Sunday, 28 August 2016

Can't make it to church? 28th August 2016

Over the years I have found myself in the company of clergy who did all the stuff that today’s readings speak of.

One of them, upon entering a function would immediately make for the top table to see where they were sitting. More often than not they'd return a bit later most upset because they were sitting with the rest of us.

Arriving at an event with a few of us clergy present, this same person rushed off to the VIP lounge to rub shoulders with the privileged, great and good only to return red-faced and ticking because they ‘weren’t on the list’! 

“Don’t they know who I am?’ they muttered. “They do, that’s why he’s not in,” said a colleague in perhaps a little too loud an aside. Oh how we laughed (well most of us)!

There have always been those who will invite the boss to dinner in the hope that it will help their careers and, sadly, Church is no different ! Even in Church there are those who will seek the company of those who might help them progress. It must be a real pain being a bishop because there's always someone around them hoping to be noticed.  Not oddly perhaps, I have spent most of my life trying to avoid being noticed!

Jesus offers some great advice today: “Don’t set yourself up to be embarrassed; go sit out of the limelight and, should people wonder where you are, enjoy the approval of those who call you up to a place of honour."

When it comes to putting on dinners and functions and the like, Jesus tells us to invite those who cannot invite us back in return – that doesn’t sit well with the way many think,does it? 

One of the curses of ‘polite’ society is the ‘invite them back’ syndrome. Someone invites you to their house for a meal and immediately they feel obliged to invite you back because they ‘have’ to. I have always struggled with this; I’m happy not to be invited back (as a friend put it: ‘One  evening with them was enough thank you’) especially if it’s merely done because of social convention. I want to be invited back because there is a relationship, or the hint of one developing, and that’s what Christianity is all about: relationship and right actions.

I’ve eaten with the homeless on many occasions and been blessed by their company; not a boast but a statement of joy - and that's what Jesus calls us to be - joyful in our encounters with others.

Jesus, the Christ, comes into the world seeking to make the love of God real; doing the stuff and building relationships with people. He rebukes those who do the outwardly showy stuff (look at His take on prayer and fasting in Matthew 6) and wants things to be freely given without expectations, strings attached of costs counted. He doesn’t want us to suck up to Him but wants us to live a life that pleases God and serves and blesses those around us.

Our Hebrews passage supports this as it calls us to show hospitality to each other. We have always had an open door for people – if they come then they are welcome – and generally we don’t do invites, we do ‘always welcome’. We do it formally with the Christmas day meal and informally every day of the year besides. I’d love people to ring or knock - to just turn up and spend time with me. That's the role of the Christian minister: People!

Hebrews speaks of relationships with each other, in marriage and also with money. 

The first comes through one-to-one and group dynamics – (note to self: We need more church socials).

 The Church supports marriage as it appears in the Bible and is actively engaged in making love, fidelity and commitment a reality; something positive to be applauded and sought after. 

But we tend to fall down on the money thing – we are so taken up with numbers (giving, attendance and the like) that we fail to see the Grace god has bestowed upon us. We are so concerned with numbers that we look more and more like a business and less and less like the people of God. And why do we do it? 

Because, deep down, we want to be sitting in the limelight.

We want to be someone associated with ‘success’ but sometimes success is the very thing that shows people how much we have failed and how far from the Church Christ came to build we have come.

When we are more concerned at people coming to swell our numbers (people and cash) than becoming saved, then all is lost and we become as bankrupt as our bank accounts suggest. We serve a God who is unchanging: Whose love is constant and whose provision is without limit. 

God is calling us to stop looking at spreadsheets and start looking at hearts (ours first) and to build relationships, not structures. Not to count the cost but to count our blessings.

And the place of honour – let’s leave that for the last day in the hope that we will hear the words, “Well done, My good and faithful servant!’

Proverbs 25.6-7
Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among his great men; it is better for him to say to you, ‘Come up here,’ than for him to humiliate you before his nobles.

Hebrews 13.1-8, 15-16
Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’

So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?’

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Luke 14.1, 7-14
Jesus noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table, so he told them this parable: ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, “Give this person your seat.” Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, “Friend, move up to a better place.” Then you will be honoured in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

The Collect
Merciful God, your Son came to save us and bore our sins on the cross: may we trust in your mercy and know your love, rejoicing in the righteousness that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Post Communion prayer
Lord God, the source of truth and love, keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, united in prayer and the breaking of bread, and one in joy and simplicity of heart, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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