Thursday, 16 February 2012

telling Luke 14

This afternoon I again joined with Michelle Cook to prepare and lead gathered worship at college. Today was the final day of the Church, Ministry & Sacraments intensive and it finished with a love feast, agape meal, in the tradition of the earliest gatherings of followers of Christ. Steve Taylor blogged about it here.
We began with prayers of thanks and invocation (welcoming God's Spirit), then broke bread together (a loaf on each table of four people, and the symbolic loaf in the hands of Michelle, presiding). Then we ate lunch.
After some time for eating and conversation, we heard a story of Jesus, in the way that Jesus told stories at meals. It seemed appropriate to tell one of his dinner stories.
I added an introduction:
The evangelist Luke told recorded these stories for his community to remind them of what Jesus taught about hospitality and humility. In their time, behaviour was governed by a strict code of honour and shame. Honour - at the dinner table, there were more honoured seats (I moved to the left), our A reserve at a concert or theatre, and less honoured seats (I moved to the right), up in the back blocks, harder to see. (the movement was to help visualise the banquet table with the honoured guests at one end and the less honoured guests at the other. in the later part of the story, I gesture with wide arms a 'great banquet', so perhaps on some level, people might visualise the banquet table). Honour was prized - prized above beauty, talent, even money.
So when Jesus was invited to dine at the home of Simon the Pharisee, and he noticed how the guests took for themselves the places of honour, he said this:


‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,

do not sit down at the place of honour (I moved to the left again),
in case someone more distinguished than you
has been invited by your host;
and the host - (I paused slightly, to empahsise this next point - there is shame brought to the host here) 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 (slowly stepping towards the right).
(I paused slightly and took a small step left) But when you are invited (stepping back to the right),
go and sit down at the lowest place,
so that when your host comes, he may say to you,
“Friend, move up higher”; (steps to the left) 
then you will be honoured (I tried to emphasise honoured rather than all, to contrast honour with shame) in the presence of all
who sit at the table with you.
For all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’ oh, I just realised that I skipped these two lines today at lunch! happens to every storyteller once in a while ... 
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 neighbours,
in case they may invite you in return (my tone felt here like it needed to be conspiratorial: I know why you invite those people),
and you would be repaid.
But when you give a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind (I gestured to four places from left to right in front of me).
And you will be blessed,
because they cannot repay you, (forgot another line)
for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’
The text divides these two stories with subheadings. I ran it all on, which the narrative seems to do anyway, and telling it this way it actually felt more like one story, even though Jesus seems to be telling two discreet 'stories' ...  
One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him,
‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ (I aimed for a tone of excitement, the fervent enthusiasm of a new convert) 
Then Jesus said to him (it felt as though Jesus responds to this exclamation with a knowing, a look of 'yeah, you'd think so wouldn't you, but ...'),
‘Someone gave a great dinner (sweeping gesture of arms opening to indicate the great size of the table) and invited many.
At the time for the dinner
he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited,
“Come; for everything is ready now.” (I changed these words to 'Come, for all is prepared.' these words are often spoken during the liturgy of Holy Communion, and as Luke's community struggled with crossing social boundaries to sit down at their eucharistic meals together, and since we were hearing the story at our own 'love feast', it felt appropriate to make the link more explicit.)
But they all alike began to make excuses. (I made a couple of nods, to signify the guests agreeing together to decline the invitation. after reading some commentaries, it appears that for such invitations if there was a general feeling that the host was not preserving honour the guests agreed not to go. but if one didn't go, they all didn't go. the original audience would assume from the responses of the guests that they are in the right.)
The first said to him,
“I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it;
please accept my apologies.”
Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen,
and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.”
Another said, “I have just been married,
and therefore I cannot come.” (as these were legitimate excuses to offer, and the twist isn't coming yet, I wanted to keep any hint out of my voice that the invited guests were offering false excuses, which audiences today might assume)
So the slave returned and reported this to his master.
(pause, because here is the twist. the guests should not have refused the invitation) 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.” (I gestured the same four places from left to right as I did with this line earlier - in this is the blessing for the host) 
And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done,
and there is still room.”
Then the master said to the slave,
 “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in (I added 'to the town' here because audiences today would not know necessarily that this is what is meant, the people indicated here would have lived beyond the city walls, only coming in for business, and would have been reluctant to disrupt social conventions to come in for any other reason),
so that my house may be filled.
For I tell you,
none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’ (dinner never felt right as I said it, so I went back to the Greek - deipnon - and chose to translate it as banquet - though on reflection, I might choose meal, because there isn't an eschatalogical implication - this is a story about the meals communities of Jesus' followers shared, and didn't always share with true honour). 

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