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You Are Upgraded

Luke 14:1, 7-14

December 8, 2019

In the US, after a wedding, there’s usually a dinner. When you arrive at the restaurant or banquet venue, there’s a reception table where you check in by giving your name. You are told that you are seated at a certain table. The thought crosses your mind, “Is this table close to the front of the restaurant near the bridal party is? Could I be that important?” Or might it be far back in the corner where you can’t see anything? Fortunately, there are closed-circuit TV monitors to see some of the action.

When I’m invited to a banquet and the host knows that I’m vegetarian, the guests at the same table that I am at get a bonus! They not only have more meat and fish to eat but sometimes they even get to have some of my braised tofu and black mushrooms dish! Now if you were to be assigned to the same table I am at, you can say, “I am upgraded!”

Palestinian Wedding Banquet

In Luke, our lesson today begins with the situation that Jesus was invited to join a leader of the Pharisees who was holding Jesus under surveillance. Previously, the Pharisees were questioning Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, plucking grain on the Sabbath and generally preaching freedom for slaves. The writer of Luke shows that Jesus was offering liberation from diseases that destroy the fullness of human life.

At a Palestinian wedding feast, the male guests are reclined on couches, with the center couch being the place of honor, its guests chosen according to wealth, power, or office. If a more prominent man arrives late, as it is often the case, someone of lesser rank is asked to move to a less prestigious location. Jesus is offering sound practical advice to choose the lowest place so that you can be invited up, but he is also pointing to something deeper and richer.

Clearly, Jesus was borrowing from the wisdom of Solomon in Proverbs 25:6-7, when it says, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.”

The guests should not rush to the head of the dining room, but sit in a humbler location, on the happy chance they should be invited closer to the attractive host. But our human tendency for self-aggrandizement or self-importance prevalent at a wedding banquet leads us to want the “best seats in the house.”

Jesus provides a set of guidelines to counter this tendency. He says, instead of assuming the privilege of place and being humiliated in a vain grab for status, forgo this presumption of privilege and assume a humble position. The ones doing this may be pleasantly surprised to find that the host will, in turn, find them worthy and then elevate them in the sight of all.

Social Status

If you have flown for business for a long time you like I have, you would attain an elite frequent flyer status. On United, I am Star Alliance Gold status for life. This may sound impressive but if you were to ask my wife, Joy, it also means there were many times, I missed our wedding anniversary or the kids’ birthday parties or just being home.

Being United frequent flyer, I board in Group 1, sit in Economy Plus with 5 inches more leg space, pay no luggage check-in fees, and maybe get upgraded to business or first-class! Now sometimes when this does happen, I gather my bags in front of everyone around me and move up to the front of the plane. I just got upgraded!

United recognizes my elite status and it feels good!

Jesus said, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (v. 11) To be honest, I hope United would never take away my elite flyer status because I like to be exalted now and then.

Read Related Sermon  Jesus Eyes

Preaching about humility and taking the “lowest place” carries with it, certain risks. Those who are already in that place, already humble, might hear it as a demand to empty themselves more than they already have.

There was a church member who is confined to a nursing home receiving an annual canvas letter from the church asking everybody to raise their pledges. While the church member with limited income may be moved by the appeal, she can also be dismayed and ashamed of her small income making it impossible in responding to the church’s need. She is already humble and to expect any more would be cruel.

For some Asians and Asian Americans, asking them to take the lowest place may just be the opposite of what may be helpful for building up self-confidence. Asian Americans are already perceived as too shy and quiet. Underestimating oneself or showing deference when we need to show assertiveness could lead to missed opportunities as well as creating an inferiority complex.

Now context is everything because for those who are already overly confident and feel entitled to privileges to assume taking the highest places, Jesus tells the truth about them. God’s point of view matters more than our own, and more than the assessment of those in a position to turn the spotlight on us or away from us.

There’s a story of a group of Deacons receiving some new members. They went around the circle introducing themselves. One Deacon, an academic scientist who had helped to identify sites for the first moon landing, introduced himself: “I’m a teacher.” True as it was, he left it to others to discover, or not, what he had left unsaid. He turned the spotlight away from himself and onto the new members who were about to join the church.

We read about President Jimmy Carter who teaches a weekly Sunday school class in Atlanta, Georgia. While there may be some security detail, President Carter prepares his class by reading the Bible, designing a lesson plan, comes up with questions to ask, and thanks those who came to class. President Carter is like the Sunday school teachers in your church. The attention is not on them, the teachers but on the Word of God, Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ Humility

Jesus is our example of the humble Savior. In Philippians 2:6-11, an early hymn that celebrates Jesus, it says, “He humbled himself…Therefore God also highly exalted him.” In his life, death and resurrection, Jesus embodied what he taught; and he taught what he embodied.

As Baptists we don’t regularly recite the Apostle’s Creed, but the creed jumps directly from “born of Virgin Mary” to “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Jesus’ whole life is somehow hidden in the comma between one phrase and the next. No mention is made of his parables, his sermons, his healings, his instructions to his disciples.

If a contrast is needed to make the point, look at those persons of power whose names are handed down to us in the Gospel: Pilate, Caesar, Herod, Caiaphas. Those who are powerful, according to our conventional standards, exhibit no hesitation about occupying the places of honor. How have things worked out for them? Not very well. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled” (v. 11).

Kingdom of God

But getting back to Luke, the situation is not about individuals earning personal privileges but it’s about sharing a communal table. The point is that the table is the principal site for fellowship and common worship. And it’s more important because these instructions come out of the mouth of the Savior himself.

Jesus’ instructions provide guidance to those who would share a common table, discouraging the presumption of privilege and encouraging a humbler reality. Jesus wants everyone to be around the table.

If learning humility were not difficult enough, Jesus adds a second teaching to those gathered for the Sabbath meal. When you give a party, do not invite someone in expectation that your guest can pay you back. Jesus says, “Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (v. 13).

Read Related Sermon  Good for Us to Be Here

If we were to not take this literally, it can be literal enough in that it is meant at least to turn toward the hurting, the struggling, and the vulnerable in every dimension of our lives. When we are in a festive time, the vulnerable people should never be out of sight, never be out of mind.

Who are the “poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” in our midst?

Our city of San Francisco is increasingly wearing the reputation of a city with people who are homeless and hopeless. Those without permanent shelter are increasing in numbers even when the city is spending more to solve the situation than ever before. They are our “poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”

At our California state’s southern border, there are unprecedented numbers of immigrants seeking for lawful asylum because of the unsafe, violent, out of control conditions in Central American countries. They are our “poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”

The current restrictive and strong-handed threats against undocumented workers in the US who have labored in our factories and on our farms to deliver low-priced food on our dinner tables or those who have landscaped our yards or babysat our children are afraid to leave their homes. They are our “poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”

Who are the “poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” in your community?

It is without saying that there’s much to do. There is much for all of us in this church and in our world that we can do.

In Jesus’ ministry, he turns himself toward “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” He shares the table with those from whom people with conventional values turn away. From one society to another, from one era to another, there seem to be different lists of those from whom respectable people expect to turn aside. Jesus is asking us to not just hang out with our friends or rich neighbors but to see those who are the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the poor to be our neighbors too.

Jesus’ challenge reaches across boundaries of place and time, calling us to be more aware of those from whom we are inclined to avert our eyes, and to follow him rather than those who practice common prejudices as virtues.

We who have been baptized into Christ Jesus are called to conform to him and to his ways. To live into our baptism is to be ever mindful of those who are typically left out.

Whenever we are celebrating the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, a banquet feast, it serves as a foretaste of the wedding banquet when “people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29).

The next time United upgrades me because of my privileged elite status, I’ll offer it to someone who may be “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”

Maybe as the result of my deeds, I may turn the focus not on me but onto Jesus Christ who has already given me a lifetime first-class upgrade as a disciple who believes in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Let us pray.

O God, forgive us when we boast before you and others. Teach us to be humble servants in the name of our Lord Jesus. Grant us the courage to help those who are the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind in our midst. And when your banquet table is set for the whole world to enjoy, let us enjoy your love as we also work faithfully to invite all who deserve our attention in this place great in your bounty. In the name of Christ who prepares the fellowship table for us. Amen.

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