Scripture Lesson: Luke 17:7-10
Sermon: Table Waiting
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
We often hear comments that people today are perhaps more divided than they ever
have been in the history of this country.
So what are some of these divides? Well there is the 1% and the 99%. That’s a big
divide. There is the immigration issue. Who is an immigrant? A refugee? Who is
native born? There is the racial divide. Some self identify as white. Some as
people of color. Then there are divisions within that. There are divisions around
sexual identity. Cisgender. Homosexual. Heterosexual. Transsexual. Bisexual.
Transgender. There are divisions between people who live in cities and people
who live in the country and in small towns.
There are other ways that we define and divide ourselves. Anyone here consider
themselves athletic? A nerd? Average? And what about the generation gap?
There is the older generation. The younger generation. And now, we can divide
further – Boomers, Generation X, Centennials, Millennials. There is division
around language. Who here is a native English speaker? Who grew up speaking a
different language? And, there is the great political divide.
There are all kinds of ways we can divide ourselves up. Section ourselves into
different groups. Sort and separate ourselves. And we know that whether it is
intended or not, when we divide ourselves up, hierarchy creeps in. One group ends
up being better or of higher status than another. A pecking order emerges. This
happens as soon as we divide up into separate groups.
This morning we listened to a story associated with Jesus. And he basically tells
people that everyone can serve. Everyone is supposed to serve. And in God’s
economy, there are no points or accounting or measuring or quantifying. No
getting a grade. No scoring and percentiles. With discipleship, there is no
clocking in and clocking out. With Jesus, everyone is in the service industry.
Everyone. Period. With Jesus, service is the radical equalizer. Everyone is to serve. No one is above serving others. This makes serving egalitarian. Everyone is equal. So everyone being a servant is a radical turn around from society as we know it, and as Jesus listeners knew it, where some people work for other people. Some serve. And some are served. It’s not that way with Jesus. With Jesus, everyone serves. So his way is anti class, anti status, and anti hierarchy. There is radical equality.
How can serving be so equalizing? Well, serving includes everyone. Everyone
can do it. And as the story we heard tells us, no one gets rewarded. There is no
payment. There is no compensation. So service in the economy of Jesus is not
measured and it is not traded. There is no bargaining or exchanging. Serving is
pure gift. It is not an investment. There is no expectation or obligation of return.
This prevents hierarchy and division from emerging.
Maybe this doesn’t sound fair. But from the Jesus perspective, this is a reminder
that all of us have been given our lives. We have been given access to resources.
We live here on this Earth that we did not create. All of us have been gifted by
grace. We are by no means self made. What a crazy term: “A self made man.”
That’s impossible. All of us are here and alive and able to do what we do because
of what has been given to us. It is all grace. The concept of every one serving in
an egalitarian manner is a reminder that all of us are dependent and interdependent
on others, on those who have gone before us, on God.
Take a breath. [Pause.] Take another breath. [Pause.] Did you create the air you
are breathing? No. It is pure gift. So Jesus reminds us that we are all the
recipients of gifts that give us life and sustain our lives. Everyone. We are all
debtors. Beholden. And deserve no reward or compensation for what cannot be
earned or bought. That is a message of the story that we heard. Everyone serves.
No one compensated. No clocking out. Always ready.
This can be hard to comprehend when we live in a society with an ever growing
service economy. More and more jobs are being created that involve one person
serving another person for pay. Think about the newly appeared shoppers at Publix that go around and do the grocery shopping for others who then come and pick up
their food or have it delivered to their home. New service jobs are emerging every
day. And many people are needed, including immigrants, to fill these service jobs.
In this kind of service-centered economy, the image that we are given by Jesus is
all the more strange and radical. Everyone serving. No one being paid or thanked;
recognizing our common giftedness. That’s a different reality. That’s the Realm of
God, the Divine Commonwealth, here on this Earth.
The story that we heard today is not referred to much in commentaries and other
writings. I think scholars and preachers skip over it because of the reference to
slavery. Jesus talks about slavery and he doesn’t condemn it? We don’t want to
get near that. But when we look more closely, we see that Jesus uses the image of
slavery, perhaps the supreme expression of hierarchy, to convey a message about
anti hierarchy and egalitarianism. The slave is a slave and is expected to perform
the duties demanded by the owner. No gratitude or compensation involved. And
disciples they are to perform the duties and service needed by God and God’s
family. No compensation or gratitude involved. In this we are all equal regardless
of our economic or social designation.
When we choose to serve, as disciples, out of our gratitude for all that we have
been given, we find not that we are taken advantage of or oppressed but that we are
free. Free and equal. No separating and dividing involved. Everyone in it
together. We realize our common bonds as human beings. We connect with
others, human to human, sharing our joy and awe and sorrow. We find ourselves
part of authentic relationships without the constructs of race, class, and other labels
that so often define us. How many times do people with money wonder if
someone is truly their friend? Or does this “friend” just want something from them
because they are rich, even just being able to name drop to increase their status?
In the economy of service that Jesus shows us, there is none of that. It is human to
human. Each one a recipient of the gifts of life. Each one free to serve without
measuring or accounting. The value of our lives cannot be appraised or compared.
Choosing discipleship, being a servant, in the way of Jesus is not slavery, it is not
degrading, it is not demeaning. It is a choice that is for our highest good and the
good of others. Service enables our humanity. It makes us whole. It gives us
purpose and meaning.
And this brings us to communion. Communion is a ritualistic embodiment of the
world that Jesus is showing us. Everyone is welcome. And we are all guests.
And everyone receives the gifts of God. We are all served by the generosity of
God, served by the Earth that is provided for us, served by the witness of Jesus
who gave his life for the common good. At the communion table, all are fed by
God through Jesus as the host. We can only receive. We are served. We take in
Divine love and generosity, given to everyone, so that we may share it with others.
We are fed so that we can feed others. Communion is an enactment that portrays
the Divine energy flowing into us and out into the world through service. We give
away what has been given to us.
In communion, we see the commonwealth of God – everyone welcome, everyone
served, fed, nourished, everyone gifted for service, no accounting or score keeping
or measuring or compensating. No labels. No divisions. No hierarchies. It’s all
free. We are all free. To be of service to others and to the needs of the world. The
table is waiting. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.