregation that enabled them to imagine Jesus at a party at their house. everyone is there socializing, admiring the house and the yard, talking about work and sports and britney's disasterous showing at the VMA's and Jesus, rather than participating in the status quo, challenges us deeply with incredibly awkward statements like:

when you throw a party, don't invite these people. instead, invite the poor, the lame, the blind and the sick.


it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom.


whatever you have done to the least of these you have done to me.

now, when you begin to shed the distance of time and culture and imagine that Jesus could be standing in YOUR home at YOUR party and saying these things, it is powerful. and so, the question for me is: what is Jesus saying at my party? what is his issue with me? how am i not really living as his disciple? who is the outsider that i am neglecting to invite?

for me, a challenging sermon always begins when i look inward at my own heart and feel the spirit convicting me. i can only preach from that.