Thursday, July 20, 2023

Liking (the Idea) of Jesus: A Sermon for Proper 17, Year C

Preached at St. Raphael's Episcopal Church August 28, 2022.

 Now then: so, as I was reflecting on things, I found myself with this in my head. 

"I like the idea-dea of you
I like the idea-dea of you
Wonder how it's be, be to love you
I like the idea-dea of you"

That’s the refrain from a song by an artist named Tessa Violet. Tessa is a YouTuber, but she's been very successful, going from YouTube to album with her music. And she's kind of interesting. That song always strikes me as interesting because it's about a young woman who has a young man who she's attracted to but not certain about. He is certain, but she is kind of reflecting on all of this. 

I've got a radar for trouble and you're a renegade
I take a leap and stumble while you are unafraid
I keep repeating, repeating the way you say my name.

I try convincing my friends that you're not right for me"

It's on and on. And then she comes back to, "I like the idea-dea of you."

Now, I think that what got me to that today is that - you might not see it this way - but it seems to me that there are a lot of folks out there who seem to like the idea of Jesus, but not so much Jesus. And that's because, as my wife reminds me now and again, if you read the Gospel and you're not uncomfortable, you're not reading the Gospel. 

Take today's Gospel lesson, an interesting lesson. Like last Sunday, it's another Sabbath. Jesus is dining in someone’s home. We read verse 1 and then skip verses 2 through 6, and we skip over another public healing on the Sabbath. We pick up again with verses 7 through 14. And then with verse 15 we have another lesson after this that is Luke's version of the story of the King and the wedding banquet. In this case, it's a rich man and a wedding banquet; and because it's a rich man and not a king, it ends slightly differently. 

But in the middle of it, in today’s lesson, Jesus gives the lesson that we all know: “When you are invited to a big event, show some humility, and if things go well your way, you'll get lifted up.” The thing is, is that everybody around the room heard that and probably went, “Uh huh, uh huh, yes, we understand;” because there was nothing particularly new or distinctive about Jesus saying that. It appears at least once in the wisdom literature earlier in the Hebrew scriptures, a verse in Proverbs, I believe. And there are other sitings of humility in Proverbs and in Ecclesiastes, et cetera. 

But then Jesus goes on and he said, “So next time you have a party, don't invite the people who can invite you back.” He said, Invite the poor, invite the crippled, the lame, the blind, invite the cursed, invite the unacceptable. And no, they can't repay you, but it'll be okay. God will take care of that.” And suddenly what they thought they knew wasn't enough. 

And this is not just Jesus, this is all through the scriptures. We heard it in the lesson from Sirach today, that God turns things over, plucks up the roots of the nations,  plants the humble in their place. And we heard it before in Luke. Should we sing the Magnificat? “He has taken down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” And go all the way back to Samuel's childhood and the song of his mother, Hannah, praising God for her vision. And the language is almost the same. And Samson's mother says something very much the same. Funny how women see this before men. I don't know what that says about us, guys. 

But this idea that what God is about is not just sustaining good manners of the status quo. Now, there are lots of ways that we can catch people in this idea of, “Well, yeah, I go to church and I trust Christians in all of that. And I am a Christian - as long as it works for me.” 

I started my priesthood, actually, in Memphis, in west Tennessee when it was part of one diocese of Tennessee. And one of the things that my friends in small congregations would tell me is, “Well, we lost so and so. He's not coming anymore.” 

“Well, what's the problem?”

“Well, he came and explained it to me. He's got an insurance company, and, you know, the Methodist church is just enough bigger than the Episcopal church that he has more opportunities there.” And he said it with a straight face! 

Or, we seem to have enough people around us to pay attention to, that seem to think when they say God is the same yesterday, today and forever, that somehow society should be the same today as yesterday, forever. 

But that's not Scripture. That's not making the wealthy hungry, feeding those who have been struggling as in the Magnificat.That's not inviting those people who in their common society would've been seen, literally and commonly, as cursed. How else do you become lame or crippled? How else do you end up in poverty? 

I think the thing about that song that struck me was exactly how many people have an idea of Jesus that they're quite happy with. And heaven forbid that Heaven challenge it. 

But things are changing, and that's uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable for me and I'm maybe the most progressive person in the room. I may not be, but I do tell people that I usually stand somewhere to the left of Jesus, and let them figure out how much room there is to the left of Jesus. 

But it's because of this image and it's because of Luke. Remember that Luke has a much more hardcore version of Jesus and a much more down to earth version of Jesus. Matthew says, “Blessed to the poor in spirit;” Luke says, “Blessed to the poor and cursed to the rich.”

So, how do we challenge for ourselves where we may be complacent? Well, in many ways that's an individual decision. And what's a step forward for one person or in one direction, may not be what another person is called to do. 

But we are called to remember that God presents God as someone who is prepared to overturn things for the benefit of his people, his people as individuals. And if we are too comfortable, especially if we're too comfortable with our own - and I know mine; I have enough guilt that one of my favorite canticles really is the Song of Hezikiah: “I have Sinn, Oh Lord, I have sinned and I know my wickedness only too well.” I had a classmate in seminary, a Nigerian priest, and he came up after class one day and he said, “Father, the problem with American religion is people are not conscious enough of their sins.” And I said, “Oh, no, Mbachu, we are quite conscious of our sins. We have favorites.”

We become complacent with those things that we are comfortable with, those things that we find acceptable, those things that we just assumed didn't change. 

We are called by Jesus, and not just in Luke, but you know, in that wonderful passage in Matthew where he says, “Well, you did it to the least of my people. You did it to me.” Where Paul says, “It's important that we are gathering food, giving up something of our own, because there's a famine in Jerusalem.” 

This idea that we are always called to question where we may be complacent, to question where we may be complacent as a society, or where we may be complacent as individuals. And remember that it's not enough to like the idea of Jesus. We're called to like Jesus, who calls us not to stand pat nearly so often as he calls us to make progress.

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