|Sermon by: The Rev. Rebecca Tankersley
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration | Dallas, Texas
October 7, 2018
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22
Such As These: Proper 22
“It is not good that the man should be alone.”
In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s stewardship month, and our theme is “Building a Longer Table.” Each week, we’re literally building a longer table in our Gathering Space as a physical representation of our intentions for the coming year. So many of our neighbors hunger for compassion and yearn for true inclusion, and we intend to reach out, welcome, and serve them. To do so, we need to build a longer table.
Our Scripture readings this morning speak directly to our intentions. In our text from Genesis 2, we read of God’s first work of building a longer table. In our gospel reading, Jesus shows us who’s invited to the table. And in our passage from Hebrews, we learn of our role in extending the table.
Let’The chapter opens with God creating an adam (an earth creature) and placing him in the garden of Eden “to till it and keep it.” We’ll come back to that – to tilling and keeping. For now, let’s stick with the earth creature. For after God creates this person, something remarkable happens.
God looks around at all creation and notices a problem: “It is not good that the earth creature should be alone.” And, remarkably, God adjusts. As some describe it, God accommodates. It’s actually an amusing scene. God says, “Uh, we gotta problem here. He’s lonely. Not good. We’re gonna needs some animals.” I imagine, as God brings forward the pets, Adam is enthusiastic:
But then come the “cattle, the birds of the air, and every animal of the field.” Can you hear Adam?
No wonder “there was not found” an ezer ken-e-gedo – a strong helper … a powerful companion.
So what does God do? Again, God accommodates. God realizes the human doesn’t have just the right partner. So, God makes another human, a partner who is recognizable to the adam as the closest thing to his own self. And it works beautifully. Seeing this new human, the adam breaks into song:
At last, my love has come along,
God designed us for relationship. That’s what it means to be created in the image of God, who is – in God’s very nature – community. Seeing the human alone, without community, God builds a longer table, creating animals and people and saying “Come to the table.”
But to who’s invited to the table? Our gospel text today sheds light on that question. Look how it begins: “Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’”
We’ll talk about who’s invited to the table, but first we need to deal with the elephant in the room. As Fr. Casey observed in our newsletter this week, “few passages in the … Bible make people squirm more”: divorce, adultery, hardness of heart. Squirm I did as I prepared to preach this week. Notice, though, the Pharisees aren’t actually interested in adultery. They aren’t seeking help providing pastoral care to those in “poisonous, abusive, or loveless” marriages. They aren’t interested in whether God accommodates us, even when relationships fail. They’re testing Jesus – trying to trap him. When Jesus brilliantly turns the question back to them, asking “What do you think?”, they know the answer. “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and divorce” his wife.
Moses allowed it, Jesus says, “because of your hardness of heart.” Sounds harsh, right? Sounds like Jesus is calling anyone who wants to leave a marriage “hard-hearted”, doesn’t it? But look back at the Pharisee’s restatement of the law: “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” Under Jewish law, divorce was something a man did to a woman, shooing her away from his home like a fly from a table. This left her in the worst possible position: alone, homeless, outcast. Divorce denied women a seat at any table. “Don’t do that,” Jesus says. “God built a longer table way back in Genesis 2 by creating a woman. The plan was that no one would be alone.” Who’s invited to the table? Women.
And Jesus doesn’t stop there. Later, “people were bringing little children to Jesus in order that he might touch them.” The disciples shoo the children away, like flies from a table. “Don’t do that,” Jesus says. “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Who’s invited to the table? Women, children, and “such as these.”
I wonder who Jesus meant by “such as these.” Who else is invited to the table? Jesus’ Incarnation – his life and ministry – can be understood as God’s effort to answer this question. What about sinners? Tax collectors? Canaanites? Syrophoenicians? Other gentiles? What about those two thieves on either side of Jesus at Golgotha?
“It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
God’s table is long. God built it to accommodate everyone.
Now, I promised we’d return to tilling and keeping: this is where we come in. Genesis tells us God placed the adam in the garden of Eden “to till it and keep it” – to steward it. A steward is a household manager. The steward doesn’t own the house, but works for and reports to the owner about household affairs. Stewards were more common in times past, when homeowners were often absent for long periods, during which they relied on stewards to care for their possessions. God, the owner of creation, placed us here as stewards to care for God’s treasured creation on God’s behalf. Our Psalmist picks up on this:
“What are humans that you should be mindful of them …
you adorn them with glory and honor,
subjecting all things under their feet.”
The author of Hebrews carries it forward. “In subjecting all things to” us – in crowning us with glory and honor as stewards – “God left nothing outside [our] control.” The long table God has built to accommodate all has been entrusted to us and, though we do not yet see everything and everyone at this table, we do see Jesus. Jesus who, like us, was crowned with glory and honor. Jesus was so intent on communicating the length of God’s table that he suffered death to reveal to all “the grace of God” that provides everyone a seat at the table. Who’s invited to the table? Women. Children. Such as these. Jesus called them all brothers and sisters.
Brothers and sisters, there are so many “such as these” right here in our community who do yet have a seat at the table. Just last weekend, I spoke with a group of folks in recovery who, for a variety of reasons, have been deeply hurt by the Church. In my remarks, I apologized for their having been shooed from God’s table. As I explained that they, too, are God’s little children, as I described God’s long table with seats to accommodate all, I witnessed first-hand the extent of our neighbors’ hunger and longing. We at Transfiguration intend to reach out, welcome, and serve such as these. To do so, we’ll need to steward what God has entrusted to us. We’ll need to build a longer table.
Jesus said to them, “Let the little children come to me … for it is to such as these that king of God belongs.”
And all God’s little children said: Amen.