04 September 2010

Proper 22 C

Aug. 29, 2010

Proper 22

St. Luke 14: 1, 7-14

By Sheila Plant

May the word of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight, O, Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.

Last week while waiting in the doctor’s office, I picked up a rece3nt edition of the Hello magazine. I was curious to read about the 3 million dollar extravaganza of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. I didn’t get to read the whole thing, but it certainly got me thinking.

What would it have been like to eavesdrop on the planning of the reception and the seating plan. We all know that the Clintons move in some pretty lofty circles, so the actual seating plan of such an event must have been quite a challenge. Where did they seat members of the Secret Service? Is it appropriate to put Aunt Mary with the Secretary of State? What about the groom’s family?
Can they be seated with the Attorney General? Tony Blair is coming. We don’t dare put hgi8m at the back of the room. But finally name cards are all in place and everyone has a seat.

There might be the occasional wedding where there are no place cards for seating. You get to the reception and wonder where you should sit.
Obviously the wedding party sits right up there at the head table and the parents and grandparents are right at the front as well. What about everyone else? Suddenly you are faced with a dilemma. Should I sit up at the front or should sit and the back? Should I take one of the special seats of honour or leave it for someone else?

In today’s gospel, Jesus helps us decide which seat to take. Only he isn’t talking about a two hour wedding reception. He’s advising us on how to conduct ourselves every day of our lives. It’s his way of teaching us about humility and hospitality. He is at a wedding feast of a prominent Pharisee and everyone is watching him closely.
But he is doing some watching his own. The Pharisees had the reputation for always fighting over the seats of honour. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus warned:
“Watch out for the teachers of the law....they have the most important seats in the synagogues and the place of honour at banquets.” It is this observance that prompts him to give advice on how we are to behave when we are on the receiving end of an invitation. Emily Post h3e is not, but he takes a piece of advice that could be taken from an etiquette column of his day and applies it to how we are to behave in the presence of God. He is countering that “me first” attitude. So when we answer the invitation to the banquet of the kingdom of
Gode, then we had better enter by humbling ourselves.

“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host....will come and say to you, Give this man your seat. Then, humiliated you will have to take a least important place.”

This is much more than just a lesson in table manners. Jesus is dealing with a much deeper issue—a matter of the heart. He refers to the way the Pharisees went about grabbing the most prominent spots at the dinner table and something about how they viewed themselves. They regarded themselves as better than everyone else. They considered themselves worthy or deserving of high and distinguished honour. To quote a bumper sticker seen in California, “It’s all About Me!”

Are we guilty of this same attitude? And do we find ourselves thinking, “Why am I stuck in this line? Why don’t they open a new register?

I have important things to do. Why do I have to stay here when everyone else is out having fun?”

It seems human nature to think these thoughts and think with that “me first” attitude. But to push our way into the limelight to grab what we consider to be our just rewards opens up that door for worldly influences to flood our hearts and minds. Before long we start believing that we really are better that everyone else and we

Truly do deserve to be praised or recognized for every little thing we do. How many people out there do things, not just because they want to or because it makes them feel good, but because they want recognition for their acts. But on the other hand, we have to learn some lessons about our own selfish instincts. People of all ages act in their own self interest. We do it all the time without even noticing it. We are told to secure our own oxygen masks on a flight before seeing to the needs of others. We take responsibility for our own health and self care every day. We can boast about be3ing self reliant but we really aren’t. It’s not “All About Me”.
We depend on one another and like it or not, we depend on God. The energy of his love goes on forever.

Jesus tells us that “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. In other words, those who believe that they deserve a Heaven based on what they have done or given will be thoroughly humbled before the Lord on the Last Day. When all the Pharisees of the world stand before God, full of their own importance, they will be in for quite a surprise. Expecting the best seats in the house or all sorts of praises from
God, they will get a shock. And in spite of our “me first” attitude earning us the worst spot, God has moved us up to the top spot. He has reserved a place for us at his heavenly banquet because the best possible spot is waiting for us in Heaven. It was earned for us by Jesus. We have no need to scramble about for the best spots on earth. Instead, we will be content with the lower, less glamorous, more humble spots. So Jesus has taught us about humility and has given us a bit of an attitude adjustment. He adjusts our attitude and practising gentle humility.

So who do we invite to our banquet? According to this upside down topsy -turvy world in the gospel, everything is reversed. Te humble become the exalted ones, the poor are rich, the crippled and lame are well and the blind are the ones who see. These are the guests of honour that we invite. These are the ones that the Pharisees shunned. These are the ones to whom Jesus will say, “Friend, move up higher.” We have invited guests who cannot repay us but we will be blessed. Even though they cannot repay us, that’s not why we did it. Jesus tells us we will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. And that is all we ask. Remember our guest of honour is always in our midst. He is the one who says, “I am among you as one who serves.”

As we search the shelves of the book store looking for books on etiquette we are bombarded with all sorts of them de4aling with social behaviour and manners. There is definitely something for everyone. Yet, the “Bible is a book that also has a little something about etiquette. It addresses etiquette of the heart. It helps adjust our attitude. It is the only book that guides us into making real life changes that conform to God’s will true humility and unselfish tendencies. The Holy Spirit comes to us empowering to both practise gentle humility and unselfish hospitality.

Thanks be to God.