In our scripture reading this morning, we heard Jesus inviting those who were poor and rejected. We might be inspired for a moment, but for us, in our modern lives, we know the idea is totally impractical. Right? But to those who would have heard Jesus talking in person, his words would have been scandalous. And shocking. And insulting. That’s because they lived in an honour/shame culture, that was intensely sensitive to status and recognition. There would have been very few things as humiliating as having your host ask you to move to a lower position at a social gathering. But Jesus wasn’t just giving a Miss Manners talk on social etiquette. Oh no! It was much more serious than that, because he not only told them to ignore the social payoff or reward of their invitations, he also told them exactly who they should invite to dinner. And they were the ones who were exactly the opposite of those who would be on the popular guest lists – they were the very people who could not reward their hospitality or invite them back in return. What he was saying is that it was time for those who were successful to stop counting the costs, benefits and rewards of their actions, and to start living from a sense of abundance and blessing.
Counting… that’s so prevalent in our lives we forget it exists even though it takes a tremendous toll on us. Whether we are counting the amount in our bank accounts, or the opinions of our friends or family on what we wear or what we do, we are constantly counting. And why are we counting? Because we live with the sure conviction that there is not enough. Not enough money, time, prestige, resources, recognition, things we are attached to …you name it. And that conviction seems sure, even unquestionable, because so much in our culture – and particularly the advertisements we’re relentlessly subjected to – tells us there isn’t enough.
But what if there was enough – would that make a difference in our own peace of mind and in the way we treat others? What might it look like if we stopped our counting, and started sharing abundance and blessing? What if we acted on Jesus injunction that the way to experience joy is to hand out abundant gifts of dignity and worth and value – the very things we have been blessed with – to those who seldom hear words of kindness or inclusion.
You see, wealth and position are a blessing only when they are shared and used for the betterment of the human family. And often, we confuse privilege with blessing. Those of us who have been born, and raised, and who live in developed countries are hugely privileged, relative to others who are born into and live in developing countries. When we name privilege as God’s personal blessing for us, we tend to spiritualize God’s blessing for those who are less privileged. For those who are privileged we see God’s blessing as material; for those who are not privileged it is spiritual. And maybe that’s one reason why churches are declining in developed places, and growing in developing areas because people count on God. Wealth, birthplace, race, class, gender, sexuality, age, access, health, and so on can be counted as divine blessings when really they are the result of privilege. God calls us to continue the work Jesus did by leveling the playing field for all. We can do that only when we choose turn our privilege into blessings. Because in God’s economy, all are blessed.
One of the reasons why we go to church, or at least it ought to be a reason, is to practice putting into action what it is like in God’s economy…. And with enough practice, we can take what we know out there, into the world that God loves so much, where so many are hurting, ignored, excluded, shamed. Because at every human gathering, and dare I say it, even at cup and conversation here after church there are people who are popular and those who are not, people who we think are a delight to be with and those with whom we struggle. Our tendency is to mix with those we feel comfortable with, or those we like. There are people we naturally gravitate to and people we might choose to ignore. So, what if today we practice what Jesus was telling them (and now us) to do. …what if today, after church at coffee, each of us intentionally went to speak with one person we would not normally sit down with. What if we intentionally looked around, and saw someone who was sitting alone, or at a table but who was not being included in the conversation, and made an opening? Because if we don’t share our blessings here, we will have less to share when we go outside these doors.
On FB there was a quote that said: If you are more fortunate than others, build a longer table, not a taller fence. I wonder, who will be sitting at your table today?
Our calling is to include all who are dismissed from the tables of the world, that they may no longer feel hungry or alone. For that work, our offering will now be received.
God of all, we present these offerings, that they may be used to extend your liberating reign. With them, we offer ourselves, that each of us may be part of your answer to the cries of the world. Amen.
May God who dances in creation, who embraces us with human love, who shakes our lives like thunder, bless us and drive us out to fill the world with justice.
Go and join Christ in the world, healing and speaking words of inclusion and freedom,
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of all and source of every blessing, we thank you…
For life and love, health and food,
For home and family,
For nature’s beauty and comfort and constancy,
For memory and hope,
And for all that gives us pleasure, nourishment and strength.
We thank you for your continuing presence
In a world where wealth has so much to say,
Where greed and injustice prosper,
And relationships go sour,
And hearts and dreams are broken.
We pray for the peace of the world,
For the peace that comes only when we follow your ways,
Not just in the absence of conflict,
But in fullness of life that is prosperity for all;
For goodwill among neighbours,
And for welcome of every person who is on the outside.
We seek God’s encouragement
For honest trade and just commerce
For the gifts and aptitudes in every person
Which serve justice in community living.
We pray for our leaders
That they may work for the generous sharing of the earth’s resources,
The responsible sharing of the earth’s problems;
That they may seek to understand others
And be willing to regard the diversity of human culture.
We pray for our church
By all its names and in all its places;
For its continuing growth as a channel of grace and hope and inclusion for all;
For its witness to unity and justice and for its commitment to hospitality and compassion.
We commend to God the concerns of our hearts; asking for Christ’s healing presence for all who struggle with illness, all who are forgotten or pushed aside, all who are suffering in any way. We pause to name them now, either out loud or in the silence of our hearts.
Oh God, who loves this world, and all who are in it, receive our prayers, and empower us to be agents of your love. All this we pray in Jesus’ name…the one who taught us to pray …