A Love Like That

Sunday, September 4, 2016

A
sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, September 4,
2016, the sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

Text:
Luke 14:1, 7-14                                                            

Today’s
gospel story teaches us something both about being a guest and about being a
host.  As a guest, Jesus tells us not to
hog the best seat in the house.  As a
host, we’re taught not to only invite guests who can repay us, but instead to
make a point to invite those who can’t. Both of the teachings could be
interpreted as little nuggets of worldly wisdom, designed to get you a
reward—in the first case, potential public recognition and promotion and in the
second, some mystery prize behind resurrection door number one.  This interpretation meshes with the worldly
economy we all know so well.  You know
what I mean: quid pro quo, everything
has a price, “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”  The worldly economy functions according to
merit or popularity or material wealth or having insider knowledge or the
wielding of brute strength or simply being born into a certain class, race, or
caste.  It is big on pecking order,
seating charts, and keeping score.  The
questions in this economy are things like: 
“What do I have to do to get what I want?” “How much will this
cost?”  “What are the rules?”  “Do I have what it takes?”  “What have you done for me lately?” “When am
I going to get what’s coming to me?”  We
see echoes of this in conversations about immigrants or the poor—about who pays
taxes and who has done what they were supposed to do and who deserves support.  We see the worldly economy in this recent business
with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the national
anthem in protest of police brutality and racism—when folks say things like,
“he owes this country more respect.”  And
we can find the deposit of the worldly economy in our own lives when we find
ourselves thinking that people owe us—that is, “After all I’ve done… my boss, my
spouse, my friend, my child, God owes me…”

 

We
learn the ways of the worldly economy early on and see them playing out on
school playgrounds and lunchrooms and in the halls; and we see this worldly
economy at work as adults—on the playground of the social scene, inter-office
dynamics and in the halls of power.  We
joust and jockey and dance around these things, trying to figure out how to
succeed.  We size one another up and measure
ourselves against others and weigh our options and our actions and our choices
in what can feel like Game of Thrones—you
win or you die.  As we look around there
are all the “stock characters”—the bullies and negotiators, over-achievers and
slackers, the shy and the outgoing, the risk-takers and risk-averse, the
socially awkward and the poised charmers. 
But in the end everyone is simply trying to find their way, to sort out
how to survive, to live, to connect, be seen to have needs met, to be loved in
the messy economy of the world.

 

Perhaps
there are several levels to Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel. Perhaps there are some little worldly wisdom nuggets
there—about the ways that good manners at a social engagement will end up
serving you well, about curbing our entitlement tendencies, about being
generous. But it seems there might be something deeper going on here.  For me, the place that kept nudging me is the
moment when Jesus turns to the host of the dinner party and says “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.” Jesus says to invite those
who cannot repay you.

 

Not
to expect repayment from people runs counter to pretty much everything in the
worldly economy.  Jesus is advocating a
completely different kind of economy, one that draws us into the realm of God’s
Kin-dom.  What Jesus suggests is that the
Kin-dom of God employs an economy of grace. 
That is, all is a gift—not a right, not earned, not a hard, cold fact of
material being.  Everything is a gift
from God.  You are a child of God; you don’t
have to negotiate that, it’s a free gift. 
You are loved by God; you don’t have to win that prize through skill or
wise choice, God’s love is FREE.  God’s
interest in us is unearned (and whoever heard of unearned interest!?), but no
less valuable and powerful.  When we open
our hearts to receive the gift of God’s love, then we are able to employ the
economy of grace, to relate to people and to our lives differently.  When we are willing to live as citizens of
the Kin-dom, we are freed from the jockeying and the jousting for
position.  As those who know ourselves
already to be loved, we no longer have to live by the rules we learned on the
playground.  We are freed to simply be
ourselves, to respond to an invitation without an expectation that we will be
(or should be) the guest of honor or without trying to present ourselves as
overly important—but simply to arrive and to share in the gift of the
moment.  Of course, the world will
continue to tug and pull at you, pushing your buttons of self-importance or
insecurity (both of which, by the way, tend to make us try to get or keep the
best seat in the house); but as you become more aware of and strengthened by
God’s love for you, you gain freedom to be and to share yourself and to enjoy others,
regardless of where you are on the seating chart.  And—I must add—you also gain a sense of your
own dignity and self-worth and so are able to recognize when someone is taking
advantage or harming you and, therefore, can make a decision to resist.

 

When
we take up residence in the Kin-dom of God and begin to be guided by the
economy of grace, we are freed to be generous, we seek to love as God loves and
to give as God gives.  That means
recognizing that the bounty of the feast is not reserved for those who already
have enough, those who can sponsor a whole table.  Instead, guided by God’s economy of grace, we
see that the feast is prepared for all people and there is always enough if we
make room for others and share.  To love
as God loves and to give as God gives means we let go of our tendencies to
judge who deserves this and who deserves that. 
Dorothy Day said, “The Gospel takes away our right forever, to
discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.”  God doesn’t say to you, “I might give you my
love, I might invite you to my banquet table… But…what have you done for me lately?”  God invites you and me to this banquet today,
just as we are and not because we have done anything to deserve it.  God invites those who are trampled and hurt
by the worldly economy.  God invites
those who, in trying to find their way, have gotten lost and fallen into
darkness.  God invites all those—all of
us—to the banquet, to the feast of freely given love, no scorecards kept. 

 

We
mistake the ways of God’s Kin-dom when we make it about rules and about keeping
score and about earned interest and love averages.  Part of the mystery in all this is that,
having been saved from these fearful, selfish, life-shrinking, enslaving ways
of the worldly economy, the economy of grace brings rewards not only into our
lives, but also into the lives of those around us.  One of my favorite writers, 14th
century Sufi mystic and poet, Hafiz, puts it this way:

Even

After

All
this time

The
sun never says to the earth,

“You
owe

Me.”

Look

What
happens

With
a love like that,

It
lights the

Whole

Sky.[i]

 

As
residents with Jesus in the Kin-dom, freely
love and give and serve. As residents with Jesus in the Kin-dom, consider
the implications of God’s economy of grace on the ways you think about
immigration, poverty, taxes, the minimum wage. 
Do something for someone “just because.” Include the one others leave
out.  Remember that you are a beloved
child of God and therefore free to be yourself without games or apology.  Remember that everyone else is a beloved
child of God, too.  Enter into this great
mystery and receive the reward, the joy, of living –really living—in God’s
love.

 

Today
as we are invited to the banquet of love, compassion, and mercy, we’re reminded
that even after all this time Jesus doesn’t say to us, “You owe me.”  Just imagine what happens with a love like
that…

 




[i]
Hafiz, “The Sun Never Says,” The Gift:
Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master,
trans., Daniel Ladinsky, Penguin
Compass, 1999, p. 34.