Children Behave! Jesus Told Us To Love Everyone

Heritage Presbyterian Church

September 1, 2019
Labor Day Weekend
Scripture readings – Hebrews 13: 1-8,15-16 & Luke 14: 1,7-14

Last year, my grandson, Logan, got in big trouble at school!  It happened when Logan and his class went to the cafeteria for lunch.  At Logan’s school, the kindergarten children get to select where they want to sit for lunch.  When James sat next to Logan, Logan tried to get him to get up and move to another place; later, Logan admitted to us that he “didn’t like James at all.”  When James refused to move, Logan took his fist and smashed James’ sandwich flat.  That got Logan a big mark on his daily behavior folder and a lecture from four members of his family – his grandfather, his grandmother, his mother, and his father.

I think his father, my son Daniel, handled it the best: he sat Logan down and explained that James wanted to be Logan’s friend…that was why James decided to sit next to Logan.  Daniel went on to explain why friends are SO important in life and also asked Logan, “How would you feel if you wanted to sit next to someone in your class – and they smashed your sandwich flat?” 

That question got to Logan.  When he thought about that, he seemed to be truly sorry…

It made me think about a kid who was in several of my classes when I was in elementary school.  Danny Johnson was a pretty obnoxious, bothersome kid who had very few friends in any of my classes.  He never seemed to sit near me at lunch, and I avoided him everywhere.  Danny was also a bully – and I was a small kid with a big mouth and a bad temper…not a quality combination for friendship or for staying out of trouble. 

But when I heard my son explain to my grandson that leaving people out of your circle of friends is wrong, I quickly remembered Danny Johnson – and my own behaviors toward him.  Truth be told, I doubt that I ever tried to include Danny in anything even one time…and especially not lunch!

We don’t get the luxury of doing this, Christians.  We don’t get to decide who will be included and who will not.  You may choose your friends, but beyond that, you don’t get to exclude anyone – even in your heart or your mind.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews laid out a similar thought…

The letter starts out by saying, “Mutual love should continue.”  This indicates that their community was already good at loving one another inclusively.  If this were not true, I doubt the author would have praised them for it!  Either you are good at “mutual love” or you are not; there’s no middle ground.

Then the author gets to four announcements:

  1.  The first is about hospitality.  Again, mutual love raised in this statement, but now the Hebrews are reminded that the table must include space for a stranger.  This goes back to the strong ancient Middle Eastern tradition of hospitality toward the stranger.  It also tweaks the memory of serving hidden “angels” from some stories in the Old Testament.  We never know who the stranger is that we are either including or excluding!
  • The second statement tells us to minister to the wounded.  People who are hurt are often not at fault for their injuries or their situations.  The audience is told to visit those in prison and those who are being tortured; we don’t get to permission to opt out because those folks may be guilty of their crimes.  We are only told to remember them.  But in case you think “remember” is pretty soft on commitment, recall the words of the thief on the cross next to our Lord: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
  • Sex and money are the third announcement for the Hebrews.  This double warning has been badly misused by the church for centuries!  There is nothing wrong with either sex or money; it is when either (or both) are used in ways that hurt others that trouble occurs and damages the community.  In that way, either (or both) signal an abandonment of responsibility to the community.  Sin in this area almost always causes divisions among the people.    For example: Let just one pastor misuse church funds, let that story make the evening news, and all church communities – even others who are completely uninvolved – are suddenly cast in doubt.  Or let just one teacher be arrested for an “inappropriate relationship” with a student, and suddenly all teachers in all schools are then under an undeserved microscope of public mistrust.
  • The fourth announcement is my personal favorite: Remember your leaders.  I like this one because it reminds us all that leaders in our communities and in our churches are called to serve the people and to take care of them.  But more than that, when others from the outside attempt to come in and stir up the people with false statements, unloving beliefs, narrow-minded ideas, and everything else that serves only a small percentage of people, leaders are sometimes lonely voices in the wilderness calling for “mutual love to continue” – when it is a LOT easier to just leave out a small group or certain individuals who are difficult to love and to include.  If it’s easier to leave them out, it is also tempting to leave them out.  And that’s when we begin turning away from what Jesus leads us to do.

In the reading from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus takes the whole discussion of “mutual love continuing” a little farther.  First of all, don’t miss the lonely first verse of chapter 14 that is included in today’s reading: “…when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.”  I’ll be they were!  Jesus goes into the home of a member of the group that has given him the most trouble – the cranky, inflexible religious leaders of his day. 

They were more interested in preserving the status quo than they were to listening to the rantings of this seemingly harmless intenerate preacher who told them to love one another.

Jesus noticed how all the guests were arranged at the table.  Obviously, the host had carefully arranged everyone for the big meal.  Now there is not necessarily anything wrong with this; anyone who has ever hosted a wedding banquet will tell you not to put Aunt Patsy and Uncle Bob at the same table; also separate Cousin Louise from Great Uncle Eddie because they can’t agree on politics and they can’t avoid it either; and another thing…make sure to keep the children near Jake because he’s so good with children and he will keep them entertained and quiet. 

You know what I mean…this type of preparation would work for Thanksgiving meals too – at least, in my family, they do.

But Jesus is talking about more than just putting difficult people away from each other; he is talking about including outsiders who would normally never belong at this table at all.  He is also talking about who should or should not be sitting at the lowly table with the kids.

If you are like the one who sits near the children to keep them entertained and quiet, that is not a job that everyone enjoys.  But some do – and I can imagine that the kids’ table just might be where the hidden angels sit that we heard about earlier.  I can also imagine that by giving up choice seats and settling for others that are away from the main action, those who do this are acting unselfishly by putting others first. 

And by inviting and welcoming the strangers to your carefully set and prepared table, you are showing that all are welcome and all are included.  Isn’t that what we say our Communion table is all about?  Remember those times when you brought a friend from work who had nowhere to go for the holidays?

Remember that college roommate who couldn’t get home for the holidays and you invited him to your own family’s holiday dinner?  Remember that odd friend who was so nice to your daughter when she needed help…and so years later, you invited that same odd friend to your daughter’s wedding?  These instances are just a glimpse of what Jesus was talking about.  “Mutual love” continues and even grows when we do these things.

I will close with two more observations from today’s readings:

  1.  First, don’t we all know…don’t we all understand that the table set for us in Heaven will include many, many people that we may struggle to believe are actually included in that Heavenly table?  We may, at times, dismiss individuals or even groups of people for whatever reason; the problem is we don’t know what is in their hearts.  We don’t know why they act the way they do.  We hate admitting that there may be more to “those people” than we understand clearly.
  • Recall that first line from chapter 14 in Luke’s Gospel: “…they were watching him closely.”  Those Pharisees and all their invited guests were watching Jesus and his every move.  Don’t you suppose that Jesus is watching us closely as we move through this world?  Don’t you think we are being watched closely by Jesus as we either include or exclude others from our tables?  Don’t you suppose that Jesus was closely watching when my son had that conversation with my grandson about including everyone as his potential friend – and that smashing someone’s sandwich was definitely NOT COOL?  We know the answers to these questions…even if we don’t want to.

Finally, we will soon participate in Communion here at Heritage.  Everyone is welcome, and we mean everyone!  But not just at the Communion table…not just in our worship services…not just at the tables here in the ballroom where we meet.  But in our hearts where we should be practicing mutual love always.