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    Sep 01, 2019

    The 12th Sudnay after Pentecost

    Passage: Luke 14:1-7

    Preacher: The Rev. Canon Patricia Grace

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Pentecost

    Detail:

    “Friend, move up higher”

    Luke 14:10

     

     

    Our Gospel reading today is a familiar one –

                the last will be first and the first will be last –

    often quoted at parish dinners by those whose tables are called late

                to the buffet.

     

    It’s all about the exalted being humbled and vice versa.

                Funny how we always assume

                            it will be someone else that gets the humbling.

     

    But here’s a modern day version of that Gospel

    that brings another aspect of this story to light -

                       a parable by Lutheran pastor and blogger, Michael Coffey:

    She entered the party like a caped queen

    her heels lifting herself up to thinner air

    almost to where she wanted to be

     

    she saw the table spread with boutique finery

    charcuterie and artisanal cheeses and duck liver pate

    red and white and bubbling wine for every course

     

     

    she approached the gathering and saw on the far end

    the out-of-fashioned, the rough handed and wrong spoken

    the servants and migrants who picked the butter lettuce

     

    on the near end she saw well-labeled suits

    handbags with leather and metal clasps

    that look of confidence in the eyes of the highly educated

     

    she saw one chair near her with those of her kind

    she sat and mingled and sipped wine and laughed controllably

    and knew which fork to use for the appetizer

     

    the host came and thanked her for taking

    the seat at this end and assured her warm voiced

    that someday, she too, could join him at the other end.

     

    That someday, she too, could join him at the other end.

     

    I love this paraphrase because it illuminates

                that the lesson Jesus is attempting to teach in this Gospel

    is not just about humility, false or true;

                it’s not just about working hard to avoid

    “getting’ above your raisin’”

                            as the folks I knew back in East Tennessee would put it.

    This is a story about deciding how we want to live

                and where we want to place ourselves in that living.

    This is a story about which end of the table do we, ultimately,

                want to end up at – not just in words, or in desire,

                            but by our actions.

    Will we place ourselves where our host,

                Jesus, himself, always chooses to be…

    or follow the seating chart of the world?

    So just where is it – this place, at the end of the table,

                where our savior chooses to sit.

    The answer to that question

    came to me in an unexpected way several years ago,

                during a pilgrimage in Jerusalem.

    It was the last day of the trip.

    We rose before dawn and made our way to the Old City

                and together followed the way of the cross –

    the way taken so long ago by Jesus.

     

    We prayed and sang,

                Took our turn carrying the all too realistic cross,

    finally ending up at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre…

    the site, if tradition holds true,

    where Jesus was crucified and laid in the tomb.

     

    We ended our journey in the small room just off the place

                where Jesus had been laid.

    The whole experience was electrifying, humbling, indeed;

                deeply touching and mystical.

    All of us felt as if we had spent time in the real presence of the living God.

    You can imagine the sense of peace, joy and calm that flowed through us.

     

    But we no sooner did we step out of that small room

                than we were plunged back into the insanity of the world.

    Hundreds of pilgrims and tourists rushed around us,

                chattering, calling out,

    sometimes yelling in a myriad of different tongues.

    They pushed and shoved to get into the queues

                leading to the holy places;

    There were hawkers selling rosaries, icons, candles, holy cards,

                medals, crosses,

    every imaginable item of potentially sacred significance.

    The diversity of the crowd was admirable and interesting,

                but reminded me of the tense relationships maintained by the five denominations that shared jurisdiction over that church –

                and their many disagreements and conflicts.

    All of this was also against the backdrop

    of the bitter and deathly disputes –

    raging for millennia -

                between the Jewish and Palestinian people

    who called this place their home.

    Our group had been given leave to make our way back to our hotel

                on our own schedule –

    and I had intended to take my time.

    But I could not stand the cacophony and frenzied activity

                after our blissful, meditative morning.

    As I made my way out of the church into the courtyard,

                I will admit – I was angry, disgruntled, out of sorts

    and really ticked off that my mountaintop experience

    had been so easily shattered.

    An unbidden thought rose in my mind:

    “What self-respecting savior would ever show up in a place like this?”

    And my mood turned even darker.

     

     

    Just then, I lifted my eyes across the courtyard

                and noticed a man opening his shop for the day.

    I knew he was most likely a Palestinian and a Muslim

                as it was Saturday and the Jews did not do business

    on the Sabbath.

    So when he caught my eye, I nodded and smiled,

    and greeted him in the traditional Arabic words of friendship:

    “Salaam Aleichem.”

    “Aleichem Salaam” he replied in return.

    Then, smiling back, he quickly added:

    “And also, Shalom and Peace be with you. It all works here!”

    “It all works here” he said, with a laugh.

    And spreading his arms wide, in a kind of virtual embrace,

                He clasped my hand and shook it,

                            then disappeared into his store.

    For the second time that day, I was lifted into the presence of God.

    “Of course” I thought…

    “this is exactly the place where our savior would come…”

     

    Our savior will always seek out

    the places that are always at the far and less desirable ends

    of the table.

    The God whom we strive to know and follow

    in the person of Jesus Christ

    always chooses that kind of place:

    the places where you will find broken hearts, broken spirits,

                broken minds and bodies;

    the places that testify to misplaced trust,

    foolish choices and deadly despair.

    The places where people become mired in misery and resentment;

                where they learn to respond in kind to violence and mistreatment .

    The places where folks always get more than they deserve –

    and not in a good way….

    where folks become victims of their own worst impulses,

                and the worst impulses of others.

    Jesus always sits at the least desirable spots at all these kinds of tables…

                the kiddie table, the servants table,

    those outlying tables at the wedding where

                we put the unpleasant aunts,

    and the distant, curmudgeonly cousins;

    the abusive boss or cantankerous neighbor,

    the member of the lodge or card club

    that we really can’t stand, but somehow have to invite.

     

    Jesus finds his way to the tables in soup kitchens,

    tables within prison walls and rescue missions;

    tables littered with syringes and drug paraphernalia;

    tables where innocence, health and holiness

    are sacrificed by greed and cruelty.

    Dangerous and dirty places…

    that’s where Jesus prefers to hang.

    And if we really want to follow Jesus – like we say we do…

                if we really want to know Christ and make him known…

    through an inward journey of faith

                and an outward journey of service –

                we must join him there.

    “Friend” Jesus says to each of us, “move up higher…

                come sit where I do.”

    “Come sit with those

                whom others fail to see, judge unfairly, or demonize.”

    “Invite those folks to dinner” says Jesus,

    “and we’ve really got something to talk about.”

    I learned of a ministry just this past week

                that really does just that.

    It’s called The Church on Morgan –

                A satellite parish of Edenton Methodist Church in downtown Raleigh.

    They began a different kind of food ministry several years ago called “belonging dinners.”

     

    These are five star affairs, usually created by a real chef – pro bono…

                30-40 individuals are invited as guests of the church.

    The menus, often include filet mignon, luscious side dishes

    and fancy desserts.

    The parish hosts six of these “do’s” each year,

    at about $1000 per pop.

    These events are all held in lovely places –

    usually the homes of parishioners

                            or friends of the congregation…

    There’s white linen, candles, china, flowers, fancy cutlery,

                and amazing food,

    coupled with carefully planned entertainment.

     

    The guests always have something in common –

                past dinners have hosted people who have overcome homelessness,

    parents who have lost children, cancer survivors, immigrants,

                and non-profit organizations who desire to give their staff a blessing.

    Because that’s what it’s all about for this congregation –

                Blessing.

    Their website proclaims:

    First and foremost, the design of the dinner is to bless others. It is not about yourself, it is not about promotion, it is in the truest sense a calling to bless others as Christ first blessed us.

               

    As Christ has first loved us. There’s no hidden agenda here –

                no behind the scenes evangelizing or fundraising.

    Food, fellowship and blessing are at the core of this activity,

                offered purely in honor of and for the benefit of those attending…

    And the hope, as the tagline of the program states,

                is that these dinners might be a place

    “where surprising friendships are possible.”

    The members of the church see these dinners

                as consistent with their desire to follow Jesus

    by imitating him –

    specifically, in his way of showing hospitality

    through feeding others in abundant and unexpected ways.

    Not unlike the band of ministers who serve in this place –

                through the prayers in the park ministry.

    This activity, which started as a way to address the hunger

                of people who are homeless and convene in

    the parks downtown,

    has become so much more.

    Never underestimate the power of Episcopalians with sandwiches

                and other food shared by these ministers of the Gospel!

    For many people, that may be their only meal that day –

                or even the whole weekend.

    That encounter may also be their only experience of kindness

                and friendship – other forms of nourishment –

    in the same time frame.

    As our folks who started and continue this ministry

    have come to know the folks in the park,

                            other needs have been met –

    for clean and dry socks, winter weather gear,

    flu shots, and other kinds of basic medical help

    (thanks to Parish Nurse, Maureen).

    And water, lots and lots of water, especially this summer.

    Friendships have formed as well –

                as these park pray-ers have gotten to know folks…

    folks whom they seek to greet as if they were Christ, himself.

    And the ministry has begun to attract others,

                as volunteers, that is,

    who are not necessarily members of Holy Trinity,

    or even church-goers –

                so this ministry is also becoming a place

    where surprising new friendships have become possible.

     

    These efforts reflect that conscious desire

                to move up higher – to the Jesus seat…

    to join our host at that very distinct end of the table;

    the place, where Jesus, our constant and consummate host,

    always chooses to be.

    Our Gospel today,

                and the letter to the Hebrews,

    have something to say to us, at Holy Trinity…

    – with our newly crafted parish hall,

                            the beautiful terrace, meeting spaces

    and incredible human resources present in this congregation.

    This Gospel invites us to ponder the question…

    at which end of the table do we, as a parish, desire to dwell,

                to abide?

    Jesus is constantly inviting us, those he regards as his friends,

    to move up higher…

                to share the gifts of abundant hospitality that we

                            have first received from him;

    to share that gift with those who often get the short end of the stick…

    for in so doing, we most surely will entertain angels,    unaware.

    The world is watching us closely…

                and Jesus is too.

    How might we respond, ever more deeply

                ever more generously

    ever more creatively,

    in our personal lives and as a community of faith,

    to Jesus’ invitation…

    “Come sit near me at this end of the table…

    Friends, move up higher!”