Proper 17 – 9-1–2019 – St. Paul’s
It is again, the Sabbath Day. We would do well to note the severe edit in our selection for today: verses 2-6 detail another healing on the Sabbath. This time Jesus throws down the gauntlet challenging the Pharisees, Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or is it not? But they were silent.
Then comes his observations, and let’s face it, rather severe critique, of their social practices. And we may as well admit, who among us does not try to get the best seat in the house? In the stadium? At the restaurant? Who among us does not invite our closest friends for a meal? Or, those to whom we feel indebted due to their hospitality toward us?
Put in today’s terms, who would ever want to invite Jesus to dinner? Or, who would invite Jesus to join us for our Sabbath observance? Beginning in chapter 4 of Luke’s gospel we have one Sabbath episode after another in which Jesus takes the initiative to stir things up – beginning with his harsh words in his hometown synagogue (Lk 4:23-30), and now all these healings and radical critique of good table manners and Sabbath observance!
There are at least two things at stake in this enigmatic little episode – one to do with meals or banquets, the second to do with Sabbath, Shabbat, and the essence of the command to remember the Sabbath.
Nearly half the words of the Ten Commandments (55 of 108) concern remembering the Sabbath. And they stand nearly in the middle as a bridge between the first three concerning our relationship with God, and the final six concerning our relationships with one another. There it is again, Love of God and Love of Neighbor, defined in 108 words delivered by God to Moses and the people of God at Mt. Sinai.
In addition to being a day of rest, set apart from the rest of the week when we are hard at work, Shabbat is to be a holy day set apart to build up the spiritual element within us – a renewal of our spiritual life in God! Today we are hard pressed to even remember that we have a spiritual life in God, let alone devote an entire day to contemplate what that means. It evolved as a day of study, a day to remember where we come from, a day to remember God as the creator of the universe, that all we are and all we have is a gift, a day to separate ourselves from the misery and slavery that for so many centuries were the lot of Israel – a day, once a week when the home of the humblest Jew was flooded with light! Shabbat banishes care and toil, grief and sorrow. On Shabbat, the most despised and ejected of men and women are emancipated from oppression and tribulation and degradation of this world, feeling themselves to be a prince or princess, king or queen, a member of a great, eternal and holy family!
A look inside the Jewish Sabbath reveals not a day of strict and dreary adherence to demanding rules, but rather households filled with Joy, Gratitude, Sunshine, Light and Love. Recalling the Exodus and Passover, recalling the
Return from Exile, Sabbath represents a day to Return to God from the worries, claims and demands of the other six days of the week.
So the healings Jesus performs on the Sabbath seem to emulate the very essence of what it means to remember the Sabbath – to remember God’s desire to liberate and unbind us from all that keeps us enslaved to that which is not of God.
Then there is the meal itself – the Sabbath meal or banquet. Meals eaten at table in the Jewish world of Jesus were not simply times to nourish oneself with vast quantities of food, but rather meals eaten at table are eaten as if the
table is the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem. Consider that by the time Luke’s gospel was committed to writing, the Temple and its altar were in ashes, and remain so to this day. Consider then just what sitting at table on Shabbat signifies right down to our own day.
The traditional greeting on Shabbat is Shabbat Shalom! Shalom means more than just peace. Shalom means whole, complete, full, welfare, justice. It is the essence of our
Baptismal promise, to strive for justice and peace for all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. BCP 305 We have all seen the bumper sticker, No Justice, No Peace/Know Justice, Know Peace.
So the greeting, Shabbat Shalom” suggests that we remember that at very heart of this most central of the Ten Commandments is remembering that God wants and seeks the liberation and release of all those whose lives are bound by misery, slavery, worry, rejection, injustice and indignity.
For our Sabbath observance we gather as a community at a common table. Among other things, the Sacrament of his Body and Blood on this table represent the essence of Shabbat Shalom – a foretaste of that heavenly banquet, a foretaste of life for all persons in God’s Kingdom.
Today’s story serves up several challenges for Christians in all times and in all places. One is to dissuade Christians from all presumptions of privilege, noting that one day we will all be seated according to our Host’s will, not our own. Presumption of privilege – whether based on things like race, class, gender, nationality, native tongue or even religion – not only do not distinguish us, but if we allow them to define us at all will ultimately, says Jesus, disgrace us.
We do not determine who is worthy to sit at God’s table. The counterintuitive message in here, of course, tells us that our table ought to be surrounded by strangers – strangers who are poor, crippled, lame, blind, widows, orphans and resident aliens. That is, and the Pharisees are not alone in this whatsoever, birds of a feather flock together is not what the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus has in mind when commanding us to remember the Sabbath.
Shabbat Shalom – two words we would do well to hold together. Shabbat Shalom – two words that in essence sum up what God means when commanding us that to Love God and Love Neighbor means to participate in God’s reign today, here and now. Who we invite to sit at God’s table defines who we are and whose we are.
I know a church in Baltimore that found itself surrounded by the homeless who clustered around the church, sleeping on the porches and porticoes. The church struggled with their “homeless problem.” What should they do about the trash, the syringes that often greeted them on the church grounds on Sunday morning? Those who encamped around the church were a particular problem when the church had a program or dinner in the evening. Many felt uncomfortable and uneasy walking past the sleeping bags, the people hanging out near the building.
At the annual church dinner–a grand affair, catered, each table decorated with flowers, a guest speaker–there was particular uneasiness among many. But the evening went off without a hitch. Members enjoyed themselves; everyone agreed the menu was the best ever.
The pastor asked one of the oldest members to give the closing prayer for the evening, a woman who had been a member of the church ever since she was baptized as a baby. The fellowship hall, in which the evening was held, was even named for her parents.
She stood up and said, What a wonderful evening we have had. What a blessing to be with so many wonderful church friends. As we go forth this evening, let us attend to the words of our Lord. We have heard so many fine thoughts tonight, but let’s allow Jesus to have the last word: ‘When you give a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers and sisters, Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. And you will be blessed.’ Amen.
It was a fine evening until Jesus showed up and turned the tables upside down. That’s what he does. Are you still willing to listen to Jesus, to watch Jesus at work, and to eat at his table?
I hope so, for therein is our salvation.
At another church, a church that had fallen on hard times. Their membership had dwindled. They had attempted to attract new people to church, particularly young families. But with little response. Then their young pastor challenged them. Don’t invite your neighbors or relatives to come with you to church. Invite someone whom you don’t know that well. Invite someone who is having a rough time right now. Don’t say to them, ‘I want you to come to church with me and meet some people whom I think you will like.’ Say to them, ‘We need you to help make us the church that Jesus intends us to be.’ Say to them, ‘Your presence among us could make us a better group of followers of Jesus.’
Then the pastor added, Isn’t there someone of your acquaintance who has just lost someone they love? How about someone who is without her job and is anxious about her future? Or do you know someone who has been hurt by someone else? Invite them. Tell them that we don’t want them to go through their difficulties alone. Tell them that we want to hear their story and we want to walk with them and bear some of their burdens. Fortunately for us, there are a lot of hurting folks out there and there’s a lot of loneliness in our town.
And their church grew. We had been trying to reach people who already had too much to do and too little time, people who were over programmed and very busy. The key was to look for people who have nothing better to do on a Sunday morning than to be with us and to be with Jesus.
Let us pray:
we confess that sometimes we find it difficult to understand you,
even more difficult to obey and to follow you.
Your way seems so at odds with our ways.
We expect you to say things to us that confirm what we already believe. We want confirmation that we are on your side with you
and within the circle of your faithful disciples.
Yet when we listen to your word in scripture—
your word preached and proclaimed—
we are jolted by the gap between our ways and your way.
We arrive at church and enter into worship as a way of seeking your help in caring for our needs
and then you ask for our help in responding to the needs of others.
give us the grace to keep listening to you,
to not turn away from your way because it is difficult.
Give us what we need to be the faithful disciples you call us to be.
Hospitable God, you invite us to a banquet
where the last may be first,
and the humble and the mighty trade places.
Let us share your abundance with no fear of scarcity;
let us greet strangers as angels you have sent!
Send your Spirit now
so that we may find a place at your table
and welcome others with radical hospitality.
In the name of Jesus, Guest at all our tables, we pray. Amen.
As God has welcomed us,
let us extend God’s blessings by sharing our tithes and offerings
in support of Christ’s ministry today.
Practice humility and hospitality.
Invite the lowly to your table.
Remember the imprisoned and the tortured.
Honor your covenants.
Be content with what you have.
Love God, and walk in God’s ways.
May the way we live offer praise to God,
our helper and our strength.
And may God feed you with the finest wheat
and the sweetest honey. Amen.