March 26, 2023
Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year A)
Who are Debbie Downer and Eeyore?
When Discipleship and Worship was planning this sermon series, we came up with this title when looking at the passage for this Sunday. But, knowing that we are an intercultural church, and that not everyone grew up here in the United States or had contact with US culture while growing up, let me explain a bit about these two images that we are using.
A “Debbie Downer” is described as “a negative or pessimistic person: a person who speaks only of the bad or depressing aspects of something and lessens the enthusiasm or pleasure of others.” There is a character on tv whose name is Debbie Downer and that is presented as a comedic presence. One of the most famous sketches for this character is her being part of a vacation at Disney World. Imagine such a character going to the happiest place on earth.
Eeyore on the other hand is a fictional character in the Winnie-the-Pooh books by A. A. Milne. His name is an onomatopoeic representation of the sound made by a donkey, usually represented as "hee haw." He lives in the southeast corner of the Hundred Acre Wood, in an area labeled "Eeyore's Gloomy Place: Rather Boggy and Sad." So that tells you a little bit about his character. He says things like:
“The sky has finally fallen. Always knew it would.”
“Thanks for noticing me.”
So, why did we choose these characters? Because it is possible that no one in their right mind would invite them anywhere. Not to a Disney vacation. Not to your house. Not to a party. Not to dinner.
And not even the name that I have given to Debbie Downer in Spanish saves her. Doña Aguafiestas is a “person who disturbs any fun or enjoyment.” Who would want someone that can be described as a spoilsport or a killjoy as part of your dinner party? Or someone from your dinner party inviting such a person as an unexpected guest? But that is precisely what Jesus does in the second part of the story that we began to hear about last Sunday.
Etiquette of Party Invites
So, we find Jesus still talking to the pharisees that invited him to dinner. The ones that he was observing. The ones looking for the best places at the table. And the ones that listen to his words: “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
And, as it often happens in Christian circles, one of the people participating in the meal, listens to Jesus’ words, latches on to the ethereal and spiritual tonality of the repayment of the resurrection of the righteous and says “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Amen! Glory to God!
This guest interprets Jesus’ statement “as a reference to the messianic banquet at the end of days.” But Jesus’ answer is telling. His words are not for the end of days. His words are for the here and now, and so he responds by telling a parable about a man who invites his friends to a banquet, only to hear excuses:
I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.
I have bought five yokes of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.
I have just got married, and therefore I cannot come.
And even though you might think things like how rude these people are for giving last minute excuses, these are perfectly good excuses that we might have used.
I have bought a new house, and I need to start working on it.
My parents gave me a new convertible!!! Such an unexpected gift! We are all going out for a drive.
I’m on my honeymoon.
As the author of our Lenten study states, these are legitimate reasons for missing the banquet—reasons tied to one’s economic and social obligations. But regardless of the legitimacy of the excuse made, one thing is clear. Imagining those tables left empty makes the host angry. And even if they have followed dinner etiquette by sending their excuses, the anger is still there.
The Banquet Continues
But, instead of cancelling the banquet in frustration, and waiting for the guests that he really wants for dinner to be available, he does away with dinner etiquette. He does away with social pecking orders and invites those that no one wants around their tables: the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. He invites the unknown, the stranger, the ones that can make others feel uncomfortable. He invites the Debbie Downers and the Eeoyers. He invites those that are mourning, those that are suffering and those that are in need. He invites those that open the door to new realities and to the real life that exists beyond the boundaries of the "supposed riches and power" that happen at dinner parties.
Kelly Johnson, in a book called The Fear of Beggars says that “we often feel uncomfortable around those who beg for alms because they remind us of the deep neediness that resides within each of us.” John P Burgess takes that a little further and says that, before God, every person is poor, crippled, lame and blind. “None of us has an inherent claim to sit at Christ’s table. God does not remove our places of weakness. On the contrary, God comes to us precisely there.”
And Jesus seems to be saying this to the pseudo pharisees that are trying to catch him in some sinful response so that they can pass judgement on him and on his teaching. We are all poor, crippled, blind, and lame. (pobres, mancos, cojos, ciegos). We are all in mourning. We are all part of the strange and the unexpected. So, what right do we have to determine who sits at table? What right do we have to think of ourselves as superior? What right do we have to not show empathy for those that are like us? And what excuse could we find or make to avoid a seat at such a banquet?
Imagine Christ’s Table
The invitation of the author of Meeting Jesus at the Table is to imagine Christ’s table and to find ourselves there.
“To find ourselves among those who are grieving and mourning, among those who have suffered unspeakable loss or have been abandoned by their dearest loves; among those who are angry at justice left undone and who feel pushed to the fringes by an unfair social order; to find ourselves among the who’s who of God’s kingdom, knowing we always have a place if only we will accept the invitation.”
To find ourselves among Debbie Downers and Eeyores, to understand their pain as ours, to understand their struggles as our own and to live with an understanding of grace that includes everyone in Christ’s table and not just those who society and the “powerful” feel like are deserving. To find ourselves at table when, in conversation you can hear Eeyore the donkey say: “After all, one can't complain. I have my friends.”
And as the author says: “As it is at Christ’s table, may it be so at our own.”  Amen.
 Merriam-Webster dictionary: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Debbie%20Downer#:~:text=%3A%20a%20negative%20or%20pessimistic%20person,enthusiasm%20or%20pleasure%20of%20others  Raymond Pickett. Feasting on the Gospels--Luke, Volume 2 (p. 212). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.  Campbell, Cynthia M.; Coy Fohr, Christine. Meeting Jesus at the Table (p. 54). Presbyterian Publishing. Kindle Edition.  Feasting on the Gospels--Luke, Volume 2 (p. 206). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.  Feasting on the Gospels--Luke, Volume 2 (p. 206). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition  Campbell, Cynthia M.; Coy Fohr, Christine. Meeting Jesus at the Table (p. 57). Presbyterian Publishing. Kindle Edition.  Campbell, Cynthia M.; Coy Fohr, Christine. Meeting Jesus at the Table (p. 57). Presbyterian Publishing. Kindle Edition.