The sermon for week August 28, 2016
The Gift of HospitalityLuke 14:1, 7-14
A news story came to mind as I read this text earlier this week. This past summer, as the refugee crisis in Syrian was in full swing, a wedding took place in Turkey in a town that was just across the border from Syria, where the groom’s father suggested that instead of the usual wedding banquet for their friends, that the bride and groom instead invite the nearby refugees to their wedding banquet. They agreed and on their wedding day they took the money that had been given to them by their families and used it to serve a wedding feast to over 4,000 refugees.
They humbled themselves and by so doing lifted up so many that had suffered and lost so much. A modern true life retelling of Jesus’s teaching.
That banquet got me thinking of another banquet that was held here not too long ago. Our church played host to a sister UCC congregation who came to Toledo to join in ministry with US Together, a local ministry that welcomes Syrian Refugees, finding homes, job etc. On one evening, we thought we were helping our sister congregation to host a meal for the refugees here at the church. But as the meal unfolded, it turned out that the refugees were hosting us. They prepared, cooked and served the meal. There was far more food than any of us could eat and it was real authentic Syrian dishes. Not a single written recipe had been used. Remember, they were refugees that had left everything behind. The order of the banquet had been turned upside down. We were all humbled by the love and laughter of that evening. We were all humbled as we realized we were seated at the banquet table that Jesus had described and dreamed about for his followers.
These banquets got me thinking of another time where seating according to power and privilege plays a big role.
A number of years ago, our family took a trip to Washington DC. At the time, we had a friend whose son lived in Washington D.C. This son’s best friend worked in the White House. Although I had little interest in touring the White House with two boys who were ten and under, there was no saying no to this friend who insisted on getting us a personal tour of the White House. As it turned out, the two hours we spent in the White House was the most memorable part of that week. Those two hours were fascinating. What made it so interesting was that our guide for the evening, Adam, was not a tour guide by trade but a fellow who had served as a Secret Service agent in the White House for his first 7 years there and for the next eight years he worked in the kitchen. He had a lot of stories to share from his fifteen years working under three different presidents.
Of the many intriguing things we learned, one that fits todays text had to do with the Diplomatic Room, the entrance room just of the South Portico, the entrance covered by the green canopy. The Diplomatic Room is the room where our President meets with other heads of states for greetings, handshakes and pictures. In the Diplomatic Room, were two wingback chairs, placed in front of a fire place, and above the fire place is a picture of George Washington, the very same picture that was posted in my grade school and maybe yours as well.
Since this was a personal tour, we were allowed to sit in those chairs. Stephen sat in one and I sat in the other. As it turned out, Stephen had chosen to sit in the “female” wing back and I in the “male” wingback. I never knew that there were two kinds. I thought there was only one kind. I only knew of the “male” wingback. The chair Stephen was sitting in had wings that were at least 6” longer it seemed and the chair was obviously at least two inches shorter in height. When Stephen sat back, he almost disappeared from the side view. Now, think geopolitics. Take a guess which chair our president sits in and which chair the head of another nation is directed to sit in…. The chair I was sitting in was to the right when facing the fireplace. Consider every picture you have ever seen taken from that room. Which side of the fireplace is our president sitting? It is always on the right in the higher chair. Presidential politics is even played with the style of chairs chosen.
In the text today, Jesus tells us that the ways of this world are not to be the ways of the Kingdom, the Beloved Community. In his world, there is no room for wingback chairs of different height. In his world, all people will be lifted up to special status, not only those with power and wealth. In his world, we learn that the poor are given a special seat at the table. In his world, the poor and the outcast are not delegated to the shorter “female” chair, but are invited to sit in the chair of honor.
When I was in seminary, I encountered for the first time (or maybe the first time that it sunk in) the teaching that claimed that God was partial to the poor, the outcast the dispossessed. This was a theology that had arisen from Latin America and was called Liberation Theology. It had arisen several decades earlier as a push back by the poor of Latin America to the oppression by those in power. The church numbered among the powerful and at that time often sided with those with wealth. As a result the poor were left to suffer. It was an interpretation of Christian faith out of the experience of the poor...an attempt to read the Bible and key Christian doctrines with the eyes of the poor. It placed a special emphasis on lifting up the poor. This teaching believed that if we first addressed the least of these (using the Gospel teachings), by lifting up the poor, the actual result would be that all of God’s children, poor and rich would be lifted up. This theology woke me up to the fact that much too often, the world in which live (this sadly often included the church) responds first and foremost to power and privilege, and pays little regard to those without power or privilege. (Think of campaign funding) This gift of this theological way of thinking was that it opened up folks like you and me, people with privilege and power, to see the world differently and to therefore act differently.
Essentially it challenged us to takes Jesus teaching seriously and to act on it. For instance, this teaching today would have something to say about the racial unrest today here in the United States. It would say, yes “All Lives Matter”, but unless you pay special attention to the “Black Lives” who are being persecuted in ways that whites are not, then your proclamation of “All Lives Matter” is a hollow statement. To use the image of the wingback chairs in the White House, at best those with black lives have been relegated to the female chair assuming they were even allowed into the room. This is certainly not the world that Jesus envisioned for us to create.
As a Christian, I have learned that if I am following the teachings of the Christ, then I must make a special effort to bring Good News to those who are suffering. I cannot just play lip service to the Gospel.
Since my youth, I have vowed to stand with the stranger, the poor, those that some would label as other. I remember with dismay the time that well-meaning “Christians” in my home church, faithful church attenders, confronted my grandparents who had brought some Mexican migrant workers to Sunday worship. After worship, my grandparents were told not to ever invite “those people” to church again. My grandparents had offered these migrants the best seat at the table, the “Male” wingback. But those in power, said they were not even welcome in the room yet alone to sit in the “female” chair. I give thanks to this day for the witness that my grandparents showed in that time and place. To my dying day, I pray that just as my grandparents were faithful, that I too am faithful to Christ’s teachings and that whenever and wherever I can that I lift up those who have been humbled by life’s circumstances, be they the poor, people of color, other sexual orientation, young or old, stranger or refugee, (republican or democrat), whatever causes them by this worlds’ standards to be considered not good enough to sit in a seat of honor or even invited into the room, that it is to these that I will give my ministry. I have learned that when these are lifted up, all of God’s children are lifted up. When all of God’s children are lifted up, the Kingdom, the Beloved Community, has come into being.
Example: Personal Needs
-Siding a garage for one here in Sylvania who could not afford to do so.
-Staffing a booth at the Pride Festival to let others know that there are people of faith who will support them on their life’s journeys when others may not.