Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Higher Seat

I have a friend who once told me this story about a fight his family had at Thanksgiving.
In his house his Dad always sat at the head of the table.
This one Thanksgiving my friend’s grandfather came for dinner.
The grandfather was expecting to sit at the head of the table as the oldest male at the house.
But the father insisted that it was his place to sit.
My friend’s mother tried to negotiate some type of settlement.
The damage was done.
The grandfather was insulted that he was not given the place of honor at the table, and never came to any family holiday meal again.
This is sad.
It is Sad that a family is ruined because two proud men are unwilling to bend.
But it is what Jesus is talking about this morning.
Who gets to sit where?
Before we dismiss it as unimportant we should think about whom sits where at our houses or other places we eat.

How about this how many of us at some point in our lives sat at “Kids Table”?
The adults get to sit together at the “big table” and we were relegated to a small table with small seats out of the way of the real action.
Since school has been starting I was thinking this week about sitting at school.
For lots of kids the lunch room or school bus becomes places of anxiety.
Who gets to sit where?
Who gets to sit with the supposed “cool kids”?
And what happens if we sit at places that we are not supposed to sit because those tables are only open to certain people.

Jesus this morning is talking to us about this very act.
He is talking about seating at meals and how they convey places of honor or shame.
Some are honored and others are shamed.
Whatever historically Jesus may have meant by the term, “Kingdom of God”.
For us it means that time when God will reign and all the wrongs are made right.
When we experience the kingdom of God there will be no one greater or lesser than anyone else.
We will simply sit and eat at the banquet feast that God has provided.

On Wednesday we celebrated the 50th anniversary Martin Luther King Jr. famous “I have a dream” speech.
I was so glad that it was at 3:00pm because I got to pick up my kids from school and bring them with me to the front of the State house to hear that speech read.
What struck me about the reading was the wonderful diversity of people who read.
There were Jews, Christians, Hindus, blacks, Whites, Africans, Indians, Bhutanese, kids, adults, people with special needs, women, men.
It was the living embodiment of that speech right here in Concord.
After I asked my kids to tell me in their own words what they thought the speech was about.
My six year old son said, “It was about the time when blacks and whites will be able to eat at the same table.”
Yes, it is.
It is about that time when what someone’s skin color is will not matter, or what their religion they are won’t matter, or what country they originally came for won’t matter.
It is about a time that Jesus is alluding to this morning when who you are won’t matter.

Human beings are really great at trying to constantly define who is better than whom.
We are trying to make ourselves out to be better than others.
By how much money we make.
What kind of job we have, where we live.
What kind of car we drive.
Even when it comes to religion we play this game with each other.
We say whose god is better.

And then this is the way that God has sometimes been presented to us.
If you are “good” person, do the “right” things, then God reward you with heaven.
But Jesus warning to us this morning is to remain humble.
We never know who is better or worse.
We might have a higher opinion of ourselves than we should.
On the other hand we might also think less of ourselves than we should.
In the kingdom of God there are none of these distinctions there is only us together eating and feasting on the mercy and grace of God.

This is the basis of our practices around the communion table.
Here there are no distinctions between us.
Here there are no places of honor or shame.
There is no “cool kid” table, or “kids table”.
There is only the table that is prepared by Jesus.
Here is where we come to see ourselves as equal.
It is why I feel so strongly that we should place no distinctions about who comes to the Lord’s Table.
Who here wants to be the judge of who is worthy to come forward and receive the grace and mercy of God?
I know that I certainly don’t.
Who here wants to be the judge of someone else's faith?

I was told by someone once that at the church they attend that the pastor invites, “All who are worthy” to come forward and share in the meal.
When I heard this I replied, “I would never get to come to communion”.
Forget for a moment that those who are worthy are always in the eye of the beholder.
But I can say for myself that I come to this table of the Lord exactly for the opposite reason.
I come because I am not worthy.
I have not done the things that the Lord requires of me.
I have come to this table because I need to hear the words, “Given for you.”
For me!
For you!
What happens at this table is a shared experience of remembering God’s love and grace given through Jesus Christ.
But it is also a personal experience between you and God.
Who am I or any of us to get in the way of that?
When we come to this table Jesus is always inviting us to a higher place at the table.
Jesus is inviting us to live in the kingdom with him.
To see the world as Jesus’ sees it.
To live a life of faith, joy, hope, grace, and love.
And that is higher seat.
It is different than the seat the world offers us.
That seat is bought with money, or work, or effort, or just us thinking more highly of ourselves than we should.
This seat is offered without merit or strings.

I know that is uncomfortable to some people.
We always want to think that we have earned it.
But let me suggest this morning the beauty in something unearned.
That spending our lives always trying to outdo others, always trying to live up to standards of others is exhausting.
Not only that but we are always worried that we will be shamed, because we don’t measure up, or not as good as others are.
What Jesus offers us, what our faith offers us, is a break from trying to one up each other.
What Jesus offers us is a higher seat, a better seat, where all we have to do is taste and see how good God is to us.
Doesn’t that sound nice and refreshing?

So, come to this table, the Lord’s Table as you are, and let Jesus invite you to a higher seat.

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