Sermon for Sept. 2 (Luke 14)
2007-08-31 by David von Schlichten
Humble Table Manner
(word count: 780)
text: Luke 14:1-14
Main Point: Jesus is not advising people to fake humility in the hopes of personal gain but is calling everyone to be genuinely humble and to care for the lowly.
We hate being embarrassed, especially in public. We want to look good in others' eyes, don't we?
In today's Gospel reading, Luke 14:1-14, Jesus gives advice about looking good. When you are at a wedding banquet, don't sit at the place of honor. Otherwise, someone more important might arrive, and then you would be asked to move to a lower seat. That would be embarrassing. Instead, pick a lower, humbler seat. Then, the host might ask you to move up higher to a better seat, and wouldn't that make you look impressive? People would be talking about how special you are, because the host asked you to move up to a place of honor. That's Jesus' advice.
But there's something strange about that. It doesn't seem like advice Jesus would give, because he is usually telling people NOT to worry about impressing others or about worldly prestige.
Besides, just a few verses later he says to invite people who cannot repay you, so why would he be concerned about people repaying your humility by elevating your place at the banquet? It seems as if one minute he's worried about people honoring you, and the next minute he isn't.
Further, he says, in verse 11, “The exalted will be humbled, and the humble exalted.” Surely this profound statement, a major theme of his ministry, doesn't fit with something as trivial as donning humility in the hopes of getting a better seat at dinner. So then, what is Jesus really saying when he calls us to take the lower place so that we can be elevated? If he's not teaching us how to look impressive and spare ourselves embarrassment, then what is he teaching us?
Context is crucial when it comes to understanding any Bible passage. In our passage, Luke 14:1-14, Jesus heals a man of dropsy, as well as tells us that the humble will be exalted and that we are to invite people who cannot repay us. So then, the context is one that stresses God's mercy and helping people in need and not about making yourself look good. In fact, Jesus' whole ministry is about God's mercy and helping people in need more than anything else. Therefore, when Jesus says we should pick the lowly seat, he does not mean that we should do this so we can be exalted. Rather, he is using the seating analogy as a way of saying, “Focus on the humility that leads to helping people in need.”
Do rewards come from being humble? The Bible says yes, but we are not to be humble in order to obtain a reward; we are to be humble in a way that benefits others, because such is God's way.
We are to invite those who cannot repay us, checking our egos at the door, not worrying about what's in it for us, but just inviting the needy because that is what God wants us to do. Reward will come, but reward is not our goal.
Eternal life is certainly not our goal. Jesus has already won eternal life for us, so we need not help the needy in the hopes of gaining eternal life. Christ has gained it for us. Rather, we the baptized, who already have reservations in heaven's finest restaurants because of Christ, are to respond with humility that produces inviting the needy without concern for personal gain.
Do we do that? Do we make worshipers at St. James feel welcome? For the most part we do, thanks be to the Holy Spirit. Overall, we are friendly, welcoming, reaching to the needy.
There have been times, though, when we have not been very welcoming. I invited a local Muslim and his wife to speak to us about Islam after worship on August 5. The event was advertised for several weeks in the bulletin. On August 5, we had 111 people in worship. Only ten stayed to meet Farooq and his wife, three of whom were my family. How can we be more inviting, even more inviting toward people about whom we feel anger, mistrust or fear? It's difficult, but the Holy Spirit helps us.
Of course, no one shows humble hospitality better than Christ himself, who takes on humility through the cross as the supreme act of hospitality. Hospitality means caring, helping, and welcoming, and Christ stretches out his arms to embrace us to life eternal. Christ humbles himself so we can be exalted. Christ invites us up to sit in the better place, the place of the baptized, and to go and invite others to the Table.
Christ prepares the Table for us, and he says, “Go, invite others. Dinner is served!”
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, poedifier
All of them
2007-08-29 by Rick Brand
Taking a long look at some notes I made across a page on the four lessons for Sept. 2, there appeared to me a question of expectations:
Jeremiah - you go after worthlessness, you get to be worthless. That works
Luke - you push yourself forward you get pushed down. Yeah, that happens
Those work. Those are valid,
but in Psalm you are offered "honey from the rock" (I am not a rural person, but I would not normally look for honey in a rock.)
Hebrews - in the stranger you find angels (not where I would first look for angels)
Luke - in a party of outcasts you find the kingdom (nope, not where my expectations first tell me to look)
In a cross you find grace. In death you find life.
Our normal expectations and rubrics don't work in the Kingdom.
I think I will circle around this for a few days.
Blog Entries, Ozzfest, and Luke 14
2007-08-29 by David von Schlichten
It is exciting to read such fine blog entries this week. See below for especially insightful entries by Dan Flanagan and Dee Dee Haines.
On Friday, August 24, my wife Kim, two teenaged stepchildren and I attended Ozzfest, a day-long series of heavy metal rock concerts held outside. The temperature was in the 90s, the humidity was high, and there was virtually no shade. Kim and I hate heavy metal, but our children, especially Michael, had begged to go. Fortunately, the tickets were free.
I knew I would dislike the event, but I didn't realize I would find it repulsive. Male-dominated bands called upon women to flash their breasts for the jumbo-screen. The f-word was shouted freely. Beer, pot, and cigarettes abounded. And crosses and other Christian images were used, not for religious purposes, but as decorations that somehow exalted the rockers and defied "the system." (One band announced that it was the beginning of - I am not kidding - the "a-rock-alypse.")
One band was called Lamb of God. Naïve me, I thought, “Maybe they are Christian metal.” Maybe, but their vomitting of profanity certainly wouldn't suggest as much. With the noise and the lead singer's screaming vocals, lyrics were incomprehensible, so who knew what they were singing about, and how many people really cared? (The band used to be called Burn the Priest, and, in one interview, the members seemed to indicate that the name change does not indicate a change in views.)
I asked Michael, who is intelligent and devout, “What's with all the crosses?” Michael said, “I don't know. It's just an Ozzy thing. He's known as the Prince of Darkness.”
What does all of this have to do with our reading from Luke? Our reading speaks of welcoming the needy and outcast. Ozzfest was full of outcasts in need, people who are lost, angry (heavy metal is an angry genre), maybe scared and hurt (where there is anger, fear and pain usually lie underneath), turning to drugs and alcohol and violent music for fun, flashing breasts, being careless with religious imagery. So then, how can we the Church reach out to such people? How can we invite them to the Table and not just our friends or people who can pay us back?How many of them know who the Lamb of God really is?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, poedifier
PS: There were good features of Ozzfest, as well. I may write a more in-depth piece about it for “That'll Preach!” in Lectionary Homiletics.
Luke 14: 1, 7-14
2007-08-29 by Dan Flanagan
It seems odd that the lectionary excludes the healing story (vs. 2-5) and the banquet (vs. 15-24). The lectionary forces focus on the ambition of guests (vs. 7-11) and the pride of hosts (vs. 12-14). Taken as a whole, (vs. 1-24) it would appear Luke wanted to emphasize God's grace. If the kingdom is open to the "poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind," and includes healing, ambition is irrelevant. God already honors us with an invitation to the kingdom. The lection, as defined, focuses more on human pride than on God's grace.
The Messy Table and Spaces In Between
2007-08-29 by Dee Dee Haines
At the church I am serving, we’ve just started inviting children of all ages to The Table. We did this with much prayer and education, following the policy of the Methodist Church in the United Kingdom, leaving the option open so that parents who were not comfortable with the change could direct their children to ‘wait until confirmation’ before they participated in this Holy Feast.
In our study time, we talked through the theological issues, but never approached the subject that has now become an area of concern for many: The Messy Table. This fairly large congregation worships in a towering sanctuary, encircled with a large, now empty, balcony, on a foundation that dates over one hundred years. This ancient and still beautiful, stone space lends itself to an atmosphere, and theology, of reverent and quiet holiness. Members come forward to the rail to kneel and receive the bread and wine. All of this coming and going takes a considerable amount of time, and patience.
The Table of Abundance no longer looks like the picture of order and cleanliness. We now have crumbs on the floor and wine glasses on their sides, sometime spilling the last drops that may have been overlooked by a child whose nervous enthusiasm exceeded the need to be tidy. The quiet has been interrupted by the whispers and giggles of youngsters while they wait for the gift and hear the words, “This is bread from heaven. You eat it and remember Jesus.” The children come with a kind of wonder and anticipation that invites all of us to a fresh memory as we eat, drink and remember him.
I anticipate talking about the messiness of our lives and our world. In our longing to shape the world into some kind of order, we often overlook, or exclude, any one or any thing that may distract us from our own perception of holy and pleasing in God's sight. But here, in the mess, is the space where God’s holy presence consecrates the ground on which we stand. In the midst of birth and death, where human suffering is most raw and untidy, this is where God dwells. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “Where the understanding is outraged, where human nature rebels, where our piety keeps a nervous distance: there, precisely there, God loves to be; there he baffles the wisdom of the wise; there he vexes our nature, our religious instincts. There he wants to be, and no one can prevent him.” (The Mystery of Holy Night, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, November 25, 1996)
To consider our own place at The Table is to consider how we make a place for others at a table that belongs, thankfully, to Jesus himself. To underestimate our place leaves us feeling unloved and of little worth. Overestimating our place creates an arrogance that bends our sense of self into idolatry. Christ has placed a name card there for each of us. The invitation is not only for a holy meal. It is a calling to a life of discipleship where holy encounters shape and sustain us. Who knows what may be discovered in the places where we least expect to be changed? What might we learn from the unexpected dinner guest?
Perhaps there is something to be considered in investigating “opposites” as we contemplate higher or lower, humbled or exalted. How do we describe the space in between? Surely, this is the place where we most often dwell.
Dee Dee Haines
Isle of Man
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