I am completely confused. Being a political animal I hang on every word uttered by our Presidential candidates. I chew on their comments. I let them rattle around in my brain while trying to form an objective opinion based on my understanding of how I believe God would have me live. This year’s election is giving me a real headache. One candidate claims he will make America great. His opponent claims America is already great. Jesus claims the objective is not to be great but humble. Some would suggest this is why we have separation of church and state. Matters of the nation should never be discussed from a spiritual perspective. I am quite certain Jesus would disagree. There needs to be a separation of church and state in order that we have the freedom to consider the moral condition of our nation. Are we a great nation? Obviously that seems to be debatable. Are we a humble nation? Are you kidding me? Would a little more humility make us a great nation? Jesus seems to be suggesting it would not hurt.
I am well aware nowhere in the 14th chapter of Luke does Jesus suggest he is trying to heal a nation. He is just making casual observations about dinner parties. (I hope there is no one here that really believes that.) Jesus is always challenging us to wrestle with difficult issues by using everyday examples to bring us into the conversation.
While I know very little about etiquette, I seemed to get invited to a lot of weddings. It sort of comes with the job. I have noticed folks who arrange these celebrations spend an awful lot of time on seating arrangements. In the good old days there was a table for the bride’s family, a table for the groom’s family and a table for the wedding party. Today, everybody gets a place setting. That gets a bit complicated. Let’s say Betty Jo is getting married to Billy Bob. Betty Jo’s mother was divorced when Betty Jo was two. Where does the father of the bride sit? Billy Bob’s father is on his third marriage. Where do the three wives sit? How many tables do you set aside for all the grandparents?
Then there are the complications of having a wedding party. More than once I have officiated a wedding where the best man and the maid of honor were “best friends forever” when the save the date magnet was attached to everyone’s refrigerator. Before the wedding dress was bought, they became the next hot item. Unfortunately, the week of the third bridal shower, they had a fight and broke up. So where do you sit them? Truth is, where do you sit anyone?
Jesus was sitting in the back of a room watching people claw over each other trying to get the best seats. One of the disciples said, “Jesus, if we don’t sit near the front? I don’t think anyone knows we are here. Why come if no one notices us?”
Jesus responded, “The host invited us and he knows we are here.” Then Jesus made a mistake. Now I know some folks would argue Jesus was perfect, but clearly he misspoke when he uttered his next words. “If you start out in the back, the host will notice, reward your humbleness, and move you closer to the dinner table.” How many times have you seen folks putting on the face of humility in order to be moved up the social or corporate ladder? Isn’t this is just another form of arrogance.
Let me give you a classic example from my line of work. Next time you are at a fellowship dinner at any church, watch the minister. It is one of our humility tricks. Clergy always go to the back of the line. Everyone must be fed before us. That way we stand out and our humbleness is celebrated. We are just waiting for someone to call out, “Pastor, come up here in the front of the line before we run out of fried chicken.” We forget humbleness celebrated is hardly humbleness at all. Secretly we all want to be noticed. Secretly we all want to be seated at the head of the table. And if Jesus gives us a strategy to make it happen, isn’t that all the better.
Fortunately, Jesus can be wrong but not wrong for long. Perfection has a way of quickly perfecting itself. Once Jesus sees his back of the line mentality has been misunderstood he upsets our status quo by saying, “If you are asking me to comment on proper etiquette, I believe the wrong people have been invited to this party. If you really want to do the right thing, invite those folks who never get invited. Send an invitation to the poor, the blind, and the cripple. They are really the ones who love to be invited to a party.” The folks who understand this are the real saints in our midst.
As you all are aware, we lost a saint this week. Many of you knew Sarah as the heart and soul of the first service choir. She picked the music, kept up with our busy schedules, nursed our bruised egos and sang like an angel. But her role in the choir did not award her sainthood. She was a soprano. It is hard for sopranos to be humble and with a very good reason. They sing higher than the rest of us and without sopranos there would be no one to sing melody.
A few of you are aware Sarah gathered with others each Monday morning and prayed for this church. This was a real act of humbleness in which these folks set aside the beginning of their week in order to ask God to be with this congregation and community. It is a gracious and selfless act. But even this was not why Sarah attained sainthood.
Once upon a time, probably because she had a father who loved foreign missions, Sarah began to go on mission trips. When she became a member of Rockfish, she went on one of our Mexico trips where a lot of good work was accomplished. But Sarah struggled with those trips. I her eyes it seemed like the haves were working for but not with the have-nots. Then Sarah went to Guatemala. Suddenly she was thrust in a situation of complete dependence on folks she had never met. Trust me; Sarah was not the type person who liked things spinning out of her control. But in Guatemala, Sarah’s very livelihood was placed in the hands of folks we might consider poor and illiterate. Sarah embraced the women of Guatemala as they embraced her. Then she made it her mission to help us to see the love of God in folks we hardly ever think about. Through the humbleness, generosity, and faith of the women of Guatemala, Sarah found her soul. She desperately wanted others to experience her epiphany. Admittedly many of us never quite understood why the Guatemala trip was so important to Sarah. All I can say is thanks to her, the folks who spent time in Guatemala will never view issues of poverty, or racism, or even immigration the same. We now see the world as one big dinner party where everyone is invited. It is a round table. The guest of honor is anyone who is seated. Amazingly, every time it seems like there is no more room, a few more chairs arrive and no one is left without a seat. This was Sarah’s gift to us. This is why she became a saint. When she threw a party, everyone was invited. All she ever asked was the acknowledgement that each of the guests is our brother and sister. Such is the nature of humility born from God’s grace.
We will miss you Sarah. Amen.