Faithful Journey Toward a Hoped-for Future

August 28, 2016

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
15th Sunday After Pentecost – Proper 17
Jeremiah
 2:4-13; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

(Gospel Text provided below)

At the beginning of the summer, as we began our journey through Luke’s gospel, I said that if I had to pick a movie genre that best fit this gospel, it would be “supernatural.” Face it, the book is full of angels, healings, super-natural stuff, the whole bit. The gospel story on that day was about Jesus raising a man from the dead and it was told in only five verses.

I compared this matter-of-fact telling of the story to John’s elaborate gospel story about the raising of Lazarus. I explained that this difference in emphasis points to each author’s purpose for their gospel. John’s gospel is providing evidence in order to bring people to belief, or to reaffirm their belief, in Jesus as the Messiah. By contrast Luke’s telling isn’t intended to convert people, but instead, to shed a new light, a particular light, on Jesus’ message to an existing early Christian community.[i]

hungry-filledLuke provides an intentional message of salvation – a salvation that upends the status quo of his time. Jesus declares a ministry oriented to those without power.[ii] Where the lowly are raised up and the powerful brought down. Even more, Jesus is trying to remove those things that divide people, and restore those who have been excluded – the poor, the ill, the marginalized and the oppressed – and bring them back into the community.

At the risk of being a broken record, we see the same message from Jesus in today’s gospel lesson.  

The passage reminds us that all are welcome at God’s table. What’s more, Jesus is saying that all are to be at the table together. Not only those who hold places of honor and authority, but also those who haven’t been given that power in the past. If we aren’t sharing the table with all people, we aren’t living into what Jesus calls us to – this new thing that Jesus invites us to be part of.

This act of inviting others in is a new message for Jesus in this gospel. In earlier stories Jesus sends the twelve and then the seventy out. And the purpose of that sending isn’t to provide for the needs of others. He sends them out to form relationships with others – with strangers in far off places. To stay in their homes and eat whatever is put in front of them. That means the religious impediments and dividers were being removed because relationship was more important. And now Jesus is instructing his followers to invite people in.

Luke’s gospel, not unlike here at Christ Church, has lots of food moments, and this story is one more. Yet Jesus’ instruction is that instead of inviting people that we know, like our family and friends, we’re to invite those who can’t repay us. We are told to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Now this list characterizes the outsiders of Jesus’ time; those disconnected from the community. This list may be expanded in our current time to include other groups of disenfranchised people. The point is that all are to be welcomed in.

MarginalizedThe reading from Hebrews echoes this message:

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers… Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. (Hbw 13:1, 2a, 3)

This particular passage caught my attention because I’m currently reading the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I know some of you are reading it, too. While the writing style makes the book easy to read, the content is difficult to stomach.
It’s a story about Stevenson’s work as a young lawyer. In the introduction of his book, as he was entering Harvard law school and simultaneously pursuing a graduate degree from the Kennedy School of Government, he divulged:

I was uncertain about what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew it would have something to do with the lives of the poor, America’s history of racial inequality, and the struggle to be equitable and fair with one another.[iii]

A summer internship in Georgia helped him discover his purpose. A short time after finishing law school he moved to Atlanta and established the Equal Justice Initiative in 1989.

B Stevenson and quote

In his book, he tells the stories of his work with those imprisoned in Alabama – many on death row. A disproportionate number were African American whose cases were mishandled, resulting in wrongful conviction or unduly harsh sentences. In his telling, Stevenson is certainly an example of one who has spent his life remembering those who are in prison, as though he were in prison with them; and those who are being tortured, as though he was being tortured.

Screen_Shot_2016-08-19_at_4_50_36_PMNow through his book, Stevenson invites all of us into a conversation about America’s past, present and future. The Diocese of Atlanta, led by The Beloved Community, focused on Dismantling Racism, is also taking an active role in moving this conversation forward. I believe this conversation is a way of living into who we are called to be as Jesus-followers. Making room at the table for people with different backgrounds so we can all share more fully in relationship with one another.

conversationaboutrace_620

As part of that relationship-building, there are some difficult things that must be remembered and re-seen. This remembering is not intended to be an act of shaming, but instead, an act of naming. Part of relationship-building is acknowledging together where we’ve been, and then working together to envision and invite a new way forward. It’s a gradual process, and it’s an important and meaningful undertaking.

In doing this, we share in the salvation that upends the status quo of our time, and we begin to remove those things that divide people. This is Jesus-work, and it continues to be essential today.

I know that some of us welcome this conversation, yet the depth of struggle seems overwhelming, which can create a sense of hopelessness. Others may be fatigued by this conversation, pointing to the progress already made and weary to continue to the next stage. The divisive and combative language of our political leaders and news-delivers is also unhelpful and can be quite deflating.

The Hebrews to whom the epistle was written were showing similar signs of hopelessness, fatigue, and despair. Yet earlier in the letter they are reminded of their fortitude in the midst of the struggle:

But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings… For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. (Hbw 10:32, 34-36)

Summer 2015 Homepage Banners4 (2)We, as Jesus-followers, possess something better and more lasting.  The promise of God’s grace, the example of Jesus’ servanthood, and strengthening through the Holy Spirit. We also have the love and support of one another. As we channel these things to fortify ourselves, we share with the Hebrews this call for resurgence:

Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with everyone… See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble… (Hbw 12:12-15a)

So while stamina and vigor are necessary to continue the journey, even more than that, is the need for FAITHFULNESS. It is faithfulness that keeps us focused and committed to the vision Jesus has cast and calls each of us to.

tumblr_o4mkv0sUjt1s91yx0o1_1280In the weeks ahead there will be opportunities to show that faithfulness and to bring your voice to the conversation. We will have time to learn, share, and explore ways of shaping a new future. A future where the table is big enough for all people. A table where all are invited into one community.

This is the hoped-for kingdom of God Jesus came to invigorate in his followers. This is the hoped-for kingdom Jesus marched to Jerusalem and hung on the cross for. And this is the hoped-for kingdom we continue to strive for through the glory of Christ’s resurrection.

Let us be invigorated in the resurrected Christ, and share in this faithful hoped-for kingdom endeavor.

 

Gospel Text:

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “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.” (Luke 14:1, 7-14)

 

[i]  O. Wesley Allen, Jr., “Luke,” in Theological Bible Commentary, ed. Gail R. O’Day and David Peterson (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 325.

[ii] Ibid., 326.

[iii] Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2014, p. 4.

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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