“…and you will be blessed…”

“…and you will be blessed…”

Sermon on Luke 14:1, 7-14 for Pentecost +15, Aug 28, 2016

Luke 14:1, 7-14

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.”

Miss Manners was not a revolutionary.  I think we can all agree about that.  I was thinking Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 6.32.18 PMof words to describe discussions of rules for politeness and social protocol: I came up with boring, pedestrian, banal, and arbitrary.

So is this text about Jesus being Miss Manners?  Or is it revolutionary?  I believe it is revolutionary.  Here is why.

The Magic of Meals

What happens when we eat food?  We take something living – a plant, or fish or animal (most people), and it becomes part of us.  The nutrients enter our bloodstreams, feed our cells, and sustain our lives.  In other words, we take a life-source and it becomes part of us. Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 6.36.50 PM

So what happens when we eat a common meal with others?  Whoever is at the table is sharing a life source together.  That single source, that loaf of bread or that lettuce or that meat becomes a source a life to everyone at the table.

This is part of the logic, in the ancient world, of animal sacrifice.   Most sacrifices were not completely consumed in the fire, rather they were cooked.  Some of the  sacrificial animal became smoke which rises upwards.  In antiquity, with its three-story concept of the world, God, or the gods are up in heaven.  The gods consume sacrifices by ingesting the smoke.  The aroma is “pleasing” not just because it smells good, but the ancient gods were sustained by it.  Literally, it fed them.

The part of the animal that did not become smoke was eaten by the worshippers and the priest in many cases.  In other words, they shared a common life-source with each other and the gods, or in Israel’s case, the one God.

Think of all the times in the bible in which God gets involved in meals.   There is a very odd, numinous scene in Exodus at Mt. Sinai in which God invites Moses, along with 70 elders, to come up onto the mountain, covered in the mysterious cloud, and it says,

“they beheld God, and they ate and drank.” (Exod. 24:11).

They encountered God in a shared meal.

A banquet table with rich food and aged wines is how Isaiah imagines the future feast God will make for all nations, when the common enemy of death has been defeated.  (Isaiah 25) So, everything culminates in a banquet.

The Anthropology of EatingScreen Shot 2016-08-27 at 6.47.23 PM

Sharing a common meal is universally significant for humans on all kinds of levels.  Anthropologists tell us that implicit in shared meals is obligation to give and receive, and repay.

“Eating is a behavior which symbolizes feelings and relationships, mediates social status and power, and expresses the boundaries of group identity.”

“In all societies, both simple and complex, eating is the primary way of initiating and maintaining human relationships…. Once the anthropologist finds out where, when, and with whom the food is eaten, just about everything else can be inferred about the relations among the society’s members…. To know what, where, how, when, and with whom people eat is to know the character of their society.”

Crossan, John Dominic. Jesus (p. 77). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition, cites Peter Farb and George Armelagos, Consuming Passions: The Anthropology of Eating (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980), pages 4 and 211.

Jesus: Revolutionary Dining

So, Luke’s gospel has this scene in which Jesus is at a meal of a prominent person, and he has two issues to raise.Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 7.12.32 PM

The first is with the guests.  In an honor-shame based culture, seating placement had everything to do with status, and therefore honor.  One of two things is true about this text.  Either Jesus is offering a “Miss Manners” kind of advice about how not to get yourself publicly shamed by an honor over-reach, or he is undermining the very structure of valuing persons on the basis of honor.

His concluding aphorism is a revolutionary attack on that whole system of values:

“all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The very structure of valuing persons on the basis of honor has been overturned.  This is revolutionary.

Who is at the table?

Jesus then turns to the host to raise another issue.  It is not just about who gets to sit where at the table; it is also about who gets a place at the table at all.   Going directly against the socially accepted, historically validated, intuitively obvious way of choosing with whom you eat, Jesus says, instead,

“when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind”

In other words, invite the people without honor, without status, the people in whose presence you do not get any cool points.

In Jesus’ day, society was organized by a patronage system.  Wealthy landowners were the patrons.  The people who worked for them were clients.  Brokers were the middle men.  Poor clients were often dependent on the wealthy patrons for all kinds of things, from work, and therefore income, to protection.  (see Crossan, Jesus p. 107).

The patrons got to decide who was at the table, and who was out back, rummaging for scraps in the trash dump with the dogs, or begging for alms in the streets.  What Jesus is saying is that there never should be anyone out there with the dogs, or on the streets.  The people who are normally there, the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, should be treated with dignity and respect by having a place inside the house, at the banquet table.  That, is revolutionary.

Thinking Theologically

This revolution is necessary for people who believe what we believe about God.  Most of the time, because we are more at home with metaphors than with abstractions, we speak of God as a separate being.  We call God “Father” for example.Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 7.18.04 PM

But when we think deeply about God, we are forced to use words like mystery.  We know that it is inadequate to conceive of God simply as a Super-being, “out there”, but rather we believe that God is the ground of all being.  God is Ultimate Reality.  God is the depth dimension of life that we all experience; that which gives us purpose and meaning.

God, as the ground of our being is not simply an abstract power, but rather God is personal.  God must be more than what we conceive of as personal, but certainly, not less.  This means that ultimate reality is personal, which is why we get closest to encountering ultimate reality in the depths of personal relationships.

We go so far as to say that the best way to understand this personal ultimate reality is to say that God is Love.  This is why, when we trust God with our lives, we are aware that we have been entirely accepted by love.  We have been invited to the banquet table.  We are valued, respected, and affirmed.  Our lives matter.  Our lives have meaning.   Our stories, our history is part of a larger history.  In other words, we have hope.

This is exactly what gave the prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah the ability to look at their times, times when there was great poverty, injustice, oppression and abuse, and imagine a different future.  They were people of hope because they trusted that God, Ultimate Reality, is Love.

God shows up in the world in every action motivated by love.  God is present where compassion is present.  God is present where people work for justice.  God is found where people are helping to get “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” a place at the table.

We see God in Jesus, as he sets forth this vision, which he called the kingdom of God.  An open table that excludes no one.  An open table that serves everyone.  A meal shared equally, without any external value judgments.

The Blessed Life

Jesus said, Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 7.29.20 PM

“when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed”

What is the path to the blessed life?  It is the path of compassion, the path of love.  When we come home to Love, when we find ourselves accepted and invited to the banquet table, we feel blessed.  And when we join in God’s quest for the world, to keep spreading that love in ever widening circles, we are even more blessed.

This means that we are committed to the task of continually asking,

“Who is not at the table?”

And then,

“What can we do to help get them to the table?”

We do not need advice from Miss Manners, but we do need a revolution today.  We need a newly inspired army of people who are grounded in the ultimate reality we call love, and whom we know as God.   An army of people so grounded in love, so at home, that they can be people for others, as Jesus was.

People who value other people the way God, their Creator values them: not for their status or power, not for their race or even their religion, but for their common humanity.

Their lives do matter to us!  And, the more their lives have not mattered to others, because they are poor, crippled, blind, lame, or of a different race than we, or a different faith, then the more we single them out for mattering, just as Jesus did with those who were shut out of the table in his day.

The people at the table are the people with privilege.  We, as mostly middle class Caucasians, in this church, and we, as followers of Jesus, are therefore open to looking at our our own privilege.  Almost all of us were handed a seat at the table as a birthright.  This is simply, honestly called white privilege.  We do not have any interest in denying this most obvious fact.

But, grounded in the ultimate reality of Love, we have the vision of the truly blessed life, which is the life of a shared table; an ever-growing table, a table of diversity and humility without any honor-seats or empty seats.

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With and So

With and So

Sermon on Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Matthew 28.16-20 for Pentecost +14 C August 21, 2016

Jeremiah 1:4-10

 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”

But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”

Matthew 28.16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.   When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.   And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.   Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We are a science-friendly church.  Today is the Sunday before our children and youth go back to school where they will learn to understand the world scientifically.  Eventually some of them, like my son, may even become science majors in college.Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 6.24.32 PM

We all benefit in many ways from the long, sustained, dedicated work of scientists who have studied the human body, diseases, medicines, and the technology that keeps saving and prolonging our lives.  We are thankful for science.  We do not live, anymore, in a world that fears that diseases and accidents are caused by curses or malevolent invisible spirits or evil eyes.

On the other hand, we do not believe that science can account for all of the experience of our lives.  We do not believe in a purely mechanical universe of complete randomness and chance.

Meaning and Purpose

Almost all people believe that their lives mean something; that there is a purpose to life.  I Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 6.29.50 PMhave watched cattle out in the field grazing grass, or just standing there looking vacantly into the distance.  We cannot live that way.  Even though our lives are busy with mundane details, from shopping to doctor visits, from school work to jobs and even recreation, we believe that our lives are not only about those activities.  Life is about more than that.

We believe that there is a depth dimension to life.  Science does not have the tools to investigate this dimension.  It is part of the human spirit.  There is a ground of being that supports us and sustains us, as scripture says, one “in whom we live and move and have our being.” (see Huston Smith, Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief)

We encounter this depth dimension of life in our sense that our lives do have meaning and purpose which a purely mechanical universe cannot provide.  We also encounter this depth dimension especially as that mysterious connection we feel with other persons.  In fact, we experience this depth dimension itself as personal.  Probably more than what we mean by personal, but certainly, not less.Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 6.33.15 PM

So, we believe that personality is of ultimate significance in the constitution of the universe which we touch, uniquely, in personal relationships.

So, when we go out and look at the silent stars at night, or gaze up into he infinite blue above us, we believe that we are being encountered by that ultimate reality that is a personal ultimacy.

Our belief, moreover, is that this ultimate personal ground of our being is best defined by love.  In biblical language, “God is love.”

As one author as put it,

“Love is the ground of our being to which we ultimately ‘come home.’”  (J.A.T. Robinson, Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 6.37.39 PMHonest to God, p. 49)

We “come home” to Love, when we come to embrace, by faith, that we have been called by God.  We have been accepted, in spite of our condition of lostness and alienation.

Jeremiah’s Call and Doubt

Today we are looking at two texts that lead us to this understanding.  The first is from the prophet Jeremiah.

We are not prophets, and many aspects of Jeremiah’s sense of being called were unique to him.  Nevertheless, we share with Jeremiah this profound sense that we are known and accepted, and even called into life with a purpose.

Jeremiah’s language about his sense of calling and purpose is poetic, filled with fantastic imagery.  He imagines that even before birth he had a life purpose (which could not be literally true, unless you believed in the pre-existence of the soul, which we do not).

His sense of call came with a deep confidence, but also with doubt.  Was he up to it?  He says,

“I am only a boy”

To which he hears the reply,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 6.40.12 PM
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you”

Throughout the stories in the scriptures, from beginning to end we hear that word “with”.  From the creation myth of the Garden of Eden where God meets with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening breeze, to the mysterious encounter Moses had with the God of the dark fire, who showed him a glimpse of his glory, the with-ness of God is a constant theme.

So, we need not fear.  The God who grounds our lives in love, who is the very love behind all specific personal loves, is with us.  Even if we are but boys, or girls.  Even if we are but mortals, standing at the abyss of our finite lives.  In the classroom and in the waiting room, God is with us as love, calling us to know that we are accepted in love; calling us to trust; calling us to courage, enough to walk forward into whatever life has for us.

Jesus’ Call and Promise

Abstractions are difficult, but for us, we have a concrete example of one who showed us Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 6.44.34 PMhow to live completely grounded in love; Jesus, the Christ.  In Jesus we see one whose trust was so deep that he could live life entirely for others.  In Jesus we see one who emptied himself of self, to the point of death.

This brings us to the gospel story.  Matthew depicts Jesus after his resurrection on the mountain with his eleven remaining disciples.  Matthew includes the reference to eleven, not twelve, to keep our minds on the fact that discipleship is hard, not easy.  Even one of Jesus’ disciples decided Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God was not for him.

Doubt is even present there.  Our version of Matthew says,

“When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”

Actually, the word “some” is not in the original.  It was supplied by translators who seem not to have been able to understand that you can worship and doubt at the same time.  Literally Matthew wrote,

they worshiped him and they doubted”. (cf. Mark Allen Powell, Loving Jesus, in Stoffregen’s crossmarks.com).

So the eleven meet with Jesus, and in this story, they hear him voice the call that calls all of us.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you”

It is a call to a mission; a purpose.  We, who have encountered the transcendent God, in Jesus, the person who lived his life completely for others, are called to be people who go into the world with that message.

We are called to commit ourselves to a life for others.  We are called to go out and be communities of people who enact that drama of death and rebirth, which is what baptism does; death to a life lived for self alone, and rebirth into Christ’s life; a life for others, a life grounded in the ultimate reality of love.

But who has the courage to live that way?  Who has enough faith that love will win, to trust, in the face of life’s challenges?  Who can live without being overwhelmed by doubt?

We need help, and so again, we hear the promise, this time on the lips of the risen Christ, saying to all of us:

“remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”

What does this mean?  It means that God is with us; always with us.  With us at the joyful prospect of a fresh new year of school, and with us in the painful process of walking through “the valley of the shadow of death.”  With us, giving us the courage to trust, so that, grounded in love, we can live our lives for others.

This is what he means when he calls his disciples to teach fellow disciples, as he says “to obey everything that I have commanded.”   That is, to love our neighbors as ourselves.  To turn the other cheek.  To go the second mile.   To forgive when someone sins against us.  To forgive even 70 x 7 times.

It means to learn the lessons of the beatitudes, that it is the poor who are blessed with the kingdom.  The peacemakers are the children of God.  The ones who hunger and thirst for justice are the ones who will be filled.  That the meek are the ones to inherit the earth.

Who can commit to such a life?  Those who hear these words:

“remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

Hierarchies: How to Interpret the Present Time

Hierarchies: How to Interpret the Present Time

Sermon on Isaiah 5:1-7 and Luke 12:49-56 for Pentecost +13C, August 14, 2016

Isaiah 5:1-7
Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 4.53.46 PMWhat more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!

Luke 12:49-56

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

Wikipedia says that there is no real Chinese source for it, but in popular culture, most people believe that there is a Chinese curse that goes:

May you live in interesting times.Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 4.57.32 PM

We are living in interesting times! Is it all bad news?  How do we interpret the present time?  What in the world is God doing?

We are going to start with our wisdom tradition, our sacred texts, and then use them to look at our own present time.  What we are going to see is that the subject of the legitimacy of hierarchies is now on the table in a new and powerful way.

First we are going to start with the text from the prophet Isaiah.  As we do, think about the word “desire.”   This text is about desire.  It is about God’s desire.  God has a longing, perhaps we could say a need.  Recognizing that all human language about God is metaphorical, we could say that this poem in Isaiah is about God’s desire.

Apparently, God wants some nice wine.  So he plants a vineyard on a fertile hill.  Isaiah says,

“He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines”

Our version of the text says that God “expected” good grapes.  Literally the word means God “waited for” good grapes, the way someone lingers, wanting something to happen.  In other words, God had a desire.

The vineyard poem is about God’s desire to be in relationship with his people, Israel.  Like a person looking forward to nice wine after months of preparing the land, planting the seed, tending the vines, harvesting and vinting the grapes.

Think about this: we are a community that makes some pretty bold claims.  After making the claim that there is a God, we follow it with the even bolder claim that God has a desire that includes us.  God longs to be in communion with us.  This is what some theologians call the “One Story” that drives the whole biblical narrative.  (specifically, Jay E. Johnson in “Divine Communion”)

What could possibly go wrong?  Well, as it turns out, plenty can go wrong.  What does Isaiah say went wrong?

[God] “expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!”

God “expected” – waited for, longed for, desired the fine wine of justice; a community without poverty, discrimination, oppression or violence.  It was not only that God had a desire for us to be in communion with Godself, but that we would be in communion with each other.

This is one of the radically new innovations that Israel gave us: a conception of a Divinity that was actually concerned with morality.  Not just personal private morality, but public, social morality.

Hierarchy and SpiritualityScreen Shot 2016-08-12 at 4.54.47 PM

In Isaiah’s day, there was a rigid hierarchy; a few were at the top, living well, but the majority were poor and oppressed.  If anyone is being oppressed, if there is injustice, if there are people crying out, suffering violence, God is not getting what God desires.  The vine God planted is producing sour grapes.

How could God be happy with that condition?  How could a father or a mother be happy if one of their children was cared for, secure, and well, while another was being discriminated against, targeted for neglect or abuse, treated violently?

Spirituality begins with the understanding that God desires you; God longs to be in communion with you.  You are the object of God’s desire.  You are God’s fine wine.

And then, genuine spirituality opens our hearts to the other, the stranger, the one who is different.  And we become aware that his neighborhood is not safe, like ours is;  that she has been the victim of abuse; that he is being discriminated against, that their children grow up suffering violence.  And just like God, I am not okay with that.

God’s desire, as the prophet-poet imagines it, in the end, that this wine is shared at a table; a banquet, where people from East and West and North and South come together.  A common meal shared among equals, with no hierarchy is the opposite of a community of injustice and violence.

Isaiah interpreted his times as dangerous times, headed for calamity.  He was persecuted for saying so, but he was right.

Jesus Interprets the times

Were things any better in Jesus’ times?  No, they were not.

Jesus’ analysis of his day was that, again, calamity was coming.

Jesus’ words are shocking.  We hear Jesus called the Prince of Peace.  What does he mean that he came not to bring peace, but a sword?  We think of Jesus teaching us to love, not to cause all these family divisions.  What could he have meant:

“they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law”?

Let us note that this is not the only time Jesus said things that sounded anti-family.  What was he getting at?  First, notice that the “axis of separation” is located “precisely between generations” – as John Crossan has written.

He goes on to observe that:

“The family is society in miniature, the place where we first and most deeply learn how to love and be loved, hate and be hated, help and be helped, abuse and be abused. It is not just a center of domestic serenity; since it involves power, it invites the abuse of power, and it is at that precise point that Jesus attacks it.”
— Crossan, John Dominic. Jesus (p. 67). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

It was the hierarchy that defined power relationships that was the problem.  In that rigid structure, into which you were born, patriarchal chauvinism was the way things worked.  The older generation had power over the younger generation.

Time and again, hierarchies exist to keep those with the power in power, at the expense of those who are on the lower rungs.  Power corrupts, as the saying goes.

The Kingdom Alternative

Jesus’ alternative vision was what he called the “kingdom of God.”  Unlike hierarchical Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 4.54.28 PMfamilies, the kingdom was open to all on an equal basis.  The kingdom, just like Isaiah had imagined, was like a wedding banquet in Jesus’ parable.  It was open to everyone who would come in and sit at table together.

Reading our Times

So how do we read the times today?  It is tragic that today we are aware that the family is the location for abuse in so many cases.  The number of abused children, and battered spouses is staggering.  Just a couple of examples selected from a huge data base:

Many LGBT youth are at high risk of homelessness, often as a result of family rejection and abuse.  LGBT youth make up no more than 10% of that population segment, yet total 40% of homeless youth.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 1998 and 2002:

“Of the almost 3.5 million violent crimes committed against family members, nearly half were crimes against spouses.”

As scholars tell us, the family is society in miniature.  It is where we learn to internalize the hierarchies that we then take for granted as simply “the way things work.”

Our Calling

But there is an alternative.  Jesus’ vision, which he called the kingdom of God, is a vision of a radically egalitarian and radically open community.  As the church, we are called to respond to Jesus’ vision in at least three ways.  Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 3.01.43 PM

First, we are called to model that egalitarian, non-hierarchical and radically open community.   Among us there is supposed to be no significance attached to any hierarchies including of race, status, or gender.

As Paul said, in this community:

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female”  (Gal. 3:28)

We are called to model that community.  As our Presbyterian Constitution says, one of the six great ends, or purposes of the church is “The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.”   We are called to be the one place where power hierarchies are deconstructed, and everyone is valued; where no one is shut out, and where there is no discrimination.

Not only are we called to model the non-hierarchical kingdom, we are called to be a place of refuge for those who have been abused.  We are to be the one place where people from dysfunctional families can find an alternative family who will love unconditionally.  We are the place where healing can begin; a safe place where instead of fear and shame, people find safe welcome and acceptance.

Third, we are to be the advocates who call our society to justice.  We are the ones who lift up our voices and our votes to advocate for policies and practices that protect the powerless.

We seek to hold accountable everyone with power to use their authority to do justice and protect the vulnerable.  We are called to be the allies of the ones who are discriminated against: for women, for children, for gay people, for black lives, for the poor, for immigrants, for all the people that are the subjects of God’s desire for humanity.

A Sword?  Division?

Sometimes the  nature of this egalitarian and open community that we are called to be is not what everybody wants.  Sometimes the hierarchies react to calls to end oppression and to do justice.  Sometimes, in other words, there is push-back from the ones benefiting from the hierarchies that put them at the top.

This is exactly what Jesus expected.  This is why there may be the division that Jesus spoke of.  We are okay with that.  If our embrace and support for those who are suffering makes us suffer, so be it.

We began today by reflecting on God’s great desire for communion with us.  We are God’s vineyard from which he desires us to be his fine wine.  And that desire in God’s heart for us, we saw, immediately entails God’s desire for our communion with each other – expressed in just and safe relationships with each other; justice and non-violence.

Both Isaiah and Jesus knew that calamity and division follow, when justice is denied and when violence is condoned.

How do we interpret the present time?  We interpret it as a time in which there is a lot of progress that has been made, but still a long way to go.  At least we can be glad that the lights are on, and we are now aware of what used to go on in the dark.  There are video cameras that reveal what happens on our city streets.  There is solid research that reveals the extent of the problems we face.

How do we interpret the present time?  We interpret it as time to be the community God calls us to be.  This means we fully embrace the fact that personally, we are the subjects of God’s desire for communion.  We nurture that communion by our daily spiritual practices.
It means that we respond to the call to be the healing refuge to people who have been hurt by unjust hierarchies of power.

It  means that we embrace our role as allies and advocates, even in the face of opposition.

It means we live into that vision of the kingdom, the open table, the banquet, the community of welcome to everyone and justice for all.