September 1, 2013
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
I want to explore Jesus’ teaching this morning in terms of how we might read this passage about sitting lower at the table so we might be invited up rather than higher at the table so we might be told to move down. I think we can read this passage as a word about propriety, as a spiritual word, or as a liberating word.
Jesus sees people jostling and jockeying for the good seats at the table, so he tells the parable of a wedding reception. Just about everyone has been to a wedding, so they know what he is talking about. But in parables, a wedding feast is often used by Jesus as a metaphor for the kingdom of God, for the joy of the community of faith.
So when we hear wedding feast we should think of the actual, earthly banquet with the butter mints and the Jordan almonds in the little paper cups and slightly dry cake, AND we should think that something more is being hinted at here.
Jesus’ instructions are not new. In Proverbs there is a similar warning not to put one’s self forward before the king, for it is better to be told to come up here than to be told go down there in front of nobles.
So this is the word about manners and propriety. Like Downton Abbey, it is about the order of precedence, and who gets to sit where, and how to behave in social situations. It is Emily Post and Miss Manners and how to do the done thing. It would be just at home between which fork to use when and how to dress for a semi-formal occasion as it would in the Gospel.
Being from the south, there are still vestiges the proper ways of doing the done things, but we also know that the reason to sit lower at the reception is that is where the really good gossip is!
If Jesus’ lesson were simply a word about seating arrangements, then Jesus is merely a social coordinator or etiquette instructor.
So let us read it as a spiritual word. It is about humility. Jesus might have said, “it is better to be humble than to be humiliated,” but a stories last longer than aphorisms.
Humility and humiliation are not the same. Being humble is the practice of not placing ourselves higher than we ought. Humiliation is when someone else places us lower than we are. Or said another way, humiliation is when someone, sometimes with our permission, sometimes not, treats us as less than a child of God, beloved and blessed. Humility is when we realize that being a child of God, beloved and blessed, is sufficient.
Humility is a great inoculation to humiliation.
Humility gets a bad rap in our society that seeks to show off the newest, best, shiniest, fastest, most powerful car or computer or whatever it is. It gets equated with weakness in a world that demands louder voices and brighter ads to be seen. Humility is a spiritual discipline (something else often forgotten these days) and it is about learning to rest in God, knowing that God is sufficient.
This brings us to the question we ought to try and ask every Gospel passage: how is this parable a liberating word?
Humility, like other spiritual disciplines, is done for the sake of drawing us out of our defensive fortress, our ego, our desire to be seen as right and good and true, and into a better relationship with God and one another. The practice of humility is for moving us out of ourselves and back into the neighborhood of those around us.
This is liberating because it lifts us out of the rat race of trying to be better than or seen as good enough or seeking the blessing of others. We all know the problem with a rat race: even if you come in first, you are still a rat.
This is a liberating word if we can find ourselves at the banquet sharing our food and stories with one another, as Jesus did with everyone from Pharisees to prostitutes, from scribes to tax collectors, from zealots to sinners, and not worrying about who sits where and all of the minor slights to the ego that such a quest inevitably brings.
It is a liberating word if we can hear, deep down in the core of our being, that we are beloved children of God, and with God there is sufficiency. In God’s abundance, there is enough. God’s grace is enough to cover, whether we are at the head table or cooking the food or doing dishes.
It is a liberating word that allows us to realize that a banquet for the blind, the poor, the lame, which means the ones without social or economic or political ways of repaying our kindness, is the kind of banquet Jesus wants us to throw, because then it is truly a party for the sake of the children of God, not for how we will benefit from it.
This is what we heard in Hebrews this morning. Show hospitality to strangers, not because we reach down to them, but because these children of God may be messengers of God to us. Take care of those in prison, those who are tortured, as if we were imprisoned and tortured, because we are all children of God. Do not love stuff and use people, but love people and use less stuff, because God is sufficient.
This is a liberating word that frees us to act out of love and not fear. And that is the great question: “What would you do if you were not afraid?”
For God has said,
“I will never fail you nor forsake you.”
Hence we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper,
I will not be afraid;”
Thanks be to God. Amen.