THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AT WOODBURY
August 28, 2022
TWELVETH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Hospitable God, you invite us to a banquet where the last may be first, and the humble and the mighty trade places. Let us share your abundance with no fear of scarcity; let us greet strangers as angels you have sent! Send your Spirit now so that we may find a place at your table and welcome others with radical hospitality. In the name of Jesus, Guest at all our tables, we pray. Amen.
CALL TO WORSHIP
We come to worship our God, to listen to the One who calls us here.
We come trusting God to lead us in the coming days, as surely as were our grandparents in the faith.
We come to worship our God, to shout with joy to the God of all people.
We come to the Creator of all things, to be bathed in the waters of life.
We come to the Feast of God’s faithful, to be fed by the One who never forsakes us.
We come to worship our God, to sing aloud to the One who saves us.
*HYMN No. 645 “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above”
1 Sing praise to God who reigns above,
the God of all creation,
the God of power, the God of love,
the God of our salvation.
With healing balm my soul is filled,
and every faithless murmur stilled:
to God all praise and glory!
2 What God’s almighty power has made
God’s gracious mercy keepeth;
by morning glow or evening shade
God’s watchful eye ne’er sleepeth.
Within the kingdom of God’s might,
lo! all is just and all is right:
to God all praise and glory!
3 The Lord is never far away,
but, through all grief distressing,
an ever-present help and stay,
our peace and joy and blessing,
as with a mother’s tender hand
God gently leads the chosen band:
to God all praise and glory!
4 Thus all my toilsome way along
I sing aloud thy praises,
that all may hear the grateful song
my voice unwearied raises.
Be joyful in the Lord, my heart;
both soul and body, take your part:
to God all praise and glory!
*CALL TO RECONCILIATION
Despite all the ways we speak of sin – failures, mistakes, intended acts, Scripture tells us that we are stubborn-hearted, wanting only our way. But if we pause to listen to God, if we open our mouths (and our hearts) to confess our sin, God will fill our emptiness with forgiveness and hope. Let us pray together, as we say,
*PRAYER FOR CONFESSION
We are always uncomfortable, Watching God, when you notice how we want to sit in the seats of honor. We can be so proper, so good, so well-off, that it is easy to imagine we are superior to the poor. We are so busy completing our ‘To Do’ list each day, that we forget to do good when we have the chance. Forgive us, Welcoming God. Fill our emptiness with your grace and humility that we would spend our lives alongside Jesus, our Lord and Savior, throwing a party for the poor, the damaged, the prisoner, the lost, the oppressed.
Silence is observed
*ASSURANCE OF PARDON
This is the good news: after what God has done for us, what can anyone or any thing do to us? We are new people, graced by our loving God.
Forgiven, embraced, welcomed by our God, we will offer open hearts and serving hands to everyone we meet. Thanks be to God. Amen.
*RESPONSE No. 581 “Glory Be To the Father”
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen, amen.
*PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
Since God has forgiven us in Christ, let us forgive one another. The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
THE CHILDREN’S MESSAGE
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us this day. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Luke 14:1, 7-14
14On 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.
7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8“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; 9and 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. 10But 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. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12He 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. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
SERMON “Dinner Time”
Pastor Lillian Daniel shares a conversation she had with a man who has joined the Church’s Alumni Association. I’ve had variations of the same conversation with church dropouts who attempt to justify and explain why they no longer attend. There may not be a living, breathing minister in the entire country who has not had this conversation.
The man told Lillian that he had formerly belonged to the church, but he no longer participated in organized religion. Now he spends his Sunday mornings reading The New York Times or taking a run through the woods. He finds God in nature, and he assures her that he’s deeply spiritual, but not religious.
He dropped this line on her as if he had made a breakthrough discovery which prompted him to take a bold stand that would surely jolt this naive minister who had never heard such defiance. But, as Lillian points out, this “well-meaning Sunday jogger fits right into mainstream American culture…people who have stepped away from the church in favor of running, newspaper reading, Sunday yoga, or whatever they put together to construct a more convenient religion of their own making.”
She’s heard the story so many times that she was tempted to interrupt and tell the story for him. “Let me guess, you read The New York Times from cover to cover every Sunday and you get more out of it than the sermon. Let me guess, you find God in nature. You see God in the woods on a long run or when walking on the beach. And don’t forget the sunset. As if people who attend church would not know that.”
We’re all so dim-witted that we never heard the story of creation or the psalms that praise God for the amazing earth and sea and stars. Well, surprise! We see God’s hand in nature, too.
But what else is there to your religion?
Generally, if you try to push these folks a little further, you won’t get much in terms of depth. You might get some sentimental ideas that you could glean from most seven-year-olds, but not much that would line up with the challenging teachings of Jesus.
To be fair, not everyone who has exited the church left because they have turned inward and created their own religion that fits their schedule better and the lifestyle they pursue. Some have fled the church because their experience was so unsettling. Their church was anti-women, anti-science, anti-gay and anti-all religious faiths other than their own. At some level they realized that the teachings of their church did not square with the God that Jesus revealed. They recognized that God’s love was a great deal more generous and welcoming than their church was promoting. At some point they decided they did not want to be connected with a community of faith whose tight boundary lines fenced out the kind of people with whom Jesus often ate dinner and shared a glass of wine.
Author, researcher and church consultant, Diana Butler-Bass, has a pithy piece of advice for churches that have become so narrow and self-righteous that God’s loving Spirit has little room to operate. All churches would do well to heed her provocative statement. She says, “Hospitality is salvation.” When I first heard that, I was a bit skeptical. She unpacks that phrase by saying that human beings wander away from God and spend too much time focused on the wrong things. We create distance between ourselves and God, we create distance between ourselves, and others and we create a distance between who we are and who God intends for us to be. However, Butler says, “Salvation is God setting a new table and welcoming all back to the table.”
God’s radical love for us – God’s lavish hospitality – is salvation. That may sound foreign to us because the church has generally confined the definition of salvation to “going to heaven after we die.” However, throughout the Scriptures, salvation encompasses much more. It often points to profound changes that occur in people now, not later.
The gospels tell us that Jesus saves people from their sins by forgiving them. He forgives them, not so that when they finally die, they will join God in paradise, but so that they will immediately embark on a new course that will transform their life. It is a path that seeks to treat others the way we want to be treated: with love, patience, respect, and such empathy that when our life crumbles, others will show up to help us pick up the pieces.
The word salvation comes from “salve” which is a healing ointment. The healing ministry of Jesus saves people from spending the remainder of their earthly lives in pain and misery. Salvation entails Christ bringing health and wholeness and wellbeing to our souls. Salvation is knowing we have a place at God’s table.
In today’s passage from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus provides a glimpse of God’s table. However, he does not begin with a divine vision; he begins with the dinner party to which he has been invited. Jesus has received an invitation to dine at the home of a prominent man who has also invited a number of local notables. Why this itinerant preacher from the small village of Nazareth made the guest list is unclear. He was not usually rubbing shoulders with the town’s elite. Perhaps he was invited to this exclusive gathering because he was all the buzz and the powerbrokers in the community thought they should check him out. However, in the end, Jesus is the one who does the evaluating.
As the guests gather, Jesus takes note of how the men jockey for position. In the ancient world, where you sat mattered. At issue was not making sure that left-handers were on a corner where they would not be jabbing their right-handed neighbors. Neither was there any thought given to sitting next to your closest friends. Your seat was determined by your perceived status. Those near the top of the social hierarchy sat closest to the host, while those with lesser credentials were back in the cheap seats.
Imagine that the communion table is where the host sits. Those of you who are closest, the choir, on platform, first pews are the hot shots. People look up to you and envy your status. As the host, I’m proud to have you at his party because some of you raise my currency a little. Those in the middle pews are well known. Some of you are up and comers and may move up at the next dinner party. Those of you in the back pews, you’re not among the elite, but at least you were invited. Oh, balcony, you’re not quite up to this party. You’re on the outside, looking in. Sorry!
You can see how awkward situations could easily arise. Someone might assess those invited and consider himself in the top echelon and take a place near the host. Then, a couple of more prestigious guests might enter, and he would have to rise from his place and move a couple of pegs down the ladder.
Jesus knows a teachable moment when he sees one, so he says, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you have been invited; and the host comes to you and says, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you slink to a lower place. But when you are invited, sit down at the lowest place, so that your host may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of the others. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’”
It is a sound proverb on humility, and I suspect those gathered thought that it was a clever strategy to tuck away for future use. But as was often the case, Jesus had a bit more to say; something to blast them out of their cultural conventions and to see the world not as they usually perceived things to be, but through the eyes of God.
Jesus said, ‘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.’
It is a strong reminder that there is a special place in the divine heart for the poor and those often relegated to the periphery of society. It is a strong reminder that we ought not focus only on those who can repay our invitations, but on all those who are precious in God’s eyes. And it is a strong reminder that people considered unimportant in the eyes of the world will have some of the finest seats at God’s table.
A few years ago, just after Labor Day, Charles Campbell, who teaches at Duke Divinity School, was standing on a platform in Atlanta waiting for a subway train. A homeless man he had met walked over to stand with him. He said, “Remember me? I’m Michael – just like the angel!”
As they chatted, Michael told him about his ongoing search for a job and expressed his gratitude to God for the many ways God was taking care of him. When the train arrived, they boarded, sat down together, and continued their conversation. At one point Charles asked Michael where he had eaten on Labor Day – a difficult day for homeless people in Atlanta because a number of places close. Michael said he had eaten at the Open-Door Community, a Christian community that serves about 400 people a day. Michael’s eyes grew wide as he described the huge helping of “real pinto beans” and the generous portions of corn bread “this thick” (holding his thumb and forefinger two inches apart).
Charles said, “That sounds great. How many people were at the meal?”
Michael stared at him for a few moments, then announced in a loud voice for everyone on the train to hear: “Thousands! There were thousands! They came from north and south and east and west. There were thousands!”
Despite being stripped of place and dignity by homelessness, Michael had caught a glimpse of the great messianic banquet where all will gather at the table of our Lord, and all will eat as much as they want from the abundance.
I hope everyone here knows deep in your soul that you are welcome at God’s table, and you are welcome in this community of faith. If you are young, middle-aged, or old, rich or poor, and whatever your sexual orientation or political beliefs or your marital status, you are a beloved child of God and welcome in this church family. And I pray that you will reflect God’s gracious and generous welcome so that all may know they have a very special place at the table.
Commentary and Liturgy provided by Charles Campbell, Gregory Knox Jones, Lillian Daniel, Thomas G. Long and Jo Ann Taylor
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH The Apostles’ Creed
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
*HYMN No. 182 “I Heard the Voices of Jesus Say”
1 I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
lay down, O weary one, lay down
your head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
so weary, worn, and sad;
I found him in a resting place,
and he has made me glad.
2 I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water, thirsty one;
stoop down and drink and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.
3 I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s light;
look unto me, your morn shall rise,
and all your day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
in him my star, my sun;
and in that light of life I’ll walk
till traveling days are done.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER AND THE LORD’S PRAYER
God, can we be honest? It’s hard to pray when the world seems in shambles. Our petitions, our thoughts and prayers, aren’t enough in the wake of people losing everything to wildfires, floods and war. Monkeypox is on the rise and we’re not yet clear of COVID. Political leaders are on trial, fighting more scandals than fixing problems. What are we to do, God? How are we to be in this world of chaos and confusion?
Living God, bolster us, we pray, through Word and worship. Remind us we are not alone. Support us with your Spirit’s presence who gives words even to the least eloquent. Help us recall how you have equipped saints and ancestors who also did not know how to respond. Mold us into the kind of people who can help you bend the arc of this universe towards justice.
Finally, hear our petitions for those in special need of grace today:
- For victims of violence and abuse
- For the hungry and unhoused
- For the neglected and lonely
- For the misunderstood and marginalized
- For the ill, the dying, and those responsible for their care
We praise you, God of Glory, for your attention and your presence with us in prayer. We thank you for being in relationship with us. Hear us now, as we collectively pray the prayer Christ taught us saying, “Our Father…”.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Today’s flowers Are given in the glory and honor of God by are given in the glory and honor of God by ________________________
OFFERING OF TITHES
God has made every provision for our lives on this earth, giving not only enough in creation to keep us alive, but to give us life that is abundant and rich with possibilities. How do we respond to such graciousness and love? May it be by offering not only what we feel obligated to give, but what God’s example has set for us, and what God’s Spirit inspires in us – the very first fruits, the very best of our lives and of our labors.
Praise God, from whom all blessing flow, Praise God, all creatures here below. Alleluia, Alleluia Praise God in Jesus fully known; Creator, Word, and Spirit one. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
* PRAYER OF DEDICATION
By your grace, O God, you have provided abundantly for us. May these offerings from that abundance bring forth fullness of life for your children here and around the world, for the sake of Christ our Lord. Amen.
*HYMN No. 169 “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”
1 *Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways;
reclothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.
2 In simple trust like theirs who heard
beside the Syrian sea
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word
rise up and follow thee.
3 O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt to share with thee
the silence of eternity,
interpreted by love!
4 Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.
5 Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!
Having listened to God’s words, we are sent to serve others.
Today and tomorrow, we will follow where God leads.
Having joined in songs of praise and hope, we will carry these gifts into the world.
Today and tomorrow, we will serve beside Jesus.
Having been filled with the Spirit of justice, we will go to be with all who struggle.
Today and tomorrow, we will bring justice and peace to those around us.