The Work of Jesus
Luke 14:1, 7-14
One of the characteristics I admire about Jesus is his accessibility. He did not isolate himself from the outside world by hiding within the inner circle of his disciples, but was available to people, especially people often ignored and overlooked.
It is within the scope of his accessibility that our lesson begins this morning with an interesting piece of information. We are told that Jesus accepted an invitation to eat at the home of a “prominent” Pharisee on the Sabbath. The invitation seems to be a tad unusual only because Pharisees were not known for extending invitations to Jesus to sit down for dinner and casual conversation, and often opposed him on his theological approach to the Sabbath. So, when we consider the scenario it seems a little odd to find Jesus reclining with this prominent Pharisee. Carefully watched for any slip of the tongue that might be found offensive to the Torah, Jesus had to know that this was another potential trap, but here he is sitting in a room filled with a group of people who are not necessarily what we would call close friends.
But the lesson shares another piece of information. As much as Jesus was being carefully watched, the gospel says that Jesus was watching, too. As guests began to take their place around the table, he noticed how they picked the places of honor at the table. This prompts Jesus to share a parable about the necessity of humility which flies in the face of what we see in our culture. The political, social, economic, and church environments of our time desperately need leaders who are humble. Jesus now turns his attention to the host in what must have been a very uncomfortable and embarrassing moment. This is the thought of Jesus: It is easy to surround ourselves with family and friends and people of influence. The greater task is to pay attention to the neighbor who is powerless and disadvantaged.
When I was deployed overseas as a chaplain in the first war with Iraq, I remember the announcement at quarters that the Admiral of the Fleet was coming aboard for a short visit. There were printed menus and formal place settings. Everything was carefully choreographed. Department heads, of which I was one as the ship’s chaplain, were expected to sit at the head table. When I arrived, I noticed that the head table was short a chair and place setting. As I made my way to a corner of the room, I watched how people negotiated for the closest seats to the Admiral. They, of course, wanted to be noticed.
As the Admiral and our Commanding Officer entered dining space we were quickly called to attention. When we were “invited” to take our seats, Captain Ecker started looking around. Where’s Chappie? he asked, Where’s Chappie? I’ll never forget him pushing chairs aside and inviting me to sit beside him after the blessing for the food. Arrogant attitudes lead to humiliation. Humble spirits foster respect and appreciation.
The Lord’s Table is set for us this morning. The presence of bread of cup draws us into the presence of Jesus Christ and invites serious self-examination with reference to our brokenness and failures. By way of the bread and cup we have the opportunity to also reform the places in life that are uneven and incompatible with our faith. In the bread and cup, Jesus comes to meet us where we are: believers and doubters, sheep and goats. He comes to offer his unconditional love, his mercy, and the wonderful gifts of security and hope.
But there is something else that happens when we come to the Lord’s Table. Like the disciples at Emmaus, our eyes are opened and we have the opportunity to confess our allegiance to Jesus and to re-commit our lives to being more like him. We are blessed when we see what Jesus sees and make room in our lives for neighbors who live on the fringes of life. The Christian life and the work of Jesus is not about self-absorption and climbing ladders of social or religious influence. The work of Jesus is about redemption, active discipleship, and caring for those who are broken, lost, and friendless.
Two weeks ago, I arrived on the church campus early one Monday morning with a full day’s work ahead of me. I immediately noticed the parking lot was full of cars and wondered what in the world was going on. I learned in a few minutes that the women of the church were enjoying breakfast and having a planning meeting as they looked ahead to the fall. But I was also informed that there was an individual standing underneath the portico to the office entrance. He had been escorted to our campus by a sheriff’s deputy. He had little, the shirt on his back and a bicycle. He had no shelter, no food, and no money.
I set my work aside, and like Heather, Jack, and John in similar situations, I drove him to the local bus station, purchased a bus ticket to Ohio by way of the discretionary fund, doubled back to the Waffle House where he ate a good breakfast as I sipped coffee, carried the conversation and prayed for safe travels.
In terms of measurable productivity by way of office work and keeping appointments, making phone calls and pushing paper, half a day was gone, but at least I could live with myself for not brushing him off, sending him away, and doing nothing. I was blessed that day not because someone noticed me or did something for me, but because I did the work of Jesus. We are not called to do good deeds in order to be recognized or repaid. We do good deeds out of gratitude for the grace of Jesus in our lives. In his mercy, we will be invited to the glorious resurrection of the righteous.
As I keep my eyes and ears open, it seems to me that too many Christians and too many churches are becoming like the prominent Pharisee. If we are not careful, our understanding and expression of the gospel becomes too strident and dogmatic. As we gather at in this holy and sacred space this morning, the question should be – As hosts of the gospel, who is missing among us? Could it be that we have become too comfortable with family and friends at the risk of forgetting our neighbors of need?
Finally, as Jesus watched people take their seats around a table and offered corrective commentary, may he see us bearing witness to the gospel and doing his work joyfully and faithfully and not out of dreadful obligation. Receiving the bread and cup this morning, may Jesus help and sustain in his work of proclaiming the gospel, administering the sacraments, providing pastoral care, and reaching out to those of special need. I do not worry about my salvation. I do not worry about issues and I do not worry about the future. I just want to do the work of Jesus, and do it right. In the words of a Christian preacher I greatly admire, I do not always know what is right. All I know is whom I love, and how far I have to go before there is no one left I do not love. If I am wrong, then I figure Jesus will know what to do with me. I am betting my life on that. (Barbara Brown Taylor, Christian Century, © 2003) Amen.