A Sermon For Year C Proper 17
Copyright © 2007 Nathan L. Bostian
Based on Hebrews 13:1-8 and Luke 14:1-14
Copyright © 2007 Nathan L. Bostian
Based on Hebrews 13:1-8 and Luke 14:1-14
SERMON: Did you ever watch cartoons on TV when you were a kid? How about last night on cartoon network?
I loved cartoons. Every afternoon in third and fourth grade I would race home after school to watch my all-time favorite cartoon series: G.I. Joe- a REAL American Hero!
Like most kids growing up in Arkansas at the time, I loved guns, tanks, bombs, and explosions. And G.I. Joe supplied that yearning with an endless conflict between "the good guys", and bland, non-descript, faceless enemy called Cobra.
They were always locked in a properly-neutered, politically-correct, no-one-ever-really-dies war which never seemed to end… but which did seem to spawn the production of really cool gadgets and playsets, which my dad would pay hundreds of dollars to buy.
Looking back, it was kind of the macho equivalent of "Barbie Dolls".
But, G.I. Joe had one thing that Barbie never got until the late 90's: DIVERSITY. Whereas Barbie has had a whites-only policy at the dream house until recently, G.I. Joe always featured a rainbow of diversity, that joined together to fight against the forces of evil.
Every week on G.I. Joe you would see red and yellow, black and white / joined together for the fight / battling evil with all their might! I think G.I. Joe may have been he first place where women served on the battlefield. G.I. Joe was a beacon of "progressive thought" for me.
And now I have a nearly-three-year-old daughter, and she likes to watch cartoons. And the values that were "progressive" 25 years ago, are commonplace today.
It is almost as if every show has to fit a certain rubber stamped model of inclusivity and toleration to be put on TV. It is totally predictable. If there are four kids on the show, then two have to be boys, and two have to be girls.
One of them has to be of African heritage, one has to be of Hispanic heritage, one has to be Asian, and then there is the token white kid. If there are five kids, the last one has to be in a wheel chair. And then, almost as if by law, the Hispanic kid has to drop in one Spanish word for every two or three sentences of dialogue.
Now, if this is supposed to teach my daughter to be tolerant of diversity, and to respect people's differences, then that is a good thing. A very good thing… But, somehow, I get the idea that precisely the opposite is going on.
You see, the only thing that is really different about any of these characters is that they are colored differently, and occasionally use a Spanish word. Other than that, they talk the same, dress the same, act the same, and share the same values and assumptions.
In short, they are all are stereotypes of a certain cultural vision that is very "modern", university-educated, wealthy, sterile, and western-European. It is like "we want you all to be diverse, but diverse in a way that makes wealthy western intellectuals comfortable."
The vision of "toleration" they are committed to is deeply hypocritical, and acts as a cultural steamroller that destroys or ignores true differences between people.
Where are the poor people? Where are the mentally handicapped? Where are those who are not considered beautiful? Where are the fat people? Where are the people who speak in a dialect you cannot understand? Where are the dumb people? Where are the elderly and infirm? Where are the "closed-minded" folk who zealously believe things that are outside of the politically correct norm?
Oh, I forget. These people are all the villains.
And it isn't just the world of cartoons that is stuck in the open-minded hypocrisy that is "toleration". It is the cultural air we breathe, especially in an "enlightened" place like SMU.
I was at a conference for college students recently that had a four hour long segment on "toleration". It featured a huge group session that dealt with stereotypes, followed by small group discussions on the virtues of toleration.
What was interesting is what was NOT present in the discussion, and how the students reacted to diversity training.
What was NOT present was any mention of people "not like us". Sure, we hit all of the requisite categories of race, gender, sexuality, hair color, and even religions that we are comfortable with (such as Christianity, Islam, and atheism… but no one who sacrifices chickens).
But, the underlying assumption was that we would only have to tolerate people who are around the same age as us, from the same western-european dominated culture as us, who are roughly the same level of wealth and social standing as us.
There was no discussion of the disabled, the very old, the very young, or anyone not in the general category of beautiful people.
Wrong. The student reaction to this spiel on toleration was profound boredom. "Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. People are different from me. I leave them alone, they leave me alone, and we can all talk about how enlightened and tolerant we are."
"We know the drill…"
And I just sat there thinking: There has got to be something BEYOND mere toleration. There has got to be something BEYOND just grinning and bearing each other's differences, as long as we are different in very narrow, socially prescribed ways.
And there is. There is a profound practice, that flows straight from the heart of God, that takes all that is good about "toleration", and cleanses it off all its hypocrisy, and raises it to new life in Christ.
Jesus speaks of it today in our Gospel reading, and the author of Hebrews gives it a title: Hospitality.
Hospitality differs from toleration in five major ways:
First, toleration is based on an absence, where as hospitality is based on a presence. Toleration is the mere absence of hatred, of prejudice, and of injustice. It tries to get rid of hate, but it does not replace it with anything.
But hospitality is the presence of Love: unconditional, unselfish, unstoppable Love. The Love found in Jesus. The Love defined in First Corinthians 13. It goes beyond merely getting rid of bad passions. It replaces them with a greater passion. And only a greater passion can drive out lesser passions.
Second, toleration is based on a profoundly undefined core of pluralism. Why is toleration good? "Because it is." But why? "Because it makes sure nobody gets hurt." But why is it good that nobody gets hurt? "It just is good. Now stop asking questions before we label you as a narrow-minded bigot!"
Tolerance for its own sake cannot even define why it is a virtue at all. But hospitality has a core that is defined. That core is a God who is Love, and who commands Love because it flows from who God is.
God is profoundly self-giving, self-sharing, self-sacrificial Love that deeply enjoys those who He shares Himself with. That Love is embodied in Jesus, who is God in human flesh.
Only this Love can form a foundation that can bear the massive weight of a life of Love, a lifestyle of hospitality. If we try to base such a life on a profoundly ambiguous concept like pluralistic toleration, it will crumble into hatred and apathy.
This is one reason why it is so profoundly important for us to personally give ourselves to Christ… to surrender all we are to the God of Love we find through Him. Only He can fill us with the power to Love God, Love others, and Love ourselves with true hospitality.
And if you have not consciously given yourself over to Christ to be filled with His Love, I invite you to tonight: Right here, right now.
Don’t wait. As you come forward tonight to receive Holy Communion, use it as a time to give yourself to Christ for the first time, or the fiftieth. He will welcome you with true hospitality.
Third, toleration is accomplished largely by big, impersonal programs, lawsuits and lawmaking, and a media culture, designed to mold us into a culture that has just the optimal amount of diversity, so that we can all be good consumers.
Toleration seeks to make us all "nice" people so that we can create an efficient consumer economy, and stable political power base, to ensure the most "pleasure" for the most people… Except of course for the people who don't count. But we don't mention them.
Hospitality, on the other hand, is profoundly personal and relational. It is about you and me, as individuals, reaching out to others, as individuals, to share God's blessings with them.
Hospitality cannot be accomplished by passing a law, or creating a mandatory diversity workshop. It can only be accomplished by you choosing to be the hands and feet of Christ reaching out to hurting and forgotten people.
Fourth, toleration demands nothing of us, other than that we shrug, and smile blandly at each other, and say "that is nice… we are soooo diverse".
But, Hospitality demands sacrifice. In fact, it demands a radical re-orientation of our lives from the idea that "It's all about me", to "It's all about Love".
And the paradox is that if we seek ourselves, and live in bland toleration, we will end up with profoundly bland lives. But, if we give our lives to Christ, and seek to radically live out His agenda of hospitality, we will end up having an abundant life… and incredible life… an outstanding life.
For those who seek their lives will loose them, but those who loose their lives for Christ and His Love will find true life.
Finally, toleration is actually limited in scope to who we will tolerate. Only people who fit certain guidelines are worthy of toleration. All of those who are too young, too old, too poor, or too useless to fit in the category of toleration are simply forgotten, or not tolerated.
But hospitality does not limit the scope on who we should reach out to. Our readings today tell us to reach out to strangers and wierdos, convicts and prisoners, those abused and tortured, those who lead and those who follow, the crippled and disabled.
Jesus says for us to surrender our places of honor, and give them to others, so that we can have a banquet with "the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind". Only then will we be blessed, because though they cannot repay us, we will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
The Kingdom of God is a Party of Radical Hospitality, where everyone is invited, whether the world considers them valuable or not. And the only way to get prepared for that party is to start partying like that right here, right now.
"For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Will you humble yourself tonight, and choose to join Jesus' Banquet of radical hospitality?
BENEDICTION: And now may you move past toleration to hospitality. May you get over yourself, and get into Christ's Love. And may you live every moment as the hands of Christ reaching out to your world. Amen+
AFFIRMATION: And now, let us affirm together the faith of Christ's followers in every Age, of every tribe and tongue, of all races and walks of life, in the words of the Nicene Creed…