Lectionary Reflection for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
August 28, 2016
Let mutual love continue.… Hebrews 13:1
We humans are works in progress. We spend our lives changing in myriad ways, some grand but most miniscule. Bodies age (too quickly!). Minds expand (we hope). Compassion and mercy grow (by the grace of God). We make mistakes (assuredly). Precious little stays the same, and we are constantly in need of reminders and “growth” exercises.
Perhaps this truth is why we find so much instruction throughout scripture about what it looks like to be in relationship with God, how discipleship works, and what we are supposed to do with ourselves as followers of Jesus. This week’s lessons provide several lovely opportunities to explore continued growth and development as members of the Body of Christ, that beloved community chock full of sinners and saints known as the church.
The Old Testament lesson is a short wisdom nugget (Proverbs 25:6-7) that basically tells us to avoid getting “too big for our britches.” It’s better to be invited to a better table or a cushier seat than to be placed in the back row or escorted out entirely. (Note: A possible exception to this rule is found in some church cultures where the back rows in the worship space are the premium real estate. One must then adjust the proverb accordingly.) This two-verse pronouncement is common sense, but we humans still need to be reminded of that which seems so simple and logical in our increasingly complex and self-absorbed culture.
This theme from Proverbs continues with Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet—a story told in response to being scrutinized at a dinner party hosted by religious leaders. Here we learn the lesson that following the status quo and cultural expectations of what’s proper and acceptable isn’t always the path Jesus would have us take. Instead of polite society and proper politics, Jesus wants us to fellowship and invite to the banquet all those who cannot reciprocate. The funny thing about Jesus’ instructions is that in following them, we are blessed in ways we cannot imagine by the unexpected gifts of people who are outside our normal circles.
We get additional instructions from the author of the letter to the Hebrews, where we learn that our learning is never quite finished and that reminders help keep us focused. These verses continue to build on the theme of practical instructions for the discipleship life, the capstone of which is “let mutual love continue.” In loving within and without the beloved community, we experience Christ’s constancy and amazing grace in ever fresh yet always consistent ways. In relying on the Lord, we are freed from fear and free to serve and praise and really live.
Finally, if that isn’t enough, just consider the words of Psalm 112 and a recipe for how to be really “happy.” Fear and respect God. Take delight in God’s commandments, and enjoy the benefits of a righteous life (no foolproof guarantees, of course). Folks who follow God’s commandments are also rich in relationship capital and practice mercy, generosity, and justice. They are lights in time of darkness and have no reason to fear. They give and in giving grow in righteousness and favor with God. Once again, these are simple and logical steps to follow as disciples, but humans don’t always behave in a logical and straightforward fashion.
As young people and teachers prepare to return to school, and as church faith formation programs are reinvigorated for a new season, take this opportunity to share some discipleship lessons with the faithful and seekers alike. There’s something for everyone here, and like most things these instructions are to be continued for as long as we draw breath. Whatever you do, make sure to encourage everyone to “let mutual love continue.” That lesson is key to everything else. Blessings on your faithful teaching and Spirit-filled proclamation!
Consider singing Psalm 112 today using The Metrical Psalter by Dale A. Schoening. You might also include in the bulletin or sermon notes a “recipe” for faithful discipleship using traits from this week’s lessons.
Have a conversation about radical hospitality. If possible invite someone who has served as a missionary in a developing country or someone who has worked with people experiencing poverty or with refugees. It is often those who have the very least who teach those of us who have the most a thing or two about what it means to welcome the stranger and practice real and radical hospitality. Use the short Old Testament lesseon (Proverbs 25:6-7) and the gospel lesson (Luke 14:1,7-14) as the scriptural anchor for your discussion.
Giving our Very Best
Children are naturally hospitable and generous until we teach them otherwise. Click here to learn more about the science behind that statement and how children easily share and collaborate. Invite them to imagine planning a party to welcome guests. How can they prepare so that their guests can truly be honored. Affirm each child’s answer. Stress practices of radical hospitality and the idea of giving with no expectation of return.
If your congregation hosts a free community meal, invite those who serve as hosts to join you for the children’s lesson and talk about why they enjoy serving and interacting with guests. Finish with a simple prayer for God to send guests into our lives to whom we may welcome and show hospitality. You might also teach the children this simple classic mealtime prayer welcoming Jesus to the table:
Come Lord Jesus be our Guest;
And let these gifts to us be blest.
And may there be a goodly share;
On every table everywhere.
Photos: Maarten Takens, and Richard Wagoner, Creative Commons, and © genotar1 – Fotolia.com