The 14th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 17C (8/29/2010)

Contentment in Christ

Lessons: Proverbs 25:6-7 or Sirach 10:12-18 Psalm 112 (4) Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 St. Luke 14:1, 7-14

Semicontinuous Series: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 St. Luke 14:1, 7-14

Prayer of the Day: 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 Savior and Lord. Amen.

14:1 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.

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “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; 9 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. 10 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. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 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. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

St. Luke 14:1, 7-14. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The story is told of a congregation that was determined to find the most humble member of its fellowship. After a thorough search, the congregation’s leaders became satisfied that they had located such a person. The Worship Committee prepared a brief ceremony. A suitable medal was struck for recognition. Testimonials were gathered from members whose lives had been touched by that person. The Pastor prepared a moving address about how that member’s humility had been an asset and an inspiration to the congregation. A congregation meeting was called. The ceremony went off without a hitch. The member’s spouse and family were there, in their Sunday best. The medal was awarded to the person. It was a wonderful day.

The very next Sunday the award winner showed up for worship wearing the medal, so they had to take it back.

This story and this weekend’s text raise an interesting question: “Why would a Christian live in a humble manner?” Why would we diminish our stature in the presence of others – or spend time with those who are less powerful, less important than we are?

Many people form relationships or engage in behaviors that are designed to benefit themselves. We evaluate situations and individuals, seeking to discern what we have to gain. What can I get from knowing this person, from joining this organization, from supporting this cause? How can it benefit me?

Ironically, the same dynamic Jesus recognized at this dinner party can infect our faithfulness. Why would I “lower myself” and spend time with someone who is “less than me?” Do I do so in order to be noticed? Do I take a seat at the foot of the table, anxiously awaiting the moment when the host will notice me and dramatically usher me to a better place (all the time lamenting the fact that I’ve got to spend time with those people)? Do I help out at a food shelter, secretly hoping that God will reward me one day? There is a temptation for Christians to hear these words of Jesus, and pretend humility in order to be noticed (by God, or by others).

Such is not the intent of Jesus in this week’s Gospel lesson, though. He is not providing, here, a strategy for successful living. He is not offering us hints as to how to obtain the very best seats in heaven. He is inviting us into an entirely different manner of living. A manner of living that is shaped by the image of his cross.

Jesus (as Philippians 2:4-8 reminds us) was content to spend time with anyone who was in need of God’s grace. One imagines that he was as content – as at peace – with paupers and sinners as he was with the wealthy, and with the religious insiders of his day. He invites us to live in the same way, abandoning our desperate quest for status and honor, and becoming content to be a blessing to whomever happens to be near us. We do so not to earn God’s grace, but because we are recipients of God’s grace. We do so not to gain a better seat in life (or in heaven), but because we are content with the seat in which we find ourselves now. To live in such a way is to experience the peace and joy that Jesus wants us to know.

May God grant us the grace to know this kind of a life. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What did Jesus notice about the behavior of those who were guests at the dinner party he attended?
  2. What advice did he have to share with them?
  3. How do you suppose they responded to his words that day?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What examples have I seen of people who are scheming and positioning themselves for power or prestige?
  2. In what settings have I been content to be with people, just for the sake of being together?
  3. How might my example of humble contentment witness to the role my faith plays in my life?