A Place for Everyone
St. Philip Lutheran Church
28 August 2022 + Lect. 22c (Pentecost 12)
Rev. Josh Evans
“A place for everything, and everything in its place.”
It’s so simple, so proverb-like, so beautiful of a sentiment. Words to live by. It’s no secret that I like things in order. In my office, books are sorted by category and alphabetized by author, loose papers are neatly tucked away in folders organized by ministry team or topic, and artwork is arranged like a small gallery. My little slice of heaven. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
Two weeks ago, I was wrapping things up in the sacristy, just above the worship space, where only moments ago hundreds of voting members and visitors had celebrated closing eucharist at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. During the past week, I served as part of the assembly worship staff. Behind the scenes, it felt like being a stage manager for a Broadway production.
I remember vividly the racks of albs sorted neatly by size, steaming vestments and paraments (and trying not to burn myself in the process), and daily rehearsals with scores of worship assistants and leaders in varied roles – all to ensure a seamless and meaningful liturgical experience for those who were gathered to worship. And the leader guides, seating charts, and clear-cut rubrics left little room for questioning: There was a place for everyone, and everyone had their place.
In public spaces, too, we’re used to these clear boundaries and places of honor and distinction. In corporate workspaces, there’s a difference between the corner office and an ordinary cubicle. At restaurants, when given the choice, we’d rather sit at the window booth or on the patio than at the table with the wobbly leg by the restrooms. You get the point: There are clear places viewed more highly than others.
All of which helps us to understand the premise behind Jesus’s parable. He’s invited to the house of a prominent religious leader, for a grand meal with elite guests, all of whom are competing for the best seats, closest to their host, where they can be seen and recognized.
Meanwhile, Jesus, quietly observing all this from the side, offers a parable: Actually, don’t take the best seat. What if someone more important comes along? Well, that would be embarrassing for you, wouldn’t it? Instead, take the lowest seat.
And if that’s not enough, Jesus goes on to critique the guest list of the very party he’s been invited to: Don’t invite all these “important” people, people who can invite you back and repay you. Just the opposite: Invite the ones who can’t pay you back, the ones with no social standing, the ones you would normally overlook.
But this isn’t just a lesson in table etiquette. It’s not a story about place cards or table reservations. The point isn’t even about who sits where. This is a story about humility.
Humility. It’s a strange concept. Humility wasn’t exactly considered a virtue in Jesus’s day, and it’s not exactly the most intuitive in our own time either. Humility is often seen as the opposite of pride – and we like to take pride in our identities and our achievements – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe we need a better definition of humility.
Consider the CTA – or public transit in just about any major city. If you ride any of the train or bus lines with some regularity, you’ve likely witnessed the familiar scene of the person who so graciously and publicly makes a display of giving up their seat when someone older or pregnant or living with a visible physical disability comes aboard – so that everyone can see what a “good” person they are.
That’s not humility. Instead, I want to suggest that humility is something more like standing up before that person gets on – making a place for others before they show up.
Humility acknowledges that there are others who are not at the table. It doesn’t ask us to consider ourselves as less valuable and take the lower place for its own sake. But humility does invite us to be aware of others who don’t always get a place at the table – and to make space for them, even if we don’t know who they are or if they’re not even here yet.
Humility is the grace to live in community and to embody the kind of extravagant welcome and hospitality that Jesus showed us when he dined not just with prominent Pharisees but with “sinners and tax collectors.”
Still, there’s a hesitation for those of us who have always had a place of distinction at the table. And I think that hesitation boils down to fear: Is there going to be enough – enough space, enough food, enough ___?
Whenever I’m at a large conference or gathering with a meal that’s being served buffet-style, I seem to have a knack for either choosing or being assigned to one of the last tables to be dismissed to get our food. I’m also not exactly known for being the most patient person – as I keep eyeing the line and the buffet tables, letting my anxiety get the better of me: Surely they’ll run out of food before it’s my turn. And yet, in all my years of buffet meals, there has always been enough.
Of course there is enough.
At God’s banquet table, there is a place for all and enough for all. That’s Jesus’s point. I don’t think he really cared about who sat where at dinner.
Instead, he’s showing us what the reign of God looks like: A place for everyone, and everyone has a place.
There are no reservations required, no cost, no dress code. There are no prerequisites to sharing in this meal. We don’t even have to all agree about what we believe to share this meal.
We just have to be hungry – hungry for a word of grace and forgiveness and wholeness.
Christ invites us to a table where all are welcome, where no one is turned away, where there is enough for all, and where no one lacks for food.
At this table, there is a place for you.