Responding to What we Hear
Based on Jeremiah 2:4-13, Hebrews 13:1-16, Luke 14:7-14
Have you ever thought about how many sermons you have heard in your life? How about how many times you have recited the “Lord’s Prayer” or participated in Holy Communion (both of which we’ll do again in a few moments)? Have you noticed that when we do something similar over and over again it becomes routine? Routine things become automatic and we don’t even pay attention to them anymore – we participate without really being present. If we are not fully present, especially during the routine portions of our worship or Holy Communion service, we lose the power, holiness and grace of what we are doing. In fact, we are no longer stimulated to respond to the movement of the Spirit through those corporate acts and we become immobilized, complacent and bored.
Our scripture readings today speak to us about how it is that God continues to speak into our lives, and what happened to our spiritual ancestors who did not listen to God’s voice. Our scriptures call to us again to listen, rejoice, care and share what we hear with others about the good news that flows from our ever present and loving Creator; that is…our scriptures call us to respond to what we hear. Let us go to God now in prayer asking humbly for God to wake us up so that we might respond to God’s word proclaimed…
The word of the LORD came again to the prophet Jeremiah in today’s reading from the Hebrew Bible. God begins speaking a poem of lament over the fact that the people of Judah and Jerusalem went astray. God asks pointedly, “…What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?…” God notes that neither the people, nor the rulers, nor the priests and lawyers ever asked “Where is the LORD” as they walked farther and farther away in their transgressions. Even the prophets spoke words from the Canaanite gods – the Baals, instead of the word of the LORD. The whole of the people committed the evil of forsaking God’s living water and building their own cisterns to store the dead water of the lifeless pagan deities. Those holding tanks proved to be useless. God has been wounded due to the lack of appropriate response to what the chosen people had heard.
We have reached the final chapter of the letter to the Hebrews. This final chapter takes one last opportunity to exhort the believers to follow the example of Christ in all that they do. The writer states that the believers should “not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”. They should entertain angels through hospitality to those who are strangers; admonishing them to “…not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God….” He asks them to remember those imprisoned and tortured; to keep love of money at bay; to keep fidelity in marriage. The believers are reminded that Jesus promised to never leave or forsake them, thus they have a divine helper and need not fear anyone or anything. Yet, one has to ask why the writer needed to teach these things…could it be that the believers weren’t responding appropriately to what they had already heard?
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus has been invited to the house of a leader of the Pharisees for a meal. His naysayers were watching him closely our text tells us. On His way, Jesus heals another person on the sabbath. When He gets to the house of the Pharisaic leader, Jesus watches the maneuvering of the people to get close to the head of the table. It is a teaching moment for Jesus and so He tells a parable. He teaches that in order to be first one must seek to be last and furthest from the seats of worldly power. He teaches the host of the meal that in order to respond faithfully to what the leader has heard from the Torah, he should invite those with no means to repay his invitation.
In the late 1970’s there was a memorial service held in Washington, D.C., for Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey was both a former senator and vice-president of the United States, the latter during the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson. He was well known and regarded as an engaged politician who authored many profound and lasting pieces of legislation. Hundreds of people came from all over the world to say good-bye to their friend and colleague. But one person who came was shunned by virtually everyone there. Nobody would look at him, much less speak to him. That person was former President Richard Nixon, who had resigned the Presidency in shame and infamy over the illegal actions known as “Watergate”. He was back in the Nation’s capital for the first time since he resigned from office – just a few short years later, in fact. He took a seat in the far back corner of the room, abandoned by the power structure and those with whom he had worked over many decades in public office.
Former President Nixon, once used to being in the head seat, now found himself shunted to the lowest place at the table. I found myself wondering how I might have acted towards him if I had been invited to that gathering? What about you…how might you have responded to what you have just heard? Let’s hear now the rest of this story…Jimmy Carter, who was President at that time, came into the room. He went over to Nixon as though he were greeting a long-lost family member, stuck out his hand and smiled broadly. To everyone’s surprise the two of them embraced each other and President Carter said, “Welcome home, Mr. President! Welcome home!” Newsweek magazine later asserted, “If there was a turning point in Nixon’s long ordeal in the wilderness, it was that moment and that gesture of love and compassion.” He had been honored and raised up by the host – no one else could have done this selfless act of restoration.
There are those in Madison County, and in our lives, who are in the very same position as former President Nixon. They exist at the margins of society, possibly as far away from the table of grace as they can be. Maybe they have made poor choices and have been shunned by friends and family, maybe they have been convicted of felonies and can’t get steady jobs, maybe they live tortured lives, etc. They are the people who exist that can’t repay anyone for the invitation to come and be part of a community. Part of a community that will forgive, redeem and care for them – remind them that they are a beloved child of God. Former President Jimmy Carter is a strong Christian and in his years since serving as President, he has shown all of us how to respond faithfully to God’s message contained in these Bible passages. That is, when you have been so greatly blessed by God, your response to that unearned gift (aka grace) is to reach out to those who life has been marginalized and lift them up to the head of the table. Let us all go from here today and respond in the same way to what we have heard. Amen!