A sermon given during the 10:30am Choral Eucharist, by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, on the 28th of August 2022.
“I wonder if the table in the kingdom is round …”
In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.
Jesus just wants to heal the man. Standing in front of him with dropsy, a serious life-threatening condition. They are at a meal, a significant social occasion, at the home of a prominent religious leader, not a social event to be interrupted and especially on the sabbath. These prominent leaders are watching him. And he knows what’s in their minds.
Jesus asks the legal question, appealing to those minds. “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath or not?” But they are silent. And so, Jesus does heal the man and sends him away … away to live his life now, to thrive now. The ones in need of deep healing, though, are still before him at the meal. Their minds have failed them. So, Jesus appeals to their hearts. Stories reach the heart. “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, would you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” He asks them. If we allow the story to reach us, can we feel the panic … a child in a well? Can we feel the urge to act immediately? What Jesus wants these religious leaders to know is that this is how it is for God when God’s beloved ones are trapped in disease. It is this urgent. The longing to heal is this strong.
Jesus looks at those ones so in need of healing and he notices how they try to sit at the best places at the table. So, he tells them a parable. Remember parables are subversive. We need to be careful with them. But in them the ways of God are to be found. And the nature of human beings is to be found. The question with a parable might be … what doesn’t make sense? What is annoying me?
When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, Jesus says, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 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. 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 honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.
Remember how we felt when we heard about the child in the well. The discomfort of it. Is there anything uncomfortable about this parable? Anything we don’t get? Sit at the lowest place so you will be moved to the higher place? Really? Long for position but be more subtle about it? Manipulate the host to get what you want by appearing to be humble?
Is Jesus telling us this is how we might behave?
This is a parable, so we must expect to be puzzled. I think he’s teasing us, telling us joke. Waiting to see if we get it. We might at first be hooked in by this story but if we sit with it for a moment we will see. See what we can be like. See how we long to sit in the place of significance. See our longing for significance. See that at times we would do anything to sit in the place of honour and feel honoured by all who are present.
If we sit with this for a time and notice …what will we then see? Him smiling at us. Yes, you are like that aren’t you? Yes, you do long to know you matter and you will at times do pretty well anything to be given that approval.
Does his heart break, for he knows how much we are approved of … how much we are loved. Does his heart break as we so little know.
What matters is that we have been invited to the banquet. That we belong. God longs for us to be there. And I wonder about the table in God’s kingdom, I wonder if the table in God’s kingdom might not be round. I wonder if there is no higher place or lower place, there is just a place. And that place has our name on it. In the midst of places for all the others who God has created and who God loves with their names on them. And I wonder if at this round table in the kingdom of God, that there is no place nearer or farther from the host’s place, God’s place, for the host is not sitting at the table. I wonder if it is not the truth that the host, God, is the one who serves at the table. The round table in the kingdom of God. Where all are welcome.
It is not that God doesn’t have requirements of us. That God hasn’t given us the words of the law and the prophets to help us live well. The words and the stories and the presence through the Holy Spirit of Jesus to guide us and heal us and inspire us as we seek to live as God’s children. And that God doesn’t grieve when we go so far from understanding.
The prophets often speak for God, express God’s voice.
The prophet Jeremiah, in our Old Testament reading this morning says this:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
that can hold no water.
Feel the grief in that. God, the fountain of living water, knowing that we have chosen instead, for our god, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.
For it is not that there isn’t sin. Gerard Hughes, the Jesuit writer, says that sin is the failure to let God be God. I found myself thinking about this, wondering what it is that God requires of us. I found myself thinking that we are made in the image of God. And so to let God be God is to allow ourselves to look like God, to live in that image of God. So, as we wonder what sin looks like we might need to ask ourselves what God looks like. What God looks like, that we might live as ones who bear God’s image.
We know that God is love. One image for God is of the Trinity, God is three persons bound in loving relationship. Another important thing we read about God in the scriptures is of God being a God who made covenants with God’s people. A covenant is a loyal loving relationship. The covenant that God makes with God’s people is about God promising to stay in faithful relationship with God’s people, whatever lies ahead. In the 31st Chapter of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah are the lovely words of the New Covenant. God is speaking:
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
What God is describing through the prophet Jeremiah is a relationship of faithful loving, of fidelity, of integrity. Is that the heart of the nature of God, perhaps? God is faithful love. Is this what God asks of us, perhaps. That made in God’s image, we love faithfully. That when Jesus says that the greatest commandments are that we love God and we love our neighbour, that we are to do this loving as God loves, with loyalty, with commitment. Is this what the one who is the fountain of living water longs for us?
This morning we read aloud our mission statement because a number of us felt it important to do this at this time, to be clear who we are and how God longs for us to be.
St Peter’s Cathedral is a Christ centred, sacramental, inclusive, thinking, mission-orientated faith community.
This is who we say we are. Christ centred, dwelling with the stories of Christ, in the Spirit of Christ, living deeply in the midst of the sacraments given by Christ of the Eucharist, of Baptism, especially, using our minds as we reflect on the scriptures and the world in which we live, orientated towards mission, that “finding out what God is doing and joining in”, as one scholar put it, opening our Cathedral doors to gather in and to go out to where God’s love is needed. And inclusive, just like that round banquet table in the kingdom in the parable Jesus told. Where all are welcome, where each has a place, a place with their name on it. Where living as a faith community means trying our best to live in God’s image …in the image of the one who is faithful love.