August 20, 2014

The Homily

TheWeddingFeastIs anyone thirsty?
Come and drink—
even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
it’s all free!

(Isaiah 55:1, NLT)

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

There is a scene in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle that has angered many readers of the Chronicles of Narnia. It is the tale of Emeth, a loyal follower of the god Tash. At the end of times, those who have been faithful to Aslan are gathered on the outskirts of their new land, heeding the call to go “further up and further in” when they come upon Emeth sitting under a tree. Emeth told them of his meeting Aslan, who did not condemn him, but welcomed him. Was it true then, asked Emeth, that Aslan and Tash were one in the same?

The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, “It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which those has done to him, for I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”

The reason this passage upsets so many is that it seems to be saying that one can get into Heaven without having to join the Christian club. What is the Christian club? It is the club many believe one has to belong to in order to get a seat at the banquet table in Heaven. We join by holding to certain beliefs, saying certain things, and doing certain activities. We are kept out of the club by failing to hold to the rules. The president of the club, God (or our version of God), keeps people out of the club for not following the rules. The rules were put in place in order to keep out the riff-raff. Riff-raff like Emeth, who worshiped the false god Tash. How could Lewis let him into Aslan’s land?

Could it be that God is more interested in finding ways to let us in to Heaven than in keeping us out?

Could it be that he really does look at our hearts more than our outward actions?

Could it be that joining the Christian club is not what gives us a ticket to the wedding feast?

Please do not misunderstand me. Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man or woman comes to the Father but by him. But have we made it more difficult to follow Jesus than it needs to be? Are we guilty of working to keep people out rather than finding ways to bring them in?

There is a common word in our scriptures this morning. A word that I believe summarizes the Gospel call.

Come.

Isaiah calls to those who are hungry and thirsty to come and dine. Don’t worry about money. You can’t buy this food or drink. All you can do is receive. Jesus calls those who worn out by life to come. He promises rest just for coming to him.

If Jesus doesn’t place any other requirement on us, why should we?

You’re a sinner? Great. Jesus came to call sinners. You’re a loser? Very good. Jesus is the Great Shepherd who goes in search of the sheep who is lost. You don’t go to church? You don’t read Christian novels or listen to “family safe” radio or vote the right way? None of those things are what give you entrance into the Great Feast. It is only your hunger and thirst that makes you worthy of eating the heavenly fare.

I have volunteered at a kitchen in downtown Tulsa that provides meals for those in need. As the doors are opened, the man in charge says, “You don’t have to be homeless to eat here, just hungry.”

The Good News is simply this: Come. Those who are hungry, Come. Those who are thirsty, Come. Those who are weary, Come. Those who have strayed, Come. Those who, like Emeth, think their allegiance elsewhere will keep you out, Come.

And if that makes you angry, Come.

Let us pray.

Comments

  1. some thoughts from John Paul II
    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/alpha/data/aud19950531en.html

    “For those too who through no fault of their own do not know Christ and are not recognized as Christians, the divine plan has provided a way of salvation. . . . .
    “God in ways known to himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel” to the faith necessary for salvation (AG 7).
    Certainly, the condition “inculpably ignorant” cannot be verified nor weighed by human evaluation, but must be left to the Divine Judgment alone. . . . .
    in the heart of every man of good will, “Grace works in an unseen way…. The Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery” (GS 22).

    and from sacred Scripture, this:
    “But in every nation, he that feareth Him, and worketh justice, is acceptable to Him.” (Acts 10:35)
    ” . . . He, who hath begun a good work in you, will perfect it . . . ” (Philippians 1:6)

    My own thoughts about the ‘Paschal Mystery’ are rooted in the ancient catacomb images that show Christ as a shepherd-guardian carrying a lamb on His Shoulders. I trust that image of Him.
    If Christ told us that He has come to find the ones who were lost, He will.

  2. Amen, and Amen.

  3. It’s his party: he may invite whomever he wants. If we discover that we can’t approve of the company we find ourselves in, I suppose the door works in both directions; we should remember, however, that the Israelite spies were happy when they got to Jericho to discover that God had invited Rahab to the party.

  4. Well put, Jeff. Emeth. Was always one of my favorite characters and a symbol of hope to me. One of the great expressions of what you’re talking about here is St. John Chrysostom’s pascha homily. Here’s a part of it.

    If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast.
    If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.
    If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.

    If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward.
    If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
    If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in no wise be deprived therefore.
    If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing.
    If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

    And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts.
    And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering.
    Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second.

    You rich and poor together, hold high festival.
    You sober and you heedless, honor the day.
    Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast.
    The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
    The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
    Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

    Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
    Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave.
    Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.
    He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.

  5. “Could it be that God is more interested in finding ways to let us in to Heaven than in keeping us out?”

    Yes, I believe so, Jeff. And those are great selections from John Paul II and scripture, Christiane.

    • I was going to highlight that statement. A resounding “yes” to drawing us to Himself and not expelling us.

  6. That preaches. Great comments also.

  7. David Cornwell says:

    Amen, Jeff, Amen.

    Now to church. Need to stand at the doors and watch out for riff-raff.

  8. He gives to us freely.

    Nothing required from us, but to trust Him. And even that is a gift from God…through faith.

    That’s the gospel.

  9. The homily is truly beautiful. The only problem for me is I don’t really understand it. I guess I’m just too slow or ignorant, or both but I don’t understand what it means to “come.” Does that mean to join the Christian club? Then we’re back at square one. Does it mean to be a good person trying to help your neighbor and do what is right? That’s kind of like “works” isn’t it? If Jesus is the Way, what does that really mean if not becoming a Christian? Beyond the analogy and metaphor, can someone explain to me what it means to “come to the party” without becoming a Christian? Sorry if I seem snarky because I certainly don’t intend it. I’m truly wondering.

    • Good question. I often ask myself variations of this question. When I read this post a few different ideas came to mind as to what it means to “come”. First, for me, it means to stop beating myself up and stubbornly sit outside because of an overwhelming sense of guilt that I don’t measure up. I don’t measure up and neither does that other guy who I envy because I think he has it all figured out. I think being at the table means loving God and loving others and not letting the fear of our inevitable failures stand in the way of making our best effort. I also think it means not making it any more difficult for others to get to the “table’.

      I don’t have a very complete answer for you because this issue of how behavior and heart work together is one that I can’t find a satisfactory answer to. I have found a lot of good input from the other commenters here and hope that some of the good ones make a serious attempt at answering your question more fully.

    • demars,
      I think the idea here is that you don’t really need to do anything. Come is not a directive that needs to be acted upon; it’s an invitation to sit down and eat at a feast where you’re already in attendance. This is not about living the Christian life as a disciple; this is about being nourished by God simply because you’re hungry and want to eat.

      When you’ve tasted the surfeit of God’s grace, you will inevitably go on to live your life in the light of the Cross and Resurrection. You can call this discipleship, but don’t worry that if you get it wrong you will lose the grace that God has gifted you with; it’s exactly God’s prodigal grace, and your consciousness of it, that will provide you with the courage to go on and live your life and make your choices, even knowing that you will inevitably get it wrong and even commit terrible sins. Because God will not withdraw his grace no matter what you do; perfection is not a condition of remaining in his favor.

      Be at peace, and know that he holds you in his awful, terrifying love. And don’t be surprised to find yourself among a bunch of miscreants like me at the Feast of the Lamb.

  10. Is it possible we don’t have to wait until we die to join the feast?

    Is it possible folks can continue to grow and learn and change their mind on the other side?

    Is it possible that God is not really interested in tormenting forever non-club members?

    Is it possible that the church, or parts thereof, could have been wrong all these years?

    Wait, I know anything is possible with God but that last one in just plain impossible.

  11. Thank you Jeff. Thank you for serving us with your ‘Homilies’.

  12. “You don’t have to be homeless to eat here, just hungry.”

    The Good News is simply this: Come. Those who are hungry, Come. Those who are thirsty, Come. Those who are weary, Come. Those who have strayed, Come. Those who, like Emeth, think their allegiance elsewhere will keep you out, Come.

    Jeff, I with you on this. But I wonder if you’d comment on something that pertains to your new calling to become Roman Catholic—namely, the practice of closed communion, or denying the mass to non-Catholics. I remember Chaplain Mike saying that the Missouri Synod Lutheran stand on this (similar to RC) would be a deal-breaker for him.

    Any thoughts?

  13. I suppose some could look at the Roman Catholic communion rite as ‘exclusive’, but it really is meant to be an affirmation . . . the priest says to each communicant: ‘Body of Christ’ and the communicant says ‘Amen’ . . . this is not something people can say honestly who do not have faith in the real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist

    but people can still come forward with everyone and receive a blessing from the priest . . . and many do who are still preparing to enter the Church eventually . . . little ones often are carried forward by their parents to receive a blessing

    ‘exclusion’ ? it’s not meant that way, no . . . it it meant that a person who receives can say before God and the Church ‘Amen’ . . . a kind of ‘Credo, I believe’ affirmation of the Eucharist

    people coming forward for a blessing cross their hands over their chest area as a sign that they are there to receive blessing instead of communion

    • Ted,

      The Mass is not denied to non-RC’s. I have taken part in the Mass numerous times and I don’t intend to be catechized RC.

      Christiane,

      The Eucharist is “exclusive” and “closed” to non-confirmed non-RC’s. No way around it. It’s dogma, and one that has it’s origins in the Didache;

      But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”

      More often than not my wife and I go to an early Sunday morning Eucharistic service at an Episcopal church in town. This is what the congregation says about who may partake;

      We break bread together in the shared ritual of the Lord’s Supper. We welcome to receive communion all who seek God and who are drawn to Jesus. We believe Christ is present in the gifts of bread and wine. Whoever you are and wherever you are in your pilgrimage of faith, you are welcome in this place; you are welcome at God’s table.

      RC, EO (and all other Orthodox to my knowledge), and many Protestant denoms. are exclusive when it comes to the Lord’s Supper–including the branch of the Church of Christ that I grew up in.

      So, Ted’s question to Jeff on this matter is legit.

      • Tom,
        Although local Episcopal congregations sometimes ignore this, the official canons of the Episcopal Church, which all Episcopal clergy vow to uphold at ordination, require that only baptized Christians be allowed access to the Eucharistic table, which means that the church you worship at is disobeying the canons.

        The Episcopal parish I belong to also disobeys the canons, inviting all Christians without reference to baptism to partake of Holy Communion; Friends and Salvation Army may freely approach.

      • Hi TOM,
        I don’t think the ‘spirit’ involved is one of ‘exclusion’ so much as it is to protect the integrity of all concerned. The priest clearly says ‘Body of Christ’ and the communicant must not say ‘Amen’ if he or she does not believe it. There is in sacred Scripture this:
        1 Corinthians 11:29 “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.”

        If a person who is able to do understand and yet honestly cannot say ‘Amen’, would the Church want them to proceed? Would THEY, in good faith, want to proceed if they did not recognize the Real Presence ?

        I have a Down Syndrome son who receives holy communion when the priests visit Eastern Christian Childrens Retreat in Wyckoff NJ. My son doesn’t speak but he does show some of the signs of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
        You see, he can walk and he will frequently get up and choose a book or a toy and take it over to one of the stretcher-bound residents, and very gently give it to them. I have witnessed this, and the staff tell me he frequently will show kindness in this way.
        Perhaps the kindness he shows those less fortunate than himself are his way of saying ‘Amen’ ?

        There is in the Church a very great tradition of hospitality and sanctuary. There is some concern in the Church that ‘coming forward’ to receive ‘blessing’ might be mis-interpreted by those who are not Catholic, as ‘receiving’ a kind of communion participation, and that this somehow compromises the rite of Eucharist. But I think that the spirit of blessing is what Our Lord Himself would have wanted the Church to do.

        There is a hymn ‘Come To the Waters’
        . . . the lyrics say ‘bring the children without might’ . . .
        When we sing those lyrics, I think of my Down Syndrome son and his kindness toward the stretcher-bound.
        And I am aware that the kindness of a blessing given to those who cannot fully participate at the table of the Eucharist, this kindness of blessing cannot be so very far from the Heart of Christ.

        some thoughts . . .

        • Christiane,
          We Episcopalians acknowledge the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion, but we are nonetheless not invited to partake of the Eucharist in Roman Catholic churches. Essentially, one must be a Roman Catholic in good standing, that is, in a “state of grace” as defined by canon law, to be invited to Holy Communion in a Roman Catholic church.

          To the degree that it’s circumscribed by the above considerations, Roman Catholic Holy Communion does not exhibit the openness of the invitation as described in the post above, because people are kept out of RC Holy Communion for not following the rules, whereas according to Jeff’s post, they are not kept out of Heaven for not following the rules.

          It seems very strange and unlikely to me that Holy Communion, which is the Heavenly Banquet, should have different criteria for admission than Heaven itself, since Holy Communion is a foretaste on earth of the Feast to come in Heaven. So there is a disconnect between the openness of the invitation to Heaven that is expressed in Jeff’s post and the restricted sharing of Holy Communion as practiced in the RC Church.

      • Thanks, Tom. I has assumed that “mass” was the same as “eucharist”. In my baptist church we don’t use either term; it’s “communion” or “Lord’s supper”.

        • Ted, I understand the confusion. To my understanding a Mass always incorporates the Eucharist. One thing RC gets right is that the Lord’s Supper is the focus of the gathering of Believers. Most Evangelicals miss/don’t understand that centrality.

          • Correct….a Mass is divided into roughly two parts; the beginning is the Liturgy of the Word, with specific bible passages (Usually, an old testament, a Psalm sung or recited, and a new testament reading) followed by a Gospel and Homily (sermon). After general prayers for the faithful, the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins, containing the Consecration, and then delivery of the Eucharist (as bread only or bread and wine).

            As well stated already, we Catholics believe that only validly ordained priests in apostolic succession can consecrate the bread and wine into the Body, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, and that receiving Him into our very bodies is reserved not only for Catholic, but for Catholics NOT in a state of mortal (serious) sin. It would be a lie to share this most precious gift of God incarnate with someone who sees it as a symbol only.

            It would be a bit like using the actual Ark of the Covenant as a foot-rest out in a stable corridor in terms of sacrilege and disrespect.

          • It would be a lie to share this most precious gift of God incarnate with someone who sees it as a symbol only.

            Pattie, if only my church could elevate this gift to the status of symbol.

            In our baptist church, my pastor recites from 1Corinthians 11, “This is my body which is broken for you” but also “Do this in remembrance of me”, which is really the operative phrase. In a conversation with him once he seemed to believe that “symbol” is the same as “remembrance”, but I think it ain’t so.

            Symbol is at least a metaphor, a representation of Christ, but Remembrance is no better than a Yellow Post-It note.

    • Thanks, Christiane. It’s good to hear this. There are many layers to the eucharist in our various understandings and I’m trying to sort it out, even after a lot of years.

      Jeff?

  14. Heh, does anybody get this worked up over the metaphysics of The Lion King?

    One hoary Christian view is that pagans who have never heard of Christ can nevertheless be saved under certain conditions–for example, if they live moral lives, and/or acknowledge a creator. The stance seems to have been motivated on one hand, by a desire not to make God seem unfair, and on the other, by a need to justify missionary work (which would make little sense if pagans get saved at about the same rate as Christians). So this is the kind of tradition that Lewis is coming from, and Emeth is his virtuous pagan.

    Lewis here seems to be endorsing inclusivism over either exclusivism or pluralism (to name the other main possibilities). Each has its drawbacks, and unfortunately, God, unlike Aslan, is not available to be interrogated on his theology. Inclusivism strikes many as a tolerant approach, yet it places Christianity just a little bit higher than other religions, which can be uncomfortable (a bit like saying that Obama is better than other blacks because he’s very white-acting).

    Maybe Tash really is Aslan. That is, maybe Christianity and Hinduism (let us say) are equally worthwhile, each with its own positives and negatives. Maybe God / Christ and Brahman / Shiva / Krishna are just alternative symbolisms through which the divine might speak to us.

    Or maybe the two religions really do disagree on too many fundamentals for any common “core” to be found. But Lewis’s analogy is deeply unfair. By Book Seven, the reader is already invested in Aslan (much as Christians are already invested in church), and Tash is depicted in wholly negative terms. There is no real choice, and the characters/readers are basically told what to think.

    Even if I were to wake up in Narnia tomorrow, and meet Aslan etc., nothing presented in the Narnia books would oblige me to side with or obey, let alone worship, any of these characters, any more than I feel obliged to take sides in the Syrian conflict. The fact that Aslan partakes of higher magics (or however it goes) has no intrensic ethical importance, any more that it would for Cthulhu. But to the extent that we identify what it is about “God” that makes him/her/it worthy of worship, then we will be carried away from Christian-specific language, toward something more universal.

    • “Something more universal,” but not universal enough to not carry us away from Christian-specific language, huh?

      What is deemed more inclusive is the result of perspective, and every perspective excludes some other perspectives. No perspective is universal, and to talk about some perspective being more or less universal is like talking about it being more or less infinite: it either is or isn’t infinite; it either is or isn’t universal.

      That’s different from the question of whether a perspective is more or less inclusive, which is a question that cannot be divorced from whether or not it is true.

  15. A fine homily indeed. Well said.

    I wonder why when we read the words “No one comes to the Father but through me” we tend to get the image of Jesus as some sort of bouncer, blocking the door to heaven. “You want to get in here? You’re going to have to go through me to do it!”

    Instead I wonder if we shouldn’t get the image of Jesus knocking down any walls or barriers that might otherwise separate God and humans. “Here’s the way to God. I’m making this easy for y’all.”

  16. Could it be that he really does look at our hearts more than our outward actions?

    Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”

    I have trouble seeing these two statements as being consistent with one another. One is from Jeff and one from C.S. Lewis. However, I understood that the homily was meant to support and expand on Lewis’ view. It seems that this sort of view often boils down to salvation by works. The person following Tash did a really good job of following Tash. Therefore, he’s okay.

    I’m not angry, by the way. If God grace is such that He will bring everybody–even those most offensive to me–into His Kingdom, that is okay with me. It is just that when I consider views like the one above at length, I fail to see much grace.

    • I’d have to agree with you that the quote from Lewis smacks of salvation by works, which is not what I think Jeff was taking from it. That’s the thing about inclusivism: in striving to discern God’s redeeming grace active and fruitful even where Jesus is not named or known, it almost invariably winds up using language that is hard to differentiate from salvation by works language.

      The trick, which I don’t think Lewis masters in the quote, is to not show that there are anonymous Christians who find Christ by following the highest and best in their own religious traditions, but that Christ presents himself anonymously to people in languages and beliefs that sound completely different from the language and beliefs of the New Testament and Christian tradition, but are in reality the same when translated by and in the Holy Spirit.

      The gospel in glossolalia.

      • Even the NT struggles with such language, Robert, if I read a passage like Romans 2 correctly:

        …God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. (Romans 2:5-8, NASB)

        • I’m beginning to think that there is a sense in which Jesus Christ is anonymous, or cloaked, even in the New Testament, in a way that isn’t altogether different from the way he might be anonymous, or cloaked, in other religious traditions.

        • Robert and Chaplain Mike,

          This is a good point about the limitations of language to express certain matters.