Page last updated



Best Seat in the House
a sermon based on Luke 14:1,7-14
by Rev. Kerstin Barnes

It happened a couple of years ago. I was interning in San Francisco and was tagged along to many events and occasions by my supervisor. One of these events was an upscale wedding rehearsal for a bi-national couple; he was from the U.S., she was from Germany. It was a beautiful rehearsal, and afterwards, the party of approximately 30 people headed for a really nice restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner.

We were led to a separate room for special occasions. There were three big, round tables to accommodate us. First we were served drinks and just stood around, socializing. Then it was time to sit down, and boy, did I wish we had had a rehearsal for that procedure as well! The big question was: who is sitting where?

Bride and groom, of course, sat at the center table. I, of course, as an outsider who had graciously been admitted to join the party, squeezed myself into a corner spot. The parents of the groom took their seats next to their son. The seats filled up quickly, and all of a sudden, the parents of the bride sat down next to me, in the corner, and looked somewhat confused. The bride’s mother looked over to the table where her daughter sat, and said, "Well, all seats are already taken over there." She sounded sad. She continued to stare at her daughter, who was engaged in lively conversation. Then she said, "We should sit over there. I mean, the groom’s parents are sitting there, after all."

Don’t you think the bride’s mother has a point? Wouldn’t that be a classic question for "Dear Abby"? Shouldn’t the parents of the bride be sitting at their daughter’s table, especially since the groom’s parents took a seat next to their son?

Now there are several options how this story could have ended. No. 1: The parents of the bride walk over to their daughter’s table, and ask some of the people sitting there to switch seats, so that they can sit next to their daughter, in the proper spot. No. 2: The parents of the bride remain seated at the corner table, but continue to complain about the awkward situation. No. 3: They leave the party, hurt and insulted. No. 4: They remain seated at the corner table, start chatting with the other guests and have a good time. No. 5: Some people at the center table realize what’s going on, get up, and offer the bride’s parents to switch places with them.

Can you guess happened? I will leave you in suspense for the moment. I promise you to get back to this story later and to tell you, how it actually ended.

Well, it seems that some of the guests of that wedding rehearsal party did not listen to the message of today’s Gospel. Jesus clearly says: When you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you: Friend, move up higher!

Of course Jesus is not just talking about another social event. Jesus is not "Dear Abby", and his words are not shallow advice. Jesus is using the parable of the wedding banquet to tell us something about ourselves. To begin with the very, very good news: we are all invited! We are all invited to participate in the great feast of life in God’s dominion! God is our host. God calls us to celebrate. No matter, how burdened we are. No matter, what our profession or calling is. No matter, if we have achieved something in life or not. We are invited. Our ticket for entering the banquet hall is the grace and forgiveness of God. God knows that you are not perfect, and God doesn’t expect you to be perfect in order to attend. God calls out to you: I gave my Son to die for you! Your sins are forgiven! Come, celebrate this wonderful news!

So we are invited, and we come. But basically nobody tells us where to sit. We have to find our spot in this great celebration called life. And how many among us are really humble and choose the lowest seat - being without possession, being without a home, being without dignity? Nobody, I think. At least nobody seems to choose such a spot in life. I guess most of us see ourselves as being part of the middle or upper range in life - haven’t we worked hard for that?

I wonder how many of us believe we are in the right place in life, either by choice or by placement. I wonder how many of us think that they should be in another spot, higher up. To be more concrete: How many are happy with what they have received from God? Wished they had a better career? More money? Better health? How many wish they got more appreciation for what they do?

We want to get what we think we deserve. We want to be appreciated for what we are and for what we do. Often we believe that we deserve better. At least we want to hear a "Thank you" for what do, right? We expect to be rewarded for our efforts, and if only just a little bit. Now it seems that mothers and fathers do a lot for their children without getting the appreciation they deserve. And maybe parents even don’t expect huge sign of appreciation. But it is still hurtful when our children criticize us more than give us thanks for all we’ve done for them.

We long to get what we deserve. We even negotiate with God once in awhile: God, I am trying to be a good person, and I am trying to do good deeds. I really would like you to acknowledge that. And isn’t it so that we sometimes feel we are better people than those folks who don’ seem to try as hard as we do?

We want to be appreciated. We want to be in what we think is the proper place. And so often, like the parents of that bride at the wedding rehearsal, we long for a different seat, higher up.

It couldn’t happen here at church, though, could it? We are all invited to celebrate the kingdom, to take a seat and to rejoice in our salvation. Your sins are forgiven! Aren’t you glad to hear that?

Old members, new members, friends and guests: we are all invited to celebrate. So, where, do you think, is your place? In days past it was much easier to find one’s station in worship. I remember seeing these old churches in Germany, with gates that lead to the pews. Each of the "better pews" was sponsored by and reserved for by a wealthy and prestigious family of the congregation. The more a family gave for the church, the closer its members sat to the altar. Servants and other simple folks had to squeeze themselves in the back rows. There was a clear hierarchy in the olden days. Everybody knew where his or her spot was.

Today, things are different. You walk into this church on a Sunday morning and choose whatever seat you like. At least that’s how It looks on the outside. The designated pews are gone, but I think that there is still a certain hierarchy here. The long time members, do I even mention charter members, often seem to feel that their word has more weight in the congregation than, let’s say, the word of a newcomer. And often the long timers feel pushed away when new ideas are introduced in this place. Maybe even some of you went through the experience that you just left your designated spot in this congregation unattended for a tiny while, maybe to take a well-deserved rest, just to come back and find somebody new in the place that you thought was yours. Somebody else is doing the work you have been doing for such a long time. Even worse, that new person may not do it "right"! And now you have to look for another spot, maybe even in a corner, just like the parents of the bride at the wedding rehearsal.

How does that make you feel? How do you feel when you see that somebody is sitting in the place that you supposedly deserve? If something like that happens to you, do you wait for the new person to realize what’s going on, to come over and to offer you your proper position? Do you walk up to this person and tell him or her; Excuse me, I believe this is my spot? Do you stay in your new place, but gripe and complain about it? Do you pull yourself out, hurt and insulted? Or do you look around and see who’s there, right next to you in your new spot, make the best of it and have a good time?

We hear in today’s Gospel: the host puts the guests in the proper place. God puts us in the proper place. We might not always like it. I, for my part, often want to be in another spot than the one I am in right now. God puts us in the proper place. This can be very humbling - because we find ourselves in a spot that we think is not adequate for us. We think we deserve better.

At this point, let me tell you what happened at that dinner after the wedding rehearsal: the mother of the bride turned to her husband, smiled, and, with tears in her eyes, said, "I know our daughter will be happy. It is so wonderful that we can be here to celebrate with her. The Poor thing: she wants to spend so much time with all her guests, and she has to take care of all those wedding preparations as well. I admire how well she handles everything."

Then she and her husband introduced themselves to the other people at their table, a nice conversation was going on, there was laughter, the food and wine were great, the view of the San Francisco Bay stunning, and everybody at that table enjoyed themselves. And this is not the story’s end: after the main course, the bride came over to our table. She grabbed a chair, squeezed herself in, and now her parents had her undivided attention.

Isn’t that wonderful? Wouldn’t it be good if we could handle a situation like that as well as the bride’s parents?

God invites us all to the celebration of life and love and forgiveness. Isn’t it a reason to rejoice that we are invited at all? Yes, God puts us in our place, and we might not always like that. But instead of griping and complaining and thinking we deserve better, we are called to take a close look at our situation. To appreciate and enjoy what we are being offered. To make the best out of a situation we may not have expected.

There is a reason why God put you in your particular place. It is not as if God neglected you by putting you in that spot. On the contrary: God wants you to be a part of the celebration of the forgiveness of your sin. You might feel displaced and abandoned for a while, just like the poor bride’s parents. But God wants you to be participating in the feast, and sooner or later, God turns to you. God is there for you. Open yourself in prayer, and God will turn to you and pay attention. God may even call out to you: friend, move up higher!

You might feel humbled by the situation you are in here on earth. But God has already exalted you by giving his only Son for you, and by forgiving you. Is there a better thing that could happen to us? Amen.