Proper 17C Sermon (2013)

Proper 17 (Aug. 28-Sept. 3)
Texts: Luke 14:1, 7-14;
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16


During our summer Saturday worship we’ve enjoyed pieces from the Evening Prayer service, which PoP commissioned from Joseph Byrd. He composed it based on the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’d like to offer a meditation on the closing meditation, which is [singing]:

Each day tells the other: my life is but a journey to great and endless life. O sweetness of eternity, may my heart grow to love thee: my home in not in this time’s strife.

There are different ways to understand that last line, ‘my home is not in this time’s strife.’ Recent generations of Christians see it in terms of two different places: we endure the strife of this earthly home until we die and go to our heavenly home, a place of blissful peace.

But look again at the lyrics. It doesn’t say “this world’s strife.” It says “this time’s strife.” So another way to understand this is as two different times, not places. For Jews like Jesus there was only one place: God’s good creation. And heaven is the unseen dimension of Creation where God dwells. When we die, we go to the heavenly dimension of Creation with God, who holds us in life until the day of resurrection, a time when Creation will be complete. So the Jews of Jesus time saw the world in terms of two times, two different eras or ages. One is the time we live in, where sin and death and strife continue to exist. But prophets also spoke of a time when God would make those things go away — a time of peace, not strife. It was to be a time with no more suffering and death, a time when God will wipe the tears from our eyes (e.g., Isa. 25:6-8).

But then: Easter morning and the Risen Jesus began to force an adjustment to the Jewish thinking of two times. Because they began to experience Easter morning as the dawning of the New Age — the new time of peace! It had already begun! So the adjustment is that, for the Jewish people the two times are consecutive, with one ending and the other beginning. But Christians have come to understand that the times are now overlapping! The new age of peace has already begun, while the old age of strife is continuing on for a time.

That means we can begin to live in the new home of peace even as we still live in the old home of strife. As followers of Jesus, we live in his Spirit of a new way to be human that brings peace. That is our true home, and in the Spirit we can begin to live there now! We don’t have to wait. We can sing with Bonhoeffer that, ‘my home is not this time’s strife.’ We have a true home, which is the time of Christ’s peace that we begin to live into now … here, today.

How do we do that? When I was in the call process here seven years ago, I heard several people say they wanted to call a person of peace. More than twenty years ago I discovered a way of sharpening the teaching of Jesus to better understand his new way of being human that brings peace. It changed my life! It has helped me become more of a person of peace. It is something I seek to share with others in all my roles — husband, father, citizen, pastor.

But there’s been one frustration through the years. There haven’t been good study materials that give the full picture on this teaching, and I’m too busy as a pastor to develop my own. Finally, the right resource has come out this spring [James Warren’s Compassion or Apocalypse?: A Comprehensible Guide to the Thought of René Girard], and I’m excited to share it with you in this year’s Tuesday Bible Study! I think it will be one of the most important and potentially life-changing studies I’ve ever led. Why? Precisely because it will be about answering this question about how we live in the home of Christ’s peace, even as we still live in this time’s strife — namely, by more clearly understanding Jesus’s new way of being human. He came to give us a way of being human that brings peace to our lives.

The Tuesday Night Study will give us the big picture on being human, with many practical details and insights. But today’s Gospel gives us a window through which to glimpse the main two parts of Jesus’ teaching on peace. The first part is on the level of relationships. It seems simple enough advice: don’t come into a dinner party going for the places of higher honor. Go to the lower places, and perhaps the host will move you up. But behind what seems to be Emily Post social etiquette is an important truth: what causes strife in our relationships is the way we catch our desires from each other so that it brings us into rivalry with others. We are constantly playing the game of being one-up on each other. Following Christ means learning how to unhook ourselves from rivalry, and from desires that bring on rivalry. One of those most important desires involves all the ways in which we seek honor in life. We seek recognition. Jesus comes to bring us an unconditional love from God that begins to release us from the desires that hook us into rivalries that cause strife in our relationships. Jesus empowers us with God’s loving desire for all.

The second part of learning a new way of being human from Jesus is on the cultural level — the crack in the container that we’ve been talking about in recent weeks. Our cultures help bring relative peace in our relationships but it is on the basis of some form of us vs. them. We have peace with those in our group, with our insiders, but that peace comes at the cost of leaving others out. So Jesus’ second piece of advice that he gives his host is definitely not in the Emily Post vein. “When you give a luncheon or a dinner,” Jesus says, “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.” Here we see the two parts of truly being human coming together: Jesus begins healing the crack in the container by living God’s loving desire in this world, a love that doesn’t leave anyone out. You and I can begin to live into God’s way of loving that brings peace. And it’s a way that continues to challenge the crack in the container by reaching out to those usually left out.

Repaid at the resurrection of the righteous, Jesus says. He’s talking about a time when you and I will find ourselves living completely as new human beings, in peace with all of God’s family. Jesus let himself be treated as an outsider — among the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. He let himself be declared heretic and insurrectionist so that he could begin to break down the walls that divide us and begin making us into one new humanity. Someday that makeover will be fully complete. But because he already pioneered the way of resurrection on Easter morning, the time of peace has already begun. The makeover of being human has begun. And you and I as followers of Jesus can begin to live into Christ’s home of peace. We can sing with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as he wrote from prison: ‘my home is not in this time’s strife.’ Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, Aug 31-Sept 1, 2013

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