September 1, 2019: 525,600 Minutes

September 1, 2019 Rev. Rhonda Blevins, DMIN

525,600 Minutes

Luke 14:1, 7-14

 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host;  and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.  For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

______

 The Broadway crowd sat in rapt attention as the curtain opened for Act 2. The musical was “Rent,” the powerful story of a group of young adults struggling for survival in New York City under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. When the curtain lifted, the cast, in a straight line and with somber faces, began to sing a powerful song leaving me spellbound:

 Five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights? In sunsets? In midnights? In cups of coffee?
In inches? In miles? In laughter? In strife?

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes,
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love?
Measure in love;
Seasons of love.
 

With only 525,600 minutes in a year, how do you measure a year in the life? At the end of a year, what counts? At the end of a life, what really matters?

 That’s the question we are going to be asking these next few weeks. The series we launch today is “What Matters?”—together we’re going to explore some of what Jesus taught his disciples (or anyone with ears to hear) about what really matters.

 Though we often think about Jesus sitting down at table with sinners and tax collectors, today in the Gospel of Luke we find Jesus sitting down at table with a leader of the Pharisees. An important guy—likely a wealthy guy. The guests that evening felt quite superior, having been invited to the dinner party hosted by this powerful man. Replete with self-importance, they jockeyed for the best seats.

 In the United States, it is common at many dinner events to have “reserved” tables, usually up front for guests of honor and program personnel. But our social seating system is incredibly low-key compared to other cultures.

 Several years ago, when I was a campus minister, I led a group of college students on a six-week trip to China. There were six young women, one (very lucky) young man, and me. On a couple of occasions, our team was hosted for dinner. It amused me when our Chinese hosts couldn’t figure out which one of our team would receive the seat of honor—a big deal in their culture. Normally, it would a male in the seat of honor, but I, a female, was the team leader. They were completely thrown off. Who would sit in the seat of honor? The female team leader, or the lone male participant? It was quite disconcerting for them.

 Social seating arrangements were a big deal in Jesus’ culture as well. In a situation like the one we read about earlier, the male guests would recline on couch-like seats, the center couch always the place of honor. It went in descending order around the table from there, according to position or power or wealth. You may remember this was an issue among the disciples. There’s a funny story in the Gospel of Matthew about the mother of James and John coming to Jesus asking for her boys to hold the seats of honor, those to the immediate left and right of Jesus, in his kingdom. Can you imagine James and John overhearing that conversation? “Mom!” (Maybe their mother enjoyed embarrassing her kids as much as I do mine!)

 Social seating was a big deal. At the dinner event in which we find Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson, we can almost see Jesus grinning and shaking his head as he watches the dinner guests jockey for position. A bit later, when Jesus has their full attention, he chastises them, “Don’t do that.” (Where were his manners?) My paraphrase: “If you take a prestigious seat and the host bumps you for someone more important, how embarrassed will you be? But if you take a lower seat, and you get moved up, then you’ll feel honored.” In other words, humility matters.

 For most of us, life teaches us humility—life has a way of humbling us, doesn’t it? Just when everything is clicking and you’re riding high, something comes along to knock you off your high horse.

 That happened to me last year.

 It was a school morning. My husband was off to work early, so it was all on me to get myself and the kids up, get everybody fed, dressed, teeth brushed, hair combed, lunches packed, backpacks stocked for the day, and out the door to be on time to school. Whew! But, let me tell you, I was on it. Like, mother of the year stuff right here. Feeling quite full of myself, with my kids buckled up in the car, we took off for school, backed out the driveway, and hit the road. I was humming along feeling good as I pulled into the pre-k car line. Now in pre-k, the teachers are all lined up to help the little ones get out of the car—so my kid’s two teachers, and other teachers including a church member (Karlene Koch) were all lined up as I, mother-of-the-year, pull in. I happen to look in my rear-view mirror. Oh. My. Goodness. Blue lights. The teachers were all looking at me wide-eyed wondering if I was about to be arrested. My four-year-old asked, “Mommy, are you going to jail?” I pull into a parking spot, and the officer approached, “Ma’am, did you know you were speeding in a school zone? 23 in a 15.”

 I was mortified. Humiliated. The mother-of-the-year persona I tried to pull off with the pre-k crowd was blown. Shot. The gig was up. I got off with a warning, but the damage to my ego was punishment enough. These days, when I see a school zone, I put the car in neutral and get out and push. No more speeding in a school zone for this jailbird.

 Humility.

 My concern in naming humility as an important value in the life of faith, is that often “those who most need to hear a word of grace are more likely to hear a word of judgment, and those who might benefit from hearing a word of judgment are more likely to hear only grace.”[1]

 With that in mind, where do you find yourself at the table as we reflect on the Gospel text?  Have you plopped yourself down in the seat of honor, needing a correction to your sense of self-importance? Or have you taken a lowly place due to a damaged sense of worth? Maybe you need a touch of grace—for God to lift you up. I’ve been both at different times in my life. Where are you today?

 In our invitation to worship today, we considered a teaching from the prophet Micah who offered this instruction in Micah 6:8: “[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

 Justice. Kindness. Humility.

 Jesus spent the first part of the dinner party correcting the guests; he spent the second part correcting the host (seems that Jesus was an equal-opportunity offender). My paraphrase: “Quit looking for the quid pro quo. Next time you throw a dinner party, invite those who can offer you nothing—the down-and-out—not the up-and-coming.”

 In other words, stop it with the transactional relationships. Authentic kindness expects nothing in return.

 Are you finding ways to express kindness, to do justice, with absolutely zero expectation of benefit to you? Can you offer gifts to friends or charities anonymously, or do you prefer some recognition? Can you scratch another’s back without expecting your back to be scratched in return?

 What was the point of Jesus correcting both the guests and the host at the dinner party that day? He was teaching that humility matters. Kindness matters. Justice matters. If that’s the rubric, how would you measure your life? Scale from 1-10: humility. Scale from 1-10: kindness. Scale from 1-10: justice.

 

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights? In sunsets? In midnights? In cups of coffee?
In inches? In miles? In laughter? In strife?

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes,
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love?
Measure in love;
Seasons of love.

 

[1] Ronald P. Byars, “Luke 14:1, 7-14,” Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, p. 21.

Debbie Wilson