Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, your son was acknowledged as a teacher and rabbi, even by his enemies: may we continue to learn from his teachings, and in humility, welcome the outcasts of this world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
CNN has an anchor by the name of Rick Sanchez. Rick thinks very highly of himself. So that more people than CNN viewers will have the benefit if Rick’s greatness, he has a book coming out in the next two weeks. In the book, Rick reports that powerful men admire Rick Sanchez.
[This photo showing Sanchez engaged in some kind of autoerotic asphyxiation is from his book.]
“Sanchez – who can’t stop reminding viewers that he is somehow ‘pioneering’ a new way of reporting the news by reading aloud hours-old Twitter posts--was once the subject of a marvelous June 1991 Miami Herald profile back when he was a controversial local news anchor. Since the nearly 8000-word story by Juan Carlos Coto is, sadly, not online, (here are some) random moments of Chez.
(I’ll) “start with Sanchez addressing his ability to extricate himself from sticky situations, which makes powerful guys swoon. And there’s a bonus prediction about an accused rapist’s sunny future:
“’Everybody admires it. Other men, and especially men who seem to be powerful men, I notice--I’m talking like a dime or nickel psychologist here, if you’ll permit me--will always come up to me and that’s always the thing they say. They admire in me the fact that I’ve been in some battles and I’ve won them.
“It’s like I think when William Kennedy Smith gets out of this--if he gets out of this--he will be more respected, more successful. You find out the true measure of a man when he is down in the dumps, and he’s able to rise again.’”
That’s enough of Rick Sanchez talking about Rick Sanchez. Jesus addressed puffed up people and their issues with humility.
It was on a Sabbath day, one time, that Jesus went to a meal with one of the leaders of the Pharisees. This is a big deal. Being the Sabbath, the meal had to be prepared the previous day. Jesus ate with undesirable people and he ate with important people. This time he was with important people – people he criticized and people who criticized him. There must have been tension at this meal. Jesus seems to have never turned down an invitation to dinner.
All the guests kept a close eye on Jesus. Have you ever been in a situation when you notice everyone is looking at you? In the missing verses, one of the first things Jesus does is heal a man with dropsy. Jesus was previously criticized for healing on the Sabbath. Jesus wasted no time delivering a challenge to the learned religious scholars in the room. He asked them if their child was in a well on the Sabbath, would they not rescue the child? They had no answer. Maybe some of them would tell the kid to wait until sundown.
Now Jesus noticed that when it was time to recline for the meal, that all the guests jockeyed for the best places. It was like watching a game of musical chairs. The guests presumed their own importance in the community and/or with their host. They already evaluated their own self-worth. And in their defense, it was the custom of the time for this hierarchy of importance to take place at a meal. Maybe there was some kind of protocol if two or more people wanted the same prized place.
Jesus wanted to give them a new perspective about someone’s self-worth. He reminded them that there are times when your own self-worth might be wrong. There just might be someone more important than you. If you choose wrong, you could be publically humiliated.
But if you assume a humble attitude by sitting at a low place, your host may elevate you to a place of honor. Of course, you risk not being asked to move to another place and that might tell you something about how well you’re thought of. What matters is not how well we think of ourselves, but what God thinks of us.
Even though I am up front with the bride and groom at a wedding, I have learned long ago to assume that I will sit near a corner somewhere at wedding receptions. I will be trotted out to offer a blessing on the food and then returned to my corner. But I do get to enjoy the celebration of hope for the beginning of a new family. And that is honor enough.
Jesus gives the group of important people some advice. “If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. If you humble yourself, you will be honored.” Where people sit in relation to other people was very important in the first century shame and honor culture. Jesus would probably be dismayed if he were to return and find them all jockeying for the lowest place.
Jesus is on a roll. It is now time to tell his host that his priorities are all messed up. “Don’t invite people to a banquet who have the means of returning the favor. Instead, invite all the misfits you can find. Invite people that were never part of your social circle. Invite people who worship differently from you. If you do this, you will be paid back by God in the life after this one.” In other words, Jesus is telling him that his guests shouldn’t even be there.
Biblical hospitality is extreme hospitality. The Greek word for hospitability is philoxenia, which means love of the stranger. We are to welcome the outcasts and the strangers. Jesus is talking about hospitality and he is talking about self-worth, pride and humility.
When does self-esteem turn into pride? When does humility turn into low self-esteem? Others cannot judge this and most of us cannot even judge this for ourselves. The point Jesus is making is this: our value is determined only in relationship to God. God gives us a value that no one can take away from us. We are made in the image of God. Jesus came and took human form. This is the source of our self-esteem.
When we depart or disconnect from God, then we diminish our ability to see the image of God and we are debased. This is expressed by an over inflation of ourselves or an under devaluation of ourselves. In either case, these are false images.
Only God can restore the true image of our selves. This applies not only to individuals, but also to communities, congregations, and even nations. This is why worship is so fundamentally important. We are shaped by that we attend. We are made to worship. This can be deformed, but never erased. We either worship rightly or we worship idols.
When we hear the word “banquet” in the New Testament, our ears need to perk up. In the New Testament, banquet is a symbol for the kingdom of God. The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Our host will be the one who has already invited us, including the ones who are not typically invited.
In our story today, Jesus is extending the practices of the kingdom of God into the present time. It is not okay to passively wait for the kingdom of God to come. We are to work toward its coming now. We are to love one another. Jesus demands that we live by kingdom practices now. We may pray that God’s kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven, but now is the time to start living into that.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the gift of humility, by which, we change our focus from ourselves to those around us – loving our neighbors as our selves, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[The Smoking Gun contributed to this sermon.]
Text: Luke 14:1, 7–14 (NRSV)
14 On one occasion when Jesusa was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”