By Pastor Steven Molin
Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I want to try an interactive sermon with you this morning. Interactive, in that the first part of the sermon will be written by you. Before I preach, I want to gain your impressions of a few things, and if I’m right, what you say will guide the remainder of my message. Here’s how it will go; I will say a word, and you will tell me if that thing is “good” or “bad.” Simple as that. But you will not merely tell me, you will TELL me! Got it? “Good” or “Bad,” all right?
– God – The Devil
– The Green Bay Packers – The Minnesota Vikings
– Vanilla Ice Cream – Chocolate Ice Cream – Any Flavor of Ice Cream
– Vacuuming the carpet – Mowing the lawn
– The back Row at a Concert – The back Row at a Lutheran Worship Service
Thank you; my research tells me that I am right. That all of us have varying positions on what is good and what is bad, what is pleasant and unpleasant, what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. It all depends on our perspective, or our experience, or our perception of ourselves.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus was invited to a dinner in the home of his adversaries. The Pharisees didn’t really like Jesus, they only wanted to get a better view of him, so they invited him to a dinner party. And when Jesus arrived, he began to notice an interesting thing: the guests were racing to take the places of honor. They wanted to sit up front where they could see and be seen. They wanted to rub shoulders with the beautiful people, and be the first to be served their meal. Jesus noticed that he people who sat down front were wearing the brighter clothes; they were sporting the most jewelry and laughing the most boisterous laugh. And then he noticed that those in the back of the room wore rather plain clothes, and little jewelry, and their voices were quieter.
And casting his gaze on the beautiful people, he said “Shame on you for taking all the best seats for yourselves! Shame on you for assuming that you are better than those who sit behind you! Shame on you for thinking you deserve to sit in the front, while you think that these people deserve to sit in the back! In my Kingdom, everyone who makes themselves great will be humbled, and everyone who humbles themselves will be made great!”
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Now the gospel text doesn’t say this, but I think this is what Jesus did; I think he moved his chair to the very back of the room, and then announced to the crowd “Please turn your chairs around, for now the head table is here.” The great were humbled, and the humble were made great. (The remainder of the sermon is delivered from the back row).
But Jesus wasn’t done, because then he turned to his host and scolded him for inviting only the beautiful people to his party. I don’t know who those were seated in the back…maybe they were the servants, but Jesus noticed that the bona fide guests were healthy, wealthy and proud. So Jesus said “I’ve noticed that your guests are either related to you, or in a position to pay the favor back when they invite you to dinner.” And then Jesus said to the host “I dare you to throw a party and invite only homeless beggars into your dining room. I dare you to throw a party and ask if you can hold it for the inmates at the local jail.” And suddenly the tables were turned; the proud had been humbled, and the humble became proud.
The point Jesus is making at this party is that humility is one of the important marks of his kingdom. Humble people make good disciples; proud people make for lousy followers. And the question for us is, are we among the proud…or are we among the humble. I can’t answer for you. I can answer for me, and I am too proud to tell you where I fit. I am the one who likes sitting by the beautiful people. I am the one that wants to be seen with the celebrities. I am the one who would not be so likely to rub shoulders with the stranger, and the homeless, and the poor. So in this text, Jesus is speaking to me, and he says “Steven, everyone who makes himself or herself great will be humbled. And those who make themselves humble will be great.”
It doesn’t have to start by throwing a dinner for the homeless; it might start by simply sharing one meal. We have all noticed, from time to time, people standing by the freeway exit to Maplewood Mall with the sign: “Homeless, Hungry, Please Help.” One woman thought about throwing a $5 bill at the man, but instead she rolled down her window and said “I won’t give you any money, but if walk over to Burger King, I will sit and share a meal with you.
It doesn’t have to begin by teaching the whole Sunday School; it might begin by taking a single role on a Sunday morning. Two Sunday mornings each month, our nursery is staffed by Karen McClaren. She loved the title by which she is known; “The Nursery Grandma.” She doesn’t have any small children or grandchildren here; but she is a servant.
It doesn’t have to start by passing by the best seats at a wedding banquet; maybe it begins by passing by the closest parking spots at Cub and leaving them for someone else. I don’t know if you have ever noticed, and I am not setting us up as pillars of virtue, but have you noticed that on Sunday mornings, Keith and I use the farthest parking spaces in the lot. It’s just meant to be a small example of servanthood.
Finally, this; Young Life has a camp in Northern Minnesota called The Castaway Club, and every summer, hundreds of teenagers go there and experience the greatest week of their lives. But each month, about two dozen teenagers volunteer to serve at Castaway on the work crew. They aren’t paid anything to work there; in fact, they pay their own transportation to get there. All for the privilege of serving.
The most popular jobs on the work crew are in the dining room as a waitress or a bus boy. There, you get to meet the campers, and you might even get a phone number or an address of an attractive guy or gal. Everybody on work crew wants to work in the dining room. But one summer, when the jobs were being handed out, a young gal was told that she would be the Towashee girl. At first she was excited; “Yes! I get to be the Towashee girl!” And then she asked “What exactly does the Towashee girl do?” And the work crew boss said “She gets to washee the toilets.” And for a month that summer, this young girl who wasn’t paid anything for her effort, scrubbed toilets in the girls dormitory. When all the campers were swimming or skiing or sailing, she spent her afternoons with Draino, Lysol and Mr. Clean. But at the end of the summer, this is what she said: “My life is changed. I will never again see myself as better or more important than someone else. That’s the lesson I learned by scrubbing toilets this summer.”
If you, like me, are among the proud of this world, how will God turn us into humble servants? Thanks be to God. Amen.
— Copyright 2004, Steven Molin. Used by permission.