September 1, 2019
Audio contains children’s sermon, readings, sermon, offertory by Matt Thompson-Aue
“For people, generally, their story of the universe and the human role in the universe is their primary source of intelligibility and value. … The deepest crises experienced by any society are those moments of change when the story becomes inadequate for meeting the survival demands of a present situation.”
― Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth
A sign unto them is the dead earth: We revive it and bring forth grain therefrom, that they may eat thereof. And We place gardens of date palms and grapevines therein and make springs flow forth, that they may eat of its fruit and of that which their hands have worked. Will they not then give thanks?
Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence
or stand in the place of the great;
for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here’,
than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.
Luke 14:1, 7-14
On 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….
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “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; and 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. But 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. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He 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. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Sermon, Repaid at the Resurrection
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is either going to a meal, coming from a meal, or at a meal.
Many of the parables of Jesus and parables about Jesus in the gospels
have to do with meals and the ethics of meals.
The many references to meals in the gospels serve to remind us
that if the human race can learn to eat with justice, we can survive. If not, we won’t.
It is appropriate that the central sacrament to commemorate Jesus is a meal.
The kingdom of God,
a symbol for justice on earth as it is in heaven
is the promise of the great feast.
Lest we think this is pie in the sky when we die,
the martyrs who sacrificed for justice throughout the millennia
should disavow us of that.
The gospel stories may come to us in symbolic form,
but they address real day to day issues of justice regarding food.
It is not about heaven. It is about heaven on earth.
What is our part in that?
What is our part in the petition in the Lord’s prayer that reads:
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”?
As theologian Dominic Crossan, who visited us this Spring often quips:
“Heaven is doing fine. It is Earth that has the problems.”
The petition in the Lord’s prayer is also an invitation to those who pray it to participate in it. What are we doing to participate in the divine work of bringing heaven to earth?
This parable of Jesus provides some guidance.
In this story Jesus teaches about guests and hosts.
He is at a meal with a leader of the Pharisees, apparently an important person,
a big deal person, a person for whom one is fortunate to get an invite.
Jesus notices guests taking seats of honor.
There is a proverb about this. 25:6-7:
“Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or standing the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here’, than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.”
This is practical advice.
How to have a successful visit to a noble person.
What to do and say and what not to do and say when visiting the queen,
or attending a wedding, or hobnobbing with the wealthy and powerful.
This is the kind of advice people write books about so you can make artful deals,
score points with those you want to impress, and so forth.
One could take the proverb and could take Jesus’s teaching at that level.
It is about how to get ahead.
We could leave it there.
We could leave the teaching of Jesus at that pragmatic,
how to get ahead level.
Pretend to be humble so you can move up.
But in the world of parables, a meal is not just a meal.
A guest is not just a guest.
And advice from Jesus is not just how to succeed in a world of hierarchies.
The story ends with the eschatological punchline:
“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Jesus is talking to those with ears to hear about how to be a guest in God’s kingdom,
in God’s earth, in this life.
How are we guests on Earth?
Do we act as guests, first of all?
Or do we think we own the place?
Are we guests of Earth or exploiters of Earth?
Are we conscious of our footprint?
Is what we do with the bounty of Earth based on equity for others
with whom we share the land?
How will what we do today affect those who will be at the table generations from now?
These may be the kinds of questions that this teaching invites us to consider.
How are we humble guests to the bounty that is Earth in the presence of God,
however we might conceive of God?
Far from being advice on how to get ahead,
this parable can invite us to deeper reflection on reverence for life.
As God said to Moses from the burning bush:
“Take off your shoes. The ground you stand upon is holy.”
Then Jesus moves on to the hosts.
One thing about being a host with the most,
is that the most important people, all the cool kids,
want to come to your house.
The success of your party is your guest list.
How many hit-makers are on it and how many show up?
How many favors can you collect?
Who will owe you?
Again, Jesus teaches about humility.
When you give a party, don’t invite your friends, family, and rich people.
Invite those who can never return the favor:
the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
You will be blessed and repaid at the resurrection.
How are we hosts and to whom are we hosts as we go through this very short life?
If life’s circumstances have provided us with the ability and resources to host others,
how do we do it?
Do we exalt ourselves or do we exalt those who are excluded and not exalted?
When I think of what Jesus is saying,
I am thinking of this weekend, Labor Day.
A day to honor those whose labor provides for the table.
In Jesus’s time as now,
it is not the laborers who enjoy the fruits of their labor.
They are not invited to the feasts.
Yet the feasts would never happen without them.
How are the lives of those who have resources connected to those who have none?
That is what it means to be a host.
A host lifts up those who have been left out and put down.
Again a parable about a meal is more than a meal.
It is about how to live as guest and host in a world that we did not create,
do not own, have no right to claim,
and yet have the opportunity to be a blessing.
Jesus concludes this teaching with another eschatological claim:
“you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous”
or in other words,
you will get no earthly benefit in the score-keeping that is done
by the values of this material world.
You have to live for something else.
Your moral compass must be set toward a true north,
one not based on getting something back,
but on giving all away.
Today is also the first day of the month of Muharram.
On the tenth day of Muharram, Ashura,
the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad,
Hussain, and his 72 family members were martyred in Karbala, 1441 years ago.
For two weeks, Muslims, especially those who honor the Ahlulbayt or the family of the Prophet,
mourn the martyrdom of Hussain.
It may remind us Christians of Holy Week.
Sayed Moustafa Al-Qazwini says of this martyrdom:
“However it must be kept in mind that Imam Husayn was not killed merely to be cried over for he gave his life to save the message of Islam and was martyred to fight tyranny and oppression. The tears and sadness for Imam Husayn must bring about a solemn pledge to follow in the footsteps of the Prophet and his family in upholding justice and always standing up for what is right and this is even more important than just crying for him.” P. 200, Shia Islam, 3rd Edition.
This year, members of the Great Prophet Mohammad Group,
many of them students at Portland State,
have rented our space for their commemoration.
It is an honor for us to provide this space for these holy observances.
How might we be guests and hosts in the spirit of Jesus?
We are invited to be guests.
I was told last night by one of the organizers to make sure to invite you
to come and say hello.
While the program will all be in Arabic, nonetheless,
you are invited to come for a little while, just observe, ask questions.
We should of course, honor them as hosts as we are guests.
Remove our shoes in the place of prayer,
honor their customs regarding the entrances for women and men
and be yourself as a welcome guest.
How are we also hosts?
In this case, we are to care for our guests,
making sure they have what they need to navigate the building,
feel welcome by us when we meet them,
and I would say, know what it is we are doing.
We are providing a sacred space for people,
many of whom are new immigrants and guests in the United States.
They are often misunderstood and stereotyped.
Perhaps we can do a small part to change that.
We are providing a space so that they can commemorate one of their most holy figures,
who is not just holy for them, but for all of us.
They are giving us a gift.
We can honor that by making sure to share the space well,
being patient with changes,
and always recognizing the bigger picture.
We can be guests and hosts fitting of what Jesus taught
by moving beyond our comfort zones to an area of true humility.
In addition to the events at the church that will be in Arabic,
the Islamic Center has invited us to participate in the same program,
except it will be in English for these two weeks.
There is prayer, speaker, a meal and fellowship,
available to us at 7:45 each night.
I hope each of you makes the opportunity to greet those
who are here at the church and at the Islamic Center
at some point during these two weeks.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
We say that prayer or a version thereof on Sundays.
How might we live it?
Certainly that is for each of us to decide based upon
our own consciences and resources.
But as a guiding principle,
we have the honor and opportunity simply by being alive
to participate in the divine will of bringing heaven to earth.
What more is life for?