Harrowing Of Hell
February 14, 2016

Whom Are We Inviting to the Party?

Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch

There is an entertaining Lenten practice that has been brought to my attention this year called “Lent Madness.” It’s a play on March Madness in that it has brackets and advancements until Holy Week when we get down to the Final Four, then two, and an ultimate winner is awarded the Golden Halo at Easter.

Who is competing you might wonder? Well, the saints. No, not living saints. They are deceased – saints of the church like Athanasius, Bonhoeffer, or less well-known saints such as Kateri Tekakwitha and Vida Dutton Scudder. We have a large bracket poster up in Christie House, a few Saintly Scorecards still available, and you can follow it all online during the week. You go to the website, read the bio of the two saints “competing” that day, and cast your vote for your favorite.

It’s silly, fun, and you learn something. This morning, the gospel reminded me of someone – a saint in fact – and it turns out she was the runner up to last year’s Golden Halo award. There was such an uproar over her not winning that the self-appointed “Supreme Executive Committee” came up with the Silver Halo, a dubious second place honor and these fun playing cards to commemorate the win.

The saint of whom I am speaking is Brigid of Kildare. Brigid was born into slavery in 5th century Ireland. As a young woman, she drove her father crazy first by converting to Christianity and then, in her new found zeal, by giving charitably to the poor. The reason her charitable nature got on her father’s nerves is because she raided her father’s house for the needed items to give to the poor; for food, clothing, silver, you name it. But the last straw was when she gave away a jewel-encrusted sword belonging to her father. Charitable Christian act, irresponsible, reckless, take your pick, but Brigid’s father found that to be inexcusable and sold her to the king.

The king however, was quite impressed with her devout nature, saw her as a holy woman, and immediately granted Brigid her freedom. She became a nun, established a double monastery for both men and women, and became the abbess of both houses. The stories of Brigid’s ministry and miracles could fill a book and mostly have to do with dairy cows, being a nursemaid, and other fanciful tales of mystery and wonder.

I’m pretty sure Brigid was the life of the party and will share only one short anecdote with you now. She is known as the patron saint of many things including beer brewing because she was a generous, beer-loving woman.

She worked in a leper colony which found itself without beer, and according to legend “When the lepers she nursed implored her for beer, and there was none to be had, she changed the water, which was used for the bath, into an excellent beer, by the sheer strength of her blessing and dealt it out to the thirsty in plenty.”

When I hear this quirky story from today’s gospel passage about social positions, parties, and places of honor, I think about the kind of party Brigid might have thrown in her father’s house. She would have thrown wide open the doors, invited everyone in, and sent them away with parting gifts from the front parlor.

The reading we heard plops us down right in the middle of a dinner party with Jesus giving the guests a lecture about where to sit. To help it all makes sense, you need to know the context, so let me set the scene.

It was the Sabbath and Jesus had been invited to the home of an important family, a leader of the Pharisees for a dinner party. Sabbath dinners are often elaborate meals with many guests, but an earlier verse tips us off that this isn’t a lighthearted gathering, for it says, “They were watching Jesus closely.”

It wasn’t a casual dinner with friends. This was a charged situation with tense political undertones. You see the Pharisees were the Jewish legalists of their day and they were out to get Jesus and they didn’t really like him.

One thing I admire about Jesus and truly love about him is his tenacity and deep desire to teach what he truly believes even in the midst of his enemies. He’s sitting at the table, the dinner guest to a bunch of lawyers and Pharisees, and he uses the opportunity to teach about the kingdom of God.

When you have a party, he tells them, you don’t just invite your family and wealthy friends who will return the invitation. You, invite those who are different from you, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” to quote the text. That’s the kind of party Brigid would have thrown for sure!

I hear we are having a party pretty soon too. This is our last Sunday to worship in the Great Hall. Next Sunday, at 5pm, we will be in the Church, and after worshiping together in that beautifully renovated space, we will gather here once again, but then it will be for another purpose. It will be for a party.

And I’ve noticed in my nearly seven years at Epiphany that we like to throw parties. Somehow, party planning has even become part of my job description, which is terrible, because that is it not one of my skills at all. But thankfully, many of you are incredible party planners, visionaries, decorators, hosts, and the like AND you have been willing to work with me over the years to make these parties happen and for that, I say thank you.

So, when I think about our grand party next week – this “PIVOT” point in the life of our parish – I think of the TWO things we will be doing. We are saying THANK YOU to everyone who has been involved in the Capital Campaign, the 100-year building project, this incredible renovation, AND we are having our ANNUAL HAVE A HEART PARTY in which we invite donations to support our nine outreach partners in the coming year. I believe it is fortuitous that these dates collided on the calendar.

Watch for the Weekly Word to come out this week. In it, you will find a letter from Holly Boone about this gospel passage and in the spirit of Jesus and Brigid, we are throwing wide open our renovated doors and inviting everyone in to the party. I realize not everyone will literally attend our party, but the faces of those whom we support with our outreach dollars will be represented in the photos seen in our renovated windows.

That’s the theme for the night after all: Windows and Doors. “We built windows through which to see the world and doors through which to serve it.”

And there’s another idea I want to talk about -There is an ancient Jewish practice of giving a thank offering. It has definitely gone by the wayside in the common era, but a beautiful tradition from ancient times. When something really good happened to an individual or a community, people used to give a thank offering in the temple. The Hebrew word for thank you is to-dah and it comes from the verb yadah, which means “to praise.”

There is beauty in this tradition. In thanksgiving for the blessings and abundance we have here at Epiphany, we give thanks. We praise God because that is our primary calling. And at Have a Heart, at our grand party, we have an opportunity to make a thank offering.

Our partnership with Operation Night Watch is pretty amazing. Every Friday night, 9 guys who don’t have anywhere else to go, sleep in the library of Christie House while two volunteers from the parish host them. It’s a great ministry and something I want to personally support.

So next week, as my thank offering for the blessing that it is to be here at Epiphany and to be finishing this incredible renovation, I will be making a financial donation that will benefit all of the outreach partners, including Operation Night Watch. I invite everyone to consider your own thank offering and what it can be.

Robert Van de Weyer created his own thank offering in the form of a song to St. Brigid which I leave you with today.

I should like a great lake of finest ale
For the King of kings.
I should like a table of the choicest food
For the family of heaven.
Let the ale be made from the fruits of Faith,
And the food be forgiving love.

I should welcome the poor to my feast,
For they are God’s children.
I should welcome the sick to my feast,
For they are God’s joy.
Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place,
And the sick dance with the angels.

God bless the poor,
God bless the sick,
And bless our human race.
God bless our food,
God bless our drink,
All homes, O God, embrace.