Sunday, August 29, 2010

Luke 14:1-15 - “Backscratchin’ Party”

Westminister Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe
August 29, 2010, Chester Craig Topple

Do you ever get an itch...while your just sitting in a chair reading, eating, or watching TV, and you try to scratch it but you can’t quite get to it, you reach around, you stretch your arms, you search for some kind of relief.  It gets so bad you have to stand up. What can you do?  just. can’t. reach.  The wall?  A fake wooden hand? Where is a backscratcher when you need it?  
File:Back scratcher.jpg
higher higher a little to the left, little more...there, ahhh.

I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.  Those are good people to have around.
quid pro quo - Something for something.  Do me a favor now, you’ll be sure to get on in return.

It is a very utilitarian way of looking at the world.  We associate with certain people because we know we can get something out of the relationship, and perhaps that person is just as likely to get something out of it to.  In other words, how useful are you to me? How useful am I to you? We all have backs that itch a lot...So we have to see who may be willing to give us a little scratch...

Even 2000 years ago people sought out useful relationships.  Jesus is at a party at a pharisee’s house.  Sounds a little weird....Jesus at a party and he is at a pharisee’s home.  He had been invited by a leader of the religious establishment to hang out...or maybe to be trapped. We don’t know. Jesus didn’t seemed bothered by it either way. He went.

But before he goes inside...he sees someone outside the party.  In fact he was standing right in front of him; almost blocking his way to the door. Someone with a terrible condition- dropsy, swelling-- that leaves him a social outcast...and Jesus couldn’t just walk past him, before going to the party. Jesus heals the man (fourth time he heals on the Sabbath day in Luke--in case you were counting). The man goes away... and in the story doesn’t even say thank you.

Then Jesus goes in and sees all the to do and putting on.  People sitting here are moved to there.  “Why, you are a very important to me, please, come sit here.” “Hi Friend, yes you. You are nice, but you don’t quite meet my needs like this fella mind sliding over?”

Jesus suggests that people should sit far from the place of honor and then get moved up.  And let me tell you, some in this church have done that pretty well...only a few like to sit close to the front....and it’s not to get close to me, no, it’s to get close to (point to the painting). He’s the one who is hosting this party right now...and he’s right there!). The point Jesus is trying to make: The one exalted will be humbled, the one humbled will be exalted.  Don’t think yourself better than anyone else….The humble Jesus exalted on the cross. The humbled Jesus, exalted in resurrection.
Back to the party.  Jesus takes the Pharisee to another level.  Here’s how you live humbly.  Here’s how you break a system of usery, and enact the kingdom of God.
He looks at him and he says, “Next time you throw a party...try this,”
and watch what Jesus does, “look at your guest list, relatives, friends, important people, people you know are going to return the favor...and scratch them all off your list.  Instead invite, the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, the poor the crippled, the lame, the blind...invite those people, those people who can never pay you back....those people who may never scratch your back...invite them to your party...And then...and then you will experience real blessing!“ 

You may say, how is that possible, if I invite people who cannot pay me back, how do I get anything out of it?  And Jesus says that it will be in the resurrection of the righteous.  Which isn’t just some by and by pie in the sky, but something that happens when those people, who don’t have any way to pay you back are invited and they come...and some how there is righteousness.  Transformation takes place....

I don’t think Jesus is just talking about inviting those who are different from you or me to the party. It’s about looking for and inviting those people who have no way of giving you anything back, And just like the man who had dropsy was practically standing at the door people were entering; we don’t have to look hard to find people who aren’t invited to important parties.... And when we find that person, we must examine our hearts, and come to the point where we can invite them and expect nothing in return...

Ohhh. But, I like it when people pay me back. I like it when I get something in return. I like to have my back scratched. But, ah ah, no usery.  No payback. not scratching even a tiny tiny bit.

And this story is not about helping people out. It’s not about the healthy reaching out to the sick, the normal people to those who are different, those who have toward those who don’t have much; the strong toward the weak; the happy people toward those who suffering. This passage is about integration! Integration of people who need each other not only to live out this commandment of Jesus about who should be invited to the party, but also so that we can be made whole.  

One of the best stories told about what this kind of party that Jesus is talking about looks like, I heard told by Tony Campolo, a former sociology professor.  I’ve told it here before. It’s worth telling again  (click here to see his telling of the story)

He had to go to a speaking engagement in honolulu (not a bad place to be invited)
First night there, he tries to get some sleep, but because of the time change, boom he’s up at 3 am…and he wants some bacon and eggs. He goes out. Everything is closed, except some greasy dive. He goes in and sits down at the counter. The greasy guy behind the counter comes over, stains all over his apron.  Harry written on his name tag. "What d'ya want?" “Well,” Campolo says, having lost his appetite. "I'll have a donut and coffee, Harry."
As he sits there munching on his donut and sipping his coffee at 3:30, in walk eight or nine prostitutes; They sit down at the counter; all around where Campolo is. Campolo gulps his coffee, planning to make a quick getaway.
Then the woman next to him says to her friend, "You know what? Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm gonna be 39."  One of her companions replies, "So what d'ya want from me? A birthday party? Huh? You want me to get a cake, and sing happy birthday to you?"
The first woman says, "Aw, come on, I'm just sayin' it's my birthday. I don't want anything. I mean, why should I have a birthday party? I've never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?"
Campolo sat and waited until the women left, and then he asked the Harry:
"Do they come in here every night?"
"Yeah," he answered.
"The one right next to me," he asked, "she comes in every night?"
"Yeah," he said, "that's Agnes. Yeah, she's here every night. She's been comin' here for years. Why do you want to know?"
"Because she just said that tomorrow is her birthday. What do you think? Do you think we could maybe throw a little birthday party for her right here in the diner?"
A smile crept over the greasy man's chubby cheeks. "That's great," he says, "yeah, that's great. I like it." He turns to the kitchen and shouts to his wife, "Hey, come on out here. This guy's got a great idea. Tomorrow is Agnes' birthday and he wants to throw a party for her right here."
His wife comes out. "That's terrific," she says. "You know, Agnes is really nice. She's one of the good people; I know what she does for a living, but she’s a good person."
So they make their plans. Tony says he'll decorations and Harry, with the greasy apron says he'll make the cake. (aye)
At 2:30 the next morning, Campolo shows up with crepe paper and other decorations and a sign made of big pieces of cardboard that says, "Happy Birthday, Agnes!" They decorate the place from one end to the other and get it looking great. Harry had gotten the word out on the streets about the party and by 3:15 it seemed that every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. wall to wall.
At 3:30 on the dot, the door swings open and in walks Agnes. Tony has everybody ready. They all shout and scream "Happy Birthday, Agnes!" Agnes is stunned; her knees buckle; her mouth falls open.   And when she sees the birthday cake with all the candles she totally loses it: sobbing and crying. 
Harry gruffly mumbles, "Knock it off. (2x).  Blow out the candles, Agnes. Cut the cake." So she pulls herself together and blows them out. Everyone cheers and yells, "Cut the cake, Agnes, cut the cake!"

But Agnes looks down at the cake and, without taking her eyes off it, slowly and softly says, "Look, Harry, is it all right with you if...I mean, if I don't...I mean, what I want to ask, is it OK if I keep the cake a little while? Is it all right if we don't eat it right away?" Harry doesn't know what to say so he shrugs and says,
"Sure, if that's what you want to do. Keep the cake. Take it home if you want."
"Oh, could I?" she asks. Looking at Tony she says, "I live just down the street a couple of doors; I want to take the cake home, is that okay? I'll be right back, honest." She gets off her stool, picks up the cake, and carries it high in front of her like it was the Holy Grail.
Everybody watches in silence the door closes behind Agnes, nobody knows what to do. They look at Campolo, so he gets up on a chair and says, "What do you say that we pray together?"
And there they are in a hole-in-the-wall greasy diner, half the prostitutes in Honolulu, at 3:30 a.m. listening to Tony Campolo as he prays for Agnes, that God would deliver her from her bondage that most likely came from some filthy person taking advantage of her at a young age....He prayed that her life would be changed, and God would be good to her. When he's finished, Harry leans over, and says, "Hey, you never told me you were religious. What kind of church do you belong to anyway?"  In one of those moments when just the right words came, Tony responds: "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning."

Harry said, “no you don’t, no you don’t.  I would join a church like that!”
Wouldn’t we all.  Wouldn’t we all belong to a church that throws parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning. That is the kind of Church Jesus came to create:

He didn’t say spend all your time trying to follow church polity correctly;
Or working on organizational structure;
Or talking about the building (I’m talking to my elders now)

He said, throw a party and here’s who you invite:
those who can’t repay you
Those who can’t put a dime in the plate.
throw parties for those who don’t have parties thrown for them.  
Celebration with those who have nothing to celebrate.

Jesus said he came so that his joy might be complete in you. In us.  
And we, as people who have heard the message, are energized to hear and act and do and be a community that invites people who don’t get invited.  
And it’s more than bread and clothes, but it’s love and joy shared in our lives.  

All are welcomed at this table, and the host (point back) takes joy in all who come to share in the feast...And expects nothing in return, except for our very lives to never be the same.

Mark’s Prayer.
Please join me in the prayers of the people.  We will conclude the prayer time by with the traditional Lord’s Prayer found on page 16 of your blue Hymnal.

Holy God, you call us to party! And you invite us all to be part of the party; and especially, the poor the crippled, the lame, the blind. These become the life of the party.   We are broken people. We suffer from our own problems.  We suffer because we isolate ourselves from other people who have problems.  You call us to be whole.  Hear our prayers as we offer them now both aloud and in the silence of our hearts.  Let us give thanks for the gifts of this day and pray for the life of the world.  Conclude your prayer by saying, Lord in your mercy. And we will answer, Hear our prayer.
And now the Lord’s Prayer:
Our father, who art in heaven.  

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