Humility 9-1-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 14:1, 7-14, I explore an odd teaching from Jesus based on his observations and encounter at a special meal. He sheds light on how our social status effects us, but reminds us that there is only one opinion that’s ultimately important.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/humility-9-1-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of the triune God be yours now and forever. Amen

Assigned seating is not something that I give a great deal of thought to…I don’t think I’ve had assigned seating since high school…but that being said…I also know that humans are creatures of habit…and because of this, we tend to have our normal spots where we sit. I see this with you folks here at church…always sitting in “your pews.” I also see this at home, as my family sits down at the table for a meal…each of us has our spot…even our cat who thinks her spot is right in the middle of the table.

But beyond that…there’s only one situation that really applies in the idea of assigned seats…or maybe it would be more accurate to say seating according to status…in the car…now its worth noting that of my family…my wife is now the shortest, as both of the kids have passed her up…and yet…she is really good at claiming the front passenger seat. Normally I’m the one driving, and the kids are regulated to the back so she can have the roomy passenger seat…and when they argue, especially my son who is nearly as tall as I am…she just says “I’m the momma…I’ve earned this spot” and that’s the end of the discussion. (pause)

Now this idea of assigned seating…or maybe a better way of saying it is seating based on merit…its on display in the gospel for today…and I’ve gotta admit it…this whole situation that Jesus is talking about is a pretty foreign one.  For the most part, we don’t get seating based on status…at least not in most of the events or dinners that I’m a part of…but in Jesus’ day, this was very common.

Status or class…importance within a community…all of that figured in to where you’d end up placed at the table when you were invited. And Jesus sees it on full display as he watches the various guests in attendance at this particular Sabbath meal in their efforts to jockey for position.

I’m guessing we can picture in our minds what it looked like…as various people eyeballed the table and the other guests…wondering what the ideal seating location would be given their station…but the advice that Jesus gives…well…it speaks to the idea of public perception…of what do other people say about you…how do you rank?

Seriously…it’s a little strange to think about isn’t it? And yet that was the reality…that was the norm…that was the status quo…but if there is one thing that Jesus was really good at…its challenging the old ideas of normal…and we hear it once again as he shares this teaching.

When you are invited into a banquet…Don’t take the seat of honor…because what if someone more important comes in?  Then the host is going to call you out, and you’ll be disgraced as you get shoved on down the table…everyone will see it happen…and your public shame will be on display…but on the flip side…when you sit down, take the lowest spot…because then when the host notices you…you’re importance will be on display for everyone else there as you are elevated up the table…and how cool will you be then? (pause)

Now on one hand…this teaching seems pretty normal for Jesus, challenging those old notions…but at the same time, it seems a little weird doesn’t it?  Because Jesus seems to be playing to the court of public opinion…and that doesn’t seem like the type of thing that we’ve come to expect from him.  (Pause)

Maybe it seems so strange because we’re all aware of how strongly that court of public opinion passes judgement…how quickly the flaws and the mistakes are pointed out…elevated…and we are judged based on them. The way we bicker on social media…the way we whisper about the odd behavior or habits of a coworker…the way society can make us feel singled out and scrutinized…and more often than not…that’s not a good feeling. (pause)

But maybe we need to remember that Jesus sees things differently…and he invites us to start seeing these things differently as well…and if that’s the case…then maybe our initial reaction…that he’s playing towards public perception isn’t quite accurate….maybe if we consider this situation just a little bit deeper, we realize that in the end…that the truth of what Jesus is saying is that there’s only one opinion that really matters in this whole deal…

Keep in mind what he said…if you chose the seat of honor…and someone more important than you comes in, the host will make a judgment call and will send you down the table…but if you take the lowest seat, when the host sees you sitting there, you will be honored when he tells you to move up. (pause) One important opinion…and that’s the opinion of the host…what does the host say about you? (pause)

Now as we’ve already mentioned…this sort of social jockeying at banquets really isn’t something that we tend to deal with much…beyond maybe the separation of the kids table from the adults at family gatherings…but that being said…there is one important example that we should keep in mind…especially as we gather here in worship. Because Jesus has given us a ritual…an act of remembrance in which he has promised to come to us…one that we join in today.

This is one of the weeks here at Underwood when we have gathered not just for worship…but we have also gathered here to share a meal…a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that we’ve been promised through Christ…and maybe, just maybe…as we prepare ourselves for this meal…we need to remember who the host is.

This is something that I often discuss with people when we start talking about the logistics of Holy Communion…if there’s a right way to do it…if there’s a correct time or age to begin…things of that nature…and as I approach these conversations, I think its important that we remember who’s table we are approaching. Its not mine as the pastor…and it doesn’t belong to the people who surround it…its God’s table…and Jesus is the host…and if we take anything out of Jesus’ parable for today…the opinion of the host towards each of the invited guests is the one that counts.

And the promise of the gospel…the promise of God made real through the life death and resurrection of Jesus…is that you are welcome…you are worthy…you are invited into the seat of honor because of God’s great love for you. May we remember this truth as we approach this holy meal…knowing that in it we receive the grace of God…the grace of the one who loves us and claims us and who reminds us, over and over again…that you are worthy.

Maybe this is what Jesus is trying to teach us when he switches gears in the last couple of verses and instructs us on who we should offer invitations to…not to those who will owe you and will repay the great favor that you have shown them…but those who are pushed out to the margins…those who have no way of repaying you…no way of evening the score…that’s a good thing to remember…because in the same way as we consider the invitation of our Lord…when we’re honest with ourselves we know that we are unable to offer anything in return for the great gift of God’s love and mercy…and yet…the promise remains the same…and the invitation of the Lord will always be given.

Amen.

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