A sermon for the 12th Sunday After Pentecost, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 & Luke 14: 1, 7-14
Jesus Christ is the same: yesterday, today, and forever.
This verse must resonate with us yesterday, today, and forever.
Part of the power of faith is that there exists a constant in our faith: Jesus Christ. We may go through different experiences along our journey. Our relationship with God, with Christ, may shift, evolve, crumble, be rebuilt, strengthen. Throughout Biblical history, even God goes through an evolution, an exploration of what it means to be the creator in relation to us the creation that cannot help but test and challenge and doubt and (hopefully always) turn back to God. But, Jesus stays constant throughout this. While the Gospels take different approaches to some of the same stories, the letters of Paul and the other books of the New Testament expand upon how we live into the teachings of Jesus following his death, resurrection, and ascension, the person of Jesus Christ remains constant and consistent in our story. This is why we have centered so much of our expression, our practice of faith, in our liturgy on the very specific actions of Christ. Eucharist, baptism, healing, marriage, ordination, burial, all are influenced by Christ and how our tradition has received and put into practice the example of Christ. This is why I get the privilege of speaking each week, expanding upon the lessons we have received, in order to hopefully shine a bit of our modern life back on the constant that is Christ.
The basic thesis statements of my sermons all pretty much arrive at the same point, because Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, but what keeps us hungry for more is that our world does not stay the same from one day to the next. And, because our world is in constant flux, it is helpful to not only hear of the constant, consistent, ever-present Christ, but to be reminded that even today we can live into the life that Christ has called us to live, even if the challenges before us today are vastly different (and yet, unsurprisingly, radically similar) to the specific challenges that Christ addresses in the gospels.
Because of the work that went into creating the Revised Common Lectionary which provides to us our calendar of readings each Sunday, I cannot help but be struck by the last verse in today’s reading from Hebrews, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God,” within the context of the concept of honor, humbleness, and the importance of a good guest list, at the banquet feast.
The challenge that Christ is putting before us today is to reflect on our own sense of self-importance, and to challenge us to acknowledge the very real reality that it is basically guaranteed that if we are to think of ourselves as the most honored guest, there will always be someone else who holds a higher honor in the eyes of our host. When we humble ourselves however, and assume that there will always be a higher honored guest, we may find that our host views us as that person, but even if they don’t, we haven’t made a big show out of our own sense of self-importance. This is not to say that we shouldn’t all hold a high sense of self-worth and value, but that is different than taking that self-worth and imposing it onto others. The gift is being invited to the banquet at all. The gift is having an importance that keeps us on the guest list, regardless of where we end up at the table. But, even in this reality, Christ again challenges us to consider whether this great banquet feast is even worth it, if it carries an expectation of reciprocation, if it expects a performance out of us to justify our place at the table.
“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God,” writes Paul (supposedly) to the Hebrews.
“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,” Jesus teaches us today in Luke.
So, how are we called to do good and share, to give a banquet for those who cannot repay?
We are invited every single day to share in a great banquet feast as we benefit from the bounty of creation. Particularly, as people of the United States, especially as those of us who are considered middle-class or higher in the United States, we truly get to partake in the vast bounty of creation that at times appears to be just for us to indulge in.
This is our first mistake. Assuming that because of our place, our station, in this world, in our society, that we have a right to the bounty of creation without any thought beyond what it can provide for us. When we take from the bounty without serious thought, we act like the banquet guest who places themselves at the seat of highest honor, only to be informed that they are not in fact the honored guest of the evening.
The challenge then is to see this bounty of creation that has been placed before us, and to ask two questions: how do we humble ourselves before this great bounty and how do we make sure that this great bounty is accessible and available for all, regardless of their ability to repay.
How do we humble ourselves before this great bounty?
I think the first step is acknowledging that we do not have a right to the bounty of creation without limitation or consequence when we overindulge at the feast. Our lack of concern and care for creation has created the very real consequences that we face as we hurtle towards an unsustainable future (not that we aren’t already in an unsustainable present, so perhaps it is an unsurvivable future). Even as we attempt to “do good,” we continue to simply do the bare minimum. Recycling every new piece of plastic that we continue to consume, continuing to invest in non-sustainable, non-renewable forms of energy, making ourselves feel good, even as continue to place ourselves in the highest seat of honor, without a thought for anyone else trying to get to the table.
How do we make sure that this great bounty is accessible and available for all, regardless of their ability to repay?
If we seriously consider this piece of the teaching, not just the humbling of those of unfounded self-importance and the raising up of the humble, but the fact that we too are called to share the great feast without thought of who is on the guest list, of raising up to places of honor those who would never be invited to the table to begin with, we can begin to make inroads in the call to care for creation.
The simple reality is that those who are poor, who are disproportionately people of color and native peoples, are the first and most severely impacted by global climate change and the destruction that our gluttony at the table has caused. What happens when we put the considerations of those who aren’t even thought of for the guest list, first? What happens when our guest list only considers their needs, and does so because it is good, because the call to share our bounty is not a call to be repaid for the bounty we put forth?
Feeding, housing, clothing, all come out of our own bounty. Our call to care for the environmental realities of creation is our call to care for our neighbor, to love them unconditionally, to provide for them when they cannot provide for themselves. There is no such thing as a “hand out” or a “hand up” in the teachings of Christ. Those terms are used to draw an economical line that is concerned with being repaid for the invitation to the feast. When we invite those who cannot repay us, we do so because it is right, because creation was created for all, because the barriers we have placed around access to the bounties of this creation, are not barriers that God has placed, but rather the arrogance of creation that we may be able to control the creation and dictate who is a guest of honor at the banquet feast that God lays out before us.
We are called to be the stewards of creation. We must steward the very creation that is around us, the land, water, air, animals, and also, each other. We have to create a banquet feast that is focused on those who are not often invited to those feasts where importance is determined by where you sit. We have to create a banquet feast that celebrates the work of our labor which enables us to hold a feast for “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” We can create these feasts in our community, especially through the work of the church, if we are willing to humble ourselves to know that it is in and through our faith that we not only should, but must step into the gap and care for all parts of creation.
This world will keep changing. This world will challenge us. This world will try to beat us down because we are willing to stand up and claim access to the feast for all, no matter what it takes to insure that reality. And, as we are beat down, as the challenges mount, as the problems continue to increase in number and it looks like we are the only ones trying to do a dang thing about it, we are called back to this place to remember that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and it is in that reality that we draw our strength, that we draw our power and knowledge, that we are inspired to stand against the ways of this world to follow a new way, a way dedicated to love, a way dedicated to saving each other and this creation because that is what Christ calls us to do. Go with Christ today, who forever stands beside you.