Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sermon from August 29th "The Guest List"

Proper 17, year C...The Guest List

Sabbath and laws; the roll of law in Jesus’ world

If you recall, in last week’s Gospel the synagogue leader criticizes Jesus for doing a work of healing on the Sabbath. Jesus’ retort was roughly that healing was a setting free from bondage and that the “work” of healing was not only allowed but a needful action on the Sabbath. You may wonder why I am bring up the Sabbath again today…but today’s Gospel, which immediately follows the portion appointed for last week, continues in an examination of the role of law in the lives of the hearers—and how strictly to interpret those laws.

Because in Jesus’ world the laws you followed told you and everyone else whether or not you were part of the community. The way you behaved and the laws which dictated your actions defined whether or not you were a member of the Jewish community. Insider status was determined by how well one followed the laws laid out in scripture and rabbinic teachings. Unlike speed limits or stop signs, these laws were about much more than keeping people safe…they were about helping people understand who was, and who was NOT, a member of their community.

Laws define who is in and who is out. Jesus’ social critique

The Pharisees were actually considered by others, like the Saducees, to be rather lax about their observance of Jewish law. So, the depiction of Jesus eating in the home of a Pharisee is the first red flag. Further, he critiques the guest list…and tells everyone how to behave when invited to a meal. He is violating all social protocol here…the social protocol that tells people who they are and to whom they belong—how can you be the chosen people if you don’t follow the rules.

Who is Jewish; the Hassidic neighborhood

For a short period of time in my early 20s I lived in a Hassidic neighborhood in Cleveland Heights. In this neighborhood I was exposed to one of the major infights of modern religious life—the question of who is actually Jewish. A matrilineal faith tradition, in order to be considered Jewish from birth one’s mother must be Jewish. And, in some Jewish communities this just isn’t adequate and it starts to sound like a series of bad "yo'mama" jokes…mmmm, your mama was a reform Jew, sorry that’s not good enough…ohhhh, you were adopted and your birth mom wasn’t Jewish, well then you’ll have to formally convert to Judaism…ohhhhh, you’re a reconstructionist, you must not be religious. It’s a complicated debate and one that colors the relationship between the different factions of Judaism, politics in Israel and the relationship between American and Israeli Jews.

Who is Christian; Barack Obama/NPR

Now, lest you think that this kind of “othering” is unique to Judaism, on NPR this week I listened to a man question Barack Obama’s faith by talking about how the president wasn’t from a real Christian church, that it didn’t look like the Christianity he knew and that because this “radical” offshoot of Christianity (in case you’re wondering, the United Church of Christ ;) wasn’t like the church in which the caller had been raised that the president wasn’t a Christian. The caller’s argument, when challenged, boiled down to “he doesn’t go to my church, he must be Muslim!” Extreme, yes, common, unfortunately. But, lest we think ourselves above such behavior…

Othering in the progressive/liberal church

We may be tempted to think that such othering only lies at the fringes of our faith communities…yet I myself have found myself thinking of folks, such as my Mormon cousins, as not really Christian. Somehow I think my cousins would beg to differ. I have to humble myself and remember that I do not own the copyright on Christianity. Yet, somehow I find myself wanting to distance myself from my brother’s and sister’s who do not have the “right” kind of faith—those who have not yet discovered the truth of love, hospitality, acceptance and forgiveness that we offer here at Church of Our Saviour. If only they’d learn, if only they’d hear the truth as we see it. Now, I pause and realize that I am a hypocrite, that when Jesus calls his dining companions hypocrites I need to listen up.

I’m not that kind of Christian

Because I often feel like I need to announce…I’m not that kind of Christian…I’m a better kind, I’m a kinder, gentler, more inclusive, more welcoming, more progressive Christian. Yesterday at Art in the Square volunteers took turns representing Church of Our Saviour at a booth with flyers, photos and lollipops. Early in the day I turned to one of our parishioners and said, “don’t you feel like you need to tell people that we’re not scary or weird…that we’re the nice kind of Christians?”

We’re not like them…and it is worrisome to think people might confuse us with them. You know, those people who don’t welcome everyone…

The dark side of radical hospitality, it is constantly challenging us to step up our game.

It’s easy to start thinking that anyone who doesn’t practice this kind of radical hospitality just isn’t a Christian. Hmmm, radical hospitality, do I (or we) really want to welcome the folks who don’t agree with us to this table. Do we ever glance to our right or left and wonder why that person came here, why they don’t know what we know, why they don’t behave in the manner to which we are accustomed here? Have we ever used inspeak to discern whether someone belongs, do our conversations require a decoder in order to be understood?

Just as an experiment, lets pause for a moment. "The Lord Be With You" (the congregation responds with "And Also With You" I've been in circumstances when the phrase "The Lord Be With You" has been met with silence and I knew, I knew then, that I wasn't with my people. Code speak anyone?

Who does Jesus love best? What underlying truth unites us?

We are called to treat others as God treats us…with mercy, love and kindness…elevating them beyond their place. Yet, we continue to erect artificial divisions between ourselves.

It’s funny how quickly our own radical inclusion can build walls and how easy it is to think that we are the only ones who have it right. It is too easy to claim, as a bumper sticker I once saw wryly statedJesus loves ME best” (can anyone relate to this?)! Yet, scripture makes no claims about who Jesus loves best, rather we are encouraged to practice mutual love…a love that honors and respects the dignity of all human beings; a love that builds up relationships and is grounded in the simple truth that Jesus’ love will never leave nor forsake us. And, it is a love that bears with it a responsibility to love and serve.

Once again this year Church of Our Saviour has partnered with churches that are VERY different in beliefs and teachings…partnered around the simple truth that as Christians we are called to serve those in need. So, once again Church of Our Saviour and St. Luke’s are building a home through Habitat for Humanity…suspicion set aside long enough to remember that scripture calls us to care for those in need and that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. That Jesus still calls us to dine with those outside of our social circles and that through Jesus we must continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. And that in that confession we must not neglect to do good and to share what we have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.


Nancy Smith said...

It's a tricky thing, acceptance of people with differing views. I strive, and not always successfully, to accept others without prejudging them because of their affiliations, religious or otherwise. My intolerance is triggered by their actions and/or words, and more and more so as I get older. (Would Jesus have been able to keep it up if he had lived a few more decades? Probably, but he did have a temper, too ;)

I am most put out by other people's intolerance. So, is my intolerance of intolerance irony or hypocrisy?

I choose to believe it takes all types to change the world for the better. It takes those who are tolerant of the intolerant, who will try to use kindness to "show them the light", and it takes people like me who will flat out tell the intolerant, "Your views are not acceptable to me. I do not wish to spend my time with you."

But that doesn't mean I want everyone to be just like me. People don't have to share my goals, my style, my beliefs. It's when they only like people who are very like themselves that I have a problem with them, even if I am included in that group of similar people.

Heh, enough rambling. G'night Joy. All the best to Lona and Henry, and you, of course.

Joy said...

Nancy, thanks for your thoughtful response! And, I agree there is tension around the concept of tolerating intolerance...but perhaps tolerating is the wrong way to put it. Perhaps we are called to stay in relationship (as much as we are safely able) with the intolerant in hopes that transformation will occur (altho' the irony there is that sometimes the intolerant do the same thing!) and they will become more loving and accepting of all of God's beloved children. I am also grateful for those who are willing to say flat out "your views are unacceptable" because sometimes it takes being challenged for someone to realize that they are actually hurting/offending someone. Good grist here Nancy...Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Joy you rock! Love, Lona (your biggest fan)

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