Sacred Soil

Rearranging Furniture
June 2, 2013, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

Pentecost 2c

1 Kings 8:22–23, 41–43
Psalm 96:1–9
Galatians 1:1–12
Luke 7:1–10

When I was in college I went with a group friends to a “Hunger Awareness Meal” up in Seattle. Perhaps you’ve been to such a meal—they’ve been a thing for a while. It’s a way to experience the impact of global food insecurity and inequality, with the hope that such an experience will inspire action.

When we entered the banquet hall we were each handed a green ticket, the color of which indicated the sort of meal we were to receive. And so, dutifully, we wandered around till we found the green table with our food for the evening.

First, we passed by a stunning buffet, roped off in the corner. The table was filled with shrimp and cheese, sparkling wine, adorned with exquisite candles. Just a few people lingered around the table, looking oddly and awkwardly at the display. No one seemed to be eating. But the tablecloth was blue, so we moved on.

Next we came to a table filled with McDonald’s hamburgers… there were more people here, though they too awkwardly looked at their food, not eating. Here, we were grateful to walked on as we noticed the yellow tablecloth. (We, being college students from Evergreen, weren’t not so fond of the McDonald’s).

Finally, we came to the green table. It was the smallest table, adorned with an enormous bowl of rice. Really, it was the largest bowl of rice I’d ever seen. Next too it stood a tower of paper plates. No utensils. There, a woman stood behind the table and politely deposited a scoop of rice on a plate. We took our little plates, and went to sit with a larger crowd of people. We all looked curiously at our forlorn little lumps of rice.

Later we learned that of the 300 people there that night, 45 had received the blue tickets, the invitation to the fabulous feast. 75 dined on the hamburgers, and the rest, 180 of us, received the scoop of rice.

Turns out this is a reasonably accurate representation of what happens throughout the world. Some of you know this personally. I remember the days in my childhood, when we depended on food donations from the church. It’s not a foreign concept. It’s not out there, not some one else. But it is amazing seeing this played out in a single room. In a room where we could not ignore each other—where the hunger of the other became personal.

And so it was interesting to us that there were several folks who had received blue and yellow tickets, who clearly felt guilty. Ashamed. Unworthy. And so they found these lovely and sneaky ways to deposit left-over food in the green area, offering it up to those who had not gotten much of a meal.

But no one took the leftovers. I heard one woman beg, “please take this, I do not need it,” her face sick with guilt. But, the other woman replied, “Oh, no thank you. I’ll be fine.” Each felt unworthy to take what had been offered…

And from our calculations, it seemed nearly every plate offered in donation sat as people awkwardly walked by, determined not to even see the offerings. Determined not to take and eat. Everyone felt unworthy to eat the really good food, no matter their ticket.

Later, over a nice meal at the local brew pub, (we were college students after all), my friends and I wondered over this odd dynamic. We wondered, why did the folks with blue and yellow tickets feel so unworthy? Why wouldn’t the folks with green tickets (including us), eat this food? And we wondered, what would it have taken for everyone to have had a good meal?

Then Kate said, “We should have removed the ropes and rearranged the tables.”

We replied curiously and indignant, “what?!” And she repeated, “Take away the ropes, rearrange the tables. Move all the food around. Make it equal. There was surely enough food there for all of us to have a lovely meal. All we needed to do was rearrange the tables.”

We laughed nervously, knowing she was right, but also wondering at the huge chaos this would have caused. What would people have thought? Would they try to stop us? Would they have kicked us out?

I sorta wish Kate had spoken up earlier. It would have been interesting to find out.

This story came to mind as I read our gospel lesson today. In this story we’ve got a very rich Centurion. He’s got slaves, and soldiers who report to him. He was born with a blue ticket. He always gets what he wants, and he knows it. He is perhaps even used to it. (It’s also important to know that as a loyalist to Rome, merely uttering his title would have tightened the shoulders of the first hearers of this Word.) He’s a representative of the occupying force the oppressor. The foreigner. The outsider.

But he is also one who loves the Jewish people. One who cares deeply, even though a foreigner, even though part of that 15% with the blue tickets, he is known for sending his gifts, his food to the Jewish folks, even building a synagogue. Despite all the stereotypes, he is a good guy. And in particular, he loves this slave. This one who is so desperately ill.

And so he asks. He asks for healing for this one. This one who would have merely eaten rice, this one who is counted amongst the lowliest. The centurion asks that the very son of God come to this one, and heal him. Recognizing his power, recognizing his love, he asks. And then most beautifully, withdraws his request that Jesus come, recognizing that his power should win him no special privilege. He realizes that his power does not make him worthy.

But you and I both know he’s right—that nothing will ever make him worthy, or make us worthy. Nothing. None of us worthy for the blue, the yellow, or the green tickets. Nothing.

And Jesus, being Jesus, responds with love and in awe. Indeed, he takes a cue from Kate and he rearranges the tables. He goes and removes the ropes that have kept folks from seeing the faith of the centurion. He goes and removes the ropes that declare the slave beyond love. He goes and he removes the illness, that made this man an outcast. And in so doing Jesus completely rearranged the furniture. Rearranged the spread before them.

Even though it ends up getting him into a lot of trouble, this is just what our God does. Over and over again. Our God is always rearranging the tables. Removing the ropes that divide us, inviting us all to eat. Inviting us all to the love of God. Centurion, slave, Roman, Judean, blue ticket, yellow, green. All of us. And it’s not because we deserve it. None of us, no matter how much power we have, none of us will ever earn that love. We cannot be worthy enough.

It’s amazing. Humbling. And, I believe it is an invitation—indeed a calling. A calling to go out into the world, beyond these walls and ask, where are the ropes dividing us? How can I rearrange the tables so that all may be welcome? How may I welcome the foreigner who has come longing to hear of God’s love?

But first, we must practice. First we share a meal that really is for all. A meal where no one is roped off into a separate section, where no one is better than another. A meal where none are worthy, yet all are welcome. This meal, at this table, at Christ’s table. Indeed the table stands out in the middle so that we may all come near. Each one of us loved. Each one of us holy. With a little bread, and a little wine, at this meal all who are hungry are fed. Filled to overflowing with the love of God.

Fed. Transformed. Sent to go and rearrange the furniture.


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