Christ draws us into the deeper wisdom of seeking and seeing a world of mutual love, care, and grace for all, a world really worth living in, hoping for, becoming part of.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 22 C
Texts: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14; Proverbs 25:6-7
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Consider which of these worlds you’d prefer to live in:
There’s the world we know very well.
In this world, you take care of yourself, because no one else will. You love yourself first. You make sure you have what you need, and acquire as much wealth as you can. Your rights are most important. If you want a good seat, take it. If you’re in a hurry, cut ahead of others, because your need is important. In this world, there are fears: fear of losing, fear of others, especially strangers, because they might take what you have, fear of death, because you can’t control that. In this world you watch other people because you never know if someone’s going to take what you have. The way of this world is proclaimed loudly by big voices, celebrities, politicians, advertisers. This way dominates our culture.
Then there’s the world described in Scripture today.
In this world, you look out for others, because mutual love is the way of life. You make sure that others have what they need, and you’re free of the love of money. The rights of everyone are important. You don’t worry about the seat you sit in, and if someone needs to get ahead of you, you let them. In this world fear is faced by sharing it, burdens are lessened by everyone helping. If someone is in pain, everyone feels it; if someone rejoices, everyone does, too. Strangers are welcomed with hospitality as if they were God’s angels. In this world you see people, you don’t watch them. The way of this world is proclaimed quietly, by wise voices, elders, teachers, guides. This way pervades the life of faith in the New Testament.
So which of these would you rather live in?
Seeing them side by side, the way of this world that our society seems to be rushing toward ever more quickly, and the way of life described today and throughout the Scriptures, is eye-opening.
Because then the contrast is unavoidable. For me, I know that I can be self-centered, and make choices that put myself first. There are lots of things in the culture and world that pull at me, and some of the loud voices can be convincing.
But seeing these two side-by-side, there’s absolutely no question where I want to be. I hear Hebrews today and my heart leaps. That’s a life worth living. That’s a world worth being in. I hear Jesus’ story and long for a world where all are welcome, so I don’t have to worry about my welcome. Or my seat. Where I don’t have to be afraid that if I’m in pain, no one will care, or ashamed that if I’ve made a mistake, no one will forgive. Where I don’t have to get ahead because we want everyone to arrive safely.
If you feel the same, let’s pay close attention to that. Sometimes we complain about our culture as if we have no choice. Yet if we look carefully at these two worlds, there’s no reason to accept the world as it is. If we listen, we’ll discover the way of wisdom is to follow Christ into a life that looks like that second way.
The writer to the Hebrews calls Christ “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” (Heb. 12:2) the one who walks ahead on this other path to show us the way.
God’s eternal Word, sharing in the creation of all things, Christ took on our life, became one of us, to teach us this way, to lead us to this wisdom. With each invitation to follow, Christ helps us break through the barriers to this wisdom, the ways of the world, starting with our own self-centeredness, and leads us to a life of mutual love, self-giving, gracious living.
With no limits to such self-giving, the Triune God took this love all the way to the cross, to break our hearts completely and draw us ever deeper into the life of Christ.
In Christ Jesus we see and know the only life worth living: a life where we’re forgiven and blessed when we fail to love, when we live the way of this world. Where we’re given strength in our times of pain, and a community that surrounds and holds us. Where we’re loved completely and forever, even through and past death.
We could reject all this and go the way of the world. But if we’d rather live in a world like Hebrews describes, and if we know the love of the eternal God who makes all things new through Christ, why would we want anything else?
That’s why our writer tells us this morning to “Remember our leaders, those who spoke the Word of God to us.”
That’s how we found this wisdom in the first place. It’s how we will find it again. Who are those leaders, the ones who taught you the Word of God? The wise, quiet, gracious voices who taught you of this different way? Remember them, we’re told. Think of them. Were they parents? Your spouse? Grandparents? Teachers? Aunts or uncles? Friends?
These are the saints who truly surround us in a cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1), those faces and voices who lovingly took us in and helped us see this new way of life and love. After all, every single one of us is here today because of someone else. Every single one of us has come to worship on a Sunday morning because one of these taught us, led us to worship, showed us by their life that this way of Christ, though hard and challenging, is the way of life we’ve hoped for, longed to see.
So “consider the outcome of their way of life,” we’re told. How did they live? How did they die? The world’s loud voices say all sorts of things we’re supposed to care about. But these saints’ actual lives are true witnesses. Their calm in the face of storm, their joy in the midst of pain, their trust in God in the face of death, their ability to love even the unloveable: they lived this second way, knew it. Consider that, our writer says. What does that tell you?
Perhaps it tells us the thing the writer says next: imitate their faith. If these wise ones knew this life of love and joy, maybe we want to imitate them. And in fact, we’ve already begun to.
The good we are today has come from such remembering, considering, and imitating.
We are who we are because of these “leaders,” as Hebrews calls them, this cloud of witnesses.
We are hospitable because someone showed hospitality to us, welcomed us.
We bear the pain of others, their burden, because someone helped us with our pain, our load.
We make relationships with others that end up costing us, because someone reached out to us and made a relationship, even if it obligated them.
We are forgiving because someone once forgave us, many times forgave us.
We live in Christ because someone once was Christ to us.
And these ones became our leaders because of their leaders, their witnesses, all the way back to the first believers. And every step of the way, every generation, every link in that chain, is taught and led and transformed by the pioneer, the first leader, Christ Jesus.
Christ’s way, the way of mutual love, is the Triune God’s dream for the world.
This is what we are becoming as the Spirit draws us ever deeper into the wisdom of God, deeper into Christ. If we have lived any part of this way it’s a sign our new life in Christ has already begun.
Eventually, we won’t need Jesus’ parable, or those words from Proverbs. We’ll be embedded so deeply in Christ’s wisdom we’ll just be delighted that everyone gets to come to the party, all are welcome at the banquet, and we won’t care who sits where.
And as we are filled with the Spirit’s wisdom, as we draw closer to this life, we begin to learn that quiet voice to guide others. Of course, we’re not going to be aware that’s what we’re doing. That’s the way of wisdom, that the truly wise know they are not at all wise. But in the grace of God, others will learn from us, too. And the world will more and more become like this way of Christ, this way of mutual love. As it was always meant to be.
In the name of Jesus. Amen