Entertaining Angels and Other Chidlren of God

Last week was our garbage guy’s last week after five years. He finally has a shot at his dream, working on a NASCAR team. He stopped cheerfully when he saw me trot out with two bags of garbage after he had already been by. My neighbor tells me that he returned her trash cans to the garage for her when she was laid up after knee surgery. The only connection I’ve had to him before his last day was through the magically disappeariing garbage I put out every week. But on this, his last day, I happened to be home for a change, and he bacame a real person with a family and a dream. Suddenly, I had an opportunity to be grateful for this human. He came up higher, and I have a sense of embarassment that I never recognized his contribution to our neighborhood’s life before this. This time free from call has some unexpected gifts in store for me.
Jim and I were musing about how to observe Labor Day earlier this week. Labor Day greeting cards? Shun fast food in honor of minimum wage workers? Shop the best salesof the season, and crank up the grill? I shared with Jim one of my great theories about life and religion. IF religion/god is anything to which a person gives their greatest trust, AND anything from which a person receives value and meaning, AND without which one experiences “Anxiety with a capital A…” AND to which one is willing to make sacrifices in order to receive personal benefits…go back, read that again slowly…Commercialism is our state religion. Sorry, Spiritual but not Religious folks, but you’re being sold a bill of goods if you think not worshipping with organized religion makes you not religious. Commercialism will nail you the minute you deposit your paycheck. Sorry, religious folks, but you’re being sold a bill of goods if you think your worship is more valuable than anyone else’s because you can measure it by growth and customer satisfaction and quality of product. Those are the creeds of Commercialism. Those who have greater resources sit at the head of the table. Those who have less ability to earn and spend money, or earn and spend it in less “productive” life styles, sit at the foot of the table if they sit at the table at all. We have disparaging names for those who shop at Walmart and Dollar Store, and even less regard for those who endure the working conditions of minimum wage occupations. I don’t think I was old enough to get this when I first read it in Jacques Ellul’s Technological Society in 1978. I’m beginning to get it now.
This year I am observing Labor Day as one whose labors are now devoted to family, home, and praying about what comes next in our lives. I consider all of these useful labors, by the way. It’s my own personal Jubilee time: let the land lie fallow, find out what belongs to whom and give it back, release the claims of ownership and acquisition. Martin Luther had a terrific theology of vocation. The Virgin Mary, he says, probably encountered the Archangel Gabriel while doing the laundry. He took a lot of ribbing from colleagues for changing Hans’ diapers himself, to which he responded that he wouldn’t miss this highest of all vocations for the world. Vocation, you see, is simply how God gets good done in the world. Our labors, and how we go about them, are holy in the world. Vocation, says Fredrick Buechner, is where our deepest joy meet the world’s greatest needs. There is no need so great as the need for a diaper to be changed. Ok, maybe that’s hyperbole. My point is that the world’s greatest needs are rarely dramatic and romantic. It can be as close as the pollution under your own nose by which you understand the offense of all of the pollution of the world.
People were measured by their economic and social status in Jesus’ day too, so these gods have been with us a long time. Jesus says that when we are invited to dinner, we should sit at the foot of the table with the least of these, so that we can enjoy the honor of the host inviting us up higher and not suffer the shame of being asked to give up our seat to someone more honored. We don’t do so well with this. We secretly worry that something will rub off on us at the foot of the table or hope that it will near the head of the table. But what if there is another point in this story? What if our duty and delight could be found in being hosts, entertaining angels unawares, who invite those who sit at the foot of the table to come up higher? What if we found our joy in recognizing where God is doing good in the world through the labors of another? What if our vocation is to be encouraging and lifting up all that is good in others? What if grace, not greed, was really our creed? What if the most important purchase of your lifetime was the one Jesus spent for you, and you didn’t give a dime. I mean damn. I mean….
It’s Labor Day. In my neighborhood, there will be a new garbage guy working through it. Maybe I will get up early so I can meet this one. He’s got a tough act to follow,and could use some encouragement.

The Trash Man Cometh

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About Pastor Betsy Williams

I am a mom. And a wife. And a Friend. And a homeowner. And a dog ...uh....owner? Actually make that two dogs. Two kids. One husband. I'm an ELCA Lutheran pastor of a beautiful downtown church. I am the third senior pastor in a century, so my 10-12 years here may feel like an interim to some of the folks here. Recently I have had no spare time. In my spare time in the future, my imagination inhabits a novel I am writing, The Funeral Preacher. My primary blog is a personal reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary...mostly: "Not All Who Wander are Lost." A few years ago I was on a team of writers who produced a little book for Augsburg Fortress in the Washed and Welcome series called "Living the Promises." It's 101 ideas for helping parents and godparents nurture their children in the faith of their baptism. I am developing another blog, more about worship at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Newark, Ohio and including a summary of the past week's preaching. Otherwise, I imagine myself to be a musician, liturgical artist, cook in a five star restaurant where the patrons keep ordering chicken nuggets, but never a bottle washer. I know how to delegate and share.
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2 Responses to Entertaining Angels and Other Chidlren of God

  1. Jeanine says:

    Very thought provoking. I’ve never taken the time to meet the person who picks up my trash. I think I will go out and meet him/ her this week. Even tho I don’t get to hear your sermon every week any longer I still get the benefit of your more than wise words. Thank you for sharing.

  2. wv ewe says:

    Thank you. I needed that. You know, I like reading your sermons even better than hearing them. It gives me more time to pause and savor the ideas.

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