Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence
or stand in the place of the great;
for it is better to be told, "Come up here,"
than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.
Hebrews 13:1–8, 15–16
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember 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. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep 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." So we can say with confidence,
"The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?"
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Luke 14:1, 7–14
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. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and 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. But 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 honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
He 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 neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
A Message from the Pastor
As I read the texts for this Sunday and considered a message I might bring, I found myself struggling with them, especially the gospel reading for today.
When we read these texts, literally – and many people do that – we might think these texts to be highly irrelevant. The first part of the gospel story of Jesus has people jostling for position at seats of honor at the dinner. First of all, I don’t think you would find many of us having dinners of that size, except maybe a wedding dinner. And at such events, we know how the pecking order, or hierarchy, is arranged. Oh yes, there may be a couple of people who are upset where they are placed, but normally its no big deal. It’s difficult for us to put ourselves in that position. Furthermore, when we read Jesus’ suggestion that we humble ourselves to be rewarded, it sounds like “works righteous,” in other words, if you do this, then this will happen. That’s contradictory to the doctrine of justification which says we are justified by faith through grace. Luther said that if we do something in order to get to heaven, we’ll probably end up in hell. Also, it might encourage false humility. We think to ourselves that if we act humble, we can be exalted. We all know people like that, including ourselves.
As far as the other part of Jesus’ comments, I know of no one who has intentionally invited the poor, the lame, the crippled, and the blind into their homes. It just doesn’t happen. Furthermore, this again sounds like “works righteousness.” We can expect to get to heaven, if we take Jesus’ words literally.
I don’t think Jesus meant what he said in a literal way. I begin to understand the meaning of this gospel text when I hear and embrace the first sentence of the second reading, “Let mutual love continue.” For that’s who and what God is all about, as demonstrated by Jesus and the cross. When we look at all of scripture and follow God’s interaction with humanity through history, the story comes to its peak with the crucifixion of Jesus. We read about God’s love throughout history and then we find it demonstrated at and on the cross. God’s love is poured out through Jesus as he humbly submits to death on the cross. God’s love is poured out as God raises Jesus from death. We also hear Jesus say,”Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind,” and,”Love one another as I have loved you.”
With that in mind, we find that the operative word for these texts for today is humility. It is our humility that allows us to demonstrate a love that is slightly similar to Jesus’ love. It is in humility that we are to express an unconditional love, a sacrificial love, and/or an understanding love. Yet, in that love we do not become door mats. We know who we are and whose we are. We also know that life is about God, not about us. It is not about you. It is not about me, it is not about Cross of Grace, it is not about the ELCA. Life is about God, and with that understanding we are able to develop some humility that shapes our demonstration of love.
In our humility, we are able to accept life on life’s terms. In our humility, we are able to demonstrate hospitality. In our humility, we are able to lead a sacrificial life. In our humility we are able to stand with those in bondage and those who have been abused.
In another book, I read a definition of humility. “Absolute humility (which is not humanly possible) would consist of a state of complete freedom from self, freedom from all the claims that my defects of character (also known as sin) now lay so heavily upon me. Perfect humility (which is not humanly possible) would be full willingness, in all times and places, to find and to do the will of God.” (I added the words in parentheses.)
If we accept that definition, it can develop two problems. First of all, if you are like me, you want to be perfect. Therefore, you beat yourself up when you are not perfect. Otherwise, you realize you cannot be perfect so you tell yourself, “Why try?”
In all of Jesus’ comments, as he talks about discipleship, I think he realizes we are not perfect. He is asking for progress, not perfection.
I have personally observed that progress. I witnessed it at last week’s retreat.
Nancy Christensen observed that what we said, as we wrestled with how God is leading us, is that we don’t want to just serve the community. We want to live in and with the community, that we are part of the community. For example, as we discussed the reality that the southern part of Washington County has a 60% poverty level, one person reminded us that many of them don’t think that they’re poor and that we need to honor and respect where they are as we serve them and they serve us.
During the discussion we talked about “growing” the community of faith. One person asked who that included, since all of us there were “lily white.” Does it include people of color, the poor, the blind, the crippled, and the lame, along with brothers, friends, neighbors, and the rich? Does it include such people as the undocumented immigrants and gays and Lesbians? The answer was loud and clear, it includes all people.
In our humility, mutual love continues. In our humility, we are genuinely hospitable. And who knows, we may be entertaining angels unaware.