The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 22, 2019
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Be Thankful for Your God-given Status!
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
A house, a vacation home; a car, a truck; the size of one’s annual income, the size of one’s retirement nest-egg, the size of one’s estate; the way a person looks, the looks of the person who is standing by their side; the accomplishments one has achieved in their career, the accomplishments one has achieved vicariously through their children and their grandchildren — what do all of these things have in common? They all fit under the heading of “Status Symbols,” don’t they? Our world and our society are fixated on status symbols. Whether we realize it or not and whether we like it or not a person’s “status” in this world is considered to be very important. Someone with a higher status is considered to be more valuable than someone with a lower status. That’s the way this world works.
When’s the last time that you’ve contemplated your own status, my friends? Was it when you went over to someone’s house and were glad that you didn’t have to live in a house like that? Was it when you looked at someone’s job and wished you could have a job like that? It is amazing how easily status plays a role in both our lives and in our dealings with the people around us.
Status. That is the central issue that is being addressed here in our sermon text for today. As we study this portion of Scripture let’s note two things. First, let’s see how the world deals with the issue of status. Then, let’s see how our Lord defines the issue of status.
Luke sets the stage for us in the opening verse of our text when he writes, “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.” Jesus had reached that point in His ministry where people were not only actively opposing Him, but they were consciously looking for ways to discredit Him, to bring down His “status” in the eyes of the people. That was the purpose behind this particular dinner invitation. A “prominent” Pharisee had invited Jesus over to his house for dinner— not so that he might have an opportunity to listen and learn from Jesus, but so that there would be an opportunity to “carefully watch” Jesus. Very literally the Greek word which is translated here as “carefully watch” can be translated as “to lie in wait.” Can you imagine going to dinner at someone’s house knowing that they were “lying in wait” for you— knowing that they were just salivating over the possibility that you might do something or say something that they could then use against you?
Personally, I find it rather interesting perhaps even ironic that the One who was being “carefully watched” turned out to be the One who “noticed” or “kept a close watch” on the people as they came into this dinner gathering. What did Jesus “notice”? Look at verse seven. Luke writes, “When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable….” Now remember that these people had been invited to have dinner at the home of a “prominent” or a “ruling” Pharisee. Humanly speaking it is not at all difficult for us to understand why they wanted to sit in a place of “honor.” Think of the prestige, the bragging rights — the status— they would gain in the eyes of others if they got to sit in a “place of honor” when invited to the home of a “prominent” Pharisee!
Why is it relatively easy for us to understand both the actions and the motivations of the people who “picked the places of honor at the table”? Because sometimes, my friends, we are not all that different, are we? We like to be publicly recognized when we do something “over and above” what may have been expected of us. We like to be patted on the back if we do something for the church or accept a position at church that no one else wants to accept. Deep down inside we kind of like it when people notice at least some of those things we mentioned at the beginning of this sermon— our house, our car, our wealth, our friends, our whatever. Because we all have that old sinful nature which puffs up with pride at the tiniest stroke of recognition we like to have our personal status elevated in the eyes of others. Unfortunately the status that we oftentimes strive to confer upon ourselves can— and usually does— come crashing to the ground like a popped balloon.
Jesus pictures this truth for us in the parable that is recorded here in our text. Glance through verses 8-11 of our text where Jesus talks about people who are attending a wedding feast. It is a rather presumptuous person who automatically assumes that they deserve to be given a “place of honor” — whether it is at a public gather such as a wedding banquet or simply in the eyes of the people around them. Eventually this type of person ends up being “humiliated” when someone who has a higher status puts them in their place. It is far better to have a humble heart— a heart that enables you to willingly and cheerfully take the “lowest place.” If someone does elevate you to a “better place”— fantastic! If not, that’s fine too!
Best of all, however, is to have a heart that is filled with so much humility that your life is spent concentrating on what you can do for others and not what others can do for you. Look at the closing verses of our text. Here Jesus warns us against doing something for someone else only when there is the hope of getting something in return. On the other hand, when we are willing to do something for someone who can not “pay us back,” then we will be “blessed” Jesus says here in our text. While we may never be publicly “blessed” here in this life we will most certainly be “blessed” “at the resurrection of the righteous” when Jesus will say to those on His right, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” How might we put these words into practice in our own personal lives? How could we do something for someone without expecting that they might pay us back? Think about it. Perhaps we could make a donation to a local food bank or maybe even volunteer to help at the food bank. Perhaps we could talk to a local school and see if there is a way to anonymously donate school supplies. With the number of natural disasters that seem to be taking place on a regular basis perhaps we could make a donation to Synod’s relief committee. Remember, my friends, that it doesn’t have to be something “big.” Jesus assures us that “whatever” we as Christians do for someone else we do for Him!
How does all of this tie in with our status? Whether we admit it or not we are all concerned about our status. We care about how other people view us. We care about what other people think of us. We care about what other people say concerning us. Just think back over the past week of your life, my friends. Did you do something or not do something; did you say something or not say something simply because of how it made you “look” in the eyes of others? If so, you were concerned about your status, weren’t you?
While the world and even our own sinful nature determines our status based upon things such as money, looks and IQ, the good Lord has a very different definition when it comes to our status, doesn’t He. What makes you “valuable” to God? What determines how much you are “worth” in the eyes of the Lord? What determines your personal “place of honor” at the heavenly Father’s table? It’s not your money. It’s not your house. It’s not your looks. It’s not your brains. What determines your “worth,” what grants you “honor,” what gives you “status” is your personal relationship with the Lord, the one and only true God! There on the cross (Pointing to the cross) Jesus Himself secured your status as a saved, forgiven and redeemed child of the heavenly Father. There at the baptismal font you were given the honor of being adopted by the living God Himself. Here at His altar the Lord Jesus Christ gives you His true body and blood to assure you of how precious you are to Him, how much you are “worth” in His eyes. Could there possibly be anything in this world that even begins to compare to who you are in the eyes of the Lord? Could there possibly be anything in this world that even begins to compare to your God-given status?
That God-given status, my friends, is what now fills our heart with true humility. Look into the mirror of God’s holy Law. Pick any one of the Ten Commandments and shine it into your own heart and into your own life. Now do the same with the other nine. Do you deserve the status that the good Lord has so graciously and so freely conferred upon you? I certainly don’t! Humbled by what God was willing to do (pointing to the cross) to give us the status of being His dearly beloved child we can skip being concerned about all those things that the world uses to determine a person’s status and we can concentrate on living our life in a way that says “Thank-you!” to our Savior God for the status that He has given to us.
Status. Whenever someone’s status is determined by the house they live in, by the possessions they have accumulated, by what they do for a living or by how they look their status will be extremely short-lived— especially when viewed from the perspective of eternity.
Status. Thank God, my friends, that your status is not determined by any of the things that are so important to this world. Thank God— in your heart and with your life— thank God that your status is determined by who you are in His eyes! (Pointing to the cross)
To God be the glory!