SERMON: 12 Pentecost c 9 1 19
Jer2:4-13;Ps 81:1,10-16;Heb13:1-8,15-16;Lk14: 1,7-14
We all know someone who jokes that they don't go to church or they don't want to go back to church for fear that lightning would strike and innocent people might get hurt. Do we really have an image of God smiting the building someone finally got to or got back to? Of course not. But people joke--or comment-- about how ticked off God is at those who stay away.
So when we're trying to figure out the way to go about something we assume God has an opinion. Do we consider asking God? When God or our sense of the Almighty shows us the way it usually ends up being pretty obvious. When we take the time to ask and we get a clear answer or sense of what to do it causes us to pause. We recognize the answer we attribute to God is not always the plan we had or the way we would have gone about something on our own.
Sometimes we just proceed and it becomes obvious that whatever we were involved with worked out just fine. We can presume that's consistent with God's plan. We say a little prayer of thanks, don't we?
Sometimes it's too late and we have a mistake on our hands that we wouldn't have made if we'd checked with God first. Sometimes we're just careless and we realize it soon enough. Make no mistake, if we were checking our plans and intentions with God we'd make fewer of those forced errors. Sometimes those forced errors are easily remedied. Sometimes they are out in the open for everyone to see. I heard of such a circumstance the other day.
During the collection at another church the usher noticed a parishioner fumbling in her purse for her offering. As she was digging a large television remote fell out and clattered into the aisle.
The curious usher bent over to retrieve it for her and whispered, "Do you always carry your TV remote to church?"
"No," she replied, "but my husband refused to come to church with me this morning, and I was pretty unhappy about it. I figured this was the most evil thing I could do to him legally."
In case you missed what I was saying earlier, that's often how things work out--exposure and embarrassment--when we don't consider what choice God might encourage.
It seems to me that the story of the guest at the dinner in the Gospel this morning reveals a whole lot about how God would have us behave, and not just at meal time. In fact I think this story also reveals something elemental about spiritual growth: That controlling our ego and suppressing our need to be first or on top or at the head table reduces the prospect of being humiliated and increases the prospect of being honored. The problem with this approach is that it requires two attributes which are often difficult to muster: patience and humility.
What is it about us that Jeremiah is worked up about in our Hebrew Bible reading? This is about arrogance: people who utterly forgot or ignored God's gracious acts to their benefit the minute they thought they were out of the woods, so to speak.
It is almost as though there is a direct line between the people who forgot all about God in the Hebrew Bible reading and the person who would take the best seat at the party and run the risk of being asked to sit in a less prestigious seat. Each of these examples involves people who don't think about anything except their wants:
--Jeremiah writes of those who want everything God has made available, but they don't want to be troubled, not even for a moment of reflection, with expressions of gratitude or even acknowledgment of God's generosity.
--The character in the Gospel who grabs the best seat as though it was his for the asking, never considering that the host, or God, might have someone else in mind for the seat of honor.
Do you think God has better things in mind for us that we can conjure up for ourselves? Stop and think about this for a moment. Are the lessons we learn in faith reliable or not?
Rather than grab the best seat and hope people will think we're entitled to it, what would it be like to sit back and see what the evening brings, whether we get agreeable tablemates, perhaps, or perhaps even get asked to move up to a better table, as the Gospel suggests?
Don't you think the readings we go over each week are telling us that it is by acknowledging God and giving thanks to God and not being greedy about the things God had brought into our lives that we live into the greatest gift of all, a strong relationship with God? Was that "Yes" or "no"?
Today's lessons highlight the vast range of personality types from the arrogant to the humble. The arrogant clearly occupy Jeremiah's reading and they are targeted completely by Jeremiah's scorn. God helped Jeremiah realize that the people had come into the land provided by God, having been led by God safely away from their persecutors, and yet they forgot God. They enjoyed the harvest of the fields and the fat of the land, yet God was not on their minds morning or night. Even the priests forgot about God, so they weren't trying to remind people about God. The situation, to put it mildly, went from bad to worse.
Our psalm offers a solution for the people of Israel who have forgotten God. Praying this psalm--or better yet, singing it-- would put them back in a state of awareness and gratitude for the Almighty's immense grace and generosity.
The epistle contains a list of fourteen admonitions that we'd all benefit from adopting:
let mutual love continue
do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers
remember those who are in prison
remember those who are being tortured
let marriage be held in honor by all
let the marriage bed be kept undefiled
keep your lives free from the love of money
be content with what you have
say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?"
remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you
consider the outcome of their way of life
imitate their faith
let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name
do not neglect to do good
share what you have
Note that none of these --not --one--says anything about being large and in charge, or being the first to grab a seat at the head table. These are the suggestions that disciples of our namesake St. Paul came up with based on the teachings of Jesus as understood by Paul. They are profoundly deep--they convey wisdom in a few words. In spirit they capture the way Jesus behaved. The paint a very clear picture of why Jesus had to die--the way of life he led and encouraged his followers to lead would utterly upset and overturn the system of Roman control all over the Mediterranean. They couldn't have that, could they?
However, our Gospel suggests somewhat playfully that we have little to lose and much to gain by following Jesus' suggestions. If we act humbly we might be surprised by how fitting it feels, doing so. Rather than striving so hard for that special seat and possibly losing face in the process. If we take the time to seek and follow God's will and check to see which way the river is running before we climb into our canoe and start paddling, we stand a much better chance of saving ourselves a lot of grief and trouble and, yes, potential embarrassment.
The signs are everywhere if we look for them. God is harmony, as is all creation. We need to seek harmony if we are going to seek to do God's will. If we look for the signs of harmony, if we pay attention to how the world works and how we can fit into situations rather than try to take over and try to run the show, our lives become a living acknowledgment that God's in charge and we are not. This is what happens when we seek to align ourselves with God's creation. There is no better way to honor God, to give thanks for our place in this wonder called creation, and to lead others to the same discovery of the key to a happy and satisfying life by humbly seeking and following God's will. Amen
A sermon preached on Sept. 1, 2019, the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY, by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector