Sermon 1st September 2013

Prayer of the Day (ELW)

O God, you resist those who are proud and give grace to those who are humble.

Give us the humility of your Son, that we may embody the generosity of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord.

Readings

Proverbs 25:6–7;  Sirach 10:12–18 (Alternate); Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1–8, 15–16; Luke 14:1, 7–14

First Reading: Proverbs 25:6–7

The book of Proverbs is part of a collection of writings known as wisdom literature. Wisdom literature gave directions to Israel’s leaders and people for the conduct of daily life. Today’s reading is about humility.

6Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence             or stand in the place of the great;

7for it is better to be told, “Come up here,”           than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

First Reading (Alternate): Sirach 10:12–18

The book of Sirach, like the book of Proverbs, is part of a collection of writings known as wisdom literature. In the reading for today, the writer of the book warns against the sin of pride, proclaiming that God will utterly overthrow the proud.

 

12The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord;

the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.

13For the beginning of pride is sin,

and the one who clings to it pours out abominations.

Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities,

and destroys them completely.

14The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers,

and enthrones the lowly in their place.

15The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations,

and plants the humble in their place.

16The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations,

and destroys them to the foundations of the earth.

17He removes some of them and destroys them,

and erases the memory of them from the earth.

18Pride was not created for human beings,

or violent anger for those born of women.

19Whose offspring are worthy of honor?
Human offspring.
Whose offspring are worthy of honor?
Those who fear the Lord.
Whose offspring are unworthy of honor?
Human offspring.
Whose offspring are unworthy of honor?
Those who break the commandments.
20Among family members their leader is worthy of honor,
but those who fear the Lord are worthy of honor in his eyes.
22The rich, and the eminent, and the poor —
their glory is the fear of the Lord.

Psalm (ELW): Psalm 112

1Hallelujah! Happy are they who | fear the LORD

and have great delight in | God’s commandments!

2Their descendants will be mighty | in the land;

the generation of the upright | will be blessed.   R

3Wealth and riches will be | in their house,

and their righteousness will | last forever.

4Light shines in the darkness | for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full | of compassion.

5It is good for them to be gener- | ous in lending

and to manage their af- | fairs with justice.

6For they will nev- | er be shaken;

the righteous will be kept in everlast- | ing remembrance.   R

7They will not be afraid of any | evil rumours;

their heart is steadfast, trusting | in the LORD.

8Their heart is established and | will not shrink,

until they see their desire up- | on their enemies.

9They have given freely to the poor, and their righteousness stands | fast forever;

they will hold up their | head with honour.

10The wicked will see it and be angry; they will gnash their teeth and | pine away;

the desires of the wick- | ed will perish.   R

Second Reading: Hebrews 13:1–8, 15–16

The conclusion of the letter to the Hebrews contains suggestions for the conduct of a holy life, all of which are shaped by God’s love toward us in Jesus Christ.

Let mutual love continue.  2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.  3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.  4Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.  5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  6So we can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper;

I will not be afraid.

What can anyone do to me?”

7Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.  8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.  16Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7–14

Jesus observes guests jockeying for position at the table. He uses the opportunity to teach his hearers to choose humility rather than self-exaltation. Jesus also makes an appeal for hosts to mimic God’s gracious hospitality to the poor and the broken.

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.  7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable.  8When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host;  9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.  10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.  11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.  13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

SERMON

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Many of us here today are away from home. We are, almost all of us, expats, students here for a while, married to Brits, working here, or – like me – asylum seekers or children of asylum seekers. So almost all of us, I would guess, are familiar with different cultures, different ways of living, and different forms of etiquette and politeness. For instance, it used to be the case in Latvia, my home country, that if you visited someone at home, you would be invited to eat; and the polite thing was to refuse, twice, and only to accept the hospitality at the third offering. You can imagine – this can cause endless confusion and offence! When we first started having visitors from home after the fall of the Soviet Union, my husband and I didn’t realise this, and if someone refused a cup of coffee or a cake, we would say – fine! maybe later… leaving them hungry and assuming that we didn’t actually want to offer them anything.

And I know from my visits to Tanzania that at meal times, the custom is always for someone to bring water to the table, and allow guests to rinse their hands; after that, someone prays to bless the meal (quite often, a child, or perhaps the house girl). So if a visitor just arrives, sits down at the table and tucks in, that’s regarded as really quite rude.

There are a lot of different unwritten codes and customs that surround meal times all over the world. These codes often express a desire to honour guests, but also they show us the way that societies work, how hospitality is regulated, who is who, and who are the people who are most honoured. So, for instance, there are many social groups where men eat first, children second and women last; or where men and women eat separately. The Old Testament, too, is very interesting in the way that it reflects and describes the way that people of different classes in society relate to each other. “How we eat, what we eat, who is invited, and who must stay away are all parts of how every society orders its eating habits”, as Patrick Shebeck in Chicago says.

It is this sort of situation that Jesus observes at the Pharisee’s house, with guests arriving for a dinner kind of jockeying for position – who will be sitting in the best place? because that means – who is the most honoured guest…. And Jesus says, in a comment on the events he sees – “.  8When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host;  9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.  10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.”

Well, so far so good; but is Jesus just giving his hearers a lesson in manners?  Obviously not: this is not just a story about a dinner, a lesson in etiquette; this is a parable, according to St Luke. So what is it a parable for? what is the deeper meaning of what Jesus is saying here?

There seem to be two separate but related questions that these reading pose to us.

  1. What really constitutes honour?
  2. What really constitutes hospitality?

There may not be one clear and simple solution for the question of what this parable refers to, but certainly we know that Jesus uses the idea of a wedding banquet to describe the Kingdom of Heaven, for instance; and we may also see in the invitation to a banquet the invitation to our Sunday festive meal of the Eucharist. Whatever the case, the picture that is being conjured up for us is about the way that followers of Christ should relate to each other.  The reading we had from Sirach made one thing very clear:  “ 20Among family members their leader is worthy of honour,  but those who fear the Lord are worthy of honour in his eyes. 22The rich, and the eminent, and the poor — their glory is the fear of the Lord.” In other words, it is not worldly honour that we are to take account of.

  • How do we honour each other?
  • How do we show hospitality to each other?

Honour in the church is conferred on us not because we are rich or eminent; our glory is the fear, the adoration and love of the Lord. Really – it is as simple as that. Each of us in the church comes there clothed not in our own glory, strength or riches; but only because our festive garments, our wedding clothes, are given to us by the grace and mercy of God. For that reason, there is no way in which we can claim the best places at the table, for that would be the ultimate arrogance. If we recognise that we are all equally welcome, equally honourable in and through His love, then we will not seek honour for ourselves, but for all the people of God. And – recognising the greatness of God’s glory in every one of his children, all his family members – we should ache and desire above all to invite everyone to the table of mercy.

Sum up:

  • our honour lies in the glory of God;
  • the honour of every person in the world lies in the glory of God;
  • therefore we should seek not our own fame, but the honour of our brothers and sisters in Christ;
  • and we should be eager to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to share alongside everyone else at God’s banquet table, where he opens his hand in blessing and fills us with good things.