We’re in a series of readings from the Gospel of Luke right now where Jesus tells some of his most challenging parables, trying to wake us up and force us to question our assumptions, and today’s is certainly one of them. It’s always tempting to a preacher to kind of try and solve the problems and smooth things over. But that’s a temptation. A preacher’s job is not to helpfully explain stuff; a preacher’s job is to proclaim the Word of God. So as a way of resisting temptation, I am going to preach, instead, on the epistle reading.
Today’s epistle from I Timothy says: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions.” Pray in all kinds of ways, it says, not just for leaders, but for everyone. Pray in all kinds of ways.
If you look through the rest of this reading on the back of your insert, you see all sorts of evidence of how God desires to do his people good. It mentions how he wants everyone to be saved, how he wants everyone to enter into the truth. It mentions how God came in Jesus Christ as a mediator, a go-between, to bridge the gap between us and God, and to offer himself as a ransom to set us free. It notes how what Jesus did has been attested – i.e. there were witnesses. How it all happened just at the right time. And how God even chose someone, the author himself, to make sure that us Gentiles got in on the new way of knowing and living in God that Jesus offers.
Just a quick word as I begin this morning. As you may have read in the bulletin, due to a clergy scheduling constraint I am preaching today on last week’s Second Reading, Philemon, which is what you just heard. You do not have the lesson in front of you right now so hear this verse and as I speak try to keep it in mind.
Paul said, “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Have you ever wondered how others might know that someone is a Christian without asking? Perhaps in an earlier time a clue might be the wearing of a cross or keeping a Bible on one’s desk or coffee table. Even with those types of physical clues, might someone have an idea because of the behavior of another? To make it personal, how might others know that you are a Christian? Is there a difference in how you act or how you speak that would let others know you are a believer in Jesus Christ?
I will share one brief personal example. It has to do with driving. I admit to you that I can get very annoyed with other drivers, especially when they have done something I believe to be unsafe. And, a time or two, I admit, I have let the other driver know my displeasure, either by something I have yelled or gestured, or honked. Now on a day when I was in collar I realized that I could not, or should not, or would not respond to poor driving in a way that might reflect poorly on being a follower of Christ. There is a responsibility that comes with wearing the collar and with conscious thought, when in collar, my actions and words changed. After that realization I decided I would remember that I wore an invisible collar all the time. My actions and words reflected poorly on all Christians if I did not watch myself. Others notice what we do, what we say and how we say it. Our sharing of our faith begins with how we treat others.
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers
and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christianity demands that those who wish to follow Jesus get acquainted with extremes.
Not necessarily comfortable, but at least acquainted. The Gospel is after all one where
the light shines in the darkness and the first are the last; where Christ is dead and
descends into hell but also where Christ is risen and sits at the right hand of the Father
in heaven; where those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their
life for the sake of Christ will save it. Like I said, extremes.
And this morning’s passage from Luke is no exception. Here we find three extreme and
uncompromising conditions, set by Christ himself, for anyone who would wish to
become one of his disciples. They deal with three loves: the love of family, the love of
life, and the love of possessions. But apparently, these three loves are utterly
incompatible with the way of Jesus and must be renounced entirely. The bar has been
set; the line drawn. Who among us would ever presume to cross it? Who among us
could dare consider themselves to be disciples of Christ?
Jesus got himself in trouble for a lot of things. Claiming to be God was probably the biggest. The religious leaders of his day thought that was the most blasphemous thing they had ever heard, for a man whose birthplace and family they knew to say things like "Before Abraham was, I am." Jesus also gave offense by breaking official religious laws, like the one we heard about last week, when he healed a woman on the Sabbath day. We can see why those things upset people, but for us it takes a little more imagination to grasp why one other thing Jesus did was so offensive. This is clearly something that created a huge stir, and that the Gospel writers felt they needed to record many stories about to document that yes, Jesus actually did do this and he had a good reason for it.
That other offensive thing that got Jesus in so much trouble was, in the words of the Bible, eating with tax collectors and sinners -- violating the society's customs about meals. The fancy name for it is "table fellowship," and the Gospels make clear over and over again that Jesus broke all the rules of table fellowship in order to help people experience what the Kingdom is like. Table fellowship basically means: who eats with whom? Who has supper at one table together? This question was immensely important in Jesus' day, and he used it to make immensely important points.
So let's look at this meal story we have today. Jesus has been invited over by a key Pharisee, and Luke gives a sense of the atmosphere by noting that everyone was “watching him closely.” Where our reading begins, Jesus is saying that instead of grabbing places of honor, guests at meals ought to take the least desirable seats, and then maybe the host will move them up. That’s simply a paraphrase of the 2 verses from the Old Testament book of Proverbs that we just heard (world's shortest lectionary reading!), so maybe the Pharisees breathe a little easier and think at least tonight perhaps Jesus is going to be non-controversial and just quote the Bible.