What cost, grace? Luke 14: 15-24

Grace – especially God’s grace – is a strange concept. No one deserves it; everyone has a different definition for it; and when God offers grace, the world is turned upside down. Disadvantage becomes desirable.

Jesus offers this insight while observing guests and their host interact over dinner. Entertaining, then and now, is a complicated business. Some guests are more important than others. Egos must be soothed, seating arrangements need to be carefully planned – and Jesus calls attention to the ridiculous, petty nature of it all. Don’t make a fuss, Jesus says – don’t claim importance for yourself – humility and hospitality are two sides of the same coin, and you host can only show you true hospitality if you are truly humble. When someone seems to suggest that those who share a table in the Kingdom of God will somehow be different, Jesus launches into his parable.

The first thing that strikes me about this ‘parable’ is the weak excuses offered by those who are first invited. I’ve got to see some new property; I’ve just been married; – I’m dying to try out my new oxen…Seriously? You have been invited – well in advance. You know the host is saving a place for you. Indifference is at work here, and that is what makes this parable so hard to hear this morning – for we know all about indifference.

(look around – you see real evidence of indifference – empty seats.)

But don’t mistake me – this is not a story about the importance of having a full church, nor is it all about dragging people to the party who don’t want to be at the party (Matthew tells the story differently, with consequences for those who come to the party ‘unprepared’) – no, Jesus tells this story at a dinner party (where grace is in short supply) to remind us that there is nothing in our experience that compares to God’s grace.

When we think about this parable and what it means for us as the church, too often, we see it as a sign of our failure. We have not kept the table full. We have failed to follow the instructions of the host, whom we serve We have heard excuses and believed them – we have not been so enthusiastic about the idea that the poor, the halt and the lame should be next on the guest list, because we have come to believe that the only good guest is one who can help us pick up the tab when the party is over. But this is not the parable of the full church – this is a parable of the kingdom of God – and the church is not always a good example of the Kingdom.

When offering his insight on the dinner party, Jesus lets the secret of this parable slip; Entertain those who can’t entertain you (Luke 14: 12-14) – don’t look to those who can repay you with an invitation, but try another way. “None of those invited will taste my dinner”, says the host of the parable – none who were considered ‘good enough’ will ever really know what hospitality is; none who think themselves righteous know what righteousness is; no one this thinks they are worthy of God’s grace will ever know what grace is, and this parable is all about grace.

The church is in a strange and dangerous position. We who call ourselves the body of Christ have met the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus; we say the right things, we worship and baptize and reach out to a broken world, but we do not always show signs of the grace that has touched us. We judge; we exclude; we offer (and accept) excuses for our behaviour that sound very much weaker than “I have got me a wife; I have bought me a cow”. We imagine that because we have commitments that cost us a pretty sum, that we are the hosts of this party, and somehow liable for its success – but we are not. We are urged to take advice from one who knows a thing or two about grace – Entertain those who can’t reciprocate, Jesus says – accept around your tables people who don’t appear to deserve an invitation – make your best efforts towards the least able in your communities and neighbourhoods. For the church, I think this means we must stop worrying about the supporters whom we have lost, and start to pay attention to those who desperately need our support. If it is grace we are asked to show, then lets reach out in faith without seeking reward, or reciprocation, or someone to share the cost with us.

(It is in that spirit that session in Thorburn has decided to organize (beginning in September) a monthly hot lunch, not as a fund raising enterprise, but as outreach. We do this, not so we can survive, but because we are the body of Christ, eager to show others what the Kingdom may be like. It is like a place where everyone gets what they don’t deserve – where invitations are offered and re-offered, not because the table (or the building) must be full, but because the Grace of God is not defeated by lame excuses or rampant indifference, or reluctant acceptance. God is generous beyond all imagination, and that generous grace is the example we are called to follow.

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One Response to “What cost, grace? Luke 14: 15-24”

  1. Iona Says:

    “We must stop worrying about the supporters whom we have lost and start to pay attention to those who desperately need our support.” Amen and amen!

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