Dear Jesus Etiquette- A Pentecost Season Sermon

Pentecost 12C ~September 1, 2019                   Hope Lutheran Church; Riverside, CA

Luke 14:1,7-14; Proverbs 25:6-7; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8;15-16

Reading a blog recently, a mother described dinner at her house:  

“We have a pig. smack dab in the center of our dinner table.  I wanted a meal where my husband would ask grace and then my well-mannered children would pass around the plates of food as we chatted about our day. Yeah, NOT! As my sons repeatedly burped during the prayer and peas were thrown in protest to somebody chewing with their mouth open, I had had enough! In  my desperation for sanity, I grabbed a rubber pig from the top of the toy bin and began a rant about how they were behaving like 3 little pigs. Their mamma fear turned into belly laughter as I laid down the new law of dinner time.If you burp, toot, or make an inappropriate bodily noise, You get the Pig!

piggy

  1. Every time you have a sharp tone or rude words, you get the Pig!
  2. If you chew with your mouth open, or…try to throw food into somebody else’s mouth while it’s open, you get the PIG!
  3. Napkin in your lap, not on top of your sister’s head or else, PIG!
  4. Rocking in your chair, getting out of your chair, falling out of your chair, PIG!
  5. The pig will move from person to person as laws are broken.
  6. Whoever ends up with the pig at the end of dinner does everybody’s dishes.

I felt better and they were roaring in laughter. This was our new dinner standard. Still is. The dinner table is no longer a place of constant correction, we just pass the pig. The behavior that used to bring dissension to our meal, now has brought laughter… and with that,  joy…and a table I want to sit at.”

As a mom myself, I had to laugh at this story.I could relate so well.  And it reflects so much of the bigger goal- which is joy when we eat together.  It isn’t really about manners as much as it is about diminishing the things which distract from our joy.  And I think that is what Christ is trying to get across to us today. Because our joy should be God’s joy- and God’s joy, is for all to be welcome and loved. 

The dinner etiquette story from Luke is not as much about how to act, as it is about how to be in relationship and not get caught up in the distractions from caring for one another.  Of course it is helpful not to be embarrassed at an event by assuming you are more important than you are. Yet, as usual, Christ is making a bigger point: 

Our status is not determined by the world, but by our sacred origin as God’s own.  And everyone has the same sacred origin in Jesus Christ- everyone. But we lose that when we start to think we may have more priority at the table than someone else.  

Christ is calling us into humility at the table and in the kingdom and the way to get there is to recognize humility is counter-cultural.  He is reminding us that we are not as important as we think we are and those special guests of honor aren’t necessarily either. You and I are NOT any better than the homeless person in front of Target this morning. Your job, my ordination, her Manolo Blahnik stilettos, his Gucci briefcase, their million dollar home, car, job, title…  None of it gives us more or less value when it really matters. Humanity values on a sliding scale. God simply values.  

This weekend has been a horrific one on the news and the next week will likely be worse.  We will hear of the details around the Texas shootings, and the destruction of Hurricane Dorian.  And in those details, we will inevitably lift up the 17 month old or young parent over the older postal worker or unnamed average joe who was shot, too.  We will hear more about our president’s Mar-Lago retreat damage which is insured and easily repaired and less about the 90 year old couple whose only possession is the 600 square foot home they own and became uninsured when they chose to pay for prescriptions instead.  We will hear damage based on dollars, not on human spirit. And the stories will be told based on which ones catch our attention- because a 17 month old is far more marketable news than a 60 year old grandma.  

Humanity values on a sliding scale.  God simply values.  And that, my friends, is the point of today’s gospel.  The kingdom of God doesn’t have special seats for those who feed more hungry or who preach the gospel. It is a kingdom where love is given with nothing expected in return.  Where you can’t buy or earn your way in. It is simply given. Where the beggar has as much status as the millionaire. Where our role as followers is not about denying our own power or ability or prestige, but acknowledging that others have equal power, ability and prestige, too. 

Because humanity values on a sliding scale, but God simply values. And God loved us into this family, granting us social standing- every one of us- as precious, beloved, forgiven children of the most high. 

God isn’t asking anything in return because we can’t even begin to offer anything in return.  And God loves us anyway. Loves us, values us, even treasures us and it has nothing to do with the work you have done, your skin color, your age, your inexperience, your checkered past or your perfect one, your savings balance or your Christmas card list.  It has everything to do with being created in love, for love, out of love, to love. That is the commodity we should seek. The litmus we should hold all actions and events against. Love. Freely given.  

So use whatever manners you like- sit at the wrong seat.  Burp and use the wrong fork at dinner. But start with love- in everything, for everyone.  And end with it. And invite others into it.  That is the best etiquette lesson ever.  

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Author: mistressofdivinity

Pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Riverside, California; a congregation of the Pacifica Synod in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Even though the diploma reads "Master of Divinity," the learning continues and I have the wrong body parts to earn a "masters" so I claim Mistress. I lean into this pastoral role more each day, learning to balance vocation and family, life and passion, living and loving.

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