PROPER 17, C
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14
The United States lags behind much of the rest of the world in the field of mathematics. We are tied with Italy for 28th in the rankings world wide. We lag behind not only technological powerhouses like Japan and Hong Kong, but also behind our neighbor Canada, and behind perhaps less expected rivals for high honors – Poland, Slovenia and Latvia. I’m not sure I understand why we don’t excel in this realm. We’re not at the absolute bottom – we place in the top third or so. Still, it seems that we should stand pre-eminent, premier in the field because we spend so very much of our collective time and energy – such a huge proportion of our lives – counting. Counting and comparing. Measuring and calculating. Computing the relative value of mine vs yours. Assessing the relative worth of social opinion, political power and wealth gradients.
We don’t, of course, count, compare, calculate, measure and compute out of pure dedication to the advancement of the study of mathematics. We count and recount, evaluate, appraise and re-calibrate to make sure that we have enough. Because there may not be enough. Sometimes people don’t have enough and we need Need NEED to be sure that we have enough. Everything surrounding us tells us we do not have enough – the television, the news, the politicians, the events. Never enough – Enough money, enough time, enough social standing, enough recognition, enough love, enough security, enough.
Author Stephen King has written 54 novels and over 200 short stories. His works have sold more than 350 million copies, many of which have been adapted into plays, movies, and miniseries. He has won over 60 awards for his written work including the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the Hugo Award, the Bram Stoker Award and the National Medal of Arts. If anyone has proven himself above comparison in his field, it is Stephen King.
In his memoir he describes an interaction between himself and his wife, a noted author in her own right. They were traveling by car with Stephen driving and his wife looking through something new Stephen had been working on. Stephen King describes the moment, “There are some funny parts in [the manuscript] it — at least I thought so — and I kept peeking over at her to see if she was chuckling (or at least smiling). I didn’t think she’d notice, but of course she did. On my eighth or ninth peek (I guess it could have been my fifteenth), she looked up and snapped: “Pay attention to your driving before you crack us up, will you. Stop being so damn needy!”
Stop being so needy. Stop counting. Stop comparing. Stop jockeying for position. Rather than offering us a lesson in table etiquette (Jesus ruined more dinner parties than I’ve ever been to – I don’t think etiquette was His primary concern), Jesus offers us freedom from the counting, a reassessment of relationship.
“The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.” The farther we withdraw from the heart of God, the more fiercely we battle our own neediness, lonesomeness, incompleteness – the more we insist on the counting, the proving, the assessing, the comparing – trying to fill the void.
Jesus offends His host and fellow guests, deliberately upsetting their sure knowledge of their place in the world, demanding they welcome at their tables the undesirable, the unclean, the ones unwelcome at worship. “Invite them to the table” says Jesus. Love them, echoes the apostle Paul. “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”
There is a story of a pilgrim who sat in awe as a wise old monk answered questions. Comforted by the kind monk’s manner, the shy pilgrim finally braved a question, “Father, could you tell us something about yourself?” The old monk leaned back. “Myself?” he mused. There was a long pause.”My name…used to be…Me. But now…it’s you.” (Theophane the Monk, 1989 Tales of a Magic Monastery)
Which of us has not been a prisoner of our own pride, or fear? Which of us has not been tortured by our own diseased, devastating sin? I’m not talking about the big, almost unfathomable reality of belonging to the privileged part of vast global inequity. I’m talking about nitty-gritty personal sin. “Messy, relational, eruptions out of the underground shadows kind of sin. Why ever did I say that kind of sin. How the hell could I have done that because I know better kind of sin.” (Suzanne Guthrie) We count our way out of it, measure our way up. Or, Jesus offers – we can stop counting. Start living. Reach out to fellow prisoners, embrace our brothers on the margins, feed our starving sisters.
Central to our worship almost every week we re-create together the feast that Jesus hosted. This is not the Pharisee’s table. This is not our table. This is God’s table and Jesus is the host. All are welcome.
Day by day, we each travel our own individual journeys. Week after week we come to the table together. We abandon the grasping, the counting, the measures. We kneel or bow together, here in communion. We hold out our hands, hands which have grasped for so long for control of our lives, for constraint of our fears. We come. We loosen our desperate grip and hold out our hands, willing to receive what Jesus our host offers.
We come to the table. God gives us the bread of life,…, the food given to strangers, the food which transforms us from strangers into friends; from needy to replete, from pilgrims into hosts.
We return to our pews new people; refreshed and renewed, comforted and fortified. From our pews we are sent forth into the world to seek and serve and honor and love those who, like us, are seekers and strangers upon the earth. (Paraphrased from Delmer Chilton)
Do this, and you will be blessed. You will be blessing, and you will be blessed.