Ok. Real quick. Show of hands: who could tell me where in the Bible we find the book of Sirach?
It’s one of my favorite books in all of Scripture. Not one that is commonly taught nor that pops up in the lectionary very often. It’s a great book, with lots of distillation of teachings from other prophets, psalms, and stories. Highly recommend everyone check it out.
I think Sirach is an example of a thing we sometimes do with Scripture: we speed past a lot of things, focusing on the well known parts. But often times the things we glance right by are the things that we should sit and spend the most time with. Just from the readings today:
The rage of Jeremiah.
The hidden gem that is Sirach.
Talk of a wedding banquet that requires knowledge of a societal structure that makes exactly zero sense today but that actually shows what kind of man Jesus was, and the essence of his teachings.
We as Christians have this tendency to skip past things as being outdated, irrelevant, or show a side of God that we don’t agree with.
Or, and this happens all of the time but we never talk about it, we skip past places where our adult understanding of the world doesn’t mesh with what we were taught about the meaning of something when we were in Sunday School.
So for example, Jeremiah.
Jeremiah is the angry prophet. Mad. Presenting a vengeful God. Punishing for sins and transgressions. Jeremiah is used to justify a lot of punishment based on quote on quote “sinful” behavior.
But look at this list of what is a transgression.
Leaving God; putting individual interest over communal interests and the following of God; accumulating earthly things for the purpose of accumulating them; raping and defiling the earth; hoarding earth’s resources; defiling God’s name; and claiming the authority of God while doing all these things. Forsaking God, and the hubris of thinking we can do better than God.
God has every right to be angry about this.
Nowhere on this list is there anything about who you love, consensual nor premarital sex, abortion, being gay, divorce.
Abandoning God. Putting ourselves in the place of God. Defiling the earth and her resources.
Those are the transgressions. Those are the sins.
Anything that makes it seem as though you are more important than God, or the earth, or any other human. Because we are all equal to God.
It is society who tells us that some of us are more valuable than others. And we pick up those lessons. We treat others accordingly and expect them to treat us accordingly as well. We are white, middle to upper class Americans, well educated, living in and around one of the wealthiest communities in the country.
Society tells us that we are among the best of the best and deserve to be treated as such.
Perhaps some are having a reaction to the idea that society says that some, that we, are better than others. Perhaps some among us don’t see the problem with that. But it is a problem, and we all behave as though we, or some, are better and some others are less. Whether we want believe we do or not.
We have to actively try to reprogram to behave differently.
That is what Jeremiah is getting at, I think. God is laying out, essentially, an argument in a lawsuit. Here is how I have tried to care for you, here is the agreement I thought we were making, here is how you have aggrieved me.
You have replaced me, God says, with the worship of false gods and of things.
Because, God doesn’t say, but I will, because it’s easier and more immediately gratifying.
And we are still doing the same thing.
“The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker. For the beginning of pride is sin, and the one who clings to it pours out abominations.”
Keep reading Sirach, you’ll see that God will make right what is wrong.
And I have to tell you, we can sit on our liberal “morally superior” high ground as long as we want, looking down at conservatives, southerners, blue collar workers, under educated folks, immigrants, people who refuse to use a blinker, for me, I would also add police officers. It’s anyone we call and “other” or “them” and distinguish ourselves from.
We can sit up here on what we claim to be the moral high ground, and we are doing exactly what God is warning us not to do.
This is something I have to remind myself of ALL THE TIME. I’m no better than anyone else. Even when I think I am. Even when they are mean to me. Even when someone others me and tries to take away my rights as a human and citizen.
The answer, to what to do about this, I believe, awaits in the Gospel.
The answer is obvious and clear. But it is anything but simple.
Restructuring of societal order to one based on relationship rather than hierarchy.
That is what God calls us to do. That’s the solution.
This goes by other names, loving our neighbors as ourselves is an obvious one.
And it really is at the heart of this Gospel story.
There are several wedding stories in the tales of Jesus and his parables. And also several interactions with Pharisees.
In this particular story, I’d like to start with the Pharisees and come back to the wedding story. Because, often, the Pharisees are depicted as the bad guys. The ones who come after Jesus, and ultimately have him murdered. The ruling elites. And that’s true.
But, there are also several stories of interactions with Pharisees that are positive, filled with genuine inquisitive conversation and attempts at learning on both sides.
Here, Jesus is going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees for dinner with other Pharisees.
Jesus wasn’t shunning them and they weren’t shunning him. They were breaking bread together. Sharing conversation and learning. Building relationship.
And Jesus watched them, and saw how even the most educated, religious elites, were behaving according to societal standards.
And Jesus being Jesus, he said something.
Just a quick aside, I love that Jesus says something. Because, he is modeling the behavior necessary to bring about change. Change only happens when issues are brought to light; change only happens when those in positions of authority speak up to others in positions of authority.
Here, Jesus is saying something to a room full of Pharisees. In modern life, the closest equivalent I have is that those of us with white skin need to speak up to others with white skin. Especially white men need to speak to other white men.
Privileged people will only listen to those they consider an equal or above them. It’s a carry-over from the hierarchy that is being described in the wedding banquet in the story.
When we see something, we need to say something, or else nothing will ever change. We need to do this all the time, though it is a lot easier when we are in relationship with someone.
Jesus uses the societal structure he wants to change to his advantage in order to try to bring about major change in his society. He’s not just talking to a void. He’s talking to people who are “equals” or who look up to him, to encourage them to be different.
Jesus does this all the time. And I truly love it.
And he’s doing it at this dinner.
Jesus watches the Pharisees compete for the best seats.
Now, in the ancient world there was, very much, and ordering of society. The most important people sat closest to the host, and the host sat closest to the kitchen. So, the closer you were to the host meant the better your dinner would be.
Often, by the time the food offerings got to the lower tables, the meat and other preferred items would be gone.
Meaning the poorer people, the ones who had meat the least often, and who probably needed it the most, usually didn’t get much, if any.
There was honor in being seated at the high tables, and also practicality.
Jesus is saying, don’t assume you deserve the most honor. Let the host decide that. And, if you are the host, don’t just invite fancy people. Invite the people who need the meal the most. Don’t pay attention to the “honor” put on certain people and certain activities that society says is so valuable. Look to what God honors and finds valuable.
What’s most valuable to God is relationship and carrying for other people.
Stop assuming you are, or are among, the most important people in the room. Stop assuming you are better than anyone else. That’s what Jesus is saying. Stop behaving in a hierarchical way and start building relationships.
I play fantasy football. Not for money, just because I like football and the community of my league. I also like winning. But, I also like seeing other people succeed. And despite my love of winning, I’ve come to appreciate that it’s a lot more fun for everyone if we all are competitive. It takes nothing away from me for someone else to also have a competitive team. My team is exactly the same. My team’s performance is not in anyway impacted by the performance of someone else’s team.
So, when asked, I’ll make suggestions. I’ve drafted for other people in my league. When I have too many good players at one position, rather than hoarding them, I’ll propose a trade to someone who has a need.
Because, it’s a lot more fun for everyone to not be terrible.
I think life is the same way.
When we have enough, why hoard more? Why not share with others so that their lives are a little bit easier, a little bit more enjoyable.
We’re starting a series on Creation Care in conjunction with the Diocese beginning next week. And one of the areas where the greatest disparity exists between humans is in how we feel the effects of climate change.
And I don’t only mean how the effects are felt in the United States verses in rural Africa. The effects of climate change are vastly different between Newton and Dorchester.
Our lives here are vastly different than those of people 10 miles away and 10,000 miles away. That is a product of intentional decisions that were made based on the idea that some people are more valuable than others.
That idea is totally antithetical to what God, and God via Jesus, teach us.
“Leaving God; putting individual interest over communal interests and the following of God; accumulating earthly things for the purpose of accumulating them; raping and defiling the earth; hoarding earth’s resources; defiling God’s name; and claiming the authority of God while doing all these things. Forsaking God, and the hubris of thinking we can do better than God.”
That’s my list from the beginning of the sermon summarizing why God was upset in Jeremiah.
Can we really sit here and think those were things that were happening a few thousand years ago but not today?
Every single one of those things is still happening.
Why are we still waiting for someone else to fix it? Why do we not say something? Do something? Change…