Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Luke 14:7-14

Jesus’ words are hard to swallow and yet all to instructive. When you’re invited to a wedding banquet, he points out, ‘don’t chose the place of honor.’ Don’t assume that the best seat in the house is for you. How embarrassing would it be to have to be asked to move? Can you imagine? Here’s this huge, extravagant wedding--the event of the year. Bigger than Taylor Swift coming to Maine to shoot a music video. We’re talking Chelsea Clinton wedding big. You’re dressed in your tux or evening gown, after all such an occasion requires your very best clothes, you hire a car to pick you up, a close friend such as this, you must arrive in style. You arrive, there are cameras everywhere, people wanting to meet you, dying to know your relationship to the bride and the groom, people are commenting on your gown, who designed it? Gucci, Versa chi? Calvin Kline? An up and coming designer? Are the sparkles all in the right place? Why did someone decide to put a huge daisy right in the middle of the chest? Or, why did the designer choose to use red and green on a dress that would be worn to a summer wedding? I’ve been informed recently that, that is a faux paux.

As you enter the building the host asks, ‘bride or groom,’ you respond ‘personal friend of the bride...’ After all you’ve met her once, in college, when you went to different schools together. You were in the same state for a few days, when her family vacationed in Maine...once. She’s practically family!

After you’re seated, by an unassuming usher, the wedding coordinator comes up to you, “excuse me...?” “Yes...” “Your name again please...?” “Shaw... is there a problem?” “It seems as though you are not listed on the guest list, anywhere and I’m going to have to ask you to leave...” “Pardon me? Ms. Clinton will be very upset when she finds out I am being asked to leave, you see we graduated from different high schools in different years and I’m sure that she’s heard my name at least once, perhaps from that letter I wrote her father when he was president...” “No sir, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to leave...” “You don’t know what you’re doing..., Ms. Clinton and I were once campers at a summer camp, at different camps, in different states...possibly different countries...but what is a country really...” “sir?” “I bought a new bow tie especially for the occasion...” “That’s nice...I’m sure they’ll enjoy it on the other side of the metal detectors and secret service...”

This morning’s Gospel reading is intricately placed between the story of Jesus’ interaction with the crippled woman, we heard last week, in which the woman shows up to the temple physically, emotionally, and spiritually broken and Jesus gently heals her; and, Jesus’ parable of the ‘Great Banquet. In its mere placing, there is cause for pause, cause for a deep breathe and a moment of meditation on Jesus’ commands in this passage. If you show up for a banquet, take the lesser seat, lest there be someone more important, or more honored...later on he points out, when you throw a luncheon or a dinner, don’t just invite your friends...they’ll repay you, but invite the stranger. The person that may not be able to repay you...luke writes, “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...” In other words...never think you are above the person suffering the most among you.

Yesterday marked the 47th anniversary of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King jr.’ ‘I have a Dream” speech. Dr. King, best known, and closely associated with the struggle for racial justice in the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s, also advocated for economic justice--the closing of the gap between the people living in the poorest conditions among us and the people living in the richest conditions among us. Between people whose lives are dictated by the friendliness, or lack there of, of the streets, and people who own multiple homes, foreign cars, people whose lives are dictated by the New York Stock Exchange and people who have only seen the exterior of the exchange as they walk by, hoping for a meal that evening. Dr. King saw the interconnectedness of racism and classism. Dr. King had many of which was his ability to see everyone’s contribution to ‘the cause’ as valid...not just the rich or the high profile supports of equal rights, but everyone’s. He said...”I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering.” He goes on with a charge...”Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.” ...go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.”

Perhaps, one of the most important lessons, that Dr. King ratified, though, was two-fold. 1) remain humble. Remain willing to be cast off feelings of self-righteousness, and to see the humanness of others. See the need for love and compassion that others possess and, in our own need for love and compassion, our ability to give the gift. 2) See the needs of others as our needs...our need for love, forgiveness, and feelings of adequacy are shared across humanity and we need only see our selves in relation to one another as a Child of God, in order to begin to accept the gift so freely given.

We have shown up to the great feast. We have taken our place. Unlike the high profile wedding, there is no paparazzi, high profile guests, security guards, or any one person that is more important than the next. Our host knows all our failings, all our faults, and still we are called, just as we are, to receive the great gift of God’s love, in return offering nothing but our imperfect, unworthy selfs.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

You Want Me to do WHAT!?

Picture it: You are standing in a large crowd surrounded by hundreds even thousands of people who, like you, have travelled far to hear this rabble-rouser Jesus preach and teach. You’ve travelled long hours in the hot desert sun from the east to a hilly knoll where you take your place among people from all over the region. Suddenly the crowd gets a bit quieter as this Rabbi begins to teach. His message is like none other you’ve ever heard. He speaks about loving those who hate you, about making peace with those you are angry with, and about proclaiming a radical new vision of the kingdom of God. A way of living that no matter who you are, the wrongs you have committed, or the amount of money in your purse you are loved and accepted by God. There’s just something about his message that intrigues you, it’s so counter to what you have heard previously. It encourages peacefully speaking out against the wrongs of the Roman occupation, it encourages a new look at sacrificial atonement, and on top of all of this, Jesus himself is claiming to be the divine son of God Almighty.

As you listen Jesus gets to a point where he’s calling out to the crowd, inviting anyone that feels so called to proclaim the gospel to step forward, to commit to going forth from the comforts of their homes and proclaim the good news to a world ripe with war, violence, poverty, and disease. Before you can stop yourself you jump up, after all you had comfortably seated yourself in a place where there was some hope of shade from the afternoon sun. You make your way forward. Before you realize what is happening Jesus has his hands on your head commissioning you to spread this new way of doing things. Suddenly your life went from a comfortable peaceful existence to something totally different. Suddenly you have been asked to give up your shoes! In favor of walking barefoot from town to town. Which also means that you’ll be asked to give up other comforts. There goes that favorite tunic, the comfortable tent, the lucrative sheep herd. Suddenly, your life just got a whole lot more simple and as a result, a lot more complicated.

W. Somerset Maugham, English author and playwright most famous for novels Of Human Bondage and Cakes and Ale, wrote, “Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it. If change is of the essence of existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy.” Friends, our lives are on the cusp of dramatically changing. We have lead very separate lives in the same direction. One image that often comes to mind in thinking about this is Camp Mechuwana, where I have spent the past 10 years working as part of the seasonal staff. As you drive along the dusty dirt road past the welcome Garden, Basketball courts, Soccer field, several camping areas, winding past the dining commons and down the hill toward the lodge you inevitably have to, at some point turn around, at least to head back up the hill for Supper. There are various pathways, and 2 roads that lead back to the dining commons. The most popular are the main camp road that we just drove down and the Owl trail which follows the same route as the road to the top of the hill, but through the woods--giving ample opportunity to see wildlife and for kids to complain about having to walk up the hill. We all began at the top of the road and we will all eventually have to drive on to our next stop but on the way we get to spend time together, we get to share a meal together, like we will do in a moment. Our Sunday meal that starts off our week, that begins our time together. In our time together we will disagree, we may argue, we may flip a few canoes in the middle of the lake but we do it with the knowledge that as a quote in a welcome email I received this week says, “God [has] led us to this, God will see us through this.”

The change in the seventy that Jesus called, commissioned, and sent on their way was inevitable. They were no longer who they were previously. Their time for awakening had come. All they could do was answer Christ’s call on their lives.

I love to go for walks. When I was a freshman in college, at the University of Maine at Presque Isle I would walk Main Street almost every night. Generally it was time for me to be with God. It was a time that I could get angry with God, or challenge the existence of God and somehow I was reassured. One particular evening in November or December I think it was, I was on my usual walk and finally got it. Instead of an Abercrombie and Fitch model I was being called into ministry. Now I know what you’re thinking: why not Ambercrombie and Fitch. Well when the Holy Spirit is moving, the Holy Spirit is moving as I began to explore this pull with my pastor and the District Superintendent there were times I was anxious, scared, ready to run the other way. God kept pulling though. I had already picked up the phone and no matter how many times I tried to hang up God had my number on redial. As a result a change has taken place. I am no longer the person I was those 8 years ago, nor will I be the same person in another 8 years.

Friends, we are embarking on a journey that has never been tried in this part of the country ever before. 3 churches, 2 co-pastors, one common mission: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Just as that person who answered Christ’s call and was sent out as one of the seventy was scared, anxious, went out on a limb, so we do as well. Just as that person had God on his or her side, so we do, too. Friends the journey will bring a few pot holes and rocks in our shoes from walking the dusty road to dinner, but we make the journey together, carrying the knowledge and love of Christ Jesus everywhere we go.