, yPent 12, yr c, 2022
In Jesus time it was a ‘not what you know, but who you know’ kind of world. Getting a pat on the back from the right person could socially catapult a man, and thus his family, from rags to riches. So, essentially sucking up in the ancient world was a highly valued social skill. If the man with all the influence showed up at your dinner, everyone shifted to make room…he received the best of everything, in hopes that he would, in turn, give even the least of something to you. The one who carves the roast decides who gets which piece. Today we might call this “Trickle down economics” But it’s obvious, that this is not how God works. Jesus, at a dinner where he himself is a guest, in essence says to his host… don’t invite people like me to your dinners. Don’t invite those who can promote your social status to dinner…rather invite into your home those whose association will bring you shame. Live your life not to gain the greatest advantage, but to be the greatest advantage. That is the hallmark of the kingdom of God, the great reversal that teaches the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Jesus, as a rabbi and local celebrity, was the one who ought to be fawned over and spoiled with fine wine and choice cuts…and here was Jesus spurning the honour and turning the whole system on its head. The system of honour and shame, the system of me first and the good ‘ol boy club...all systems which guarantee that the marginalized and disenfranchised lose and that those with much already will continue to gain. The power of the 1%. In spite of the common economic theory Pharisee was called, and all of us are called, to lay the table for the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind…all those who can not repay in kind…and all those whom we would shun… all those who bring us no benefits. And we are called to seek out those who society and even our church believe have nothing to offer and sit them at the head of the table, or perhaps offer them your seat in church. We are called to do this not only because it is what Christ taught us, but because it will change us into who Christ calls us to be. God’s own people, living out Gods own kingdom. In our reading from Jeremiah we hear God, through his prophet, accusing the people of Israel of not living into the kingdom of God. God accuses them of self aggrandizement…self advancement by any means and in the worst ways. The people we find have wandered far from the Lord, we read that “they went after worthless things and became worthless themselves” Sounds a bit harsh, but in essence it is true. We become what we pursue. If we spend our energy and time on worry and stress then that is what will define us. If we spend all our time praising God in any and all situations …even those we find anxiety provoking…we become more aware of God’s presence in our lives; and if we spend our energy helping those around us, we gain an understanding of how connected and mutually dependant we all are. What we spend our energy on shapes who we are and how we live, it shapes the world around us. We read that the people of Israel had forsaken the fount of living water and dug for themselves cracked cisterns. They have become a leaky people, forever athirst and never filled, endlessly pursuing that which won’t satisfy. But we also hear in Jeremiah what could have been. What the result could be when you spend your time and energy living into the kingdom of God and what happens when you live in the kingdom of this world’s brokenness. In Jeremiah we hear of a God who provides for generation after generation of peoples, who delivers a lost people through the desert, who provides a rich and plentiful land, a God who not only provides water…the stuff of life, but who is, in God’s own self an abundant spring of life. Yet, the people want none of it. Finding gods of their own devising and forsaking life giving and flowing water for water captured by human means and draining away through human failings. Be appalled O heavens, be shocked and utterly desolate…our prophet says….for who would do such a thing?! We all know what is right … we all know that we become what we pursue, for good or for evil. So what should we purse? What is it like to live into the kingdom of God? Well Hebrews definitely gives us a good place to start a foundation for Godly community…let mutual love continue. Implying that it is something that we do well already, something that St. Andrew’s certainly excels at…but something that in times of fear tends to fall away. When the proverbial hits the fan we tend to look after ourselves first…how will I survive, what is best for us. The Kingdom of God is not the kingdom of this world but rather exists in opposition to it. It is a place wherein those whom society would cast aside are cared for and loved, provided for and welcomed not for what they can offer but regardless of what they can or can’t offer. To love and serve those who cannot repay us…to offer our best in exchange for nothing at all…or even at times in response to someone’s worst, and even at our worst.This is the kingdom of God in action and nowhere is it more exemplified than on the cross. In the middle of our Hebrews reading (you may have noticed it jumped from v 8-v15) our lectionary missed out a somewhat confusing bit which spoke about Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. The day Israel repents of its sins as a people, and sacrifices a scape goat as a substitute for their sins. This missing passage links this event, the day of atonement, with the cross, and with Jesus’ substitution sacrifice for us as the one who dies to cleanse us from sin. And it speaks of all this happening outside the city gates, outside the safety and security of the familiar. Outside… where the thieves, beggar, outcasts and criminals live. All those who were considered impure and unclean and would not be allowed to enter the temple and celebrate with the ritually clean. The insiders and the outsiders. This neglected passage speaks about Jesus dying for our sins in the midst of sinners and it calls us to step out as well to where Christ lived and died for all of us who could never repay him and never deserved him. This missing passage is what lends context to the rest of Hebrews…which says that…through him, then…through Jesus, let us offer our sacrifice of doing good without thought of reward and live a life generosity without thought of recompense. Welcoming everyone to the table of fellowship, that the font of living water provides in the kingdom of God. The banquet of which we get a foretaste in the Eucharistic feast that Christ spreads before us. Each one of us stepping forward to receive that grace, receive that reminder that Christ bled and died for our sins. That what we receive in the eucharistic sacrament, is a symbol of that Grace, the bread and wine…the body and blood of God who gave himself as sacrifice for us. As we gather at table we share the banquet God provided with rich and poor, fully able and less abled, those in health and those in sickness equally broken and unable to repay the grace that is offered. We come to be strengthened through Christ so that we can live into the kingdom of God, knowing full well that the security and idolatry we construct for ourselves can hold no water. And here it doesn’t matter who is first or last, who gets more or less, who serves and who receives…in the Kingdom of God such hierarchies hold little weight. So, we come, not trusting in our own righteousness…as the BCP says, but rather in pursuit of righteousness. Offering up our sacrifices of praise, good works, generosity of wealth and generosity of time and spirit eagerly pursing the kingdom of God. So that we can become what we pursue, so that we can give up the cracked cisterns of our personal idols and drink deep from the wellspring of life. We come to live into the kingdom of God in liturgy and in life.