I don't often publish sermons I've given online. But I gave a short reflection at St Mary's Luton monthly service of peace and reconciliation yesterday that says what I most wanted to say about the Rouens terror attack,
In a week when we are yet again facing multiple accounts of terror, indiscriminate mass killing and other horrors, we are going to listen to Jesus talking about banquets and parties.
“When [Jesus] noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14.7-14)
We set up this monthly service for peace and reconciliation aware that we would occasionally need to respond to atrocities, terror, hatred In our world. We want to do that today after the events of past days. I asked myself last evening whether it was still appropriate to today's reading from scripture about a banquet, a party? I concluded It was. You will see my connection.
Parables can focus truth with incredible intensity. Look at the first few verses of our passage. Imagine yourself hearing the words: ‘Could you give up your seat please for this person, he’s more important than you’. "Ouch!"
Instead wait to be asked: "Come up higher!". That’s Gods way. Humble yourself. Greatness in God's Kingdom is about our humility.
Humility? An important part of that is not insisting on your way. Indeed not even expecting things to be done what you think is Gods way.
And this is what is so important for us today. So much of the evil in our world comes as men and women seek to violently foist their way on others.
How do we respond? God’s way. Gently. Patiently. Humbly. Peaceably. Not with revenge. Paul considers the impact if this in Romans 12:
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Don’t respond angrily, aggressively. Let God deal with it. It seems ridiculous, many say. Naïve. But it's Gods way. There's nothing like burning coals on the head to concentrate the mind. It works.
See how Jesus went on to illustrate this as he developed the banquet theme in the second part of the story.
Jesus calls us to reach out in generosity and grace to the poor, marginalised, excluded, the hurting and wounded.
And the enemy.
"Love your neighbour" and "Love your enemy." By my reckoning that excludes no one.
Can we at this time, with the news pictures fresh in our mind of the atrocities of yesterday in Rouen, the weekend in Ansbach Germany, Friday in Munich, the massacre in Japan, at another nightclub in Florida USA, and all going on in Turkey; can we ask Jesus for humble, gentle peaceable grace-loaded responses?
It doesn't come naturally. As we worship, as we hear the word of God and meditate upon it, we can seek to cultivate new habits that are God inspired ones. And we can ask for Gods help where we just find it impossible.
Jesus invites us and our friends and neighbours, along with all the poor, suffering, alienated in our world, and along with all our enemies, to a banquet. To a party.
It's a banquet where he is. Where God is. And all peoples! Where grace and healing flow like rivers of champagne. Isaiah speaks of that banquet in Isaiah 25. He speaks of the best of meats and the finest of wines. At that banquet he promises to wipe away all tears. He will remove our disgrace. He banishes death.
Come join me as I make my way there. Along the way we will gather up all who he invites, including our enemies!
© Peter G M Adams 2016