Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Who's Invited to the Feast of the Kingdom

This week's scriptures are Luke 14:7-14 and Luke 14:15-24.

In response to last week's blog, Kara wrote:

I think the next question is - are we 'letting them come' by way of acceptance or forgiveness?

Conditions are accepted. Sins are forgiven. And there still a lot of debate in the church about which is which. If I were a homosexual, or an addict, or a single-mother or a victim, or a person with a disability - I wouldn't take much comfort in a welcome that was based on forgiveness; I'd want acceptance.

The fact that many churches are divided on what's a condition and what's a sin leads to the question so many are asking: does letting them come, also mean letting them lead?

I think it should, but until we can distinguish between sins and conditions some people will keep fighting it and others will keep feeling unwelcome.

This week's scriptures offer a partial response to her questions....and I'd like to enlarge on it a bit with an answer of my own.

Jesus, in this Lukan passage and in others, refers to the Kingdom of God (which we as Church are called to imitate and try to bring in) as a banquet....a feast of celebration. We're told to deal with the fact that we've been invited with humility. Verses 8-11 are, in part, about coming into the feast with what folks in 12 Step programs refer to as and "attitude of gratitude."

This is important because our attitude about why we're at the feast will affect the way we respond to who else is there. Am I here because I'm 'good' and 'deserve' to be here? Am I here because the host 'owes me something'? Or am I here because I know the ways in which I am also like "the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" that Jesus tells the host in verse 13 to invite.

And, when, in verses 15-24 Jesus goes on to expound on the Feast of the Kingdom, he points out that many folks miss their need and don't come to the banquet. Then we're told that the servants were instructed to go out into 'streets and alleys, highways and hedges' to bring people in.

[As an aside....I wonder if our "church growth" and "evangelism" isn't too often aimed at the 'worried well'...at those who figure that they're just fine and can take the community of faith or leave it. What does this passage say to us about who we need to be reaching out to?]

But back to issues that Kara raised. Many people with "conditions"-things in their lives over which they have little or no control-feel the church viewing their 'condition' as "sin." They feel judged on the basis of their sexuality, their victimization, their disability. We are commanded by Jesus to accept all persons. As someone said to Jesus "only God can forgive sins." Jesus' answer was to not argue with him, but to go right on forgiving sins....a bold statement about who Jesus saw himself to be.

We are called to offer forgiveness to those who have harmed us (Jesus' teaching about forgiving 70 times 7). But we are also commanded not to judge others.

But what, then, about "conditions" that lead to sins? What about, for example, the victim of child sexual abuse who now, as an adult, cannot commit to a trusting monogamous relationship, and engages in compulsive one night stands? What should our response be to them?

Perhaps we need to remember that the wounds ("conditions") in our lives, when left unhealed, can often lead us places where we harm both others and ourselves. Maybe this is why so often Jesus' healings also included the statement "your sins are forgiven."

There is a story that a sign above the entrance to the Green Beret training grounds with their motto which says "Kill them all...let God sort them out." I'm going to maintain that what you and I are called to is just the opposite. Our commandment is to LOVE THEM ALL AND LET GOD SORT THEM OUT. Whatever judging needs to be done, God will do. And God's judgement will be merciful. Because God knows the "conditions" that no one else sees. God knows the loneliness of childhood and how it made us fearful. God knows the anxiety that makes us afraid to leave the house. God knows the pain of life trying to live like a 'straight' and knowing that you're not....and all the place that this can take you....places that fill you with shame and self loathing. God knows the poverty of your youth that makes you fearful and greedy now. God's mercy seeks to help you, and all of us, heal. God wants us to heal so that we can be what we were created to be: companions for God and for one another.

Which brings us full circle to the issue of humility that started our blog. When I am humble about my own "conditions" and my own "sins"....my own needs for both healing and forgiveness; I am more compassionate about those same needs in those around me. I walk tenderly and carefully around their wounds; and I pray for them and offer my support as they struggle with what it means to accept God's forgiveness for their sins. I remember that I'm one of those invited to the feast from the 'highways and the hedges' the 'streets and the alleys.' I remember my own blindness and all the things I bumped into...bruising myself and others.

When I live like this, I am able to do what Jesus asks and throw open the door to the Feast of the Kingdom as it takes place in the here and now. Maybe this needs to be the Church's motto:


Hope to see you Sunday.


Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm overlooking something, but it would seem like we are leaving out an important part here: our responsibility to protect others.

It's one (difficult) thing to do as suggested above - Love them all and let God sort it out. It's quite another thing to trust that God will protect those perhaps most at risk of direct consequences of our acceptance. While I accept that most people follow traffic rules and value life, I certainly don't just cross the street without looking. The same follows with those under our care: I remember my parents holding onto my hand as a kid in the parking lot, or holding onto my younger brothers' hands. Sometimes it was restrictive, but mostly it stopped them from getting into serious trouble or from wandering into traffic/situations they didn't understand.

How can we balance this acceptance with protecting others without casting people out of community or restricting their lives? It hasn't been figured out yet - but we can always build another prison, right?

This is what some people are afraid of, and what other people use as an excuse as well.

At the same time, we can't just ignore this responsibility to reasonably protect those around us and just say "accept everyone." That seems to deny the complexity of the problem.

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