Scripture Readings for November 6, 2018
When I sat down with today’s readings the closing phrase in our first reading from Philippians, “to the glory of God the Father” is what caught my attention. Paul wants the Philippians to adopt the same attitude as Jesus had, one of selflessness. He uses a hymn that speaks of Jesus giving up his role as a divine person to become human and be like a slave with no role but obedience and to die humiliated on a cross. Why? So that God would be glorified. That isn’t usually what I think about as the purpose of Jesus life on earth.
I’m usually thinking about how God loves us. How God is selfless and wishes to share life. That’s the basic reason for creation and our existence. Jesus lives on earth as part of God’s effort to teach us what life is all about, loving and sharing what we have been given so that all the world can be a good place, perhaps even a heavenly place.
So that makes me big on gratefulness, giving thanks to God for all sorts of good things: sunny days, people who are friendly, time to read, my wife and kids, special times and even some surprising moments when the sheer beauty of something overtakes me. But I haven’t really thought much about it all “giving glory to God.” It hasn’t seemed to me that God needs to be given glory. God has it all, so to speak. Yet today it also felt like something important. Something I should pay attention to.
So I noticed that the Psalm hit the same theme, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord. All the families of the nations shall bow down before him.” That’s pretty explicitly worshiping God, glorifying God. It feels more intense than gratitude or just saying thanks for a good day. I think I am somewhat uncomfortable with this unabashed worship of God. Another line from the Psalm seems to say what bothers me, “To him alone shall bow down all who sleep on the earth.” It seems subservient and I’m resistant to that.
It gets even more interesting then to read the Gospel. It’s the story of a man giving a dinner and many of his invited guests are making excuses about why they can’t come. But this isn’t just any dinner, it’s a story in response to a guest at the dinner with Jesus who has just equated being righteous with dining in the kingdom of God. Someone no doubt resistant to blatant worship of God. In Jesus’s story people invited to dine in the Kingdom are turning down the invitation because of things they think are more important. So the person throwing the dinner fills it with others who are usually excluded. These are people who normally don’t have access, people who have barriers to what others have, to what others are able to do. But it is just these excluded people who are brought in to the dinner.
None of these people deserved to be invited. They are dependent on the largesse of the person giving the dinner. I think this is an image that describes us as well. This dinner is also a world of God’s making. As much as we may think of ourselves as independent and capable, we are, in fact, totally dependent on God for our place at the table. We certainly are responsible for the choices we make but the source of our life and the value of our efforts and sacrifices are all related to God’s gift to us. We have to acknowledge that, if we’re going to be honest with ourselves and have a real relationship with God. Otherwise we are likely to think we have more important things to do than accept our role as guests. We need to let go of the attitude that our responsible behavior has earned us an invitation.
To sacrifice our standing, as Jesus did, is a tribute to God’s gift, God’s love, God’s power to bring us all together. If we can accept our role as guests of God, the one who provides, then I think we can join in joyful song and praise as the Psalm says, “May your hearts be ever merry,” and wouldn’t that, in itself, give glory to God.