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Pentecost 12C Sermon
Proverbs 25:6-7, Luke 14: 1, 7-14
September
1, 2019

 

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Proverbs 25:6-7

Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence
or stand in the place of the great;
for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here’,
than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

Luke 14:1,7-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 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. 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 honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
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 neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

When I was serving in my first call, a member of the congregation had rental properties. Jerry was particular about things – he kept his own house in tip-top shape and expected his renters to do the same. He told me once that when a person came to him to drop off an application to rent one of his units, he always followed that person out to their car to see them off. It wasn’t so much that he was being kind or neighborly, it was that he wanted to see what kind of shape their car was in. If there was trash or clutter strewn throughout, he probably would not follow through and rent to them, even if their financials turned out okay. His philosophy was that the way a person keeps their car is the way that they will keep their apartment.

There is some wisdom in that. Our first reading this morning is from a bit of wisdom literature – the Proverbs. This book is full of practical wisdom for living life – the opening words of the book of Proverbs is the basic theme for the entire book: It is … “for learning about wisdom and instruction, for understanding and insight, for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice and equity; to teach shrewdness to the simple, knowledge and prudence to the young ...” In other words, although not every proverb will be for everyone, everyone will find something in this collection to at least challenge them to think more about what is important in life.

Which takes me back to my friend, Jerry. His words of wisdom about cars and apartments remind me about the wisdom of the proverb in today’s reading. Besides the surface teaching about how to behave at dinners and banquets, these two short verses share the wisdom that how a person acts at a dinner says a lot about how they act in other aspects of their life. How one treats others at the table reveals something about one’s character and one’s view of their relation to others and to God. “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” This holds true at royal functions and in everyday life.
Jesus shares a parable in the Gospel for today which mirrors the wisdom of this proverb. “When you are invited (to a banquet), 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.” Jesus’ audience knew the implications of sitting at the lower places at a wedding banquet. In that honor and shame culture, there are people who have more honor than others. These people have earned the higher place. Wedding banquets were days-long events where different people were served different foods based on their status in life. Those who sat in the lower seats would drink wine that was not the quality of the wine being consumed at that higher seats. Their food was not as good. The company was a little sketchier. I’m sure that you’ve gone to wedding receptions and discovered that the seating is assigned, and you just hope and pray that you get put at a table with someone you know, or at least someone fun who you will get along with – and as a bonus, maybe your table will be called early to go to the buffet line. Now, imagine the scene at a wedding feast in Jesus’ day, where the consequences of our seating assignment are even more drastic! You can see where people would want to take the choicest place that they could.

Jesus uses this as an example for a life of humility and service. Our natural instinct should be always to choose a lower place – not only for the reason that Jesus points out, that we risk the embarrassment of being told to move lower if we don’t; also for the sheer reason that our natural instinct should be care and concern for others who may never experience joy, gladness, hospitality or other good things in life. Jesus even goes so far as to say that if the shoe is on the other foot and we are the party hosts, that we should invite those who would usually only get those lower seats if they get invited at all, since they will never be able to repay us. The reason we could not be repaid is that they would never have the means to host such an affair. And if they do not have such a means, then they themselves probably do not have what they need to live on either.

Even though our actions at meals is indicative of our actions in everyday life, the wisdom of Jesus and the proverb goes far beyond the banquet hall or dinner table. Maybe you do not host or go to such dinners. Some have said that the way you act toward other drivers on the road is indicative of the way you act toward people in life – if you are courteous, allowing people space to enter or exit lanes or if you speed along with blinders on to those with whom you share the road, including pedestrians and bicyclists, that all comes from a deeper place inside of you. Maybe the way you act in the grocery store line says a lot about your character – are you patient with the cashier, will you allow someone with less items to go ahead of you, or will you give a cart to someone at Aldi without asking for a quarter in return?!! And there are also those times where daily life is inconvenienced, and that tells a lot about a person’s character. People in Florida are scrambling because of the potential of Hurricane Dorian making landfall. Already store shelves are empty and gas stations out of fuel. If there is widespread damage and power outages, we will surely see footage of looters breaking into stores and homes being protected from looters by gun wielding citizens. Disasters – and other events that disrupt our regular lives – tend to bring out the best and worst of people. Jesus’ call is to be humble and think of others who are around us first so that they may experience the love and grace of God in their lives as they may not have ever experienced it.

These two readings this morning remind me that there is a sacredness in the ordinary times of life. Meals, grocery lines, motorways, disruptions to our regular schedules are all opportunities for God’s love to be shown in and through our thoughts, words and actions. These are times when we can exercise the wisdom, humility and fear of the Lord that we have experienced as free gifts from God. Every moment of our lives is not only an occasion for a lesson on wisdom – it is an occasion for God’s kingdom to break into our everyday existence. May we all experience the presence of the living Lord in the everyday moments of our lives. Amen.