Rev. Kathleen Whitmore
August 29, 2010
Scripture: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:7-14
Let’s face it. Regardless of how one looks at it, or the spin one wants to put on it, the fact still remains. Jesus was being rude . . . extremely rude! For reasons known only to him, he was refusing to leave well enough alone!
Here was a man who had been invited to a real gala event – Sabbath dinner at the home of a Pharisee. What made it even more special was that this wasn’t just any Pharisee. It was the leader of the Pharisees. In the ancient world, life didn’t get much better than that!
Now, in all fairness, the scriptures tell us the Pharisee and his other royal guests were watching him carefully (14:1b). With that being said, however, it was obvious they had decided to call a truce for the day. So, when Jesus healed a man on his way to the party, no one said a word. It wasn’t because his explanation was all that unique, either. After all, he had used the same reasoning with them before and they had always chosen to debate the point. But, for whatever reason or reasons, on this particular day they had decided to leave it alone.
That’s what makes Jesus’ reaction seem so . . . well . . . rude. Granted, the games that went on at these events could get a little vicious as one guest after another attempted to gain the seat of honor. Jesus, on the other hand, had been through this countless times. So why did it bother him? Why did he suddenly feel the urge to correct everyone’s behavior? After all, they understood what was going on and most of them actually enjoyed it.
Yet, it was the Sabbath. A day set aside to rest, to worship, to fellowship and to model God’s Kingdom. What Jesus observed, however, was a religious community that was anything but welcoming. In that moment, he knew he had to take a stand. He knew he had to speak the truth. He had to convince them that in God’s kingdom the real winners would be those who were self-giving not self-serving. In God’s kingdom there would be no distinction between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have not’s. In God’s kingdom there would be no more over-under relationships. Instead, everyone would be free to simply love and encourage others as they grew and developed in their faith.
Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a world like that – where everyone is accepted for who they are? Can you imagine living in a world where diversity – not conformity – is the goal; where differences are celebrated and respect is the norm; where forgiveness, not revenge is the expected reaction? Can you imagine living in a world where the good of the whole is held in higher esteem than the will of the individual; where everyone is respected and welcomed in?
Can you imagine it? There have been several giants in the past century who imagined – who have dreamed – of such a world. Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr. all worked towards that great and glorious day when, paraphrasing Dr. King, a person will not be judged by color of their skin . . . or their social standing . . . or the gender of their birth but by the content of their character.
And while the work of these now famous individuals was immensely important, it was through the quiet, non-assuming, behind-the-scenes type people who, acting out of love, actually spread the vision. In his book Rumors of Another World,Philip Yancey recounts the story of what happened in South Africa after Nelson Mandela was released from prison and elected president of that country. After asking his jailer to join him on the inauguration platform, he went on to appoint Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The rules for the Commission were simple. If a white policeman or army officer voluntarily faced his accusers, confessed his crime, and fully acknowledged his guilt, he could not be tried and punished. So, for the next two-and-a-half years, South Africans listened to the reports of the atrocities that were committed during apartheid. While hard-liners grumbled about the obvious injustice of letting criminals go unpunished, both Mandela and Tutu insisted the country needed healing more than it needed justice.
At one hearing, a policeman named van de Broek recounted an incident where he and other officers shot an eighteen-year-old boy and burned his body. Eight years later he returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The man’s wife was then forced to watch as police officers bound their victim on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body, and ignited him.
The courtroom was silent as the now elderly woman was given a chance to respond. When the judge asked what she wanted from Mr. Van de Broek, she asked that he go to the place where they burned her husband and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. When he agreed she added one other request. Mr. Van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God and that I forgive him, too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real. As the woman made her way to the witness stand, some in the courtroom spontaneously began singing Amazing Grace (p. 222-224).
Can you imagine living in a world ruled by God’s grace, guided by God’s forgiveness, and filled with God’s love? Then listen again to the words that were read from the Book of Hebrews. 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 yourself were being tortured . . . be content with what you have; for he said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you. So we can say with confidence, ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me? (13:1-3, 5b-6)
Just imagine living in such a world. Now go from this place and make it so. After all, it is what Christ has asked us to do.
To God be the Glory! Amen.