12 Pentecost C—9/1/19
Proverbs 25:6-7, Sirach 10:12-18; Hebrews 13:1-3, Luke 14:1, 7-14
Pr. Scott Kramer
This past Friday I was invited to the home of one of my hiking buddies for dinner. Those who gathered had hiked together some weeks ago over a hundred miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Tonight, my wife and I are invited to another dinner, this time for an end-of-summer gathering with pastor and deacon colleagues. I meet with these folks every week to study and discuss the Bible readings for the coming Sunday.
Tomorrow we’re invited to yet another dinner gathering, this time hosted by my beloved pastoral internship supervisor from nearly thirty years ago.
Our social calendar usually is not nearly this full! But can you imagine walking into one of these gatherings as a guest, looking around, and saying to the hosts, “No, no, no! This isn’t how to host a dinner party. These aren’t the people you’re supposed to invite!”
After he criticizes his fellow guests for choosing the places of honor at a dinner to which he’s invited, Jesus turns to his host: The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks.
Ouch. I wonder how many times Jesus got invited back to that home!
This simple story taken at face value is as much a challenge to our American ears as it was to the ears of those dinner guests in Palestine two thousand years ago. I mean, who does this, anyway? Who invites strangers to dinner? Who extends generous hospitality to people off the streets, outside their own social rank and class?
The writer of Hebrews takes that ball and runs with it: 1Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
In other words, today’s readings are not really so much about how we structure our social calendars. They’re about how we structure our political life together!
There’s a detail at the very beginning of today’s reading from Luke that catches my attention, maybe more than any other. One time when Jesus went for a Sabbath meal with one of the top leaders of the Pharisees, all the guests had their eyes on him, watching his every move.
If you remember last week’s reading, you know why they were watching him closely. He had just healed a woman on the Sabbath, breaking a religious law. Now they were watching to see if he would do so again. Sure enough, as if to provoke them, he deliberately performs another healing on the Sabbath. He breaks the rule again. Yet another nail in his coffin!
The point Jesus makes seems easy and self-evident to our modern ears: Of course, if someone is in need, it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is. You help them out! Not just firefighters and police officers and hospital personnel—anybody!
But maybe it’s not so self-evident, after all. This story is not so much about whether or not we work on Sundays. It’s not even really about who you invite over for dinner. It’s about spiritual priorities, which are revealed by our social and political priorities.
To what extent do we middle-class Christians, like the guests at that dinner two thousand years ago, jockey for position like everyone else? To what extent, through our voting patterns, through our giving patterns, do we tend to our own self-interest, promoting “me and mine” at the expense of brothers and sisters, siblings in need? Things like: trying to pay as little tax as possible.
Dear friends, the priorities of our nation and its people seem clear: the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Almost literally, each day we watch as yet another of our nation’s laws is rolled back to ensure this pattern. And like those dinner guests in Luke’s story, too often we are…silent.
The story of God’s people—and even history itself–shows that a day of reckoning always follows such priorities, and we should expect nothing less for ourselves. Hear again today’s reading from Sirach:
14The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers,
and enthrones the lowly in their place.
15The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations,
and plants the humble in their place.
16The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations,
and destroys them to the foundations of the earth.
17He removes some of them and destroys them,
and erases the memory of them from the earth.
Harsh! But God’s judgement is not so much about thunderbolts from on high. As we heard again last week, and as we hear over and over throughout our scriptures, ours is a God of freedom. Our God will not force us to do anything. Instead, God takes the side of the poor and oppressed, leaving the rest of us freely to choose which side we’re on. Today’s psalm spells it out quite clearly:
10“I am the Lord your
God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
11Yet my people did not hear my voice, and Israel would not obey me.
12So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts,
to follow their own devices.
In plain language: You want to jockey for position? You want to enrich yourselves and protect your own? I’ve given you a life-giving path, but you’re free to do whatever you want. You want to destroy yourselves? Knock yourselves out! says the Lord.
The guests at the fateful dinner that Jesus attended had their eyes on him, watching his every move. The motivation for their scrutiny was to trip him up, to catch him in some infraction of religious law.
But, give them credit. At least they were closely studying his example! How closely do we study the example and teachings of Jesus and imitate his priorities?
In a few minutes, we will gather once again at the table of God, to which all are invited as beloved guests. This meal that we share among ourselves each week means many things to many people. For some, it is just a ritual, with little connection to life beyond these doors. For others, it’s little more than a “good work”–a box to check–that somehow earns us God’s approval. At its best, however, this meal that we share is nothing less than practice for how we organize our hearts and minds and all the choices we make the rest of the week. “Do this,” he says, “in remembrance of me.” Study me!
What do we remember? The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks.
Who do we remember? The author of Hebrews commands us to remember the millions who are tortured and in prison. This communion table we approach is especially for the lost, excluded, ignored and despised. It’s for you whose skin color, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, or lower tax bracket have branded you by society as “less than” or “unacceptable.” It is you whose lot has been met…with silence…by those who could make a difference.
At this table, you are those the Host has called to take the place of honor.
This is a meal to which all are invited. In the presence of Christ, we are invited to study his example and his priorities. In this meal, it is not just bread but religious and social rules that are broken.
In other words, dear friends, this is a meal of Sabbath healing. Come, for all is now ready!