August 29, 2010
Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost
August 29, 2010
The Rev. Bradford A. Rundlett
Proverbs 25:6-7 Psalm 112 Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14
When was the last time we had an Old Testament lesson - any lesson for that matter – that’s just one sentence! And yes I know what you’re thinking, “If only our preacher would give one sentence sermons we’d be out of here in no time!”
Be careful! You do realize don’t you that your clergy hold the keys to the Kingdom? With regard to your sins we can let you off easy, or we can arrange a very harsh penance; we can grant you absolution, or send you away unforgiven; we can bless you, or we can withhold God’s blessing until we’re satisfied that you’re right with God again. As the Book of Proverbs says “Don’t mess with powerful people.”
It’s called the Salahis lesson, named after an ancient Babylonian couple who crashed one of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dinner parties.
Religious leaders especially, beware! Jesus warned that “All who exalt themselves will be humbled” and that goes double for clergy. Our Savior’s not above knocking us down a notch or two if that’s what it takes to save our prideful hides. But Jesus also said “those who humble themselves will be exalted … will be blessed … will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
There’s another one line lesson for us this morning. And judging by the Church’s track record – by our track record – we’re a long way from getting it right.
My seminary Church History professor was a Lutheran; he took great delight in dredging up the Church’s dirty laundry, and showing us that true humility is a rare commodity. Don Armentrout lectured us about the strident disagreements between Peter and Paul; he went on and on about the Church’s heresy trials, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch hunts, the darker side of the Reformation; the church’s complicity and involvement with slavery and the oppression of women, and the inglorious establishment of the Anglican Church by Henry the VIII; what a guy! Professor Armentrout used to say “You Episcopalians are a piece of work. You produced half-baked theologies to endorse the king’s political aspirations; you erect fancy buildings, devise elaborate rituals, adorn your worship leaders in elegant robes, and parade up and down the aisles with great pomp and splendor. Aren’t you Elite –opalians special!”
(He was my favorite teacher).
According to my Lutheran professor, folks in other denominations have long thought we’re a bit snobbish, and for good reason.
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus raises the question not of who is worthy, but who is welcome. When he looked at the community of faith he realized a lot of people were missing. “Where are the poor, the wounded; the people who don’t fit into your social circles? Where are your neighbors and co-workers? Why haven’t you invited them to your parties and banquets, to your Eucharistic feasts?”
As my Moral Theology professor The Rev. Dr. Howard Rhys used to opine “Ain’t nobody better than anyone else.” So, why aren’t our pews filled with all the people of God, with “all sorts and conditions” of human beings, all shapes, sizes, and colors, old and young, rich and poor? Why isn’t St. Timothy’s, in all of our worship services, more like John’s preview of the Kingdom that he recorded in his Book of Revelation “I looked, and behold, [there was] a great multitude that no one could count, from every language, tribe, people and nation, [all] standing before the throne and before the Lamb” … singing hymns of praise to God?
Wouldn’t that be great?111
We are called to build up this Body of Christ. And we are here because someone took that seriously. Someone invited me, someone invited you.
We live in one of the wealthiest counties, in one of the wealthiest countries, in the world. In spite of the current “up and down” economy we are surrounded by tokens and reminders of our good fortune. But, considering the readings we have this morning, maybe we’ve forgotten some of our gospel obligations. Jesus said “When you give a banquet” (and he didn’t mean just house parties; he meant the Church’s celebrations too) “invite the people who cannot repay you, and you will be repaid at the Resurrection.”
As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that, some [of you] have entertained angels without knowing it … Do not neglect to do good, and to share what you have, for that pleases God.”
Our Savior’s command to “Love our neighbors as ourselves” includes inviting and welcoming everyone into the family of God, into God’s house, into the Church.
We put out welcome signs, and our greeters stand at every door in and out of St. Timothy’s. But there’s nothing like a personal invitation: Come for the Bread; come for the wine! Come for the prayers that you pray for others, and the prayers that will be offered for you. Come for the music (Peter does a great job doesn’t he?). Come for the friendships you can develop, and for the support friends give one another. Come for God, for Jesus Christ, for the Holy Spirit. Come because there’s no place where you are more welcome; come because there’s no enterprise more important than building a community of faith, hope, love, peace, joy, and justice, in a world with precious little warmth and welcome for anyone. Come because this Holy Communion will be incomplete without you.
We have designated September 19th as “Welcome Home Sunday.” And of course we welcome people every day of the year, but most of our neighbors have never been invited. They’ve never heard how welcome and wanted they are.
According to the Gospel we are called to invite everyone we know, everyone we meet – and not just for their sake, but for our sake too – for all that they might learn from us and we from them, for the gifts we can give them and the gifts they can give us, for what we with them will by the grace of God become – exalted, blessed, showered with God’s love and goodness.
God has great dreams for us - for all of us. And the Lord’s Supper won’t be right until everyone is here.