Message for August 16, 2020
Text: Luke 14:7-24
Although the Parable of the Great Banquet is included in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, usually it’s Matthew’s version that gets read in churches that follow the lectionary schedule of scripture readings for worship. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ telling of the parable is set against the backdrop of Holy Week; it is one of the controversial teachings that Jesus tells in Jerusalem, which sparks the ire of the religious authorities. In Luke, however, it’s not clear what town Jesus is in when he tells this story — and he tells it while he is actually sitting at a meal, in the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees.
I didn’t have Albert read this part, but the meal (in Luke) begins with a controversial healing that Jesus performs — controversial because it occurs on the Sabbath. Then Jesus proceeds to confront the guests and the host in turn, coaching them on their customs with regard to entertaining, before telling the provocative dinner story. It must have been one memorable occasion.
Jesus’ advice on the value of humility is not only applicable to “table manners” today. In fact, when it comes to structural racism, for those of us who are white and supposedly “forward thinking,” it’s our arrogance which has got in the way of real progress, actually undermining advancement and keeping the structures of racism firmly in place. So asserts Dr. Robin DiAngelo of the book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. We’ve sort of been “sold a bill of goods,” she says, with all the messaging about being a “colorblind society,” “past all that race stuff,” so that pointing out race, after the 1960s, became something taboo among “good,” “politically correct” white people. The reality of difference therefore wasn’t really allowed to be celebrated — which would have been part of real progress — and the reality of the inequalities that have persisted in our society was also not pointed out and resisted. Times may be changing now — but a key factor in making the changes lasting will be those of us who are white learning to acknowledge the unearned privileges we have gained from this racist system that we’ve all been steeped in, learning to recognize the more subtle forms of racism, and then actively and publicly resisting and interrupting them when we see them. That requires courage, a dose of humility, and the development of a tougher skin when it comes to being confronted with our own harmful patterns.
It’s also wise to hold in our hearts, not just Jesus’ words about humility in general, but the alternative image he paints, of the kingdom of God as a great banquet, at which the poor, the disabled, the disenfranchised have a special place — and to consider what we are doing to make space at our tables.
In our Zoom conversations last Wednesday, we talked about our community Thanksgiving Dinner event. There was a sentiment expressed that people’s race is “not noticed” at this event, though I really have to push back on that contention, given our strong socialization about “colorblindness.” There was also a belief expressed that there is genuine community building that happens when we gather for this meal. But I have to ask, how could we do better? How is racism still being supported through the way this ministry is carried out? How could we make the table sharing that has happened in the past — both in our church building and in our homes — more regularly and more closely reflect God’s dream for a Beloved Community? For that matter, how can the spirit of inclusion and gratitude, which motivates that annual event, spill over into our other interactions with neighbors, in the way we think about those who have fewer material resources and those who have to overcome more obstacles, and impact our desire to speak out and act for more just structures, more equitable treatment of all people, and more equitable distribution of resources?
And how can we keep reflecting, speaking, praying and acting in the midst of the new obstacles presented to us by the grim reality of the COVID-19 pandemic? What are godly “table manners” in a time when health and safety concerns keep us from sharing space with those outside of our households? How can we advocate for equal and just access to the things that make for feasting and thriving: well-compensated, honest work with safe work conditions, education, health care, public safety, voting rights and voting access, healthy food, clean water, human dignity?
Remember, this great banquet, that Jesus speaks of, is about more than just a meal. It is a picture of the Kingdom of God. Are we going to be among those “too busy,” too distracted and “too important,” in our own eyes, to accept the invitation to take part in the building of a banquet kingdom where those who live at the fringes, without access to power and the resources needed to thrive, are invited in as equal partners at the table? If we decline that invitation, we may well find ourselves unable to taste the sweetness of God’s kingdom, and find ourselves impoverished indeed.
A word for those who may be feeling some discomfort as we’ve delved into the challenging scriptures of the past couple of weeks, who may feel unease at the sight of some of the images we’ve meditated on in worship, or who have not much taken to the topics addressed by our Wednesday Zoom groups: I hope you are still tuning in.
As many of you know, I have been getting acupuncture treatments for psoriatic arthritis pain over the past four months, and experiencing positive results. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is believed that pain is caused by stagnation. Activating certain points along the energy pathways in the body, while uncomfortable, unblocks that stagnation, enabling life energy (called qi) to flow freely and allowing healing to happen. This is how to find freedom from pain.
I think of racism, not only as a form of evil that oppresses people of color, but as a wound on the white soul, and our discomfort is needed to release the stagnation, caused by inaction and “white silence,” that keeps that pain bottled up, causing untold damage. This internal work can be profoundly uncomfortable but it is needed to save lives.
Proverbs 15:32-33 reads:
Those who refuse discipline despise themselves,
But those who listen to correction gain understanding.
The fear of the Lord is wise instruction,
And humility comes before respect. (CEB)
May we be willing to stand humbly — before the God of grace, and in the presence of our brothers and sisters who have been wronged by the system that has benefited us — and may we build a banquet table which makes room for all. Amen.