Sermon–September 1, 2019

One answer: Jesus lives inside a reality—which he calls the Kingdom or the Realm of God–that is alive with experiences of the presence, power, and love of God. And this reality is so strong in him—like Darth Vader says about Luke Skywalker, “The force is strong in this one.”—so strong that Jesus is able to bring others into this reality, and these will soon be able to bring others into the same experience of Divine Reality.   

What Jesus starts is not an education movement, but a Divine-human connection movement. Therefore, Jesus needs to be closely watched because if he infects too many people with the Divine Reality then healing of sin and sickness will  spread and the leaders will lose their status as the power brokers for God.

But Luke tells us that Jesus is also watching the leaders, though not to condemn or take down, but so he can teach them how to step into the Divine Flow.  

Luke says, “Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honor”, so he tells them two stories: One is about how to be a guest: he says when you attend a wedding banquet practice humility by sitting in the back instead of at the head table.

I suspect most of us learned, if not in church, then from our parents, that puffing oneself up in public is not a generative way to live, because it disconnects us from God, community, and our truest self.

 Jesus’ first story is about how to be a guest.

His second story is about how to be a host: Jesus says, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But…invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

This is one of those teachings where we wish we could to say Jesus is speaking metaphorically, like when he tells us to cut off an arm or pluck out an eye if they lead us into sin. He doesn’t expect every church to have a room for severed arms and jars of eyeballs. So, surely, he doesn’t expect us to invite broken down people into our nice homes.

Does he?

Unfortunately, Christian history is littered with women and men who have taken Jesus literally to engage personally with people who can’t pay them back.   I ran into an extreme example from a Greek Orthodox source on Twitter who wrote: “Abba Serapion”, a fourth century desert monk, “once gave his coat to a poor man and his outer coat to a man shivering in the cold. Then he sat down, almost naked, holding the Holy Gospel. And when he was asked, ‘Who has taken your clothes, Abba?’ he simply pointed to the Gospel and said, ‘This is the robber.'”  

A thousand years later a wild-eyed, idealistic young man also takes Jesus literally and let’s the Spirit of Christ transform how he relates to others. We know him today as Saint Francis of Assisi.  

This is a struggle for us for a number of reasons, one is because we live in places where we can go through our days rarely seeing anyone who is poor, much less being in a position to invite them into our homes to share a meal.   

In Jesus’s and Francis’s day the well-fed and the hungry share the same streets and fields, so you could imagine how you might open your door, and invite them in.

I know parishioners who remember their parents during the Great Depression opening their back doors to give a wanderer and giving a sandwich because he was hungry.

Today, most, but not all, live in places where this doesn’t happen.

It’s easy to see the inconvenience of living this way sowe might overlook how joyful these generous people are. Francis’s movement grew so rapidly because it made people joyful.  

St Francis says, “When I was in my sins, it seemed a thing too bitter to look on lepers”, [but then] “the Lord himself led me among them and I showed them mercy.  And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of mind and body.”

I want to suggest that what is going on in Francis and those like him, is that they find themselves standing in the Flow of Divine Reality. They experience heaven on earth!

Anyone who’s ever been on a mission trip or worked with the broken in some way knows what this feels like: it feels like standing inside a different reality and this changes us.

One interesting secular example of what happens when we stand inside a different reality is found in a project led by Harvard researcher Ellen Langer: Get this magazine article about it: in 1979, “Eight men in their 70s stepped out of a van in front of a converted monastery in New Hampshire. They shuffled forward, a few of them arthritically stooped, a couple with canes. Then they passed through the door and entered a time warp. Perry Como crooned on a vintage radio. Ed Sullivan welcomed guests on a black-and-white TV. Everything inside — including the books on the shelves and the magazines lying around — were designed to conjure 1959.” From article in The New York Magazine by Bruce Grierson

A week later, the group showed improvements in “physical strength, manual dexterity, gait, posture, perception, memory, cognition, taste sensitivity, hearing, and vision,” as Langer wrote in her 2009 book Counterclockwise.”

Likewise, whenever a church practices living inside the Reality as taught by Jesus people get well as the love of God becomes visible.   

Here’s a small thought experiment: imagine if strangers who come to our worship services are not thought of as visitors or newcomers, but are rather treated as our guests. Would that make a difference to us and to them?

We had some overnight guests recently and Stephanie wanted to make sure we gave them the best linens and the big fluffy towels. A guest at church is someone we would seek out at the Peace and at coffee hour, for we’re anxious to give them a positive experience, remembering ourselves what it feels like to be a stranger. After all, we are their hosts!

Hebrews tells us today: Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”

Jesus is with us today…and every day…inviting us into the experience of Divine Reality through welcoming into our lives those we were raised at worst to avoid and at best to treat as objects of our ministry.  

To move more deeply into the flow of Divine Reality, we only need pray for compassion and courage to take Jesus literally, sharing our lives with those who can’t pay us back….Except with love.