The Messy Table and Spaces In Between
2007-08-29 by Dee Dee Haines
At the church I am serving, we’ve just started inviting children of all ages to The Table. We did this with much prayer and education, following the policy of the Methodist Church in the United Kingdom, leaving the option open so that parents who were not comfortable with the change could direct their children to ‘wait until confirmation’ before they participated in this Holy Feast.
In our study time, we talked through the theological issues, but never approached the subject that has now become an area of concern for many: The Messy Table. This fairly large congregation worships in a towering sanctuary, encircled with a large, now empty, balcony, on a foundation that dates over one hundred years. This ancient and still beautiful, stone space lends itself to an atmosphere, and theology, of reverent and quiet holiness. Members come forward to the rail to kneel and receive the bread and wine. All of this coming and going takes a considerable amount of time, and patience.
The Table of Abundance no longer looks like the picture of order and cleanliness. We now have crumbs on the floor and wine glasses on their sides, sometime spilling the last drops that may have been overlooked by a child whose nervous enthusiasm exceeded the need to be tidy. The quiet has been interrupted by the whispers and giggles of youngsters while they wait for the gift and hear the words, “This is bread from heaven. You eat it and remember Jesus.” The children come with a kind of wonder and anticipation that invites all of us to a fresh memory as we eat, drink and remember him.
I anticipate talking about the messiness of our lives and our world. In our longing to shape the world into some kind of order, we often overlook, or exclude, any one or any thing that may distract us from our own perception of holy and pleasing in God's sight. But here, in the mess, is the space where God’s holy presence consecrates the ground on which we stand. In the midst of birth and death, where human suffering is most raw and untidy, this is where God dwells. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “Where the understanding is outraged, where human nature rebels, where our piety keeps a nervous distance: there, precisely there, God loves to be; there he baffles the wisdom of the wise; there he vexes our nature, our religious instincts. There he wants to be, and no one can prevent him.” (The Mystery of Holy Night, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, November 25, 1996)
To consider our own place at The Table is to consider how we make a place for others at a table that belongs, thankfully, to Jesus himself. To underestimate our place leaves us feeling unloved and of little worth. Overestimating our place creates an arrogance that bends our sense of self into idolatry. Christ has placed a name card there for each of us. The invitation is not only for a holy meal. It is a calling to a life of discipleship where holy encounters shape and sustain us. Who knows what may be discovered in the places where we least expect to be changed? What might we learn from the unexpected dinner guest?
Perhaps there is something to be considered in investigating “opposites” as we contemplate higher or lower, humbled or exalted. How do we describe the space in between? Surely, this is the place where we most often dwell.
Dee Dee Haines
Isle of Man
Response to Reader Question
2007-08-28 by David Schlafer
I have been asked to say a bit more about the meaning of the final sentence in my Preaching the Lesson entry for this week--i.e. my caution against "flattening out the words of Luke's Jesus about status and service by abstracting them from the rich narrative texture of their immediate setting and the dramatic context of Luke's narrative as a whole." The article is, in fact, an explicit attempt to avoid such a flattening.
Taken at face value, the passage leads immediately to a puzzle: "what could Jesus possibly have meant with his socially obnoxious behavior and his practically unhelpful advice?"
The preacher's temptation is to fix on the words of Jesus per se, in isolation from the dramatic action of his healing the hapless dropsy victim; and then to work toward rendering those words somehow intelligible and edifying in their own right.
That will not work, I think, since these words are injected as an intervention upon a multi-dimensional addiction--one which is central to the immediate context, and integral to the whole of Luke's Gospel
Only if the preacher explores that richer, wider, more dynamic setting (with resonating references to the dynamics of addiction in our own power-hungry culture), will the words of Luke's Jesus effect the same illumination as we may assume they did for their original hearers.
Let God be God (September 2)
2007-08-28 by John Carr
As it happens, I'm preaching this Sunday (I also wrote Pastoral Implications for this week). As I have been doing my own preparation, I realized that I might have said more about the fact that Jesus is addressing the Pharisees, perhaps the ultimate stereotype of the "God-player" -- who were keeping an eye on him. I did assume that some attention would be given to this in the exegetical essay.
Also, I need to do a "mea culpa." I made a reference to vs. 10 of the Jeremiah passage. The vs. 10 to which I am referring is in Jeremiah 1 -- i.e. my eye slipped over to the previous page as I was thinking about the interaction of the Jeremiah passage with the other passages.
Here is how I see the passages from the Psalms and Hebrews. Since, in our congregation, we read the psalms responsively, I'm having it introduced with these words. Responsive Psalm 81: 1, 10-16: "In this psalm, we enact the internal conversation God is having about the ungrateful stubbornness of the people Israel. Undoubtedly, God -- at least sometimes – has this internal conversation about us."
Here is the introduction to the Hebrews passage. Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16: "This passage is about how the followers of Jesus are to serve others. We do not have to appease God’s anger by offering animal sacrifices. Rather, in Jesus, we come to know God as One who simply asks that we focus our attention on the needs of others, rather than just being concerned about our own wants and needs."
For me, these passages provide further context for the Luke passage.
John C. Carr, Ph.D., Reg. Psychologist (Alberta # 1035)
Pastoral Therapy & Education
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Confusion, Pericope Group, and the Readings
2007-08-28 by David von Schlichten
This morning, at our Tuesday pastors' pericope group, we came up with the following thoughts about Sunday's readings:
While sitting there, I wondered what I was going to have for lunch (Luke's gospel makes me hungry). More importantly, I found myself struggling anew with the idea that Jesus would teach us to take the place of humility in order to be exalted. Surely, Jesus is not saying that, is he?
Therefore, after pericope group (and lunch; I had fish), I returned to Aida Besancon Spencer's “Exegesis” article in LH this week, as well as John C. Carr's “Pastoral Implications” article. After revisiting those two pieces, I understand in a firmer, more enduring way that Jesus is not condoning false humility for the seeking of personal gain. His main point is “ [ . . . ] [A]ll who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (v.11). Verse eleven is the key to understanding Jesus' point.
In other words, Jesus tells the “parable” of where to sit at a banquet to make this point about humility. That is, he is using the situation in front of him to make a larger point about living in the kingdom of God. He is not merely giving advice for people on how to sit at table; such instruction simply does not fit with the larger context of Jesus' teachings in Luke 14, let alone in the Gospels in general. This proverbial wisdom of Jesus is much more.
After all, Jesus goes on to stress inviting people who cannot pay you back, people who cannot reward you. He is concerned about way more than simply doing that which makes a person look good.
Eugene Peterson's piquant paraphrase of this verse in The Message is nourishing: “If you walk around with your nose in the air, you're going to end up flat on your face. But if you're content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
Then there's the hospitality theme, which got me thinking anew about Ozzfest, a day long series of heavy metal rock concerts that I had the misfortune to attend last Friday, but I'll write more about that literally hellish experience and the theme of hospitality tomorrow.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, poedifier
Highlights of this Week's "LH" Articles
2007-08-28 by David von Schlichten
I wish Jesus would sit at my table and take the food away from me before I overeat. “Take away this day my daily Oreos.”
Seriously, here are some gleanings from this week's Lectionary Homiletics texts to ruminate on.
Aida Besancon Spencer points out that Jesus is not saying that we can never invite our friends, relatives, and rich neighbors to our table but that we are not to be in the habit of inviting only such people (Jesus uses the present imperative, “do not keep inviting”). Further, he is challenging the idea of seeking earthly reward, teaching that we should seek reward from God instead.
SEE THE SAMPLES SECTION FOR AIDA'S ENTIRE ARTICLE, AS WELL AS ROGER GENCH'S "THEOLOGICAL THEMES" ARTICLE.
John C. Carr makes numerous excellent points about psychology and the texts for Sunday, including the Gospel reading. The reading from Luke seems to reward passive-aggressive behavior; be humble to manipulate others into rewarding you. Carr stresses that lectionary and historical context are crucial for a proper understanding of this passage. In addition, people often play God, exalting themselves, and such a role is deleterious psychologically for the person playing God and for those who regard that person as God-like.
Carr concludes with the understanding that the Gospel reading warns against playing God, exalting oneself, while Psalm 112 and Hebrews 13 provide a supplement that helps people to see that healthful self-esteem arises when humans act as humans and regard God alone as God.
Lesson and the Arts
Johan van Parys writes of several paintings germane to the Gospel reading. One especially noteworthy is Veronesi's (1528-1588) depiction of the Last Supper called “Dinner at the House of Levi.” The painting shows Jesus and the Twelve surrounded by people from all strata and lifestyles. Van Parys was accused of heresy for including low-class people at the Last Supper, so the title was changed to end the controversy. Van Parys points out that Jesus does indeed welcome all kinds of people to the Table, so the painting, in a sense, is correct. Further, if Jesus is so welcoming, we are to be likewise.
Alex Gondola summarizes a sermon by W. Robert McLelland in which the preacher makes the point that we are reared to be self-effacing but that, at God's banquet, God has made us the guests of honor. We are to think of ourselves in this manner. Of course, such an honor brings with it responsibility.
Later, Gondola summarizes a sermon by Richard W. Patt in which Patt explains a difference between entertaining and hospitality. Entertaining is about the host showing the guests that he or she is perfect at hosting. We hosts want to exhibit how lovely our home is, how delicious our food. With hospitality, coming across as perfect is not the goal. Rather, the goal is, as the etymology of “hospitality” suggests, to provide shelter and healing (like a hospice or hospital).
As usual, the writers have given us much to feast on, so I'll be chewing away without, for once, having to worry about gaining weight. More to come.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, poedifier
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