I remember that there was one basic rule in our house that trumped all others. We ate supper together. It was possibly the only thing we did together, especially as my brother and I aged. My dad worked a lot, both before and after supper. We often only saw him at supper… but we probably saw him at almost every supper.
Inevitably we would be asked all those questions that now that I am a parent, I appreciate more… how was school, what is new, how is your project coming? I almost always answered, fine, or that nothing was new. As do my own kids…
But I understand now what my father was about. He wanted to make a connection. He wanted to have this one time when we heard each other, when we solved problems as a family, when big decisions were made.
Family meals were about character building. They were about values. They were about connection.
As an adult I love dinner parties for exactly this reason, or even having a conversation over a cup of tea. It is food and fellowship that bring us together. Jesus knew this. He loved a good dinner party and almost all of his instruction happens around meal times… whether with his disciples, or with his enemies, or with strangers… Jesus sat down and ate and talked and shared.
And just like in my home, it was during those meals that a lot of character building and instruction got handed down.
Dinner with Kings
What if you have dinner with a king? What I just read are actually instructions about decorum of speech, handling conflict, and maintaining one’s honor and reputation.
What it boils down to is this: Do not question the king’s wisdom (verses 2–3); do not be drawn into corrupt schemes at court (verses 4–5); do not be hasty exposing others’ misdeeds lest you misstep and bring shame upon yourself (verses 8–10).
In sum, hold your tongue, keep your nose clean, and don’t meddle -- all good advice for those climbing the ladder of success at court.
What we are going to see is that there is a lot of similarity to Jesus’ advice when he has dinner with the Pharisees… and there is good reason. In essence it advises courtiers to keep a low profile for it is better to be lifted up than put down. And that is good advice for anyone…
But more importantly we are talking about motive… it is about asking the question as to who you are serving and why. Are you doing it just to get ahead, or are you trying to do the right thing.
If you are going to be dealing with kings, with government, with your career; then acting out of the best motives and being humble and moral are very good ideas as to how you can get ahead.
But this is just to set the stage and remind you all that there are a couple of thousand years of wisdom, at least, boiled down in these dinner time conversations. And even the ones I had with my dad were similar… how to make friends or avoid bullies on the school yard often boiled down to just these same sorts of advice… keep out of trouble, say the right thing, don’t make enemies of people…
But is this about faith? Or just about Common Sense?
The Best Advice Ever
My grandfather was the family’s dispenser of wisdom. He was a Baptist who was also a school principle who had also fought in World War Two. He started with nothing and ended content with his lot in life.
And sometimes he said wise things, to be sure. He often told corny jokes though, and you could confuse the two…
The way he really taught was by example. He would let you have your say, ask you questions to consider your options, and then live his life the way he thought was right. He almost never said you had to do it his way… but he made it clear that his way was right. And you wanted that, you wanted the certainty, the knowledge, and the peace which it seemed to bring him.
So what did he do? He worked on things, he helped anyone who asked, he did not lie or cheat or swear… I don’t know, he had a life before I was around and when I was away, so he might not have been perfect all the time… but when he was around you he modelled the good and godly life.
Which is what all of this has been focussing on this morning, the wisdom that gets handed down from generation to generation, often at the dinner table, but maybe out in the barn, or the classroom, or on long drives….
So what is the best advice you ever received? What is the best you have ever given?
This wisdom, as most good advice does, echoes the wisdom of the Bible, is about who we are meant to be, and how we are meant to be. It acknowledges that God is good and created us to be good, and it is about living out that goodness in the real world where we find ourselves.
I Have a Dream
You may have heard on the news that this week was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington by Martin Luther King Jr. King was an activist and Baptist preacher who wanted to ensure that there were equal rights for black people. He was also one of the best preachers ever, and it showed.
The thing is, he believed that equality, that love, that black and white people eating together at the table, was all part of Jesus idea of the heavenly banquet… that this is what God intended for us.
So on August 28th 1963 Martine Luther King Jr. gave a speech in Washington, that would become known as the “I have a dream” speech. Here is some of what he said:
“I have a dream that one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers….
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character…
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood."
Seems to me that this is not very different than Jesus’ dream; seems to me that this is what God has been trying to get across to us forever. So what is your dream for the world? What part of God’s way would you like to see made a little more real?
“One does not live by bread alone,” as Jesus argues in the temptation scene. It is not like Jesus is only concerned about what happens at meals. His teaching is about the way we treat others, especially those among us who unable to “pay us back.” We say in our modern world that all people are created equal… but are we so different than the folks back in Jesus day?
We do have our ways of making sure that there is an us and a them… we create distinctions between people,… and most of the time these distinctions keep us from true fellowship with one another. Jesus’ story is a reminder to us about the company we keep. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”