Sunday, 1 September 2013

Luke 14- Know your place

I have make a bit of a confession to make. The other day I was driving and I noticed that my lane was ending because of construction, so I turned on my signal light to get into the other lane. I noticed that a corvette was coming up quickly in the lane I was trying to get into. I left my signal light blinking thinking they would slow down and let me into their lane. Well, they didn’t let me in. I had to slow down and get in behind them just as I was coming up the barricade. 
I started to think about the pride of the person driving the Corvette. I imagined how they felt that people should get out of their way and how the normal rules of courtesy don’t apply to them because they drive a fancy car. … Then I noticed something else inside myself. I felt proud to drive my 20 year old Honda, and I felt proud to not be that inconsiderate Corvette driver.
I sometimes feel the same way about this Hummer that parks in the “busses only”, “no idling”, “no stopping” section right outside the front doors of my son’s school. Especially when all the close parking spots are full and the only legal parking is a block away and we walk through a blizzard to get Zander to school. I have had some unholy thoughts about that Hummer driver who feels they can park wherever they want. Ironically, I have also felt proud to not have their pride. Pride is tricky. Pride can latch onto anything that can help us rank ourselves ahead of someone else.
 In the dinner party Jesus was attending it was customary that people would have a rank and would be seated according to their importance. So when they came to the party they wanted to be as close to the important positions as possible. We don’t really do this in our culture, except maybe at wedding receptions.  
On one level Jesus’ advice is just good etiquette when attending such a party. If you sit in an important seat but then someone more important than you shows up you will be embarrassed by your own presumption and will have to move to whatever lower seat is left, which might very well be the lowest seat in the house- which is probably next to the bathroom. … Sit in a less important seat, however, and you will be honoured when the host asks you to move up to a more important seat.  Jesus is repeating ancient wisdom here. In Proverbs 25:6-7 we read “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among his great men; it is better for him to say to you, ‘Come up here,’ than for him to humiliate you before his nobles.”  
Jesus has similar advice for the host of the party. Who we invite to our party can speak to our own pride and desire for position. Are we trying to impress someone by inviting them to our party? Are we trying to earn favors from others by inviting people who will then “owe us one”? Who we invite to our gatherings can be just as much an expression of our pride as our hospitality. Jesus instructs the host to invite those who won’t give you prestige and honour, and who can’t pay you back by inviting you to their party. In Jesus’ day most people lived in villages where their families had lived for generations. Like many small towns everyone knew everyone. So when Jesus told them to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind there were faces and names that came to mind.  
Jesus is teaching more than etiquette here.  Jesus is speaking to that part of us that ranks us above others. That part of us that feels more important than others. Jesus is speaking to our pride. Pride is tricky. It cannot be tamed merely by a rule, though, rules are a good place to start. Make it a rule to go in the longest line at the grocery store. As you practice patience your pride will start to learn that it can’t always get its way. Rules can be good. Take the least important seat and learn to not jockey for position. But, the rule can only take us so far because what will happen is that we will become proud that we took the least important seat. We will be proud that we stood in the longest line in the grocery store. We will, ironically, become proud of our humility. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set those rules for ourselves.  We should. These disciplines open us to be more able to receive God’s grace and transformation. But, we also have to realize the limitations of these kinds of rules. We can become proud of following the rule that is supposed to teach us humility. So these kinds of rules are helpful to a point, but what we truly need is transformation of our heart which will change how we view ourselves and others. This transformation is what Jesus is ultimately aiming at. Jesus doesn’t want people that grudgingly invite the poor to their parties and in frustration take the least important seat. That is a good starting point, but that isn’t the goal. What Jesus truly wants is people who see no difference between people in terms of their worth and so there is no real need to have people seated based on some illusion of importance. What Jesus wants is people who see no difference in the value of people rich or poor, blind or sighted, crippled or athletic, educated or uneducated.
In our world we have been convinced at a very deep level that some people matter more than others- even if we aren’t conscious of that tendency within ourselves. One way to fight that tendency is to do exactly what Jesus says, which is face our fears and take the least important seat, and invite the poor, blind, and crippled to our parties. Living in that discomfort will help us to see the deeper truth about our relationships with other people. We will come to learn that we have a deeper unity that transcends our differences.
I want to give three points of foundational unity between human beings. First, we are all made of mud. The first human being, Adam, was made of the Adamah, the dirt. We are made of atoms that all have their origin in the earth we walk on. We are mud- every one of us. At the end of our earthly lives we are ashes and dust. … But we are also made in the image of God- every one of us. That image is ultimately what gives us worth. There are voices in our world that want to say we are worth something based on what we produce …, and so the poor, the blind, and the crippled are a burden and less valuable. … In the eyes of God, however, it is ultimately the image we bear that gives us value. Regardless of what someone produces, they are made of mud, and made in the image of God. And that is their value.
Second, we have a deep unity emotionally. We all want to be happy and we all want to avoid pain. Everything we do is ultimately about one of these two primary motivations- towards happiness, or away from pain. We go about chasing happiness and running from pain in a variety of ways, but this basic drive is something that unifies us at a very fundamental level.  This fundamental drive is behind drug use and going to university to get a degree and really just about any other action we do. We can do some silly things trying to get at happiness or avoid pain, and those actions can backfire on us, but ultimately we can boil our motivations down to these.   
Third, we have a deep unity in our purpose as human beings. The historic teaching of the church is that human beings are created to love and serve God. We might do that as doctors, or lawyers, or parents, or as friends, or as teachers, or students, or scientists, or janitors, or a myriad of others ways of being in this world. Ultimately, we are living our purpose when we understand whatever we do as a way of loving and serving God. Human beings might not all agree about this, but the church believes that we have unity in our call to love and swerve God. The call is the same on every human life, even if they don’t respond to that call.   

These are some fundamental ways that we are unified as human beings. God does not rank us based on what kind of job we have, or what kind of car we drive, or how much education we have, or what we produce. God sees us not based on beauty, or ability, or nationality. These are powerful ways that humans tend to divide ourselves by, but that is not God’s way. We are all invited to the Lord’s Table through the same baptism. There is one baptism for the rich and the poor, crippled and healthy. It is the same baptism. And when we come to the Lord’s Table we are not sorted by rank and importance. We all come with empty hands regardless of who we are and what we do. And Jesus fills those hands with himself.    

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