Saturday, September 14, 2019

Prayer, day 2419


As the morning sun blesses us with light,
we rise to ring out praises to our God:
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lead us into the path of life,
O Most Holy Spirit,
for we need your tender care and guidance.
Settle us into the crook of your arm, Almighty One,
for we are prone to wander and worry.
You are our strength and our stronghold:
send us forth, renewed and fired with joy,
to do your work in the world, O God.
Give us courage in the face of adversity,
and hope in the face of struggles:
Lord Jesus, may we walk with you this day.

We lift our prayers and praises before You, O Lord:
spread your sheltering wings over those for whom we pray.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Prayer, day 2418


O Merciful One, 
we bend our hearts before you, 
praising and glorifying your Name. 
Pour out your wisdom upon us, O God,
that we may walk in love and faithfulness. 
Make us magnanimous and joyful 
in all our work, Lord, 
knit together in love, 
bearers of your grace and peace. 
Fill us with the beauty of holiness, 
and set us aflame by your Spirit. 
Blessed Savior, we place our hearts before you, 
and ask your blessing upon the concerns we carry.

Amen.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Prayer 2417: Inspired by Matthew 2:13-23


Almighty God, we lift our hearts to you, 
that they may be purified of all meanness
and poverty of spirit, 
that our wills may be molded by your love. 

Blessed Infant Jesus, 
who was forced to flee the rampages of a tyrant, 
guide us to open our arms and hearts to all 
who seek refuge from storm or violence. 
Help us, O God, to hear the cry of innocents 
as they seek assistance and respite. 
Help us to remember the blessings without number 
that you have showered upon us, O Savior, 
and let us respond to those in need 
with compassion and welcome. 

Spirit of the Living God, 
burnish us with goodness and mercy 
that we may broadcast grace 
with every action we take today. 
Gather within your arms, Lord Christ, 
all who cry out for help of relief, 
and grant your peace to those whose cares we lay before you.

Amen.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Prayer, day 2416: On the Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks


Loving One, we put our trust in You, 
for You are our shield and our rest, 
ever-present in times of joy and sorrow. 
We place before You 
our remembrances of those who have left us: 
may your peace and joy shine upon them. 
Comfort those who mourn 
and strengthen those who falter, 
that they may know your healing presence. 
We thank You for those 
who are your hands, face, and feet in the world today: 
make us more like them. 
We thank You for the example of the brave, 
who are daily willing to lay their lives on the line 
for their brothers and sisters. 
We thank you for the example of those 
who embody compassion and healing 
even in the face of chaos. 
Guide us into ways of justice, benevolence, and truth, 
that we may treat others as we wish to be treated. 
Place the seal of your blessing, O God, 
upon those we now remember to You by name.

Amen.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Prayer, day 2415


Holy One, we seek your radiance
even as the shades of night are lifted.

May we nurture your radiance within us, Lord,
and recognize it within all that surrounds us.
May your wisdom, O God, dawn in our hearts,
and guide our feet into paths of peace and justice.
May we use our hands to heal, not hurt,
and may we work for reconciliation and unity.
May we ever seek to fill the empty spaces within us
and within our communities
with compassion and generosity.
May we grow green and strong in the courts of the Holy,
and bear the fruit of mercy abundantly.

God of Grace, Light of Light, we open our hearts to You:
in your tender love grant us your peace as we pray.

Amen.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

How the Light Gets In: Sermon for Proper 18C, the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost


Last year the long-awaited sequel to Mary Poppins hit the theatres, with Mary Poppins taking care of Michael Banks’s children, who have just lost their mother. In one of the scenes, the children break a bowl that had belonged to their late mother, a bowl that she had told them was priceless. So one of their adventures occurs when Mary Poppins takes them and the bowl to her cousin, played by the incredible Meryl Streep, who is known to be able to fix anything. They arrive to find that the cousin’s life itself is a bit topsy-turvy at the moment, and set about to try to help put it right. I don’t want to spoil it—you need to watch the movie. 

But it got me to thinking: What do most of us do with a broken bowl? In our culture today, most often the answer is to throw it away. After all, goods are relatively cheap. But sometimes, we decide we want to try to mend the pot. Maybe it’s got sentimental value, like the bowl the Banks children had. So if we decide to keep the bowl, we look for the crazy glue or the clear gorilla glue, and we try to make the bowl look as if it had never been broken. We like things to look perfect. But really, are we just fooling ourselves? In our hearts we will probably always remember that the bowl has been broken. 


When I was 12 our family visited friends in Japan, and I learned that Japanese have another answer for what to do with a broken pottery bowl: they embrace the breaks and imperfections and mend the bowl if possible. The Japanese practice an art of repairing broken pottery known as kintsugi, that embraces the broken places and spaces within the pot, embraces the cracks—and even embellishes them. As the poet Jane Hirshfield notes in an essay on the healing quality of poetry, and its ability to sit within the broken places, the words “healing and health” come from the word “wholeness.” She explains: 
 “Wholeness does not mean unmarred, or simple, or ignorant of suffering. It does not exclude any part of experience or history. Consider kintsugi, a Japanese repair technique that is both an aesthetic and a philosophical stance. In reassembling a broken tea bowl, a cup, or a plate, the repairing artisan uses, in place of transparent glue, a mix of lacquer and powdered gold. The end result is not an object trying to appear as if it had never been damaged: kintsugi, done well, offers damage made visible as part of the cup’s history, damage made beautiful because the cup was repaired without denial. It may be that any fully rounded truth, seen without denial, will appear to us as beauty. …Kintsugi accepts life’s irreparability and embraces it.”(1) 

Can there be beauty in brokenness? I am reminded of the line from the great singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen’s song, “Anthem:” 

The birds they sand
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
will pass away
Or what is yet to be

Yeah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in  (2)




In our reading from Jeremiah today, the prophet is sent to watch a potter at work at his or her wheel. He observes the potter’s activity so that he may see the metaphor of the clay as synonymous with the people of Israel. Yahweh is the potter. The warning contained in Jeremiah is that if God realizes that the clay is misshapen, God can smash it and destroy so that Yahweh can begin again—we remember that, because it scares us. At any moment, the prophet perceives, the potter could simply destroy the pot rather than repair it, deciding it is too spoiled. This is intended as a warning for the prophet to convey to the people: because of their resistance to God, they too have become misshapen, and risk being destroyed by God as punishment. 

The message communicated there is one that still remains powerful for some people, especially in dominant American Christianity. They see someone's suffering as being placed upon them by God, in punishment for something wrong they have done. It’s a simple proposition: they believe that God punishes wrongdoing with suffering, so if they are suffering, it must be due to their own sinfulness. 

Others of us see flaws in this reasoning. First of all, sometimes people immersed in wrongdoing prosper and innocent people suffer. Sometimes people emerge from trials in their lives scarred and misshapen through no fault of their own. On the other hand, others scoff entirely, and deny any agency of God in times of suffering or trial. 

In the centuries since Jeremiah was written, we have acquired great knowledge about science, medicine, and technology. We explain human behavior through relatively new fields, like psychology. And for some people, that is enough. They think they’ve got it all figured out, and that we human beings are in charge. Yet even with this mindset, most would agree with the idea that we, like clay, are molded and shaped through life. There are many influences that shape us throughout our lives. As much as we like to think that we are responsible in making ourselves and our lives, Jeremiah reminds us that God is there all the time, asking our willingness to be shaped and molded into healing and wholeness. 

But we also have to acknowledge that God is not our only influence. We also have to acknowledge that we are also shaped by others. And indeed, every person who has passed through our lives has a role in shaping the person each of us have become. Sometimes, we are shaped lovingly, kindly, and we become better, stronger, more beautiful. Sometimes, we fall into harsher hands, hands that attempt to squeeze us too tightly, or press upon us too hard, and we have trouble maintaining our balance as we limp away, misshapen, listing to one side. 


Some people have the utter gall to see others’ brokenness as fatal, and to declare them useless, fit only for being thrown away. That, my friends, is spitting upon the image of God that resides within all of us and all of creation. It also ignores the fact that we all have wear and tear within us, we all have brokenness. It must be a way of refusing to acknowledge their own pain and imperfections—I don’t know. It’s not up to us to decide who is worthy and who is not. It is just our job to love each other. 

We are called to acknowledge that a good portion of the rest of us may spend a huge chunk of our lives trying to make up for the injuries inflicted upon us by some of those influences in our lives. Some of us have lived through episodes in our childhoods that haunt us and have threatened to crush us—the shouts of our mothers and fathers that arose in the night and awakened us from childhood sleep night after night, or alcoholic rages that break the dishes. Hands that have touched us in anger, seeking to break us rather than shape us. Hands that have attempted to shape us for their own ends, who have used us and then discarded us. 

Those of us on a journey of faith often arrive here because we are crying out for God’s healing hands in our lives, to help us come to peace with injuries or breaks like the ones just described. To talk about a God who is waiting to crush us is to show that we do not understand God’s message at all. It just doesn’t fit with the God we have experienced in dark moments in our lives—a God of incredible power, yes, but the power to support us with limitless love, a God whose faith in US forgives us for our sins and foolishness and lack of faith over and over again. 

Of all the books in the Bible, according to Old Testament expert Walter Brueggemann, it is Jeremiah that depicts God suffering real distress when faced with our casting God away.(3) The most important message to take from the full sweep of Jeremiah is this: it is a broken-hearted God who is taking the initiative in trying to renew and reconcile the relationship between humanity and God, both as individuals and as groups. The book of Jeremiah is notable for its portrayal of God as suffering real pain and hurt from the betrayal by the people. That’s what should stand out to us—not the threatened destruction that too many people like to imagine God holding over human heads. 

The problem with using verses like these to attempt to frighten us into some sort of rigid behavior is that it ignores the overriding thrust of the truth that God has revealed to us over and over again: that God reaches out to us repeatedly, and loves us unconditionally, even when we go our own blind way. 

God also uses us human agents—friends and relations who care about us—to try to help us toward healing from the places we have been broken in our relationships with others. If we really observe our pain, and open ourselves to healing, we become aware that, like we have heard in our reading from the letter to the Hebrews last week, we have encountered angels within our lives, usually unaware that they were such until later. God is also there both as a presence and in sending us healing friends and companions, offering healing to those of us who have been harmed and marred by the actions of ourselves or others within our lives—if only we will accept the hope and promise of God’s grace and healing hand to help us. To make us whole. And the Hebrew word for wholeness is “shalom.” 

And we can do the same for others. Our own brokenness is how the light gets in, as Leonard Cohen sang, and brings us to empathy and compassion and the practice of forgiveness and grace with others. That’s a gift from God—that our mended places can give us insight into helping others along their journey to healing and wholeness of God. Rather than marinating in old hurts and resentments, and allowing them to continue to mar our lives, we have another choice—we can let that light in, shining on all the darkest places within us, and accept God’s healing love, and become forces for healing ourselves. 

As the parable of the Prodigal Son reminds us, God is not a vengeful father waiting to crush us into dust. Rather, God runs to us the second we turn back from our errant ways, and just when we think we are as far as we can be from God, in our repenting we turn and find God right alongside us all along. God sends God’s own son to be one of us—and thereby experiences all the pain and loss that is part of our human existence. 


That is why this image from Jeremiah of a potter at a wheel is the centerpiece of a medieval poem prayed during the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On a day that is dedicated to repentance and seeking forgiveness, the liturgy still reminds us that, like an artist, God has made us, and continually is working within our lives, even when we go astray. God understands our weaknesses, and through the gift of unlimited grace calls us again and again to reconcile with God and with each other, to allow ourselves to be shaped, to acknowledge that God can transform and sustain us even in our darkest moments because God made each of us, whether saint or sinner, cares for us, and loves us for all eternity.

That’s actually right there in the same readings that others twist for their own ends. But there is also good news about healing for those of us who have been bruised and battered by some of the hands that have shaped us throughout our lives. We are not called to be perfect. We are not called to be unafraid all the time. We are not called to never have doubts or questions. We ARE called to embody God’s healing, reconciling presence into a broken, divided, hurting, fearful world, as best we can. To be bearers of God’s grace because we have been recipients of God’s grace. 

As our readings from Jeremiah and our psalm reminds us, God presses upon us behind and before, God’s hand is upon us, shaping us, never giving up on us, reconciling who we are with who God intends for us to be – a people forgiven, healed, renewed, shaped! A people empowered to go forth into the world, reconciled and at peace with ourselves, and with our God, and with one another. A people called to help embody God’s healing hands in the lies of others. That’s how it works. 

The hands of God’s love never stop trying to ease us, to soothe us, to work with us and within us to help shape us into our best selves. Like a potter at her wheel, God’s hands are creating within us, right now, offering us a profound sense of release, a profound reconciliation, a profound sense of peace and wholeness—the kind of peace that comes from being in the presence of a love that is so amazing that we are reshaped, and are never the same again. 

 A peace that comes to us through a God that reaches out to us, again and again, constantly trying to embrace our brokenness as avenues toward beauty. Because that is how the light gets in.

Amen.

Preached at the 505 on September 7 and at 8:00am and 10:30am on September 8, 2019 at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO.

Readings:
Jeremiah 18:1-11Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17Philemon 1-21Luke 14:25-33

Citations:
1) Jane Hirshfield, “Poetry, Permeability, and Healing,” at The American Academy of Poetry, July 1, 2018, at https://poets.org/text/poetry-permeability-and-healing
2) Leonard Cohen, "Anthem," from the album The Future, 1992.
3) Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming


Prayer 2413: The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost


Holy One, 
we gather before your altars 
offering our thanks and praise 
for the blessing of this day You have given us. 

You see the beauty in each one of us, O God, 
and call us to be shaped 
by the riches of your grace: 
may we open ourselves 
to the mastery of your hand 
and be healed, shaped and renewed by your love. 

May we take up our share of the ministry 
you have allotted us 
with joy and pride, 
earing the name of Christ 
with integrity and hope. 

Blessed Redeemer, 
pour out your mercy upon us 
that we may be reconciled to each other, 
and grant your blessing 
to those who call to you, as we pray.

Amen.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Prayer 2412

Almighty God, 
whose hands have tenderly 
shaped and molded all that is: 
hear our prayer, 
for we rely upon your grace and favor. 

Help us to call upon 
the better angels of our nature 
to seek the good of others, 
and to love each other as kindred. 

Give us patient endurance 
and hope in adversity, 
 knowing you are with us always, Lord Christ, 
steadfast in mercy 
and abounding in empathy 
with our anxieties and pain. 

By the power of the Holy Spirit, 
guide and direct us in the ways of holiness, 
O Holy One, O Blessed Three, 
and pitch the tent of your healing over those we now name.

Amen.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Prayer, day 2411


O God, your steadfast love shields us behind and before:
may our song of praise illuminate our day.

Give us that wisdom and love

that helps us build your kingdom, Lord Christ.
Let us never forget that 
where wisdom and love meet,
there is justice and peace.
Let us advocate for our sisters and intercede for our brothers,
and for all our kindred,uniting our voices in the name of compassion and hope.

We pray especially for these needs and concerns on our hearts today.

Amen.

609 adapted

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Prayer 2410


Bless the Lord, O my Soul, 
who calls us into peace and hope. 
 Holy Wisdom, radiant and lovely, 
we earnestly seek you in our prayer: 
illumine our minds with your truth, 
that we may serve our God and each other always. 

Blessed Lord, you have knit us together 
as one fabric with all creation: 
from atoms fo Adam we all share your imprint. 
Guide us into a more perfect union, O God,
that we may work for the glory of your will, 
and stand fast alongside those 
whose voices are lost in the storm. 

Merciful One, bless us and keep us as the apple of your eye, 
and spread the shade of your protection 
over all who cry out to you.

Amen.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Prayer 2409


We praise You, O Creator, 
and ask your blessing this day. 

Spirit of Holiness, repair our weaknesses, 
our bitterness, our tiredness, our impatience, 
that we may knit up our burdens 
within the span of your loving-kindness
and be restored in the name of hope and healing. 

Merciful Lord, dedicate our hands 
to your service today: 
grant us the skill to do our work with integrity 
in all that we do. 
Blessed Jesus, consecrate our tongues 
to witnessing to your beauty and compassion today, 
and when we teach, 
guide us to teach with love 
for the life of the world. 

Grant your comfort and strength, O Holy Trinity,
 to all for whom we pray.

Amen.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Prayer 2408


Merciful God, shine the light of your countenance upon us, 
and grant your peace to those who call upon You. 

Be our strong rock; 
place us upon the promontory of your wisdom, 
and enable us to see your paths 
of honor, compassion and integrity,
that we may follow in the Way of Jesus always. 

Give us the initiative and courage 
to act where we see cruelty or contempt,
io stand for the oppressed and the outcast, 
to welcome the refugee with tenderness. 

By the power of the Holy Spirit, 
make us zealous for the cause of love and community, 
and grant your blessing upon these beloveds.

Amen.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Prayer, day 2407: For Labor Day


Holy One, your hands built the foundations of the world: 

we pause from our labors to give you thanks and praise. 

Lord, You called us to establish justice: 

may we remember our obligation 
to love each other as we love ourselves. 
Help us, O God, build a society 
in which the dignity and contribution 
of every worker is honored, 
and wealth is used righteously. 

O Creator, 

who rested upon the seventh day, 
let us work not just for a living 
but to have life abundantly. 
Remembering your abundant grace, 
let us work alongside those who are in want, 
and act with justice toward the poor. 
Help us act with justice to help those who search for work, 
that all may dwell in security, 
and that we honor, support, and affirm each other. 

Giving thanks for our fellowship in your kingdom, 
O Holy One,
we ask your grace to rest upon those we now name.

Amen.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Competition or Communion: A Sermon for Labor Day, Proper 17 C (Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost)



What is our motivation for accepting generosity, or for ourselves being generous or hospitable? Jesus warns against socializing with or providing hospitality to only those from whom we can expect to get something in return. It can be hard to put aside considerations of self-interest. 

This reminded me of one of my favorite TV shows back in the 90s—Friends. Friends was a show about a group of friends in the mid-twenties orginally trying to make it in New York, struggling to get by, to find love. A couple of years ago when my baby sister Becky had surgery, she asked if I would come and take care of her, for ten days until she could move around on her own, and of course I said I would—and during those ten days we watched almost every single episode of Friends ever made. 

One of our favorites was called “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS.” One of the characters, Joey, is a dim witted hunk struggling to make it as an actor. In his desperation for exposure, Joey’s agent tells him he has gotten a gig cohosting a PBS telethon—only to find out that really, he is just one of the volunteers answering the phone. 

Joey takes great pride in the fact that he is doing a good deed—and getting something for himself. His sweet, innocent friend Phoebe is shocked. The central part of the story is revolves around Joey telling Phoebe, the hippy flower child, that there is no such thing as a selfless good deed. Phoebe has just finished helping her brother and his wife by being a surrogate for their triplets, and so she disagrees. Did you feel good helping your brother? asks Joey, and Phoebe says yes. “See? That makes you selfish. There is no such thing as a selfless good deed,” Joey smirks. “I’m gonna find a selfless good deed,” Phoebe declares—and the contest is on. 


Phoebe keeps trying to do a truly selfless good deed—but always ends up feeling good about it—or it ends up not really being a good deed. She rakes her elderly neighbor’s leaves—but he catches her and giver her cider and cookies, which makes her happy. She allows a bee to sting her so that “he will look tough in front of his bee friends,” she says—but Joey points out that the bee probably died afterward. 

Finally, she decides to call into the telethon and pledge $200—which is selfless because Phoebe is a struggling masseuse, and also because she hates PBS, even though she acknowledges it helps other people. She assures Joey that she hates doing it, because she had plans for that money, so voila—a selfless good deed. 
When Joey turns in the pledge paperwork, Phoebe’s pledge ends up being the one that breaks the previous year’s pledge total. Joey gets featured on TV—exactly what he had hoped for. Phoebe begins to cheer that Joey is being featured. Oh yay! It was HER pledge that got Joey featured! She exclaims, “That makes me so... OH NO!” and the episode ends (1)

Unlike the show’s writers, I think it’s great if we feel good about doing something selfless. But the thing that Jesus was urging his followers to do in sharing their table with the most outcast definitely falls within this question of motive and of giving to others. As we see repeatedly, who you ate and drank with in Jesus’s time wasn’t just a casual question, but one of order and respect for the entire community. 

That’s why some of Jesus’s critics were irate that he ate with tax collectors and women whose honor had been considered to be besmirched. Jesus wasn’t excluding the people that “decent people” excluded. Worse, Jesus seemed to keep throwing his lack of discrimination in the faces of the powers that be. His repeated urging of radical welcome and honor of all, when viewed from the outside, besmirched his own standing in the community. 


Meals at that time were a sign of one’s social status and honor as well as a time of celebration. And of course, our Christian worship as Anglicans is centered around a sacrificial meal of praise and thanksgiving that draws us into “communion” with each other and with God. But it does seem like an awful lot of time in the gospels is spent talking about eating and drinking. 

 But think about this. It’s not only that there were hundreds of rules in the Torah about what good Jews should eat or drink or touch. The very first story told about humans as individuals in the Bible talks about food, as theologian Alexander Schmemann points out. At the very end of chapter 1 in Genesis, God pronounces that God has given humankind every herb and fruit of trees to us as are good for our food. Schmemann puts it this way: 
Man must eat in order to live; he must take the world into his body and transform it into himself, into flesh and blood. He is indeed that which he eats, and the whole world is presented as one all-embracing banquet table for man. And this image of the banquet remains, throughout the whole Bible, the central image of life. "(2)


In other words, humanity is created hungry, and hunger has two dimensions. There is physical hunger, and despite the proliferation of packaged food and our distance from the sources of its production, nonetheless in most cases our food is a reminder of our ties to, dependence upon, and union with all of creation, of this beautiful, fragile Earth. Second, as we remember every weekend, there is the spiritual hunger that has brought us here, around this altar, despite our differences, to sit down at this table together and put aside all privileges of wealth or rank, all of us in communion rather than competition with each other. 

 And we all know that Schmemann’s quoting of Genesis 1:29 also left something out. In a few more verses, God put an asterisk on that offering of “every” herb and plant. And the second God did that, that became the thing we hungered for most of all. 

 Are we any different today? I don’t think so. Even non-religious people know what the phrase “forbidden fruit” means. When humans had the arrogance, or hubris, to be persuaded that they should be equal to God as depicted in that story, that’s when everything went sideways—and all the rest of the world bears the scars of that giving in to that temptation. Our reading from Jeremiah warns us about this too: rejecting God the living water so that we could dig our own cracked cisterns gets us into catastrophe every time.

Our greatest struggle as humans is to both live into the amazing gift of being made in the image of God, and at the same time to avoid letting that go to our heads and think that makes us able to do whatever we want. To restrain ourselves from arrogance and division by claiming the best place rather than simply rejoicing at everyone being invited to the banquet. Because we have been programmed to believe that there will never be enough for everyone, we then try to make sure we snatch and grab everything we can get before someone else does. But that’s not at all what Jesus advocates. 


Jesus points out that you can either have communion, or you can have competition. But not both. You can either serve yourself, or serve others. This meal in Jesus’s parable is a vehicle for Jesus to explain about how we should not have distinctions among each other, and be humble within the community. 

I think it’s marvelous that we are thinking about this on this particular weekend, which is, after all, Labor Day weekend. This is the one day of all the days in the year when we are called to be grateful for all that labor has done to create the world in which we live. 

I am a working class kid, the daughter of a union aircraft mechanic, the graddaughter of oilfield workers and sharecroppers, the great-granddaughter of farmers and homesteaders and Native Americans. I come from a long line of people who worked hard, every day, back-breaking labor that helped build this country and make it prosper. I still remember the scars on my grandmother's fingers that she bore to the end of her life, scars from picking cotton in the hot sun with her two twin babies strapped to her body.


It is vitally important that we honor, rather than look down on, the working people who now more than ever are just struggling to get by. And talking about meals brings us back to that idea for several reasons. After all, food does not appear out of a vacuum. It takes people, laborers, farmers to plant and tend and grow and harvest that food in its raw form. It takes other workers to process that food, to grind the wheat and butcher the hogs, and press and ferment the grapes and can the vegetables. 

What better time to hear Jesus talks about what honoring true community means, regardless of what we do for a living? What better time to be called to remember to give thanks for the benefits the labor movement have given to all of us, whether we work with our hands or not—things like the 8 hour day and the 5 day workweek and sick leave and workmen’s compensation and vacation and especially Mondays off from work. 

This egalitarian idea was a radical one, then and now. In Jesus’s time, normally good Jews did not share table fellowship with the poor and the disabled, but Jesus urges his followers to buck the conventions of the time in order to act with righteousness. This kind of meal together is truly communal, and reflects the “heavenly banquet” we anticipate in the kingdom of God, or in heaven, where we are welcomed to sit alongside the angels and the saints and the sinners. 

Jesus reminds us that it is better to humbly accept a lowly position than get above ourselves and be rebuked for putting on airs. Arrogance is destructive to community and breeds resentment. Arrogance is also corrosive to our understanding of ourselves as being interdependent upon each other. Another way of putting it is this: “The first must be last.” This paradoxical command, repeated throughout the gospels, reminds us how far our priorities are from those of the kingdom of God—then or now, when being first is so ingrained in our heads. 

The highly hierarchical world of Palestine in the first century CE is not how the kingdom of God is supposed to be—and a supposedly wealthy country isn’t very wealthy if one in five of its children go to bed poorly nourished. 

In our time, we are not so much concerned with where someone sits at a table. We Americans believe we are too egalitarian for such nonsense. A place at the table, though, that’s different. 

It wasn’t that long ago that black folk and white folk could not sit down to eat even in the same establishment, much less at the same table in a huge swath of the United States. We live in an economy today, however, in which just having a place at the table is nearly impossible for too many. It’s actually not very accurate to refer to a single economy in this country. 

When the wealthiest parts of Saint Louis County and Missouri still have a minimum of 22% of its children qualifying for free and reduced lunch, it is clear that this strong economy is not strong for everyone (3)

When we hear stories of children who do not qualify for free and reduced lunch, who are nonetheless shamed for having an overdue lunch bill by having their hot meal taken from 
them in some schools, thrown into the trash right in front of them and everyone else in line, and then given a cold lunch of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich until their parents erase their family’s debt(4), we know the benefits of this economy are not reaching everyone. 

When a small town of 50,000 like Enid, Oklahoma has an outstanding student lunch debt of $60,000—which inspires the local Episcopal church to offer $500 to at least try to make a dent in that obligation for some of the families in their community, we know we are not sharing our tables with everyone, especially those who are struggling (5). When one in five children in this state, and even out in the suburbs, are hungry without the means to assuage that hunger, a condition which now goes by the label “food insecure,” we know there is need a there that demands our attention and our will to solve it. 

When those who are lucky enough to qualify for SNAP benefits receive $126 per month to be used for 90 meals during that same month, it’s easy to see that that averages out to about $1.40 per meal. The last time I got a meal for $1.40, it was in junior high, and gas was a dollar a gallon and I couldn’t even drive. 


Think about that a little longer, and you will see why growing food in our parish garden and collecting dry goods every month for Circle of Concern is vital. And we have to realize that part of the problem is that the overall economy is not doing a good enough job of balancing the needs of workers to make a living wage and the needs of other people to make a profit—both of which are necessary, but neither of which can be an either/or proposition. 

Any country flourishes only when everyone has access to wages that can pay their bills—more money then gets circulated through more hands. Trust me, as I scrimped and saved and worked starting when I was eight and fought for a music scholarship to be the first person in my family to attend college, I can assure you that 100% of the money working class people earn goes right back into the economy as spending on necessities. 

Yet at the same time, I was helped by the fact that my father, in 1982, earned the same salary in actual dollars that mechanics at his company do today—and that is without accounting for inflation. Tuition at my alma mater has meanwhile increased from $4000 to $41000 dollars a year. I would no longer be able to afford to eat at that table as a working-class kid. That kind of debt would be too terrifying to contemplate. 

When Jesus urges us to invite everyone to the table, regardless of whether we get anything out of it, instead of seeing this as a burden, what if we saw it as a continuation of Jesus’s offering to us of freedom that we heard last week? What if we heard that call to eat and celebrate with everyone, especially those who are often overlooked or scorned, as offering US the freedom from running on the hamster wheel until we are ready to collapse? 

As we take this day off this week, may we be grateful for the blessing of getting off that wheel once and a while—of taking seriously the equality we all are called to share at meals or at leisure. May we honor the workers who have made our lives possible. And may we all sit down together at one table of brotherhood. May we seek to live in communion, not competition. 

Amen.


Preached at the 505 on August 31 and at 8:00 and 10:30 am on September 1, 2019, at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO.

Readings:
Jeremiah 2:4-13
Psalm 81:1, 10-16
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

References:
1) "A Selfless Good Deed," highlights from Season 5, Episode 4 of Friends, "The One Were Phoebe Hates PBS," originally shown on October 15, 1998, found on YouTube.

2) Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, p. 10.
3) Anne Cafer, Darren Chapman, Kathlee Freeman, and Sandy Rakoon, Missouri Hunger Atlas 2016, from the Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security, University of Missouri, 2016. Please read the entire report-- it is a devastating indictment of hunger in Missouri. You can find a .pdf of the report here: http://foodsecurity.missouri.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/20160708_New-Missouri-Hunger-Atlas-2016-text-final_3_full-doc-w-county-profiles.pdf
4) Vanessa Romo, "After Backlash, Rhode Island School District Rolls Back Lunch Shaming Policy," May 10, 2019, at NPR.org, https://www.npr.org/2019/05/10/722259141/after-backlash-rhode-island-school-district-rolls-back-lunch-shaming-policy
5) Mitchell Willets, "Local Church Pays off Emerson Middle School's Student Lunch Debt," at the Enid News & Eagle, August 29, 2019,  located at https://www.enidnews.com/oklahoma/news/local-church-pays-off-emerson-middle-school-s-student-lunch/article_5ae5d66c-75d2-5e5d-861f-7531ad9fe94e.html?fbclid=IwAR0Fbly1jjRcWpo_hIy2FDRXBX0nwSV_rWfjytg--LyNH_I9V8-xqL15lV4