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Humility, Not Humilation - Sermon on Luke 14:1,7-14

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Humility is what God wants in us in order to get to know God better. It's not humiliation.

 This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

August 28 - 14th Sunday after Pentecost

"Humility and Humiliation".  Text is from Luke 14:1, 7-14

Click here for sermon audio  

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

As Jesus travels to Jerusalem, he dines at the home of a Pharisee, someone who has a position of power in the community. And as typical of his journeys, he is under tremendous scrutiny here. People are looking for him to either say something to set off a storm and revolution, or make a serious misstep and give those who would stop the tide of change in its tracks. And what Jesus offers is something which initially seems to do with little more than manners. 

While he is dining, he notices something interesting, in that as guests arrive, they volley for a place of honor, at left or right of the host.  Jesus uses this as a teaching opportunity by means of a parable of a wedding banquet. It seems like simple advice. Don't take the place of honor at a table lest the host come to you and say, look, friend, I really meant for this place to go to someone else, so do you mind moving down some? Rather, instead take a place at the opposite of the table, and then if the host should decide that you need to move to a higher position, you'll really feel special instead of embarrassed. 

And then there is the second part of the parable, which Jesus directs specifically to the host. And again this is about give and take. If you are going to invite people to a feast, avoid inviting the kind of people who you are going to have expectations of doing the same for you. Instead, look for people who are actually hungry, or as Jesus specifically describes, the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Invite people who have no chance of being able to repay you...and it's not so they will be forever in your debt, but so that the kindness that you show will be sincere and legitimate, without expectations and with the right frame of mind. 

Hipp hipp hurra! Konstnärsfest på Skagen - Peder Severin Krøyer

So I'm first wondering about the people at this table who are certainly the people to whom Jesus is speaking of. Surely someone there has sat at the head of the table next to the host, and I can imagine them starting at each other, thinking about whether or not everyone is in the room looking at them... I mean that's what they wanted, everyone to look at them where they were sitting but I don't think it was meant to be quite in that way. 

And then I think about humility. Because Jesus specifically says that the ones who humble themselves will be exalted. But I understand that a lot of people when they hear the word humble and humility, they automatically think of the word humiliated. But the two words cannot be more different. What is humiliating is to decide that you want to sit at the right hand of the host of the table and the host tell you in front of everyone that you are not supposed to be sitting there, that someone else is intended to be in that spot and would you please move down a bit. Humiliation is something inflicted on you externally, that someone is taking you down several pegs. 

Humility on the other hand, is the acknowledgement that we are not at the center of the universe. That God has a plan for each and every one of us. Jesus talks about the ones who take a spot lower at the table, letting others take places before them and allowing things take their course. It's kind of like, for me, being out on the road and not being so worried about being ahead of other people at an exit in heavy traffic. Not getting mad at people who decide they want to pull in from the left side while I've been waiting for a long time where I'm sitting. Humility is stepping away from an online argument even when I know that I am right, not worrying about the fact that it's an admission of defeat if I leave, rather than simply my own way of maintaining my sanity rather than being in a difficult conversation. 

It's how we humbly approach God in our thoughts and prayer. God doesn't want us to humiliate ourselves, saying, "I'm a horrible human being, I do not deserve what you have to give me. But just let me get through this one time and I'll never act a certain way again or do certain things again." We give God humility when we say, "Thank you God for what you do for us. I know that I am not a perfect human being and that I don't always try my best but I am a good person with a good heart. I know that you love me God for all my shortcomings and regardless of all my assets." It is in that humility we are able to find joy for the great love that God has for us as human beings. 

And it is in that humility that we find the means to understand what giving without expectations means. That we offer up our heart to God, because God has loved us, sinners that we are, saints that we strive to be. Because God has given us the grace to that surpasses all understanding. Because God has given God's self to die for us, upon a lonely cross, in the cruelest humiliation, in order to rescue us from certain death and the power of the grave. Because our Lord Jesus Christ has defeated death by virtue of the glorious resurrection so that we may be free from sin and that we may have eternal life. And that gratitude for God's grace, and by the gift and power of the Holy Spirit, living and breathed into us that we lay out the table and set the feast for those who would be hungry. That by the gift and power of the Holy Spirit, alive and filling us to where we are overflowing with God's love, that we are able to do God's work in the world with our hands. 

There is an old prayer attributed to a famous Muslim saint from the 8th century, a Sufi mystic, a woman named Rabi'a al-Adawiyya. It is said she was running through the streets of Basra, which is a city in Southeastern Iraq, with a pot of fire in one hand and a bucket of water in another. People asked her what she was doing with them. She responded that she wanted to put out the fires of Hell and burn down the rewards of Heaven, because they both stand in the way of God. She wants to worship Allah for the great love of God alone, rather than fear of punishment or the anticipation of a reward. 

While Rabi'a was an ascetic, someone who lived in poverty and depravation because she wanted nothing more than to be closer to God, her ideas about the nature of being and fulfilment are some very strange and yet compelling ones. We are being reminded in our gospel that our reasons for putting on a banquet are not to be invited to a banquet. And Jesus is saying this in terms that the early Christians are meant to understand. We don't call people to our table in order that we be invited to another table. We call people to our table because people need to be fed. There is no two ways about it. The table is meant to be shared with the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, where the seat at which you are sitting is the seat which you are given honor. 

When we are struggling, it is Jesus who is telling us that the table is open to us. Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior speaks our name as we eat, beside us at the lowest point of the table that we may be sitting, telling us that we already have an honored spot at his eternal feast. Jesus Christ is speaking our name from the baptismal font, from the source of the waters of creation, reminding us of his promise to us when we were indelibly marked by the waters of our baptism and the stain of his blood. Jesus Christ is speaking our name along with a promise of his body among us, the community that is there for us and a place at a table where the feast never ends.  

It is in our self-glorification that we are humbled and it is in our humility that we are exalted and given worth by God. We have a God who, in turning the world upside down, allowed himself to be humiliated in order that we may be glorified by his good name, Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior to humanity, and Good News of a glorious kingdom to come.


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on August 29, 2016 7:22 PM.

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