Sermon, Pentecost 15C, Sunday September 1, 2013.
Luke 14:1, 7-14 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Jesus must have been a very observant man. Here he is observing the behaviour of people at a well-to-do dinner party hosted by a local religious leader. He notices people and their behaviour and what the behaviour shows about their approach to life…
I do that. You probably do to?
I love airports for this reason. With plenty of time to just sit and not much else to focus on while I sit waiting for the plane to board, I find myself observing people and wondering all about them. Where is that bloke going? I wonder what her job is. I wonder if I will be sitting next to that guy. Is that someone famous I see? “Good luck Mum” I say to myself as I see a young mum try and handle two kids under 5…. I find people fascinating!
Well, Jesus might have been a ‘trainspotter’ like me and you. On this particular evening as people gather for dinner around what must have been a large table, he observes people scrambling for the best seats at the table.
What does that tell him? What does that tell us?
Scrambling for the best place, the highest position of honour among others, the most privileged position we can get betrays something unhealthy for us and for others: an unhealthy love of self. Jesus advises against this approach to life. There is a better way to be.
Constantly working to be the best among peers, sit in the most position in the room, the workplace, the church, school, the family, constantly working to have the most, consume the most, be seen to be important by others and etc is unhelpful for our very souls and our relationships.
Two reasons, we hear.
Jesus knows that this self-seeking and self aggrandizement will not pay off in the end. He also knows there is a better way to live in relationships – a way that brings peace, confidence and calm to our relationships and our inner life.
It won’t pay off:
If you seek your own status, try and control others and even step on a few friends to make it to the best place by the communities standards, you will run the risk of great humiliation. In that dog-eat-dog competitive spirit, the shame of being taken down a peg or two really hurts. At any time, for reasons you might not even know about, you can be asked to sit somewhere else! All your hard work has come to naught in a moment!
A mistake will bring you shame in this status driven culture. An illness will do it to. A person who has been trodden on can rise up and win a better place than you. The new kid on the block can knock you off the top. Age can lower your status. Financial trouble can remove your once high status among others. Broken relationships can bring you down and create enemies….
That’s what Jesus is warning against. If we go into the week trying to maintain our name and reputation and status among others, even being prepared to step on a few toes to do it, we are placing ourselves in the mob – rushing through the doors, pushing each other out of the way to win, be the best, get the highest accolade….We are bent on human self-fulfilment.
But it is so fleeting!
Sure, we might win one race, gain one place, earn more dollars this week, have win over someone we can only see as a competitor, but that’s it. The glory of the win lasts about 2 minutes and we have to carefully manufacture another one soon to keep up the status and avoid the shame.
Blokes, I am thinking of us here. There are plenty of blokes around who are caught up in this kind of world. You might even find yourself getting carried along in this status/shame culture from time-to time. How many CEO types, or “Alpha Male” types have you come across – blokes who make no apology for wanting to be the best, the highest, the most respected, no matter how many fiends they step on? I have met a few and I don’t admire them at all. I think they are lost. I think they are constantly watching their backs. I think they view other people as threats and so, their heart is mostly closed to people – little humility and little hospitality. I don’t want to be like that and I ask the Lord to save me from that when it comes close. I hope you do to…
Can you see that Jesus raises this human desire to find the best seats in the house to show its futility? Sure, you might get a good seat this time, but what about next? Sure, you might gain a bit of human status this time and even for a while, but there is always the possibility of a mistake, a public downfall, a slip down the societal rung and that means shame and loss of place and belonging.
A Better Way:
Jesus gives us a better way to go – a way that does pay off, not just for ourselves but for everyone.
Jesus is suggesting that it is actually better to practice the art of hospitality in a spirit of humility. In his words,
“…..take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all the other guests.
Jesus is suggesting that we all practice the art of taking the lower places, giving away our status to others. Why? Because in the very act of doing that, the greatest affirmation and status we need is brought into play– the affirmation by the One who created us and has saved us from endless self-promotion that we are a specially created person in our own right, knowing for sure that no matter what happens and how high or low we are seen to be by others, we are loved and valued by the One who created us and by this Jesus who gave us his place at the table.
The reward for giving away our status and our very selves is that we are lifted up, approved, loved, affirmed by God – no matter what anyone else says about us, no matter how many mistakes we make, no matter how many “big fish” push us aside in their endless pursuit of self-status.
Friends, Jesus frees us from having to climb any status ladder. Jesus releases us into living life to the full with his love and support no matter what happens. Now, my identity as a person is not tied up in just my status among others. Now my meaning and purpose for life as a person is not completely shaped by winning, losing, shame, praise of others, or any other human thing.
Now I am at the banquet table of the king with all the other forgiven sinners where I did not bring anything that gave me my place because He gave me my place and promises to keep me in his place no matter what anyone says.
And so, Jesus goes on to say that we have a way to be better men, better women, better kids, young adults…. actually not a better person but a Jesus’ person. We have the way to be the most human and most blessing of God for others.
With the freedom of not having to constantly climb the ladder and win the day, and with God’s humility and hospitality freely gifted to us every day by the living Jesus, we are free and we are called to invite them all in to our lives, our stuff, our heart.
Blokes, give me a life of humility and hospitality above the dead-end treadmill of self-seeking status any day.
Who’s a man? A man who will live the Jesus’ way of humility and hospitality of spirit among all comers.
Dad, will you show your kids this way? Will you find the way to put off being closed off, silent, disengaged, angry, tired because of the sapping cycle of pursuit of the best seat (whatever that seat is for you)? Would you let go of the ladder to the top, enjoy what is around here and now rather than there and later. God’s has got your “later” covered.
Men, will you continue to teach your kids this Jesus way – not only in words, but in the art of practicing humility and hospitality of spirit with them and others?
Women and Men, will you ask Jesus to help you show your kids that they are loved and always have a place and a high status and calling in God as they grow up and take their place at the Table of fellowship in this church?
Friends, enjoy the day! Enjoy being an honoured guest of the Creator of all life. Enjoy your privileged position in Him and here together and take up Jesus’ call to live freely and well by the practice of hospitality and invitation and trust that all is for as purpose, nothing is wasted and all acts of humility and kindness really count.