READING: Luke 14:1,7-14
SERMON : "Manners of The Kingdom"
Rev. Dr. Ross Bartlett
The following is another in our summer series of guest sermons.
Rev. Ross Bartlett is an United Church of Canada clergy person
located in Halifax, NS. This sermon was first shared on our site
in 1998 while Ross was located in Kingston, Ontario. Ross first
preached this sermon in 1992.
It was the sort of party you'd enjoy being invited to. No
one was likely to get knock down drunk and obnoxious. On
the other hand, it's a mixture of friends where important
and meaningful things get discussed and everyone can have a
little fun. Simon's parties were always that way. And he
often had interesting guests. If there was a special
lecturer at the local college or an author in town flogging
her latest book you could be sure that Simon would have them
there. He especially liked to have the guest ministers that
passed through town. They could generally be counted on not
to disrupt things too much, to have some interesting stories
about places they'd been, to lend just the right tone to the
evening. Simon was a Pharisee it's true, but not the stuck-
up sort. If you were genuinely religious, really interested
in the work of the Lord, Simon would welcome you to his
So one evening Simon had a dinner party. The normal group
was there. Funny thing about Simon's parties, he never told
anyone where to sit. Just sort of stood back and let folk
scramble. So of course, everyone wanted to get a seat near
the head table. Didn't want to miss what the guest of
honour said. Generally Simon let people sort it out for
themselves. Oh, occasionally he'd rearrange things, moving
a person from up close to further back to make room for one
of the church elders or the local bank manager. People
really got a kick out of that.
This evening, Simon's guest was Jesus bar-Joseph, the young
prophet from Nazareth that had been getting all the
attention in the press. A quiet sort of fellow, didn't say
much, just watched what was going on. Trying to draw him
out, Simon told him about how our group gets together,
always the same bunch and the good times we've had. And
Jesus' reply was "Why do you always invite the same people?
Why just invite those who are going to invite you back?"
What would you have said to Jesus? It's the sort of
question that leaves us with our mouths gaping open.
Actually, it's pretty rude. I mean, after all, when was the
last time you got together with your friends and wondered,
out loud to your hostess, "why do we always have the same
old gang?" An interesting question.
When we lived in Toronto for three years it was on Queen
Street, in the heart of the city's Parkdale district. For
those of you who know Toronto that may be enough said, but
for those of you not familiar with the city let me sketch a
picture. Imagine one of the poorest parts of the city, with
all the joys and sorrows attendant upon large quantities of
subsidized housing, significant numbers of newly arrived
immigrants, the highest incidence of single-parent families,
drug and alcohol abusers, the largest percentage of social
assistance recipients and the lowest rents, in the city.
One way down the street we had a major psychiatric
institution, scattered around us we had halfway houses and
rehabilitation centres. Over and over again you were met on
the street by some of the most pathetic members of the human
family. Shambling, mumbling, stumbling members of the human
race. And poverty that would break your heart to see it.
People go by, absolutely unaware of where they are, locked
in their own worlds of joy or struggle, dressed in the most
incredible collections of clothes, often looking
undernourished and unkempt and uncared for. These are not
people who make it into the pretty pictures in Maclean's or
Time magazine. You won't find them in the files of the
"Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous". I know what the
outcasts on Queen Street look like. And I'm very quickly
getting a sense of what they look like in Kingston and the
Township. You see, every community, every society has its
These are the people Jesus wants Simon to invite to the
party. These are the people Jesus wants to see included in
our lives - our personal life, our life as a church. Does
it sound nuts to you? Or maybe just a little bit
For three years, except in the bitterest of weather, there
was an old fellow who slept in the open street car stop
across the street from our apartment. I don't know what it
would be like to invite him into my home. I freely confess
that I don't know. But it doesn't free me from having to
wrestle with the gospels demands. After all, each of us who
has been baptized must work out the meaning of that fact
every day of our lives.
Jesus words are an invitation to recognize a couple of
things. The first is to recognize that, by any scale which
is sane, we are the wealthy ones, materially speaking.
Anurahdi Vittachi [Earth Conference One, 1989] asks us to
imagine the world as a village with one hundred families.
"If this metaphorical village consists of 100
families, 65 cannot read. Some 80 families have
no members who have flown on airplanes and seventy
have no drinking water at home. About sixty
families occupy ten per cent of the village while
just seven own sixty percent of the land. Only
one family has a university education".
In every community I've ever encountered there have been
those who want to have - the best, the fastest, the latest,
the most important, the most expensive - of whatever it
happens to be. It absorbs their life. Keeping up with the
Joneses is not only a national pastime for many, it's a
consuming passion. It's also a terrific burden, this notion
that we're not fulfilled unless we've kept up with the
people down the block. Jesus is warning us about that
But he's doing something far more radical. And to recognize
that you have to do a little thinking. Who do you consider
to be the outcast? Who is on your list of undesirables?
I'm sure each of us can name a few. Is it the poor person,
the one who can't maintain the social standards and graces
that you and I find so attractive? Is it the sick of body,
of mind or soul, whose demands upon the resources of the
community or individuals for time, patience, money, prayer
seem more than we are able to manage sometimes? Is it the
immigrant or the refugee, the person who looks or sounds
different than we do because their background is different
from ours? Who's the undesirable for you? Now recognize
that Jesus is inviting us to include them in our lives not
for their good but for our good.
We often think of doing good for others. We think of the
Mission and Service Fund or the Primate's World Development
and Relief Fund; we think of the Neighbourhood Sharing
Centre or the Food Bank as opportunities for us to do good
for others. Jesus says "no, you've got it backwards."
"Simon, you need to invite these people to your table
because that's what it means to be the people of God. They
give you the chance to live the faith you claim."
"Brothers and sisters", he says to us, "you can't do
anything nearly as important for them as they can do for
you." They're not charity cases or objects of pity but
brothers and sisters in the family of Jesus and maybe the
person sitting next to you at God's eternal banquet. When
Jesus talks about it being more difficult for the rich to
enter heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle
and then says "but with God all things are possible" this is
part of the divine weight reduction programme he has in mind
for the camel.
But of course there's a twist to the story. Jesus isn't
just giving etiquette lessons. And he's doing more than
telling us a parable about how to live our lives. He's also
teaching us about the Kingdom of God. The party that will
be hosted by God. And we've met this God before - the sort
of host that, once the inviting starts, God doesn't know
when to quit. God just keeps on inviting and inviting and
inviting any who will come. The invitations come, not due
to our efforts, not due to our merits, not due to our wealth
or social status or our glib conversation. The invitations
to the banquet come only as a result of God's great love and
as God's free gift. They cannot be earned, they cannot be
purchased. The invitation comes as a free gift of grace and
can only be accepted in faith. And that may lead to some
William Temple, a well known preacher in the Anglican
tradition, is credited with these words:
"When I get to heaven, if I do, I imagine I shall
be surprised at three things. First, I'll be
surprised that I'm there. Second, I shall be
surprised at many of the other people who are
there. Third, and most astonishing, will be their
surprise that I'm there at all."
If seats at the table in the Kingdom of Heaven are assigned
by God's free gift we may find heaven a surprising place.
But we can make earth a surprising place as well. If we
commit ourselves to the faithful, daily struggle to see
others as our Lord saw them. Not as problems, or annoyances
or difficulties or as statistics - but as fellow children in
God's family, swept up in the all-encompassing love of a God
who measures worth in ways we can neither think or imagine.
Whose love includes you and me.
Thanks be to God. Amen
copyright - sermon by Rev. Dr. Ross Bartlett 1992, 1998-2004
page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1998, 2004
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.