Sermon

Luke 14:1, 7-14

Outside the Comfort Zone

By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

There is a term popular today that I would like us to consider. That term is “comfort zone.” As I understand it, a person’s comfort zone refers to those situations in which the person feels comfortable, safe, free from threat or even challenge. The comfort zone is, for the person involved, a thoroughly comfortable place. Life there is marked by ease and familiarity.

It’s natural to like one’s comfort zone, but most of us would admit that we should not remain there indefinitely. People do not become better or more mature or holier lingering in their comfort zone. That just doesn’t happen.

I bring up the matter of the comfort zone because it appears to be a modern term for what concerns Jesus in today’s Gospel. The passage divides easily into two parts.

In the first part, Jesus cautions against sitting in the place of honor at a wedding banquet and advises taking the lowest place instead.

In the second part, he urges us to invite the crippled, lame, and blind when we give a luncheon or dinner, rather than friends, relatives, and rich people.

So there’s advice here for us when we’re the guest as well as when we host an event.

But Jesus is not simply offering suggestions about etiquette. Something more is going on. What he advocates is not for social occasions only, but is meant to shape the entirety of our lives.

Choosing the seat of honor for ourselves sounds to me like craving our comfort zone. The best seat is where we want to be because we think it will be for us comfortable, safe, free from threat or even challenge. Jesus cautions us against moving into a comfort zone all on our own as though we know what we’re doing, as though it’s something we need to do.

He also advises against staying in that comfort zone once we find ourselves there. Rather than limiting our guest list to people who are clones of ourselves, people with whom we’re comfortable, who don’t threaten or even challenge us, invite instead those who are different, people who make us uncomfortable, but whose difference from us may bring with it a blessing.

In other words, don’t make it your business to move into a comfort zone, or if you find yourself in one, to stay there. Life is bigger than that.

Jesus not only tells us this, he demonstrates it. His entire life, his public ministry, the passion and resurrection, is full of one episode after another of not remaining in a comfort zone, and not trying to enter one. Repeatedly he takes the low seat and invites unlikely types to be his guests.

Finally he takes the worst seat of all—on the cross—and those who come to his banquet make it through the door because they claim no merit of their own. Finally he leaves the comfort zone of earthly life and a narrow grave to experience ever-expanding resurrection life and see the struggling universe from the place beside his Father. Jesus leaves comfort zones behind forever because he is now present everywhere in judgment and in mercy.

Religion comes in two kinds. One kind encourages us to stay inside our comfort zone, a well-defined, nice, safe place, where everything is predictable, nothing threatens, no one thinks. This comfort zone is not a passionate place. It draws people in, satisfies them on some level, but never leads them to change and never sends them forth.

Religion of this sort resembles taking the seat of honor at a feast. At last you are where you deserve to be, you are in with the in crowd. Religion of this sort pulls up the drawbridge. Those who are different, those who are simply themselves, need not apply.

The other kind of religion may find itself in the comfort zone, but always decides, like Jesus, to step outside. The safe place, the preferred seating, the predictable crowd is not enough. The reason it is not enough is a theological one: the true God, the wild God, the God who is alive will not linger there long. This God keeps appearing in the low places, among the unlikely, and there enjoys the time of his life. The question is: Will the faithful meet God there?

The ways we move out of this comfort zone have different names:

—deeper spirituality,
—costly service,
—thinking about our faith,
—helping others on their journey,
—saying “no” to the ways of the world and “yes” to the ways of God.

All of these are ways we end up quite outside our comfort zone, though there’s the inevitable danger that the new place will become a comfort zone as well.

In today’s Gospel and in a hundred other ways, Jesus asks us that we do him the honor of keeping ourselves, our religion, our image of him from becoming domesticated, trapped in some comfort zone or other like an insect in amber. His enemies never finally trapped him in that way. Certainly his friends should not.

Refusing to linger long in any comfort zone, no matter how well appointed, but looking for the low seat and making room for the unseemly guest, moving always past safety to encounter unexpected challenge—this is what it means to follow the crucified and risen One. This is what it means to live the life of faith.

Copyright 2007 The Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.