Here is a sermon I preached at University Lutheran Church or “Unilu” in Philadelphia. It was preached on August 28th 2016, or Year C Lectionary 22.
It based on the following Gospel verse-
7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “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. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Grace Peace and Mercy to you from God and Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.
I’m honored to be asked to preach for you today. I want to thank Pastor Fritz for being so kind as to invite me share the Gospel with you and the important work we are doing in #decolonizelutheranism.
All of our readings today deal with Hospitality. It is a gift, a very powerful spiritual one, but it often gets relegated to place of, “well I’m not gifted in preaching or teaching or evangelism or any of those other “uber” Christian things, but I’m good at hospitality. Can I be honest with you, that’s a load of crap.
Hospitality is so important, how we do it, how we respond to it, that in today’s Gospel reading Jesus uses it to describe the kingdom of Heaven. He covers it in mundane and everyday practical advice but he is pointing to our very nature and the way the kingdom of heaven operates.
Jesus sees how the guest to the banquet treat themselves, how they regard themselves, by taking the place of honor. They center themselves. They take the privilege they feel they have been afforded. To put this in context, he is eating in a Pharisee’s house and they are as the Gospel puts it “Watching closely.”
Picture the scene.
You are invited to eat with the holiest of men, and to make the night even more intriguing they have invited the strange preacher from Nazareth who has been raising hell. Breaking tradition. Healing the sick, outwitting the scribes, priest and teachers. A revolutionary spirit is in the air.
A great meal is laid before you. You visit the temple. You go to the synagogue meetings. You give. You keep the commandments. That’s why you were invited.
You take the seat of an honored guest.
That’s the problem.
That’s what we mean by #decolonizelutheranism. The dominant culture in the ELCA has seated itself at the place of honor. It has looked at its 30 years of accomplishments and don’t get me wrong many of them are amazing.
But it is looking at all it has done and its place as the largest Lutheran Denomination in America and it has plopped itself down at the head of the table.
That’s exactly what privilege does. It fools us, it lulls us into a false sense entitlement. It throws up smoke screens made out of the vapor of our accomplishments. It takes what God has done for us and fools into thinking that we somehow have made this happen solely by grit and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.
Church I spent about a decade homeless to varying degrees. From following the Grateful Dead around in a van to sleeping on the sidewalk to couch surfing to being at ridge homeless shelter during a code blue. I have sat on the sidewalk and seen the looks and the glares as I begged for coins.
I can assure no one comes from nothing without some help on the way. In my case because I was so far pushed to the margins in this world it was clear who had stepped in. Although I was unchurched and had no contact with anyone religious institution in decades I knew it was Jesus Christ that had interrupted my death.
Jesus is asking the honored guest.
Those of us who have always had the center seat at the banquet to do something that is absolutely against our grain. He is asking us to go all the way to end of the table away from the host. Away from the main dish. Away from the place of honor and to sit with the lowly and the downtrodden. They are seated there not because they are intrinsically downtrodden or lowly but because it’s the only the place we leave for those on the margins of this Church.
We are infected with white male cis gendered hetro privilege. It has seeped its way into everything we do as a Church.
So what the #decoloinize movement is saying, is the same thing that Jesus is saying.
What he always says.
He says you will find him with the poor and oppressed. You will find him everywhere but with the folks we center as church.
We are saying the reason that the ELCA is 96% percent white isn’t sociological. It is theological. We are saying leave room for the stranger who is showing up just a little later to sit at the place of honor. We are saying that if you are only serving hymns written by white men at the banquet that’s the only people you are being hospitable too. We are saying the Jesus Christ of Nazerth didn’t look like a hipster Kurt Kobain and that when you bombard person of colors with those images you are saying that white is holy, you are not, and you aren’t welcome here. We are saying that if love is love is love than where are all the LGBTQ Bishops in the ELCA? We are saying the woman stayed at the cross when the men fled and hid like cowards, but you won’t call one as pastor. We are saying culture and cuisine don’t make us Lutheran, it is our relationship with grace.
12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “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. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Church who are we going to be in the 21st century? Are we willing to strip the altar bare and enter a period of ecclesial lent? Where we take away the Saxon heritage, the cover dishes, the group of white folks dressed in white robes, and just get down to the primary things that makes us part of the 1800-year-old tradition that is the Church? Word, Bath, and meal. Are we going to remove anything that takes away from the Cross and the beloved community we are building here?
So where is the Gospel in all that? It’s that Jesus has already done this difficult work for us. On the cross. We just have to follow the urging of the Holy Spirit. We have to look at his vison of the kingdom and although bar may seem high. Although the cost may seem like too much; it has been already paid for. Already accomplished. We are empowered and called to this work. We want to be the Church that provides safe space for the next Tamir Rice to play, not the creators of the next Dylan Roof.
This holy work in a time of Holy Uncertainty throughout the nation is what I believe is the new reformation.
A time where we tell our brothers and sisters who are undocumented that they are beautifully and wonderfully made. No matter what a piece of paper or those in power might say. That at time when it is popular to build walls around what we hold dear we will tear them down so that the light of God can burst through. Where we invite the poor oppressed and the marginalized into the banquet that is our theology and our baptismal promises and say here.
Sit here . In the place of honor. Because you are our beloved sister. Our beloved brother. And we are honored you would join us. Amen?