One Score and Ten Years Ago
Texts: Micah 6:7-8; Luke 18:9-14
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
October 27, 2013
A Place at the Table for EVERYONE
Text: Luke 17:5-10
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
October 6, 2012
One day a minister was driving home from church with his wife. He felt really good about the sermon he preached that morning and was gloating a bit. He asked his wife, “How many great sermons do you think were preached this morning?”
His wife looked over at him and said, “One less than you think.”
And for those who are wondering, no, this is not autobiographical.
It does remind me of something Jesus is saying. Jesus, without ever actually saying the word, humility, is telling people to practice humility.
Jesus, first tells the disciples a little thing about faith. Faith is faith. It’s not something you have a little of or a lot of. You either have faith or you don’t. This is not a slam, by the way. The apostles, like most of us, didn’t believe they had enough faith----Jesus is telling them that you either have faith or you don’t. But then, in a major challenge, tells them if they really had faith, they could toss a tree into the lake. There is a bit of encouragement and challenge all rolled into one.
Then Jesus goes on to make a point about humility. He speaks of doing what we are supposed to do----and not expecting great accolades for doing it.
There is something interesting about all of this. God doesn’t call us to be heroes or expect great rewards for having faith. God, instead, calls us to be saints----and to share God’s holiness with the world.
Which brings us to today, World Communion Sunday, and a sermon title, “A Place at the Table for EVERYONE.” If you have ever chatted on the Internet you know that when you put something all in caps, it’s shouting. I’m shouting EVERYONE today.
We often, in our discussions about God talk about faith and prayer is an act of faith. So is coming around God’s Table. It is an amazing act of faith. How we approach it, I believe, is with faith and humility.
It is, first and foremost, God’s Table.
If you remember anything today please remember this. Merideth and I may be the pastors of this church but it is not our table. It is not owned by the Elders or the Church Council of this church. It is not even owned by St. Marks. This is God’s Table.
Because it’s God’s Table no one ever has the right to deny anyone a place at the table. It is God’s Table. Only God can deny us a place at the table and God never denies anyone. All are invited to the feast.
And we do this. We don’t deny people a place at the table. It’s part of our tradition.
Last weekend I heard a man in rural Missouri, a member of the local United Church of Christ congregation say about his church that they have picked up all the people none of the other churches wanted any longer. I laughed. I’ve said it before that many of our members have been thrown out of the finest churches in town and we do not deny anyone a place at the table----ever. We seem, on some level to get it. It’s not our table. It’s God’s table.
But something haunts me about this. Everyone who comes through our doors is welcome and invited to the table but I often wonder how we deal with a group of people who are already here, many who don’t come to the Table. I’m talking about our children.
We say that children are welcome but we don’t really invite them. We leave it up to the parents and we don’t talk about it very much. Until right now.
About 15 or 20 years ago the United Church of Christ General Synod recommended to churches to begin welcoming children for Holy Communion. For many people it was a shocking development because, they said, it defied tradition. That’s not necessarily so, however.
The thing is paedocommunion, the theological term for children and Holy Communion is not something that is new. We know from the writings of Cyprian in the year 250 that the early church offered children Holy Communion. We also know that in the 13th century many churches in the west began to deny children Holy Communion while the churches in the east continued, and still continue, to offer children Holy Communion.
The churches in the west stopped for a variety of factors such as superstition regarding the sacramental elements and, frankly, a lack of preaching. Local church pastors were banned from preaching for a long stretch and most people were told not to take Holy Communion. It was not a good time.
Another objection people often have with paedocommunion is that they say that children do not understand. There’s some validity to this----except I have to admit. I really don’t understand Holy Communion either. My thoughts and feelings about Holy Communion from when I was in seminary and until now are drastically different. I no longer really try to define what happens----I just know something happens----and I really don’t understand it.
Holy Communion is not really about understanding as much as experiencing something special. I figure if I don’t really understand what’s happening, I’m not that worried about other people really understanding it either.
There is also something else about this. Why would we deny children something good and wonderful? Whenever we gather around the Table of God something good and wonderful and holy happens. I love for children to have the opportunity to be part of that and I not only invite them, but I invite them and their parents to avail themselves of opportunities to talk to Merideth and me about this.
We cannot honestly say we welcome everyone to God’s Table if we do not invite our children to God’s Table. They are welcome, but they have not been invited. Today, I’m inviting. If not today, I invite parents to talk to us so we may invite and welcome all.
I say all of this in the context of today’s Scripture.
We can easily pat ourselves on the back. A lot of churches don’t invite everyone and many don’t welcome everyone. We do. Great. Hooray for us.
But let’s be reminded that Jesus wouldn’t be patting us on the back and saying ‘hooray!’ Jesus’ response would be more to the point that we are doing what is expected.
Let us be reminded today, as we gather around God’s Table that it is indeed God’s Table and we are invited and very welcome guests. All of us. No exceptions. It is God’s Table there is a place for EVERYONE.
Last night my wife and I had the opportunity to hear Rachel Held Evans speak about her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Her lecture, like her book, was both very serious and yet very humorous at times. As a minister in the last decade of active ministry hearing this remarkable young woman speak was a sign that Christianity will live on. She is certainly an amazing witness to the power of Christ in the world.
Biblical womanhood is a hot button issue. It coincides with Biblical manhood and Biblical marriage. Behind her observations, of course, is the burning question as to what exactly ‘Biblical’ really happens to be? As she pointed out, the term Biblical is often used as an adjective and, frankly often used cheaply as an adjective. It tends to be a word used to end discussions rather than facilitate discussions.
The Bible is full of stories of women, many who are unnamed. Many of the women in the Bible change the course of history and they either get little to no credit and many of them remain unnamed. Being a woman in Bible times was difficult, to say the least.
Ms. Held Evans was raised in an Evangelical worldview and much of her terminology and heart obviously come from that world. The difficulty she encountered was that she began to ask questions----very good questions----and in her research came to understand that the worldview she was living in was too limited. God was greater and more expansive and human life was far too complicated to fit into any sort of blueprint. In her research for her book she spent a year living out portions of the Bible in very literal ways to see what, exactly, was possible, or, perhaps, reasonable.
Her lecture last night was excellent and well received at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Louisville. The applause she received was well deserved and very affirming to her. I had a sense, however, that she was a bit taken aback from all the applause she was receiving and thanked everyone for the affirmation. I had the impression that affirmation for her work is something she has struggled with.
Last night I ordered her book on my Kindle. Amazon has a sweet deal on the book and I could not pass it up. I decided to read the reviews of A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Wow.
Please let me preface this by saying the overwhelming number of reviews were very, very positive. She is averaging 4 ½ stars and that is a remarkably high percentage. I have not yet read the book as I just purchased it last evening. However, based on the premises she laid out in the lecture, I have no doubt the book is every bit as good as the reviewers.
However, being the fatalist that I am, I decided I needed to read the 1 star reviews. Frankly, I could not imagine how people could have critiqued her slow low.
Here is what I discovered. The critiques were less ‘critiques’ but personal attacks. It became obvious that Rachel Held Evans had decided to look at the idea of Biblical womanhood from a more objective and even critical perspective. The fact that she interjected humor into the equation made people go downright mean.
What I read were not theologically sound assaults on her theological perspective. Many of those who chose to do so did so from far shakier ground than Ms. Held Evans ever trod. Her research was obviously extensive and very coherent. Their research was either painfully shallow or non-existent. Whereas Ms. Held Evans attempted to analyze and understand the Scripture, they were busily using clichés in reference to faith.
What was most, obviously, however, was that these ‘reviews’ were not so much reviews but personal attacks. In a twist of the famous Michael Corleone line, she ought not to take these professionally, this was personal. Much of it surrounds, I suspect, the words of Proverbs 31:
10 A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. 11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. 14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away. 15 She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls. 16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong. 18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. 19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. 20 She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson. 22 She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: 29 "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." 30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. 31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.
Many women have used this as a job description and often feel guilty about it. Often it has been interpreted as the commands to women on how they ought to be wives to their husbands. It is, they believe, a command from God unto them, and most fall short.
To make matters worse many men have also used this as a blueprint for their wives. Talk about a set up for abuse!
However, the only command in this comes at the end when it speaks to the men: Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.
It is a poem and often used as a song from the men singing praises to the women in their lives. It is not about the work the women SHOULD be doing, but a song of gratitude for the life and commitment she has made to her husband.
Furthermore, as Ms. Held Evans points our very well, the opening words are not translated very well. This is not all that uncommon in the Bible, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures. Translations are often toned down or adjusted to our sensibilities. But the opening words, as here in the New Revised Standard Translation are ‘a capable wife.’
I decided to do a little research myself to see how other translations rendered Proverbs 31:10:
31:10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. (NIV)
31:10 A good wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. (RSV)
31:10 Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. (NKJV)
31:10 A good woman is hard to find, and worth far more than diamonds. (Message)
31:10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. (KJV)
31:10 A worthy woman who can find? For her price is far above rubies. (ASV)
The truly capable woman -- who can find her? She is far beyond the price of pearls. (NJB)
I was most struck by the last one from the New Jerusalem Bible. In many ways the NJB is the most accurate English translation of the Hebrew Scriptures and, like the others, it rendered the Hebrew rather inaccurately.
Proverbs 31 begins with the words “Eshet Chayil.” Rachel Held Evans said that in her research she discovered the words literally meant “woman of valor” as opposed to the way it is often rendered. Her critics do not appreciate this rendering very much so I felt I needed to research it myself.
There is a reason Rachel Held Evans got such good reviews on Amazon. Her research was and is right on target. Her critics, bless their little hearts, (A wonderful Southern expression….), are as wet as anyone who stood outside in the Louisville area this weekend as we got 6 inches of rain. Proverbs 31 is not a job description given from God to women, but a song of praise, from men, to the women in their lives, these women of valor.
Interestingly enough, the Bible leads us in some very amazingly wonderful ways to view the women in our lives. Despite the often brutal passages concerning women and the brutality many women have received in Bible times, and now, there are beautiful statements in the Bible for and about women. Rachel Held Evans has found the good, the bad, and the ugly as a disciple of Jesus Christ. She really is a woman of valor.