If it's been awhile since you've played a game with a child, I'd like to refresh your memory this morning. You may think that the rules are written right on the box so that people know how to play the game; but if you've ever played with a child, and I won't name any specific children here, then you know that the rules are really written on the box to prevent people from making up their own rules. Just last weekend on a rainy morning as my children and I were playing a card game I had to put my foot down because they kept asking why they couldn't play it their way-- and why did it matter? It wasn't that the rules of the box are better than their rules-- it's that if we play by the rules of the box, then they don't make up rules as we go. We all hate to lose, don't we? And when my girls, or my big brother when I was little, or the leaders on the playground, or even, I will admit, even I, at times, find that I am getting behind, then we all have a tendency to want to change the rules-- to figure out a way to get ahead again.
And of course what inevitably happens, is that if the rules are working for me, I don't want to change them. And if they aren't working for me, then I'm all for the change.
In our Gospel this morning, Jesus has gone to the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees who has invited him to a meal. We are told from the start that they are watching him closely. They aren't sure what to make of him yet. And he knows this. If there's one thing you can't peg on Jesus, it's naïveté. Jesus is very strategic about what he is doing, about how frequently word gets out about what he is doing, and about who is watching him do it. As he is on this day. He is at the Pharisees' home, as a guest, and there is someone there with a disease like edema-- he is swollen. We aren't told that the man even asks Jesus for healing. Jesus sees the man and asks the Pharisees and lawyers, "Does the Law allow healing on the Sabbath or not?" And their response? They are silent. And he heals the man. Rule number one- no work on the Sabbath- broken.
Then Jesus looks around at the dinner. And he notices the full hierarchical seating arrangement that is happening and the ways that people are trying to get better seats and he tells them a parable. And for the first time, it seems Jesus does not know what a parable is. Because a parable is usually a story about something totally different that points to truth. But here, Jesus just seems to give them advice about when you are at a dinner like this, that you should sit at a seat lower than you might think of yourself, and when the host sees you in the wrong seat, he or she will invite you to take a higher seat. Well as humble as this may sound, it stirs up the pecking order. We've all seen it happen-- when someone decides to sit where they "shouldn't be" it shines a light on the absurdity of the rules that are in place. The Pope choosing to eat dinner at a homeless shelter; Ezell Blair, Franklin McKain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond who sat at a lunch counter in Greensboro, NC in 1960 and threatened an entire way of life. We can trick ourselves into believing that Jesus is just talking about how to not make a fool of ourselves at a dinner party, but the stakes are much higher than that. Jesus is asking us to focus not on the question, "where shall I sit?"-- to focus not on ourselves and our own status and making the game work for us, but instead to ask, "how can I serve?" And turn the game entirely on its head. Rule number two-- always follow social norms-- broken.
And then Jesus follows it all up by telling the people at the dinner party-- the ones who were honored enough to get invited to a Pharisee leader's home-- to make sure not to invite people to their homes who can return the favor. No quid pro quo; no "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." Instead, invite the lame and the poor and the blind and the crippled, and you will be rewarded in heaven. Rule number three- now that you've been invited to the Pharisee Leader's home you owe him a favor-- broken.
If you read on in the Gospel, you'll find many more examples. Many more rules that Jesus challenged day in and day out. But the difference between the rules that Jesus broke and the rules we are so tempted to make up is that none of them benefited himself. He kept breaking the rules to show us what God's Kingdom looks like and in so doing people were healed-- in all senses of the word-- physically healed, emotionally healed, and given courage to lean on God and get their worth from God's love rather than seeing themselves as worthless in the system they lived in.
And Jesus calls us to do the same. It's one of the reasons why we're revamping our 3rd Saturday Community Meal. It's wonderful that for over 20 years we have fed people for free on the 3rd Saturday of the month. What an achievement! What a service to those who are hungry. What has also happened, is that there is a very clear distinction between who has the food-- members of ours who are serving it; and who doesn't have the food-- the people who walk in the door. So we are wanting to change that. It's why I've been encouraging you all to come and eat lunch at church on 3rd Saturdays. It's why we want to form relationships with people who are coming and invite them to help serve or clean up or participate in leadership in some way. When we are able to blur the lines of who "really needs" the meal and who doesn't; when we are able to blur the lines of who is helping whom; when we are able to see each other as people-- all in need of the grace of God and in need of sharing that grace; then God's Kingdom will be more evident. Who is to say who "needs" the 3rd Saturday meal? Some of us are hungry for food; others of us are hungry for community; and others of us are hungry to be able to serve one another. But all of us are hungry.
That's what Jesus' breaking down of the rules shows us so clearly. Jesus wants us to see that we are lying to ourselves when we convince ourselves we've made it here by our own merits. Jesus wants us to see that we are lying to ourselves when we think that we're better or more hard working than the person living over in the less prestigious section of town. Jesus wants us to see that these rules that we so often use because we think they will help us get what we want-- do not keep us safe at all; in fact, they separate us as a community and make us less safe. When we state that our mission is to create Christian community, we are not stating that we are going to make everyone Christian. What we are saying is that we are going to do our best to live into Kingdom rules rather than the oppressive rules that govern us today. We are going to look out for the poor and the crippled and the lame and those who are oppressed among us rather than always looking out for ourselves. And we're going to do our best not to fall into old patterns of colonialism and patriarchy and all of these systems that separate us from them, but instead we are going to sit down together at the same table and see Christ's face in one another.
That's why we want to be in relationship with Promise Neighborhood. That's what we want to see happen with the Community Meal. That's why many of us went back and forth to the Capitol last year trying to get our legislature to see the benefit of having a commuter train come to St. Cloud. It's because we need each other. It's because we're all in this together. It's because I can't be who God is calling me to be unless you can be who God is calling you to be.
So let's break a few rules. Let's hold each other accountable for not believing the lies that we are safer when we are separated. And instead, let's live into the Kingdom of God in which we ask not, "Where shall I sit?" and "How can I win?" But ask instead, "How can I serve God and my neighbor?" How can I be about the work of creating Christian community?
Texts read and used in this sermon:
Luke Commentary by Fred Craddock