Social Climbers and Wannabes

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost + August 29, 2010

Social climbers, you know the type folks that think they are better than everyone else…

  • People who think they have V.I.P. written across their forehead, the entitled, the wanna-be’s. 
  • People who watch lifestyle television for those programs that showcase fine living, travel, home decorating, or food and wine.
  • People who wear designer labels (even if they buy them at Marshall’s), drive luxury cars (even if they are used), have purchased (even if from a K-mart), read the magazine, used a recipe (or watched Martha Stewart (even if you say you hate her). 

If I haven’t hit a nerve with you, you may smugly be thinking I’m certainly not someone who does any of those things, seeks social prominence, or exhibits ostentatious behavior.”

 But the reality is the American dream is about social climbing.  Maybe not in terms of official class, or striving for high society, but most of us at our cores crave what our neighbors have, want to do better than others, and if we are honest think we are good enough or better, smart enough or smarter, and doggone it,  people like me, really like me, like me so much, they want to be me!  (with apologies to Al Franken’s SNL character Stuart Smalley)

American’s are voyeuristic, we want to know how the rich and famous live, and we long for our Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame.  Some even care about what happens on or long to star in… Real Housewives of wherever, and our society’s obsession with celebrities is nauseating.  And even when we don’t have a prime address, prestigious job, or perfect lifestyle, we and our circle of friends may gossip about those family, friends, or neighbors who do, or belittle their polished possessions to pick away at one another’s social standing. 

Which leads me (as it has for others I’ve been reading this week) to that great stalwart of British Comedy, the keeper of Royal Dalton with hand-painted periwinkles, the queen of candlelight suppers, the standard and star of the show Keeping up Appearances,  Hyacinth “Bouquet.”  Also know as the bucket woman as her last name, well that of her dear and demoralized husband Richard, is spelled b-u-c-k-e-t, but Hyacinth insists it is pronounced bouquet.

Hyacinth’s aspirations, her keeping up with the Jones’, name dropping, and perfectionism make her the poster child of social climbing.  And yet she comes from a rather ordinary dysfunctional family, which embarrasses her to no end (she is quick to point out that her sister Violet is the one with a Mercedes and room for a pony). 

Hyacinth is oblivious to the world around her.  She is avoided by the ladies at church, and neighbors who turn the other way when they see her, pull the shades, and even applaud when she goes away on holiday.  Hyacinth is oblivious unless you are someone on a social rung above her, someone who holds a place of honor, someone who people like Hyacinth long to be.

+          +          +

And that place is where Jesus finds himself today.  On the “A-list” invited to dinner at a leader of the Pharisees home on the Sabbath.  Yes another let’s trip Jesus up on the Sabbath (remember he healed in the synagogue no less, on the Sabbath last week), or perhaps they just wanted to keep a close eye on him.  But Jesus, doesn’t meet their expectations, or play by their etiquette, staying out of trouble.  Jesus continues to turn tables through a story about a wedding banquet.  Jesus’ story flips their understanding of etiquette and expectations from that of a society insider to the kingdom of God focus on those on the outside.


“Etiquette, after all, is not simply about manners in the ancient world; it’s about honor and shame and social position and political standing, and these things matter more than just about anything in Jesus’ day.  So he’s not simply giving good advice.  He’s challenging the status quo.  He’s inciting something of a social revolution.  And for all these reasons he’s inviting the death sentence he eventually gets.”  This according to David Lose, of Luther Seminary.

Lose continues: “Jesus is inviting this guy (and us) to defy the pecking order, to actually turn it on its head.  In this reading we encounter one of the reasons Jesus is killed by a collusion of religious and political leaders: he dares not only to stand outside the social order of his day; he dares not only to call that social order – and all social orders – into question; but he also says these things are not of God.  Jesus proclaims here and throughout the gospel that in the kingdom of God there are no pecking orders.  None. Zero. Zilch…

And while that sounds at first hearing like it ought to be good news, it’s one of the things that gets him killed, because it throws us into radical dependence on God’s grace and God’s grace alone.  We can’t stand on our accomplishments, or our wealth, or positive attributes, or good looks, or strengths, or IQ, or family, or our movement up or down the reigning pecking order.  There is, suddenly, nothing we can do to establish ourselves before God and the world except rely upon God’s desire to be in relationship with us and with all people.” (Working Preacher)

The parable from Luke is about those God wants us to invite to our parties, and make room for in our lives, our churches and our communities.  At the congregation picnic last week some of you engaged in a conversation about the differences between Lutheran traditions and the issue of access to the Lord’s Table was a “hot button” topic.  Who are we to deny others access to God’s means of grace through bread and wine?   To other Lutherans, Christians, or anyone with outstretched hands hungering for a taste of God’s love, forgiveness and life? 

 +          +          +

Who do you avoid, who are the Hyacinth’s in your life, who are the people that would make you uncomfortable to kneel next to here at Faith?   A stinky homeless person, a convicted felon, someone who talks to themselves and disrupts worship, a gay or lesbian couple, a self-professed atheist, someone with autism or Alzheimer’s, or a family member or co-worker you are not on speaking terms with?  

 Jesus talks about access and say invite them, tell them, and feed them me.  The Body of Christ through the Gospel, and at God’s table. 

  • A table where God sits, serves, and is the host. 
  • A table where all are invited for the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. 
  • A table where there is no first class section and reciprocity is not only not allowed, we are the ones who cannot believe, do, or say to repay what has been done for us.
  • A table where we are the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the sinful receive God’s blessing, no strings attached. 

A friend who was also struggling to write a sermon this week had this response from her young son: “I don’t know why you worry about the sermon, Mom.  Just tell them that Jesus died and was made living again.  Don’t you think that would be great comfort?!   Out of the mouths of babes, we see the kingdom. 

  • A kingdom where we might entertain angels unaware. 
  • A kingdom where there’s no head table. 
  • A kingdom where our host expects us to make room for everyone else God has invited, or those Jesus asks you to bring to the table.

That may be unnerving, go against the etiquette of society, involve people outside your comfort zone,  but it is good news.  Because we do have more in common with those guests Jesus says to invite, and we need to be reminded that Jesus died and was made living again. 

 Taste, see and be filled with the grace and comfort that the Lord is good.


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