Texts: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14: 1, 7-14
This is Labor Day weekend, the last weekend of summer vacation, a holiday established to honor workers, and all the hard work that people do for the good of all of us. But it’s also a good day to remember that all of our work is to be for for the glory of God and the good of all God’s people, and not just for ourselves alone.
I think the message of today’s scripture passages fits that theme – that all our labors, all that we do, is to be for the glory of God and the good of all God’s people, and not just for ourselves alone.
“When you are invited to a feast,” Jesus reminds his dinner companions, “let your primary concern be for the honor of your fellow guests, not your own honor. Let your honor be in humbling yourself and exalting others, not in exalting yourself at the expense of others.” “And when you are host of a dinner, do not invite those who please you, or those who will repay you — friends or siblings or relatives or rich neighbors. When you give a feast, invite the poor, the hurt, the lame, the blind.
You will be blessed precisely in that they cannot repay you.
You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Today’s first reading reiterates the same message in even more graphic detail: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for so some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; and remember those who are ill- treated, as though you were feeling their suffering in your own body. And finally, remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you.”
Both the stranger and the humbled, and the esteemed and the familiar are to be remembered by the gathered community.
So it is for us in the church. When we gather as a covenanted community — whether it be to worship, or to break the bread of the Lord’s supper, to break the bread of friendship — or whether it be to educate, or to make decisions, or serve a meal, or provide clothing or food or shelter – whenever we gather, we are the church of Christ-followers, and those are the ones who we are to invite, and who we are to remember.
As I read over today’s scripture passages, I was reminded of a story –a parable if you will – that is a reflection on these same themes. Except that this parable is an incident that actually happened. It was told to Rabbi Paysach Krohn by a friend of his. This friend had a son named Shaya. Shaya attended a special school in New York, called the Chush school, for children with special needs. Shaya had a very hard time with his physical coordination, and he couldn’t understand or remember things as easily as other kids can. As his father tells it, “I was taught to believe that everything God does is perfect in its own way. It’s taken me a long time to understand and accept that my son is perfect in his own way too. But recently, I’ve come to realize that Shaya shows God’s perfection in the world in many other ways as well. I believe that when God brings a special child like Shaya into the world, part of the perfection God seeks is in the way people react to this child.”
Then the father went on to tell this story: “One day, my son Shaya and I walked past a park where some boys Shaya knew were playing baseball. Shaya asked, “Do you think they will let me play?” I knew that Shaya’s was not at all athletic, and that most boys would not want him on their team. But I also knew how thrilled Shaya would be to be on that field, feeling like he belonged to a team. So I approached one of the boys we knew and asked if Shaya could play, at least for a little while. The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates, but he didn’t get any, so he took matters into his own hands and said “We are losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we’ll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning.” Shaya was delighted, and I was ecstatic. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shaya’s team actually scored three runs, but they were still behind by three. Then in the bottom of the ninth inning, Shaya’s team scored again. Then there were a couple hits and a walk, and suddenly the bases were loaded, with two outs. So the potential winning run was on base.
But now it was Shaya’s turn to be at bat. Everyone knew that Shaya didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it. Would the team actually let Shaya bat at this time, and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, the team gave Shaya this turn at bat. As Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps closer to lob the ball in softly so Shaya might at least have a chance to hit it. The first pitch came in and he swung clumsily and missed. One of Shaya’s teammates came up behind Shaya and reached around him, and together they held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch. The pitcher again took a few steps forwards to toss the ball softly toward Shaya. As the pitch came in, Shaya swung the bat with the help of his teammate, and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond reach of the of the first baseman. Everyone started yelling, “Shaya, run to first! Run to first!” Never in his life had Shaya run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide-eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball, but Shaya kept right on running, past first, toward second. That right fielder could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag him out. But the right fielder understood what the pitcher had done, so now he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman’s head. Everyone yelled, “Run to second, Shaya, run to second.” Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home.
As Shaya reached second base, the short stop from the other team ran over to him, turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, “Run to third.” As Shaya rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, “Run home, Shaya, run home.” Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero of the day, because he had just hit a “grand slam” and won the game for his team.
“That day”, said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, “all those 18 boys reached their level of God’s perfection.”*
(end of story)
Sometimes it’s not how hard we work, or even how we play the game.
It’s how we love and take care of each other along the way.
“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. …When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.
* from Types of Pastoral Care and Counseling Howard Clinebell
**from Baseball Heroes by Rabbi Paysach Krohn