For Such A Time As This: Lift Others Up
Free Community Church
28 August 2022
Good morning. It’s an honor to share God’s word with you today. Let us pray.
Prayer of Preparation
Eternal God, in the reading of the Scripture, may your Word be heard;
in the meditations of our hearts, may your Word be known;
and in the faithfulness of our lives, may your Word be shown. Amen.
Today’s Scripture reading is from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 14, verses 7-14. Hear now the word of God.
7 When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice:
8 “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited?
9 The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!
10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests.
11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward.
13 Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”
The Word of the Lord.
In Jesus’ teachings, we see that God values the humble and the generous, that is, those who “lift up others”. What do Jesus’ teachings mean to us today?
I invite you to consider these two questions:
What kind of guest are you? Are you restlessly seeking seats of honor or are you content to take the lowest place at the table?
What kind of hosts are we? Are our relationships based solely on extracting value from each other, or do we give without expecting repayment?
There are two kinds of guests that Jesus describes in his parable – those who compete for the seats of honor, and those who are content to sit anywhere, even in the lowest place. The difference is in the condition of their hearts.
What is your place of honor? What do you desire?
As I read the following quotes by David Foster Wallace, reflect on which statements feel true for you.
“Everyone worships. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth.
Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. “
“Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay.
Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.”
We compete for seats of honor, for money, beauty, power, and intellect because we’re afraid that there aren’t enough and because we judge ourselves, judge each other and are judged in return.
If you were at risk of losing your money, possessions, beauty, power, and intellect, would it make you feel afraid, angry, or despondent i? If so, then it’s possible that you’re worshiping these things, instead of God.
Contrast the restless heart with one that is content, that is at rest. This heart is characterized by a deep security and sense of worth in God’s love.
A wonderful illustration of what it means to be transformed by God’s love comes from a series of Christian cartoons called Veggie Tales, which features singing vegetables.
One of my favorite episodes is a rhyming story about a group of little creatures known as Snoodles. Every Tuesday, a new Snoodle slides down a chute from a large clock tower in the middle of town to join the Snoodle society.
One Tuesday, Snoodle Doo emerges with a backpack containing paints, a paintbrush and a kazoo. He also discovers that he has wings. As he is figuring out his purpose in life, he tries to use these gifts.
But the older Snoodles ridicule his attempts and paint pictures of his failures and stuff them in his backpack. Over time, he becomes weighed down by these pictures, which made him feel worthless.
Finally, he decides to leave Snoodleburgh. When he reaches the top of a nearby mountain, he meets a Stranger who invites him into his house and explains that he is the Creator of the Snoodles.
The Creator throws away the drawings that the other Snoodles made and shows him a new one, saying. “Here’s what you look like, here’s how I see you. Keep this in your pack and you’ll find it will free you; from all of the pictures and all of the lies that others made up just to cut down your size.”
I remember watching this and feeling profoundly moved by the simple yet powerful truth. The only person who truly knows me is my Creator, and God wants me to see myself from God’s perspective.
You can see that the picture is of Snoodle Doo not as he is now, but as he is meant to be – flying with confidence and joy.
God sees your potential and wants to free you from measuring your worth based on money, things, beauty, power, and intellect.
But God also wants to free you for something else.
“There are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.”
To all who are listening today, are you restless or are you content? If you want to be free from needing to win, achieve, and display, to grab that seat of honor, then ask yourself – how does God see me? who does God say that I am? Do I believe that I am fearfully and wonderfully made? Do I believe that I am God’s beloved child, in whom God is pleased?
Next, we turn to Jesus’ advice to the host. Jesus highlighted two contrasting kinds of hospitality, which I label as transactional and transformative.
“When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward.”
What Jesus is doing here, is not dismissing relationships with loved ones, but critiquing the host’s motivation. One of the clues in the text is “rich neighbors”. The host’s goal is to impress their peers, to display, or even to advance, their social standing.
This still happens in today’s wedding banquets. There is careful tracking of hong baos to ensure reciprocity between families. These ritual transactions reinforce social class boundaries.
In other words, they keep the circle closed, allowing entry only to those who can contribute. A wedding banquet is never a free lunch.
Transactional relationships can get what each party wants, but they are unlikely to create the world that God wants.
“Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”
On the surface, it may seem that Jesus is teaching us to simply be charitable to the poor.
But the context here is of a banquet, where guest attendance is critical to the host’s honor. It is embarrassing if guests don’t show up, after all the preparations have been made.
Jesus is saying that the poor and those suffering from infirmities honor the host with their presence.
Jesus is challenging the host to establish a guest relationship with the poor and infirmed as equals, treating them just as they would their family and neighbors.
Are there poor and those suffering from infirmities among us? I believe so, even though it is hard to see sometimes.
In our community, some of us suffer from various physical or mental conditions. Some have experienced abuse or trauma. Some have addictions. Some struggle to stay employed. Some live paycheck to paycheck.
Some experience pain from estranged relationships with family or friends. Some challenges are obvious, and others are harder to detect.
Just as the poor honor the host with their presence, so we honor the community by sharing our experiences of struggle, to encourage one another to have faith and hope.
But we can’t simply dump our burdens on each other. We are limited in how much we can help each other.
But God has infinite time, attention, compassion, and presence. For us to be an emotionally healthy community, we need to have God mediate our relationships.
Whenever we are sharing or listening to another person’s story, imagine that Jesus is sitting with us. Sometimes, we may not be entirely honest with ourselves or each other, but God knows the entire truth and will patiently guide us.
Our responsibility is simply to lift up each other to God, not to fix each other.
Let’s be hosts who see our responsibility not as charity, but as building a diverse community that honors all kinds of people, especially those who struggle with various challenges.
Hosting guests always comes with a reward. The reward for transactional hospitality is the exchange of social capital that people use to get ahead in life.
The reward from God for transformational hospitality is so much better. But what is this reward?
In several places, the apostle Paul wrote about a prize or a crown that he’s striving for. As he neared his likely execution, he wrote to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.” (1 Timothy 4:7-9)
What is this crown?
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thess 2:18-20), he passionately stated, “After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy.”
Look around, our reward is each other, this community we are becoming, the body of Christ. It is in how we care, how we celebrate, how we mourn, how we encourage, how we listen, how we set healthy boundaries, how we keep promises, how we forgive, and how we gently admonish each other.
Life together may not always feel rewarding, but with God’s help, we will keep progressing.
Do Jesus’ teachings feel too hard? Impossible even?
- How do I become free from the things I worship (that are not God)?
- How do we stop using our relationships to exchange favors when everyone else is doing it?
- How do we manage the discomfort of being with people who are different from us?
Yes, impossible. Unless…
Jesus comes into our lives as guest and host.
In a letter to the church in Laodicea, the Spirit of Christ says to a church that has become lukewarm, full of nominal Christians, “I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (Revelation 3:20).
Last week, Gary preached about responding to God’s call. In the final menti question, he asked, “what do you sense God calling you to ‘for such a time as this?’. In the middle of many heartfelt messages to serve, witness, and love, I was struck by the response, “enjoy the moment.”
Start there. Open the door. Jesus promises to enter, not to demand anything of you, but to delight in your company, as friends enjoy spending time together for its own sake.
[insert stuff here]
Do you know Jesus as your friend?
Jesus never owned a home, so he was always a guest. Even for the last supper before his execution, he had to borrow a room to host the meal.
In John 13, “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and pour water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.” (3-5)
Jesus is fully aware of his position as Lord and Teacher. He is completely deserving of us falling at his feet; instead, Jesus falls at our feet. He says, “And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.” (John 13:14)
Jesus, our host, has become our servant. Jesus, the only one who deserves to sit at the right hand of God, willingly gave up his seat to give us seats at the table. He showed us what it means to make room for each other without fear of losing out.
Do you know Jesus as your servant?
As we grow to personally know Jesus as a guest who becomes a friend, and as a host who becomes a servant, our lives will be changed, and we will experience freedom and courage to live selfless lives.
Let us pray.