“Come, it’s a Party!“
Rev. Richard Feyen
recorded on 1 Sep 2013
READINGS FOR THE DAY
First Reading: From Awakening the Spirit, Inspiring the Soul: 30 Stories of Interspiritual Discovery in the Community of Faiths co-edited by Wayne Teasdale and Martha Howard
“I find myself a Christian mystic in an increasingly interspiritual world, threatened by the dangerous refusal by fundamentalist extremism to acknowledge the authenticity and value of other belief systems. Up the road of history this extremism will dissipate, but not through violent reactions to it. Through patient dialogue and the careful building of consensus, a way forward will emerge. Such dialogue and consensus building is the practical side of interreligious work. This work has, as its long-term task, the envisioning and development of a new global polity: a civilization of love; a new universal society with a heart, one conceived in wisdom; compassion; an ethics of kindness; and the full awakening of all humanity, as well as other sentient beings, to their ultimate potential for spiritual maturity.”
Second Reading: Luke 14:7-9, and 12-14 From The Message by Eugene Peterson
“He went on to tell a story to the guests around the table. Noticing how each had tried to elbow into the place of honor, he said, ‘When someone invites you to dinner, don’t take the place of honor. Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host. Then he’ll come and call out in front of everybody, ‘You’re in the wrong place. The place of honor belongs to this man.’ Red-faced, you’ll have to make your way to the very last table, the only place left.’ … Then he turned to the host. ‘The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be – and experience – a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned – oh, how it will be returned! – at the resurrection of God’s people.’”
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The closing words of the Luke passage, I want you to read again:
“Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be – and experience – a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned – oh, how it will be returned! – at the new life given God’s people.” (Resurrection and new life mean the same)
I was born and raised on, what I perceive to be, the wrong side of the theological tracks. That’s right! See, I was fed all that conservative Christian theology, I even went to Calvin College, named for John Calvin, the great author of TULIP theology. (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints)
With an incredibly gifted mind, intelligence and a grasp of theology unparalleled in his day – but a really sorry self-image! – John Calvin wrote (and tens of thousands of people bought into) that humanity is totally depraved; that only a few chosen ones achieve eternal life, and so on.
But here at Hope Church, this is a new kind of place. This is a new life kind of place. This is a resurrection place in the purest sense of the word “resurrection”. The word means ‘new life out of something that had died’. But in the church, in a kind of odd, twisted sort of way, resurrection has come to be understood as meaning that there was a bodily resurrection. I don’t think so! There are Phoenix stories in many cultures; new life arises from the ashes in many situations; new life offers a kind of hope that leaves no room for total depravity!
Here, we are Hope! We have hope, and we can offer hope to many people . . . but we have to get out there and invite them in, NOT because we want to grow, but because we have an important message to share that people on the “wrong” side of the theological tracks ought to be invited to listen to. Think about the message in the passage; we can go on about the business of inviting the open minded progressives that we know – OR – we can invite others and be blessed and bring them a blessing!
I received a great letter this week from the new Interim Conference Minister of the Wisconsin Conference United Church of Christ. It plays on the word “Hope” so much, I couldn’t resist reading it here. Not only that, but I feel like it plays into the message of the passage from Luke too well to skip over – because HOPE is what we have to offer when we invite people to this “party” that is Hope Church in Sturgeon Bay.
From Rev Michael Obenhauer
“I live with great hope,
. . . hope that when we walk together, we are stronger than when we stand apart.
. . . hope that life is basically a good gift.
. . . hope that good triumphs over evil, that love is the final answer.
. . . hope that God is always in the neighborhood, especially before we even get there.”
“I live with great hope:
. . . hope that when we accept the gift of a breathing space, when we actually B-R-E-A-T-H-E, in and out, we dispel anxiety and fear.
. . . hope that when we speak our grief and share our trials, our bodies, our minds, our spirits, our community becomes more healthy, more whole.
. . . hope that our greatest insight, our deepest wisdom is found, in good congregational form, in the midst of community.
. . . hope that when we celebrate where we have been, what we have, what God gives us, we become more generous, open, and powerful.”
I, too, live with great hope! Hope that we, together, the community of faith that is HOPE United Church of Christ in Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin, will live into the future bringing others to the dinner table because together we recognize that this is a resurrection place, and that hope is for all people. I say this is a resurrection place, because I believe we bring a kind of energy and new life to the theological table that is long needed, not only in Sturgeon Bay, but the wider community as well. Yes – there is rampant in this country a fundamentalist extremism that fails to see and respect the value of other faith systems that Teasdale and Howard speak of in the book quoted from earlier. We can work to change this! This is a movement that is not going to change overnight; but it is a movement, an invitation, which I feel each of us must pursue! It is a long term task that will only change as we invite others to the table; to talk with carefully, listen to graciously, and offer the grace of a loving heart meaningfully. Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, who died at the age of 55 in 1968 after writing over 70 books said, “We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.”
Too many people today stay in the church of their youth – not for reasons of beliefs or for the feeding of their spiritual life – but for the feeling of community they have there. We all need community – and the strength of community is powerful! But, if our spiritual lives are to have any influence over changes on a global scale, if WE are to have an impact and really leave the world a better place; then we must begin to invite others to the table for the theological discussions that will lead us out of the ashes of what Christianity has, by and large, become today!
I have great hope, it is a great dream that one day people of faith will live with respect for one another, that Buddhists, Muslims, Christians will no longer rain acts of violence down upon each other – or themselves – as they have this week; but that they would sit, dine with each other in peace and find wholeness within, and respect for, one another.
That is my hope, my dream, and the object of my labors.
With Great Hope, friends, AMEN.