Aug. 28 Sermon – By Rev. Stephen R. Carnahan

Stephen Carnahan

First Congregational Church

Gray, Maine

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.