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In which British actors have a good grasp on privilege

I continue to ‘settle in’ here in KCMO. I got all the empty boxes out of my apartment last weekend, so I feel a corner has been turned, in the War of The Unpacking. But now that the apartment looks like a human dwelling, this puts more pressure on my office(s)–both of which still look relatively unoccupied. But these are minor inconveniences.
Work is beginning to make sense–I have memorized my chapel schedule finally, so I feel I have a handle on when I am supposed to be where, and with what children. This means I get to wander around the school and hang out in classrooms more when I’m at school, which is a blast.

And yesterday, as I posted on Twitter, I somehow or other ended up preaching on Benedict Cumberbatch and privilege. Afterwards, one of our teenaged acolytes came up to me and said that she was a HUGE Sherlock fan, so she was so psyched I referenced that in the sermon.

And here’s what I said.

September 1, 2013
Ordinary Time, Proper 17, Year C
Luke 14:1, 7-14

Benedict Cumberbatch has perhaps the most British name ever. And he is a fairly famous TV and movie star in the UK right now. He’s on Sherlock, on the BBC, and he was the voice of Smaug, in the Hobbit movie And a number of other British-y things.
And so, accordingly, he was being followed around by photographers last week.
And then, Benedict Cumberbatch did something rather amazing. Rather than get into a shouting match with them, or run and hide, or steal someone’s camera, that would have been par for the tabloid course, he held a sign over his face on which he had written, “Hundreds of people were killed in Egypt today. Go take pictures of something that matters.”

One quiet sign, one quiet action, and he made everyone think for a moment not about a rich TV star, but about the nameless hundreds dying in the streets of Cairo. He took all the power that the world handed him, and he used it for something really good…though the photographer might not agree.

This scene that we’re watching in the gospel is another one of Jesus’ awkward dinner parties. Jesus never seemed to be a very well-behaved guest at dinner parties, and here is no different.

He’s been invited to dinner on the Sabbath by a leader of the Pharisees–and that’s a pretty big deal. It’d be like the local congressman inviting you for a Labor Day BBQ. You’re there to see and be seen. There are some politics involved, and it’s an important invitation, with movers and shakers there. It’s a pretty big honor, actually, for Jesus.

And Jesus responds by loudly criticizing the entire gathering. It was customary for everyone to sit around a low table, with the host at the head, and the most important guests nearest the host. Seating order and placement was very important, because it revealed, and preserved, social hierarchy. You got to sit next to those closest to you in the pecking order, so you never really had to deal with those outside your status.

Everything was ranked, everything was stratified, and you knew where you fit. And most importantly, gosh darn it, you knew who was beneath you and who you were better than, in this system.

And Jesus looks at it, and wants no part of it. Jesus argues first, that if you’re smart, you’ll always sit lower than you should, in a lower position than you should so that you’ll be invited to move up, rather than being sent down a few rungs. That way, you’ll never risk losing face in front of all those important people you’re trying to impress.
But moreover, if you’re really smart, any time you throw a dinner party, you’ll never invite any of those important people to begin with.
If you’re really smart, Jesus says, you’ll invite people who actually need dinner. Invite the poor, the blind, the sick, the outcast. People who need what you have in abundance, not people you’re trying to impress. Chances are–they have dinner.

Share abundance with those who lack, Jesus says. It sounds so simple, and yet, it can be deceptively hard.

Especially because it can be hard to see our own abundance sometimes. Not so hard with things you can count–we learn that as children. You have two cookies, give one away. But it’s the things you can’t see, the intangibles that are trickier.

Especially since we live in a society that’s predicated on making us believe that none of us has abundant anything. Advertisers constantly run on reminding us of what we don’t have, and what we desperately need to be whole. New car, new clothes, new toys, new everything. If we don’t feel like we’re lacking something than we aren’t consuming things, and that’s no way to run an economy–so from every corner come voices telling us that we are in need.

When in fact, the reality is that every one of us has abundance of some kind. Every one of us has power. You got out of bed this morning? Good! That took power, that took abundance, because some folks can’t do that. You decided to come to the church of your choosing? Good. Some folks can’t do that. You ate breakfast this morning? Great, that took abundance. Since some folks can’t do that.

You came from your house to here without passing through a checkpoint? You can vote on Election Day? You can read a newspaper or a website and find out what’s happening in the city? You can go home without fear of what will happen to you when you get there–all these little things that we mostly don’t recognize are signs of abundance in one way or another.

And it’s so familiar to many of us that we don’t notice it. But this is abundance. This is the dinner party that we sit at, each and every day.

And the truth is that the abundance of the world is handed out so haphazardly in all directions and what Jesus calls us to do is to share our abundance with others, but in order to do that, we have to be conscious of what we have. We need to be conscious of our own abundance. The ways in which we have been given prominence at this world’s dinner party.

Not so that we can feel guilty–guilt doesn’t help. Guilt just paralyzes– but so that we can do our part to use our abundance in the service of others, and in the service of God’s kingdom. So we can use the power we have to help those around us.

And that requires us to be aware. To realize and be in touch with our own abundance. To recognize the times that we have it good, and someone else has it less good. Then to ask, what can I do to support them right now? How can I use what I have, the power I have, in service of those without?
We are called to use our voice for those who have no voice, as the proverb says.

The more we are in touch with the abundance we have, the more we come to realize the dinner party we sit at daily, in all sorts of ways, the more we can come to throw open the doors of that party to everyone, to spread our abundance ever wider. And the more the world will slowly come to resemble the reality of the kingdom of God, where all are equal, all beloved, all at one table.


About megancastellan

Episcopal priest, writer, wearer of fancy shoes.

2 responses »

  1. Another good example of a British actor using his privilege for good (I’m sure there are many, but this one comes first to mind) is Patrick Stewart on domestic violence. And then there’s Alan Rickman who directed _My Name is Rachel Corrie_ about the death of a US student who was protesting Jewish settlements in Palestine, and ensured it got staged and lots of media attention.

  2. beautifully uncomfortable; thank you.


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