You are invited…
A Sermon on Luke 14: 1, 7-14 & Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16 by Samara Pitt, 2 September 2007
 
Our gospel reading tonight is about Jesus having a meal at the house of a Pharisee on the Sabbath.  It sounds like an uncomfortable occasion!  The Pharisees are waiting for Jesus to commit some offence, and Jesus is telling awkward stories that challenge the hospitality he’s being offered.  The kind of tense mealtime that might give you indigestion!
 
Firstly Jesus heals a man which, as we heard last week, doesn’t go down well.  Then Jesus tells this parable about how people should go about their seating arrangements at the table.  Trying to understand why there’s so much honour and shame tied up in where people were sitting requires some imagination. We’ve still got a front in this church, but generally we’ve tried to avoid the hierarchical feel.  People lie on the carpet or sit on chairs or hide under the communion table.   Gord has listed our jobs in the church in alphabetical order to avoid the implication that some jobs are more valued than others.  No worries.  So what would be the equivalent snub in our culture of being asked to move seat?
 
One impetus to do the sermon tonight was my experience of being prayed for last week.  I found myself quite uncomfortable as Liz read out my good Christian CV which is how I’ve chosen to define myself for that part of the liturgy.  I was not uncomfortable because I am ashamed of any of the activities I listed there.  However, I notice that not everyone has put in a paragraph that asks for prayer for them in the activities of their daily lives.  I wonder if, despite the lack of hierarchy of our seating arrangements, we maintain ideas of honour and shame that affect how we claim a place in the life of this church.  Perhaps this sermon is an attempt to demote myself from a self-selected place of honour.  
 
My ‘place’ growing up was being the smart one.  At school I worked hard and I did well.  I carried off several academic prizes each year at speech night, and I did reasonably well in music and sport and drama, and in my friendships.  There were a couple of glitches in the success story.  In Year 12 I was a house music captain, and we lost, badly.  I learned that there was more to that role than just being a good singer.  And at the end of the year I didn’t get the dux I was hoping for.  However, I was moving on to uni.  I did an Arts degree and then a primary teaching degree.  I graduated dux of my teaching degree so felt I was back on track.
 
Then I started teaching.  And for the first time I experienced failure that I couldn’t just pass over, and I couldn’t fix it by trying harder.  Other graduates were doing better than me and they were certainly enjoying it more.  I wasn’t treating the kids well in my classes.  I was stressed and unhappy.  During that period, two close relationships in my life went pear-shaped and I was a real mess.  I had been shamed, in my own estimation as much as anything, but also in my sense of how I was perceived by others.  
 
I’m glad that time is over, and some of the scars are still with me, but it was also really valuable.  I experienced failure that I had no control over.  Having said that, I still had education, job experience, friendships and a host of other factors that meant when I left teaching after three long years with nothing else lined up, I did manage to find my way into meaningful work that suits me a whole lot better.  
 
I had honour bestowed upon me for achievement, some genuine and some dubious.  Being cut down to size is painful.  For me, I think I have a more accurate sense of myself as a result.  But our culture can be harsher on others whom it chooses to honour or shame.
 
You might have come across the Choir of Hard Knocks, made up of homeless and marginalised people from around Melbourne.  They’re famous – perhaps the highest honour our culture bestows!  They had a TV series.  They have sung with Jimmy Barnes and toured to Sydney to perform at the Opera House.  One of them, a blind man named Tom, was run over recently and his story hit the headlines.  
 
Several of the members come to Credo café, a free lunch run by Urban Seed which is the organisation I work with.  During their tour to Sydney, several of the choir members went out drinking and got into trouble.  They were kicked out of the choir.  One of them came into lunch the other week.  He looked about as alone as you could be.  He had been shamed.  As one of the most marginalised people in our culture, he was ‘in’ for a few months, and now he’s back possibly in a worse place than where he started, shunned even by members of the choir.
 
These two stories may evoke the feeling of being shamed.  However, I don’t think Jesus takes any pleasure in making people feel bad.  I think these feelings of shame come when priorities are out of whack.   In my experience of teaching, I made some choices to go into that field based on other people’s opinions, the concept that teaching was a good Christian profession, and a lack of awareness of what my own body and emotions were telling me.  My fall taught me some valuable lessons about myself and my need for self-understanding.  For the ex-choir member, the media set him up for a big fall and I suspect he has fewer resources with which to pick himself up, although I could be wrong.  For both of us, the honour we received from fame or success was fleeting and it would be unwise to use it as a measure of our worth.  
 
Now, back to my CV.  I am part of two projects that could come under the banner of social justice.  I live at the Indigenous Hospitality House, a sharehouse that has two spare bedrooms for Indigenous families from country Victoria or interstate who are in Melbourne to support a family member in hospital.  I work at Urban Seed, a not-for–profit organisation in Melbourne’s CBD which runs an open lunch for marginalised people in the city and is involved in education programs and advocacy around issues of homelessness, addiction, stereotypes and poverty.  
 
I would describe both as good work, and I am grateful to be involved in them.  But it is important to acknowledge that one of the reasons I am drawn to these places is that I was invited.  Both projects centre around hospitality, about inviting those on the margins to eat together with those in power at the same table.  It is about mutual healing.  
 
And while I am a privileged, white, educated and relatively healthy woman, I have still struggled much with a feeling – overpowering at times - of not being invited.  That my achievements are not sufficient.  That I cannot achieve in the relationships that would see me with a reserved place, safely included at the table.  Even when I am there, I have spent painful hours assuming that others have seats of honour that I can never attain.  And this has fuelled a destructive envy that has poisoned relationships with friends and community.  I am grateful for their patience and forgiveness.  A couple of years ago, about the time when I first started attending services at South Yarra, I remember regularly spending time crying on my bed, feeling stuck in a miserable exile and having no idea how to escape.  Knowing that my pain was largely self-inflicted made it worse.  (cartoon)
 
Last year I got cancer, and it was an answer to this prayer.  It was a healing time, as many people noticed me at the table and showed care and concern and practical help.  I was able to take my focus off what I didn’t have for a while, and look after myself.  It was an illness that I knew how to tackle, and there’s a whole system out there with opinions and resources to help you tackle it.  I am grateful for that respite.  But it feels a bit like what the lectionary did to our reading from Luke, passing over the story of the healing of the man and on to the implications of hospitality.  The physical healing for me was nothing compared to the emotional and social healing that I craved.  (I may have felt very differently if the physical healing hadn’t come through!)  
 
My personal search for welcome and belonging and value echoes the search for those same things that Indigenous people and homeless people and other marginalised people search for, often against much greater obstacles.   And I don’t think it is reliable to look for it in the accolades of fame and success that our culture offers.  To read from another bit that our lectionary left out:
 
Hebrews 13, verses 12- 14:
 
“Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood.  Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.  For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking to the city that is to come.”
 
In Luke, Jesus tells the Pharisee hosting him to invite those to his table who will not repay him, who are so humbled that they do not expect a seat at the table at all.  They are outside the city gate, away from the clean, respectable places.  Does our welcome, our hospitality, our table extend all the way from the heart of the city and the centres of power and privilege where Jesus dined, and out of the gates, into the rubbish heap beyond, where Jesus died?
 
Whether we are honoured or shamed in the perceptions of others, I think it’s a waste of time to dwell on it too much.  Putting on a false humility (‘no, no, no, I’ll take the worst seat’) is just as concerned with status as pinching the best spots and feels a bit like using one’s weakness to manipulate.  Each week in our liturgy we pray ‘Let me be exalted for you or brought low for you’.  The opinion of the one putting on the great banquet is really the only one that matters.  
 
Inside your booklets is a card which says ‘You are invited”.  I leave you with an invitation, well, several really.  Firstly, if you ever want to visit Urban Seed or the IHH, talk to me and we’ll figure it out.  But more importantly, I pass on the invitation from Jesus to join the feast, and to invite others as well.  Our attempts to echo God’s hospitality can a bit awkward at times.  Some people need reassuring to get them in the room, while others need challenging to make space but the invitation is there for all of us and it’s genuine.  And next time you pray for me, please pray for my journey in learning how to be grateful for the invitation I’ve been given, to seek my honour in the welcome of the Christ, and to extend that love to others.    
You are invited…
A Sermon on Luke 14: 1, 7-14 & Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16 by Samara Pitt, 2 September 2007
 
Our gospel reading tonight is about Jesus having a meal at the house of a Pharisee on the Sabbath.  It sounds like an uncomfortable occasion!  The Pharisees are waiting for Jesus to commit some offence, and Jesus is telling awkward stories that challenge the hospitality he’s being offered.  The kind of tense mealtime that might give you indigestion!
 
Firstly Jesus heals a man which, as we heard last week, doesn’t go down well.  Then Jesus tells this parable about how people should go about their seating arrangements at the table.  Trying to understand why there’s so much honour and shame tied up in where people were sitting requires some imagination. We’ve still got a front in this church, but generally we’ve tried to avoid the hierarchical feel.  People lie on the carpet or sit on chairs or hide under the communion table.   Gord has listed our jobs in the church in alphabetical order to avoid the implication that some jobs are more valued than others.  No worries.  So what would be the equivalent snub in our culture of being asked to move seat?
 
One impetus to do the sermon tonight was my experience of being prayed for last week.  I found myself quite uncomfortable as Liz read out my good Christian CV which is how I’ve chosen to define myself for that part of the liturgy.  I was not uncomfortable because I am ashamed of any of the activities I listed there.  However, I notice that not everyone has put in a paragraph that asks for prayer for them in the activities of their daily lives.  I wonder if, despite the lack of hierarchy of our seating arrangements, we maintain ideas of honour and shame that affect how we claim a place in the life of this church.  Perhaps this sermon is an attempt to demote myself from a self-selected place of honour.  
 
My ‘place’ growing up was being the smart one.  At school I worked hard and I did well.  I carried off several academic prizes each year at speech night, and I did reasonably well in music and sport and drama, and in my friendships.  There were a couple of glitches in the success story.  In Year 12 I was a house music captain, and we lost, badly.  I learned that there was more to that role than just being a good singer.  And at the end of the year I didn’t get the dux I was hoping for.  However, I was moving on to uni.  I did an Arts degree and then a primary teaching degree.  I graduated dux of my teaching degree so felt I was back on track.
 
Then I started teaching.  And for the first time I experienced failure that I couldn’t just pass over, and I couldn’t fix it by trying harder.  Other graduates were doing better than me and they were certainly enjoying it more.  I wasn’t treating the kids well in my classes.  I was stressed and unhappy.  During that period, two close relationships in my life went pear-shaped and I was a real mess.  I had been shamed, in my own estimation as much as anything, but also in my sense of how I was perceived by others.  
 
I’m glad that time is over, and some of the scars are still with me, but it was also really valuable.  I experienced failure that I had no control over.  Having said that, I still had education, job experience, friendships and a host of other factors that meant when I left teaching after three long years with nothing else lined up, I did manage to find my way into meaningful work that suits me a whole lot better.  
 
I had honour bestowed upon me for achievement, some genuine and some dubious.  Being cut down to size is painful.  For me, I think I have a more accurate sense of myself as a result.  But our culture can be harsher on others whom it chooses to honour or shame.
 
You might have come across the Choir of Hard Knocks, made up of homeless and marginalised people from around Melbourne.  They’re famous – perhaps the highest honour our culture bestows!  They had a TV series.  They have sung with Jimmy Barnes and toured to Sydney to perform at the Opera House.  One of them, a blind man named Tom, was run over recently and his story hit the headlines.  
 
Several of the members come to Credo café, a free lunch run by Urban Seed which is the organisation I work with.  During their tour to Sydney, several of the choir members went out drinking and got into trouble.  They were kicked out of the choir.  One of them came into lunch the other week.  He looked about as alone as you could be.  He had been shamed.  As one of the most marginalised people in our culture, he was ‘in’ for a few months, and now he’s back possibly in a worse place than where he started, shunned even by members of the choir.
 
These two stories may evoke the feeling of being shamed.  However, I don’t think Jesus takes any pleasure in making people feel bad.  I think these feelings of shame come when priorities are out of whack.   In my experience of teaching, I made some choices to go into that field based on other people’s opinions, the concept that teaching was a good Christian profession, and a lack of awareness of what my own body and emotions were telling me.  My fall taught me some valuable lessons about myself and my need for self-understanding.  For the ex-choir member, the media set him up for a big fall and I suspect he has fewer resources with which to pick himself up, although I could be wrong.  For both of us, the honour we received from fame or success was fleeting and it would be unwise to use it as a measure of our worth.  
 
Now, back to my CV.  I am part of two projects that could come under the banner of social justice.  I live at the Indigenous Hospitality House, a sharehouse that has two spare bedrooms for Indigenous families from country Victoria or interstate who are in Melbourne to support a family member in hospital.  I work at Urban Seed, a not-for–profit organisation in Melbourne’s CBD which runs an open lunch for marginalised people in the city and is involved in education programs and advocacy around issues of homelessness, addiction, stereotypes and poverty.  
 
I would describe both as good work, and I am grateful to be involved in them.  But it is important to acknowledge that one of the reasons I am drawn to these places is that I was invited.  Both projects centre around hospitality, about inviting those on the margins to eat together with those in power at the same table.  It is about mutual healing.  
 
And while I am a privileged, white, educated and relatively healthy woman, I have still struggled much with a feeling – overpowering at times - of not being invited.  That my achievements are not sufficient.  That I cannot achieve in the relationships that would see me with a reserved place, safely included at the table.  Even when I am there, I have spent painful hours assuming that others have seats of honour that I can never attain.  And this has fuelled a destructive envy that has poisoned relationships with friends and community.  I am grateful for their patience and forgiveness.  A couple of years ago, about the time when I first started attending services at South Yarra, I remember regularly spending time crying on my bed, feeling stuck in a miserable exile and having no idea how to escape.  Knowing that my pain was largely self-inflicted made it worse.  (cartoon)
 
Last year I got cancer, and it was an answer to this prayer.  It was a healing time, as many people noticed me at the table and showed care and concern and practical help.  I was able to take my focus off what I didn’t have for a while, and look after myself.  It was an illness that I knew how to tackle, and there’s a whole system out there with opinions and resources to help you tackle it.  I am grateful for that respite.  But it feels a bit like what the lectionary did to our reading from Luke, passing over the story of the healing of the man and on to the implications of hospitality.  The physical healing for me was nothing compared to the emotional and social healing that I craved.  (I may have felt very differently if the physical healing hadn’t come through!)  
 
My personal search for welcome and belonging and value echoes the search for those same things that Indigenous people and homeless people and other marginalised people search for, often against much greater obstacles.   And I don’t think it is reliable to look for it in the accolades of fame and success that our culture offers.  To read from another bit that our lectionary left out:
 
Hebrews 13, verses 12- 14:
 
“Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood.  Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.  For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking to the city that is to come.”
 
In Luke, Jesus tells the Pharisee hosting him to invite those to his table who will not repay him, who are so humbled that they do not expect a seat at the table at all.  They are outside the city gate, away from the clean, respectable places.  Does our welcome, our hospitality, our table extend all the way from the heart of the city and the centres of power and privilege where Jesus dined, and out of the gates, into the rubbish heap beyond, where Jesus died?
 
Whether we are honoured or shamed in the perceptions of others, I think it’s a waste of time to dwell on it too much.  Putting on a false humility (‘no, no, no, I’ll take the worst seat’) is just as concerned with status as pinching the best spots and feels a bit like using one’s weakness to manipulate.  Each week in our liturgy we pray ‘Let me be exalted for you or brought low for you’.  The opinion of the one putting on the great banquet is really the only one that matters.  
 
Inside your booklets is a card which says ‘You are invited”.  I leave you with an invitation, well, several really.  Firstly, if you ever want to visit Urban Seed or the IHH, talk to me and we’ll figure it out.  But more importantly, I pass on the invitation from Jesus to join the feast, and to invite others as well.  Our attempts to echo God’s hospitality can a bit awkward at times.  Some people need reassuring to get them in the room, while others need challenging to make space but the invitation is there for all of us and it’s genuine.  And next time you pray for me, please pray for my journey in learning how to be grateful for the invitation I’ve been given, to seek my honour in the welcome of the Christ, and to extend that love to others.