Sermons

VicarSharonRichterSermon for 15th Pentecost -

Humility at the banquet
By Vicar Sharon Richter -

 

Let us pray:  “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you Oh Lord, our rock and our redeemer.”
 
In today’s gospel from Luke, Jesus tells us a much more direct parable than he usually tells.  Or at least, it seems so at first. Certainly he speaks very directly, both to the guests and to the Pharisee who hosted the banquet he was attending. 
 
Jesus offers friendly advice:  You should not claim the place of honor for yourself. And when you have a banquet, don’t invite someone who can repay you, but rather someone who cannot:  the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
 
But as usual, Jesus’ advice is not as simple as it at first appears to us.  Today, even if we heed the message of humility less than we should, we at least recognize it as an honorable ideal.  
 
But in Jesus’ day the Jewish people were under the control of the Roman empire.  Many of them had abandoned the Jewish value of humility to fit in with the Graeco-Roman world in which they lived.  And in that world, humility was a ridiculous and foolish foreign concept. 
 
In Jesus’ day, everyone, from the emperor to the lowest slave, understood that everything was accomplished by status and influence.  In their ironclad hierarchy, everyone knew exactly who was above, and exactly who was below. They knew who higher up they had to impress, and they knew who would be toadying up to them from below.
 
When Jesus told the guests that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” he was talking countercultural foolishness that would have startled people. 
 
Moreover, in the home of an important Jewish leader who was at that very moment receiving the adulation of his guests, everyone would have recognized this as criticism of the host—criticism of a Pharisee.
 
Jesus was never one to shrink from reminding the Jewish people, especially their leaders, of faith values they had conveniently forgotten. I can imagine this Pharisee turning red:  “This upstart . . . this firebrand . . . is invited into my home, and what does he do? He criticizes me in front of my guests!!”
 
Remember what our gospel said? The Jewish leaders “were watching him closely.” Of course they were.  They were setting traps for him everywhere, because Jesus was attracting dangerous attention from adoring crowds.  Crowds that might riot and rebel against Rome.  Crowds that therefore endangered the authority Rome allowed the Jewish leaders to exercise.  Indeed, rebellious crowds were a danger to the temple and the whole Jewish people.
 
But Jesus, knowing his mission and his impending fate, was marching resolutely toward the cross.  He saw the traps the Jewish leaders set for him, and he marched into every one of them.
 
quote toBeHumble fb sldshwWhat we want to ask here, is why?  Why is this countercultural message about humility so important that Jesus would deliver it in the home of a Pharisee?  Why would he be so “in his face?”
 
Because this message is the whole message.  The whole entire message.  When Jesus says, “those who humble themselves will be exalted,” he’s talking not only to the guests, and the Pharisee, and to us--he’s talking to and about himself. 
 
It is Jesus who will be exalted by dying the most humble, indeed the most humiliating and shameful death, that the Roman empire and the Hebrew people could imagine. Remember Deuteronomy 21:23:  “. . . Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.”
 
Jesus chooses this humiliation.  He chooses it for himself, and he chooses it for us.
 
The “whole message” of which I speak is this:  God is to be worshipped—nobody else.  We humble ourselves before God.  The Jewish people knew this:  It is the most consistent message in the Hebrew scriptures. 
 
When we puff ourselves up, we are trying, at least a little bit, to be God.  When we suck up to those above us we are saying, at least a little bit, that they are God.  This is idolatry!
 
The crucial opposite of humility, therefore, is not just self-aggrandizement:  It is idolatry.
 
How can we interpret this today?  Well, I would say, if we do not humble ourselves to God and to other people, in exactly the way Jesus suggests in this parable, we cannot really have the love we identify as so central to the Christian message.
 
 Most of us have some societal privilege.  Half of us have male privilege.  Did you know that teachers still call on boys more often than girls, ask them harder questions, give them longer to answer, and then give them more extensive feedback? The National Association for Research in Science Teaching reported this in 2016.  Children are still learning, from the time they enter school, that males are more important than females.
 
Most of us have white privilege.  If you don’t see systematic racism at work across this country, I think you are not paying attention.
 
Many of us have youth privilege, health privilege, and citizen privilege.  If you are older, or are less healthy, or are not a citizen, you are less likely to be hired, have health benefits, or be financially secure than others.
 
Understand, here, that I am talking about privileges we have just because of who we are. I’m not talking about what we earn by our hard work and accomplishments.  Jesus also said, every laborer deserves a just wage.
 
But I would stress that, to be humble as Jesus taught us, we must be conscious of our privileges and acknowledge them.  We ignore them at our peril.
 
I cannot divest my privileges, but I can be wary of exploiting them.  Not only should I try not to gain advantage through my privileges—in other words I should take the lowest seat at the banquet—but I should not seek to be repaid in kind—no you rub my back and I’ll rub yours. 
 
Instead, I should graciously rub the back of one who needs it, just because he or she needs it. Because it’s the right thing to do, not because it will get me anything in return.
 
Jesus modeled the ultimate humility for us on the cross.  To bear our own cross means not so much to bear Jesus’ pain as to bear his humility.  This is hard for us.  But the good news is that God will help us.
 
 It is only by finding ways to seek the lowest seat, and ways to invite the unprivileged, rather than the privileged, to our banquets, that we truly love one another. 
 
And it is by loving one another that we love God.
 
Amen
 

Sharon Richter
Vicar - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California


Humility at the banquet
Sermon for 14th Pentecost
Written by Sharon Richter
August 28, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California

 

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