St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
September 1, 2019
The Reverend Rick Veit
First, we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Do you ever get sick of me teaching that? Does it ever get old? Our vision is to be a growing community of love, joy, and hope. Has that become meaningless to anyone?
It certainly wasn’t last week. Remember when we blessed backpacks and briefcases and celebrated Vacation Bible School in worship and how God Gives Us Good Gifts: YEE HAW! God gives us love, and we are first supposed to love God. And the second Commandment is like unto it. We are to love our neighbor as we would ourselves. We love all people. But it is in that order. First, we love and worship and pray to God. Then we love our neighbor as we would ourselves.
You can see how frustrated the religious leaders, the Pharisees, could get with Jesus each time he healed someone on the sabbath day. It is the ONE day of the week that we are to reserve everything for God. We are to worship God and then we are to rest. Nothing else. We don’t work. We don’t write letters. We don’t play soccer or hockey or run. Well, actually, that is not in the Bible. But you get my point. We worship God and we rest. That is it!
It is even one of the 10 Commandments. Number 4: Keep the Sabbath Holy, precious, set apart. That is what we are doing today. The actual commandment states: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.”
A side note: But did anyone read about the mass shooting yesterday? Another tragedy – 5 people shot dead and 21 injured in West Texas. Help us O Lord. Help us and help those people. Those shootings should never get old to us.
Can you imagine me as a minister or any of us as Christians going to that community and saying, “Sorry. It is the Sabbath. Come back tomorrow and we will take care of you?” Of course not. And yet, that is what was happening with Jesus. What we heard last week in the Gospel reading was one of three examples where Jesus was healing, taking care of people, on the sabbath. And taking care of people, LOVE, requires work and time and sometimes money. Love and loving requires effort.
To say the least, Jesus was being watched closely everywhere he went, especially by the Pharisees, the religious authorities. And Jesus, this “religious authority”, seems to be breaking one of the main commandments. Concerned, one of the leaders of the Pharisees invited Jesus to dinner, and Jesus accepted the invitation.
I can just picture Jesus scratching his head in dismay as the guests at the dinner begin scrambling for the places of honor. And Jesus tells a story, a parable, almost quoting verbatim what the sage who wrote Proverbs counseled:
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, 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 honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.”
It still happens today, right? I remember during my seminary days, at every lunch, guess who would fight for the tables with the professors and dean in the refectory. All of us! That is who. I finally just went and began sitting with the janitorial staff usually, the ones who kept to themselves. The ones who observed all of the rustling to sit with the people of highest honor.
It happens at church as well. Think about it. When church is done, we want to go talk to the people we know first. That is what is ordinary. It comes naturally. We want to catch up with each other, and that is okay. But, as Christians, particularly on Sunday mornings, our eyes are to be on the stranger first, the one who may be down and out, or the one who may be new, disconnected.
Look around today – go ahead – who do you NOT know. They may need a kind greeting, a welcome more than anyone else.
I will never forget hearing stories from my African-American colleagues at a conference on race last year. In one situation, a black priest was asked by kitchen volunteers to leave and wait outside, because that is where the homeless people waited for the food. They thought he was a homeless man. They assumed he was a homeless man and they were sending him out of the kitchen to wait for food with the less fortunate.
Jesus ended his teaching at the dinner with: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Jesus then turned to the Pharisee who had invited him to lunch and said, “When you give a (meal), do not invite your friends (or family or rich neighbors…so that they hopefully would invite you in return). But ( – and this is the difference between a faith community and any other community) – when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” Our Eucharist is a banquet. So is our reception following the service.
And let me be clear. Jesus is not saying that we should not spend time with family and friends. Of course we should. But Jesus is teaching about Kingdom Etiquette. And the Kingdom of God is at hand today. Every moment of our lives we should have our eyes open to opportunities that God sends us to serve someone in need. And Jesus teaches that when we live with an eye for those in need as primary, WE will be blessed. We receive blessings. But when we give, do should not expect anything in return. Just give for the sake of giving.
And that whole sabbath rule? Of course we worship and pray, and we should be doing it every week, every day. Our entire lives, every moment, should be filled with worship and love of the Lord. But here is the kicker: Worship should inspire us to serve others, especially when the opportunity presents itself. We should never say, “Come back when we are not busy worshipping.”
(Walk into sanctuary)
One of my most profound memories was earlier this summer when halfway through the worship service, a man wanders up the center aisle to one of the front seats. It was available. Well, we are Episcopalians. He walked up and laid his backpack down. During the Nicene Creed, he stood up and walked into the center aisle and just stood there. Then, during the Prayers of the People he walked up to me and began speaking fairly loudly, “Pastor, I need some help. I need prayers for Louise. She died recently. (The prayers continued. It was Eric Nelson.). Please pray for her. (The man broke down in tears. He began almost wailing). Pray for Louise, she died.
THEN, another person walks up to the man and says, “Enough! Stop it!” On the surface it seemed similar to Jesus’ stories. Stop bothering us in worship. You are not worthy to be in the front of the sanctuary. It was kind of a test from God. And I would say we passed. The man slipped the man in need some money. I ended up praying for the man and Louise. We all prayed for them. Then, some of our ushers took him up for coffee and helped him out a bit.
We are never to separate loving the Lord our God, worshipping the Lord our God, and loving and serving our neighbor, ie. everyone, as we would ourselves. The two must be interlinked. Both are important and both should never be separated.
And they should never get old. Because, as the author of Hebrews reminded us, we may be entertaining angels unaware.
So, who are the angels among us today? Look around.