Sermon: Pentecost 14C Sunday August 29, 2010. Ocean Forest
Proverbs 25:6-7/Luke 14:1, 7-14
The Low place
A couple who were making wedding plans, and went to an expensive hotel to plan their reception – a dinner of finest food, using the best china, plants, big band, the works, laid out $30,000. Then the groom got cold feet, and called the wedding off. The would-be bride was furious!
She went to cancel the party not to be consoled but told, “You signed a contract. You can either give up the money or go ahead and have a party.” The woman thought about it, and decided, having once been homeless and down on her luck, to have that party. She sent her invitations to all the homeless shelters and mission places in Boston and they partied with the tuxedoed waiters and everything.
The only change she made? She changed the meat to boneless chicken in honor of the groom. (Phillip Yancey)
It must be very disappointing to have to cancel the grand plans for a wedding reception! Still, when they happen they are great fun.
In my line of work, I get to go to a few wedding receptions. They can be interesting. One stands out as my most interesting reception experience. I was invited to marry a Maori couple in Auckland some years ago now. The couple was lovely and all was well with their relationship. I was looking forward to being at their wedding but was very unsure about what it would be like.
It was to be at a local house. I did not know what the customs were and whether or not I was meant to stay for the reception meal or just leave after the ceremony.
I had two choices: Either I go in cocky and confident and be the “holy man” and take the best seat and revel in it and hope that this was the way to go. Past experience with Maori people was that they had deep respect for priests and would expect a certain aire of confidence or even arrogance from the padre. Maybe they had got that a lot! The other choice was to start low, listen, learn and only do what you are invited to do. I took that approach. This is the one the wise man of Proverbs and Jesus recommends in our word for today.
Proverbs 25:6-7 Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.
We finished the marriage ceremony in the back yard underneath a beautifully flower decorated gazebo. During the short message I got to experience that great southern American kind of response to my preaching. Big Maori boys at the back were nodding heads, calling out, “preach it” and “Amen bro”…. It was fun. Not sure how genuine it was – but God does… I was not sure what to do – whether to go or stay. So I employed the wise approach as outlined by Jesus and the wise man and stayed low and only went where I was invited to go. Within 5 minutes it was obvious I was going to be at this wedding for a while. I was invited into the garage. It was beautifully set up for a large wedding meal. To my surprise, I was ushered to sit quite close to the head of the table where the wedding party, the parents, the grandparents and other “elders’ were seated.
I happened to be right next to this massive Maori man with a biker look, tats and dark sunglasses on (inside). You should have seen him cracking into his oysters kilpatrick! I had to duck for cover a couple of times!
What a privilege it was to be invited to the high seat, to pray at the meal, to be honoured even though a complete stranger to everyone except the bride and groom.
I remember a quote about his from Luther… “We need to do good works because our neighbor needs them.” (Martin Luther) In that unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable environment, I needed the good work of a family. Their kindness opened up for me a whole world of experience which has actually broadened my view of the church, Christians, family and God’s grace.
Isn’t this meant to be the heart motivation for all we are and do as Christians among a non-Christian world? We are what we are and we live the way we do because the world needs it. People’s needs are the focus of our witness to Jesus’ grace and love.
Of course, it is often other things that seem to become the goal of our church life. Maybe we become far too much like the leading Pharisee who invited Jesus to this meal in his home. We become interested in reaching people with Jesus’ love for reasons other than Jesus’ love! Evangelism becomes about “saving the church” as in institution. It becomes about getting back that “winning feeling” for a congregation. It becomes about Christians wanting to be seen to be the moral guardians of society or even seen to be a powerful force in society.
Ask a Pharisee why he is so interested in society and one might find these motivations. Of course with these motivations of “winning”, power, influence, morality and etc any perceived threat to effectiveness in these pursuits needs to be nullified. Jesus is the threat. He does not seem to be at all concerned with winning as human beings see winning. He does not seem to be interested in being seen as powerful or influential or a moral guardian. He turns up at a big man’s house with all the other big men waiting to trap him, assert power over him, find and expose his weaknesses and does not respond to that in kind. He takes the lowest seat and suggests that these men need to learn to do that too.
If they could learn another way different to winning, morality, power and influence they would be able to be real forces for God’s good in their world. If they could understand that ‘Not because we have value we are loved, but because we are loved, we have value’ (William Sloane Coffin), they could be released from keeping up appearances, human arrogance and callousness and actually be a person who can truly make God’s difference to people in need.
We are the same, friends We need to take the low road and take God’s invite to share who we know Jesus not to tell people what to do, to gain power over people, to get that winning feeling or to “save the church” and get people to church. No, we need to be in the love of Jesus to be the love of Jesus and Jesus love will bind his people together until the final day. He is with us always. We baptize, we teach, we take the low seat and remain open to people and respond to their invitations to come closer to what they view as important and be ourselves. In this way “We do good works because our neighbor needs them.” (Martin Luther)
As Thomas Merton said once, “A tree glorifies God by being a tree.” We glorify God be being us.
Our goal is two-fold; To be ourselves as risen and forgiven people of Christ giving our life up for the thanks and praise of God and bearing witness to Jesus’ love because people need his love – and no other prime reason.
Let’s not exalt ourselves to the status of moral guardians or powerful people or winning people as the world sees these things. Let’s do what we do here and be who God has created us to be here on the low road of service, honesty, practical conversations and actions of love and let God exalt us in the end. His exaltation is the only thing that really matters anyway.
For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”