Tonight along with the rest of the Cathedral congregations, we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke, which we have transferred from October 18th. Luke the evangelist. Luke who we ascribe both the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles and patron saint of artists, physicians, bachelors, surgeons, students and butchers.
And in celebration of this feast day the reading that we have been assigned is from the fourth chapter of his Gospel: a gospel that is full of stories of Jesus eating and drinking with people.
This is a mike-drop moment for Jesus. After being tempted in the desert by the devil or Satan or the adversary, for 40 days – eating nothing and sticking to his principals; he returned to Galilee where he spent some time teaching and now in Narareth in a synagogue on the Sabbath day. He gets up and reads from the prophet Isaiah chapter 61:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lords favour.
What do you think it means for the people hearing this? That for Jesus, it was important to stand up roughly 700 years later and say these same words to the people in his synagogue?
And what does it mean for us to say it to one another now some thousand years on?
Each of the things that Isaiah and Jesus say: that they have come to heal, can have broad definitions for us now: Poor, blind, in prison, oppressed.
If we take these words at face value, if we leave them without any unpacking at all, maybe we assume that they are not about you or me, then we can see this as a list of the folks that we often walk right past. The folks that we maybe give money to as we walk down the street or donate our old clothes to.
Staying at face value, Jesus tells us that these are the people that he came to be with. These are the folks that he came to minister to.
And not in some drop coins in a hat kind of way but literally came to sit beside, share food with, and invite into ministry with him.
Most recently, I think that we have done a great job of taking care of the folks who look and act just like us and who live in neighbourhoods that look just like ours. That isn’t to say that we have done nothing, and it isn’t to say that there aren’t churches who do incredible ministry. But we are talking about you and me tonight and this church.
So in this place at this time, Andrew and others have been working hard to revise how we do ministry here at the Cathedral. They’ve been working to shift the culture of food ministry from service to a shared experience.
From handing out food to preparing a meal and sharing it with those who come.
Sitting down at a table is a lovely equalizer. Jesus, particularly in this gospel sits at tables with people all the time – it’s where he seems to do a lot of ministry. And a table is what we have set our own liturgy around.
I don’t want to be too self-congratulatory but one of my favorite things about this community, about you, is that when we share a meal there is no sense that it is a closed table. I love that when we share a meal, I am able to invite even folks who are just with us for the first time. I love that folks from our neighbourhood can come in and we are able to just fill a plate for them.
Of course there is more that we could be doing – but what a great start.
If we take our lead from what happens when we gather around this table to share the bread and the wine, then we can only just extend the welcome.
At least that’s my take on it.
But also if we follow the teachings of Jesus literally and sit with people who are not like us then we receive good news, freedom, sight and we are released.
Community should never (in my opinion) be one thing. One of the (many) gifts of the Eucharistic table and really a piece that is essential for me, is that we share bread and wine with people who are not just like us. It is important for me to stand next to someone who is different from me and share that same meal. It is important for me to look for and see God in my neighbours who are not me. Who do not think like me. Who do not smell or look like me.
I am poorer, I have less if I am only ever in community with people just like me – not to mention it would be boring. I cannot see or be witness to the incoming kingdom of God if I only ever hang out with white middle class straight people (and I’m talking about me here).
If I assume that Jesus only shows up for people with the same politics as me. If I have to figure out how to extend grace to people who don’t bump into my assumptions – then I have less of a sense of what God is up to and where grace is actually found.
That narrow world view of only seeing or being with people just like me, it imprisons me. It limits my ability to move and to feel and to interact with God. It’s easier because there are clear lines drawn and I have less options but I don’t actually think God stays within those limits and Jesus certainly didn’t if the Gospels are to be believed.
My vision is also limited when I stay within the safety of my class. My ability to see God and what God is up to. Anne Lamott has one of my favorite quotes ever, she writes:
“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
Hate is a pretty strong word but you could maybe even replace it with ‘avoid’ or ‘ignore’ or ‘walk past’.
But even thinking politically and right now that is hard to avoid, hate is being used. We are increasingly on a global level having to search for the ability to extend grace to people who we really, really disagree with and maybe even who hate us. Or maybe we do feel hatred, or hurt or anger.
And when I can’t see where God is active, when I am avoiding people who make me feel uncomfortable, when I refuse to sit at a table with someone who looks or speaks or has different coloured skin from me or a different faith – then I am oppressed. I am being controlled by world view that is based on fear.
Fear of other.
And I don’t want that.
I want the kind of terrible good news that the Gospel brings – that I am called to sit with those who are not me and share food, share conversation and be open to looking for the image of God that is found within them just as it is found within me.
This is the work that Andrew and Alberto in our kitchen have begun here at the Cathedral. They have begun the work of inviting us to free ourselves from a worldview that says that we are different from one another: that we need to serve rather than partner with or sit with or serve with.
I just finished reading Brene Brown’s latest book: Braving the Wilderness. I totally commend this book to you – it’s one I will be going back to. But in it she quotes Roshi Joan Halifax a priest in the Japanese Zen Buddhist tradition. Roshi Joan does work with terminally ill people in the ‘Being with Dying project”
One of her core messages is “strong back, soft front,” which, she explains, “is about the relationship between equanimity and compassion. ‘Strong back’ is equanimity and your capacity to really uphold yourself. ‘Soft front’ is opening to things as they are.”
I love this. That we would be in the world this way and I have been saying it to myself every day since reading it: Strong back – soft front.
Upholding myself, who I am, my dignity and my ability to stand tall. And soft front: open to the encounters that are before me, to the people in front of me and all of the possibilities that they hold.
Brene Brown adapts it and she says this:
People are hard to hate close-up. Move in.
Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil.
Hold hands. With strangers.
Strong back, soft front, wild heart.
Strong back – soft front – wild heart. This is who I want to be. This is who I think we could argue Jesus wants us to be. This message first in Isaiah and then in Luke is one for all of us. It is what we are called to do.
The world that we live in is hell-bent on dividing us up and making us choose sides: us – them, rich – poor, in – out, white – brown or black, server – receiver.
And we are being told that that is not what Jesus is about. The year of the Lords favour does not look like those divisions at all and we are here to proclaim it.
If we are going to choose sides then we are going to choose the side of love. We are going to choose the side that sits down together to listen and to be heard, to share a meal, even and especially if we are not the same.
We need to celebrate saints like Luke, evangelist and gospel writer. We need to proclaim the good news that Jesus came to share: that we work from a position of love and work for freedom, we work to have clear sight so that we can truly see the people in front of us, freedom from systems that oppress us and institutions insist on holding division.
Strong back – soft front – wild heart. I love this. And I want these to be words that you take with you. We don’t compromise on our unwavering love for one another or ourselves, we don’t compromise what we know to be true which is that we are beloved and we belong in the kingdom of God but we also encounter others with that same understanding – that there is a place for all if us.
This is not just a nice quote from the Bible that we are hearing night – this is a life changing way of being in the world.
That is why it is a mike-drop moment. Because if we live this way, it changes everything.