Saturday, August 31, 2019

Year C, Pentecost 12, Luke 14.1, 7-14, Good News to the Poor

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“Almost half of white Americans say the USA becoming a majority nonwhite nation would "weaken American customs and values," a new Pew Research poll says.
The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that before 2050, the majority of the USA will be made up of minority populations. According to Pew's research, 46 percent of white people fear that would weaken U.S. culture.
"The finding speaks for itself. It suggests concern broadly held by whites about a majority-minority country," says Rich Morin, a senior editor at Pew Research Center.
The survey of 2,524 U.S. adults conducted in December focused on Americans' view of the future of the country and asked about political, economic and societal changes that could come by 2050.
Pew did not define "American customs and values" or "American culture" for the survey.”
(USA Today)
We hear a lot about “white privilege” today.
What is “white privilege”?
Simply put, “white privilege” refers to the fact that in our culture, there are many challenges that minorities face, that white people never experience.
Opportunities are more abundant for whites.  Doors simply open more readily for us.
One of my colleagues, Eric Samuelson, reported an experience recently.
He writes:
At Holden Village last week, John Noltner asked for stories about when we recognized our privilege for his "A Peace of My Mind" photo project. I recalled a Friday morning teaching at Trinity Lutheran College when my students started talking about how they got to college, and how hard it was to get there. They started telling stories about all the people in their lives who discouraged them, who told them they shouldn't dream big, or that they weren't college materials. It was so many stories of so many people who did this to them. And I sat there realizing nobody has ever said those words to me. Those students had more grit and determination than I ever have, and they continue to inspire me to this day. I remembered too that they also told stories of that ONE person (and for many, it was only one) who let them know they could make it, and the incredible role that person played in their life. That moment had had a big impact on me, as I seek to be that kind of person who gives hope and encouragement to the young people in my life. 
And why do almost half of the people in the U.S. fear the day when there are more minorities than white people in the country????
It’s because many fear losing the privileges that we have long enjoyed.
One of my memories from childhood is of playing in the school yard during the winter.
One of the things they did was to clear the snow from the playground, and pile it up creating a wonderful mound.   It was ideal for playing a game of “King of the Mountain”.
You remember the game.
One person would get to the top, and then try to stay there as long as they could, while the rest tried to push them off the top of the mountain.  Inevitably this resulted in the “King of the Mountain” taking a slide down the icy slope of our ‘mountain’.  And once one “King” was pushed off the top of the mountain, another person took their place, and the game continued.
Mary, the mother of our Lord, sang a song that we know as the “Magnificat” when she found out that she would have Jesus.
In that song she declares:
(The Lord) has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Kinda sounds like “King of the Mountain” doesn’t it.
This theme of God’s special concern for lifting up the downtrodden, even at the expense of the elite, runs throughout much of Luke’s Gospel.
It’s no accident that in Luke’s Gospel, it was the lowly shepherds that welcomed the savior’s birth, not the wise men, the privileged travelers from afar.
In today’s Gospel message, Jesus once again visits this theme.
“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Jesus tells his hosts the parable, about the wedding guests seeking the places of honor, and how it is better to take the lowest seat at the table and be brought up, than to take a place at the head table, and be asked to move down.
Consider again, the Pew Research poll.
Why do so many white people fear the growth of the minority populations in our country?
Because there is a concern that the status of the minorities will be improved at the expense of the white people.
The same dynamic happens with respect to immigration.
There is a fear that if we do not control immigration they will take our jobs.
And of course, the hopes of those who come here is that they will have a job.
It’s all a game of “King of the Mountain”, where an elite few are at the top, defending their status, while the rest seek to displace them.
Only it doesn’t have to be that way.
And it will not be in the Kingdom of God.
Let me give you an example.
Imagine for a moment, that the world is a great banquet and all are invited.
When we sit down to eat, there are numerous possibilities.
One possibility is that there is simply not enough to go around.  So the privileged few will eat prime rib, while the rest go hungry.
Or similarly, most of the people get macaroni and cheese, but some get prime rib.
In both cases you have an elite class.
And if you are one of the elite, you fear that the next time you’ll be eating the mac and cheese, or nothing at all.
Or imagine that the resources are limited so instead of serving some prime rib while others go hungry, the host serves everyone broth and bread.  That’s one of the fears we have been taught regarding communism.   If everyone gets the same, it’ll be broth and bread, not prime rib.
But there is another possibility.
Suppose, that due to the graciousness of the host, there is in fact enough prime rib for everyone to enjoy.
Would that be so bad?
Or do we, in our sinfulness, desire to have more than another?
One of the ways this comes into play is with respect to our understanding of salvation.
I have been amazed at how important it was for many people in my parishes to believe that there is a hell where people will suffer eternally.
So you have some, who in the afterlife, experience eternal bliss.  And others that experience eternal torment. 
The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is that Lazarus, who suffered in this life will enjoy eternal bliss in the next, while the rich man who was privileged in this life will be in agony in the next.
But what if God, in God’s wisdom, was able to redeem the entire world, so that all are saved, and none are condemned????
Would heaven be any less heavenly if everyone was there?
Is prime rib any less tender if we all have a portion?
Is forgiveness any less blessed, if God offers it to all?
Is grace diminished when it is abundant?
Does God have to hate some, in order to love others?
And the answer is of course not.
I have four children.
I can and do love them all.
I don’t have to love some of them, and despise the others.
Love can be freely and unconditionally given.

That brings up a second point.
In Jesus parable, there is a contrast between seeking out the positions of honor, and being granted those positions. 
If I humble myself and expect nothing, then everything I have is a blessing, a gift.
That’s grace.
It’s not that some deserve God’s favor and others don’t.
Grace is that no one deserves God’s favor, but God gives it anyway.  Gives it.  Offers it freely and unconditionally for the sake of Christ.
And in that, we are all equal.
Hierarchies will be destroyed in the Kingdom of God.
There will not be a privileged few, and impoverished masses.
For there is no limit to the grace of God.

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