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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

Where Do I Sit?

All of us know, or remember, that feeling of walking into the school cafeteria and not knowing where to sit. Who is friend? Who is foe? What clique do I belong in? What clique do I want to belong in? When I hear today's gospel, I immediately remember the times in my life when choosing the "right" seat felt like a make or break decision!

This is such a great opening to a gospel story – they were watching him closely. And Jesus, he was watching them closely too. Because this is what we do at social gatherings – or work events. Or when the two are one and the same, like dinner parties. We watch everyone closely to see where people will sit – who people are talking to – wondering – where do I fall or fit in to the established hierarchy? And what do I need to do to keep or change it?

Sometime year before last we had a Day School Board meeting. The topic of conversation was the recent basket bingo night – a fundraiser the parent association puts on. We were doing the debrief – and parents on the board were saying, we need to do a better job of opening up the seating – for the new parents. So many parents already know each other – the social groups are established – its an intimidating event for new moms. To which I asked, do you mean to tell me our Good Shepherd Day School is like an episode of Big Little Lies?

We all know the feeling of not knowing where to sit. At the very least – we remember middle school, or junior high, or high school – or a new school. It takes many of us some time into our adulthood – before we’re comfortable with sitting wherever and with whomever we want.

Hospitality is central to Jesus’ gospel message in Luke and how the first followers respond to the resurrection of Jesus in Acts. Luke-Acts is how we think of these two books, chronological in order, written by the same author.

In Acts we learn that it’s through house churches, small dinner parties that the earliest followers break bread together and day by day joyfully increase in number.

And this morning we hear Jesus connect hospitality with humility, which is unique. In other words, true hospitality – the joyful openness of inviting and connecting with a person, graciously giving and receiving simultaneously – true hospitality is a fruit of humility, and maybe vice versa. Because when we are fully present to the divine in ourselves and another person – it doesn’t matter which comes first.

The Dean of my seminary loved sharing this story – for a time Archbishop Desmond Tutu was on the board. At a morning meeting over breakfast – everyone was at the table, the Dean was about to get started and said, "Ok let’s go, where’s the Archbishop?" He then heard his voice (that beautiful south African accent I can’t do) – say, "I'm right here." the Archbishop had been behind the table, walking around like a waiter and pouring everyone orange juice.

Unobtrusively present and tending to the needs of the guests.

You may have noticed the swap of readings before the gospel (don’t worry, I didn’t mess with the gospel, don’t call the bishop!). The Lessons I chose for us to hear today are the ones appointed for tomorrow – Labor Day.

Sure, its not a religious holiday – but the BCP appoints readings on national holidays and days that are a part of our common life. And Labor Day is one. And I’m not sure we think of it so much as a joyful celebration of labor – as much as the unofficial end of summer – and the beginning of back to work, back to school, back to busyness – goodbye vacations and leisure and play.

That reading from Ecclesiasticus – we never hear from this book by the way, I had to make sure it wasn’t supposed to be Ecclesiastes – it’s a wisdom book, like Proverbs. And its all about the unobtrusive care, the attentiveness the worker has in their labor of love.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is similar. He paints a picture of the interconnectedness of all the pieces and parts – chosen with care – the silver and gold, the wood and the hay – each one a contribution to something larger.

Yes, this season is busy. More board meetings, schedules change, there is more traffic and calendars get more full. But I want to offer that this quality of humility is something that helps us stay refreshed. People like Archibishop Tutu embody it. And its available to all of us, a gift we give ourselves. This attentiveness, choosing with care (which is what Jesus asks us to do) helps us embody the hospitality that God gives . That sense of belonging, of belovedness, of being and feeling valued.

I’m pretty sure Archbishop Tutu had a pretty full calendar at that morning meeting. In fact, those board meetings were held at like 7:30am because everyone on the board had to get to work – and work made for too long a day for after work meetings. And yet, he took time for a small, attentive gesture. Choose with care – Jesus says this morning – choose with care.

I don’t think we often associate humility with our attentiveness or intention – but humble acts, require attention and intention – because to act in humility means you have seen something deeper in another person, or in a situation. St. Augustine said – it is a sin to judge a man by his post – but we do. We even judge ourselves by our post, our job, our social calendar.

Attentiveness and Intention are acts of a humble heart. Try two things each day. First pay attention to one particular environment – maybe its in a school cafeteria – maybe its outside in nature – or downtown when you can enjoy eating lunch outside. And just listen to every single sound you can possibly hear. What gratitude does that spark in you? Who does that remind you to pray for?

Second – with intention – give your full attention to another human being. Listen openly to what they have to say. Try not to jump in and give advice, don’t start formulating your response to their question or position before they’ve finished speaking. Look into their eyes – if they say they are having a hard time, just support them in that and ask them to tell you more. If they say they are feeling great – ask them to tell you more. Ask them what you can do to support them – and maybe, often times, listening is all people need.

Mary Oliver the poet writes, “attention is the beginning of devotion.” As we turn towards this busy season, lets choose our seats with care and with humility, invite some others to sit alongside us. Amen.

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