A sermon on Mark 2:13-22 by the Rev. Kathleen O’Keefe Reed, Chief Advancement Officer
"Grace Makes Haste"
Let us pray:
Be present at our table Lord… immediately!
Be here and everywhere adored… immediately!
These mercies bless and grant that we
may strengthened for thy service be…immediately! Amen!
Had the Evangelist Mark been on hand
in Levi’s dining room here in the second chapter of his gospel
and had the Evangelist been invited to offer the table blessing
that’s how he might have prayed:
short on creative flourishes, but no lack in the urgency department.
Mark’s is the Urgent Gospel,
from start to finish on a tear.
No time for Lucan birth narratives, Matthean genealogies or
poetic Johannine reveries.
Up-ending the adage, “haste makes waste,”
from the moment the heavens do not merely glide open at Jesus’ baptism but get torn apart,
in Mark’s gospel
grace makes haste!
Consider what just preceded the call of Levi.
When friends of a paralyzed man in urgent need of attention
fail to penetrate the crowd via the door
in order to make room for him in Jesus’ house
they rip the roof off.
Next, here, we first find Jesus walking beside the sea.
This is his second seaside stroll in two chapters.
The first resulted in veteran fishermen
casting off the nets of generations
in order to become trainees for a radically new kind of
under the tutelage of a wandering rabbi, a relative unknown, with distinctly un-calloused hands.
Will this be the pattern?
Yes and no.
Jesus saw Levi the son of Alpheus sitting at a tax booth,
and he said to him,
“Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
Levi got up and followed Jesus to….
ventures of which he could not see the end,
paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown…
a radically new kind of metaphorical tax collecting?!
Not exactly. Jesus calls Levi to follow him
right back to Levi’s own home in order to collect…more tax collectors.
And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house,
many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting
with Jesus and his disciples
--for there were many that followed him.
the scribes who wield their pens like righteous needles
for the closure of all unseemly gaps,
the same crew appalled by the roof and forgiveness fiasco,
they get their fringes in an awful twist
over Jesus’ table manners—or lack thereof.
First, their problem is whom Jesus eats with
—tax collectors and sinners! Utter riffraff!
So Jesus explains
…I am a physician and my table serves as a sickbed for sinners.
Then, it’s the fact that Jesus, at a dining table,
would actually encourage eating
since the really, really pious people prefer to fast.
So Jesus explains
….I am a bridegroom, and where I sit is a banquet table set
for all who would share in my joy. The time for fasting comes later.
Ahhhh. The Physician heals. Of course. Well and good.
Ahhhh. The Bridegroom hosts only feasts. Worthy food for thought.
Who, even among the most hypocriti..I mean, hypercritical, would not nod approvingly at the rhetorical polish and seamless rabbinic wisdom
of such elegant comebacks by this Jesus?
For are not healing and hospitality the most traditional, virtuous themes for extended rumination and discussion among the righteous...?
If only…. Jesus could have stopped there.
If only…. grace could resist making haste,
thereby confirming all the worst fears of
the Pharisaic sewing circles.
21No one, says Jesus, sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak;
otherwise, the patch pulls away from it,
the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.
22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins;
otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins
In other words:
The kingdom fabric God is weaving now,
your stitches will fail to hold.
The kingdom vintage in the winepress at this very moment,
will soon be bursting all your old skins.
This is how God’s kingdom comes!
Heaven, once torn apart, will not close up again.
Grace is making haste
and on a permanent tear.
Ripping! Bursting! Red stains spreading on the tablecloth!
Imagine their collective agony!
Will no one share their pain?
Sure, I will. Or at least I can recall my own pain the day
I saw the banquet table of my dreams ripped apart.
It was Easter Sunday at my grandmother’s house
and I was being promoted from the kitchen kiddie table.
I was 10 years old and in honor of my elevation from
a kitchen folding chair to a proper chair with needlepointed cushion
in the dining room,
my grandmother had allowed me to help her set the table.
I got to handle her finest wedding china, her crystal glasses,
her lovingly polished sterling silverware!
At the place where I would sit, I took special care with the creases
of my napkin’s fan. They would have to be perfect. All would be perfect.
I would be perfect.
And then the phone rang, and the message sent my grandma
rushing into the dining room calling me to help her.
Cousin Diana’s soldier husband was unexpectedly
home on leave from Vietnam
and coming to dinner.
I looked at the perfectly set, perfectly full table
and my heart sank.
There wasn’t room for one more plate.
And even without having heard of Last Hired First Fired
I knew that I was doomed to get bumped.
But my grandma called, “Watch me, and do what I do, quickly!”
A whirlwind of activity ensued.
Suddenly my ever meticulous ever methodical grandmother was creating chaos!
She flew to unset the table on one side, I followed suit on the other until all plates
were haphazardly stacked and all the silverware piled on the sideboard,
topped by a flurry of napkin fans scattered
like white roof shingles after a tornado.
Next, she yanked away the immaculate white table cloth,
tossed it over a chair,
and commanded me to stand at one end of the table
and hold on to the table edge for all I was worth and not budge an inch.
Then at the other end she gripped edge of the table
and the table began to break open,
and she pulled and kept pulling
until there in the center of the table was a horrifying hole.
And in that widening chasm
underneath the gleaming surface of the table
there were wooden arms,
rough, unfinished wooden arms that stretched with each yank.
On cue, my grandfather appeared on the stairs carrying a large box.
From the box came large polished wooden planks.
He called them leaves.
He placed them crosswise on the wooden arms.
My grandmother called for me now to push.
Amazingly these leaves were clearly
made for the stretching wooden arms to
support and embrace.
We pushed. The chasm closed.
And the table was again made ready for the Easter feast
with more than enough room for me
and my cousin Diana’s soldier husband
and even a few more should anyone else appear at the door.
Be present at our table, Lord?
Be present at your table!
A table designed by you to be broken open,
With arms always ready to be extended
as grace makes haste.
That is our calling, yours and mine.
Not just to learn to set the table
for the banquet of God’s grace.
But also, as Jesus does so often in Mark’s Gospel,
to yank away the tablecloth
in order to show others the true character of the table,
a table designed to be broken open and
with arms designed to be stretched
as grace makes haste
to welcome, feed, heal and refresh all comers.
All comers, no exceptions!
Grace makes haste and
the table gets ripped apart
for feasting like there’s no tomorrow;
a table broken open for feasting
because there is no tomorrow
when God will be more present
than right here and right now!