Humbly Walking with God (09/01/13)

Humbly Walking with God
Luke 14:1, 7-14

14On 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.
7When 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; 9and 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. 10But 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. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12He 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. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Have you raised both dogs and cats? They are the most common and beloved animals. When I was a child, my family always had dogs and cats. I have clear memories about them. I loved dogs much more because I felt that they loved me back. But cats were very different. I loved them but I felt they didn’t love me or want to please me. What do you think? Do you agree with my memories?

Several years ago, a theological book was published about cats and dogs by two theologians, Bob Sjogren and Gerald Robison. The title is Cat and Dog Theology. This book offers us a fresh way of looking at our relationship with God. The authors observed the characteristics of dogs and cats and made a conclusion of the relationship with their master.
It all begins with a simple joke. Dogs have masters. Cats have staff. They say that cats may call you Master, but tend to live a self-centered life in which you are there to serve and take care of them. On the other hand, dogs are eager to see and please their master.

Dogs may look at their master and think, “You feed me, you pet me, you shelter me, you love me. You must be my God.” On the other hand, cats can look at their master and say, “You feed me, you pet me, you shelter me, you love me. I must be God.” They both look at the same master but they come to totally different conclusions.
These two different attitudes of dogs and cats remind us of our relationship with God. How do you describe your relationship with God? Is God your master or your staff?

In today’s text we read, Jesus gives us good advice for our relationship with God. Let us first see the teaching of Jesus. He was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath. After the meal, Jesus says that when you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor. The host may come and say to you, “give another person your place.” Then in disgrace you would take the lowest place. Instead, go and sit down at the lowest place. The host may say, ‘friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.

Choosing a place of honor shows the desire for special honor that Luke associates with the Scribes and Pharisees, a desire that was probably widespread in ancient Mediterranean culture.
Jesus warns that the attempts to gain the place of honor can actually lead to its opposite: the shame of being moved to the lowest place. On the other hand, those willing to take the lowest place will be honored. Jesus’ comments sound like good advice for avoiding shame and getting ahead in human society.

Moreover, Jesus’ advice is not only good for human society but also good for the kingdom of God. In this story, the dinner party is a metaphor for the joyful kingdom of God. In the kingdom, those who are willing to sit down at the lowest place will be honored.

The point of the story is to discourage his listeners, especially Scribes and Pharisees, from seeking the most special honor at the kingdom of God to avoid the humiliating situation of being displaced by someone like the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Jesus’ summary statement to the parable is the well-known aphorism: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (14:11).”

However, being humble is a huge challenge for us who live in today’s culture. I think the desire for special honor is much more widespread in our culture than in the ancient Mediterranean culture.
There are tons of competitions in our society and winning the competitions is a way to get special honor. Everyone wants to win and wants special honor. I want that too. Having special honor makes us happy. It is true. As you know, I was a basketball player when I was a high school student. I don’t want to brag about myself but I was pretty famous. When I finished a game, I was the one the reporters sought out for my comments. In the basketball league, I always got the attentions of others. I was enjoying the moments when I had special honor from others. However, giving up basketball was too terrible. One of the reasons was that I lost special attention and honor from all who saw me play.

Now that I got over the pain, I discerned the meaning of the special honor I got as a basketball player. I asked myself, “Was it really special? Was God saying that I was special because I was a good basketball player?” Based on these questions, I rethought the meaning of special honors. What is it? How can I get it?

The answer is in the text we read. Humility. A Christian educator and pastor, Andrew Murray gave a near-perfect definition of humility. I quote, “Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble. The humble person is not one who thinks mainly of himself; he simply does not think of himself at all.”

Jesus says in the text, “Sit down at the lowest place. I will move you up higher.” This is what Jesus promised to us. A person with humility will be blessed with various spiritual fruits. In Matthew 5, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
These are the spiritual fruits exhibited by the people who humbly walk with God. These are the promise Jesus made for the people who diligently try to practice humility. To these people, God gives special honor.

Let me wrap up today’s sermon with this story. You know St. Augustine. His life was totally committed to God. He once told this story. “When a certain famous speaker was asked what was the chief rule of eloquence, he replied, ‘delivery.’ What was the second rule? ‘Delivery.’ What was the third rule? Delivery. So if you ask me the chief rules of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer, ‘Humility.’” Humility is the fundamental grace and value in the Christian life.

In fact, Augustine’s life was full of special honor by others. He was such a genius that he was always on the top of all the competitions he had through his life. However, he didn’t think of those honors as special honors. The only special honor comes from God and God gives it to us only when we humbly stand before God. Augustine knew that. This was why he thought of humility as the fundamental grace and value in the Christian life.

I pray that we all humbly walk with God together as one body. Then, as humble followers of Christ, we will experience that God moves us higher and higher.
Let us pray. Dear Lord, thank you for your message this morning. Now we pray that you grant us patience and courage to live humbly before you. And bless us to have special honor from you. In your name we pray. Amen.