08/28/2022 ~ Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Proper 17 ~ Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Sirach 10:12-18 or Proverbs 25:6-7; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/744244171
“One Sabbath, when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal, the guests were watching closely.” — Luke 14:1
I don’t know how many of you are aware of this but my wife, Bonnie, is fairly good at the game of golf. You see, she learned when she was a teen and played a lot in her twenties and early thirties.
I have, in fact, seen her break 100. She will sometimes even break 90. For those unfamiliar with the game, the lower the score the better. Breaking 100 is good; breaking 90 is better.
However, that she is good at golf means she made a mistake when she married me. I was not a golfer. So, when we got married that meant there was one way we were not able to share time together— golfing. As a consequence, her game got neglected— my fault.
She did still want to play, so once we moved to Norwich 25 years ago she made golfing more of a project. And I was a part of that project. Which is to say, about 25 years ago, I took up the game.
To be clear, even now, all these years later, I am an awful golfer and that despite Bonnie’s sound tutelage and encouragement. But why would I want to better her? Can you imagine that headline in the newspaper? “Pastor Beats Wife.” That wouldn’t look good, would it.
I also need to be clear about our current golf situation. First, because of all that was involved in moving back to Maine and then because of that little hiccup called the pandemic neither of us has touched a club for a long, long time. We are both out of practice.
So, if anyone here wants to volunteer to take us out on the Mere Creek Course, introduce us to the Mere Creek, just so we can become familiarized with it, please let us know. We’ll even pay your greens fees.
Now, as poorly as I play the game and believe me it’s not good I really, really like it. And I like to play it right. What does playing it right mean? There is a lot to the game of golf besides just hitting the ball. One of the prime aspects, something Bonnie taught me, is called golf etiquette, the manners one maintains on the course.
Among these customs are: the player with the lowest score on the previous hole in a round tees off on the next hole first. On the fairway or on the green, the player closest to the hole shoots last. Finally, on the green, one does not step onto an imaginary line between the ball of another player and the hole.
You see, when someone walks on a green with spikes— spikes, standard footwear when golfing— small holes are left in the grass, the turf. So, the surface on the grass is made a little more rough when walked on it and it becomes a little more difficult to hit a straight putt.
Of course, if you’re playing at five in the afternoon, it’s likely dozens of people have walked on that line already. Still, one is not supposed walk in the line of another player, despite that in reality it’s probably been trampled on a number of times. It’s the etiquette one observes. (Slight pause.)
These words are from the Gospel known as Luke: “One Sabbath, when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal, the guests were watching closely.” (Slight pause.)
Eating is essential for life. But this story is not just about food. This is clearly a dinner with social significance.
For the people we find in this passage it was a dinner to which a certain class, a certain group were invited. So, there is a sharing of values, a settled, agreed upon etiquette, rules, just in having a meal. Etiquette— like a set of rules on the golf course— sometimes it means something, sometimes no so much.
At this meal the status and rank of individuals are legitimatized both by their inclusion in the guest list and by their location on the seating chart. Those who first heard or read the words of this narrative would have understood the meal as a symbol for the in-breaking of God, the anticipated rule of God. And for them, when it came to the reality of God, what they believed about the rules in relation to God, the rules were paramount. The rules, the etiquette was decisive. (Slight pause.)
Now you may have noticed I give my sermons titles. I called this one Orthodox. But what does the word orthodox mean? According to the dictionary, it means adhering to the accepted or traditional, established faith, especially in religion.
And yes, therefore some might take orthodox to simply mean following the established rules, a little like not stepping on the line of a ball on the green. But does orthodox really mean simply and only following the rules?
After all, Jesus does a number of things here that don’t follow the established rules of the game. With everyone watching, Jesus heals on the Sabbath. That’s against the rules.
Then, with everyone watching, Jesus tells the parable about who sits where at the table. Since the rules of this era state that the status and rank of individuals are legitimatized by their inclusion in the guest list and by their location on the seating chart, this kind of social occasion is the power lunch of the era.
But Jesus says the table and therefore the Dominion of God, the Realm of God, is not about those kinds of rules since all these rules really and only address who has power. Jesus, in fact, suggests the etiquette, the rules they follow, are wrong since they are about power.
Jesus then proposes a different group be invited to the next “power lunch”— those who are poor, those who have physical infirmities, those who cannot see. This list includes not only those beyond the categories of family, friends and well off neighbors, the ones usually invited to the table. Those on this list are, by Jewish law, by the rules, the unclean, the unworthy.
The rules make them unclean and being unclean they are, thereby, not worthy of sitting at this table. Hence, what Jesus proposes is a social system without reciprocity, without payback. (Slight pause.)
So, what are the rules? What does it mean to be orthodox? I think in the eyes of Jesus to be orthodox means loving God and loving neighbor. Those are the rules, the only rules. That is the etiquette which needs to be followed. Is it possible what Jesus says makes those who heard it uncomfortable? Yes.
That having been said, as we gather as a church let us remember not just those who are here. Let us remember all those who might feel excluded in our midst.
Please notice, I did not say let us remember all those whom we might exclude. I am not saying we might exclude anyone.
I am saying let us remember all those who might, for whatever reason, feel excluded. What I am saying is their feeling is not their problem. Their feeling is our problem. And perhaps, just perhaps, that makes us feel uncomfortable. (Slight pause.)
This is the bottom line: we need to remember we are brothers and sisters in Christ of everyone, no exceptions. Hence we need to follow the etiquette of love Jesus espouses. And the etiquette of love Jesus espouses suggests the only rule which counts is the discipline, the rule called love.
And within that love, within that etiquette Jesus describes, we need to not just welcome the outcast. We need to stand with the outcast, in solidarity with the outcast— tall order. Amen.
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Benediction. This, then, is an précis of what the pastor said before the blessing: “Organized religion of many flavors often stresses ritual and rules at the expense of justice and at the expense of deep, unconditional love. But Jesus took as radical a stand as anyone ever did. Jesus insisted the essence of the ancestral religion known as Judaism be observed with a deeply held sense of justice, a deeply held morality. Because of that Jesus denounced the fusion of paying attention to only rites or rules while being indifference to justice and love as an abomination. Jesus also suggested that rites and rules, unlike justice and love, were dispensable.”
BENEDICTION: Let God’s love be our first awareness each day. Let God’s love flow through our every activity. Let us rejoice that God frees us to be witnesses for God. Let us understand every day as a new adventure in faith because the creator draws us into community. And may we love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. May we be so in awe of God, that we are in awe of no one else and nothing else. Amen.