Sermon – Luke 14:1, 7-14 - The humble will be exalted
Grace to you and peace in God, who humbles the exalted, and exalts the humble. Amen.
May 19th, 2018 was an exciting day for anyone who follows the Royal Family. It was the day that Prince Harry married Meghan Markle. Did anyone watch that wedding?
Who do you think was invited to the wedding?
A headline from the Daily Mail read: “Who's who in the best seats in the house? Royals, relatives, and Harry's friends - including Oprah, Serena (Williams), and (George) Clooney - get prime pews... but the Beckhams, Elton John, and James Corden are relegated to the 'cheap seats at the back.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that my invitation got lost in the mail somewhere between London and Toronto...
Who’s who, right? Who has status and honour? Who gets to sit in the seats of honour, and who’s sitting in the back of the house?
In our Gospel story today, Jesus is invited to dinner at the house of a leading member of the Pharisees. This may seem odd to you: Jesus is often butting heads with the Pharisees. So why does he get invited to this Pharisee’s house? Perhaps this man is intrigued by Jesus’ teaching. Or perhaps he’s following the old adage: keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.
So Jesus goes to dinner, and everyone is watching him. And he’s also watching them. And Jesus notices this system of honour and status at play. He notices the guests choosing their seats according to this system of honour and status. Who gets the seats of honour? And who gets stuck in the back of the room?
And Jesus sees the opportunity for a teachable moment. An opportunity to show this crowd of elites that things operate very differently in the kingdom of God.
He begins by giving some advice: when you go to a banquet, don’t assume that you’ve been given the seat of honour. Rather, sit at the lowest spot, and if the host wants to invite you to a better seat, then you will be honoured.
Now maybe this just seems like a lesson in humility, or perhaps even a lesson in saving face. But Jesus takes it further: “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and the humble will be exalted.”
This is a recurring theme in Luke. Some call it The Great Reversal. This idea is that the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. The greatest shall become the least, and the least among you shall be the greatest. This theme even shows up right at the beginning of the Gospel, in Mary’s song, the Magnificat: “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
Then Jesus goes on to challenge us even further. He says, “When you hold a banquet, do not invite your family, or your friends, or your relatives, or your rich neighbours. But rather, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. For they cannot repay you, but you will be rewarded in the resurrection.
What Jesus is saying is this: when you are planning a banquet, hosting a feast, or a party, make your guest list. Write down everyone that you would like to invite.
And then tear it up. Then go rent a bus. Drive it down to Main Street. And invite the people you see there to come to your banquet. Invite the folks sleeping on the sidewalk. Invite the folks lined up outside the soup kitchen. Invite the panhandlers and the prostitutes. And if your bus isn’t full yet, take it down to the Manitoba Youth Centre, and invite the teenagers doing time there. Take it to Stoney Mountain, and invite the folks there. And once your bus is full, take them all to the banquet hall. Give them all the places of honour. Serve them the finest meal you can afford. And treat each one of them like they were the Queen of England.
Can you imagine that?
Take a moment to imagine what it would have been like if Harry and Meghan were to follow Jesus’ teaching. If on the day of their wedding, they were to rent a pile of buses, and drive them down to the slums of London, and invite the poor folks, the homeless folks, the drug addicts, the convicts, and the sex workers. What would it have been like if these folks were their honoured guests at the Royal Chapel on their wedding day? And as for the Queen, and Prince Charles and Camilla, and Oprah, and Serena Williams, and George Clooney and the rest? Well, I’m sure they’ve all got big-screen TV’s at home. They can watch the ceremony from there.
This is the kind of world that Jesus challenges us to imagine: a world where the values and status and hierarchy of our world is flipped on its head. A world where those who are dishonoured are given honour. A world where those on the margins are invited to be the guests of honour. A world where the least become the greatest.
Jesus challenges us when we meet someone who makes us uncomfortable, when we are tempted to look away or ignore, instead to say to ourselves, “Wait a minute. What if this person in front of me is an honoured guest in the Kingdom of God?” And then to treat that person as just that: as an honoured guest in the Kingdom of God.
There’s a scene at the end of the Lord of the Rings, at the wedding of King Aragorn to the elf-princess Arwen. The final battle has been one, and all the people of Gondor are in this courtyard high up in the city of Minas Tirith. And the king and the queen come down and make their way through the crowd to where the four little hobbits – Merry, Pippin, Frodo, and Sam – are standing. The hobbits bow to the king and queen. But King Aragorn instead says, “My friends, you bow to no one.” And then he and Queen Arwen bow to the hobbits. And the whole crowd follows: all the people of Gondor drop to their knees, and bow to these four little hobbits.
Jesus says, “least among you shall become the greatest, and the humble shall be exalted.”
When we allow our imaginations to be re-shaped by Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God – a kingdom where the least become the greatest, and where the humble are exalted – when we allow this vision to shape our words, our actions, and our attitudes, then something incredibly powerful happens. Then through our words, our actions, and our attitudes, we proclaim the message of a God whose love extends beyond the boundaries between rich and poor; beyond the boundaries between elite and common; beyond the boundaries of race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, age and ability. The message of a God whose boundless love is for all people.