We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon, Aug 28, 2022

Sermon, Proper 17, Year C, 2022 Proverbs 25: 6-7, Psalm 112, Luke 14:1, 7-14

“Supper at Emmaus”- Caravaggio

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us about how we are to come to our true place in the reign of God and find ourselves seated at God’s “welcome table.”   

In this story, Jesus is eating a meal on the Sabbath with a leader of the Pharisees.  The first verse of this passage says that they were watching Jesus closely.   I’m assuming that “they” were the group of Pharisees who would have been invited to this meal.

Jesus watches the Pharisees take their places at the meal.  Where they sat was quite important, for the seating indicated where people stood within the group, who were the most honored, and who were the least important.    

The Pharisees were strict followers of Jewish tradition.  The more they followed the tradition, the better they considered themselves to be.    They judged one another on their accomplishments in the department of law keeping.  And those who were the best were the ones chosen to sit in the place of honor at banquets. 

Inevitably the Pharisees had come to believe that their relationships with God were determined by how well they kept the laws, and that they earned God’s favor by keeping God’s commandments.      

We fall into the same trap ourselves.  We try to live by God’s laws.  We try to love God and to care for others.  We are proud of our accomplishments.  We are proud of being good people.  But that proudness we develop can adversely affect our relationship with God, and with other people.    

Here’s an example.   Years ago, Easter Sunday had at last arrived at St George’s in Fredericksburg.  The scent of lilies filled the church, exquisitely arranged flowers delighted our eyes, the choir, accompanied by trumpets, sounded like a heavenly chorus—what a grand way to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection.   How proud I was to be there, proud of being a good Christian on this day, along with all the other good Christians who filled every pew. 

And then my rejoicing was interrupted.

For who should be the lector that day but a woman in our congregation who was well known for her struggles in life and who wasn’t the best reader either.   

I’m ashamed to admit that I thought to myself, “I can’t believe that she is reading on Easter Sunday of all days!  She isn’t worthy of that honor.  Someone who is better than she should be the one up there in front of all these people.  I am worthier than she is!  Why didn’t I get chosen to read today?”  And then I instantly felt guilty and ashamed for this proud thought. 

I have mulled over that incident many times in the years that have passed since then.  I had gotten caught up in trying to prove myself to God and to everyone else, trying to prove that I was worthy of a place of honor. I was trying to earn my way to God’s table.  I had not taken to heart the wisdom of what Jesus had to say in today’s gospel.     

Maybe the Pharisees who listened to Jesus that day took the parable he told literally.  Maybe at that very meal they had observed the host asking someone to move  so that someone more important could sit near the host.  And so Jesus underscored what they had all just seen by reminding them of the verse in Proverbs that says “It is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower at the table.  Who would want to be embarrassed in such a public way? 

But there’s more to the story Jesus tells than just what happens on the surface of the story.

Jesus is reminding those with ears to hear that our true place in God’s reign is not up to us.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot earn the seat of honor at the heavenly banquet, or even a place at all.   

Instead, our place at the table in God’s house is entirely up to God’s gracious love and mercy.  And we want to put forth our best effort out of gratitude for God’s gracious love and mercy at work in our lives.      

Instead of working on earning a place of honor, instead of trying to prove our worthiness, our assignment is simply to trust in the Lord instead of ourselves, to fear the Lord, to take delight in the Lord’s commandments, to be merciful and full of compassion, and to be generous and just, as today’s psalmist explains. 

Our assignment is to be humble, just like Jesus was in his life on earth. 

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul reminded his listeners that Jesus himself, God incarnate, did not cling to equality with God, but humbled himself, becoming a servant, and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. 

To be a follower of Jesus is to cultivate humility, and to be a servant to God and to those around us. 

Remember the parable Jesus told that we heard a few weeks ago, in which the watchful slaves are to be dressed for action and to have their lamps lit, to be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 

And then when the master arrives, he blesses the alert slaves.  Just as Jesus did when he washed the feet of his disciples at the last supper, this master will come in, put on his apron, and have the servants sit down to eat, and the master will serve them! 

That is shocking, that God would choose to wait on us! 

And even more shocking, God invites everyone to the table, not just the worthy few who may, in the eyes of this world, be the deserving ones. 

Jesus reminds the Pharisees, and us, of that aspect of God’s unconditional love for all of us in the second half of today’s gospel, when he tells the host, “Next time, don’t invite the ones who can and will repay you.  Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.”  They can’t repay you.  But God, the only one who can bless us, will bless you because what you have done for those who cannot repay you have done for God. 

To offer this grace and mercy to all that is around us is not about earning God’s favor.  Offering grace and mercy to the other is an act of gratitude and thanksgiving to God—God, who loves us enough to welcome us to the table even when we are poor in spirit, even when we are crippled physically or spiritually or emotionally, even when we are too weak to get up and walk through another day, even when we can’t even see that God is right there before us, inviting us to God’s table, even when we struggle to be unselfish and hesitate to invite those who cannot repay us to come on in.      

So how are we to come to our true place in God’s reign? 

To humbly trust in the Lord instead of in ourselves and our accomplishments.   

And to live in gratitude by sharing God’s undeserved hospitality, knowing that God embraces all of us and all things in God’s great circle of love, and invites us all to God’s  welcome table. 

Augustine of Hippo, Aug. 28

Augustine was born in Thageste, North Africa, in 354. His mother, Monnica, was a committed Christian and tried to raise Augustine in the faith.

In Augustine’s time, Christians were not baptized until later in life for fear that they would stain their souls with their post-baptismal sins. Augustine took this as a license to sin, and sin boldly. Although brilliant, he had a passionate and tempestuous personality and was infamous for his profligate lifestyle, complete with a scandalous mistress, creative cursing, and drunken debauchery.

Augustine had a quick and insatiable mind. He studied philosophy, rhetoric, and law and was an accomplished professor. Drawn to Neoplatonism and Manichaeism, Augustine remained restless, unable to find a system of thought that both engaged his mind and soothed his soul.

While Augustine was serving as professor of rhetoric at the Court of Milan, his mother Monnica’s pleas and prayers for her son to return to Jesus finally reached their climax.

In the summer of 386, Augustine heard the story of Placianus’s and his friends’ conversion after reading of the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert. He was jealous of the revelation given to them and was pacing his garden, wishing for some clarity in his faith, when he heard a child’s voice telling him to “take up and read.”  Augustine believed this was the sign he sought and took it as a divine command to open the Bible and read the first thing he saw.

His Bible turned to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: “Let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (13:13-14). Augustine felt the words were speaking directly to him. He was deeply convicted about his life of sin and felt called to dedicate his life to God. Shortly thereafter Augustine made the acquaintance of Bishop Ambrose, and, under his influence, came to view Christianity as both intellectually respectable and morally desirable. Augustine was baptized on Easter Eve 387.

His baptism and conversion to Christianity transformed Augustine completely from a prominent debaucher to a powerful defender of the faith. Upon returning to Africa, he gave away all of his possessions to the poor, with the exception of the family home—which he converted into a monastery. He was ordained a priest in 391 and consecrated as bishop of Hippo in 395, a position he held until his death thirty-five years later. He was described by his friend and fellow bishop, Possidius, as a man who “ate sparingly, worked tirelessly, despised gossip, shunned the temptations of the flesh, and exercised prudence in the financial stewardship of his See.”

Augustine’s writing provides his greatest legacy to the Church and the world. After his conversion, the quick, insatiable intellect he had applied to rhetoric and philosophy turned to theology and ethics. Augustine answered God’s call to “love the Lord your God with all your mind,” and fulfilled it well. Yet Augustine’s writing and thought were not dry and detached but passionate and evocative, engaging the heart as well as the mind.

Augustine’s Confessions is one of the earliest and most well-known examples of spiritual autobiography. In Confessions, Augustine tells the story of his life and faith: the good, the bad, and the ugly. 350 sermons and 100 works also survive Augustine did not hide his past sins and early debauchery but confessed them freely. In Confessions, he admitted that, as a young man he prayed, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” And in a letter to some bishops, he once wrote, “I too have sworn heedlessly and all the time, I have had this most repulsive and death-dealing habit. I’m telling your graces; from the moment I began to serve God, and saw what evil there is in forswearing oneself, I grew very afraid indeed, and out of fear I applied the brakes to this old, old, habit.”

Augustine of Hippo is commemorated in The Episcopal Church’s calendar on August 28.

Augustine’s Ideas

One question preoccupied Augustine from the time he was a student in Carthage: why does evil exist in the world? He returned to this question again and again in his philosophy, a line of inquiry motivated by personal experience. Augustine lived in an era when the pillar of strength and stability, the Roman Empire, was being shattered, and his own life, too, was filled with turmoil and loss. First he lost his mistress, then his mother, and finally his son. To believe in God, he had to find an answer to why, if God is all-powerful and also purely good, he still allows suffering to exist.

Augustine’s answers to this question would forever change Western thought. First, he states that evil exists because we have free will. God enables humans to freely choose their actions and deeds, and evil inevitably results from these choices. Even natural evils, such as disease, are indirectly related to human action, since they become evil only when in contact with people. According to this theory, a disease spreads only because men and women put themselves in harm’s way. Augustine gave a more theological explanation later in his life: we cannot understand the mind of God, and what appears evil to us may not be evil at all. In other words, we cannot judge God’s judgment. The roots of both of these answers stemmed from two philosophies, Manicheanism and Neoplatonism, which shaped Augustine’s ideas.

He helped formulate the idea of original sin – “the deliberate sin of the first man is the cause of original sin.” Adam by his fault transmitted to us not only death but also sin. The grace of Christ was therefore indispensable to human freedom .

Free Will and Responsibility

Before Augustine, Manicheanism was extremely influential among early Christians. Manicheanism was a cult that first arose in Roman North Africa, begun by a Persian named Mani, who died around A.D. 276. This cult combined elements of Christianity with elements of Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Persia, or Iran. Mani taught that the universe was a battlefield of two conflicting forces. On one side is God, who represents light and goodness and who seeks to eliminate suffering. Opposing him is Satan, who represents darkness and evil and is the cause of misery and affliction. Human beings find themselves caught in the middle of these two great forces. According to Manicheanism, the human body, like all matter, is the product of Satan and is inherently evil, whereas the soul is made of light. The only escape from evil is to free the soul from the body through the practices of asceticism and meditation. Manicheanism taught that Satan is solely responsible for all the evil in the world, and humankind is free of all responsibility in bringing about evil and misery. Augustine became a follower of Manicheanism during his student days in Carthage, but he ultimately broke with the Manicheans over the question of responsibility for evil, since he believed that human beings are capable of free will and are among the causes of suffering in the world. This disagreement led him to Neoplatonism, a system of philosophy developed by Plato’s follower, Plotinus, that would prove to be the most influential in his life and work.

The Importance of the Body and the Soul

Plato’s influence on philosophy was widespread during the later Roman Empire, the time in which Augustine lived. The philosopher Plotinus (a.d. 204–270), in particular, was responsible for redefining and reshaping Platonic philosophy into a cohesive system of thought called Neoplatonism. To explain the presence of evil, Plotinus drew on Plato’s distinction between the world of physical, tangible things and a world of intangible ideas or Forms. Plato taught that the physical world is changeable, perishable, and imperfect, in contrast with world of ideas or Forms, which is constant, perfect, and everlasting. Because the physical world is marked by change and corruption, it is impossible to fully know it. True knowledge can be achieved only by thinking about the eternal and perfect forms, of which the tangible world is only a copy, just as a painting is only an imitation of something real.

The Neoplatonists used this distinction between the physical and the ideal to explain the relationship between the body and the soul. They taught that the soul is perfect but trapped in an imperfect body. Because the body belongs in the physical realm, it is the root of evil. Thus, the soul seeks to break free of the body so it can live true to its perfection, in the realm of ideal forms. In Plotinus, Augustine found the important idea that human beings are not a neutral battleground on which either goodness or evil lays claim, as the Manicheans believed. Rather, human beings are the authors of their own suffering. Plotinus carried this line of thought further than Augustine was willing to accept, asserting that the body is unimportant in defining a human being and that true human nature involves only the soul and has nothing to do with the body. Augustine disagreed, maintaining that human beings are both body and soul together. We bring evil on ourselves because we actively choose corruptible elements of the physical world rather than the eternal, perfect forms, which are spiritual. Augustine argues that God does not allow evil to exist so much as we choose it by our actions, deeds, and words. Later, he came to the conclusion that it is impossible for us to understand the mind of God, and therefore we cannot come to a proper comprehension of why suffering exists.

The Possibility of Certitude

A number of philosophers before Augustine had argued that certainty is impossible and that the best the human mind can hope to achieve is the conviction that its conclusions are highly probable. Augustine disagreed with this premise and sought to demonstrate philosophically that certitude is in fact possible. His first argument is that if we accept the possibility of our conclusions being probable, we’ve already implicitly assumed that certainty exists, because things can only be “probably” true if truth (in other words, certainty) does in fact exist. If there is no truth, there is no probability. Second, happiness is the result of acquired wisdom, which all human beings desire. Thus, to say wisdom cannot be attained is to say that happiness is impossible—an unacceptable conclusion. Third, Augustine takes issue with the idea that the senses cannot be trusted, and he does not agree with his opponents that the mind is entirely dependent on the senses. On the contrary, our senses do seem reliable to a certain extent, and the mind can understand things independently of the senses, so therefore it must be even more reliable than the senses. Finally, Augustine points out that our mental states are beyond doubt. Whatever we may say or not say, we cannot doubt that at this moment we are thinking. We may say that we are being deceived, but this very fact of being deceived proves that we exist. These four reasons support the thesis that certitude is possible.

The Gospel – Luke 14:1, 7-14 – Pentecost 12 The Way Up With God Is Down

"Feast of Simon the Phrarisee" – Peter Paul Rubens (1618-1620)

I love David Lose’s comment on this passage -“If there was ever a gospel reading that invited a polite yawn, this might be it. I mean, goodness, but Jesus comes off in this scene as a sort of a progressive Miss Manners.” He later backs off of it.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. And so this, and all reported encounters with religious authorities, are going to clarify and sharpen the division between Jesus’ vision of right now, right here, being the time and the place for the realization of God’s Kingdom, and the authorities’ anxiety to keep social peace as defined and enforced by the Roman occupiers.

He is invited to dinner by the big cheese – “house of a leader of the Pharisees”. Jesus does not seem to be invited for the hospitality of it, but for the hostility of it. The setting seems hostile. Sabbath controversy stories in chapters 6 and 13 had both ended with pharisees on the defensive (6:7; 13:17). Chapter 11 had ended with the pharisees "lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say." (11:54).

Thus Jesus is not being watched closely to see what they might learn from him. He is being watched closely to assess just how much of a threat he really might be. He is being tested outside of the admiring crowds. Jesus is watching them very closely in order to make observations about human conduct. He wanted to contrast their kingdom of ritual with the kingdom of God emphasizing mercy and radical inclusion.

The word pharisee can mean "to separate". The Pharisees were a group of people who separated themselves from the riffraff of society. They sought to live holy and pure lives, keeping all of the written and oral Jewish laws. Often in the gospels, Pharisees are pictured as being holier-than-thou types, the religious elite. They felt that they had earned the right to sit at the table with God. They criticize Jesus because he doesn’t separate himself from the "sinners and tax collectors."

The Gospel is sandwiched between two other situations. Just before the Gospel Jesus heals a man with dropsy and defended that Sabbath healing. He may have been the bait

There are two main scenes here with advice

1. Going to banquet sit at the lowest place so you can move up rather than forced down

In Israel, the meal table played a very important role, not only in the family, but in society as well. When an Israelite provided a meal for a guest, even a stranger, it assured him not only of the host’s hospitality, but of his protection Also in Israel (as elsewhere), the meal table was closely tied to one’s social standing. “Pecking order” was reflected in the position one held at the table

Jesus knows that most people would want to take the place of honor. What is interesting is that those who put themselves forward to take the highest or most dignified place might be removed not to the second place but to the lowest place.

And, Jesus takes pains to show that this "demotion" is really an experience of humiliation. Rather than seeking to put ourselves forward, we are to wait until we are invited up to the honored position.

When the guests jockeyed for position at the table, Jesus spoke to this evil as well (vv. 7-11). While they believed that “getting ahead” socially required self-assertion and status-seeking, Jesus told them that the way to get ahead was to take the place of less honor and status. Status was gained by giving it up. One is exalted by humbling himself, Jesus said.

Note that Jesus is not criticizing the system but how people operate within it.

His exhortation is to pursue humility, a concept with significant status connotations. Humility was very rarely considered a virtue in Greco-Roman moral discourse.

Humility doesn’t mean being passive. Letting others walk all over us Jesus shows by his life that being humble didn’t mean being passive, but, when necessary, it meant taking out the whip and driving the self-centered bullies out of the temple. 

There is a balance between being humble without self-degradation or shame of letting others "walk all over" us vs. deliberately putting ourselves above others through self-exaltation or arrogance.

Exaltation depends too if you are doing the exalting or God raising up and exaltation belong to God; recognition of one’s lowliness is the proper stance for human beings. The act of humbling oneself is not something for its own sake, but for the sake either of God or of Christ .Jesus advises a strategy of deliberately and consciously living beneath one’s presumed status in order to receive even greater honoring later.

Some scholars speculate that this teaching would particularly apply to Luke and his first readers as they were higher status Gentiles, and the mixed-status Christian communities would require them to live beneath their comfort zone. God would later recognize and honor their accepting of lower social standing.

Here is a paradox indeed. The way up is down. To try to “work up” is to risk being “put down.” Those who wish to be honored must be humble and seek the lowly place. Those who strive to attain the place of honor will be humiliated

2. If you are the host, don’t invite who can in turn invite you and be repaid but invite “ the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” and be repaid by God

Shift in emphasis here. Now Jesus is not working within the system but challenging it.

The host had apparently invited all the prominent people to his table on this occasion.

Jesus assumes that you are putting on the feast, rather than attending a marriage banquet, and that you have to put together your guest list. Guest lists are put together based on a philosophy or on some kind of principle. Two popular ways to do it are because you "owe" someone who has invited you to their event or you want to "get in good" with some people and so you extend an invitation to them 

First century middle-eastern dinner parties were political, social, and class affairs. One would invite those considered one’s social equals or superiors. Accepting an invitation to a such a dinner carried with it the expectation that the one invited would return the favor.

Obviously, in the unlikely event they would get an invite, poor people would not accept since they would not be able to repay.

The central principle of this advice is that we are to give things to people without expecting any kind of return.

Jesus told him that while men might seem to get more in return from inviting their friends, family, and prominent people to a meal, in heaven’s currency men were rewarded by God when they invited those who could not give anything in return—the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

Jesus calls for “kingdom behavior”: inviting those with neither property nor place in society. God is our ultimate host, and we, as hosts are really behaving as guests, making no claims, setting no conditions, expecting no return.

We are to do good to people regardless of their ability to repay. In fact, we might delight even more in extending ourselves to people if they can’t repay because, in this case, we will have a reward at the "resurrection of the righteous."

Notice here that the listing: the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind – reflect those listed in Jesus’ initial declaration for his ministry way back in Luke 4:18. Your "blessing" is the total removal of social rank in the reign of God. In God’s eyes, this is justice, and you will be rewarded at the "resurrection of the just."

Helping the needy is more than just sending money, but getting involved with the people — perhaps sitting down together with them as equals at a supper table.

What the "helpers" frequently discover is that Christ serves them through the needy. Jesus says we need to start inviting new people to dinner and it may challenge our comfort zones.

We are disciples on the road – disciple on the road with Jesus is to share with those who have nothing and who can give nothing in return.

Back to David Lose on inviting the “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind”:

“And while that sounds at first blush like it ought to be good news, it throws us into radical dependence on God’s grace and God’s grace alone. We can’t stand, that is, on our accomplishments, or our wealth, or positive attributes, or good looks, or strengths, or IQ, or our movement up or down the reigning pecking order. There is, suddenly, nothing we can do to establish ourselves before God and the world except rely upon God’s desire to be in relationship with us and with all people. Which means that we have no claim on God; rather, we have been claimed by God and invited to love others as we’ve been loved.

“As we see in today’s reading, precisely because we have been invited into relationship by God — because, that is, God has conferred upon us freely a dignity and worth we could never secure for ourselves — we are free to do the same for others. We are free to put them before ourselves, to lead them to seats of honor, to invite them to be our dinner guests, not because of what they can do for us, but because of what has already been done for all of us.

“It’s a new humanity Jesus is establishing, a new humanity that has no place for our insecurities and craving for order. Which is why it’s frightening and why those invested in the pecking order — which, of course, includes all of us — will put him to death.&qu

Lectionary August 28, Pentecost 12

I. Theme –  Our lives should exhibit humility and love

Feast of Simon the Pharisee” – Peter Paul Rubens (1618-1620)

The lectionary readings are here or individually:  

First Reading – Sirach 10:12-18 or Proverbs 25:6-7
Psalm – Psalm 112
Epistle – Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Gospel – Luke 14:1, 7-14 

Today’s readings remind us that our Christian way of life is characterized by humility and love. The wisdom teacher Sirach warns his readers to avoid arrogance, violence and pride. The author of Proverbs counsels about having a humble attitude and being content with one’s own social status. The author of Hebrews urges readers to make Christian love a practical reality in their lives.

At a banquet, Jesus teaches the meaning of true humility.Jesus’ teachings on humility challenge us, and cause us to go deeper—it is not enough to humble ourselves in the presence of others, but to actively reach out and invite those who would not be invited to join in. We are called to live out our witness, especially when it is hard and goes against the grain of the world. How does the invitation of Jesus challenge us at the table as we celebrate?

Some of us may know the honor of sitting at the head table at some social or business function. Because recognition of our importance is a coveted honor, the scene in Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast is familiar to us. Who has not looked for his or her place card near the host and been disappointed to find other names at the seats of honor?

The twinge we feel when we do not make the head table at important meetings reveals the fact that we still have a trace of the old nature in us. We want to look rich before people; we forget how rich Christ has made us before God.

Our earthly status is always insecure; it waxes and wanes, and the retirement party inevitably comes. Newcomers take our place, and we are expected to go fishing–or at least stay out of the way of our successors. Not so in God’s service. Once a saint, always a saint here. We are never retired from work in the kingdom. Our future is to be more glorious than is our present in God’s service.

God continues to give freely to us who are poor in what matters most. Our attempts to emulate God’s generosity and hospitality are received and honored when done in the spirit of humility that befits God’s image in us. Then, like God, we too can enjoy the company of those who can never repay us.

II. Summary

First Reading –  Sirach 10:12-18

The book of Sirach, also called Ecclesiasticus in older Bibles, reflects the teachings of Judaism in the second century BC. The author, Ben Sirach (50:27), describes himself as “one who devotes himself to the study of the law of the Most High” (38:34). Apparently, Sirach ran a religious school, a “house of instruction” (51:23), for those whose wealth afforded them such leisure. He set down in writing the content of his oral instruction about 180 BC. His grandson translated the work into Greek sometime after 132 BC. (See the Prologue to the book of Sirach.)  It is a book of moral instruction and wise sayings.

It was included in the Greek translation of scripture (the Septuagint, usually abbreviated LXX). Although not a part of the Hebrew canon of scripture, the work was highly valued both in Jewish and Christian circles. Thus it acquired its Latin title, Ecclesiasticus, “of the Church,” that is, to be read in church. It is the last major product of the tradition of wisdom literature (such as Job, Proverbs and many of the Psalms), and is an early example of the teaching that developed into the rabbinic schools of Judaism.

The reading for this week is a little homily on human pride.  Notice the consistent structure of coupled clauses.  From the ostensibly theological premise that begins this discourse, Ben Sira quickly moves into the world of wisdom and commonplace practicality.  He sees pride in the rulers of the world, a pride that God quickly undermines and brings to naught.  Ben Sira had ample fodder for his mill.  Living in the period of the Seleucid kings, the author saw ample examples of pride in the face of God.  Perhaps some reading in the Maccabees might help flesh out these insights for you.  History had left the old concerns about the Davidic kingship behind.  In spite of the success of the Maccabean Period (164-63 BCE) the Levant was already engulfed by far mightier powers whose secular and religious life was at odds with what Israel had long known.  Faithfulness to God, rather than national or personal pride, during such a period is what Ben Sira hopes to receive.

Proverbs 25:6-7

For those bothered by reading the apocryphal text, the lectionary provides this snippet from Proverbs.  As such it deftly serves as an inspiration point for Jesus’ saying in the Gospel.  The reading from Proverbs has more of a personal scope while the reading from Sirach has a more global feel.

The Book of Proverbs consists of short, memorable sayings drawn from human experience that are shaped poetically for memory and meaning. Since they are practical, proverbs serve a multitude of functions for people in their communities including observation, command, admonition, prohibition. In general they help to preserve tradition, ponder the mystery of life, and promote proper behavior. Today’s reading, for example, offers advice on how to conduct oneself when invited to dine with the king.

Not only are the images and message memorable, but the shape is poetic. In particular, Hebrew wisdom utilizes the parallelism of couplets to juxtapose truths and tease out new meanings. Good proverbs are characterized by being memorable, true to experience, practical or useful, and universally applicable.

Each proverb is like a snapshot of a vast panorama that needs to be complemented by other viewpoints. Since no proverb can totally capture the complexity of life’s mystery, the truth of each must be taken in context with that of others to create the whole picture.

Proverbs 25:6-7 is a brief passage about humility. It is better to be raised up than to be taken down. Humility is one of the character values lifted up by Wisdom literature. In our second thread of the Hebrew Scriptures this season after Pentecost, we have been following passages about the covenant that God made with the people and the promises of the covenant.

This passage, while at first glance doesn’t seem to fit, reminds us that when we are humble, we are more likely to witness and experience God’s grace firsthand than if we are proud. As often among people, we think we only need God when things are bad. If we remember with humility that all things, including ourselves, come from God, if we remember our dependence upon God, then we remember God’s presence, through good times as well as difficult times. When we are low, we hold on to the hope of God to raise us up, and when we are high, we remember with gratitude that it is God who has raised us up, and we also remember others who need help to be raised up. We focus not on our own gain, but the will of God and the care of others.

Psalm –  Psalm 112

This is an acrostic psalm, each line beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet

This psalm is in happy company with both Sirach and with Proverbs, for all three of them are examples of Wisdom literature.  Here the idea person is held up for us to emulate and to exploit.  The proper noun indicates a warrior or a hero, but it is really anyone who has to deal with the issues of this world.  Prophetic issues are raised up here: righteousness, mercy, generosity, truthfulness, and such. 

Psalm 112 sings of the blessings of God for those who follow God, and that even those who are blessed with riches are blessed so they can give freely to the poor. The blessings are not only spiritual, but include children (v. 2) and wealth that can be used to help others (v. 3, 5, 9). These blessed faithful contrast with the wicked whose “desires come to nothing” (v. 10).

The psalm closes with a neat comparison – The ideal person stands in sharp contrast to the one who is wicked.  The wicked are the ones who are angry and jealous, who allow greed to overcome them, but the righteous give freely, sharing with all, and delighting in God who has given them everything. They are in sorrow at the comparison, and unlike the reputation of the righteous one (which, according to the psalmist, is eternal) the desires and story of the wicked will soon be gone.

Epistle-  Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

The first people to hear this letter were Jews who had become Christians. Their conversion cost them their membership in familiar Jewish circles, so the author persuades them that they have an even better, if yet unfamiliar, membership in Christ.

Here, in this reading, the author gives the reader some final recommendations on how to live a worthy life.  We are given advice on loving service and then in a later section on true worship

The writer reminds the readers that in following Jesus, we must love one another, and that love comes with respect.  Hospitality, especially to fellow Christians, was a practical way of showing love, since one’s fellow guests at ancient inns were likely to be thieves. Hospitality was especially a duty for leaders of households. The responsibilities and rewards of such hospitality could be unexpected.

Prisoners and the ill-treated were to be helped. Christians should be able to be compassionate concerning the sufferings of others.

We must honor our spouses and remain faithful. We must love one another with mutual respect, and not live in greed.. Adultery and immorality will be judged. Love of money also disrupts relationships in the community and with God. Everyone is to be content, trusting in God’s care and adopting Psalm 118:6 as a watchword.

Jesus’ teachings, the commandment to love one another, still stands. We honor God by living for others, caring for others, doing good to others. The writer makes the bold claim, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” While we all grow and change, God’s promise fulfilled through Jesus—indeed, God’s love through Jesus, remains the same.

The recipients of the letter are urged to remember the example of their own leaders, as previously they have considered that of the Old Testament saints (chap. 11). These leaders appear to be those who originally proclaimed the gospel to them (2:3c), and who have now died. Whereas mortal leaders die, Jesus Christ is always available as model and mediator.

Gospel –  Luke 14:1, 7-14 

The particular sequence in Luke 14:1-24 of a healing, a teaching and a parable has been shaped by Luke around the theme of supper in the home of a Pharisee. The teaching on humility in verses 7-11 is, at one level, an illustration of simple worldly wisdom (Proverbs 25:6-7). But it takes on meaning for the whole Christian community when related to the community meal or eucharist.

Jesus is eating at the house of a leader of the Pharisees, and Jesus has noticed where everyone has sat down for the meal. The guests are choosing to sit closest to the host and to Jesus, to show how honored they are, rather than showing their humility.

There are two teachings.  The first is about humility. What Jesus advises them goes against all tradition—to sit at the lowest place and then be invited to move up. Jesus’ reasons for this is that all who humble themselves with be exalted (vs. 11), but this exaltation may not come in this lifetime. In verse 11 the passive verbs indicate that God is the one doing the action. The future tenses point to the humbling of the proud and the exaltation of the lowly on the last day, already implicit in the coming of the Messiah proclaimed in Mary’s Magnificat prayer (Luke 1:52).

The second observation is about the virtue of hospitality and how it is lived out in the actual lives of people.  Who should be invited to our banquets?   The guests should be, according to Jesus those on the  margin of society – the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  Those whose reputations and labels would not make them on the guest list. This teaching goes beyond humility, but that we are called to bless others

In other words, all those who are mentioned by both Isaiah and Jesus as the recipients of the messianic kingdom should be invited to this earthly feast.  There is no reciprocity here, only the promise of the kingdom.  Thus, this simple human dinner party becomes a sign of what is to come in the heavenly realm.

This teaching speaks both specifically to the exclusivity of the Pharisees and generally to the ethic of reciprocity widely accepted. The maimed, the lame, the blind were excluded from worship at the Jewish temple, and thus w ould have also been unacceptable dinner guests for the Pharisees. None of those mentioned would have been able to repay this hospitality.

Jesus’ challenge to inclusiveness at the Christian eucharistic banquet continued to haunt the early Church (James 2:2-4; Romans 12:16) and remains just as much a challenge today.

As Christians we often say Christ has no hands or feet but ours. We are called to bless people with our lives. It’s not just about giving money to those in need, but is about extending our lives to those on the margins. We must not just be humble ourselves, but we must empty our own selfish ambition and reach out with the love of Christ beyond society’s boundaries.

Sunday links, Pentecost 12, Aug. 28, 2022

Photo by Elizabeth Heimbach on the Rappahannnock

Aug.28, 11:00am – Morning Prayer

  • Zoom link for Aug.28 Meeting ID: 869 9926 3545 Passcode: 889278
  • Bulletin, Aug. 28, 2022
  • Lectionary for Aug. 28, 2022, Pentecost 12
  • Sermon , Aug. 28, 2022
  • Videos, Aug. 28, 2022
  • Photos, Aug. 28, 2022

  • All articles for Aug. 28, 2022
  • This Week

  • Ecumenical Bible Study, Wed, Aug 31, 10am-12pm. Reading lectionary of Sept. 4
  • Beheading of John the Baptist, Aug. 29

    Matthew has told us of the beheading of John the Baptist – killed because John denounced Herod Antipas’ marriage to his brother Philip’s wife when Philip was still alive (a violation of Jewish law). Jesus is reeling over this.

    His reaction is to withdraw privately to a desert-like, remote place. So Jesus withdraws to be alone with his thoughts and his sorrows – in a “deserted place” to regroup, to recharge. But it doesn’t work, of course. The eager crowds are on him – there is no rest for the weary – and he can’t let them down since he is compassionate. Out of his own heartache, he bring riches.

    This is the story of the feeing of the 5000. It is the only one of Jesus’ miracles that gets recorded in all four gospels.

    The question has surfaced over the years as to why Mark reports it at all. Later evangelists must have asked the same question, as Matthew shortens it markedly and Luke omits it altogether.

    The majority opinion is that it serves two key purposes in Mark: it foreshadows Jesus’ own grisly death and it serves as an interlude between Jesus’ sending of the disciples and their return some unknown number of days or weeks later.

    Another reason is simply to draw a contrast between the two kinds of kingdoms available to Jesus disciples, both then and ever since. Consider: Mark, tells this story as a flashback, out of its narrative sequence, which means he could have put this scene anywhere. But he puts it here, not simply between the sending and receiving of the disciples but, more specifically, just after Jesus has commissioned his disciples to take up the work of the kingdom of God and when he then joins them in making that kingdom three-dimensional, tangible, and in these ways seriously imaginable.

    “Herod’s Kingdom – the kingdom of the world and, for that matter, Game of Thrones and all the other dramas we watch because they mirror and amplify the values of our world – is dominated by the will to power, the will to gain influence over others. This is the world where competition, fear and envy are the coins of the realm, the world of not just late night dramas and reality television but also the evening news, where we have paraded before us the triumphs and tragedies of the day as if they are simply givens, as if there is no other way of being in the world and relating to each other.