Turning the World Upside Down

Turning the World Upside Down

Homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

August 28, 2022

Turning the World Upside Down

Homily for Sunday, August 28, 2022
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 14: 1, 7–14
Preached at St. John’s, Newtonville
On the occasion of the Baptism of Kyle Andrew

Really, does Luke expect us, “When we give a luncheon or a dinner,” not to “invite our friends or our brothers or our relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite us in return, and we would be repaid”?  But, “when we give a banquet, [to] invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  And we will be blessed, because they cannot repay us”?  Does Luke believe this, really?  Does Luke really expect us to do this?

For those who might be hoping for a “pass” here, that this passage is not so much prescriptive as it is aspirational, I’ve done some research, and what I found will not disappoint.  What I’ve found will really disappoint.

Though we might think of Luke as the “nice guy” evangelist… For example, Luke is not like Mark, who sticks it to us that being Jesus’ disciple means following the crucified (“the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected… and be killed,” says Mark, three times! (8:31, 9:31, 10:33)); Luke is not like Matthew, who warns in no uncertain terms that unless we give the hungry food and the thirsty drink, unless we welcome the stranger and give the naked clothing, unless we visit the sick and those in prison, we will be cast “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (25:41); nor is Luke like John, for whom being a disciple means exclusive fealty to Jesus: “I am the way and the truth and the life,” says John’s Jesus, “No one can come to the Father except through me” (14:6)… [though we might think of Luke as the “nice guy” evangelist] who tells beloved, seemingly-benign stories about the angel announcing unto Mary, and Zacchaeus climbing the tree, and the Good Samaritan, and the father welcoming home the Prodigal, Luke does not give us a “pass”; indeed, Luke is quite “bad ass”; of us Luke does much ask.  (Yes, I actually did just say that…)

Such as

  • in today’s Gospel: "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors… But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind."
  • or as Luke wrote in chapter 6: “Give to everyone who asks of you, and if anyone takes away what is yours, do not ask for it back again.” (6:30)
  • or as Luke wrote in chapter 1: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones… and the rich he has sent away empty” (1:52–53)
  • or again in chapter 6: “Blessed are you who are poor… but woe to you who are rich.”  “Blessed are you who are hungry… [but] woe to you who are full” (6:21–25).
  • or in chapter 14: “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (14:33)
  • or in chapter 19 (the story of Zacchaeus): “Half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much” (19:8).

As the mother of one of my colleagues once said about the Episcopal Church, that the Episcopal Church is “Christianity in its most benign form,” we might be tempted to think that Luke is the “Gospel in its most benign form.”  But Luke does not give us a “pass.”  What Luke is about—casting down the mighty and lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry but sending the rich away empty; not inviting friends or relatives or rich neighbors but the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind—is perhaps best summed up not merely in these but in Luke’s passage of Paul and Silas visiting Thessalonica in Acts chapter 17:

Paul went… and on three Sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures… that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead…. But [some] became jealous, and… formed a mob and set the city in an uproar…. When they could not find [Paul and Silas], they dragged Jason and some brothers and sisters before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also” (17:2–7).

“These people who have been turning the world upside down.”  For Luke, Jesus is one who “turns the world upside down.”  For Luke in Jesus the “applecart” of our current system of status and honor and wealth is completely upended.  For Luke, the poor are blessed and the hungry fed, the mighty are cast down and the lowly lifted up; in Luke, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” are invited to the table, even though they cannot repay.  Luke’s vision of an overturned order may seem foolish in the eyes of the world, yet Luke assures us that in the end, his vision is the true one and that “at the resurrection of the righteous” we “will be repaid” for our selflessness and generosity.

We are about to baptize the Church’s newest member.  As we baptize, the symbols and words of the rite invite us to consider our own Baptism.  You who are parents and sponsors, “Do you know the character of the group of people into which you are bringing this child?  Are you aware of the company you are committing him to keep?”  And for those who this morning are witnesses, “Are you living faithfully into Luke’s vision, of a ‘world turned upside down?’”  “In what ways are you filling the hungry and lifting up the lowly?  In what ways do you invite ‘the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind?’  In what ways are you giving up your possessions so that you may be his disciple?”

Luke’s Gospel may be filled with beautiful stories, and in many ways Luke may be the “nice guy” evangelist.  But when it comes to discipleship, especially our money and possessions and our care for the poor, Luke does not give us a “pass”; indeed, Luke does ask much of us.  I pray that God may grant all of us, from Kyle Andrew, the Church’s newest member being baptized this morning, to his family and sponsors, to those who have been the Church’s members the longest, grace to follow boldly after Jesus, to be willing to serve readily and to give generously, so that—along with Paul and Silas—we may help turn this world upside down.

More Sermons