Tag: relationships

Forgiveness is not Reconciliation

Genesis 45:3-11,15 download
Luke 6:27-38

We’re back in that time of year again… we’re entering Lent. There’s going to be lots of talking of forgiveness and reconciliation. Lots of focus on guilt, shame, and unearned mercy. A lot of time of talking about being… a Christian doormat.

Does anyone want to wipe their feet on a mat? Here I am! Choose me!

For literal centuries if not millennia Jesus’ phrases to “forgive seven times seventy times” and “pray for those who abuse you” have been used to keep the abused in prisons of faith. They’ve been used to keep victims silent, compliant, and going along with whatever horrible things their abuser does.

Don’t complain about the harm done to you. Grin and bear it. Pray for your abuser.

Forgive your abuser, or else God won’t forgive your own sins.

If you’re ever striked on the cheek, offer your other cheek.

And the one I hate the most? Be like a silent lamb led to slaughter, just as was Christ.

NO! No! Before we step into this Lenten season, let’s stop right now. Right now and put away this damaging language and theology. This kind of bad theology literally kills people. It kills women who stay with their abusers. It kills children who are scared to speak up. It kills men ashamed of what they’ve experienced.

If ever scripture is used as a weapon against victims… then someone is using scripture in a wrong way.

We must pause here and take the concept of forgiveness away from the toolbox of abusers… and place it back into context. Back into the toolbox of grace, and love, and healing where God intends it to be.

Jesus today speaks his words while still on the level place. While still standing right here, with us, in the middle of our messy lives. He uses hyperbole, extreme language, to point out truths of how we are to live in the way of blessings.

He says: pay attention. Most of your relationships are business transactions. You expect to be treated a certain way, and you react as how you are treated. This is just what every human does – sinners or not.

If your spouse is loving towards you, you are loving towards your spouse.

If your waiter is rude to you, you are rude to your waiter.

And you expect the same back. If you treat people poorly, expect them to treat you poorly back.

This is the Silver? Rule. We relate to one another based on how we assume the other will treat us, or is treating us.

It’s a logical, human, rule. A fair rule.

I hear it utilized most often with taxes. Consider… I pay taxes for my roads. Therefore, I expect my roads to be maintained. However, I don’t use the public school – so why should I pay taxes for it? I pay taxes for my government representatives. I expect them to represent me. When they don’t, why should I keep paying?

When we apply the Silver Rule to forgiveness, it sounds like this: I will forgive you when you apologize. If you don’t apologize, I won’t forgive you. I will forgive myself when I correct the wrong I did. If I can’t fix it, then I shouldn’t forgive myself. It is dangerous to forgive an abuser, because then you’ll become a victim all over again. And just be the door mat. So do not forgive those who will keep hurting you.

But reconciliation is not the same as forgiveness. These are two different things.

Forgiving someone is not the same as permitting them to be in your life.

Forgiveness doesn’t belong to the Silver Rule of reciprocal relationships.

Whether or not taxes belong to the Silver Rule tends to determine your political leanings and whether one likes big or small government. That’s out of my specialization.

Forgiveness, however? Don’t make it a business transaction.

When Jesus is speaking about “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you” Jesus is speaking about the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule of “To Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” The Golden rule which is not about fairness, but about the virtue of compassion.

The Golden Rule supersedes the Silver Rule. The Golden Rule says I can forgive someone without reconciling, without entering a relationship again, with them.

To forgive is to stop expecting that person to get what they deserve. It is to let them off the hook and stop seeking repayment from them. It never means forgetting. It never means re-entering that relationship. It never means the person you forgive even needs to apologize.

All of these things CAN happen, but are not NECESSARY. All of these things CAN be steps towards reconciliation… but are not prerequisites for forgiveness.

Forgiveness is about giving up the desire for revenge.

God has forgiven us. Every single one of us. While we were still sinners. God chose to stop looking for a way for humanity to make up for all the wrongs we’ve done. God chose to stop seeking a way for us to pay. This is mercy. Unearned grace. This is forgiveness. We cannot do a thing about this because it is God’s choice.

We have the same power. We can forgive someone and they cannot do a thing about it.

God hopes to be reconciled with us. To re-enter relationship with us. But that means that we have to respond and want this. We have to seek out God as God seeks us out. We have to begin again anew.

We also have this power with one another. We can choose to seek out those who have forgiven us, or those we have forgiven and begin anew our relationship… or we can choose not to. We can choose who we are in relationship with.

For forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things.

In our first reading we heard a historic account of how these things are different. Remember Joseph is the youngest of the many, many sons of Jacob. When Joseph was little he was the baby and the favorite of his dad. His dad gave him a coat of many colors. Well, Joseph began to have dreams of the future. And in one of these dreams, he dreamed all his brothers AND his dad would bow down to him one day.

This went over pretty poorly with the whole family. They thought their little boy was getting very full of himself and spoiled. So the brothers schemed to kill Joseph. But one bargained to just throw him in a well. Meanwhile, another brother sold the kid into slavery.

So Joseph grew up a slave. And changed hands. Ended up in Egypt. And eventually became an adviser to the pharaoh himself because of Joseph’s prophetic dreams and dream interpretation skill.

A famine comes to the land and everyone is desperate for food. Joseph had assisted pharaoh with dream interpretation for this, and Egypt was fine. But Joseph’s brothers outside of Egypt are not. They appear in Egypt to beg for food.

It’s been… decades. But Joseph hasn’t forgiven his brothers who tried to kill him and sold him into slavery. Before today’s reading, he does deeds to make them pay. He makes insane demands. He sends them on errands. He keeps their littlest brother a hostage. He is making them pay.

Joseph is following the Silver Rule. His brothers hurt him, so he’s going to hurt them back.

But Joseph’s heart changes. He ends up forgiving them. They are hungry. They are scared. They cannot do anything to ever make right what they did all those years ago. Joseph forgives his brothers.

They never even know it is him. They never apologize. He gives up his need for revenge and takes on the need for compassion. He feels compassion for the brothers. This is the Golden Rule. They have given him harm, but he chooses to stop the cycle of violence. He gives compassion where he was given hate.

And then Joseph chooses to move from forgiveness – move from trying to make them pay for their sins – to reconciliation. He reveals himself to them as Joseph.

“Come closer to me. I am your brother, Joseph, who you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

Come closer to me. Come, rejoin a relationship with me. Let us be brothers again… not lord and servants. Not enemies.

Yes, you sold me into Egypt. It is important in any reconciliation to not ignore the past. To not sweep it under the rug. Otherwise, it will become a cyst. A sore that remains toxic and lying there, waiting for someone to touch it and make it weep again.

“Do not be distressed or angry with yourself because you sold me.” I have forgiven you. I’m not going to seek to make you pay. I’m not going to throw you in the dungeon or kill you. It is okay for you to forgive yourselves, too. We can’t change what happened. We can seek to move forward.

“God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph interprets his time in Egypt as God’s plan to save the family. Joseph recognizes he has the power here of life or death over his brothers …. Much as they had the power of life and death over him. And he chooses to preserve life. He chooses to stand with God. He chooses to forgive, and then, if his brothers are willing, to reconcile with him.

We read that Joseph kissed his brothers, wept upon them, and after that – his brothers talked with him.

They chose to re-enter the relationship with their brother Joseph, too.

The group moved from enmity, anger and shame, to forgiveness… to Joseph giving up the desire to harm his brothers. To reconciliation. The brothers all choosing together to begin anew their life together.

In my own life I am struggling with my old obstetrician. After my daughter died, I desperately wanted justice. I wanted her to pay for the death of my daughter. I wanted her license stripped. I wanted her to know my own pain. I wanted everyone to know what a horrid doctor she is to ignore me and my concerns and how I would be dead had not my husband intervened and saved me after our daughter died. I could not do good to her. I hated her. Maybe I still hate her.

I hired lawyers and I had violent dreams and I said many horrible things.

And I feel justice was denied to me.

Now what?

She will never apologize to me. It would cost her her license and livelihood. She will never admit she did wrong. No lawyer could guarantee a jury would side with me over a licensed doctor, so although they said there was wrong… the laws are not in my favor.

The OB’s life goes on. Unchanged. My life stopped. Hung up. Forever radically changed.

I don’t even cross her mind. She is on mine almost daily.

I continue to suffer. How long?

Jesus’ words on the level plain today are for people like me. People who will never get the justice they believe they deserve, and the person who wronged them will never pay, and who know we are never able to turn back time and fix things we, or another, did. People who cannot ever change the fact they metaphorically were sold into slavery… or sold a brother into slavery.

That doesn’t mean we have to keep the burdens on our shoulders. We can choose to lay them down. Choose to give up our right to revenge … and choose not fair, unearned, mercy. Unearned grace. We can be merciful just as God is merciful.

Through a process of acknowledging the hurt, acknowledging the pain, and taking all of this to God… we can begin to awaken compassion again. Awaken forgiveness. Awaken ourselves to the life going on now… and have new growth out of the ashes of our woes.

Jesus’ sermon on the level is about taking the power back from those who hurt us. It is about how forgiveness is our own to give, or not give. But giving it – choosing to wish good on others, even those that hurt us – is good for our own souls. Grudges are heavy. They harm our current relationships. They assist in keeping us in depression.

It is like… when the harm first happens, we invest 100% of our energy into revenge. Over time, that drops to 80%, to 60%, to 40 to 20 to 0…

Forgiveness is like grieving. It takes time. It takes work. It isn’t clear cut. I might feel very forgiving today, and much less next week.

But forgiveness IS freeing. It releases us from the burden of seeking recompense. Payment. It gives us that energy back to invest into other relationships.

Now, as I’ve said, I must reiterate… Forgiveness is not reconciliation. I will not go back to that OB. I don’t want that relationship. I don’t want her in my life. I do want to forgive her… but God knows I’m not there yet.

So as we go into Lent, know we’re on a journey together. A journey where we are in the process of forgiving ourselves and each other. A journey where there is opportunity for reconciliation, but it is not a commandment. And this journey doesn’t begin and end over 40 days. It is our entire lives. Perhaps into the next life. But it is a journey we each are on together.

Amen.

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I Have Called You By Name

Isaiah 43:1-7 cb1453_grande
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

I once had a job I was so unhappy with. I really disliked going in. I took as much sick time and vacation time as I could, and loathed Mondays.

I remember my friends asking me, why not get a new job? Why continue here? Was it the benefits? No. Lack of other jobs? No. The people? Oh no, absolutely not. So why? Why did I keep going in to THAT work?

I couldn’t come up with a good reason. I just kept going. When I thought about seeking a new job, I got anxious and worried. What if the new one is even worse? I mean, it was hard to get a worse job than the one I had, but they’re out there.

What if … what if…

Eventually, I realized that some people suffer from thinking the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…

… and other people suffer from thinking the brown grass they got is still grass and try to convince themselves the green grass they see on the other side of the fence isn’t worth climbing over.

In other words: we prefer the hell we know to the hell we don’t know.

We fear the unknown. It’s better to be in an awful position than take a risk into… that great unknown. We don’t know what we’ll face if we change. We do know what we’ll face if we stay the same.

I knew what every day would involve. It would be trying to sell ‘insurance’ which really wasn’t insurance and feeling like a scammer… because I was…

But if I applied to work elsewhere, would it be any better? I didn’t know. And I feared that unknown. So back to door-to-door sales I went.

The ancient Israelites were in the hell they knew. They were in exile in Babylon. They, or their parents, had gotten settled in the new land. For awhile, everyone was miserable. But now they’re comfortably miserable. Some are even starting to like this exile.

But now the prophets are calling them back to their ancestral land in Israel, and the king of Babylon was saying they could go back too. So who will go? Who will leave the known for the unknown?

The people were comfortable in their known exilic shame, and scared of the unknown of traveling back to Israel. Fearful.

“O Israel, do not fear,” says God through the Prophet Isaiah. “For I have redeemed you.” I have bought you. I have taken you from debt, from shame, and released you. “I have called you by name, you are mine.” God is calling your name. Your own personal name.

You, listening, are called to risk the unknown.

I, back then in that awful job, was called to risk the unknown.

Today, we’re all called to still walk with God into the wilderness and unknowns where the Spirit moves us, like it does to Jesus after his baptism.

God promises to stick by us through that wilderness journey into the unknown. Stick through us through whatever we can image.

God said, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
I will be with you through the rivers and they shall not overwhelm you.
“When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned,
And the flame shall not consume you.”

What other horrible things can you picture happening?
I pictured leaving my job and not finding another. Then I’d be back on food stamps. Then maybe I’d lose my apartment and have to move home to my mother’s couch. Then I’d be a failure and ashamed.

The Israelites may have thought about robbery and being stolen and taken into slavery.
God told them, “I give Egypt as your ransom, and Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

Talk about a kick to the butt for me. God would give an entire nation – or the richest nations – for me. I’m worth that much. How could God want me to stay in a sleazy job? How could being fired from a sleazy job for telling the truth “No, this insurance ISN’T going to help you” make me a failure? I am precious in the sight of God. My honor is from God, not my boss. I am loved… by God.

God promises to give whole “nations in exchange” not just for my life, but “for your life” too. You are worth whole nations to God. You are precious. You are honored. You are LOVED by the very creator who moved the waters of creation and spoke through the flaming bush. You – you who are terrified of what might be on the other side of the fence – you who are scared of the unknown – are loved by the unknowable itself who reassures you – I AM WITH YOU DO NOT FEAR!

God says that from the east and west we’re called. From the north and south. Everyone is called, called by their own name, and lovingly created as the sons and daughters of God.

God is calling the Israelites to their ancestral home, and to not fear the land and troubles in between.

But God is still calling today. Calling all of us to God’s self, and to not fear the reputation and troubles we’ll get for being faithful to God.

I listened back then to the call. And when this little old lady answered the door to me one afternoon with a big, brilliant smile on her lips and the fogginess in her eyes saying she couldn’t see… I couldn’t lie to her. She directly asked me, “Will what you’re selling actually help me?”

“No.” No, it would not.

At that moment, I stepped into the unknown. Time to buckle up! Now we’re off the script my boss had my memorize!

God never promises there will be no fire and there won’t be water. Instead, God said God will be with us in these things.

And yeah, I got fired real quick. But it felt… good. It felt good to be without a job. That time without a job, and that time of choosing to not lie to the elderly lady helped lead me towards seminary. I know it. Joblessness pushed me back into school… and although it took some time, eventually I began to say yes to God more and more often until I ended up in seminary, and chaplaincy, and that to here.

The grass was greener on the other side. But man, getting over that fence was rough. I’m so glad God the Good Shepherd was there to help me get from one pasture to the next.

If God were as John describes God, I’m not certain any of us would dare to call God a shepherd… let alone, ‘Good.’ John the Baptist preaches about the forthcoming “ax-wielding arsonist.” ((Barbara Brown Taylor)) That guy terrifies me. And he is some people’s God. Some people do picture God as wrathful and angry and hacking the world to bits and burning it.

But that’s not who Jesus reveals God to be. Jesus reveals God’s personality as the “gentle carpenter whom the Holy Spirit chose for a roost” ((Barbara Brown Taylor)). Since we know who God is through Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection… I’m inclined to think the gentle carpenter is more accurate of who God is – THE God of love – than the ax-wielding arsonist.

That’s not to say John was wrong and not the messenger preparing the way for God. I’m just pointing out it is Jesus who is more powerful than John, and Jesus who John feels unworthy beside. So it’s Jesus’ depictions and examples of God I feel more confident relying upon.

Still, Jesus does come with fire and water.

Jesus came to John to be baptized. And he stepped into the waters, the heavens opened – but instead of raining down fire, from heaven came the Holy Spirit, which was like a dove, to alight upon Jesus and infuse in his soul an unquenchable fiery spirit.

“When you pass through the water I will be with you”
In the waters of baptism – there is God!
In the waters of birth – there is God!
In the water of rain, and flood, and snows, and ice – there is God!
In the water of tears of sorrow and the tears of joy – there is God.
When we pass through the waters of life, God is with us.
And the waters will not overwhelm us because we have God, and we have one another.

Troubles will be there, but we shall overcome.

And,

“When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned.”
The fire of the Holy Spirit alighting upon us will not burn, but refine.
The fires that consume houses, and lands, and bodies cannot consume souls.
The fire that rages in anger and in war will and do surround us – but God sticks with us offering always the hope of peace of soul and mind and world.

Through this all, God declares: “You are my child, and loved, with you I am well pleased.”

You are my daughter.
You are my son.
You are my love.

We are NAMED by God. NAMED beloved child. NAMED and CLAIMED. Given a family. Given a protector. Given a companion. A brother. A redeemer. A savior.

If that’s not enough to encourage us to step out in faith and take a risk to do good; what would be?
If you’re in a bad situation and scared to change… Do not fear.
When you’re comfortable in the earthly hell you’re in… trust God will be with you through the transition towards living into the reign of God now.

Changing jobs. Starting relationships. Ending relationships. Telling the truth. Moving. Downsizing. These are scary waters! God promises to stick by us and not let us drown in them.

Confronting our sins. Confronting complacency. Confronting family racism. Addressing gay or lesbian intolerance. Welcoming strangers… These are fires God promises will not consume our souls.

In the waters of baptism we were given unquenchable holy fire for we are created for the glory of God and personally, PERSONALLY called by our names to relationship with God.

You can do this.

You’re not alone!

Amen.

Fire and Water

Luke 3:1-22

blessings_watercolor_by_texas_artist_laurie_pace
“Blessings” watercolor by Laurie Pace

Once upon a specific time, writes Luke, the Word of God came to John in the wilderness. When the Word is upon you, you prophesize! And it was no different for John. He went into all the regions around the Jordan river, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John fulfilled the prophecies of the Prophet Isaiah, who heard the Word of God saying to prepare the way for God for ALL FLESH to see salvation.

“But we don’t need salvation,” said some. We were born from Abraham, we are the Chosen People. Today, it would be like saying – I don’t need to go to church to be Christian, or live a Christian life to be Christian – because I was born Christian in a Christian nation. I was baptized as a baby. Once baptized, forever saved. I never need to step into a church again. Courthouses can marry me and funeral homes bury me.

John replied, “God is able from stones to raise up children” – from the numerous stones all over the wilderness about them, from the field stones and river pebbles: God could make more humans. From dust like God did Adam or ribs like Eve. God can make more people.

John then foretells that God will destroy everyone — Christian or Jewish or not — who doesn’t produce good fruit. And those John speaks with panic – what should we do? How do we produce good fruit?

Should we go run away into the wilderness like John, away from society, and try to live pure? Should we go off and attempt to establish a faithful community by sword and war? Should we be the fire of God that burns the faithless?

What should we do?

“The first step of the redeemed community is for those who have to share with those who have not.” And John gives them concrete examples. If you have more than you need to survive – give your extras to those who don’t. Who needs two winter coats? Give one away to someone who needs a coat. Who needs two thanksgiving turkeys? Give one away to your food pantry. Whomever is using tax loops to avoid their fair share of taxes should stop. White collar crime is not victimless — the victims are everyone who suffers from the collapsed housing market or banks or economy. Whomever is in authority should use it for good, and justice – not use it to threaten people and make false accusations. Cops should be our security – not the force that oppresses people of color. Judges should be our law upholders – not the people breaking the laws. Presidents, Senators, House Representatives, and politicians of all sorts should be role models.

John focuses on individuals. The reign of God begins with individuals. With one person choosing to do good. Then another. Then another. Soon there are whole communities producing good fruit. But it begins with individuals choosing to confirm their faith by living lives that produce food fruit… good deeds, good relationships, good on heaven and Earth.

The people hear this, and get hopeful. Is John the messiah? The promised one who will change our society for the good? Who will right wrongs, bring about God’s reign, and bring wholeness to us all? Is John our savior?

No. John says. I am not. “I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I is coming;” he is so much more powerful I am not worthy to untie his shoes. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Again! Destruction! John likes to focus on it. John knows fire is coming, and he thinks of it as something that will destroy and remove the rot from his faith. He does not yet know of Pentecost and the holy fire God sends as the Spirit! Luke knows, we know – the Pentecostal fire alights us inside, burns in our hearts, drives out the rot, and sets us to living the lives God envisions for us. That unquenchable fire within us arrives with our baptisms and it flares up and down our whole lives – but cannot be extinguished for it is the Holy Spirit of God. The destruction is our old selves. Our old sins are cut away. New growth is welcomed in.

This new life calls us to good fruit. To integrity. Integrity is matching what one says is also lived and also believed. It is wholeness. A whole integer. It is the life of repentance John speaks of; the life of love of God and neighbor and repentance for the sins we do and that over take us.

It is a life that is congruent, not hypocritical, unified in the way we live our life, our priorities, our commitments, our personal relationships, our passion for peace and justice and our unplanned acts of compassion. ((cite: from the New Interpreter’s Bible’s Commentary))

It is the life that says ‘I am Christian’ and preaches love of neighbors, then does love for neighbors, out of belief God tells us to love one another. And when we fail to love, it is a life that is truly sorry and tries to make amends and love again.

It is a life that begins at any age, and continues our whole life through.

Today, we welcome Luke into our church family and have witnessed his baptism of water. Unseen, but felt, is the presence of the Holy Fire that now resides with him. Today we promised to be that community of integrity for Luke. Today we promised to be that orchard that produces many different types of good fruits. Fruits of love, of compassion, of peace. Fruits of wisdom and encouragement. Fruits of supporting his family and his walk in faith. Whether he is called by God to the wilderness or led to put down roots here… we are his family.

And family has a very important role to play in every child’s life. Every person NEEDS to hear from the adults around them, “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” We NEED to hear these words. NEED to hear it to grow into our best selves.

God the Father spoke them to Jesus the son – and Jesus was called into his ministry, his messiah-ship, his mission to bring salvation to everyone of every race and creed and gender and age and social standing.

We speak them to Luke – he is our beloved child, with whom we are well pleased. What great things God has already gifted him and will continue to gift him, and we will walk along side.

God speak these words to you – “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” You strive to produce good fruits and God encourages you to keep on keeping on. The fruits begin with individuals choosing to do good, to share, to welcome, to love.

The baptismal waters of life and the unquenchable fire of the Holy Spirit anoint you to do the good work of Heaven here on earth.

Go and be the church! Amen.

If you want a friend, tame me

petit-prince-630

YOUNGER SAINTS AND YOUNG AT HEART….

There is a classic book, and now a movie, called The Little Prince. In it, a Little boy travels the cosmos to visit planets and learns life treasures, life lessons, along the way.

In the beginning, The Little Prince loves a rose and believes her that she is the only rose in all the universe. But when The Little Prince visits Earth, he finds a whole garden of roses. He falls into despair, for his rose is not unique in the least.

Although it is marketed towards children, it is actually a book of parables for adults. Listen to this one about the Little Prince and the Fox.


“”Who are you?” asked the little prince, and added, “You are very pretty to look at.”

“I am a fox,” the fox said.

“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince. “I am so unhappy.”

“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”

“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince.

But, after some thought, he added:

“What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“You do not live here,” said the fox. “What is it that you are looking for?”

“I am looking for men,” said the little prince. “What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“Men,” said the fox. “They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?”

“No,” said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”

“‘To establish ties’?”

“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”

“Please–tame me!” he said.

“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”

“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me . . .”

And so the little prince begins to tame the fox by spending time with him. The fox tells him not to speak, because “words are the source of misunderstandings. They just sit near one another, closer and closer, over a great period of time.

“After the fox is tamed, it is time for the prince to leave, and the fox is about to cry. Because of this, the prince worries that the taming has hardly done any good. But the fox says it has done him good “because of the color of the wheat fields” The golden wheat will remind the fox of the prince’s golden hair, which will make the wheat fields a source of happiness to the fox – until he was tamed, the wheat fields meant nothing to him. Thus, according to the fox, it is our relationships that make the world around us significant and meaningful.” (https://www.shmoop.com/little-prince/fox.html)

The fox then shares three secrets, or treasures, with the boy:

1. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

2. “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.

3. “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.


SCRIPTURE

Mark 8:27-38
James 3:1-12

In our kid’s chat, I read a portion from the Little Prince. Remember the three secrets to the fox’s life…

1. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

2. It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.

3. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.

After hearing and understanding these, the Little Prince is able to return and love his rose not because she is the only rose in the universe, but because she is HIS rose. What is essential isn’t that she’s a rose… it’s what’s invisible about her. Their time together has tamed one another – established ties with one another – and that is what makes them unique and important to one another. And once you have ties with someone, you’re in covenant with them. You’re responsible for that relationship.

Pretty heady stuff for kids, right? It’s why I advise reading this book as an adult, too. In many ways, it’s a retelling of the stories from our Bible. The fox could almost be a retelling of our section of James today.

James writes about teachers and words, horses and boats… but what he really is drilling down to is taming – is establishing ties.

James explains that a boat is tamed with a rudder. The little thing allows the boat and its riders to then tame the wind, and glide across the water safely.

A horse is tamed with a bit in its mouth. And this tiny thing takes control of its hold body and tells the horse where to go.

These little things have big effects.

Now, a little spark is what starts a wild forest fire that burns everyone and everything in its path.

Your tongue, writes James, is a little thing. Does it spark fires that harm, or does it work like a horse bit or a ship rudder and make something tamed?

James argues that our tongues are wild, untamed, and don’t have those established ties with us or others. Tongues speak curses and blessings both. If we get used to speaking bad about people, we’re like brackish water and unable to speak blessings of living water. Or we’re plants trying to produce fruit that isn’t native to us… because we’re used to producing the fruit of curses. So we should practice giving forth sweet, fresh waters and good fruits – then those things come more naturally.

What we spent time on is what is important to us. Think of that horse James describes… it wasn’t actually the BIT that tamed it. Someone established ties with that horse over time, teaching it to respond to the bit, building up a relationship. Little things, over time, built up between a trainer and that horse until the horse and the trainer were trained to one another. Knew one another.

And think of that boat – that rudder was learned by the captain over time. Over time, the captain learned how to watch the sails and wind. This wasn’t simply a matter of putting a rudder on the boat and suddenly it is tame… time, energy, thought, and patience had to be invested.

And think of the fox. He says he is same as 100,000 other foxes… but with established ties, he will be unique and special to the little prince… who, until the little boy is tamed, is just the same as 100,000 little boys to the fox.

Time invested, words spoken, meals shared, prayers over one another – these are little things that tame us to one another. That establish ties with one another.

Our tongues, our words, spoken or typed on Facebook, or instant message, or signed, or communicated in any way – are us investing time into someone or something.

They are little things with big effects.

Is that effect a blessing, bringing forth the uniqueness of each person, bringing forth positive ties, taming one another into a meaningful relationship?

Or is that effect a curse, spreading negativity and sin like a wild fire, burning bridges and scorching hearts and refusing to spend time to know someone or something?
That is the tension with the word tame… tame can mean control, to be docile… but it can also mean to establish ties, to invest time in, to be friends… in what sense of the word is your tongue tamed or are you tamed by your tongue?

Jesus and Peter get into an argument with their tongues today. Jesus has spent SO MUCH time with his disciples. Like the Little Prince, he invests time in his disciples and they invest time into him. He guides them from knowing Jesus is just one of 100,000 men to knowing he is something so much more… and he asks them today: just who do people say I am?

We, the listeners, hear the disciples call back to all the other motifs, themes, Jesus has fulfilled. He has been like Elijah, and like John… But Jesus presses them for their own secret, their own life truth. Who do YOU think I am?

We listeners hear Peter proclaim the truth: You are the messiah! But then Peter rebukes Jesus for saying the messiah will suffer, be rejected and murdered.

Peter wants to tame Jesus in the control sense of the word. Taming as control is not the same as taming to establish ties. Taming to control is trying to dominate the other. It would be like coming to the fox with a tranquilizer dart; or the horse with an electric prod. Yes, you’ll establish ties… but they won’t be good ones. The other will obey, but not be tame.

Taming, in the sense of establishing ties, is to approach one another with respect. Giving room for the other. Learning who the other is, and appreciating that. It is coming a little closer to the fox every day and starting the horse on bridle or a training snaffle. This lets us know the horse, and the horse know us, and trust to be built. Not fear or control.

Peter wants to control Jesus. He argues the messiah should be the one who doesn’t suffer but relieves suffering. He isn’t rejected, but welcomed as the new king and throws off Rome. He also isn’t murdered – he rules!

Jesus wants to tame Peter in the establish ties sense of the word. He wants Peter to realize that the divine will isn’t set on killing Romans and military conquest. “What is essential is invisible to the eye” – the essentials are divine things. Essentials – love, forgiveness, reconciliation, time ‘wasted’ on others. Essentials – spending your life not focused on how to get ahead, or how to preserve what you have… for it is not living to be in fear of loss. Instead, you gain your life by giving your life away and ‘wasting’ it on invisible, but so essential, things like love.

Like being tamed.

Like spending enough time with your messiah to know why he is different than all others. Like spending enough time with your brothers and sisters to know what makes them unique. Like ‘wasting’ enough time sitting in prayer, and meditation, and scripture reading to know that your invested time makes these things all the more precious.

What profit is there to gain the whole world…?

To have everything? To never waste a moment? To never pause to smell the rose or tame the fox or pray with the stranger or speak with the messiah?

… But forfeit your life? Give up the opportunity to establish ties, make things important, and care for one another?

No one can tame the tongue. We will make mistakes. We will say the wrong things. Sometimes things just slip out! We will have moments when Jesus ought to yell at us “Get behind me, Satan!”

“Words cause misunderstandings…”

But we are more than our words. We are more than our thoughts and prayers. We are also actions. Jesus doesn’t toss Peter out. Jesus invests more time into him. Jesus has a tie with Peter, they are tamed to one another, and therefore, in covenant… responsible…to one another.

When you disagree, it’s okay if you’re in covenant with one another, if you’re in committed friendships and relationships, congregations and families. It means the harsh tongue can be forgiven with time invested back into the relationship. It means the wildfire can be snuffed out. It may mean much time of silence, and getting to know one another again. It may be for the best that, after reflecting, you part ways much as the fox and the little prince did…

But their relationship was worth it “because of the color of the wheat”, now wheat is a constant reminder of the good times with the prince for the fox.

I’ve had friends and family come and go over the years. But they were all worth it – because of how we tamed, established ties, with one another and changed each other’s worlds. I see symbols that remind me of these good times and memories, much like the wheat reminds the fox of this time with the boy.

The things that remind me are as varied as a song, a scent, a particular restaurant, a food.

Some of these people passed away. Some of them passed to new cities. Some them passed on to new phases of their lives.

But they were worth it because of 4th of July cake, lavender pillows, LiveJournal, glow in the dark markers, and spiders… just some of the many things that make me remember fond times with other who tamed me, and I hope I tamed them – established ties with them – and they think of our time together fondly.

So if you want a friend… tame one another. Waste time on one another. It is the language of love – a language without words. God is investing God’s whole life, and more, into you.

Amen

Wisdom is Known by Her Deeds

nadia-bolz-weber---civil-unions-2
Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

I recently read a sermon by Rev. Darrel Lakey called “Christian, you are upset about the wrong things.” To make his point, he uses a cuss word: ‘last night, 30,000 children died of starvation and most of you don’t give a …” And if your first response is: a pastor shouldn’t say such words…

… and here I am, not saying it…

… then his point is made: you and I are upset about the wrong things. Upset a pastor is cussing instead of how many children died.

He goes on to show, powerfully, how what we get upset about and argue about so often is the wrong thing – the wrong part of the problem. He doesn’t say cussing is good- but rather, we are spending our energy in inefficient, wasteful ways.

Correcting a person for a cuss word isn’t going to make much of a difference in the world.

Giving someone a meal is going to make some difference.

Changing the world so that food is more fairly distributed will make a world of difference.

Why get in a ruffle over the word, and instead, focus on the message? And then do something!

In our reading, Jesus, too, points out how people are upset with the wrong things and wasting their energy on appearances rather than on real issues.

He recalls to us John.

John ate honey and bugs. People were upset with him – anyone who eats such things must be demon possessed! They were upset with his appearances. When they should have been upset with the fact John had to preach his message in the desert and it couldn’t be received in the city. In fact, when he came to the city, he was murdered for his message.

So Jesus now points to himself, and says – after John, people became upset with me and my appearance. Not because I’m eating honey and bugs, but regular bread and wine like everyone else. But they say say I’m a drunkard and a glutton. And they’re upset I spend time with sinners.

People, then and now, are upset about the wrong things. People should have been upset that their religious institutions didn’t have space for sinners and thought sinners shouldn’t have access to a rabbi. They should have been upset that there isn’t enough food and drink for all to have in abundance. They should have been paying attention not to the inside of the vessels, as Jesus later says, instead of the outside. They should, and we should, know wisdom – know people – not by how they look, but by their deeds.

Wisdom is known by her deeds.

Not her appearance.

The deeds of John. The deeds of Jesus. The deeds that speak of God’s radical acceptance, generous hospitality, and abiding forgiveness. The deeds that speak Love.

Giving John a bath wasn’t the fix. Fixing the institutions driving him into the desert was. Telling Jesus to avoid sinners wasn’t the fix. Offering acceptance and welcome and forgiveness to sinners is.

Are you upset about tattoos, piercings, or cussing? I know very faithful pastors with so many tattoos, their arms are covered in as if in a sleeve. Others have multiple piercings. Some, like the one I opened with, cuss in their sermons. Should we be upset about their looks, or upset that LOOKS can deny you a job? Or housing? Or even healthcare? Does a person immediately become a better or worse worker because of a tattoo? If so – sign me up for the tattoo to make me more organized!

… Ageism is a huge appearance struggle in our country. Rather than being welcomed as a person with experience, those who are aged are seen as incompetent. And a younger person is chosen for a job… even though both applicants are qualified.

There’s a reason hair dye for men and women sell and turn a profit.

So what do we get upset about? Tell people who look older to go away and leave us alone?

Some churches concerned about this have started day cares that primarily employ elderly  so that the very young and the very old share a day together. Yes, it’s chaotic. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it’s hard work! But… the wizened are valued for their knowledge… and the next generation are taught that aging is a good thing.

This is how to change our world: through taking action. Changing relationships. Changing minds. Being upset about the same things that upset Jesus, and then, like Jesus, taking action.

I went to Washington DC once as a child, like many of us go. I was told to avoid the subway because it was full of “undesirables.” My mother and another mother were so offended by this word, they cut out of the official tour to take their daughters on the subway. And we saw workers, and peddlers. We saw people without homes and people in business suits. We saw Washington DC without the spit and shine of the tour company guiding us. And it was beautiful. A city of diversity.

It was also stunning and horrifying. A city with twice the average homelessness rate – 124 people – men, women, and their children – per 10,000 citizens. Homelessness so high that people can register cross roads as their mailing addresses. A city with four of the richest counties in the nation – averaging incomes of $70,000 a home. And a city where the rich live elsewhere and drive in, while the locals who are poor or middle income ride the subs. And the policy makers, the rich, never see them.

Indeed, if the tourist papers warning us of “undesirables” is any evidence, then this is very purposeful. Purposefully avoiding the “lowers.”

This was a community service trip. If anything, we should have been right there on the streets learning from the common people the wrongs the people in charge are doing to them. Learning what would really make their lives better – like access to free showers, and safe places to sleep. We should have been upset that we live in the richest country in the world and there are plenty who still starve… because those with money and food CHOOSE to ignore their need and CHOOSE instead to focus on their looks.

Are we angry, upset, with what we ought to be? Are we identifying the root of problems and rooting them out?

This is about taking responsibility for our action, and our INACTION. Our action in choosing to fight silly battles and our inaction to act with God’s grace, hospitality, witness and love.

Our Old Testament reading is a strange one to pair with today’s gospel, isn’t it? Except for the AGENCY, the action, the people in this love story have.

The first is the servant of Abraham. He could easily have chosen the first girl he came across as Isaac’s wife. However, he goes and prepares. He stands near a well which is where, in the old world, all true love stories begin. It is a trope. A theme. Then, he begins to pray. He prays for a woman to come who is so generous, she not only pulls up one jug of water for himself, but water for each of his camels. That is – twenty gallons of water for each of the twenty camels. ((Remember, the story of Isaac is one of laughter and humor. So of course this girl is a super strong woman with unheard of generosity!)) And he doesn’t care about her looks, or the clothes she wears, or if she speaks perfectly. Instead – he cares about her wise deeds. Her generosity.

And back in her father’s home? Her father does the unheard of – he ASKS his daughter if she wants to go marry the man. He gives her agency. He sees his daughter as a PERSON instead of just property.

It doesn’t matter to him that the man has told him Abraham is rich, and seen the jewelry given. He still wants this to be his daughter’s choice. And she chooses to go. And the Bible calls the relationship between Isaac and Rebecka as one of ‘love.’  One of the few relationships of the Bible called such.

Agency. Seeing others as PEOPLE instead of numbers, or undesirables, or enemies.

It’s seeing our aching world, and instead of saying ‘but what can I do?’ doing your own small part – whatever it is. Giving to the food pantries. Supporting world wide organizations like the UCC Great Hour of Sharing or the ANERA refugee fund. Doing small parts – like reading and hearing the stories of those displaced by war. Not ignoring. Even when reading and hearing is hard.

And it is practicing love. If people cannot feel welcome and accepted, loved and encouraged, forgiven and wanted here – in our church – where, then, can they find respite?

Jesus says his YOKE is light. Remember, he is on a mission saying the religious folk are heaping on burdens on the poor instead of lightening the burdens. And it’s our jobs to lighten burdens.

But a yoke isn’t freedom – not act however you will – it is a guide. Yoke yourself to me, Jesus says, and know a lighter burden. Know that with me, you can lay down your heavy burdens of getting upset over the wrong things.

You can take up the yoke, the work, of assisting the in breaking of God’s kindom.

You can spend your life doing more than correcting someone’s cussing for five minutes… or criticizing their clothes. You can tackle the real work of loving others and changing the world one relationship, one deed, one olive branch at a time.

It’s still work – but it is light work. Joyous work. Because it sets judgment and hypocrisy aside, and welcomes and rejoices with others. If one is starving, one is homeless, one is not welcome – our beloved Jesus is starting, homeless, and not welcomed. It is also foolish work – the work that the wise and intelligent often miss, but which children often see and do immediately.

It is the foolish work of dancing with those who dance. And mourning with those who cry. And being a friend.

Come, says Christ, and share this yoke. Share your burdens. In the sharing, all becomes lighter.

And that is wisdom.

Amen.

Source: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2017/06/christian-upset-wrong-things/

Never Orphaned

Acts 17:22-31hands-old-young
John 14:15-21

 

Orphan. This is one of those categories of people the Bible has a lot to say. Over and over again God tells us to care for the orphaned and the widows. To care for the fatherless and the stranger. To care for the outcast and the afflicted. A sign of God’s people is their love and care for those who are most vulnerable.

In these ancient cultures where our scripture comes from, men are the people who can own property and bring in income. So… a widow… or a child without a father…. where are they going to get food? Water? Shelter? Who is going to protect them from being victims of violence?

God says again and again – you are. You are their protection.

Jesus reminds us that it isn’t just widows and orphans God wants us to care for – but ALL. So he shows us again how to care for strangers, care for outcasts, care for the physically and mentally sick. Whomever is at risk, we are their guardians.

So who is at risk? Who is Jesus telling us to remember in our prayers, to give our money and food to? Telling us to protect?

I tell you, I visited an orphanage.

I know – you tell me they are all closed. There are no more ran in the US and we only use the foster care system. But I tell you otherwise: I walked in and signed my name to the Visitor’s Sheet. Eyes poked out of doorways to see who this new person was with curiously and then disappeared back into their rooms. I got my badge that marked me as something even more different. That badge saying I’m permitted to be there, but not OF there. Permitted to enter, but also permitted to LEAVE. And I walked the halls of these orphans. Some laid in their beds calling for their mommies. Some had photos of their missing parents on their walls. Some asked me if I’d seen their loved ones, or knew who they themselves were.

Here, in this Alzheimer’s Unit, are the people who need others to give them food, and water, shelter. To protect them from violence. To be parental figures.

I found my orphan and she didn’t know who I was. But my orphan and I, we sat and talked anyways. Bit by bit, she told me a few memories of her parents, a sister… or a brother…

I sat and I thought it’s strange to think that nearly all of us will be orphans before we pass away. Eventually, nearly all of us, will bury first one parent, then a second, maybe even a third. We actually pray we pass away before our children, so it’s not a strange thing to be orphans… but yet… it doesn’t mean its any easier.

My orphan lost her parents decades ago, but the hurt was still so deep and fresh. And she still thought of them with mixed emotions. Relief – that they are no longer in pain. Relief – she’ll see them again. Sorrow – she doesn’t see them now. Sorrow she can’t ask them for advice, can’t introduce them to her great-grandchildren, can’t just share a cup of coffee. Simultaneously she recalled to me great bitterness and anger with her parents and great love and longing for her parents. No one has simple relationships with others when we’re honest.

The same is true in our scripture on feeling like an orphan today. This isn’t a simple relationship Jesus is describing. He is giving his farewell speech to his disciples. He’s telling them he’s going to a reunion with his father and they’re not welcome… yet. Telling them they know the way… but it isn’t on a map. And they are realizing Jesus is speaking about his death, and going to Heaven, and waiting for us there.

They are realizing they are about to be orphans.

Anger. They can’t go back home. They gave up their homes to follow Jesus. Fear. Who is going to protect them when Jesus is gone? Worry. Who are they going to turn to for advice? How are they going to keep following Jesus’ Way when Jesus isn’t there to lead them? Sorrow. There won’t be walks together and sitting down to dinner. Fear. How can they trust themselves to be the leader, the parent, the wise on when they know they know so little? Feeling so not ready.

And Jesus reassures them in these words. You do know the Way. What is more, the Spirit of Truth, which you have known through me, will be given to you to abide in you. This Holy Spirit will help guide you on the Way. We will meet again.

You will not be orphans. You will not be without someone caring for you. You have someone watching out for you, someone being your advocate – your helper and companion and champion – you have someone leading you, listening to you, loving you.

Want evidence? Lead, listen, and love another – and you will find you, too, are led, listened to, and loved.

So, again, who is at risk? Who is Jesus telling us to remember to lead, to listen to, and to love in our prayers, to give our money and food to? Telling us to protect?

Those who are aging are one of our brothers and sisters we need to give special protection to.

Another is those with physical or mental disabilities. Remember in Jesus’ time he cared not just for the widows and orphans… but also those with trouble walking, or speaking, or seeing. And those who suffered from mental illness and internal distress.

Today, our orphans are not in orphanages. They are in nursing homes, and at friends’ and families’ homes. And our orphans are in foster care and state custody. Our orphans are often homeless because there is so, so little help for those with mental demons.

Sadly, many police are like you and I, and not trained how to handle responding to someone in mental distress. So they see this ‘crazy erratic’ person, and choose to respond in ways that cause MORE distress and so more erratic behavior. Many, many mentally ill people are killed by responding officers because neither the cop nor the person know how to relate to each other – fear takes over – fear what the other will do – and one or the other goes from fear into attack mode.

Growing up, there was one of these guys living under a bridge near my hometown. Everyone knew him. He screamed at telephone poles most of the day. Where was his family? Did they know he was doing this? Had they passed away, had he run away and they lost track of him? Had he been more than what they could handle and care for?

… I’m his family, you know. So are you. Where were we?

Standing on the opposite street corner watching him and blaming his absent family. Judging them. When in actuality, Jesus commissions us – gives us the commandment – to love and care for those at risk and orphaned.

That man with mental illness is my brother. Your son. Our family.

And yes, he needed more help than any one set of parents, any one person, could give. But that is why we are more than one. We are the Body of Christ. Our parent in heaven, our risen Messiah, and our abiding Holy Spirit give us when we work together all that we need to care for all the orphans among us.

Paul argues to the Athenians in part that God isn’t like their statues. God doesn’t need us to feed God, bathe God, and bring God gold and silver because God provides US with everything and God isn’t IN a statue. Rather, God is in us and we are in God. We are God’s children, offspring.

In the same way, Jesus says he is in God, and we are in Jesus, and therefore with God. God doesn’t need us to care for God… but if we love Jesus, we will do as Jesus asks. Jesus asks us to love God – and love each other. Scripture tells us to love God, and love each other. The Spirit within us tells us to love God, and love each other. That Advocate reminds us again and again of the highest commandant: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind: and love others as you love yourself.

God doesn’t need bathed, need food, need support – God’s children do. The aging and the young, the physically or mentally challenged, or able or disabled, the often well or often ill – the widows and widowers – the orphans and the foster care kids – the moms and dads – the grandparents and neighbors – every single soul needs someone being their earthly advocate, just as we all need our Heavenly Advocate.

So who are the parents to the orphans?

Who are your parents?

We are. We are each other’s support, each other’s protection, each other’s advocates. We are each other’s family. We are the family of God.

Care for every person in some way – great or small.

Care for each other – here. And care for each other – out there, the strangers we are yet to meet.

We are never orphaned.

We are the children of God.

We are the family of God – and to love God is to love one another.

Amen.

Humble Pie

humble-pie-final-dribbbleHebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is always heading towards food, eating, or just having left food. Ever noticed that? Luke centers his retelling of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection all around food!

You think it’s kind of weird, but we do the same thing. Birthdays have – birthday cake. Weddings? Usually a wedding feast and wedding cake. 4th of July cookouts, and halloween candy. Christmas cookies. Someone dies? We want to send their family flowers and… food. You know what starts this week? The Millersport Sweetcorn Festival celebrating… food!

Sabbath dinners are like Sunday dinners – a bigger affair than the normal meals during the week. And, who a person ate with and where they sat and their table manners all meant a lot.

Again, we do this today. There are Donor Dinners. Special big dinners with overpriced chicken to raise money. Being present there is the important part. You’re being seen (and sometimes entertained) for giving the money. And if you get an invite from a someone famous for a supper? Don’t people say: “Wow, what an honor!”

Weddings are some of my favorite places to watch people jostle over their food. There is a head table with a bride and a groom – and to their left and right the rest of the Bridal party. They usually have nicer glasses than everyone else, and get served food first. Sometimes their own cake separate from everyone else’s. Sitting near this head table are the “Guests of Honor.” Parents, siblings, friends who are special but not quite special enough to sit at the head table… From there, aunts and uncles, and so forth. In the very back of the room – the awkward people who had to be invited but the bride and groom don’t really want to see. And every couple who has noisy kids. By the time the table way in the back gets served, the meal is cold, the dessert mostly gone, and the bridal party on the dance floor.

So picture a well known man like a senator is hosting a special dinner for THE Jesus – the man of the hour. And like at a wedding, everyone who comes jostles and bumps around for the best seat near the front. And there are people tsking and shaking their heads if someone takes a seat near the front who isn’t important enough. Did you see he just took the last seat? Now the senator’s wife has to sit in the back! Scandalous! Does he think he’s more important than the senator or his wife?!

Jesus watches all of this, and decides even though he’s the special guest, the man everyone is here to listen to and speak with, he’s going to go sit in the dark corner with the awkward people.

Now, everyone at the head table can’t see or hear him as well, and the people who just barely got an invite are sitting with him themselves! All the honor in the room has been reversed.

Back there at the rickety table with mismatched utensils, Jesus tells the people, “When you get invited to dinner, don’t go fighting and scrambling for the best seat. Not only is it embarrassing when the host has to tell you to give up your seat for someone else, but you get honor when the host asks you to come up closer. Also, remember… the first will be last and the last will be first. True honor, true glory, doesn’t come from other humans. It comes from God. And God doesn’t care how many fancy meals you’ve been invited to. God cares how you treated others.”

Then Jesus turned to the host – who had to be so red in the face. And he tells the host, “When you host a dinner, don’t go inviting your family and friends and people of power.” In other words, everyone this host had invited. “These people might repay you the kindness. Instead, invite people who’ve never had the opportunity to eat this kind of a meal. Invite those who can’t repay you. Invite the outcasts and you’ll be blessed. Remember: the first will be last and the last will be first.”

When I think about this, I think about the Catholic social worker Dorothy Day who wrote, “I firmly believe our salvation depends on the poor.”

Think on that a moment.

Our salvation… depends on the poor.

She argues that Christ said whatever we do, or don’t do, to the least of others is what we do, or don’t do, to Christ Christ’s self. The last will be first because how we have treated the last, how they have encountered us, is how Christ will judge us.

If the poor have never seen us, never been invited into our homes, never came to our celebration dinners and received welcoming arms and radical hospitality… will Christ say then, too, on the day we stand before God face to face: “I’ve never seen you before.”

And although Day speaks of the poor, Jesus speaks of those who are outcast – people decent church folk would never be seen around. It’s they, Jesus says, who don’t need to jostle for a position closer to God. God is WITH the outcasts. It’s us, we, who need to get closer to the outcasts to be closer to the blessings of God.

This reminds me of my mother saying to me, “Love the unlovable, Whitney, they’re the ones who need love the most.”

Welcome the inhospitable, children of God, they need the hospitality the most.

Feed the hungry, children of God, they need the food more than the sated.

Give alms, money, to the poor, children of God, they need money the most.

And do random acts of kindness to strangers, for by doing so, you may just help an angel.