Come up higher, by Pastor Noel

September 1, 2019    Proper 17,C


     Jesus is at a dinner party. He sees the other guests vying for the best seats, so he tells a story.

     He says that we should sit down “lower” – away from the best seats near the host. Then, if the host wants us closer, we move “up.”

     We may say, “Oh, OK” to that, but Jesus lived in a culture where no one wanted to be shamed. No one wanted to be told to move from the best seat to a lower one.

     That doesn’t sound like much of a story –it sounds more like good advice. But Jesus says that it is a parable.

     Parables tell us “the kingdom of God, or the presence of God” is like something.

     The kingdom of God is like being called up closer to the one giving the party. Who is giving this party we call life? God.

     The kingdom of God is being called up into closer relationship with God. This is what God is always doing for us.

     I can’t imagine God ever telling us to move away.

     So we have this parable that is really about pride—about the dangers of thinking that we are better than we are. The dangers of not knowing that God is God and we are not.

     “The beginning of human pride is forsake the Lord: the heart has withdrawn from its maker.” So we hear from our reading from Sirach.

     Here’s a little Bible trivia.

     This book is “Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach.” It’s in the Apocrypha part of the Bible, and it known as “Sirach.”

     But, until recently, if you were the reader on this day, the bulletin would say “Ecclesiasticus.” A bit confusing! Especially before the readings were printed.

     There’s another book, right about in the middle of the OT, called Ecclesiastes. And many’s the time that the reading came from Ecclesiastes, not Ecclesiasticus. Even more confusing. (end of trivia)

     So our Gospel reading is about pride, and how to avoid being prideful.

     The Psalm is about pride, too. “Happy are they who fear the Lord.” I do wish there were a different word than “fear.”

     We are not to be in abject terror of God, but to hold God in honor, awe, wonder, respect.

     The God we sing of as the God of love does not hold power over us, but has power with us to be his children and live in the kingdom that is God’s presence.

     I think that if God gave a dinner party the table would be round. No one would be higher or lower. Everyone could see everyone else. And there’s always room for another chair or two, or more.

     Our reading from Hebrews may not sound like it’s about pride, but it is. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have.”

     When we are prideful we think we are the only one who matters. Strangers? Poor people? Why would we care about them?

     Well, God cares about them. “Such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

      Sacrifice is often a negative idea. Giving up without getting anything in return.

     Showing hospitality, helping others, sharing what I have—this isn’t that kind of sacrifice to me. I always get back more than I think I’ve given. More kindness, more thanks, more love.

     Showing hospitality, sharing—can be the opposite of pride. Hospitality is about compassion. It’s about caring for the other. Pride is about caring only for self.

     This weekend is about pride, too.

     Labor Day didn’t start as a three day holiday to end summer with hot dogs and the beach.

     Labor Day started as a hard fought fight for workers’ rights.

     The first Labor March was in 1882, and it did end with a picnic. More than 10,000 marched calling for less work and more pay. Marchers risked getting fired because there were no weekends off back then.

     The rest of the fight for workers’ rights was not a picnic. In 1894 the Pullman RR car company cut wages but didn’t also cut the rent it charged those workers to live in the town of Pullman and work in the factory.

     The strike disrupted rail travel across the country, and shots were fired at the protesting workers.

     On 6/28/1894, Labor Day was declared a national holiday. A few benefits of that declaration are: a 5 day work week; paid vacations; lunch breaks; 8 hour work day; Social Security.

     Those are hospitable improvements to what had been deplorable working conditions for many. We are so used to them that we don’t realize the heroic efforts it took to bring them to reality.

     Learning about this holiday has given me a different perspective on these three days. It’s made me appreciate the best that we have, while praying and working for better conditions here and around the world.

      I hope that you will give thanks this weekend if you have time off and enjoy a holiday.

     And—this may be a lot to ask—but I hope that thinking about how we got this holiday will help us rethink how we celebrate other holidays.

     Holiday means “holy day” and many of our special days are church related.

     If we forget the reality behind Labor Day, do we also forget the reasons for other special days.

     Christmas and Easter, for example. How much has been added to the reality of those days over the years? What could we pare away to get back to a truer meaning and understanding of them?

     In our collect we prayed that God would “increase in us true religion.” True religion is getting back to the basics, back behind what we humans have added to what God has called us to be and do.

     True religion is based on God’s grace, and all the gifts God gives us as part of that grace. Hospitality and compassion are but two of them.

     Hospitality and compassion are positive aspects of our human nature. Pride is a negative aspect of our human nature.

     When we can let go of pride and see what God wants instead of what we want, we find hospitality and compassion. We find true religion, and allow God to “bring forth in us the fruit of good works” that we also prayed for this morning. May that be our daily prayer.


The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details