“Your Place at the Table”
Sermon on Luke 17:5-10
October 7, 2007
Richfield United Methodist Church (9:30 am)
Badin United Methodist Church (11:00 am)
The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in
from plowing or tending sheep in the field,
‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’?
I must confess that I really like to go out to eat. It’s not that I don’t like to cook because I enjoy cooking, and it certainly isn’t because I don’t like to eat my wife’s cooking. She’s a very good cook. The truth is that I hate cleaning up after myself, and when I cook I tend to make a big mess in the kitchen. There’s something nice about being served by someone else when you go out.
But as much as I like eating out somewhere, I really hate to see the trend of all these franchise restaurants taking over. The local flavor of places is being stripped away and replaced with 10 choices of establishments that are all basically the same and that are all owned by the same big corporations. This all really comes through when the waitress comes to your table.
I went out to one of these places around Christmas last year and just had a horrible experience. “Destiny,” our waitress tried to sell us four things we didn’t want before we even got settled in the booth. One of which was their Christmas drink special…and you’ll love this…she asked me if I would like to try a Gingerbread margarita? Now who in their right mind would ever think that lime, salt, and alcohol would pare well with gingerbread? I’d sooner drink down a glass of blood than try that. After we declined the gingerbread margarita, it took her forever to get back to our table to take our actual orders. And when she finally came back around, she has us slide over in the booth so that she can sit down with us. I was told that I ordered her boyfriend’s favorite. She didn’t even write down our orders and of course everything came out to the table wrong.
When I’m in a restaurant, I want food—not a new friend with too many buttons on her shirt advertising pizza shooters, shrimp poppers, or extreme fajitas. I want a waitress to bring me my food and refill my diet coke when it gets close to being empty. I don’t want them to tell me about their boyfriend’s favorite item on the menu or about the seven different specials they have going that night.
Maybe I’m just an old fashioned twenty-nine year old, but I can’t stand it when waiters and waitresses don’t do their job with an appropriate amount of decorum. And it’s just bad manners for a waitress to sit down at the booth with a customer! A servant’s place is not at the table with the guests, but by the table serving the guests, right?
In our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus tells us a story about a servant, a slave even, who waits on his master’s table after working all day in the fields. They’ve both presumably been working all day and they are both hungry. So, the master tells the slave to prepare his supper and act as his waiter, and once he’s done eating and drinking the slave is free to eat and drink. This was a common scenario in ancient Israel. But Jesus asks them the question as to which one of them in the same position as the master in the story would tell the slave to sit down at the table and eat and drink before they got to. The obvious answer is nobody. The slave is simply expected to render his service and in so doing, the master does not owe the slave anything.
Though this story might not sit well with modern hearers, it has quite a message for us today. But we have to let it speak on its own terms. Many readers are very troubled by the fact that this story doesn’t condemn the institution of slavery. It seems to tell slaves to be obedient to their masters and not expect any sort of favorable treatment for doing what they are told. And that is exactly what it says. Attempts to make this story a little easier to swallow for modern folks like us by changing the analogy from a master and his slave to an employer and an employee simply loses the entire meaning of the story. Slaves are not to expect a reward for doing what they’re told.
I think we all know that, but then Jesus basically tells the disciples that they are his slaves. And that they are to expect no reward for doing what has been commanded. “So also you, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have only done what we ought to have done.’” The better translation of this verse would be that “We are slaves and we are owed nothing; we have only done what we ought to have done.”
The Christian life is a life of being Jesus’ slave. We are not to follow what Jesus orders us to do simply because we expect a heavenly reward for faithful service. The Christian life is a life of being Jesus’ slave—of serving him and serving others. Whenever I hear pastors talking about how many new members their church has, I have to stop and wonder if they are communicating the gospel faithfully. Because volunteering to be Jesus’ slave and expecting no reward for your actions, who in the world would sign on for that?
It’s hard to find a good waiter or waitress anymore. And all these workers in the service industry have to do is forget that you didn’t want mayonnaise on your sandwich for us to think they weren’t very good at their job. Whenever my order gets messed up or my drink remains empty the whole meal, I try to remember that I am a waiter too and that I’m not perfect either. In essence, we are all in the service industry. Though we may not wear aprons, and though we may not wipe down tables, all Christians are called to faithfully serve as God’s slaves—nourishing and serving the world and expecting no reward.
The only thing I find more unbelievable than the fact that we have all agreed to this life of being Jesus’ slaves is that our master calls us in from the field to take our place at the table while he serves us. That is exactly what happens here at God’s table. It is here at God’s table that we eat and drink while the master serves us. What master would tell his slave “Come here at once and take your place at the table.”? Jesus would. In Matthew’s gospel our master reminds us: “But whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Come here at once and take your place at the table. Amen.