22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time C

Today I want to talk about two seats.  One is the one you are sitting in.  Jesus suggests that you could be called up to the more prominent place, and perhaps it is out of humility that the front row is always open.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that if I did invite you up here, I would not have that many takers.

Then again, you may already know that you are in a place of honor for you have taken a seat at the table of the Lord.  Right now, you are like an apostle at the Last Supper.  Jesus has desired to share with you his greatest gift.  As the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness.”  No, we are invited to, “Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering.”  Isn’t that amazing?  Despite our failings and our sins, despite not being all we could or should be, we receive God.  We are given the body and blood of Christ from which we derive divine forgiveness, the peace of Christ and we are made one with one another and with God.  Indeed, your seat is hallowed; it is the epicenter of salvation.

Now, let me talk about another seat.  It is the empty one closest to you.  It is the person that would experience all these tremendous blessings if only they were here.  For I am convinced, filling that seat would mean clarity to the lost, light for those in darkness and comfort for those in turmoil.  And we need them in that seat for we are not a club for the worthy, but a place where our shared brokenness finds healing.  We welcome all and believe all need what Christ offers here.

So why is that seat empty?   Are they angry about the scandal?  You can assure them they would not be alone in this church, that attending mass is not an endorsement of the Church’s response to the scandals.  I can promise that Bishop Scharfenberger is determined to ensure that our diocese becomes a model of healing and justice.  If they fill that seat, they can be part of the healing.

The second reason the seat might be empty is that people do not feel welcomed.  I hope and think this does not happen too much here.  I always think of what Jesus was like when he spotted a new disciple. Couldn’t you see him push the apostles aside to get to know the new guy?  We should be that welcoming and interested in every new face.  Even if they are sitting in your holy seat and you have to move to the front uncomfortably close to me.

And that seat is empty because some feel they don’t belong or are unwanted.  They feel they do not fit in.  Well, if they do not fit, then we have to get larger.  Perhaps they feel they do not fit into our community economically, or due to race or a lifestyle they lead.  Those seem just the people that Jesus was always attracting or seeking out. This Gospel and so many others reminds us that the seats of honor are set aside for those who feel they do not belong.

And maybe the seat is empty because what happens here is not as important as it once was.  It is not as critical to come not that the kids have grown or priorities have changed.  I can’t tell you what to say to them.  All you can do is share the reason you keep coming back; the sense of peace and community you receive; the blessings of the word of God, the body of Christ and the blood which speaks eloquently of the love that saves us.

We will have some opportunities to share our story.  Our great parish picnic next Sunday will double as an open house where people can learn about we serve Christ and each other in addition to great food and fun. Soon, we will have another bring a friend to mass invitation, not for a specific day but as a reminder to share the good news all the time.  Let us fill that empty seat with a gracious and eager invitation.  Then the sign of peace will not just be something we do at mass. It will be who are and how we worship our God.