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Texts for Preaching
From “Listening to your life” by Frederick Buechner
If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world say, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully—the life you save may be your own—and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Law and order, and Jesus says, Love. The world says, Get and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion.
The Gospel:Luke 14:1, 7-14
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. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “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; and 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. But 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. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He 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. 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.”
If you have been a church-goer
then you’re used to this kind of story.
I’m talking about the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party
from Luke, as Frederick Buechner might have said.
It is the kind of story
in which Jesus is rude to his host
and tells him or her disagreeable things
that would embarrass everyone present,
and cause them wonder why the host
had invited such an obnoxious guest.
That kind of story.
Most of us are so used to this kind of thing
that we listen right past the punch line
and it doesn’t hook us very deeply.
And you know, that just makes me
want to go fishing again
into the depths of it.
First of all, to get ready
and tenderize ourselves a little,
let’s think about the kind people
with whom we are most uncomfortable.
And let’s be honest about —
you don’t have to say it out loud
but there are some people
we like better than others.
There are some “kinds” of people
we like better than others –
and are just more comfortable around.
But let’s think about
those folks we are UNcomfortable around.
Our discomfort may arise from a prejudice
or it may climb up
from some dark corner in ourselves
we aren’t even sure about.
I have a funny one like that
that I’ll admit
just to warm you up
to call to mind one or more of your own.
Since I worked in a mental health unit
and spent a considerable amount of time
with homeless folks,
or what I think we used to call “Street people,”
I am pretty comfortable with
a population that makes a lot of other people uncomfortable.
But I never could get used
to really long beards.
I mean Moses kinds of beards, the kind
you see up in Vermont quite often
or among homeless folks in urban areas.
There is something about those
that makes me uncomfortable.
I can handle the dirt
of people who haven’t bathed
in a long time,
but those long beards,
whether clean or groomed
or just hanging there forgotten,
Maybe you have
some folks wandering around
in your thoughts right now
that would cause you to sit stiff
if they were on one or the other side of you —
Sandwiched between two people
that make you uncomfortable
is the feeling I am trying to evoke.
There might be someone
in this very worship space
that makes you feel like that —
maybe it’s even me!
But churches are mostly
congregations of the like-minded:
self-selected havens of class,
ethnicity and race.
Church is still, as Martin Luther King, Jr. observed
more than fifty years ago,
the most segregated hour in America.
Then there are clubs
and civic organizations
and professional associations
that are often little retreats into privilege.
Even bowling leagues,
and quilting circles
are normally self-selected groupings
or commonly-interested people.
All of that is because
we congregate with other people
who are similar to us –
it is what makes us comfortable.
And — and this is important —
we often congregate around food.
is the most pervasive element
of our social structure –
so thoroughly commonplace
that we take it for granted.
is the way we both express
the kind of relationship we have with one another
as well as build and nurture those relationships.
A breakfast meeting of colleagues,
a power lunch,
a romantic dinner,
late night pizza,
clubbing or bar-hopping –
these are all ways of being in relationship
and are even metaphors
for the kind of relationship
we have with a business associate, friend, or lover.
We normally don’t analyze these occasions,
we just do them.
But even so, they are deeply significant
So it is interesting to note
who Jesus was most comfortable with.
It wasn’t the leaders of the religion.
It wasn’t the power-brokers.
It wasn’t even the gaggle of students
who followed him everywhere
and who we call his “disciples.”
It WAS what Luke refers to generically
as: “the poor,
and the blind.”
It is a phrase Luke likes to use:
The poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.
He uses it as a descriptor
over and over and over again,
and so it is a metaphor
for a whole class of people
we might call “the marginalized.”
There was something about people
who lived out on the margins
that made Jesus comfortable,
than he would have been with you and me.
That doesn’t mean
he wouldn’t have liked us!
What’s not to like?
It just means that we are not necessarily
his kind of people.
Now isn’t that ironic?
I mean, so much of Christianity
as it is described by churches of all flavors
and all pedigrees,
would have us think
that Jesus was our guy –
that he would like us in particular.
After all, we are Christians
and so we are his kind of people.
Which is ridiculous of course,
given that Jesus never knew a Christian,
was not a Christian,
and lived 350 years
before anything resembling
So when we hear this story from Luke
we have to think about all of that ironic,
under the carpet kind of stuff.
Remember, at a 1st Century
Judean or Galilean dinner party,
guests reclined on pillows in groups of three.
It is so hard to disabuse ourselves
of those Last Supper scenes
we all have fixed in our imaginations.
All those Renaissance paintings
of a long narrow table
with Jesus and the twelve all
sitting on one side
as if posing for the camera.
But in reality
they would have been reclining
and scattered around the room.
Furniture, like tables and chairs,
were hard to come by in the 1st Century
even for the relatively few wealthy people.
Instead, the guest of honor
sat with the host
at a central location in the room.
Eminent guests often came late,
so if you took a seat closer to the center
than the true pecking order allowed,
you would be dislodged
when a Hollywood star,
or NFL quarterback,
or a the biggest pledger in the congregation arrived.
So when we hear
this odd little story
about Jesus giving advice
to the guests at a nice dinner party,
we should ask ourselves:
“Would Jesus really care
if a wealthy blow-hard lost face
in that straight-jacket of social caste
he otherwise tried to subvert at every turn?”
We should be suspicious.
I am thinking it is unlikely
that Jesus told this story
to the Pharisee
in order to save him
from an embarrassment in the future,
or to his disciples
as a kind of rabbinical Cotillion lesson.
What the parable did instead,
was to call into question
the values underneath the custom.
Jesus’ point was this:
degree and pedigree
are not supposed to matter
in the community of faith.
This thing we do here,
around THIS table
and around this symbolic meal,
is supposed to be absolutely egalitarian:
which means that
long white dirty beards
are equal to
as much as
trim little short ones.
It means that here,
at this meal
and for this little bit of time,
there are not supposed to be
We are supposed to host, at this table
and at this meal,
where we have not congregated
by class, ethnicity, or race.
We are supposed to host,
at this table
and at this meal,
with people that may make us
as well as with those we actually like quite a lot.
Now I do not think
that this is big news to anyone here –
it is one of the criteria
by which we have agreed
to evaluate ourselves as a community of faith.
Take a look
at the place “hospitality” holds
in our current mission statement.
at the conclusion of this sermon,
I want to invite us
to apply this idea
even to ourselves.
I want us to maybe even get
a bit uncomfortable
with this idea in a very personal,
internal kind of way.
You see, there are parts of ourselves
we are comfortable with
and parts of ourselves
that make us highly uncomfortable.
You know what I am taking about.
All of us host some shame
along with pride.
We all have
more than a few scars, don’t we?
We have parts of ourselves
that someone has exploited
in order to humiliate us,
shadows that hold the echoes of that humiliation
and reverberate across the decades of our lives.
We may not even know
who or where it comes from.
And we have weakness…Oh my, such weaknesses.
We have failures
and we have crippling limitations
that evoke such anger.
We have so many parts of ourselves
with such different faces
and for which we have such different feelings.
Some parts are orphaned – rejected at birth
like a runt – and then
other big, fat privileged parts
who lord it over all the rest
and take the seat of honor at the center of our psyche.
Jesus has called all the parts to the table.
Actually, Jesus was just the voice,
it is God
who has called all of your parts (and mine)
to come to the table
and be loved…
and be loved.
Come to the table.
Bring every lost,
lonely and marginalized part
of your poor
to this very table…
and be loved.
That is where I want to drop
Luke’s story today,
right in the lap of our tender hearts.
We know about the social dimension of this story.
We are very familiar with it
and with our own failures
to apply it diligently
in every day life
and even here at Trinity Place.
But here is the wisdom
we need to hear today:
It is in learning to love ourselves,
to bring all of ourselves
to the table
and allow even the most marginalize
parts of who we are
to be loved,
that we also create within us
to love one another
in the same way.
In other words,
if we are struggling to love
those long, dirty beards
that hang from the orphaned parts of ourselves —
those very painful
and embarrassing parts
that don’t work all that well,
that make mistakes,
and fail and fumble
or simply look bad —
then we will have an even greater struggle
to feast at the table
with other people
with whom we also feel uncomfortable
and even prejudiced.
It is a two-part spiritual struggle —
to love all the parts of ourselves
and to be engaged in relationship
with all the parts of human society.
That, my friends,
is our spiritual path.
We are to love all the parts of ourselves
and be engaged in relationship
with all the parts of humanity,
and then bring it all
to the table…
to be loved.