One Eucharistic Meal at a Time

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
August 28, 2022
Proper 17C: Luke 14:1, 7-14

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When I served as resident chaplain at the University of South Florida in Tampa, students would gather together for weekly worship and to study scripture and share a meal. This group consisted of individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds and social groups on campus. Many in the group at the chapel center would have never bumped into each other, or even hung out with each other prior to connecting at the church. It was our shared faith community, formed through radical invitation and a shared love of Christ, that transcended the socially-constructed lines that had kept them apart outside of the church. And, within our shared faith community, the vulnerability, needed to cultivate a deep sense of belonging for all, was made possible during the sharing of our meals.

In our gospel passage in the 14th chapter of Luke, Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath. Knowing what we know about Jesus’ reputation for causing crisis situations on the Sabbath, it is no wonder that he was being closely watched by those in his presence, and he was closely watching them.

Jesus was an avid people watcher, and his observations sparked his two-fold response first to the dinner guests and second to the host.  Jesus’ parable used the context of a wedding banquet to remind the guests that their importance in the role of invited guest, was always at the mercy of the host.  Being invited at all set guests apart from the uninvited; perhaps fueling one’s sense of self-importance.

Seating arrangements at meals in Jewish society were a visible indicator of the “who’s who” in social ranking—from those in high honor to those of lower status. Not much has changed.

Think about seating arrangements at modern-day wedding receptions which distinguish the players—from the wedding party to the family, close friends, acquaintances and the “Who’s that?” plus-one guest. Where a guest will sit is dependent upon the discretion of the host.  Changing one’s seating to that of the wedding party when one is an unknown “plus one,” would be frowned upon.

Jesus witnessed the guests placing themselves in seats of honor without regard to the host’s will for them—or for the will of the host for the seating of his other guests. The parable is a classic reversal of fortune situation which is characteristic of the Lukan gospel—“…All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Exultation is an act of God, and a mere human being does not possess the power to exult oneself.  The parable warned that while a guest might place himself in a seat of high honor, he is powerless to remain there. Yet, the guest who sits in the lowest place, leaves room for the host to act on their behalf to elevate their status at the table.

After the parable, Jesus turned his focus to the host. The expectation for invitations was that those who were invited would repay the host with a future invitation. So, Jesus instructed the host to do the opposite—to invite outcasts of society—those who could never repay him—the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind and the host would be repaid by the host of all creation at the Resurrection.

The image of the wedding banquet is meant to draw the reader’s attention to the heavenly banquet, yet to come, to which all of God’s faithful are invited—where there are no strangers and all are included.  The context of the meal is important. Our human reality is that whether or not a meal takes place at a lavish banquet or on skid row—no amount of money or high societal ranking can substitute for life-sustaining food and water. Without food and water the human body will perish. In this way, the meal is a great equalizer which cuts across the societal strata. Just as the human body cannot survive without food and water, so, too, must the soul feast on the precious bread of life and living water—Jesus Christ.

In our epistle we are told that we must not, “neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” In showing hospitality to Jesus, the leader of the Pharisees entertained God himself without knowing it. 

Jesus challenges us, like he did the host, to risk inviting strangers into the divine experience of sharing the Eucharistic feast in which souls are fed and nurtured to the full stature of Christ through his body and blood.

Within the 21st Century American societal matrix—there exist opportunities to reconnect with humanity.  On any given day, sometimes multiple times throughout one day, one might experience navigating society from the inner circle—privileged with access to rights, freedom, dignity and justice. The same person might, in that same day, find difficulty in navigating a different social or professional circle where they are viewed as the outsider—excluded from rights, freedom, dignity and justice. Jesus challenges his followers, you and me, to risk being strangers who cross boundaries into both society’s inner circle, and the outer margins of society, in order to remove the lines that divide humanity.

The root word for hospitality is from the Latin, “hospes,” which, is the same for hospital and hospice; it means guest or stranger. Jesus directed his host to invite the outcasts on the margins of society—the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind to share meals with him. Would not this list of exclusion apply to all of us today? Those who experience poverty of spirit and the crippling effects of shame, guilt and unforgiveness; those who are lamed by day-to-day spiritual violence; and those blinded by the darkness of this world and blind to divine truths that will set all free? We are all outcasts of human societal constructs, and at some point, have experienced being the “uninvited.” But, God is not restrained by human constructs and behavior. God acts upon us so that we may transcend death-dealing divisions which fracture and separate humanity from God and each other.

From our very beginning St. Paul’s DNA has reflected the joy and purpose in radically welcoming new faces to share in the life of this faith community and the Eucharistic feast at the Holy Table.  We believe by faith, that God will lead many more strangers to our door, who depart as friends taking with them the message, “We’re glad that you are here; you are invited to take part in the life of this church.” Committed to living with Kingdom behavior, St. Paul’s strives to reflect the inclusiveness of God, lovingly inviting strangers—and entertaining angels—one Eucharistic meal at a time.