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Luke 14:1, 7-14 | A quote from El Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero
“Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.” — Archbishop Oscar Romero
The church is a place of comfort and challenge.
You have heard me say this before…
With the death of Dr. Ellis, the unexpected losses of Archie, and Mary-Lu’s son Bill, the deaths of Norm and Sally, Sandi, Vera, Mary K, and most recently, Norma Houghton… we have been in a season of comfort – a time when the familiar humility of this place, with its quiet shadows, and its pews, scarred with the teeth marks of our children, is exactly what we need it to be – a sanctuary where we can heave a collective sigh of relief and let our spirits rest in the arms of a loving God.
Our lives are short and so we gather here to commune with the eternal, where our souls can rest, comforted.
May I suggest, with the help of this morning’s gospel reading, that on this first Sunday in September, as we sense the first hints of fall weather trembling in the boughs of the trees, that we are entering a season of challenge.
As we scan the horizon of the immediate future, we can see that we are poised to proclaim our faith in an audacious and very public way.
We are going to install 286 white crosses on our lawn – one cross for every child of God who has perished in a mass shooting in this country in 2019.
On Tuesday of this coming week – two days from now – our church will be featured on the front page of the Ledger-Transcript. Interviews and pictures will tell the story of how the people of this church, heart-sick and frustrated by repeated tragedies, decided we could no longer remain silent. About how we decided to do something, settled on the idea and mobilized, as a family…
United in prayer
and united in action.
Tuesdays press coverage will bring our action to the attention of the larger Monadnock community, and it is my hope that as a result, the ceremony of installation of crosses, at 3pm on Sunday September 8th, will be well attended.
United, we will demonstrate to the Monadnock region, that prayer is not a useless waste of breath…
That prayer is not the thing that you do before you forget about the problem.
It’s true that for many people in our country, that is what prayer has come to mean.
But this is not the case at the United Church of Jaffrey.
Nor should it be in any congregation.
Prayer does not quell action.
Prayer moves us into action.
One informs the other.
We commune with the Eternal, and then we act.
In this morning’s gospel reading, we find Jesus at a sabbath meal that is hosted by a “leader of the Pharisees.”
These Pharisees, in true pharisaical form, are keeping a suspicious watch over Jesus, who they are wary of.
Jesus, in his turn, watches as the guests arrive.
He notices that every person who arrives takes the best seat in the house, leaving the worst places for the latecomers.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a thought process here – doing what is of most benefit to oneself is a kind of reflex – something we do, as it were, without thinking about it.
But Jesus is thinking about it. And, as is his wont, he has a different, and thought provoking alternative notion.
“…Do not sit down at the place of honor,” he advises.
He goes on to explain his reasoning — if you take the best seat, chances are someone who is of higher social standing may appear later and the host will be obliged ask you to move to a less desirable seat, and if this happens, it will embarrass your host, and publicly disgrace you at the same time.
Instead, Jesus advises that guests should “sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’
This is a rather sophisticated way to play the situation. It denies you the immediate gratification of claiming the best seat in the house, but has the potential – in the longer term – of giving you higher standing, not only at the table, but also in the estimation of your host.
all who exalt themselves will be humbled, (he concludes) and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
There is an unmistakable message here regarding the nature of humility and exaltation.
Choosing to exalt yourself may seem the natural choice, but it may backfire because in a social situation, the exaltation that is bestowed by others has more power than the exaltation that you claim for yourself.
Then Jesus goes on to say that humility is proper, not only in social situations, but also in relation to God.
“When you give a dinner, (he says to the host) 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.
Once again Jesus undermines what you assume about the way things work.
If you want to impress someone, you choose the most impressive person to impress, right?
It stands to reason.
But I think Jesus is allergic to assumptions, because he often likes to flip them over to see what happens.
when you give a banquet, (he says) invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you,
Did you get that?
Jesus states quite clearly that “You will be blessed because they cannot repay you…”
That is a very challenging idea for us, in modern America.
Can you imagine an advertising firm that worked that way? A university, a hospital, a factory? Any business at all? Blessed because your customers can’t pay? Even a church. No way.
Jesus was not a very good capitalist.
Indeed, Jesus seems, in this passage, to be actively undermining the most basic notion that underlies capitalism.
He does this, because he sees something that he considers more important than profit.
More important than profit?
That is hard for us to imagine…
What could be more important than profit?
Well, after all, profit is a form of self-exaltation isn’t it. It’s a process of grabbing the best available seat for yourself.
But to be blessed, Jesus says, is to be exalted by another.
Where your eternal soul is concerned, the exaltation that you claim for yourself has very little meaning. The exaltation that counts is the exaltation that is bestowed by God.
Jesus challenges us to think about things that we prefer not to think about.
Jesus is against spiritual laziness.
If he sees us assuming that something is correct without examining it, he takes us to task, as he does the guests and the Pharisees in this passage.
And our lives – our modern lives – are filled with such assumptions.
We assume that if we want goods and services, we must pay.
We assume that someone who commits a crime must be punished.
We assume that to protect ourselves, we must be able to threaten others,
As I stand in this pulpit, today, I look out and see the banner on the far wall, which says “Always for others” and I reconsider those assumptions that lie at the heart of our culture.
I celebrate the way this church challenges – has always challenged – spiritual laziness.
“Always for others” is a great challenge. Christ’s challenge, that acknowledges that peace – real, deep, blessed peace that is bestowed by God, is not something we get by being quiet.
We earn peace, by putting our prayers into action.
We earn peace with the words “Always for others.”