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Message from Our Pastor

Hoffman greenStrine 1907 small

Excerpted from Pastor Hoffman's September 1st homily.  Relevant text:  Luke 14: 1 & 7-14.

First let me say that today’s gospel parable is clearly not about a modern wedding banquet as such a problem would never arise today. The bride would have spent endless hours putting together a reception seating chart specifically to avoid the very scene Jesus describes. 

This doesn’t mean we can’t relate to the story, however. In fact, I think Jesus’ parable might have a much broader application than we might realize. Let’s forget the wedding banquet setting and consider other places where our seats matter or send a message. 

Start with airplanes and arenas: the more money, the better the seats. They’re nearer the front, or have something special (more comfort, fancy skybox, backstage access), or they’re places of honor, just like the parable

The less money you have, the farther from the action and closer to the nosebleed section you’ll be. Or, in an airplane, it’s basic economy, middle seat, last row (doesn’t recline), just in front of the bathroom and just behind the family with the colicky infant.

At the restaurants where I can afford to eat, you choose your own seat after receiving your order at the counter.

Out of curiosity, when you do get to choose your seat, how do you choose? Whether it be McDonald’s or Starbucks, The Simple Greek or wherever your go-to place is, how do you choose where to sit?

Close to an outlet so you can plug in? In a corner away from everyone else? In the middle of everyone? Close to the tv so you can watch the game or the news? Near the playroom or the bathroom? 

How about here at church? This is the one place where people can sit wherever they want and yet there are assigned seats. Every church jokes about this, but for some, this is no laughing matter. 

People get upset when someone sits in “their” pew. I’ve seen members of a congregation tell visitors that they have to sit elsewhere because they are sitting in their seat. There was a time when you did in fact pay for a particular pew, or pew box, and that is where you and your family sat. Of course, the pews closer to the pulpit were more expensive than those further back. 

When did that change? When did the back pews become the preferable pews, and why? And why do we still insist on sitting in the same pews, week after week?

I had a parishioner in one congregation say to me, “Pastor, you need to speak louder, I’m having trouble hearing you.” 

I asked if he had his hearing aids in. “Yes, and new batteries were just put in that morning.” 

I said, “You know, you don’t have to sit in the back. You could move up closer to the front and you would probably hear me just fine.”

Oh, no,” he said. “My family has been sitting in that pew for 50 years. I couldn’t sit anywhere else.”

Why is it that people will pay top dollar to see their sports star or favorite musician up close and personal, but they will avoid the free front row seats in the church like the plague? 

   Don’t want to get too close to God (symbolically located in the space around the altar)? 

   Don’t want the pastor to see them playing on their phone, reading a book, or sleeping (I’ve seen it all, even crocheting)?

   Or do they want to be the first out the door? 

Or maybe, maybe, this is it. Maybe I’ve got it wrong and you’re all sitting in the back just as Jesus told you to do, and you’re waiting for me to say, “Friend, come up here to the front.” Is that it?

There was a time in our nation’s history when sitting in the back was not considered preferable but was deemed mandatory according to the color of your skin. On busses, in churches, in theaters, if they were allowed in, people of color were relegated to the back. 

One person, though, moved from her assigned seat and sat up front without being invited. And, she was not at all welcomed. Can you imagine the courage it took Rosa Parks to stay seated at the front of that bus? That one act gave fire to a movement that would lead to the right for everyone to sit anywhere.

That is what is called radical hospitality. It is what Jesus describes to his host at the end of today’s Gospel reading. The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends, family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. Everyone gets to come and sit anywhere. 

Sadly, we are not there yet. We still assign people seats according to our own judgment scale: where they were born, how much money they make, are they homeless, the color of their skin, do they worship God in a church, temple or mosque.

If instead of “Invite a friend to church Sunday,” we had an “Invite a stranger to church Sunday,” could you do it? 

Could you invite a stranger? What would be your limits? Could you invite a homeless person, a drag queen, someone in a wheelchair, someone of a different race, an immigrant family? Could you invite them as strangers and introduce them as your friends? That is radical hospitality.

I came across this saying while preparing for today. Ruth Chou Simons writes “Real hospitality can be uncomfortable. It requires effort. It takes time. It means sacrifice. It draws us out from what makes us feel in control to seeing what grace God can orchestrate in his sovereignty.”

And why should we care about radical hospitality? Why should we think about who we choose to sit next to or who we avoid when given a choice? 

Here is why: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

You’ll be and will experience – a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned – oh, how it will be returned! — at the resurrection of God’s people.” 

Thus says the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 

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