SERMON FOR SUNDAY
Spring breezes rustle lace curtains through windows propped open with old baseball cards. The hum of the florescent lights over some prized African Violets in the corner.
A small folding table with a 1,500 piece jigsaw puzzle, pieces carefully sorted. One notes the border already taking shape. The lazy Susan in the middle of the dining room table ready to spin the salt and pepper to whichever seat was in need. Place settings of silverware and china, old, yet museum-neat and restaurant clean. Real butter softening in its "house." Pitchers of ice tea sweating, but on doilies protecting the perfect white table cloth. Eight wood and cloth chairs with a design that escapes me now - but not plain. Not boring. Victorian perhaps. With a flower pattern.
Grandma's dining room will forever be etched in my mind.
For most of my growing up years, I never sat there.
Sunday night dinners for the kids were in the next room at another card table, one devoid of jigsaw puzzles. We sat on folding chairs. From the dining room came the sounds of important conversations about weighty matters of family and politics and the proper way to fertilize fescue and fight grubs in suburban lawns; Conversations into which we were not invited, but might have offered some interesting perspectives. After all, I did dig an awful lot of dirt in my early days. But, it was not our place.
Then the day came that my older sister was old enough – she got a seat – an actual chair with legs that didn’t fold up. She left the rest of us with a proud look on her face. We wanted to be there. We were not glad for her – we were embarrassed that it wasn’t us. The real butter, the lazy Susan, the cloth napkins – they eluded us once more. We still left sitting at the kiddie table. Y’all remember the kiddie table, don’t you?
The table, of course, becomes a root metaphor for our lives as Christian disciples.
Who do we welcome? Who do we choose to acknowledge, to help, to serve, to love, and perhaps most telling of all - to honor? Who gets our attention, our affection, our best?
And who by our actions and words or lack of action and words, do we dismiss to the card table. Of paper plates and plastic forks and folding chairs. Unimportant – connected to us by the most flimsy of circumstances.
We can be far too dismissive others who do not meet our requirements for deserving a good seat at the table. Humility asks us to think of others as better than ourselves. To promote them. To lift them up. To see in them the good rather than pointing out the differences, the faults and failures, or far worse to even tear them down so that we or those we favor can be lifted up. To see in them Christ, himself. A short stroll through the end of the Gospel of Matthew, for example, has some surprises for us: Lord when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or in jail and we did not take care of you? And we learn that when we fail to do such to the least among us, we fail to do it for Jesus.
Humility is not a word that rolls so easily off the modern tongue. Putting others ahead of ourselves, giving up our position, our view, our access, our power, our comfort for the sake of others does not come naturally nor often easily. These past days has seen the tenor of our national conversation slough off humility like a snake shredding its skin. Of an apportioning of the table in such ways as to make it un-intelligible to Christians familiar even in a rudimentary way with Jesus: The Jesus who came to lift up the lowly, proclaim freedom to the captives, who offered blessings for the peacemakers, honor for the long ignored, for the poor and outcast. Who saw the table as an opportunity to embody humility.
Again and again Jesus proclaimed the great reversal. Of the lifting up and the tearing down, casting a vision of the Kingdom of God that flew in the face of everyone’s expectations and was beyond the hope of those who had long suffered as outcasts. The national conversation suffers from ignorance of simple humility and in that ignorance fails time and time again to embody it, even some who cloak themselves in the name of Jesus.
Our response is not to complain and only add to profane mumblings that spew unhindered like the very recent oil in the gulf. Rather, in faith, it is up to us to embody the humility of Christ for them. If we are prepared to do so. If we have the courage to do so. To embody humility and its associated voice of welcome and its lovely melody of grace. To embody it here in this faith community and to encourage one another to embody it in our everyday lives.
An author I admire wrote about a church service in which when it was time for the lessons to be read, a young man came up to the microphone. He had a significant disability and was incapable of clear and sustained speech, but wanted to participate. He wanted to read the lesson. So there he was. He moaned out the worlds, unrecognizable as they flowed from his eager heart, and then turned and sat down. It was a singular moment of grace. He had his seat at the table.
Yet there were those present who immediately complained among themselves about the poor choice to read the scriptures that morning. "No one could understand a single word!" they complained to the pastor." Unsatisfied with the pastor’s reasoning for that morning’s choice of readers, they went over the pastor's head to the governing board and demanded that this young man not be allowed to read again. It ruined their worship that morning, the complained. And the board agreed, pulling out the chair from under the young man and pointing him to the other room where the card table was waiting with a single folding chair. His table did not include permission to speak the lessons.
Are we willing to ruin things in our lives so that they will look more like the Kingdom of God and less like kingdoms of our own making? Would we go that far?
Are we willing to arrange the seating at the tables that fill the days of our existence so that those who mean nothing to us and everything to Jesus find favor?
Who are we willing to talk to, to listen to, to help, to serve, to love?
We are constantly changing the seating arrangements, far too often based upon what is in our best interest. What will make us look good, gets us ahead, impresses others, impresses ourselves.
Is our table reflective of the Kingdom of God, where status doesn't matter, only unconditional love and a servant's heart?