Luke 14:1-6; Luke 14: 8-14; Luke 14: 16-24

On 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. 2 Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5 Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?” 6 And they could not reply to this.

If Jesus were among us today in the flesh, he would be popular, but not with everyone.

When we think of Jesus, we think of someone we all would like, someone we would all like to have over for supper, someone we would all like to invite to our church, someone we would all feel comfortable around.  Many would be surprised.

He’d accept invitations to speak in places that some would find unacceptable.  He’d spend time with people that religious people would think he shouldn’t hang out with.

Jesus would be controversial. Jesus might offend people in the church as much as those outside the church.  And if we really listen closely to the stories that he told long ago, we might still be offended.

In the text today, Jesus is invited over for Sabbath lunch at the house of a prominent Pharisee.  This wasn’t a friendly invitation, though. Jesus was smart enough to know he was in hostile territory.

Sometimes when we are invited to a meal, the person may want more than company.  He or she may want information, or to get us to side with him or her on an issue.  We might be sized up for the way we are leaning on an issue.  We might not be asked to pay for the meal but sometimes there is a cost to accepting the invitation all the same.

At the Pharisee’s house there was a man who had a physical deformity.  Since the text says Jesus was being watched, it’s likely the man was invited to see if Jesus would heal him.  This was a Pharisaical game: “Let’s see what the healer will do.”

The Pharisees had a long list of things you could not do on the Sabbath day and healing was on that list, as if that was a common skill.

Jesus could have avoided any controversy but he decided to deal with their hypocrisy head on.  Unlike many of us, Jesus was not afraid of confrontation.  He started by asking if it was wrong to heal on the Sabbath and when they said nothing he healed the man.

Then he confronted them with their hypocrisy by asking if they had an ox that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t they get it out?  Their silence said it all.  They had exceptions to their rules and Jesus knew it and he exposed this with his question.

Jesus wasn’t finished.

Apparently, when Jesus and the other guests arrived, no one was there to seat them.  So, as we are prone to do, they began to jockey for the best seats.

Now we’ve all done this.  When you go to a party where there is a buffet, how many of you have tried to figure out which table is going to go through the line first?  Don’t you usually choose to sit at that table because you think the people sitting there will get to eat first?

When these people arrived, they were choosing the seats closest to the host, which were considered the most important seats. That likely left Jesus with the least honorable seat at the table, from which he told this parable:

“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; 9 and 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. 10 But 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. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 He 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. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Now if you were sitting in the most important seats, when Jesus finished telling this story, it’s likely that you wanted to crawl under the table.

And what about the host? Jesus called out the host for inviting his friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors.

We think, “Well, yeah.  What’s wrong with that? That’s what we all do. Who else would you invite?”

Jesus said, “Instead of the normal guest list, why don’t you invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind?” Remember, this is a parable.

What’s Jesus saying?  He’s saying that God looks for selfless acts of giving, not those that are laced with, “What’s in it for me?”

Jesus says that there’s a deeper level of giving than the one where we give with a hope that something is going to come back to me because of my investment, which is the entire premise of the prosperity gospel.

Prosperity preachers should take note and so should you. While some of the churches of prosperity gospel preachers are full and some have money for what they need, that does not mean their message squares with scripture.

Jesus has the radical idea of throwing a banquet where you invite people who cannot repay you: the poor, the crippled, and the blind.  Although they cannot repay you, Jesus says you will be blessed.  But notice where he says your blessing will come:  “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

That doesn’t sound like a very good methodology for church growth.

A lot of churches focus the bulk of their ministry on what will bring people in and what will bring people back.  I understand why.   Many churches have a business mentality. You have too, right. Bills have to be paid.

If we don’t have bottoms in the pews and bucks in the plates, the church declines and pastors and staff lose their jobs.  It’s like coaches who don’t win enough football games. Eventually, the staff is asked to go somewhere else.

Nobody likes to see good numbers more than the church staff.  We want people to live abundant lives and go to heaven.  However, it is hypocritical the church to pretend that numbers are important if we scurry for the best seats and only associate with those we already know.

So, in the spirit of Jesus, I ask you, “When is the last time you’ve broken bread with someone you didn’t know that you met at church or that you wanted to share about your faith?”  You say you are interested in numbers. When have you last visited someone that’s come to your church or called or written a note to someone who’s visited your church or even someone that goes to no church at all?”

But wait, if your toes were stepped on, let me ease your pain a bit because while other churches may focus the mission of their church entirely on whether people are filling the pews, we are not that church, nor should we be.

Most of our mission money is given to people who are never going to repay us.  The mission trip to Kentucky is a great example.  We are ministering to a lot of people who are not going to become members of our church.

While it is not wrong to think creatively so that we can have the best environment possible in which to make disciples, we must not lose sight that kingdom work will involve ministry that will not always result in visible returns. In fact, most of the mission dollars in our budget may fall under this kind of kingdom work.

By now, I think I have your attention.  Jesus certainly had the attention of those around that table and things were quiet.  Things may have even been a little tense as people were passing the food around.

So, one of those at the table decides he’s going to break the tension and get everybody to agree on something and so he says to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

That sounds like a real conciliatory statement.  “Pharisees, Jesus people, can’t we all agree on this?”

I told you, this Jesus is controversial. He does not disagree with what the man said, but he wants the people at the table and us to think about who will be at this feast in God’s kingdom.

6 Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20 Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”

This invitation to this feast is a metaphor for an invitation to God’s kingdom and all it represents, which includes heaven.

Many think heaven is a given. It’s for all people who have lived a good life.  But Jesus wants us to know that many people will be invited to heaven but will miss out because they are too busy to accept the invitation.

In Jesus’ story, one guy couldn’t attend the banquet because he had just bought a field and needed to go see it, but who buys a field without having looked at it first?

Another bought five yoke of oxen, but who buys oxen without plowing with them first?  That’s sort of like buying a car without test-driving it.

Another just got married, but can’t the groom bring his new bride to the banquet where she can meet new friends and celebrate?

All of these people are distracted–with good things.  Good things can cause us to wander from God.   They missed the Great Banquet because of good things.

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”

Let’s be thankful for every good gift from above.  However, in our thankfulness, let’s be aware that the good things in our lives can become distractions that pull us away to what is temporary rather than what is eternal, the most important of which is the gift of heaven.  Don’t miss it because you were too busy to accept God’s invitation.

While we all want a full church, let’s maintain our kingdom focus.  God didn’t judge the success of Jesus’ ministry by the numbers of people who followed him.  Otherwise, at the end of his life he would have deemed him a failure.

God judges us by our faithfulness.  I pray that you will judge my work and the work of your staff by the same measure.

Remember, God holds us all accountable by the same standards.  So, while we will continue to work hard to fill every pew with innovative ideas and ministry, let’s continue to be the church that understands that a lot of our ministry will never produce new members even though we invite people of all kinds to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven, which produces strong disciples as a by-product.

This morning, you have once again been invited to God’s Great Banquet called heaven.  Are you certain you will be there?  Accept Jesus and the forgiveness of your sins. Become his disciple and be sure.

If Jesus, through his parables, has spoken to you about where you are at the table, and you know you need to make changes, now is the time to speak to Jesus and make things right. Leave today with a clean heart and a renewed Spirit, sharing with others what Jesus has done for you and inviting them to come to his Great Banquet and to our church.