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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings~~Entertaining angels unaware edition

Lord Jesus Christ, make those who love you, and who love you in return, mirrors of you to those who are unloving; that being drawn to your image they may reproduce it in themselves, light reflecting light, love kindling love, until God is all in all. Amen. After Christina Rossetti, 1894

Frank T. Griswold. Praying Our Days: A Guide and Companion (Kindle Locations 800-802). Kindle Edition. 

September 1! NO way.

I am so not ready for the end of summer (in fact I am still on vacation as I write this,) but here we are. In the U.S. we will be celebrating Labor Day weekend, many of us are gearing up for a new program year, and kids have either returned to school or will be doing so in the next few days. My oldest granddaughter is starting kindergarten tomorrow! This weekend my congregation will be joining others in our deanery for an end of summer picnic and outdoor Eucharist, complete with baptism. Appropriately enough our RCL readings for this 15th Sunday after Pentecost focus (in part at least) on the theme of hospitality.

Our Hebrew scripture reading from the prophet Jeremiah finds Jeremiah voicing God's lament that the people God brought out of Egypt have in essence abandoned the hospitality that awaited them in the promised land--both the abundance of the land and the largesse of God's love. Instead they have defiled the land and worshipped false gods, exchanging "their glory for something that does not profit," and digging out "cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns, that can hold no water." How much do those charges apply to the ways we choose to live today?  

Our new testament reading continues with the letter to the Hebrews. This section echoes the call to radical hospitality we hear in Jesus' teaching in the gospels (it especially brings Matthew to mind for me, but perhaps that is because Matthew is my favorite gospel.) This passage also hearkens back to Abraham's visit from the weary travelers, who were in fact angels in disguise. How often might we entertain angels unaware? And how often have we turned them away?

This week's gospel finds Jesus under close scrutiny as he joins some Pharisees for a Sabbath meal. Sabbath meals were times for gathering together family and friends, and in a culture where status was extremely important, one can imagine that there might have been some jockeying for invitations, and for the seats of honor. Jesus wants no part of that; in fact in counsels the arriving guests to take the lowest seats, and advises his hosts that in the future they should invite not those who will reciprocate in kind, but rather the poor and lowly who have no way of returning the kindness. How often is our hospitality tied to at least an implicit expectation that we will get "credit" for it? And can we let go of that?

So where are you headed on this first Sunday in September?  Are you winding up a summer series? Having a fall kick off? Riffing off Labor Day? Perhaps you'll choose the alternative readings from Sirach or Proverbs or focus on a psalm. Join the conversation whether you have questions, inspiration, or just want to say hi! The welcome mat is out, and the coffee is on!


  1. For Labor Day, we are have a "worship through service" instead of a regular worship service. We'll read some scripture, pray, and have a hymn sing for about 20 minutes, then divide into 4 groups to go out to 4 local organizations that need some help. We'll work hard for two hours, then come back to the church for lunch and closing reflection. I had been planning to read Matthew 25 ('when you do it to the least of these') but now I might just read Hebrews...hmmm...

    There are lots of amazing things about this Sunday--serving our neighbors, expanding our understanding of worship, etc--but at this moment in the week, the best part personally is that there's no bulletin to make. ;-)

    I will say that I always think Jesus gives such strange advice in this passage, because it kind of feels like manipulating your way to being honored. I'm sure that's not what he means, but it kind of reads that way....

    1. Love this idea ! How did you go about setting it up ?

    2. Teri, I always felt the same way about the advice Jesus gives to take the lower seat. Kind of insincere if your reason for doing it, your secret hope, is eventually to get the higher one that way. And I wondered what the heck he could be thinking... and that led me to wonder if he isn't actually serious in this part of the story, just warming up with a bit of sarcasm for the real advice--the bit with the punch (invite the people who can't reciprocate, etc.).

      I can't imagine him being so conventional as to recommend such a pragmatic sort of humility -- (He gets it from Proverbs, commentators say-- "Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great [it reads]; for it is better to be told, 'Come up here,' than to be put lower in the presence of a noble" [Prov 25:6-7].

      Maybe Jesus is pulling out that old chestnut of "wisdom" with his tongue in cheek, with real sarcasm, and what he's doing with it is to say that the way people manage to secure some measure of status in other people's eyes is of absolutely no interest to him at all. Maybe he's watching the frantic scurrying about and, far from wanting to help the guests do it better or in a less unseemly way, he really wants to show it all up for what it is --useless, wasteful folly.

      Maybe what he's saying is, "Get your honor and status any way you want. Debase yourself for it, work yourself into the ground for it, namedrop for it, cheat or beat your rivals to a pulp for it, steal it, buy it, fake it -- whatever. Why you would do anything at all for it is beyond me."

      And THEN, once he gets that out of the way, he tells them what they should be doing--not jockeying for status in a nice polite and seemingly humble way, but not jockeying at all, drawing up an entirely new guest list, and getting serious about Sabbath joy by inviting them in....

    3. Mary--I love that way of thinking. Thank you!

      organizing the Worship-Through-Service was surprisingly easy. Once both the worship and mission committees agreed, I sent some exploratory emails to local agencies, and they were all thrilled at the opportunity to have a group in during the time they're normally closed, and all four were willing to have an employee come over to let us in and give direction on a Sunday morning. Once I had enough sites lined up, I just started advertising the plan...we'll have about 20 minutes of opening worship--hymn sing, scripture, prayer--and then divide into work groups. Each site is within about a 7 minute drive of the church. 2 hours of work, then we'll gather back at the church building for lunch and the closing of worship with sharing our God-sightings and singing the Doxology.

      For lunch we're just ordering pizza from a local pizza joint, and the deacons are bringing salad and fruit.

      Our four work sites are: the school next door, the food pantry, a thrift shop that supports the women/children shelter, and our homeless shelter in the basement. We also plan to have a small group of people assembling hygiene kits for Church World Service, so we are sure to have something for every ability, mobility, and age.

      I'm super excited, and I hope people come. I'm a little nervous because one of the projects is pretty big so I need the average holiday weekend worship attendance to hold. :-)

      I might just have to write something up using this gospel text and Mary's amazing insight to hand out....could be good conversation material while people work!

    4. This is really great, Teri. A great way to worship in action! I hope other congregations emulate you. Hope it goes swimmingly well!

  2. As in many places, Sunday marks the end of our summer season, with children returning to school the following week and many folks going back to work. So current plan is a sermon on "work". I figure that as a lay-preacher working in industry, I should have some things to say about that... (though so far, the page is a bit blank). But part of me is wondering what will happen to such a sermon if I wake up Sunday and discover that UK and French forces are bombing Damascus...

  3. This is the first of 2 Sundays this month when I am revitalizing a sermon from 6 years ago.

    For Labour Day I am asking the question "For What do We Labour?",
    my early thoughts are here and a Prayer for Grace that I wrote to go with the Scripture passages I am using is here

  4. Focusing upon the Luke text and pondering [well I think I am!] pride and humility. Sermon title:
    ‘Table etiquette: a (gospel) guide for the perplexed’

  5. Luke and Hebrews, I think. Pondering how as broken/ shattered/ healed/ ... people we are all welcome at the table. and how society oftens classifies people, but Christ welcomes - no classifications. and it is communion this Sunday.

  6. I too am working from the Gospel and I've been drawn to the Message translation where it says, "if you're content to simply be yourself, you'll become more than yourself." That line is my inspiration. Last week was a call to leadership and this is a continuation of that - the work we do is an act of being ourselves and in doing so becoming so much more. Plus then the second story about who to invite to the next party can also become about a gift you give to others, empowering them to become so much more.


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