Table manners in the Kingdom of God

The other I went to a lunch featuring a speaker from our local school system. In speaking to a friend, they were invited to move from the place they had chosen to the ‘head’ table. I was reminded to two thing: attending an alumni banquet were a group of classmates chose a table on the side, but up front, only to be asked to move, the host had neglected to mark it as a reserved table, and Sunday’s reading from Luke and Jesus’ teaching about how to chose where to sit. My friend knew her scripture better than my seminary classmates and I. Only I don’t think Jesus is a 1st century Emily Post.

Scott Hoezee writes that to understand Sunday’s Gospel reading we have to include the next parable, about the great banquet. (1)  Jesus arrives at the Pharisee’s house, and immediately meets a sick man, and so he asks if it is legal to heal him. (Remember the healing on the Sabbath controversy two weeks ago.) His host and the other guests are silent, Jesus quotes the approving scripture, and heals the man, which has got to put everyone on edge, it is a rather brash thing to do. Who knows where the conversation would have gone, except that it’s time for dinner.

As everyone makes their way into the dinning room, Jesus notes the jostling for the most honored seating, a big deal in the honor society of the day, which has real life consequences. And of course he tells an etiquette parable about seeking a humble place at dinner. Our clue to the point of Jesus’ etiquette parable, is the one follows about who to invite to your next banquet, those who can not reciprocate; who can not offer an invitation in return. The etiquette busting bit, comes when Jesus tells a third parable, about a great dinner party when on the day of the party all the guest make excuses for not coming, they had more important things to do. The hosts response is to send servants into the streets to invite poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame, all those without any honor. Emerson Powery notes (2) Jesus challenges the whole notion of the social honor system, tearing down the caste and class systems, eliminating any distinction between people.

Who would have ever guessed that table manners not only reveals what you think about yourself, but about others, about God.


1. Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, September 1, Proper 17, Luke

2. Emerson Powery Working Preacher, September 1, Proper 17, Luke

My uncle is known for saying fish and family smell after three days; and all my life, except for family vacations (where each family had its own space) I never knew him to stay more than 3 days, often including arrival and departure. He knew something of the limits of hospitality. Hebrews proclaims an unlimited hospitality.

Sunday’s reading begins with “Let mutual love continue.” and moves to three exhortations which are literally (in Greek) expressions of love, the first of which is philoxenis, love of stranger, or hospitality. In this week’s commentary Erik Heen notes that in the first century hospitality, welcoming the stranger, was the only way most people could learn about the wider world. (i) So the host, who is generally seen as providing a benefit to the guest, receives a benefit as well, thus there is a mutual benefit to host and guest. Heen previously writes that God’s redeeming work through Jesus is outside the walls of the Temple, (in Jewish thought the only place redemptive sacrifice can be offered), outside the city of God, on the land of stranger (the Romans). Thus Heen weaves together the redeeming work of God in Jesus and love of the stranger.

The concluding verses of today’s reading begins with the admonition to “… continually offer a sacrifice of praise …” and ends with the reminder to be generous. Noting that Jesus’ sacrifice was completed amidst stranger, that generosity extends to strangers.

The hook is we, as host, benefit from generously offering to strangers, as do the strangers. Those with means are called to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless etc. Such acts of generosity become ministry when done in love, which includes allowing ourselves to be changed by the stranger who comes into our lives.

And all this time, I thought hospitality was my gift, hum.


i. Erik Heen, Working Preacher, September 1, 2013, Hebrews

Camouflaged Cross

I was walking to a meeting this morning when I walked pass a truck covered with the above  camouflaged crosses. (I hope the link works) I immediately thought how powerful a symbol it is of problems so many churches face. Its a symbol of how we try to hide Jesus, at least how we try to hide Jesus’ cross. 

I’m reminded of Psalm 50 where God decries empty sacrifices of bulls. It reminds me of God’s continual call for justice, equality, righteousness, and mercy.  It reminds me of Luke 14:13ff: But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

It works,

It is the commemoration of the March on Washington, when hundreds of thousands peaceably gathered to demand equal rights for all, as guaranteed by the US Constitution. May of us remember Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. Some remember Mahalia Jackson’s inspiring version of “How I got over.” History teaches us the march was foundation in passing the Civil Rights Acts, and the Voting Rights Act.

What I did not know was that it nearly did not happen. David Brooks in his column this morning reminds us the idea for the March got no support from the Urban League, NCAACP or the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and President Kennedy was concerned it would hinder passing legislation. Were it not for violence in Birmingham, the March may have never happened. But what Brooks shared that grabbed my attention is the deep theological underpinnings of the March, and the deeper self transformation necessary prior to the March. (Here is the link to article: ).

The connection to this weeks reading is from Hebrews (13:6) “So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” Trust in such truth allows one to walk into the gates of violent opponents “… willing to absorb the violence, absorb the terrorism, to face the music and to take whatever comes.”  i  And it works, it brings about social transformation twice as often as violence does.  ii  The extent that we are surprised by this is a measure of how much we have to learn about the power of God’s love for us, and through us.

Tear down our own … get outside our …. to plant … build up the presence of the Kingdom of God

14th Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 16: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, Hebrews 12:18-29, Luke 13:10-17

Listen to my sermon here:

or read on …

Do not be afraid …. Go where I tell you to go …. Speak what I tell you to speak …. All these rather terse instructions are okay, ~ for prophets. Not so for us, isn’t this why God calls others to be prophets? Terry thought so.

Decades ago, as a part of his seminary field work, Terry interns with a church that has a lunch ministry. Rotating with other churches in town, every Wednesday they feed the homeless & hungry. When it is the church’s turn, Terry gets an early start, opens doors, sets the heat and A/C properly, makes sure the kitchen, pantry etc. are all ready to go, and he helps the volunteers, on the serving line, washing dishes, emptying trash cans, doing whatever needs doing, he serves as a general all around go-fer. One day the soup kitchen director calls him over. She tells him: Get out from behind this counter go eat with our guest. In short ~ go be with God’s people.

Some years later Terry is serving on a board which sponsors a habitat house. Terry does fund raising, calls around for supply donations, recruits volunteers, makes presentations to any organization, any interested group, about the good Habitat for Humanity does. One day the construction director calls. They are in a real pinch, the family whose house they are currently building is a bit behind on the hours they are required to help. They are ready to be there this weekend and they can catch-up; actually get ahead. However, they are short volunteers, they only need one more, Terry is the last person the director can call, she asks: Please come work with the He’sus family! In other words, ~ come help God’s people.

More time passes, Terry is in a small group that meets weekly to discuss anything church. This week’s discussion about ministry has gotten kind of strange; they’ve gotten to talking about missionaries. Terry keeps hedging, he’s having spontaneous ideas, rapidly countered by huge Oh No! Impulses. Someone, who notices his discomfort, says, Relax Terry, if God’s calling you, you will want to go. Terry replies: You don’t understand; I don’t want to, want to go! No one has ever admitted to speaking, but the voice was clear, Yes you do. Briefly ~ go to God’s people.

More time passes and Terry has a chance to go on a trip to Africa. Not as missionary, just a visit to various ministries. His group visits a leper colony. The patients there live 3 or 4 to a thatched hut. They are invited into one hut. Terry speaks to 3 of the patients; the 4th speaks too softly to be heard. He waves for Terry to bend over he does. Suddenly patient sits up surrounds him in a bear hug. Terry shivers, as the patient lies back down and the open sores on his arms drag down the length Terry’s body. In a nutshell ~Be present to God’s people.

Go where I tell you to go. Say what I tell you to say. Pluck up, tear down, destroy, and over throw: your own inhibitions, your own fears, your distrust; trust me, then you are ready to build and to plant.

For 11 chapters Hebrews, has been building a long complex argument, to Christians, who are considering returning to Judaism, that Jesus is the far better choice. Today, Paul’s argument compares two mountains: Sinai, the mountain of the covenant, originally given to Abraham, then confirmed to Moses with Zion the mountain of Jesus’ cross, where the blood of Jesus speaks better than the blood of Able. Erik Heen writes: the whole passage point forward (13:12):
Jesus suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. [i]
You won’t be surprised to hear me say we can go, we can even speak as we proclaim the Kingdom of God in our worship and beyond, outside our walls. But isn’t this a bit offensive to family, friends and neighbors in our “I” whatever I want to believe culture to proclaim Jesus is the better way, to profess faith in Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and awaited return as the Word of God? Probably. But isn’t it a greater offense to affront God by letting folks walk into judgment, to let folks walk into eternal divine absence? Go where I tell you to go. Say what I tell you to say.

Pluck up, pull down, destroy, overthrow, are not typical healing words. Jesus calls a women bend over for many years. I’ve always assumed she suffers from some sort of medical condition, some sort of osteo-whatever. But, there are other views. Luke frequently describes the breakdown of the body with some sort of spiritual weakness. Satan is reeking havoc. On the other hand it is the Sabbath, and Jesus breaks all the rules to: either heal the woman of her infirmities or to drive Satan away. Either way it is breaking the rules. But Jesus’ says no, the Sabbath is all about enjoying God’s presence. The 613 rules and regulations designed to ensure you don’t do any real work, not only makes a donkey more important than this woman, they actually weigh folks down. Jesus steps outside the limitations of tradition, The purity code, and the Law. He shatters the status quo. Jesus will not tolerate a domesticated form of God’s Word. Which rules need to be plucked up, what walls are to be pulled down, what limitations need to be destroyed, which traditions need to be overthrown, so that the Word of God may have its way with us [ii] with all who come with in its embrace?

Do not be afraid …. Go where I tell you to go …. Speak what I tell you to speak …. Pluck up, pull down, destroy, overthrow whatever stands between me and any of my people even yourselves.

Trust me, the fiery God of Sinai, the incarnate God of Zion, and you will plant you will build the presence of the Kingdom of God right here.

[i] Working Preacher, Hebrews. Heen
[ii] Sermons that Work, August 25, 2013, Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek
Proper 16 | OT 21 | Pentecost 14, Cycle C
14-pentecost-pro per-16-c/, Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek

This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching
Luke 13:10-17,  Scott Hoezee
Jeremiah 1:4-10, Scott Hoezee
Hebrews 12:18-29,  Stan Mast
Psalm 71:1-6, Doug Bratt

Working Preacher,
Jeremiah 1:4-10, Alphonetta Wines
Hebrews 12:18-29, Erik Heen
Luke 13:10-17, Emerson Powery

One wonders about the rest of the story …

A blogger and colleague of mine quoted a scholar, I believe David Lose, who says there are two parts of the church year: the story of Jesus (Advent to Pentecost) and the story of the churches living into Jesus’ ministry (after Pentecost), at least that’s what I recall. Anyhow we are slap in the middle of the living into Jesus’ ministry time. And as tempting as it is to hear this week’s readings as an individual I am certain there are enormous lessons for the Church (the body of Christ) and the church (the institution, what ever variation you are affiliated with).

 Jeremiah hears God’s call, hears God tell him: go where I send you, say what I tell you to say, do not be afraid. And yes, you will have to pluck up, pull down, destroy and overthrow; you will also build and plant.

 Hebrews Paul is very clearly saying, as hard as it is to hear, the choice is oh so very one sided, Jesus is the way over the top superior choice. But there is a choice, and there are consequences for your choice.

 My undergraduate degree is in Sociology, and though many years ago, I remember enough about statistics to prudently trust numbers. The numbers (declining metrics of all sorts) tell me, that for a long time, (and according to Diane Butler Bass, longer than we acknowledge) we have not listened to God, not gone where God is sending us, are not saying what God is telling us to say. We are holding onto what we hold dear, while we should be, if not plucking them up, or destroying them, at the very least, letting them go. The sad reality is the harder we hold on, the less able we are to plant and build awareness of the Kingdom of God on earth.

 Hebrews Paul would tell us “You are choosing poorly.” I would add that the consequences are weighing us down. We are now so bent over, we can not see the truth of the world around us; we can not even see the truth about ourselves.

 My greatest fear is that as congregations and congregational leaders continue to act out of a perception of scarcity, continue to act out of fear, we can not hear God in Jesus calling us. One wonders about the rest of the story …

Vacillating through time.

It is not often that the Psalter really catches my attention. Not to say that there aren’t many psalm that resonate, there are, mostly in during the Daily Office. But that is not the same thing as catching my attention. And to be honest, psalm 71 did not, at least until I read Doug Bratt’s commentary. (1) Bratt points out the psalm is a plea for God’s help, born of a life long relationship with God, that has seen times of deep belief, and time of great doubt. He notes how the psalmist vacillates between awareness of God’s presence and feeling the Divine’s absence. Bratt observes how the psalm captures the development of a Godly relationship over time.

I am taking away the renewed awareness that the vacillation from faith/trust and doubt over time helps us to develop a deep strong relationship with God, which we can, in time, call on in the worst of times. Secondly, that in failing to reach out to those who are seeking God, for what ever human defined rational. We are not helping. As Jeremiah reminds us, it is not about us, it is all about God.

And oh, Bratt also notes the same cycle is a part of the life of churches. So, if yours is in “dire straights” forget, for the moment, all those development and redevelopment materials, and seek refuge in God’s presence, discern the confidence and hope God is offering even if it is “the old ways” and then go forth into the world in peace and strength. May be then all the development material will makes some sense.


(1) Center for Excellence in Preaching Proper 16 Psalm 71:1-6, Doug Bratt

You shall …

… you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you

See, today I appoint you … to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.

Jeremiah reads as if it should be included in the appointed readings for ordination. It is also a reading that is counter to our “i” culture, and is hard to hear because it just names the reality that at times things have to go, presumably because they no longer proclaim the Kingdom of God.

The bishop who ordained me told us (I was one of eight) that we had hitched ourselves to an itinerate star, and that the Spirit can be precocious. Born and raised in in metro Atlanta, I never thought I’d serve churches in rural North Ga., West Virginia, the Alabama Gulf Coast (note my zip code population was 612) and Arkansas. I did  not choose these ministries. The opportunities came, discernment pointed the way, and my wife and followed.  None of them are places I could have envisioned, but that’s not the point, after all it is God’s vision, and at some point being in orders is to follow commands, even if one can not see. it’s akin to the faith Paul attributes to Abraham. By the way, all these churches were a blessing to me and my family.

Now to tearing down and building up. Clearly Jeremiah’s calling is to take on Israel’s corrupt Kingdoms. I believe our challenge is to  take on  stuck communities who speak of “our worship” “our church”, “our traditions” and wonder why no one walks in the locked door.   The hard truth is it’s not ‘our’ worship, church or tradition, it’s God’s. Secondly, I keep looking and can not find where Jesus says “they will come.” he’s always saying “Go!” Finally it is important to read all this bit, for it meaning is not destruction, but new growth, thus “to build to plant.”

So Jeremiah is counter cultural, and not particularly friendly, nonetheless, it speaks a vital truth. I hope I have ears to hear and eyes to see.

Unexpected, uncomfortable image shattering moment of truth.

Sermon for Proper 15

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

For Jack life is good. He has a wonderful wife, beautiful children, he’d say so himself, and good paying steady job, a more than fair boss, a nice house, and 2 cars. Yep, life is good. And this week is going to be just another example of how great life is. The entire family, his parents, siblings, spouses and their children, are on their way to a week skiing at a premier resort. Jack is very aware, he could not do this on his own, which makes it all the more special,  the relationships within his extended family, well, they are something to cherish, which he does, even as he secretly nurtures the belief he deserves it all.

During the layover, he wanders over to his dad, standing by a large picture window, overlooking the busy tarmac, and starts up idle conversation. Before long the conversation is about family, how blessed they are, how amazing the extended family is, especially his wife. There is some chatter about sharing responsibilities and so on. Suddenly his dad gets quiet, his eyes change  to an uncomfortable pensive look, with unexpected tenor he tells Jack: I know what you mean. Your mother was like that, … and I damned near used her up!  After a moment of silence, he put his hand on Jack’s shoulder, and then makes his way across the gate area. It doesn’t take Jack long to move along. His dad’s reflection strikes deep, not only does it reveal a truth he sort of knew but carefully hid, it also reveals the truth about his relationship with his wife, he absolutely did not want to acknowledge. It is an unexpected, uncomfortable
image shattering moment of truth. The truth has been spoken; judgment made.

Jack’s airport window conversation, is reminiscent of Isaiah. Today’s verses are a love poem, turn lament, that names an uncomfortable image shattering truth. God expects plump juicy grapes, justice and righteousness, he finds sour smelling, bitter tasting wild grapes; he finds that justice is for the few,  and righteousness is a shelter for the elite. Judah does not defend the causes of the widow and orphan rather they covet and store up wealth for themselves they oppress the poor, they acquit the guilty, and deprive the innocent of their rights. (1)  Isaiah’s is a poem of puns God is looking for mishpat  (mish-pawt’) but finds mishpah looking for justice but finds bloodshed. God is looking for zedeka but finds azekah; (2) looking for righteousness but finds cries. It’s a poem of jarring turns, Judah is expecting a continuing love poem, but hears lament and judgment. And somehow we know, we are still causing divine lament are still subject to divine judgment. God seeks justice while we seek to slash food stamps, refuse to reformulate the voting rights rules, are absorbed by a fetus’ right to life, all the while ignoring the child’s rights after birth. God seeks righteousness all the while we dance a nuanced ballet, downplaying brutality to ensure our existing privileges: over-flight to the middle east, and rapid passage through the Suez Cannel. So much for sing you a love song.

And at least this morning, Luke does nothing to help ease our discomfort. Jesus is on about fire, likely lightning, a symbol of justice, and his baptism, a reference to his crucifixion. Much like Jack, we enjoy living in our inkblot world, where we decide what is right. But Jesus just says No! he insist on Kingdom values, all too often the reverse of ours (3).  We’ll allow Jesus to influence home decisions, so long as he stays out of our business life; we are okay with giving Jesus an hour on Sunday morning, so long as he stays out of Saturday night. (4) Again Jesus says No!  This is no “happy-clappy” Jesus. This Jesus is unsettling, he struggles with his ministry, he leaves us with more questions than answers. He is not Zechariah’s messiah who … guides our feet into the way of peace. (5) But he is the real Jesus, whose presence creates division.

Paul is even less helpful. After a long, dense, convoluted, impenetrable list  of unnamed biblical heroes, he writes, they do not get what was promised…  What? If bible heroes cannot get what was promised, what possibility is there for us regular ole, not even in the bible,  folks? Woe is us!

This is one of those Sunday’s when we need the long arch of scripture; what we have heard today, and what we know is there, God’s mercy in administering justice, and salvation through Jesus, God’s Christ. We need that long arch, not to allow us to relax, because God has, is, and will take care of everything, but to enable us to open the closed door, to our inner selves, under take a real self-evaluation engage in uncomfortable image shattering moment of truth, name our struggles, speak the questions, for which we know no answer. The latter half of Hebrew brings us to that long arch. Paul encourages them; us to run the race with perseverance. It is not an easy race, he all but says so; the word he uses for ‘race’ is the root for ‘agony.’ So yes, it is long and hard slog, and like the Jesus we just heard from we will struggle, we will have questions. However, we also have this huge cloud of witnesses, all those bible heroes, and more than a few ordinary faithful, who are cheering us on. It’s kind of like  running the final leg of a marathon into a stadium full of cheering fans. But these are no ordinary fans, they have run this race; they know the agony, they know the cost, they also know the way, they can, and will be your conduit to the love of God, in Jesus the Christ; they can, and will help you tap into  the courage and power so you can do what others claim cannot be done.

Some decades later life goes on for Jack and family. They have known their share  of grief and troubles. There have been, are divisions. There are struggles.
There are questions that have no answers. But now, all those previously hidden troubles can be named, and are thereby diminished in their ability to be the source of further troubles. Life is good, only now there a few more sweet grapes.

1.  Working Preacher, Isaiah,
2.  Center of Excellence in Preaching, Isaiah,  Hoezee
3.   “                                                           Luke, Hoezee
4.   ibid
5.   Luke 1:79
Proper 15 | OT 20 | Pentecost 13, Cycle C st-pro per-15-c-2013/,   Rev. James Liggett
        August 18, 2013 (Ordinary Time)
                Luke 12:49-56, Scott Hoezee
                Isaiah 5:1-7, Scott Hoezee
                Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Stan Mast
        Isaiah 5:1-7, David G. Garber Jr.
        Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Erik Heen
        Luke 12:49-56, Emerson Powery

Those who do not see, do not hear …

I love reading scripture. Yes, for the usual reasons of inspiration and insight, but also for surprises. You’d that after decades upon decades there would be few, but that is not my experience. This morning reading about Bartimaeus (Mark (10:46)) for the first time I noticed that when the tells him Jesus is calling him he gets up and goes to Jesus. How? Reading that the crowd tells Bartimaeus Jesus is calling him infers he can not hear Jesus. We know he is blind so he can not see Jesus. There is the possibility the crowd guides him, that is believable. However, is doing a little commentary reading I learned that the phrase Call him here. is previously used for calling disciples (1:20, 3:13). This story ends with Bartimaeus following Jesus, so it is plausible to infer Bartimaeus is a disciple. That makes this story more than a miracle healing story, it makes it a calling story as well. Then again, knowing ‘miracle’ etymology is in part ‘sign’ we should not be surprised a miracle story is also a calling story.

But I want to stay with the surprise just a bit. The surprise that a person with no point of reference and not sensual ques gets into Jesus’ presence. This points out that it is something of Jesus, not us, that draws us into Jesus presence. Yes, we can call out, as Bartimaeus did, but it is Jesus’ at work, not our effort, which closes the gap, and draws us into his presence. Upon writing (reading or hearing) this, it is not surprising. It is a reminder that in our efforts to invite people into Jesus’ presence we need not pay so much attention as to what works, we know that is Jesus, as to simply share the story, make an invitation (and then perhaps get out of the way). The story also reminds us everyone should be invited, we are not to judge who is invited and who is not, the crowd did its’ best to keep Bartimaeus away. Jesus had another idea. So it would seem that those who do not see, and those who do not hear, are drawn into the discipleship of Jesus.


New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Walter Harrison General Editor