Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lame, Lowly, and Loved: Luke 14:1, 7-14 - Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

1On 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.

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.”
The Banqueting Room by Robert Nunn.  Creative commons image on flickr
I’m firmly believe that what goes around comes around

One day, as I dropped Becca off at school, she turned off the radio before getting out of the car. 

I asked her “what are you doing?”

She answered, “I don’t want people to hear your lame music!”

Well, the instant that she shut the door, I cranked my lame music back up—and I remembered how I would complain to my parents about the same exact things. 

That being said, I recalled taking Becca and one of her friends to Comic Con.  It is customary to attend the event dressed in costume.  So I felt quite lame when three of us walked into a crowded restaurant with the two teens dressed as Japanese anime characters.  I got more than a few stares from patrons—and I loved every second of it. 

I don’t want to be a lame dad—but I love feeling lame for being a dad!

It’s one thing to feel lame—but it’s another to be lame.  Jesus speaks of “the lame” as the physically or mentally disabled.  In the larger sense, he’s also speaking of the “undesirables” of the world—the kinds of people who wouldn’t get invited to banquets. 

In Jesus’ world, honor was the ultimate social currency.  People of honor were wealthy, powerful, prestigious, and educated.  These were the nobles and elites, who used their wealth and power to control the economic and social systems of their society for their exclusive benefit.

So if you were a person of honor, and you gave a banquet, you were expected to invite other persons of honor—and seat them accordingly.  It someone of lesser status were to take a seat of honor, they would be “put in their place.”  This is how the world they lived in worked.

But Jesus teaches us that things go much differently in God’s kingdom…  Those who pursue honor will be humbled; those who are humble, on the other hand, will be exalted.

Then Jesus takes it one step further: if you give a banquet, don’t bother seeking out the honorable people (who may show up regardless). Instead, invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”  Invite the people who have nothing to offer you in return.  Invite the people the rest of the world counts as nobody. 

So why is this?

For starters, God’s kingdom lacks the glamor and prestige the rest of the world has to offer. God’s not going to honor or give you any special privileges because you’re such a good person, or because you’re successful or important.  We all know that being a Christian doesn’t make you prosperous or chase all your problems away.  In God’s Kingdom, philanthropists and CEOs worship in the same pews—and partake of the same bread and cup—as ex-cons and people on welfare.

There’s no instant gratification here.

If you want to know why so many churches are empty these days, the reason is simple: people are busy.  This is especially true for the kinds of people we’d love to have in our church: to populate our Sunday school, fill leadership positions, and meet the budget.  Coming to church doesn’t give people the prestige, the rewards, or even the comfort the rest of the world has to offer.  We don’t even have air conditioning!

If someone evaluates this Church only in terms of what they’re going to get out of it, they’re going to find it wanting, plain and simple.  Jesus means what he says when he commands you to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him.  What you’re going to get here is death and resurrection.  Real life with real people, and promises that God is slowly but surely bringing to life.

The biggest gift Jesus gives right here and now is unconditional love.  In God’s kingdom, you don’t have to be “good enough.”  Here, Jesus takes away the labels and prejudices the world imposes on you based upon what you do for a living; how much money you have; or the things you’ve done in the past.  Here, you can be who you are created to be—which is a child of God, forgiven and beloved.

If you believe Jesus loves you in this way, your challenge is to practice this love for others. 

Think about the people who you find most annoying—and the people you’d never want to see moving in next door.  Think about people who smell bad; whose appearance or lifestyle offends you.  Think about those people who support the presidential candidate you’re praying won’t be elected!  Think about those people who’ve done things you could never see yourself doing. 

Do this, because in God’s kingdom, humility demands facing the most painful truths about yourself.  You are a sinner and a broken human being.  You are fully capable of doing the things you hate most of all—and the things you fear most may happen to you; all in the blink of an eye. 

I’m reminded of fellow Lutherans who supported Hitler and the Nazis. 

I’m reminded of King David, who committed adultery and murder.

These people aren’t devils.  They’re human, just like me.  They do evil things, just like me—and still, they are loved.  We know God’s love more fully by loving others in spite of their “unloveliness.”

But no matter how bad you fail; or what tragedies and hardships may befall you, you are a child of God.  You need God’s grace just as much as anyone.  Blessed are you if you believe this.  Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and he will lift you up.  Humble yourself and Jesus will make you new.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sabbath Delight: Isaiah 58:9b-14 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

9bIf you remove the yoke from among you,
  the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10if you offer your food to the hungry
  and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
 then your light shall rise in the darkness
  and your gloom be like the noonday.
11The Lord will guide you continually,
  and satisfy your needs in parched places,
  and make your bones strong;
 and you shall be like a watered garden,
  like a spring of water,
  whose waters never fail.
12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
  you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
 you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
  the restorer of streets to live in.

13If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
  from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
 if you call the sabbath a delight
  and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
 if you honor it, not going your own ways,
  serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
14then you shall take delight in the Lord,
  and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
 I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
  for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (NRSV)
Dallas Farmers Market by John Tornow.  Creative Commons Image on flickr
In 2008, the Goodwin family of Seattle, Washington decided to do something daring

And no, they didn’t parachute out of an airplane or go on a reality TV show…

They committed to living their lives by four rules, for one year
  1. They would buy food and goods only from local producers, growers, or manufacturers. 
  2. They would buy only used products
  3. They would grow and can their own food
  4. And whatever things they could not buy locally, they would make themselves—or do without.

The reasons behind this were simple: the cycle of buying things and later throwing them away was a burden on their souls.  They were tired of rushing through their days and constantly feeling discontent with what they had.  They wanted to build meaningful relationships in their community while at the same time living sustainably.

The year would prove more difficult than they could ever have imagined—but, to an even greater extent, it brought them closer to Jesus, to each other.  They saw that the Kingdom of God was all around them.  They called it their “Year of Plenty.” 

But I still can’t help but think “they’re nuts.

I don’t have the time or the skills to grow my own food.  The economy is bad, and buying local can be expensive.  So I’m naturally going to reach for anything that’s going to make my life easier. Wal-Mart’s tagline “Save Money, Live Better” could easily be my life’s mantra.

But is this what God intends for my life—and yours?

At the beginning of creation, God instituted the Day of Sabbath, a Hebrew word meaning stop.  And God makes a big deal about it.  It is the third Commandment.

Yet the idea of a Sabbath Day feels unrealistic and counter-productive in today’s world.  There’s so much to do and so many obligations to meet. Even for us who come to church, Sunday probably feels a lot like Saturday—or any other day, especially if you have to work today. 

We all need rest—but rest is a luxury that very few can afford.

So you seek rest wherever you can get it. I look for rest in the form of convenience.  This is why I spend so much time at fast-food drive thrus and big box stores.  This is why I have gadgets out the wazoo. 

When the working day is done, we all just want to have fun: and what better way to have fun than to go out to eat; treat yourself to a little retail therapy; stretch out on the couch in front of a big TV.  And if you have the nicest toys and take the best vacations, then you know you’re living well. 

Except that you’re not.  The Goodwins had lived in this way—but something was missing.  That something was Sabbath. 

You see, Sabbath is a gift—before it is an obligation. 

God gives you Sabbath to refresh your weary soul with grace.

God is calling TIME OUT so that God’s presence and God’s priorities may take hold. It’s ironic to think of what they were doing as Sabbath, because it certainly took a great deal of work!  But this was work that forced them to slow down and start paying attention to what God was up to in the most ordinary things of life.  Through Sabbath, God will lead you to a new and better way of living that will ease the burdens on your soul, rather than adding to them. 

So where does your Sabbath begin?

By stopping  You must STOP and pay attention to what is going.  You must believe that even as time passes and resources run scarce that in Christ, there is always enough. 

So slow down!  Breathe! Remember that wherever you are, Jesus is there.

Then give yourself.  Share your time.  Learn someone’s name.  Hear their story.  Pray with or for that person.  Give them rest.  One of the most powerful ways we see Jesus is when we are open to entering into meaningful relationships with others. 

Do also something the Goodwins did—think about all the stuff you buy, use up, and throw away.  I highly doubt God intended for us to treat his creation the way we do.  Cost and convenience are not the be-all end-all in God’s world.  Believe that you can experience Jesus as you practice sustainable living.

Bear in mind, though, that Sabbath is never the path of least resistance.  It’s always a risk and a great big leap of faith.  As Jesus calls you to himself, the stuff (and the people) you leave behind will be shouting after you.  Voices inside your head will be bombarding you with good reasons why you can’t go Jesus’ way.  Except—that you can, because he goes with you. 

Trust that because God commands Sabbath—God will provide it. 

Pray for Jesus to give you Sabbath that is restful and a more faith-filled way of living.  Pray for Jesus to make your Sabbath a delight.

Goodwin, Craig L. Year of Plenty. Minneapolis: sparkhouse press, 2011.