Just out of curiosity, how many of you could use $12 million? Imagine how $12 million could change your life. More than likely it would set any of us up for the rest of our lives.
Real Estate billionaire Leona Helmsley died earlier this month and some terms of her will were disclosed. Most of her assets, worth billions, will be sold and given to the Trust she and her late husband established.
Some of her fortune was given to family members. But while two of her grandchildren were excluded from her will, Trouble got $12 million. You heard me right, Trouble got $12 Million.
Trouble is a white Maltese. That’s right. Her dog got $12 Million.
And her dog will be buried with she and her husband and there is $3 Million in the will to take care of the mausoleum. Some people are buried with their pets–not so uncommon. But $12 Million. Oh and the chauffeur got $100k.
I reminded you last week of Jesus’ definition of true disciples in the book of Luke. In Luke disciples are found in the parables and historical accounts. They are the small and the oppressed, the weak and the humble.
Jesus first sermon in Luke is based in his reading of Isaiah 61 in the synagogue. He read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Two chapters later, Jesus gives a sermon in which he pronounces blessings and woes: blessed are the poor, woe to the rich; blessed are the hungry, woe to the full, etc.
So then the book of Luke is a collection of contrasts; those who are blessed and those who do not get it. Last week we heard that the ‘first will be last and the last first.’ This week ‘those who humble themselves will be exalted and those who are exalted will be humbled.’
Jesus’ teachings today are no exception. Key also to the book of Luke is table fellowship. Scene after scene take place at the dinner table. The Pharisees have their knickers in a knot about Jesus eating and drinking with sinners and Jesus sees these meals as the best times to rebuke the Pharisees.
Today’s teachings of Christ again take place at a meal. The Scripture doesn’t identify the owner of the house, only that it was a “leader of the Pharisees.” If Luke meant this technically, then this man was second only to the Sanhedrin, that is the Temple leaders, in influence. One who held this post lead the people to accept Herod the Great, the one who was king when Jesus was born, and was greatly rewarded by Herod in wealth and political influence. Whether this was ‘the’ leader of the Pharisees or just one who was a top leader, we know that he was a man of great influence and prestige. He was influential among kings and common folk and he was probably a very wealthy man. He was a ‘who’s who’ and probably had the arrogance to match. Mix that together with an extreme devotion to the strict interpretation of the law, and you’ve got quite a combination of pride and spiritual influence. And you can tell he had some clout because he and his fellows were ‘watching Jesus carefully.’
Jesus ruins the party. First, he heals a man with dropsy. Dropsy is a swelling of the legs due to fluid retention. Sometimes it occurs around the face as well. In ancient times, it was seen as the judgment of God. Jesus heals the man on the Sabbath which was part one of his problem.
Then Jesus goes into his monologue, critiquing those at the party who chose the seats of honor. In the ancient world a table was U shaped and the seats of honor were those at the ‘head’ or the bottom of the U.
Jesus point is obvious. Don’t take the seat of honor. I always take his words to heart as I do many weddings and funerals. I never assume, that, as the priest, I will be at the so called ‘head table.’ I rarely am. I would be very embarrassed if I tried to sit in a place that wasn’t chosen for me.
But Jesus is talking about so much more than party etiquette. He is talking about so much more than offending one’s host. He then tells a parable about the Great Banquet. Not just a dinner party, but the Banquet of Heaven.
First he tells the ruler of the Pharisees, who by the way is seething at this point, not to invite the influential dinner but to invite, ‘the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’
Then Jesus tells the parable of the Great Banquet.
Jesus is turning the way these religious leaders think on its head. He is looking for a new model of relating to the world and relating to God. The poor are blessed. You are blessed when you love the poor and the downtrodden. You make a difference in the world when you do this and the banquet of God is full. He is taking a page from prophets like Amos. What does this look like?
I read this week about World Vision’s Indian head, Jayakumar Christian. Through the efforts of World Vision in India the poor are gaining power while the old system is losing it. What World Vision is directly addressing is child slavery. If someone is indebted to someone else, they can give their child as payment to do jobs for the debtor, without the freedom to go to school or to be a child. World Vision has made an impact and not only has changed some laws, the poor are seeing God’s hand at work. And not just any god. It is Jesus who is making an impact. Jayakumar says, [the culture] talks a lot about God, but ‘What is the name of this God who is involved with the poor?’ Jesus.
Another obvious example is Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa had a dramatic experience with Jesus one day on a train. He appeared next to her and said that he wanted her to go and love him among the poorest of the poor. Many examples have been written about how she did just that. And she loved even without that love returned.
David Scott, in his biography of Mother Teresa writes this about her:
One day, Mother Teresa took in a woman off the streets of Calcutta. Her body was a mess of open sores infested with bugs. Mother Teresa patiently bathed her, cleaning and dressing her wounds. The woman never stopped shrieking insults and threats at her. Mother Teresa only smiled.
Finally, the woman snarled, “Sister, why are you doing this? Not everyone behaves like you. Who taught you?”
She replied simply, “My God taught me.” When the woman asked who this god was, Mother Teresa kissed her on the forehead and said: “You know my God. My God is called love.”
So many stories are written about her just helping people to die. A new way of thinking. A new way of relating to God and the world.
Jesus, though, has some tough words for us. Not only is he addressing the way we relate to the poor, he is addressing one, our arrogance and our excuses. Let me explain.
Is it not our propensity to pay more attention to the rich and famous than the not so rich or famous? Is it not our propensity to look to the seats of honor and to the places where the most influential people reside? The Episcopal Church historically has been the place where the elite in the culture reside. More than a dozen of our presidents have Episcopal ties in some ways.
Our churches were founded, in many ways on attracting the elite and the upper crust.
There are many reasons why the Episcopal Church is in trouble. Some of it has to do with doctrine and morality. But there is a mind set that is inherent to our way of doing things–and I’m not talking about liturgy or things the church has been doing since the beginning. I’m talking about our gin and lace and wine and cheese mentality. Our inability to love those who are not as educated or successful as we are. Would we even have considered looking to Africa for how to do church 30 years ago like we are now? God is forcing us to look hard at how we have behaved in arrogance and is humbling us.
There is another thing Jesus wants to address. It is interesting that those who were invited to the banquet made excuse after excuse. What is also interesting is that the same phrase Luke uses for the apostles in the upper room ‘being in one accord’ also applies to these in the parable of Jesus. They were all ‘in one accord’ about excuses.
I can’t come to the banquet because…
What does the Lord say? If you won’t come, I’ll choose someone else to come until my house is full. If Hilltop or Cherry Creek or Crestmoor won’t come, I’ll go somewhere else. And actually, God sends his servants, that’s you and me–to go out to the highways and byways to bring in the poor, the maimed and the blind and whoever will come–so that his house will be filled.
One of the difficulties with a church as old as ours is that we focus on survival or getting by rather than a real mission or purpose. It is very common.
Papa Boyd is 80 today and he is always talking about getting God’s house in order. And he does one heckuva job.
We’ve been struggling for terminology of what we want to do here. Renovation? Renewal? Those are great.
I read an article recently that used language I’d like us to prayerfully consider:
Epiphany was planted 66 years ago with a mind set that we were going to watch a charismatic leader do his thing.
We need to be replanted with the mind set that God is going to do his thing. What does that look like? Repent and be open to people we were not open to before. God may very well be living out Jesus’ parable of the banquet in our midst.
Also, remember that we renew even the building, something of ourselves is renewed and it shows that we have purpose.
But renewing the building is not enough. We need to replant our church. We need a new way to relate to God and to this world.
My prayer has always been for the Lord to bring those who are hungry for him to this place. Will you pray the same thing? Renew and replant. With whoever God brings to our doors!