Hebrews 13:1-5, 16; Luke 14:1, 7-14
“I am so busy!” We hear that complaint all the time! Or is it a brag? Busy-ness is a sign of our value – to ourselves or others. We measure a person’s value, typically, by what they accomplish. I am frequently the speaker of this excuse, lament, badge of honor. What is it about busy-ness that draws us in?
I think perhaps it is in the last phrase: badge of honor. In the west, we tend to measure value by what we accomplish. How does that work for me? Well, I make “to do lists.” Some days I try to keep them short – I need to accomplish three things today. Those might be big things, but still, the list is short on those days. Some days, I make the lists very long and detailed – mostly for the joy of crossing off more things. I keep the list until the end of the day to evaluate my day. Did I cross off everything?
We use a person’s busy-ness as a basis for measuring their worth. If you want something done, ask a busy person. Busy-ness is next to godliness.
Today, at the Pharisee’s house Jesus had the audacity to upend the way valuing happened in his culture. It would have been like telling us Americans to “chillax,” throw away the lists. It doesn’t matter how much you get done. Your value is elsewhere.
First century Palestine was what is called by sociologists an “honor-shame” society. The culture was intensely sensitive to issues of status and recognition. One’s reputation, one’s family status were the basis of personal value – not being busy or productive. Few things would be more humiliating than to have a host ask you to move to a lower position at a social gathering. You would feel like you’d been named an upstart, someone who thought too much of yourself, one who didn’t know your place, and the physical act of moving lower would mirror the drop in your prestige and social capital.
And if Jesus had left it here, we would have thought him pronouncing good common sense. Better to be invited to a higher place than to be asked to move to a lower place. But Jesus took this teaching much farther. He continues by telling his listeners that social events are not for social payoff. Hospitality is not for earning points with your friends or getting noticed by those above you. No! Hospitality is for welcoming those below you – those who have no possibility of paying you back, or of earning you points in the social system. Don’t invite to dinner those who already respect you or can reward you or invite you in return. Invite the outcast – the poor, the sick, the socially undesirable.
Jesus’ whole life is centered on inviting into the presence of God those who neither expect nor deserve such an invitation. We call it grace. If Jesus has welcomed us as God’s beloved, then we are called to do the same for the next person.
The only way we can do that is to stop jockeying for status or value – whether that is measured in productivity or social status. Instead, we begin to live from a sense of abundance and blessing.
We live in a culture which preaches scarcity. There is never enough, or at least, we are afraid that there will never be enough. But what if there was? What if there was enough and more than enough to go around? What difference would that make in our own peace of mind and the way we treated others? What if we saw others not as competitors for scarce resources but as partners commissioned by God to distribute the riches of God’s goodness and grace?
That is what Jesus is trying to teach here. There is enough. You are all God’s beloved. That is enough. It is always enough. And if you are God’s beloved, so is the person sitting next to you, or those relegated to the streets and sidewalks.
This is the faith upon which we base bridge-building and peace-making – all are welcome because all are beloved. We make no distinctions based on race, religion, ability or disability, economic status, age. Or at least, this is our intention. We live into it as God gives us grace. Since we opened our doors seven days a week, it is refreshing to see people of all different ages, languages and abilities here.
The author of Hebrews says: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2). Have we entertained angels unawares? Of course we have. I have no idea when or where. But so many angels have walked through our halls. Sometimes I get a curious smile wondering who they are today. What if we walked through the world, met and greeted people expecting a few angels every day – whether here, at home, or doing your shopping?
It is time for a perspective change. As followers of Jesus, we are not about what’s in it for me, but how can I lift up the one I meet. This is what Jesus was talking to the Pharisees about. God has plenty of blessings, and you are God’s beloved. So, don’t worry. Your life is in God’s heart always and forever. That is an abundance beyond counting! Trust it. Live it!
One way to work on this change of perspective is to learn to bless. It is a skill we can all learn which will help us make the world a better place. Years ago I was in a class with a Jewish Rabbi who was talking about Jewish spiritual practice. One of the things he said which I will always remember is that the Jewish daily practice is structured around saying one hundred blessings a day. These blessings are more what I would think of as prayers of gratitude. They begin: “Blessed are you Lord our God, Creator of the Universe, for you have …,” and then the thing is named and how it is a blessing is described. For instance when rising: “Blessed are you Lord our God, Creator of the Universe, for you have restored my soul to me from the depths of sleep.”
Gratitude is one of the practices which will change your heart and soul powerfully and measurably. I recommend it!
And yet, what I am imagining today when I talk about blessing is blessing each other. Our ancient roots from the time of Abraham remind us that wishing good or ill upon a person can cause them to experience it. So in blessing a person you were affecting their well-being. Scientists are beginning to confirm that this is indeed true. The words we use affect people and things around us.
So let’s start blessing. Blessing a form of the word, benediction. We see it printed in our bulletin every Sunday morning. I get to bless you every Sunday, and I believe that speaking these words of blessing make a difference in your life. The word benediction or blessing literally means “good speaking.” Consider how much bad speaking is being poured out on our children, on our families, in our homes and in our air waves every day. We are immersed in bad speaking. Blessing is an opportunity to pronounce good words as a way to change the world.
When I have couples ask me to marry them, but they want it short and not too religious, I say fine with me, as long as I get to bless you. I’ve never had anyone say no. It is one of the deepest joys of performing sacred rituals – getting to bless people!
You could practice speaking good words at your next committee meeting. Listen closely, be attentive to what the other is trying to express. Then value their contribution out loud. We did it for a bit at the session retreat yesterday. We each had an opportunity to say out loud the gifts others bring to our community. That was a form of blessing.
You can do it out loud or you can even do it in silence. Missionary Teacher, Frank Laubach used to experiment with sending blessings silently to the people sitting ahead of him on the bus. More times than not, he observed, there was some indication that the blessing had impact – a smile, a turn around, a sitting up straighter.
Keep it simple like to get started: I wish you well; Peace be with you. Add a visualization of the love of God – arms embracing them, or light bringing them a glorious glow and healing warmth. As you get more practiced, your blessings will likely become more particular at times. Then you can always go back to the simple: God bless you.
Find a reminder for blessing. It could be every time your phone pings a text message. Or, I know a lot of people who bless every time they hear a siren sound.
I am experimenting with a discipline of writing cards to bless people. I have a stash of beautiful cards collected over the years. But I never seemed to send them. I just save them, and look at them once in a while, otherwise I just forget about them. That is not what they were meant for. I have decided to use them. Send them out to bless the world. It is a very little thing. I doesn’t take long to write a card and send it. But it is one way I have chosen to value the people in my life. I really do value them. But do they know it? Telling them is a blessing.
I wonder if this practice can change us from the inside out. We can build bridges of value and connection with each other right here. And as we learn to do it here, with people we love, we can stretch our practice to anyone and everyone we meet.
The deepest blessing is just paying attention. To whom? To whoever walks into your world. Can you say a hundred blessings a day? Maybe not as a beginner, but what about 10? 5? 1? Let’s keep it simple: your assignment this week is to say a blessing for someone every day – it can be aloud or in silence. We can all do this. It might change us as much as it changes the world.