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» "When Emily Post Meets Jesus" Rev. Dr. Griff Martin
I won’t pretend that I know exactly what Jesus would say today…. But I know this, he is paying attention and he is watching how we do our lives and he has something to say. So this morning, may we all lean into our lives and listen in our hearts to the whisper of Jesus as he begins a new parable for each of us, “The Kingdom of God is like…”
When Emily Post Meets Jesus
A Sermon on Luke 14:1, 7-14 and Proverbs 25:6-7
For the Community of First Austin: a baptist community of faith
On the Fifteenth Sunday Following Pentecost
August 28, 2016
One should know when they are playing outside their zone… this is an important life skill because we can’t all be good at everything and knowledgeable in all areas.
I personally know that I fit in better at a bookstore than at a sports bar or a tailgating event. It did not take me more than 1 LSU tailgate to learn that those who are tailgating do not want to use that time to talk about the last book they read or what character they most identify with in Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch…. In fact they will look at you quite funny if you try to breach these topics. A tailgate is to talk college football. And if that is not your thing, than you learn to stay rather silent at tailgates… I learned it was better to nod along with a conversation about the Honey Badger and the Heisman and try to stay sober-ish, which is sober at a LSU tailgate.
Know your limits and boundaries. Understand what you can and can’t talk about without sounding like a fool.
And it seems to me that this very morning our Jesus is playing outside his boundaries and zone. Our Savior has turned into Mrs. Manner and he’s giving us etiquette lessons on where to sit at a wedding and how to host a dinner party. It’s Advanced Home Ec right in the middle of the Gospel, except that Jesus’ advice does not pass the Emily Post test, Jesus fails Home Ec.
For the wedding reception, if we follow Jesus’ advice, we all end up fighting for the chair which is the furthest from the host and guest of honor, it’s almost comical advice that will backfire when we all humbly try to sit in the worst seat. Whereas Mrs. Manners herself, Emily Post, will have none of this nonsense because there would be place cards at the table so every guest knew where to sit and did not have to choose a place. The place cards would sit the male guest with the highest ranking social order immediately to the right of the host and the female guest with the highest ranking social order immediately to the left, from there one should alternate gender according to your societal rank. It’s very simple.
And then there are all sorts of rules on formal seating plans if there is a large number of tables: a bridal party table, a family table, and then the mix and match tables which follows a whole other set of rules depending on if your guests are given a plus one and if your guest are invited with or without children. Emily Post even gives us instructions on how to display a seating chart and how to escort your guests to the right seat.
Emily Post gets it. She has all the details that Jesus seems to miss. She has manners whereas it seems as if he was born in a barn….
Or look at the dinner party… Jesus tells us to invite those who will not pay back our invitation with a follow up invitation to their homes. Jesus is telling us to include all those, not just those who will help your own social rank. And again this could not be further from Emily Post, for her the dinner party is almost a competitive sport. You return a dinner invitation by having the guest at your house and then they return the request by having you back over and you would never invite someone who will not participate in following up like that.
I mean compared to Emily Post, Jesus sounds like the host who gets some Red Solo cups, a few takeout containers and a liter of off brand soda and calls it a party. Jesus does not pass Advanced Home Ec…. But I am not sure that is at all what this passage is about.
We are in Luke’s Gospel again and we have already moved past that pivotal point where Jesus turns his eyes toward Jerusalem. This is Jesus’ second half of life, he knows where his ministry is headed and he has embraced it. With each step and day Jesus is moving closer and closer to the crucifixion and I don’t think that as Jesus approached the cross, he suddenly woke up in the dead of night and remembered, “Man…. In all this teaching about justice and grace and mercy, I totally forgot that I needed to tell them how to behave at weddings… I meant to work that in at the Wedding in Cana but then that whole water to wine thing stole the show and I forgot to teach them manner and behavior for a wedding reception… need to work that in tomorrow’s lessons.”
I don’t think that is what our Jesus was thinking because contrary to what you hear in other places and from other pastors: I don’t know that proper manners and good behavior were goals for Jesus in the Incarnation (and maybe they are not ours either).
Incarnation is about the fullness of God breaking through, the fullness of God breaking into our humanity… its God using the whole creation and all of humanity to fully express the Kingdom of God. And that is what every parable is about as well.
Parables are God using the ordinary elements of creation in order to show us the Kingdom of God. Which means that these parables we have today are not about etiquette at all, but are instead about the Kingdom of God. It’s Jesus finding elements from our daily lives to challenge us, confront us and demand more of us. Every parable of Jesus Christ either shows an element of the Kingdom of God that we have missed or challenges us in terms of what stands in the way in our lives of the fullness of the Kingdom. And a good parable just might do both those things.
So this wedding and dinner image, why these parables?
Well the key in in the first verse, one that often gets overlooked, but one that our lectionary reminds us to look deeply at. Verse one: “On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath…” And this gives us all the context we need.
The dinner party and wedding etiquette are used because Jesus is paying attention. Jesus knows that parables exist all around us and is looking for them. As the great preaching professor Anna Carter Florence reminds us: “Parable literally means ‘thrown alongside.’ As in boom, now you don’t see it, now you do. One minute you are humming along, everything’s normal, and then, without warning you just collide with some flash of insight, and you know for sure that the kingdom of God has come near and you just saw a piece of it.”
Parables are about paying attention, which is exactly what Jesus is doing in this text. Jesus is invited to someone’s home and he gets there and he starts paying attention to things and he notices how people are trying to get the best seat at the party, close to the host and close to the guest of honor. They want people to know that they belong there. And Jesus observes all this and begins to chuckle because this is so no what the Kingdom of God is about… and so Jesus begins to tell them a parable that steps all over their toes, all because Jesus was paying attention.
And Jesus is still paying attention to us, to our lives and to the ways we are bringing about the Kingdom of God and the ways we are blocking the Kingdom of God.
And the question that I have this morning is this: when Jesus Christ walks into our lives and starts paying attention, what parable does he begin to tell? What stories does he tell in order to get our attention?
Maybe Jesus starts with this: There was once a father whose daughter was starting a new school the next day. The night before school started all sorts of worries began to swim around his head: Would her new teacher be nice? Would she fit in with the other kids? Would she be too shy? And he was up all night with worries and spent the whole next day exhausted and spent. And then Jesus would take a long breath and sigh and say, “The Kingdom of God is based on those who slumber in trust and not awake with worry.”
Or maybe Jesus would casually grab an iPhone and innocently ask for someone’s passcode (or maybe he knows it already with the whole all knowing bit) and he begins to scroll through their Facebook feed and he sees all these images that have been edited to provide a narrative of beauty and popularity. And then he scrolls over to their calendar which is chock full of important lunches with people they want to impress and with meetings with more people they want to impress and he notices there is no down time, this cell phone actually tells a story about wanting to be liked. And maybe off the cuff Jesus says…. “You know those folks who use Facebook to try to get as many likes as possible and you know those people who keep their calendars so full trying to meet all the right people… yeah I don’t get that because the password to the Kingdom of God is beloved and not popular, and in the Kingdom of God everyone gets the password… there is no need to impress” and then he hands me my cell phone back.
Or maybe Jesus picks up the newspaper and he reads the story of a bunch of Olympic swimmers who went out to celebrate their gold medals and they did a bit too much celebrating and got into a bit of trouble and then they made up a story to try and get the attention off them and their trouble. And Jesus turns and says, “you know these swimmers… there is some real truth here because when you take a story that is not true and you tell it to try and get the focus off yourself, well that kind of gossip and lie will always catch up with you and it will just destroy you… the Kingdom of God is made up of those who stick to their business and tell the truth.”
And then I think Jesus would start walking towards downtown Austin, specifically to the church on the corner of Ninth and Trinity, this people’s cathedral, and here again Jesus looks around and pays attention to us and all that we are doing, what parables does he begin to tell? Where does he see the Kingdom of God breaking though and where does he see the Kingdom of God all clogged up?
Maybe he spends some time with us and then he starts talking….
Maybe one day over coffee looking over the rail down into the children’s wing, Jesus looks up at those around him and announces he has a story to tell, “There once was a family that had just a beautiful home, it had just about everything you could ever want- a gym, a pool, a workout room, a library… really it was incredible and if the house did not have something, they could Amazon it or favor it to their doorstep. So the couple that lived in the house never had to leave the house, they had all they wanted and they felt safe and comfortable. But you know what they never go to see the birds flying high in the sky or feel the fresh cut grass under their feet or smell the rain coming in or see a rose bloom open…. They missed all that because they thought they had all they needed right there. Isn’t that sad? You see the Kingdom of God is made up of those people who go outside the doors of the house of God.”
Or maybe Jesus finds another one of those iPhones and after some Google searching he finds just the image that he is looking for, it’s one of the central images of the Olympics this year. One on side of the net there is the German volleyball team wearing their volleyball bikinis and right across the net there is the Egyptian team where one of the women is wearing her hijab. And Jesus passes the photo around smiling saying, “Isn’t that something, isn’t that just perfect? You see the Kingdom of God is as diverse as God’s creation, yet in all they diversity we come together to share life.”
Or maybe Jesus starts going from Sunday School class to Sunday School class because there is so much to learn in a progressive and open church like this and Jesus hears all these wonderful lessons but then he notices that there are a few folks who are a bit more conservative, but they are compassionate and thinking conservatives and they too are willing to speak their mind even though it might not be what everyone else wants to hear. And Jesus sits by them one morning in Sunday school and Jesus says, “You know this is the Kingdom of God, made up of folks with different opinions and thoughts, and together they see more… together they get closer to the whole picture.”
Or maybe Jesus just stands and watches… he sees teachers from a local elementary school coming to get free school supplies and he sees families coming to get free clothes for a new school year or he sees a church that gives above and beyond the tithe to support a flooded city or he sees us all walk in and greet one another on Sunday morning with hugs that unite all our differences… and Jesus smiles and says to himself, “this is the Kingdom of God.”
I won’t pretend that I know exactly what Jesus would say today…. But I know this, he is paying attention and he is watching how we do lives and he has something to say. So this morning, may we all lean into our lives as individuals and as a church and listen in our hearts to the whisper of Jesus as he begins a new parable for each of us, “The Kingdom of God is like…”
And may that parable shape our lives in such a way that suddenly the kingdom of God is just a little bit bigger and a little bit brighter in our world because God knows we need it.