This sermon was preached by Rev Sue on Sunday 1 September at the 8am service.
Do you remember Hyacinth Bucket in keeping up appearances? Her main aim in life was to impress the neighbours, to get their respect by being wealthier, better dressed, a better baker of cakes…One particularly memorable episode started with Hyacinth talking to her husband Richard in the garden:
“I wish you’d smile more when you’re gardening, Richard.”
“If I do that, they’re going to lock me away.”
“Try to look as though you’re enjoying it, dear.”
“I don’t particularly enjoy it. It’s just something that has to be done.”
“Well that’s how it appears.”
“The garden looks well enough.”
“Oh, it’s not the garden, dear. It’s you. You look as though you’re not enjoying doing it, which gives the impression that we can’t afford a gardener.”
“We can’t afford a gardener!”
“Shh, Richard, keep your voice down. If we can’t afford a gardener, that’s all the more reason why we should look as though we can afford a gardener. So, in the future, could you look like someone who enjoys doing his own gardening, but could afford a gardener if he wanted to?”
Hyacinth doesn’t really care whether the garden looks attractive, and she’s not interested in whether Richard enjoys doing it. It’s all about keeping up with the Joneses, or should I say, outstripping the Joneses by a good few yards.
In today’s gospel Jesus had been invited to the house of a leader of the Pharisees, a very respected religious figure. Imagine Mrs Bucket as a guest at the feast. There she would be, bustling up to sit right next to her host in the place of greatest importance. And what often happened to Hyacinth? She would be humiliated as her attempts at superiority were exposed for what they were. She would have been ousted from her seat, and sent down to the bottom of the table with the less important guests.
In truth, Hyacinth was an unhappy woman. She was ashamed to be seen with her own family, always in fear of being exposed or of someone outdoing her. Always to be competing is a lonely place to be.
Jesus then appears to be being quite rude to his host, telling him who he should or shouldn’t invite. That seems a bit ungracious, coming from a guest. But Jesus was always more concerned with people’s true motivation than good manners. We are told that he was being closely watched, so perhaps the invitation was from curiosity, and maybe even had a hostile edge to it. Perhaps the Pharisees were waiting to see what he would do – he might do something else they could gossip about afterwards.
But instead he points out that the occasion is part of a dinner party circuit – next week would be the turn of one of this week’s guests to play host. Nothing generous about that. A better way would be to invite poor people who couldn’t return the favour. And the thing is, I think that would have been a happier meal. Guests enjoying the food, the drink and the company, and not bothered at all about who sat where or mentally awarding points for hospitality. Being poor isn’t much fun, but then neither is having no friends, only rivals.