September 1, 2019
IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE YOU SIT
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, TX 77450
Jesus is at dinner with a Pharisee on the sabbath once again. This is the third dinner invitation from a Pharisee that Jesus has accepted. One would think that these guys would have learned not to invite Jesus to a sabbath meal by now. They were always a setting for a dispute and usually about the sabbath or who is clean or unclean. Regardless of the question it seems that Jesus always finds a way to take the Pharisees to task. Talk about someone who might not want to invite if you were a Pharisee.
If you were following along in the bulletin you will notice that Gill read verse 1 and then skipped to verse 7 which is how the reading appears in the lectionary. What is skipped in the lectionary is another healing on the sabbath, that is then followed by another ox and donkey on the sabbath question. The same exact sequence as last week’s readings. Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell them what to do, but instead gives an example and asks a question. This is a classic rabbinic style of coming to an agreement on a question and a style of debate that rabbis continue to use. It is a way of disagreeing without being unpleasant. One of the longest running debates in Judaism is what is work and what can be done or not done on the sabbath. They still have those debates today in Jewish communities as technology advances. The ox and donkey question was and is a classic way to start the discussion. I believe it is important to know what was missing in this reading to fully grasp what comes next. For in all of these Jesus is moving past simple issues of following the law and into following the way of love.
A banquet is always a metaphor for heaven in our terminology. We will over the next few weeks hear several banquet stories. They are often introduced with the Kingdom is like this and then the banquet is used as the example or at least the setting for the example. Jesus is both at a banquet and uses a future banquet as his teaching example. Now for the particulars of this story.
The world of the 1st century was an honor shame society. We caught a glimpse of this last week when “all of his opponents were put to shame.” As I proclaimed that gospel, I made sure to emphasize that because it was an important point and also to be shamed in public was one of the worst things that could happen to a person in that world. Jesus’ words are in part good advice to avoid being shamed when you discover that someone more important than you have arrived.
Banquets were very different in that time. Those at the head table would be served first and get the best food and wine. The next tables would be served, and it would be pretty good. However, if your status was lower you would find yourself at the edge of the room or possibly in another room with inferior food and probably not as much. So being seated at the head table was really important and a very visible sign of status.
We are dealing with pride in this passage and that is why I selected the passage from Sirach to go with this. The book of Sirach is similar to the Book of Proverbs in that it has suggestions on how to live a good and righteous life. Pride is often referred to as one of the seven deadly sins. Now I would like to consider the subject of sin for just a moment. I do not really care for that list of seven deadly sins. Sins are not specific actions. A sin as defined in our catechism is anything that separates or breaks the relationship between us and God, another person or creation.
I’m proud of St. Paul’s. I’m proud that you called me as your rector. Is that a sin? Only if my pride gets in the way of what I and we are called to do. Pride only becomes a sin when it breaks relationships with God or other people. If I was to let pride get in the way of the work we were doing by say not being willing to partner with someone who could really help us, then that would be a sin. If we were to let pride get in the way of who we welcome in our doors, then that would be a sin.
The important thing in this passage is that none of this is about us, but about the kingdom. Over these first few weeks I have introduced some of what I consider the central themes or teachings that you will hear more about in the coming months and years. A critical concept is something I have learned from Fr. Richard Rohr a Franciscan priest who in my eyes is quite an exceptional writer and theologian. You will often see his daily meditations posted on the church’s Facebook page. Any of you who have read him, what I am about to say is very familiar, but I suspect there are many here today where this will be a new idea so bear with me.
Building on the work of Thomas Merton, Fr. Richard speaks often of our true self and our false self. Now the false self sounds negative, but it isn’t. The false self is ego centered and is focused on our earthly world. It is the self that we carefully craft during childhood and early adulthood. The development is essential to becoming a healthy person. Richard has started referring it to the ego centered self and I find that more helpful terminology. However, there is a point where we need to move beyond this self-centered self into something more.
This is where the true self comes in. The true self is the self that encounters and knows God. This God centered or focused self moves beyond ego and into the greater world. The God centered self enters the banquet of God’s abundance and doesn’t seek or even really care about the seat of honor in the heavenly banquet. For the God centered self sees those people that Jesus calls us to invite into the banquet as the unique and loved children of God that they are.
In the heavenly banquet our true selves know that all God’s children have a place at the table. No exceptions! I was listening to another podcast of Michael Curry this week and he referenced an old spiritual that says. All God’s children have a seat at the table. And they do and there is no head table or table in another room. At God’s banquet we are all there together and guess what, we don’t have to wait for heaven. That’s the point of Jesus’ teaching today is this isn’t about some day in the future when we are at the heavenly banquet. Jesus is calling us to live this way now and that is what the rule of life our Presiding Bishop is calling us to follow, the Way of Love. Because in the way of love that Jesus taught, every person is a beloved disciple, a beloved child of God and all are invited.
Saturday morning the word for the day from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist provided an important thought that pulled this sermon together for me.
God has entrusted each one of us with distinctive gifts, and God has entrusted each one of us with distinctive needs, and that’s all by God’s design so that, in life together, we become whole. Our gifts and our needs are all very temporary in this life. What is not temporary, what abides, is the Giver of our gifts and the Giver of our needs.
-Br. Curtis Almquist SSJE
And God is the one who gives us our gifts and invites us to the banquet in the first place. Most important God invites everyone to come on in. We need everyone to be included in our banquet to be complete.
The church is not a rest home for those who have their acts together, but an ER for those who struggle with life. We don’t have to wait until we’ve got our act together. Come and bring your gifts, the ones God has given you even if you do not know you have them. For only when we are all at the table will God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.