The text today comes
from the fourteenth chapter from the gospel of Luke:
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 might come to you and say to you give
this person your place and then in disgrace you would start to take
the lowest place. 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 invited him ‘When you give a luncheon or 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 and the crippled and 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'.
Rob Coles is a child
psychologist at Harvard University and is very highly regarded, a
respected man in his field for his opinion and writings and the like,
and you wouldn’t know it by his demeanor.
He learned a critical lesson as a student preparing for his
career when he met Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Workers
Movement. You may be
familiar with that, the Catholic Workers Movement was an effort to reach
out to people in inner cities, to the poor and the homeless and to be
the voice of the voiceless. Here
in Eugene there’s a Catholic Worker home that is dedicated to helping
young women, especially pregnant teenagers.
In any case, my favorite image of Dorothy Day is a poster.
I don’t have it, I wish I did, but I see this picture of
Dorothy Day in her eighties, seated, and it was at some kind of protest
for the rights of farm workers in California during the days of a
boycott there, and standing, looming large above her, over her, are
these two big burly Sheriff’s, who are there to protect the peace and
the law, from the “threat” of this little frail grandmother.
Such was the power of Dorothy Day.
At any rate, Coles decided that he wanted to meet this modern day
saint. By the way, as I
understand it, the Catholic Church has begun the process to officially
declare her a saint. And so
he went to a shelter where she was working, and he was taken to a room
with two women in conversation. He
immediately recognized Dorothy from her pictures, the other woman he
took to be a client of the home – her clothes were torn and dirty.
Her speech was slurred, her eyes were red.
Dorothy took no notice of the visitor as she continued to engage
this other woman in what seemed to be a meaningless conversation,
interspersed with drunken rambling and irrational ranting.
Coles waited impatiently for his opportunity to meet and talk
with the famous woman, and he wondered how long would this hopeless
charade of a conversation continue?
Finally, after the drunken woman had calmed down and a thick
silence followed, Dorothy said “would you mind an interruption?”.
Then she turned and went over to Mr. Coles and said to him:
“Are you waiting to talk to one of us?”
As if maybe he was there to talk to the drunken woman.
And Coles says with those 3 words, she had cut through the layers
of self importance and a lifetime of bourgeoisie privilege.
frighteningly easy, to think of ourselves as more important than someone
less fortunate. Surely you
must be here to talk to me. Studs
Terkel, author and radio broadcaster in Chicago, who was known as the
voice of the working poor, tells the story of helping a woman get her
unemployment after she had been laid off.
After spending 2 days in the unemployment office waiting in line
after line only to be told she was waiting in the wrong place, she had
the wrong papers, she had the wrong form, brought the wrong materials
with her, she finally sought out Terkel, who has studied law but had not
become a lawyer. He did
know how to dress like one. He
went out and got himself a suit and a suitcase, went with her to the
unemployment office, never said a word.
Just stood behind her, looking over her shoulder, catching the
eye of the bureaucrat, who would look at him rather nervously and
shuffle through some papers, and low & behold, within an hour they
had processed her claim and she had received her unemployment.
Hilpicker, Director of Joseph’s House, a home for homeless men who are
living with AIDS and HIV in Washington D.C., spoke at the Church of the
Savior there, and he said this: “I’ve
been working as a physician with poor people since I first entered rural
practice almost 20 years ago. Working
in the inner city of Washington over the past 11 years, I’m familiar
with the long history of poverty in our country and the more recent
abandonment of the poor by our society.
But returning from Finland, I’m aware of something still newer
in the country, something that has been building imperceptibly for
several years – a change in our national consciousness which chills my
soul. We are no longer
satisfied simply to ignore the plight of the poor, we must also punish
them for their poverty. Our
society, I believe, is beginning to see the poor as less than human and
to hate them”.
Is it true?
I hope it is not, I fear it is.
The prophet Jeremiah, lamenting over the destruction of Jerusalem
in the 6th century B.C.E., cries out:
“Is there no balm in Gilead?”, in the old King James, and the
more modern: “Is there no
medicine in Gilead? Why has
the health of my poor people not been restored?”
Traditionally, there are two answers given to that question.
The first, that there is no suffering without a cause. Therefore the poor, the oppressed, must be suffering because
of some sin, because of a lifestyle, because of poor choices that they
made. It is something that
they brought upon themselves. Or,
that God hears the cries of those who suffer and will restore their
fortunes in the next life if not one day soon.
But Jesus offers a 3rd
possibility in this passage this morning.
That the suffering of the unfortunate reflects neither on the
sins of the sufferer nor on the actions of God but rather that such
suffering reflects on us, and our failure to include them.
He turns the expectation of the judgment day upside down.
Instead of the poor, you see, who are vindicated in the end, it
will be those that shared their wealth with the poor with no expectation
in return. The reign of
God, says Jesus, is where dinner invitations are based on means,
rather than making connections and winning friends.
The reign of God is when you don’t have to make yourself
important because you know your worth, because you have felt it in the
community of God, and the community of love.
The reign of God is where rich and poor, black and white, gay and
straight, Catholic and Protestant, Christian and Muslim, all can sit at
the table together in common fellowship.
Norman Pittinger, says to be in heaven is not be removed form the
world, but to know the profound reality of divine working in the world.
I arrived last night
for the Interfaith service of prayer and reflection, as I was listening
on the radio and the Ducks were 20 points behind.
But they were staging a comeback.
And it was with great reluctance that I left the radio in order
to come in and check on things here.
I just want you to understand the sacrifices that I make for my
But I did. And I
came in, and a Native American group—drummers—had begun drumming
early, preparing this space for the worship service.
Their picture is on the front of the community section of the
paper this morning. And
there was just this incredible energy you could feel – as soon as you
walked in it just felt like being in Autzen stadium.
And I felt the power of that, and was uplifted by that, and for a
moment totally forgot the game. And
then I went back to my office to check on the score, I mean to get my
robe for the service, and coincidentally
just happened to hear that the Ducks had caught up and were only 6
points behind, and they had gotten possession of the ball, and were
headed toward the end zone. I
went back with great confidence. Well,
the drumming had to come to an end.
So did the Ducks. And
I later discovered it was about at the same time, you see.
That the kick went right, wide, and that pass was intercepted,
and I thought to myself 'oh my goodness', if they had only continued the
drumming for 5 more minutes, we would have made it!
Now, I say that in
jest of course, but on this I am deadly serious:
I will match the power of the 500 people who were gathered here
for that service for the 50,000 gathered in Autzen stadium anytime,
anyplace. It was
incredible. When we opened
the house of God to all people, including not only people of different
faiths but of different class and status, race and language, age and
ability, there is incredible power that gives me tremendous hope for the
future of our world.
To be the church
means that we are not called to model ourselves after the world out
there, but to model ourselves after the reign of God, here.
And that means that we are to include those with no thought of
what they can do for us, what they will give back to us.
It means not making ourselves more important than others—seeing
in every person a child of God. It
means being an example for others, a light for the world.
It means seeking justice, not charity, for the disadvantaged and
the poor. It means being
the voice for the voiceless, giving sight to the sightless, restoring
heart to the heartless. It
means speaking truth to power, and hope to terror, and peace to
violence. It means returning good for evil, love for hate, forgiveness
for wrong. It means, people
of God, not just living lives of individual morality and goodness, but
creating here, a community in this time and place, where the reign of
God is visible, tangible, real and present to our world.
A true banquet, a feast of God, where we are blessed not by what
we would see, but by what we give, and who, we serve.
The time has come to
send out the invitations and to prepare the meal that the community of
God, the body of Christ, will be living and working among us again.
May it be.