The Way Up is the Way Down

 Proper 17C’19

1 September 2019

Prov.25.6-7; Luke 14.1, 7-14

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone

 

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God;” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. – From Micah 6.8 NRSV

A long time ago, there was a priest who lived as a hermit in the desert and accepted guests for only one day, every ten years...

The hermit was the holiest of men and it was a great honor to be invited to his home, so the town would select their best citizen to go. The citizen could also bring a guest.

The good citizen, who was selected, knew the town Drunk. He wanted to save the man or at least teach him humility. So, he chose the drunk to go with him.

As they walked through the forest to the hermitage, the good citizen said to the drunk, "The hermit is a holy man above all others living. Please do not do anything that would offend him or he will send us away. I'm doing this for you to learn humility because I am not convinced you have any."

The drunk said, "I will be as polite to him as I can manage."

They arrived at the Hermitage and walked inside. The hermit motioned for them to come in and take a seat.

The good citizen falls to his knees while the drunk stands. The good citizen says, "O, wise hermit, I'm the best citizen in the town. I have worked tirelessly for my fellow man. I have come to you to save only one more soul and to teach him what humility is."

He noticed the Drunk didn't say anything so he slapped him on the leg. The drunk says, "O, wise hermit, I have only one thing to tell you." At this point the drunk told a joke that was so bawdy and raunchy that it has been lost to history.

The good citizen sat aghast. The Hermit was stone-faced like a monument, and motioned for them to step forward. The good citizen stood to step forward and the hermit shook his head and waved him off and pointed at the drunk. 

The drunk being very surprised stepped forward cautiously. The Hermit leaned in close to the man and said, "Alright, stop me if you've heard this one..."[1]

There are many ways we can try and pump up our egos, and as the joke reminds us, we can even use the practice of religion for that purpose. The good citizen, by focusing on the town drunk whom he saw as his inferior, was blind to his own need, in his zeal to save others he forgot to he needed saving as well. The wise hermit favored the humble man, and ignored the good citizen.

 

This attitude of religious pride and egocentrism is perfectly represented by the Pharisees in our gospel reading. Filled with the pride that comes from power, privilege and pedigree, they posture themselves to watch Jesus, the new kid on the block very closely. So, what does Jesus do, he tells a story, to point his listeners away from the pecking order found in the world, towards the way things are in the Kingdom of God. The story happens in the setting of a Wedding Banquet where there are many distinguished guests.  There is a head table and Jesus cautions the listeners not to try and sit there, lest the host come and ask then to give up their seat for someone who’s more distinguished and they are embarrassed as they have to take a lower seat. Has anything like that ever happened to you?

 

I thought of at least two times where I made a similar mistake, once at Oxford and the other right here at St. Luke’s. I was a participant in a summer theology program and it was time for our first evening meal together. Dinner took place in the great hall of Christ Church College, and it is the very hall that Hogwart’s in the Harry Potter films was based on. Upon entering I noticed a nice table up front under a 9 ft. painting of Henry VIII and a bust of the current Queen E II, and this boy from Arkansas thought that looked like a good place to sit down – so I did. After about 10 mins. a steward came up to me and asked to see my invitation “slip.” I had no slip, and didn’t know what he was talking about. He informed me that I had to be invited to sit at the head table and that unless I could produce said slip, I would have to remove myself to one of the tables in the back, Pretty embarrassing.

 

The other experience was at the last visitation by our bishop. I of course as the priest took my place in the chair next to the bishop. Then Bishop Benfield leaned over and said, “I need for the deacon to sit next to me.” So, feeling the sting of embarrassment I removed myself and asked Richard to move into the chair next to the bishop. Naiveté in the first instance, and assumption in the second resulted in my being humbled and asked to move. Jesus makes reference to the brief reading from Proverbs: “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.” Jesus shows them and us what the posture in the kingdom of God looks like: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”[2] Don’t forget who number 1 is and that it’s not us.

 

On the heels of this story Jesus kicks the dinner conversation up a notch. Not only should we take on the posture of humility but we should place ourselves in a position where we can offer radical hospitality. Jesus talks about what a proper dinner in the kingdom of God looks like. It would be a dinner where the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind are invited. He cautions not to invite our friends, neighbors, or families, why? Because they might repay our kindness by inviting us. Now I hope I haven’t received my last dinner invitation; I don’t believe Jesus is saying never invite friends. Family, etc. but what he is saying that as followers of Jesus we will reach out to those who cannot repay us in anyway.

 

St. Luke’s ever since I have known you, this is what you have been doing. One of the first things you did after I came here was to have a back to school eucharist for all of the students and parents of the recently shut down Cathedral School. Some of them remained and served here for several years but most of them gradually have gone. We have performed a couple of baptisms for families who lived in different states but had no church home. You have fed homeless veterans (two words that should never go together) and of course they could not repay us. You housed a homeless sr. adult woman with special needs for an entire summer. You have housed, fed, and clothed homeless families with children. To my knowledge none of them have ever joined St. Luke’s or put a single dollar in our offering plates – but they have all added so much more to us and because of them we have received the blessing from Jesus himself, he says: “You will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”[3]

 

My friends let us accept Christ’s invitation to take on the posture of humility, to gladly take our place in a seat at the lower table and offer our hospitality to all those who seek after a better kingdom whose builder and maker is God. Amen.

 

 



[1] https://upjoke.com/humility-jokes

[2] Luke 14.7 nrsv

[3] Luke 14.14

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