Lists and Seats

In the letter to the Hebrews (chapter 13) the author gives a list of things that were the author saw as essential to that early Christian community –

  • Let mutual love continue
  • Show hospitality to strangers
  • Remember those who are in prison
  • Remember those being tortured
  • Let marriage be held in honor
  • Keep your life free from the love of money
  • Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have

I wonder what our list might look like if we were to compile of list of things we thought were essentials for the Christian life today?

I think for many contemporary Christians the most important and essential element is that a person believes “the right thing and expresses it in the right way” – and often for those who believe this they will be very happy to tell you what that right way is.

When I look at the list of essentials in Hebrews it is obvious to me that it is focused on actions rather than tenets of belief. While it is difficult to separate the two this passage points to the necessity of acting and behaving in a way that is consistent with what we say we believe and value. Human beings find it very easy to postpone or evade action by spending a great deal of time arguing about what is right belief. The writer of Hebrews reminds this early community of followers of Jesus that it is what they do day to day that is important. And that is summarized in the final bit of advice – To please God do good and share what you have….

After looking at this week’s Gospel reading  from the 14th chapter of Luke I remembered that game we used to play at children’s birthday parties – musical chairs. I recall scrambling to get a chair, to have a seat and not to be left out, eliminated.  The reading also reminded me of the difficulty many people have when they are planning a wedding reception or other major social event – where and with whom guests should be seated. “Does Aunt Mildred sit with the immediate family at their table or at the extended family table – especially since we know she really wouldn’t want to be seated next to Uncle Dave?”

Even in our slightly more relaxed era we have lots of books of wedding etiquette and traditions about who should sit where. In Jesus day it was even more stringent in the ruling class. It was a hierarchical culture and with definite ideas of who was to sit where. One’s place at the table was ordained by one’s importance. The closer you were to the host at the table the more important you were and the more honor you had at that gathering.

Jesus, was at a formal dinner, and I believe watched with some bemusement the jostling for places of honor among these people who were very religious – and their religious identities seemed to add to their intense desire for honor and place. After everyone is settled in their place – I imagine a voice – his voice – coming from the back of the room, from one of the lower places most likely. “When you are invited sit in the lowest place.” All who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

It has a faint reminder of the Magnificat – the song of Mary earlier in Luke – God has brought down the powerful for their thrones and lifted up the lowly…

And if his first admonition was not enough Jesus then speaks to the host and tells him that in the future he should not invite those who are currently at his table but to invite those whom he would never think of inviting – the poor the crippled, the outcast – those who cannot return the invitation or further his honor in the world. For in so doing there will be a reward in heaven.

This passage like so many others in the Gospel looks at actions, behaviors – and challenges us to live out those values in real ways – doing what we claim to value – living in the way taught by the one we claim to follow

It is really about personal integrity and integration of or beliefs into our actions. To live and to act as we pray… to live into what we say that we believe will move us forward in bringing God’s kingdom in our lives, in the lives of others around us and into the world. Our prayer “thy kingdom come” happened only when we embody and live that kingdom in the present reality. The kingdom is not delivered to the world by God or someone else we bring the kingdom of God into being day by day. “If it is to be… it’s up to me.”

Don

About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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