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Good news for boring, dull, plain and unimportant people. Luke 14.7-14

Luke 14.1,7-14

One of the big themes of Luke’s gospel is that in the Kingdom of God the exalted will be humbled and the humble will be exalted

Listen to the audio of the sermon here

Mary praises God when she is told that she is to be the mother of Jesus: She speaks as if the Kingdom of God has already come on earth. ‘He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly’ (Luke 51.2)
At the beginning of his ministry Jesus proclaims his manifesto: he has come for the poor, the captive, the blind and the oppressed (Luke 4.18f)
Later Jesus says, ‘Woe to you who are rich, who are full, who laugh now’ and ‘Blessed are you who are poor, who are hungry, who weep now’ (Luke 6.20ff).
On several occasions he says how in the Kingdom of heaven, the order of this world will be transformed, turned upside down. ‘The first will be last and the last will be first’
And he tells his disciples that the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven will not be the person who lords it over others, but be the person who serves

And in Luke 14 it is no different.


Jesus challenges those people who think that they are more important than other people, who like to take the places of honour. He warns them that they will be humbled.
But he also says that those who take the lowest seats will be exalted.

So what is going on?

Is this simply a story about where you should sit at a formal function?
Or should we look for something more?
Is Jesus telling us not to push ourselves forward, not to promote ourselves?
Or is he telling us to look at ourselves realistically?

Yes, yes and yes! But it is more than that.

This is good news for the those who think they are nobody and it is also, surprisingly, good news for those who are trying to become somebody.

We play the game of trying to get on in life, of proving ourselves to others and maybe to ourselves, of making sure we are invited to the right parties, that we are the big shot in the room or at least that our status is recognised.

That was what people were doing at this lunch party Jesus was at.

And when we are not guests but hosts - we have to try and check that we have the correct guest list, that all the right people are there – the people we can boast about (‘I know so and so .. ’), who will help us get on in life, who will increase our wealth or our status.

In one of the Harry Potter books, Uncle Vernon invites Mr and Mrs Mason to dinner. Mr Mason is the owner of a large drill company and Uncle Vernon is hoping to sign a very profitable agreement with Mr Mason. Everybody has their job to do. Uncle Vernon is the host, Aunt Petunia is the hostess, son Dudley is to flatter Mr Mason mercilessly, and Harry – ‘Harry’, says Uncle Vernon, ‘You are to remain up in your room, pretending that you do not exist’. Of course, it all goes wrong and Mrs Mason ends up with the dessert over her head, and fleeing the house because of an invasion of owls, and she happens to have an owl phobia. And Mr Mason doesn’t sign the contract!

But Jesus here is telling us not to play the status game
If you are invited to a dinner party or a function, Jesus says, head for the lowest seat.

Notice how Jesus changes the Proverb that we read (Proverb 25.6-7).

In Proverbs, we are told not to put ourselves forward in the Kings’ presence because we might be humiliated. We are told that it is better to let the king promote us rather than demote us.

A Rabbi, who taught 80 years after Jesus, advised his disciples to take the place 3 places lower than where they thought they thought they should be. That is politically very wise. It means that you will probably be promoted by the host, but if you are not, you avoid the risk of being demoted and if you have to stay in that seat, then you are not really shamed.

But Jesus says, ‘when you go to a dinner party or function, take the lowest seat’
Not a lower seat, not the seat 3 down the pecking order, but the lowest seat.

Why?

Because we are living for a different kingdom. We are not living for the kingdoms of this world, for the status and power and wealth that they can give us.
So we do not need to play the games of the kingdoms of this world

That is good news whoever you are

1. It is exhausting playing this status game. And it takes up so much time and energy. We angst that people do not think well of us. We get angry because we do not get the honour or respect that we think we deserve.

2. And it is not necessary to play this status game.
In the real world, in the world of the Kingdom of God, the truly solid world of God, it just does not matter how important or how unimportant, how powerful or powerless, how respected or insignificant we are in this world.
Indeed, it is much harder to see the Kingdom of God when we are cluttered down with stuff and status. On one occasion Jesus tells his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

3. It does not matter if we find we are in the lowest place, because Jesus has come for people who sit in the lowest places or who are made to sit in the lowest places.
In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul writes how in the community of early Christians, not many were wise by human standards, powerful or of noble birth. And he continues, ‘God chose what is foolish in the world … what is weak in the world … what is low and despised in the world’. God chose the things that are not.
Because the things that are not, the people who are not, know their need for God and their dependence on God. There is nothing or nobody else who they can rely on apart from God.
And it is through the people who are not but who put their trust in God, that God can show his power.

4. And it is good news because the doors of the Kingdom of God are flung open wide to ‘the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind’. It is thrown open to people who are nobodies, who have nothing and who are nothing in this world.

Jesus makes that clear in a story that he tells, straight after this.

One of the guests, hearing Jesus teach about the resurrection of the righteous, says – it is a pious remark – ‘blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of heaven’. And in response Jesus tells of a person who threw a great dinner and invited many guests. He sent them invitations ahead of time and when the feast was ready, he sent them a reminder. But on the day of the banquet, they all made excuses: they had ‘this world’ things to do – inspect their land, inspect a new purchase, go on honeymoon. And so the person instructs his servants to go into the streets and lanes and bring in ‘the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame’.

In other words, Jesus seems to be saying that, yes – those who eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God will be blessed. But the problem is that most people, especially those who are too much tied up with the things of this world, will miss the invitation.
It is ‘the poor, crippled, blind and lame’ who will hear and respond.

And Jesus tells his followers, “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. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. (Luke 14:12-13)

He is not saying that you should never invite your friends or family around for a meal, or even occasionally the Mr Mason’s. He sat at table with his friends.

Rather he is saying that if you are into this ‘status seeking dinner party game’ then if you really want the honour that matters, status in the Kingdom of Heaven, you are to invite, not your friends or rich neighbours, but ‘the poor, crippled, lame and blind’
And when you do that, you are behaving like God.

It is interesting that the places where Christianity is having most impact is often within some of the poorest communities in our world. People are turning to God. That is also true in communities where people are experiencing trauma, when the things that they have put their trust in have been stripped away from them, and they find that they are standing on shaky ground. They also are turning to God. They realise that they need God and they are looking for another world.

The opposite is also true. In stable wealthy communities, people generally do not turn to God, unless it is to provide a religious fa├žade or justification for their wealth and power. They think that they do not really need God because they have everything that they need.

I said at the beginning that this was not just good advice for dinner parties or functions – but it is also quite good advice.

1. You may be someone who puts on parties or invites people around for a meal. If you are that is a great thing. Hospitality is a spiritual gift, and churches where people eat together are churches which grow. 
And if you are not, then maybe this is a challenge to us to become more hospitable, even if it is going with someone to ‘mymy’.

But if you are someone who throws parties, make sure that when you send out the invitation, you invite not only the bright and attractive and influential and significant guests. Don’t just invite the people who can help you get on, but invite also those who won’t help you get on in this world. 
And when they come honour them.

2. When you go to a party, do not go thinking that you are the most important person, or do not go thinking, how can I prove that I am the most important person. And do not go thinking, how can I speak with, or engage with the most important or the most powerful or the most beautiful people here. How can I use this/them to get on.

Instead ‘take the lowest place’. Try and treat every other person there – however dull they may seem to you, or boring, or plain, or unimportant – not as if they are the most important person in the world, but at least as if they are more important, more worthy of honour, than yourself.

It is what Paul suggests:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others”. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Or in Romans 12:10, ‘Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour’.

I suspect that most of us are really scared that if they take away our professional role or human status, or if they strip away our bravado and the defensive walls that we build up; that if they remove our metaphorical and literal makeup, or the projected images that we present to the world, then we will be seen for what we think we are: dull, boring, plain and unimportant.

But it doesn’t matter, because Jesus told us you don’t need to be the most important person in the room. In fact, it doesn’t matter even if you are the most insignificant person. Because Jesus did not come for people in the top seat, but for people in the bottom seat. He came for dull, boring, plain and unimportant people – he extends his invitation to the poor, crippled, lame and blind – and he loves us and he died for us.

And he welcomes us, likes us and he invites us – even people like you and me - to feast with him at his banquet in the Resurrection, in the Kingdom of heaven.

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