I preached yesterday from Luke 14, Jesus eating at the home of a Pharisee on the Sabbath, and came to a surprising realization in the middle of the sermon.
I’ve preached on this passage several times, adjusting the sermon for the occasion. It’s a very familiar text to me, committed to memory. Yesterday, however, I wanted to do something with the guest who between Jesus’ parables interjects, “Blessed is anyone who eats bread in the Kingdom of God.” Let me set the comment up a bit.
Jesus has spent the better part of the preceding verses critiquing the banquet etiquette, and by extension the very social practices that maintain the status quo, namely reciprocity or favor currying, of those gathered. He goes so far as to suggest a different guest list for banquets. Don’t invite friends or brothers or rich neighbors or relatives, but instead invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.
Jesus has had the bad manners of criticizing both the banquet etiquette and banquet host, while at the banquet. As I suggested in the sermon, the critique is usually reserved for the car ride home out of ear shot of the host and other guests. It’s an awkward moment. Somebody should change the subject.
And so a guest shouts out something everyone could agree on, “Blessed is anyone who eats bread in the Kingdom of God.” Jesus, however, doesn’t take the comment positively or as an affirmation of his teaching, but as an objection to what he is proposing. I say this because he responds with a biting parable where the host of a banquet (rhymes with nod) is refused by those on the initial invitation list and are replaced with the “poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame,” the same guest list proposed in place of “friends, brothers, rich neighbors, and relatives” in the previous parable. Those originally invited will find themselves on the outside looking in. The comment, “blessed is anyone who eats bread in the Kingdom of God” is clearly not in sync with what Jesus is proposing. But why?
I had some prepared comments on the question “why.” But it hit me square in the middle of my eyes at this point of the sermon that the guest’s response is the equivalent of saying “all lives matter.” Jesus has said, in effect, that the realities of the coming Kingdom of God will privilege those who have been overlooked and marginalized in the way things are currently arranged. The poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame matter in the new arrangement of things God is bringing. The banquet guest is saying in essence, no priority for the poor and marginalized in the Kingdom of God. All lives matter. Anyone who eats bread in the Kingdom of God is blessed. The comment maintains their perceived place in the world and justifies their banquet practice.
So, that’s what I said. I’m not a manuscript preacher, though I write my sermons out before I preach them. I’m not arguing for my style of preaching, manuscript verses non. Some of my favorite preachers are manuscript preachers. No, really. But, had I not been “off the leash,” I’m not sure the phrase would have occurred to me, and if it had I likely would not have said it.
Some of you might be thinking I shouldn’t have said it. I’ll admit, I got a few disconcerted looks among some approving nods in the congregation. Some of you might be thinking I crossed a political line that shouldn’t intrude into worship. Some of you might think it’s not parallel at all to the current black lives matter/all lives matter debate. Perhaps, though the more I think about it in the aftermath of the sermon, the more I’m convinced its a very apt parallel and think it was the right thing to say.
The point of this post is more to say something about the task of preaching than to litigate our modern social issue (which the sermon did not do). Here’s the point. Preaching that confines itself to the safe parameters of polite company no longer carries the capacity to surprise, and in turn loses its capacity for news. Having said that, I agree with Brueggemann, who in the preface to the new edition of The Prophetic Imagination, warns against both the liberal “speaking truth to power” and the conservative “moral harangue” as forms of ineffective, reduced speech. Instead of this blunt speech, he argues for daring poetic speech which suggests new possibilities.
I’d like to think this is what I did. I tried as much as possible in the sermon to put us all on the same side of the dinner guest who blurted out, “blessed is anyone who eats bread in the Kingdom of God.” I contemporized the scene, hoping to draw us all into the awkwardness of the moment. In fact, when I began the move, I started with, “well this is awkward.” To which someone in the congregation audibly responded on all of our behalf, “yep.” None of us were on the righteous side of this encounter with Jesus. All of us wanted to resolve the tension that came with the critique of the way we tend to organize the world. We wanted someone to save the moment by finding a way to get us all on Jesus’ side. Had it occurred to me in sermon prep, I would’ve worked even harder to put those words, “blessed is anyone who eats bread in the Kingdom of God,” in my mouth.
My hope, though, is that the analogy surprised us all, as it did me, and opened new possibilities for all of us to imagine the world of good news.