Today’s gospel reading begins at Luke 14:1 (NIV) in a most interesting way. It says this: “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.” I want to say three things about this verse that set the stage for the rest of the story. The first one is the day of the week. What day is it? It’s the Sabbath – the seventh day, the day of rest. The Sabbath turns up often in the gospels. When you read the different stories of Jesus in the Bible, they often happen on the Sabbath. Jesus often healed people on the Sabbath. A few chapters earlier, in Luke 6:6-8, he healed a man with the withered hand on the Sabbath. In Luke 13:10-17, he healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath. The Pharisees didn’t think Jesus was supposed to do that. In Luke 6:1-2 he also let his disciples pick grain on the Sabbath which was also a big no-no. The Pharisees didn’t think much of that either. So this is the Sabbath. Remember that.
Remember also that Jesus has been invited to dinner. Where is this dinner party taking place? It is at the home of a prominent Pharisee. The Pharisees were the ones that were giving Jesus a hard time about healing and working on the Sabbath. But it is one of these same Pharisees – a prominent one – who has invited Jesus and his disciples to dinner. No doubt there were lots of other Pharisees there as well.
The third point rather goes without saying. Luke tells us that Jesus was being carefully watched. Why? Because he was in the midst of prominent Pharisees who were just waiting for any excuse to accuse him of something else on the Sabbath. They were just itching to catch him in the act and get him into more trouble. And so they were watching him carefully, just to see if he would slip up. That’s the context of the story and it puts the rest of it into perspective.
THE BEST SEATS IN THE HOUSE
But Jesus has a way of turning things around. Not only were the Pharisees watching Jesus. He was also watching them. Let’s find out what he sees. Luke 14:7-11 (NIV) says this:
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Isn’t that interesting? Jesus says that when you go a wedding feast – or any other gathering for that matter – that you are not to take the best seats. What are the best seats? I suppose that depends upon what kind of gathering we’re talking about. Usually at a wedding, the best seats are the ones closest to the bride and groom. Who sits there? Usually it’s the parents and grandparents of the couple. A bit past them would be the extended family. Then come the best friends of the couple who weren’t included in the wedding party. And then comes everyone else: friends of the parents, co-workers, neighbours and the minister. That’s usually about how it plays out.
People know that because there is generally a seating plan and when you arrive at the reception, what’s one of the first things you do? Usually, you find the seating chart –and they can get pretty creative these days – which tells you where you’re supposed to sit because you’re really interested in who you are sitting with. And humble people sit where they’re supposed to according to the seating chart.
But that, apparently, is not how it worked in Jesus’ day. Back then, the wedding was a community event. Invitations did not go out to the guests in the way that they today. Rather, a general invitation was given to everyone in the village. That’s because the villages were fairly small and everyone knew everyone and everyone was probably related to everyone else in one way of another – sort of like in Cottam. And, for the most part, everyone came and everyone brought food for the feast. There was no seating plan because there were probably very few seats if any. Most people sat on the ground.
But there was still etiquette. And at a formal event such as a wedding, there were social standings and those places were informally recognized. There may not have been a seating plan but as a rule people generally knew where they stood in the social fabric of the village and they sorted themselves out accordingly. The leaders knew where they should go and the ones of lower class knew where they belonged. And then just before the feast began – the emcee at the banquet – would cast an eye over the audience just to make sure that everything was in order and no one was out of place. And if someone was in the wrong place they would get moved.
That’s why Jesus said to never make the mistake of taking a better seat than you should. If you make the mistake of seating in a better place than you warrant, you’ll be embarrassed when told to move to a lower seat. But if you sit at a lower seat and the emcee moves you to a better seat, all the better for you. And then in verse 11, Jesus says, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
HUMILITY IN THIS LIFE
Okay, so what does this all mean for us? I want to highlight two things this morning to which this story speaks. The first one is how it impacts the way that we live in the here and now. And the second is how it relates to the afterlife. Let’s start with this life.
Clearly Jesus’ words are a warning to shun pride and embrace humility but how does that play out? How do we demonstrate that in the way that we live? Let’s first look at what humility is because humility is a lot more than sitting in a right place at the wedding feast. It has to do with knowing our place in a lot of ways.
The word “humility” literally means a low estimate of self. In other words, it means that we don’t think of ourselves more highly that we ought. It means being aware of who we are with our individual gifts and talents but not to put ourselves on a pedestal off of which we might come tumbling down.
This, however, does not imply self-deprecation. It doesn’t mean that we put ourselves down or denigrate ourselves as if we were horrible people who never do anything right. That’s taking things a bit too far because, as children of God, all of us have value and are loved by our Heavenly Father. And if God loves us, we ought to love ourselves. C.S Lewis put it this way: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.”
Someone has said this: “The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your full height before some higher nature that will show you how small your greatness is.” What that means is that when we stand up as tall as we can be and make ourselves as great as we can be, there will always be someone who towers over us. And that someone is God.
Micah 6:8 (NIV) says this:
He has shown you, O mortal, 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.
That is how we are called to live. We are called to walk humbly with God because that is where we learn true humility. Walking with God, seeing ourselves by the side of his greatness, we see how little we are. And seeing how little we are is the first step toward becoming who God created us to be. And whom did God create us to be? He created us to be people who act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with him.
But how do we do that? That’s a great question. Here’s the thing that we need to keep in mind. Humility isn’t just an attitude. It is demonstrated in action. We show our humility in what we do and how we treat others. We show it by treating others properly and not thinking of ourselves as better than anyone else.
I want to give you a really clear example of this that I think you’ll all understand. It has to do with the parking spots at church. Have you ever visited a church and discovered that there are a few reserved spots? Usually, one is for the minister and the other for the organist. And they are usually the best spots in the parking lot, right beside the door. Have you ever wondered what that says to others? What it says to me is that the minister and the organist think that they are better than everyone else because they alone deserve parking spots.
And to be honest, there are times when those parking spots are warranted especially when the minister and organist cover more than one church on a Sunday morning and when you’re rushing between two churches with little time to spare, having designated parking spot by the door seems to have some purpose. But what about a minister who only has to preach at one church. Why does he or she need a reserved parking spot? Shouldn’t they be to the church in lots of time anyway? Remember what Jesus said: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Compare that to a different arrangement in the church parking lot. Rather than having the best spots reserved for the staff, some churches reserve that best spots for the guests and visitors. Have you ever seen that? All of the spots near the doors are designated for people who don’t normally come to church. What that says is that the people of the congregation realize that those who are visiting are just as important – maybe even more important – than the ones who are there every week. Let me ask you; which parking lot better demonstrates humility? I think we all know the answer to that question because all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
But how do we demonstrate humility in everyday life? Here are some things to consider. Here’s the first one. Humble people can admit that they are wrong. Imagine that. I think we all know people who will go to almost any length rather than admit that they are wrong. It’s like if they admit that they are wrong, it’s a personal attack on their dignity and sense of self-worth. But it’s okay to be wrong. And we should not be offended when someone tries to correct, especially, if they do it graciously and lovingly. No one is perfect. All of us blow it from time to time. Humble people understand this because all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Here’s the second thing to think about. Humble people can admit that they don’t know everything. I don’t know about you but I find it very annoying when I’m in a meeting with someone who thinks they just know everything about everything and everyone. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, they have their fingers on the pulse of every matter all of the time. And if the rest of us would just be quiet and listen to them, then everything would go so much better for everyone. Humble people don’t think they know everything because all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Here’s the next thing to consider. Humble people can be surprised. Which really should be okay because surprises can be fun – at least some of them can be. You don’t have to pretend that you have everything figured out. It really is okay to be genuinely surprised by someone or something. Can you recall a time when someone did something amazing that you just never thought they’d do? It’s doesn’t have to be something spectacular. Just last month, we were away on vacation and I needed someone to cut the grass. Without realizing the situation, an eleven year old boy came by the house and asked if he could cut my grass. I have to admit that I hesitated because he is only eleven years old. But I’ve known Ben most of his life and he’s a good kid so I thought I’d give him a chance. “How much?” I asked. He said, “I’ll cut it for $15 and if you want me to trim and weed wack it, it’ll be another $5” So we made a deal and he cut it that afternoon. Frankly, he did a better job than me – which really surprised me. I don’t always get the humility thing right but I did that time and Ben is now my go to guy when I need my grass cut. Humble people can be surprised because all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
And here’s the last one. Humble people are open to new ideas. There’s an interesting thought especially for a church. We all joke around about those two famous liturgical expressions which are, “But we’ve always don’t it that way,” and, “But we’ve never don’t it that way.” And many of us have had the experience of stepping in to do a job that someone else can no longer do but the person who used to do it thinks that you should do it exactly the same way they did it.
I was part of a Facebook conversation last week that had to do with whether or not to put TV screens in the sanctuary so that the things like the hymns could be projected rather than using hymn books. The people in the discussion pointed to very strong opposition in some of their churches. And, to be honest, I had to wonder why. What does it really matter whether we sing from screens or hymn books? Do we think that God cares?
Humility allows us to step back and see other options and the reasons for them because maybe, just maybe we are missing an opportunity to share the Gospel in a way that we never before considered. Proud people dig in their heels and won’t budge. Humble people are open to new possibilities. And I’m not saying that every change is good. But every new idea at least deserves a fair hearing. Humble people are open to new ideas because all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
HUMILITY IN THE NEXT
That’s how humility impacts the here and now. The second thing I want to highlight is what it says about the hereafter because that’s important too. You’ve heard this before but it’s worth repeating: what we do now in life is practice for what we do in the kingdom of God. I think there’s truth there.
What the Bible says in the book of Revelation is that at the end of time heaven will come down to earth in the form of the New Jerusalem and there will be a new heaven and a new earth. And many of its features will be familiar to us. There will be lakes and rivers, mountains and valleys. Food will grow and rain will fall from the sky and seasons will pass one after the other. People will still prepare food, clean their houses and look out for each other.
Having said that, there will be some significant differences between the old earth and the new earth, mostly because of things that won’t be there. What will be missing are the things that separate us from God and from each other. There will be no sin and no hatred. There’s won’t be any jealousy or greed. All sins will be forgiven and all hurts healed. People will live in peace and harmony.
Do you know what that is also called in Revelation? In Revelation 19:6-9 (NIV) it is called the wedding supper of the Lamb. Listen to what it says:
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.”
Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
Jesus told the story of the wedding banquet and in that story he spoke about humility. Revelation tells us that the wedding supper of the Lamb in the kingdom will also be one that is characterized by humility. That’s because each of us has a place in the kingdom. Jesus said that. He said that he has gone there to prepare a place for each of us. But each of those places will be different.
And here’s the thing to remember.
We don’t get to choose our spots. It is God who tells us which place we will
occupy for eternity. It is God who tells us what our roles and tasks will be.
So just like at the wedding banquet in Jesus’ story, each of us should take a
lower place and allow God to raise us up to where he wants us to be. But to do
that we must be humble because all those who exalt themselves will be humbled,
and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Creation, we come before you in thanksgiving and wonder. You have blessed us in abundant ways. You have given us a smooth path to walk and offered your guidance in the Holy Spirit.
We would pray for those who are travelling during this last long weekend of the summer vacation season. Protect them. Defend them. Bring them to their destinations and safely home again. We also pray for those who will be returning to school in just a little over a week. We pray for the teachers, the staff, the students and the parents as they all prepare for another year of study and preparation. We pray especially for those who will be travelling away from home to go to school in post-secondary institutions. Be with them in the transitions.
We pray for our political leaders as they seeks to govern fairly and honestly. Give them the courage to make the right decisions and speak to their hearts that they may walk in your way and follow your inspiration. We remember especially the upcoming federal election here in Canada which seems to have already begun. Let your love shine through it all.
We life up in prayer the sick of our congregation, community and families. We remember especially Sharon, Soham, Shad and Jacqui. Bless them all with your healing presence.
Help us, O God, to honestly evaluate our lives: our words, decisions, and actions, or lack thereof. Do our lights shine brightly? Can others truly see you in our words and actions? Help us to receive into our hearts the honest answer to those questions. May our lives illustrate your character and way of living in all that we do, in every word, every interaction with other people, so that we may clearly point others to the light of your grace.