The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - August 28, 2016
Scripture Reading: Luke 14:1, 7:14
Sermon Title:
ďA Place of HonorĒ

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     I didnít like being a Freshman in High School.  The classes were OK, most of them anyway, but it was physically and emotionally exhausting.  When I was 14, I was about as tall as I am now, and weighed about 100 pounds, so I was a stick.  I was not particularly athletic, certainly not going to play football or anything like that.  I had a few friends, mostly from Boy Scouts.  Our High School was large.  I had heard that it was ľ mile from the 600 wing, where my locker and homeroom was located, my last name starts with V, down to the new gym, at the far end of the school.  I donít know if it was actually that far, but it was far enough that I could not make it, in the 5 minutes given, all the way down to my locker and back to my next class.  So I had to carry many of my books much of the day.  I also took the bus, which left the parking lot 5 minutes after the last bell.  Again, no way I could make it all the way from my last class, back to my locker, and out to the bus before it left, so normally I had to carry my coat, and all the books I would need for the night, to my last few classes of the day. 

     Emotionally it was also exhausting.  Of course I want to fit in, but didnít fit in well.  There were 3 lunch periods, and very few people I even really knew had the same lunch period I did my first year.  I ended up sitting with one of two other scouts, plus a few of their friends.  There were always plenty of spaces at our table.  It did get better, and by my senior year, I had a small group of friends.  We were all the kids that didnít quite fit in anyplace else.  We were not the jocks, although we did have the two wrestlers who were in the unlimited weight class.  Often they were eating salads because it turns out that unlimited is not really unlimited, and so they were trying to stay within the unlimited weight class.  There were a few of us who were science geeks.  I, for some reason, just enjoyed science, so by senior year, I was taking AP Biology, my only AP class.  For the rest of my classes I was a ďCĒ student, passed, but not excelled.  There were a few kids who did really well in shop, but nothing else.  And as you looked around the lunch room, you could tell what the other groups were.  There were the cheerleaders, there were the jocks, there were the kids who were in all AP classes, not just science, we had the goth kids, the motor heads, and there was a group of really rich kids, most of them were driving BMWís by their senior year.  I am not sure exactly how we were labeled by other kids, as far as I could tell we had very little in common.  But once most of us had driverís licenses, we started to hang out together even outside of school, and I am still in touch with a few of them today.

     But reading back on this passage, those days came back to me.  Donít sit at a place of honor, but sit at a lower place.  I am not sure exactly where the place of honor was in High School, there seemed to be many, and I donít think I was ever in any of them. 

     I also thought back on my wedding, and weddings that I have been to.  At my wedding, we could not figure out who should be at the head table.  My parents and in-laws didnít seem to have much in common, so didnít make a lot of sense to put them at a table together with us.  We thought about our wedding party, but many of them were married to people who were not in the wedding party, we donít want them to sit apart from their spouses or dates.  There were no tables big enough for all of our wedding party plus spouses, or dates.  Keri and I realized also that a big part of the reception is dancing, visiting with others, so we probably would not really sit very long at all.  So we had a table for two.  We did eat together there, but probably only sat down for about 5 minutes all night long.  Worked out well.  At the last wedding we attended, it was my cousin.  So we got put with the ďcousinsĒ table.  Collin was with us, Glenn was with his grandparents, uncles and aunts.  And there was one couple there that none of us knew.  Very nice couple, but apparently didnít quite fit in with any other tables, and we had two seats at ours.  So that turned out to be the ďcousins, plus one other coupleĒ table. 

     Luckily all of my cousins have been married once now.  We do tend to have a fairly high percentage of first marriages fail in my family, so one cousin is already divorced. I feel no obligation to attend second marriages, unless I am invited to perform them.  I did not perform his first marriage.

     Although I am sure I will attend family marriages again, at least I hope to someday, I doubt I will be too involved with the seating arrangements.  Now my kids love that kind of thing.  We donít have a lot of guests at our house, but when we do, they are always happy to figure out exactly where everyone should sit.  When we visit my parents, along with my sister and her family, my kidís seating arrangements and my motherís do not always line up just right.  There are 10 of us when we are all together.  My father sits at one end, and my mother at the other end.  The room just fits the table with all the leaves put in, and one chair on each end.  This leaves 4 on each side of the table.  We were always very careful to have a child, adult, child adult, pattern.  The kept the excitement down a bit, and prevented many spilled drinks.  Last time we visited, all 4 of the kids were at the table by the time we arrived, and all 4 were sitting on one side.  We allowed that to happen for one meal, then went back to the parent, child, alternating pattern for the next meals. 

     And where to sit, especially in Jesusí time was everything.  It was your status.  And of course you donít sit too close to the head of the household, it is better to be moved up than moved down.  Be modest.  That is a good model.

     But what about not inviting those who can pay you back.  About a week and a half ago I got together with one of the ministerís from my church.  Since I donít get to attend there on Sundays, I donít run into either of the ministers on a regular basis.  Carlos loves coffee, easily as much or perhaps more than I do.  So across the street and around the corner from the church is a little coffee shop called ďTrue Brew.Ē  Carolos is there so often that he has his own mug they keep on a shelf for him.  Of course he runs a tab, pays it off every month or so.  So when I met with him, we went to True Brew.  But I made a point that this coffee was on me.  I donít keep track of who buys, but probably my turn to get his coffee for this visit.

     Now of course I would not stop having coffee with him if he never picked up the tab, but it is just pretty common in todayís world for people to pick up the bill for someone else.  In Mason we had a womenís group.  Truth was that it was about 75% female and about 25% male now, there were less and less women and it seemed that when a woman died who was in the group, they started to invite their husband if he was still alive.  Plus they always invited the minister.  Each month one of the woman was in charge of picking the place, arranging for a group, and letting everyone know where it was.  They had been doing this for a long time, so after a while you knew that in January you would be going to the Chinese place over in Nashua, in March you would be going to Parkerís in town.  The other part of arranging it, was that we all had to have separate bills.  I have never been a waitress, but I imagine this is a pain.  Plus, many restaurants have a set percentage tip for a group, where as individuals may tip less than the set amount they charge for groups.  Almost every month someone would offer to pick up my bill.  Oh, you donít have to do that, I am happy to pay.

     And I think most of us are not really concerned with, or keep track of, how many meals you have been to at someoneís house, or how many times they pick up the tab, and how many times they have been to your house.  But I think for many of us there is a limit.  Sure, come on over for dinner, I made plenty.  Come on over, I will throw on an extra burger.  I am not fixing anything fancy, but why donít you come on over.  Eventually you begin to think you are being taken advantage of.  A few times, no big deal.  And certainly we are not talking about anyone who we think might not have much food at home, but you know they are doing fine, at least as well as you are.  Eventually you are going to start making excuses.  Oh, we would invite you for dinner tonight, but I only cooked enough for our family.  We would have you over this weekend, but we are going away.

     What does this have to do with our relationship with God?  I have often said that it is good to give God thanks.  In the morning, when you wake up, ďThank you God for at least one more day.Ē  When you go to bed at night ďThank you God for all the wonderful experiences of the day, and for being there when things were not going well.Ē  I donít buy into the idea that God gives us material gifts.  I donít think that God makes my car run, or would help me win the lottery, but I do believe that God gives me life.  I get to see a lot of people who are fragile.  Their body has lost the ability to regulate blood pressure, or they donít digest food right, or they lack insulin to process the sugar in their blood.  We all have experienced what a little virus can do to us, get a bad cold or flu and you can be down for several days.  But our bodies recover, sometimes with medicine, often without.  And all this is happening without us even thinking about it.  We eat when we are hungry, drink when we are thirsty, and our body does everything else.  Temperature, blood pressure, blood volume, pH, using sugar and oxygen for energy, removing carbon dioxide, processing extra sugar into fat, wish my body was not quite as good at doing that, but it all works perfect almost all the time. For that, I give God thanks.  I donít think God is actually doing it, but God created our bodies to do all these things, all the time, without us thinking about it. 

     I also believe that God puts people and experiences into our lives.  Not everything happens for a reason, but have you ever been going through something really hard, and a friend calls you out of the blue just to see how you are doing?  Have you ever been in the right place at the right time?  Perhaps you meet someone for the first time, and they say something that you need to hear.  Those are the kind of experiences I believe God provides. 

     And what can we do?  Can I give God anything?  All I can do is say ďThank you.Ē  It seems so insignificant.  But maybe that is what Jesus is really talking about.  God does not keep score.  God gives us life, gives us amazing experiences, arranged for us to meet all these people, now let us see what God can get from us.  No, God invites us to dinner, over and over, knowing that we can never pay God back.  God invites us to the communion table, to experience forgiveness and grace, expecting nothing in return, knowing that we can never pay God back for all that has been given to us. 

     And that is probably part of this Kingdom of God I keep talking about.  A generosity from each of us, not expecting anything in return.  A generosity out of what we have been given from God, our very lives, and God knowing that we can never pay that back.  A way of living in which we donít keep score, we donít care who picked up the last bill, or who hosted the last meal.  Maybe the ability to see small parts of that, and imagine it in all parts of our lives is the greatest gift of all from God.