Sunday, 29 August 2010

Sermon for September 29th 2010 The Revd. J. Michael Povey at All Angels by the Sea, Longboat Key, FL


Sermon for September 29th 2010
The Revd. J. Michael Povey at All Angels by the Sea, Longboat Key, FL

Luke 14 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 3And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” 4But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” 6And they could not reply to this. 7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But 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’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

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”I suspect that we humans are just insecure enough – and that life is just tumultuous enough – that there are few things we crave more in this topsy-turvy world than a little order. We want to know where we stand, how we're doing, how we measure up. And given how small we feel – and, for goodness' sake, really are – in comparison to the vast cosmos of which we are apart, more often than not we seek that sense of order by comparing ourselves to others. This is why social pecking orders are so important. Love them or hate them – or both – it's rare that we're not keenly aware of, and just a little invested in, the pecking order of the various groups we're a part of.”  (Professor David Lose of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota).
Oh those pecking orders!  We are all so very aware of them.  And there is nothing new under the sun.  There were pecking orders in the time of Jesus.  He addresses them in the words we have just read.
Jesus was not a first century Emily Post, or Miss Manners.  He did not get killed because of his scorning of etiquette.  He got killed because he upset the apple-cart of religion which is based on rules and on surface appearance.
The passage begins with these rather scary words: “They were watching him closely”. Our lectionary missed out the next bit of the story -  but I read it today -  it’s the bit about the man who was healed of dropsy.  (These days we would call it “edema” -  so maybe the man was experiencing congestive heart failure)

They were watching Jesus closely because of their own heart failure.  Their rules based religion had so hardened their hearts, that a law about not working on the Sabbath trumped the possibility of compassion to a suffering man.
“They were watching him closely”, but Jesus also has observing eyes. The text says that “he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor”. That’s not something which would happen in our culture for on formal occasions we all know that the host determines the places of honour.  And I think that Jesus is teasing these folks in the parable he taught.  Listen again to what he said:   
8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But 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’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.

We are meant to say “that’s an unlikely story”, and so it is.  In the parable Jesus has “set them up”, poking fun of their foibles.  For in the Kingdom of God, the banquets will not be about status and packing order – they will be about radical and generous hospitality.
That is the point of the next story.  Jesus calls us to invite “the crippled, the lame, and the blind” for they will not care a whit about status - they will simply be shocked at having been invited; glad to eat; and to eat well. 
In modern terms Jesus calls us to invite the most unlikely folks to our tables, which in fact means the people who are the most unlike us.  We shall be doing something which takes us out of many comfort zones for it will be rooted not in our reputations for being good hosts; nor from our generosity; but from our obedience to the Lord Jesus.

 Here are four “for instances”.
1. The Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Boston came to realise that many American Muslims who live and work in downtown Boston had no place for Friday prayers.  So he threw open the downstairs parish hall for Muslims to pray to God.  That is radical and generous hospitality.
2. The Episcopal Church throughout this land (with some awful exceptions) has become a Church in which gay and lesbian Christians have been made welcome for who they are – the children of God. The marvellous thing about this welcome is that it is not as it used to be – “with a wink and a nod” so to speak, but with a glad affirmation which welcomes them and their partners.
3. I’ve preached a great deal in more than 30 years of Priesthood about the need for racial reconciliation.  That wasn’t particularly difficult – parishioners tend to expect that from their Rector. But one day even as I was preaching, a deep truth entered my soul. Despite all my preaching, I had never ever invited any people of colour to my home for dinner. Chastened by my own preaching I began to rectify that, not because I am a good guy, but because I am called to wholehearted discipleship.
4. Back in 1986 my curate at St. Stephen’s in Pittsfield, MA asked if he and his wife could begin a feeding ministry.  We did so.  We banned the use of the words “soup kitchen” for we decided that we were primarily in the hospitality business.  We named it St. Stephen’s Table.  We served dinner on good plates, with real cutlery.   We waited on tables.  Some guests would arrive three hours before dinner time, but we never let them form a queue in the street – they were seated as soon as they arrived.  St. Stephen’s Table thrives, and now serves dinner two nights each week.  But here’s the best part.  We never once asked any guest why he or she was there.  That our guests were present was all that mattered.  St. Stephen’s Table was not and is not a charity.  It was and is a group of Jesus’ followers who were serious about his call to radical and generous hospitality.


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