12th Sunday after Pentecost

First Reading: Proverbs 25:6-7

6Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence
  or stand in the place of the great;
7for it is better to be told, “Come up here,”
  than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

Psalm: Psalm 112

1Hallelujah! Happy are they who fear the Lord
  and have great delight in God’s commandments!
2Their descendants will be mighty in the land;
  the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3Wealth and riches will be in their house,
  and their righteousness will last forever.
4Light shines in the darkness for the upright;
  the righteous are merciful and full | of compassion.
5It is good for them to be generous in lending
  and to manage their affairs with justice.
6For they will never be shaken;
  the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.
7They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;
  their heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
8Their heart is established and will not shrink,
  until they see their desire upon their enemies.
9They have given freely to the poor, and their righteousness stands fast          forever; they will hold up their head with honor.
10The wicked will see it and be angry; they will gnash their teeth   and pine away; the desires of the wicked will perish.

Second Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

1Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6So we can say with confidence,
 “The Lord is my helper;
  I will not be afraid.
 What can anyone do to me?”
7Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14

1On 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.
7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8“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; 9and 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. 10But 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. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12He 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. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  Cinderella

Here is a short summary of one of our favorite children’s tales, Cinderella.  A wicked stepmother and her two jealous daughters treat Cinderella, the daughter of the missing father as a servant. They make sure Cinderella will not be able to attend the royal ball. But Cinderella’s fairy godmother appears and magically transforms Cinderella with a gown, coach and glass slippers. Cinderella enchants the handsome Prince Charming at the ball, but there is a catch.  At midnight she returns to her everyday life.  We all cheer when the Prince finds Cinderella by using the glass slipper.  They live happy ever after.  Oh sigh.  Ah if only life were like that.

         So which character grabs your imagination today, the step-mother, the step-sisters, Cinderella, the fairy Godmother, or Prince Charming?  Share with your neighbor which one you like.

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

We love the story of Cinderella and keep reinventing it in various film versions.  The basic plot is common to stories in many cultures around the world.  In fact today our text tells of a parable told by Jesus at a meal on the Sabbath at a Pharisee’s home.  Jesus notices the guests trying to get the best seats.  Not too dissimilar to being invited to the Prince’s ball.

         Jesus tells a parable about another banquet but interestingly he describes the banquet in the second person, “you,” and invites even us to identify directly with the characters in the parable.  Not only are we personally invited into this parable, into this banquet, but Jesus is setting the parable in a greater discussion he is having with followers about the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven.  During Pentecost we are asking ourselves how the truths of Jesus impact our lives so a  “you” invite is appropriate.  We are invited to the banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven.   I would suggest today that the story of Cinderella pulls the truth of the parable Jesus shares into our current life stories that in a way we understand.  Who do you identify with in the Cinderella story?

         The film Ever After sets Cinderella in France and gives a bit of context to the stepmother.  Cinderella’s father is never mentioned possibly because he died after remarrying, leaving Cinderella to be raised by her stepmother. Some of us know the disappointment of marriage that did not turn out as we anticipated, of relationship dreams never fulfilled, of carrying burdens of stepchildren.  It is so easy to scapegoat, to take out our disappointment on those around us.  Life after the death, disappearance of a spouse or loss of a father is hard.  Perhaps we choose the stepmother because we understand her pain and frustration.

         Some of us are like the stepsisters, number two, second class citizens.  We feel like the extra baggage that came as the result of another’s choice.  We too want to be invited to a banquet where we might feel important and seen.  We want someone to replace our lost birthfather.  We want a handsome prince.  We dream of the day when we will be valued and can sit at a place of honor at a banquet.

         Cinderella could represent a person enslaved by the injustices of life.  I’m sure refugees, victims of war, maybe the poor are tempted to sit by the fire and sigh about their life and the hopelessness of it.  Perhaps today you identify as someone at the meal watching other people scramble for seats of honor and realizing you don’t fit in that group.  The Pharisees would never invite you to their home.  Life has put you at the fringes.

         Let us not forget Prince Charming.  He is the one everyone wants to be aligned with.  Popularity is a double edged deal.  Is he popular because of his looks?  Because of his money?  Because of his connections?  Finding a friend, or a wife, that “sticks closer than a brother” is a hard task our prince is facing.  Proverbs 31 would affirm this, “A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.”  Perhaps you are looking for that special someone today.

         Then there is the fairy godmother.  Few of us identify with her power to give hope to Cinderella nor do we possess the magic to change mice into horses, a pumpkin into a coach.  But as grandparents we can bless grandchildren with stories and affirmation that opens new worlds to them. We are friends and we have the magic of listening others back into life when they are discouraged and need a shoulder to cry on.  Perhaps you are a boss who helps an employee stand a little bit taller with words of affirmation and recognition.  We all have the power to give life and hope to others so you might identify with the fairy godmother today as you seek to bless another.

         Perhaps I am stretching this children’s fable a bit but there are certain things I notice.  God’s kingdom is often compared to a wedding feast and the invitation is open to all.  He invites not just all the women but he invites all of us.  Christ died for all!  He died for the stepmothers, the stepsisters, the Cinderellas, the Prince Charmings, the missing father, and the fairy godmothers.  We are all invited.  And like the disciples and like the guests in the parable, we would love a seat of honor.  Reading the parable as a moral story about being humble without putting ourselves in the story, sells the story short.  We are those guests invited to a banquet and are challenged to reflect today on our attitude about that invitation.  Are we scrambling for seats of honor or too busy to respond to the invite or taking our invite for granted and not properly clothed..  Jesus addresses us, “When you are invited to a wedding banquet…”

Words To the Guests

Humility: a modest or low view of one’s own importance

         Jesus first addresses the guests, “…do not sit down at the place of honor.”  Running through the Gospels is this theme of reversals.  The road to ultimate happiness is not through putting ourselves forward but through “a modest or low view of our own importance.” Humility and trust in God is important.  Honor does not come through works but through grace.  Cinderella has no hope to be chosen and elevated and she knows it. Disney would have us believe it is because Cinderella is beautiful, blessed with a dazzling countenance, has an empowering godmother and of course is oh so humble.  None of us possess those qualities. Humility calls us to acknowledge our humanness, our sinfulness.  We do not get to the eternal banquet without kneeling at the communion table banquet where we acknowledge sinfulness and our need for God’s grace. 

         Our dreams have us scramble for seats of honor.  Humility is realizing that it is the host who determines who sits where at the banquet.  Waiting for the host to show us where to sit is hard. We are tempted to focus on the flaws of the others and falsely flatter our own attributes as we seek high seats. We are not realistic in evaluating our worth.   Humility is looking to the host for seating, for value.  All the guests are flawed.  We do not know their stories.  Our value does not lie within us but within the eyes of the host who invited us.  God is the only true, honest, impartial judge of who sits where.

           We are all invited and we are all flawed.  And the truth is that the magic fades at midnight and we are left with our sinful selves.  We all need the magic, the forgiveness of Jesus.  The journey with aging certainly makes us realize that our value is fading.  Life is unfair.  Disease seems sometimes to be an arbitrary enemy attacking the rich and the poor, the young and the old, and the talented and ordinary.  Economic and environmental factors affect and threaten everyone at the banquet.  The banquets of this world can disappear but it is the eternal banquet in the heavenly kingdom whose invitation we need to seek. God’s grace not only throws the banquet to which all are invited but also God’s grace rewards us all appropriately and knows the right seat for us.  God is the one who will exalt us. Jesus reminds us, you and me, “11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

         Jesus’ word to us today:  we are all invited, God knows where we will sit, and God exalts us.  It is grace and not works.

Words To the host

Invite those who cannot repay

Jesus now addresses the host of the meal.  Now we have another reversal of logic.  Let us think about who gets invited to banquets.  We can pull up several current examples.  A fund raising meal invites those whom the host hopes will participate in the cause the meal represents or at least the guest will pay a large price to be invited.  Money is speaking!  We often call it a benefit.  Each plate benefits the host or the cause.  Then there is the list for the wedding meal after the wedding.  The bride’s family can invite so many and the groom’s family can invite so many because each meal costs the host.  Each plate represents a social obligation of the host.  Another current example would be the Thanksgiving meal or some other family gathering.  Be honest!  We reflect first on who came last year and who we are socially obligated to include along with our favorite peeps.  Who to invite is always a question we think about.

         It seems to me that Jesus is saying that who we invite to a banquet reflects on the character of the host.  Hosts often invite based on what they can get rather than on what they can give, on appearances, and on social connectedness.  That is not the character of God.  He is not obligated and he is not trying to impress us. Again we see that God invites all of us to the banqueting table and “his banner over us is love.”  Jesus himself was criticized for eating with sinners and tax collectors.  Jesus stops his journey to tell Zacchaeus up in a tree that he would eat at his house.  God invites unlikely people like you and me to his eternal banquet.  The doctor treats the sick that need healing.

         Hosting is not about obligation but about who we desire to bless.  But hosting is also an investment in the future.  We hear the phrase now, “pay forward.”  Blessing someone today who can never repay us is an investment in the future and a statement of our faith that there is a God who sees and cares.  “14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The unseen reality

         Jesus is teaching us about the kingdom of heaven.  He speaks to the guests and to the host at a Pharisees’ meal by telling a parable to them and us about banquet behavior.  The parable resonates with our fable of Cinderella.  In the Cinderella fable, all the women are invited to a ball where the prince will choose a bride.  All want to attend but are flawed by the scars of life.  All want to be chosen, blessed.  It is the intervention of the fairy godmother that makes it possible for Cinderella to be chosen.  It is the intervention of Christ on the cross that makes it possible for us to approach God.

         But let me make one more point.  Jesus is a host and a guest in this world.  He created us and is one with the King but comes down to earth to dance with us through our lives.  It is his grace that blesses and it is his grace that touches our lives.  Jesus is the ultimate guest and the best host! Jesus can transform the disappointment of the stepmother, the jealousy of the stepsisters, and the poverty of Cinderella in our life.  It’s not magic.  It is grace and we say thank you.

Let the people of God say, “Amen!”

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