15 Pentecost Proper 17C
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 14:1-14 Sermon
September 1, 2013
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 339 "All Hail The Power Of Jesus' Name"
TLH 427 "How Firm A Foundation Ye Saints Of The Lord"
TLH 451 "Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus"
WOV 721 "Go My Children With My Blessing
EXALTED BY GOD
TEXT: (vs. 10-11) “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher;’ then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
I’d like to recount an instance that happened to an acquaintance of mine quite a few years ago. She was working as a stewardess for a commercial airline (I guess they like to be called “flight attendants” now). Anyway, one day when she was working, a rather famous woman came on board. This woman and her personal assistant seated themselves and prepared for departure.
As this was happening, the flight attendant approached this famous person and asked, “Is there anything I can get you or assist you with?” No answer. So she raised her voice a bit because it was a bit noisy, and asked her again. No answer.
Finally this woman’s personal assistant answers. She said, “I’m sorry, but [this person] does not speak to the hired help.”
Needless to say, the flight attendant was quite offended by this attitude. So this famous woman got her wish. None of the flight crew spoke or even approached her for the entire trip.
I’ve often wondered exactly what it is that gets into a person to give them that kind of an attitude. It took people like that airline stewardess, and other people like her from all walks of life to give this person their fame and fortune. Why suddenly should this famous person be so much better than the rest of the population? Why would a person ever refuse to simply speak when spoken to?
When you consider the way people are in the world today, I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising. We see people all the time with a “better than you” attitude who like to lord it over the people whom they feel are beneath them. They feel they can get away with almost anything simply because they are who they are, and they enjoy a position of prestige in this life.
Hollywood does this to people—fancy homes, fancy cars, public recognition—and suddenly they become almost impossible to live with. They get finicky, picky, cranky, moody, and basically they want life handed to them on a silver platter. They want to flaunt their wealth and power. Actors and actresses get this way, as do rock stars, famous athletes, business executives, politicians, and others who might have a bit of fame and fortune attached to them. I’m not saying this happens in all cases, but it certainly happens in some.
I’ve even heard of some mega-church pastors who don’t know a lot of the members of their own congregations. They have unlisted phone numbers and very rarely go to the home of a member. When it comes to weddings and funerals, they usually have a staff of associates to handle these things, so they don’t get involved in their members’ lives.
There’s a formula that I use which describes this phenomenon: Take one person, add wealth or fame or both, and the result is, instant jerk. This certainly isn’t the case for all people. There are probably just as many out there that wealth or fame hasn’t corrupted, and I would be making a horrible stereotype if I were to imply that every wealthy or famous person was arrogant or boorish. But it does happen.
In our text for today, Jesus is speaking about this “better than you” attitude, which was prompted by what he was witnessing.
Jesus had been invited to a meal at the house of one of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were themselves a “better than you” bunch of people. They took pride in the fact that they (in their opinion) kept God’s law better than anybody else. They felt that they were miles above the common people in society. This is the way Pharisees were.
So he watches them at this meal. And what he sees, are all of these Pharisees doing a mad scramble as to who would get to sit at the places of honor at the table—almost like they were playing musical chairs. I’m sure it would have been an amusing sight to see.
The way that it worked in those days, was that the head of the household or the host had the place at the head of the table. The VIP’s would then sit either side of the host on opposite sides of the table; and the lower a person was on the totem pole, the further down the table they sat.
Jesus wasn’t amongst those doing the mad scramble however; he just quietly observed all of this. Of course this would provide fodder for a good lesson by the Saviour. It would be another one of his teaching moments.
In verses 8 and 9 of our text, Jesus says, “When you are invited by anyone to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.”
Speaking in worldly terms now, we know that regardless of how famous or wealthy a person is, there’s probably someone out there with more money or more fame. Regardless of how highly people think of themselves, there’s someone out there who will out do them.
If we apply this to that mealtime scenario, and that mad scramble for the places of importance, a rather embarrassing situation might occur. Let’s say that John Doe takes the place right next to the host. But then Jim Jones comes in, who is a more prominent person. The host says, “Come and take this seat next to me.” John Doe then has to get up out of his chair and give it to Jim Jones. Since everyone else has been seated, John Doe then has to take the only available chair open to him, which is at the furthest end of the table, the position of the lowest honor. It’s almost like going to your family’s Thanksgiving dinner, and having to take a chair at the card table set up on the back porch.
In our text for today, Jesus does something he frequently does—he takes the way the world views things, and basically turns them upside down. He says in verse 10, “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher;’ then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.” And then he continues on in verse 11, “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This is a lesson in humility, and a definite dose of reality for those who think themselves better than anybody else. Greatness did not depend on which position you could grab for yourself at the dinner table. According to Jesus, people with a genuine sense of humility were the greatest in his eyes. If someone else exalts you, that is fine; but exaltation is something that you don’t do yourself. I think the same holds true for respect. Respect is something you earn. If you have to demand respect, then you haven’t earned it, and you probably don’t deserve it either.
In a world where people tend to exalt themselves and develop a “better than you” attitude, God has ways of leveling the playing field. People become ill and die irrespective of wealth or prestige. In fact the cemeteries are full of people who thought themselves to be so much better than everybody else. And there they lie, their corpses rotting just like everybody else. There’s no fighting for positions of honor when you’re six feet under the ground.
As Christians, when we consider the entire human race and our position in the world, we need to look at life as a level playing field. In Romans chapter 3 verse10, Paul quotes the Psalmist when he writes, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” That’s a completely level playing field that includes everyone from the richest and most powerful right down to the street person.
Sin affects us all, and no amount of worldly wealth or honor or glory can ever change that. We can clamor for the most prestigious positions the world has to offer, but in God’s eyes, we are still sinful human beings. We can come to God with all sorts of earthly logic and human reason why we should have the highest positions of honor; but it will fall upon deaf ears. God has no use for our self-made honor and glory.
Proverbs chapter 16, verse 18 says: “Pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” And in James chapter 4, verse 6 we read: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
It’s here where we need to humble ourselves before God. We know there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor or grace. We can’t look at heaven as a place where we need to fight for a spot at the head of the table. It just doesn’t work that way.
Rather we come to God, humbly confessing our sins. We come to God, with due honesty and humility, and appeal to his grace. We come to God, knowing he has something much better for us than anything the world has to offer. We come to God from this level playing field we call life, knowing that we will find grace; that is, his undeserved love.
Jesus Christ is the one on whom we focus. Jesus is the one who is most highly exalted above everything else. Jesus Christ is the object of our faith, the only one on whom our hope of heaven depends. Jesus took our sins and the sins of the whole world upon himself. Jesus went to the cross and paid for the sins of the most pompous, arrogant, and self-righteous person just the same as he did for you and me. He did this, so that simply by having faith in him as our Saviour, we would stand forgiven before God.
You can see how self-righteousness and arrogance has no place in this grand scheme. God does not exalt the self-righteous, but the person who humbly comes before him. God exalts the forgiven sinner to a place of high honor in heaven. He does so because of Christ’s righteousness, and not ours. God is the one who exalts us, and not we ourselves. Our text says in verse 11, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” This is the way it works.
In a little over a week’s time, it will be the anniversary of 9/11—the day when the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. was attacked by terrorists. The tragedy that occurred on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 in itself is a humbling thought—the fact that so many lives were snuffed out in an instant, and how powerless the people who were victims were in that situation. Life is such a fragile thing, and we have no idea when it might end. Earthly honor and greatness didn’t mean a thing on 9/11; the people who were victims were victims pure and simple.
And then we can remember the rescue workers, many of whom lost their lives in doing their job. They weren’t out for earthly glory; they just went about faithfully doing their duty; and many of course became victims themselves.
As I think about the people in the world—those who are rich and famous and powerful, and those who go about faithfully doing their job, I know whom I respect. The true heroes I respect are those we probably will never hear about or know; but those who seek glory and honor for themselves, I don’t respect them; they are at the very least annoying.
As we consider our place in the Lord’s kingdom, let us always remember the words recorded by the Prophet Micah, chapter 6 verse 8: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
And should we be tempted to develop a “better than you” attitude, let us remember the words of the hymnwriter:
“Forbid it Lord that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most
I sacrifice them to his blood.”