Saturday, November 25, 2006

sermon 3: Luke 14.12-15, given at seminary

Luke 14:12-15

Then He also said to him who invited Him, "When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just. Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!"

This one was on really short notice and I don't even have a note card from which to recall. So it'll be brief.

The angle I took was the idea of the calculated investment, namely that the Christian faith is not a calculated investment.

Frequently there is a notion that Christianity makes life work a little bit better, and that all things will eventually be equalized. Essentially this is just a variation of the mistaken notion that God's kingdom exists in the here and now. It's false. Rather, we're to live as if God's kingdom existed in the here and now, in spite of evidence, and even consequences, to the contrary. We're called to symbolize something that should be, but which is not yet. As such, we're often going to be on the losing end of many earthly deals.

As leaders in the Church this has ramifications especially for how we choose to accept money. We have to insist that money is essentially no-strings-attached. Either the person is giving it to God, for the glory of God, or they're giving it to their pet projects.

I told the two-sided story of a youth minister named Jeff. The first had to do with Jeff's tendency to take the begging hobos outside out for dinner once a week at sitdown restaraunts. He always got the biggest kick out of how people responded to him walked in with this guy who smelled like soiled clothing mixed with a healthy dose of unwashed masses. Then he'd go drop them off back at the church, which was near the shelter. I asked him what they usually said when he dropped them back off. His answer: "Got a couple of bucks? I need some smokes." Basically he'd gleefully consigned himself to bringing light into the lives of the unfortunate without questioning their worthiness or expecting some sort of roundabout benefit for himself. He did it because God commanded him to do it, not because he thought it was generally edifying for himself. In fact, he confessed that every time it was uncomfortable, and that he didn't "like it", per se, but that it seemed nevertheless to be a positive ministry.

Jeff was also chosen as one representative for a new chapel committee. The Church had built a new place of worship but was having the damndest time actually moving into it. You see they had the money, in theory, but all of the money had stipulations. They'd have $10,000 for pews, but that was in a family's name, and they wanted the old pew with great great grandfather's name on it moved over, even though it was falling apart, rather than to build a new one. The pulpit also had a name on it. The marble flooring was similarly endowed with conditions attached. Millions of dollars existed within the church, but they were all controlled by people who's membership in the church, and subsequent endowment of the church, was for any other reason besides salvation in Christ.

We need to avoid such situations. No matter how rich we may seem, if the gifts come to us for reasons other than the hope of salvation in Christ, we're likely going to have those same gifts bite us on the back end in the future.

But really any occasion can be an opportunity to widen the net of salvation, it's all a matter of how we use it. john Chrysostom, the saint who's day this is, had no trouble telling people how it was, and even biting the hand that fed him in the process. He wasn't a conniving and meticulous politician as so many of our hierarchs are. He left the politics to the politicians and he preached the gospel in spite of all things. He was exhiled and eventually killed for preaching against the empresses' status of herself. He blasted it, was exiled, and then when finally reinstated, used that as an opportunity to blast it again, for which he was killed.

He also is known for having said that if you're going to have a huge wedding reception with many festivities, then you need to round up the poor. Why should your blessings be used only for you and the ones you like? Are you not inedbted to God to use your festive occasion not just for self-celebration, but also for the opportunity it offers to show forth his kingdom to those who cannot often taste of such festivities? Do we not often hold these huge weddings only so that relatives have a reason to gather or because we're expected to keep up appearances? Do we not often give presents at such events on the tacit understanding that we will be paid back in roughly equal amount at future times?

In the case of Jeff and in the case of Chrysostoms's weddings, people were stumbling into the notion of the faith as a calculated investment. They were setting up a system wherein their faith was yet another vehicle to reward themselves in a roundabout sort of way, with only the veneer of religiosity. Calculated investment is the way our capitalist-trained minds tend to work, but we're in need of some serious re-education if we're going to live as Christians.


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