The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s189g04 Lockleys Sunday 22 29/8/04
"invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind". Luke 14.13
This quotation for me begs the question: "Does our God expect us to be more indiscriminate in those we invite to our personal celebrations, than God is to the Lord's Table?" Is our God less hospitable than we are expected to be?
The characteristic of all the people who we are bidden to invite to be part of our fellowship are those who cannot repay us for the privilege; those who would be deemed fairly useless to the cause. So went someone comes into our congregation we do not view them for how we as individuals or we as a church might benefit. Of course we do want people to make their contribution, but we love people for who they are rather than how we might benefit.
God invites us to the Lord's Table irrespective of the contribution we might be able to make. We might have nothing to give. We might be unable to work for the kingdom, we might even be blind to the good news. Still God bids us come.
The text bids me ask, does Jesus expect us to use our homes for hospitality rather than the altar of God? Indeed of course, if our Eucharists do not reflect God's hospitality are they not reflecting god's inhospitableness? No matter who we invite to share in our personal celebrations, God's love will never be effectively proclaimed, if, at some stage or other, it is not done here around this table.
I am told that Calvin viewed the Holy Communion as the converting sacrament. It is that time when we know in our own being that we are accepted and part of God's family, along with everyone else. Do we dare let our services of Holy Communion do this?
I began this sermon on the day that it was announced that the National Council of Australian Churches had signed a Covenant during the fifth national forum held in Adelaide.
Part of this is that: "TWO churches: the Churches of Christ and the Uniting Church agreed to "invite and welcome members of each other's church to share in the Eucharist according to pastoral need"". Two out of fifteen! The rest haven't got around to realising that not only are they to invite those who can see the Lord's good news, but also those who can't.
If we actually believe that this table it is the Lord's Supper, what are we doing denying it to others? How dare we do this? Indeed if we are denying it to others, one wonders if it is actually the Lord's Supper!
As I resumed my preparation, I came back to these readings and reflected on the greeting "friend come up higher!" There are few times when Jesus calls anyone else his "friend". But the word of Jesus seems particularly appropriate here: "I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit. " John 15.15,16
"I call you friends, for you know what I am doing". In calling everyone "up higher" Jesus calls people friends. We know what Jesus is doing when we hear his call ourselves, to "come up higher". We are called not to rejoice in this call for ourselves, but to recognise that many others are also called to "come up higher". We do know what Jesus is doing, and we participate both as a recipient and an apostle of Jesus' call to everyone else.
How do we express this "coming up higher" eucharistically? I reflect on the words of James: "My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?"
Again we see that insidious intrusion of the comparison of one person's offering to someone else's, and it's deadly consequences.
For me the important question is: "Is Jesus here giving us a personal direction that we take in our social interactions with others?" Or is Jesus rather giving us a model of mission that revolves around our theology of what it means to partake of Christ's body and blood? The former might be nice, but it would hardly have had Jesus killed. So I suspect that the second is closer to the truth.
"Friend, come up higher", is the invitation to each and every one of us, to each and every individual who lives. It is an invitation, to you and me and to all, to stand on our own two feet, not cower before the Almighty. It is an invitation, to you and to me and to all, to use our God given brains and not be criticised by the Almighty when we come to differing conclusions. It is an invitation to each and every individual to recognition that every one else is as intimate with God as anyone else. I always make the point to those preparing for confirmation that our catechism teaches us that in baptism, we are made members of Christ, children of God and heirs of he kingdom of heaven. Nobody, not the Pope in Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury or even the Blessed Virgin Mary is anything more than this.
And it is not that our baptism secures this for ourselves, something denied for others. Baptism proclaims this sort of God who welcomes all.
John's gospel finishes with the words: "Whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven; whosoever sins you retain they are retained." This points us to the fact that God's forgiveness of our sins may or may not have its effects in our corporate life. The thing that will quite definitely have its effect in our corporate life is where WE forgive others or not. It is my strong suspicion that God is much more concerned that we live together peaceably than that the godhead is appropriately acknowledged and worshipped.
So if our Eucharists are about us expecting others to appropriately acknowledge and worship God, like us, are we really inviting "the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind" as we are bidden by my text for today? Do we dare let the Eucharist bind together altogether disparate persons?
St Paul speaks about discerning the body. "For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died." (1 Cor 11.29,30) If we do not discern the body, it is us who will miss out. It is us who are condemned to life as it always has been.
Finally, the words about those we invite not being able to invite us in return. We might decide to invite other Christians in the hope of being invited in return; this is the basis of the ecumenical movement; and I suppose this is alright as far as it goes. But I suspect that Jesus' words tell us it is those who have no faith or community (those who have no Eucharist to invite us to) who we ought to invite to be partakers of this table.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"