I went to a family party many years ago with my husband’s extended family. Bill and I were only just beginning to date. We were celebrating his grandmother’s birthday that day at a restaurant. But because we had the furthest to travel to get there, we were naturally a little late. So when we entered, I saw some open seats with the cousins. Thinking it appropriate, I went to sit down with the cousins. But before I could even reach for the chair, one of the cousins looked at me and said “Oh I’m sorry all of these seats are saved”. I will tell you that no one ever sat in those seats.
I found that whole incident to be a little crushing. What kind of welcome was that to someone new. Who treats their own cousin that way? Bill and I ended up having nowhere to sit until his grandmother had some chairs pulled up to her table for us. I remember those feelings from that first encounter even to this day. And I find that I kind of steal myself anytime I have to go spend time with them, even though they have worked in recent years to be a little warmer and a little more inclusive. The encounter colored my impression of them and sometimes I dread some of these extended family events.
In our scriptures, Jesus was at a Sabbath party himself, and in ancient Israel, it was customary that the person of honor be seated the closest to the host. Everyone wanted to be the honored person; you got more food, better drink, and better social standing. To honor someone was expected to be a reciprocal action. If you couldn’t reciprocate you were never invited. Jesus was saying though that to worry about reciprocation, to worry about honor, to think about being repaid for your generosity and kindness was the wrong way to welcome someone, was the wrong reason to invite people to your home. There should be genuine kindness at the heart of what we do. We should not seek reciprocation, or to exclude others because they can’t repay the honor.
We should seek to make people feel wanted. This is what Christ does with communion and this is what we remember on communion Sundays. Christ’s table is for all people, all are welcome. No one is left out or relegated to the back corner. Everyone gets the same food, the same honors, the same service. Everyone receives the same reminder that Christ sacrificed his life for all people even though none of us could surely reciprocate the sacrifice he made for us.
When we come to the act of communion we are invited to come humbly and not because we are seeking rewards or acknowledgement that we are somehow better than others in this world. Early Christians experienced communion in a very different way. They experienced a weekly feast. The wealthiest were invited to the table first and the poor Christians would get the scraps along with the dogs. This is why communion was changed because this is not what Jesus taught particularly in today’s lesson. Christ encouraged meals and celebrations to extend to all people, even if they would never repay the act. Christ encouraged us not to seek social standing through our religious experiences and not to seek the admiration of others.
Now this does not mean that Christ was against social climbing. But rather he believed that it should not come at the cost or humiliation of someone else. So we are called from these passages to remember to be inclusive of all people, to be loving and inviting, to remember that all people are welcomed and valued and loved. We are encouraged to think about those who are in need and not about whether we will receive reciprocation for our hospitality. We should keep in mind the words of Holly Sprink in her book Faith Postures, she writes, “We don’t practice hospitality to point other people to ourselves, our church, or even our beliefs. We practice hospitality to point people towards the ultimate welcome that God gives every person through Christ”.
So let us live into the compassion we have received from Christ. Let us share the love we have experienced by caring for others, by being inclusive and embracing all the children of God into our spiritual family and caring for all people equally. Instead of determining that some people are more desirable than others, we should remember the advice of Christ when he said, “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Go forth and share the love of Christ with all, whether or not you feel they deserve it or that they can repay the kindness because this is our calling as followers of Christ. This is our calling as Christians living in a world where there is too much judgment, too much hate, too much prejudice, and too many people suffering and alone. Let us be the visible welcome of Christ to these people and to all people everywhere.
 Holly Sprink, 21st century.
 Luke 14: 13-14, RSV.
(based on Luke 14: 1, 7-14)