This morning we conclude the sermon series Steve and I began 5 weeks ago, a series on the 2020 vision our session adopted last year. Our final vision statement, the one my sermon today focuses on is: “welcome and actively embrace the broken, the doubting and the uncertain.”
Our scripture reading this morning comes from Luke’s gospel, the 14th chapter. Here we meet Jesus on his roundabout travel to Jerusalem, Luke’s travel narrative, a ten-chapter long discourse that is less about Jesus’ travel destinations and more about his journey to Jerusalem, to his death and resurrection. We begin our reading at the beginning of chapter 14 which sets the scene at a dinner party with Pharisees, then jumps 6 verses ahead to Jesus’ discourse with both the guests of the dinner party as well as its host. Listen now for God’s word to us this morning from Luke 14:1,7-14:
Will you pray with me—Holy, great God—be with us this morning, stir your presence in our hearts that we may be moved, strengthened, supported in some way through the words you speak to us. May these not just be words that we hear but words that we do, words that stir in us something new. Sit with us, move your spirit within us, that we may come to know you just a little more and through knowing you, may grow in discipleship with you. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, O Lord our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Sherry, the site coordinator for the YAV program in Zambia told a group a story from one of the Young Adult Volunteers living and serving in Zambia, Hannah. Hannah was at home with her Zambian host family one night washing dishes after dinner. Hannah had recently started to really embrace and live into her new life in Zambia; she had begun to learn the local language, she had learned how to wash her clothes by hand, she had learned to cook some of the local Zambian foods. Hannah’s host mother remarked to her while cleaning up together after dinner, “Hannah I am so glad that you are here, thank you for reducing yourself to be a part of our community.” “Thank you for reducing yourself to be a part of our community.”
Hannah was grateful that her host mother was happy to have her as part of her community but worried and sad to hear her say that her host mother thought she had reduced herself to be a part of their community. She hoped her new Zambian community didn’t think that that her home life in the United States was somehow better than life in Zambia or that she was somehow better than them. Hannah wanted her host family to know that she loved their family, that she loved their home, that she loved her life in Zambia – she didn’t want them to feel like she had to reduce herself to be with them.
Hannah shared the story with her site coordinator, Sherry, who was of course also concerned that Hannah’s host family felt like she had to reduce herself to be a part of their family. Sherry told us how she sat worried about this one day, and while she sat worried about this the TV in the background came on with a cooking show. The recipe on the cooking show called for reducing one of the ingredients, and that changed her understanding of what it might mean to reduce yourself.
Reducing is a cooking technique that calls for the cook to boil the ingredients excessively, allowing some of the mixture to evaporate. In cooking, when you reduce, you don’t make the ingredients less than or not as good – you actually make it better. Reducing in cooking is a technique used to intensify the flavor of something, boiling it down to make it thicker and more flavorful. Not to make it less than but to make it stronger in its simplicity – somehow more robust in its reduction.
Perhaps this idea of reducing, reducing to make something better, more intense, more flavorful, might help us better understand Jesus’ call in Luke 14 to humble ourselves.
The scene of Luke 14 takes place around a dinner table, as we just read, Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees here and their dinner party customs may seem rather black and white – sit in the low seat and you will be exalted, sit in the high seat, and you will be humbled. Follow these instructions carefully and you will move up in the world. But to read Luke 14 in this way would mean we’ve completely missed the mark. Taking the low seat in anticipation or expectation of moving up is absolutely not what Jesus is speaking of here, or anywhere.
Jesus does not here, nor anywhere, offer us a new way to move up in the world, a way to quickly achieve all of life’s or the world’s successes. Jesus just is not about that. In Luke 14 when Jesus calls us to humble ourselves, he invites us to do so not out of expectation and not out of obedience. He invites us to humble ourselves to recognize our own selves, our own place, to recognize others, to see others. Jesus asks us to humble ourselves so that we can see the world around us, so that we can be in the world, not above the world, be with our neighbors, not better than our neighbors.
Let me pause for a second to remind you of our 5th guiding principle of our vision statement, “welcome and actively embrace the broken, the uncertain, and the doubting.” This statement may sound a lot like “welcome those people who are in need, those people who are broken, those people who are doubting, those people who are uncertain, welcome them.” That’s true, but that’s not it, that’s not all that this vision asks us to do and its certainly not all that Jesus asks us to do.
Verse 13 of our reading from the gospel of Luke says “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” Fred Craddock, New Testament professor, calls these people, “kingdom people.” These broken people, these are kingdom people.
“Welcome and actively embrace the broken, the doubting, and the uncertain.” Who are the broken? Who are the doubting? Who are the uncertain? Who are they? Who are these kingdom people?
Might the broken be us? Might the broken folks of the world not be a “they” or a “them” but you and me and us? Perhaps we’ve spent so much time assuming, or running with the idea that we unbroken folks must accept or welcome the broken people that we have completely lost touch with our own brokenness, become so completely unwilling to reduce ourselves in a way that recognizes our own brokenness. And being so staunch and unwilling to see our own brokenness have become unable to welcome our own brokenness and unable to accept and love the brokenness in others.
Because if I am unbroken, why can’t others be?
Heather Koob is the author of the book Sober Mercies. Koob, a devout Christian who wrote about Christ and her journey into alcoholism, struggles with her spiral into addiction and writes her story as she finds moments of God’s grace in the journey. Koob shares 3 sentences in her book that have struck me and challenged me for the better part of a year. She writes, “The particular brand of love and loyalty that seemed to flow so easily here [in recovery meetings] wasn’t like anything I’d ever experienced, inside or outside of church. But how could this be? How could a bunch of addicts and alcoholics manage to succeed at creating the kind of intimate fellowship so many churches have tried to achieve and failed?
Many months would pass before I understood that people bond more deeply over shared brokenness than they do over shared beliefs.
Is our unwillingness to admit our own brokenness, our ability to humble ourselves, our ability to reduce ourselves keeping us from loving the brokenness in another, keeping us from welcoming the broken? It may just be.
What might it look like if rather than wondering why others are broken, how to fix their brokenness, how to keep their brokenness from affecting us, what might it look like if we did as Jesus calls us to do in Luke 14 and humbled ourselves? As Hannah did in Zambia and reduce ourselves? Would it look like:
- A church filled with honesty, a church filled with imperfect people walking on a journey in need of God?
- A world of people, imperfect, in need, meeting one another’s needs rather than judging them?
- A community of people willing to look deeply into one another’s eyes, not afraid of the brokenness in the other, not afraid of the brokenness in themselves?
I’m not saying this is the answer to all the world’s problems but I do think it’s a good place to start – to look into the face of another and not see a broken human in need of pity but to look into the eyes of another broken human, in need of God, and to take one another’s hands and say “let’s walk together, we need not walk this journey alone, we have one another.”
If we can’t recognize our own brokenness, we are left judging it in others, investigating how they got there, how to avoid getting to that place, how to keep that away from me. If we cant recognize that we too are broken people, we will continually be left with a big huge dividing line – a line of “us” and “them.” A line that causes hatred, prejudice, discrimination against, half-hearted compassion, distant service to one another, a line that makes it easy to cast out “them” to protect “them” from affecting “us.”
Brenè Brown is the author of several books on vulnerability, in her most recent book, Rising Strong, Brenè writes about her MeMa. She writes about how her MeMa used to feed the homeless people who came off the train near their house. MeMa’s house was marked as a safe space to come for a meal, she kept a set of metal dishes and silverware ready and always cooked extra in case someone stopped by in need of a meal. MeMa’s house was marked as safe, Brene writes for two reasons, “MeMa never though of them as “the other” because she knew them personally and more important, because she thought of herself as “the other” too – she had lived through poverty, abuse, and alcoholism.
MeMa wasn’t afraid to show kindness to others because she herself had relied on the kindness of others.”
Years later, MeMa began suffering from dementia, and her family rallied behind her to care for her. Brene writes about one night when she had to bathe her grandmother for the first time. MeMa was comfortable with it, she stepped into the tub, waiting for the help from her granddaughter. But Brenè was terrified, she writes, “I was so afraid of my own need that I couldn’t look need in the eye.”
Let us humble ourselves, reduce ourselves, recognize our own brokenness so that we may be able to look need in the eye, unafraid of our own need.
Our vision statement says “welcome and actively embrace the broken, the uncertain, and the doubting.” That doesn’t just mean them who are broken and doubting and uncertain; it also means welcome that part of you that is broken, that part of you that is uncertain, that part of you that is doubting, that part of you that perhaps you thought didn’t belong at church.
The good news is this friends – Jesus knows the broken, Jesus loves the broken, Jesus walks with the broken. That means you. Jesus knows you, Jesus loves you, Jesus walks with you.
In the name of God our Creator, our sustainer and our redeemer. Amen.