First Congregational Church
August 28, 2022
Who is invited?
Luke 14:1, 7-14
We say it almost every Sunday: Whoever you are, or wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.
- Developed in ad campaign by the UCC
- Caught on right away.
- In a time when so many churches were prohibiting GLBTQ persons, it felt good to say it.
- I know it is true, largely true.
- We are a church that is open to others.
But do we mean it?
- Whoever? No matter what?
- One of those promises that’s easier to make than fulfil.
- Someone armed?
- Someone comes in with Nazi armband, asks to speak to the congregation
- Someone comes in who is open about racism, wants us to take a stand against Muslims in community.
- What about someone who has committed adultery right in our congregation?
- What about a drug dealer?
And what if these people aren’t even repentant?
- Say they know they are racist, but it’s in the Bible that we should keep races separate.
- What about someone who says they used to be a Nazi, harassed Jews. Don’t do it anymore, but won’t repent, either.
- Gordon—I know it’s racist but I don’t want to change.
- What if someone comes and want to join our church, and they’re from Massachusetts?
These questions troubled the church right from the beginning.
- There were two groups in the early community of followers of Jesus.
- There were traditionalists and assimilationists.
- Traditionalists (called themselves the Hebrews) were trying to maintain the ancient Jewish culture.
- Wear traditional Jewish clothing, speak the old Hebrew.
- Resist the culture of the Greek and Romans around them.
- Believed that God had called them to a life of purity.
- Yes, believed in Jesus and resurrection.
- But didn’t think that released them from practices, worship with sacrifices at temple, kosher food, Sabbath restrictions.
- Assimilationists, who called themselves Greeks, were trying to make peace with the culture around them.
- Wore modern clothing, spoke Greek and Latin. Gave children Greek names, like Simon Peter.
- Felt some of those old traditions no longer made sense.
- Believed in Jesus and the resurrection, but felt that it was possible to live in both worlds and still be faithful.
- Tension began to rise between these two groups.
- Each was pretty sure they were better than the other.
This happened quickly with a few months and years after Jesus’ ascention.
- Disagreement over distribution of food for poor Greeks.
- Took it to the apostles, the leaders, who were all Hebrews.
- Resolved by appointing people to watch over it and appointed all of them from assimilationist group.
- But that problem continued.
- Was this something new, or did Christians also have to be Jews?
- Eventually concluded that it would be alright to let others in.
But it STILL happens today
- We humans seem to have a problem with seeing people who are different as being of less value.
- Gender, race, economics, age, etc., it seems we can always find some way to look down on others.
Now, in this passage from Luke, Jesus talks about how to sit at a dinner.
- He is sitting at a dinner himself that is probably being thrown in his honor.
- His comment about choosing a seat.
- Jesus gives us what seems merely practical advice. More like Confucious or Aesop.
- Don’t take the best seat or you may be embarrassed.
- Happened to my father at a congressional prayer breakfast.
But we know better than that. Jesus wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to talk about the way of the Realm of God.
- Maybe the thing about taking a low seat makes sense, but what he says next doesn’t.
- Don’t invite your friends, family, or important people.
- Don’t invite people who can repay you, because that’s all you will get.
- Invite those who can’t repay you. Earn a heavenly reward.
- So, invite the poor, crippled, lame, blind who can’t repay you.
- You will be blessed. He doesn’t say this, but it is implied, blessed in a way that is beyond the gratitude, or courtesy as understood by polite society.
- Blessed by the Great Compassionate one, who will see what you do and draw you close to the heavenly light.
- This choosing of people by the value we think they have continues today.
- Survivor: vote someone off—how can you decide on that? Should I do it randomly?
- What are things we see or do that make us think one person is of greater value than another?
- Appearance, race, wealth, talent, likeability, religious etc.
- Jesus is warning us against this.
- Don’t assume you deserve the head table.
- If you think you would be embarrassed by being asked to move to a lower seat, imagine if it happens when Jesus ushers some street person, or someone of another race or religion, our the town’s big-mouthed bigot or some other sinner in to the head table where you thought you belonged.
And I don’t want to say you aren’t as good as anyone else. But are you of more value?
- Jesus says no.
- All those terrible people have value, too.
- Remember when Hilary Clinton, in a campaign speech, referred to some people as a basket full of deplorables?
- She knows better than that.
- She knows enough of the faith to know that they might be angels.
- Jesus tells us to welcome those deplorables because they might be messengers from God.
I asked some questions at the beginning of the service.
- Who should we welcome? Everyone, really?
- I would not welcome someone to stand up and speak to us if their message is racist or speaks against the poor. Or the wealthy.
- And I wouldn’t want people to lead us away from the path of Jesus, anymore than I want just anyone to play the piano
- But I must remember that those people are still invited to the table.
- How else can they learn what it means to follow Christ than to live among us.
Meanwhile, let’s live well. Let’s be pure. Let’s be loving.
Read Hebrews again.