A sermon on Luke 14:1, 7-14
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
September 1, 2019
By Paul Dakin
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
This morning we begin with a few words of wit and wisdom from 18-time MLB All-Star, legendary manager of the Yankees, and eminent 20th Century American philosopher and thinker, Yogi Berra. Truth of the matter is, as an observer of human behavior and as a master of memorably mixing up his words, Yogi had few peers. Here are a few of his choice pearls of wisdom: “Whenever you come to a fork in the road, take it.” “Ninety percent of life is mental. The other half is physical.” “The future ain’t what it used to be.” “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” [Isn’t that the truth?!] Concerning a popular restaurant in New York City, Yogi commented, “Nobody goes there nowadays. It’s too crowded.” Perhaps one of his most famous lines: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
And one last quip…it’s the title of this morning’s sermon: “It ain’t the heat—it’s the humility.”1
Humility…it is one of those qualities that always seems to be in short supply. It is the rare person—especially among those in government—nowadays who exhibits humility in their dealings with others. Maybe it has always been that way—I don’t know. Yet I would suggest that the lack of humility in our society, the lack of humility in our nation’s leaders, and yes—even the lack of humility in religious circles—has seldom—if ever—been more apparent than it is today. Making pronouncements about things they know precious little about…Acting in a manner as if they have somehow figured out all of the mysteries concerning this thing called life. It’s just not that easy. Sometimes the world is a complicated place. No mortal has all the answers. It seems that even many of the followers of Jesus—and especially some of their leaders—have forgotten the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:3, in which he writes, “Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” I wish that those who loudly claim to speak for God would pause and take a few moments to consider those words before talking foolishness in the public sphere…
In Luke 14, Jesus is attending a Sabbath dinner at the house of a prominent Pharisee. This is one of Luke’s favorite ways to depict our Lord—gathered with others around the dinner table, telling stories and teaching truths about the kingdom of God. It has been said that, in the gospel of Luke, Jesus is constantly either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal. Place Jesus at a dining room table
1 (Accessed August 29, 2019)
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filled with all kinds of people—both those who were religious and those who had been rejected by society—and you will have a clear picture of who Jesus really was.2
At this particular dinner, there were guests who are jockeying for the best seats at the table, ones where their importance would be on display for all to see. Dispensing with the polite table conversation, Jesus gives them some advice. He tells them how they can succeed with what they are trying to accomplish. And he does it with a healthy dose of irony mixed in.
Instead of trying to score the best seat at the table from the outset, Jesus tells them that they should seek out the worst seat in the house—you know, the one near the bathroom, the one closest to the noisy kitchen, the one set up in the corner of the room, far away from the head table. That comment would have immediately turned a few heads and raised a few eyebrows. Those seeking the best seats at the table might have thought they were being discreet in their actions. Jesus obviously saw right through them and exposed them for what they were…
Continuing his advice, Jesus says that, when the host arrives, he will see you there in the nondescript seat and say, “What are you doing way over there?! Come right up here and sit by me. Y’all scoot down so that my friend can sit next to me while we chat.” Jesus finishes the story by concluding, “Then you will be honored in the presence of your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Those words were no doubt followed by the sound of crickets…
But Jesus wasn’t done. He perhaps sees the bemused smile on the host’s face after our Lord had put his pretentious guests in their place. And he turns it around back on the host. Our Lord says that, when you have a banquet, don’t just invite your friends, or your family, or your business associates, or your rich neighbors. (I imagine that this is exactly what the host had done at this gathering.) If you do that, Jesus said, then they are likely to return the favor by inviting you to their next dinner party. There’s nothing particularly virtuous or unusual about that. That is what everyone does. And Jesus says that you will have received your reward. Instead, Jesus says to invite those who will never be able to repay you—the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind.
Now Jesus is not saying that we shouldn’t have Grandma over for Sunday dinner. Nor is he saying that we should not invite our friends over to share a meal with us. No—that is not at all the point that Jesus is making. Instead, Jesus is saying that our good deeds should not be done with an eye to what we may get out of it. He says that, if you only invite people who can repay you, or people who can do some favor for you, then you are simply using hospitality as a means to something else. It is a quid pro quo arrangement. Such an action is nothing that particularly glorifies God. And that is what our Lord is cautioning against with this teaching. Do not try to use a godly action for your own benefit…
2 See Linda McKinnish Bridges, The Church’s Portraits of Jesus (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing Co., 1997), 68.
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Those who exalt themselves will be humbled…and those who humble themselves will be exalted… Jesus here teaches that humility is the quality of life that we should seek…the characteristic that God seeks to grow in us…Humility is one of the hallmarks of the spiritual life…
William Law was an 18th Century English minister who studied at Cambridge University like many of his colleagues. But in contrast to many of his peers, he had a passion for living a devout life in every aspect of his life. In 1728, he wrote the book A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. This book made a lasting impact on the church of his day and beyond.3 And it is still widely considered to be a spiritual classic even today. A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life is a book worthy of your time and investment.
After devoting himself to the necessity of praise and thanksgiving in the heart of the believer, he moved on to write about the need for humility. He urged that every day be a day of humility. Concerning the importance of humility in the life of the Spirit, Law wrote these words:
A humble state is the very state of religion, because humility is the life and soul of godly living, the foundation and support of every virtue and good work…We may as well think to see without eyes or to live without breath as to live in the spirit of religion without the spirit of humility. Although humility is thus the soul and essence of all religious duties, it is generally speaking the least understood, the least regarded, the least intended, the least desired and the least sought after of all the virtues.
And so what is humility? Law goes on to give us this definition. He says,
Humility does not consist in having a worse opinion of ourselves than we deserve, nor in abasing ourselves lower than we really are. Rather, as all virtue is founded in truth, so humility is founded in a true and just sense of our weakness and sin. The one who rightly feels and lives in this sense of their condition lives in humility.4
And what does a life characterized by humility look like? The answer is found in the life of our Lord Jesus himself. In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul writes these words:
Your attitude should be that same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!
In a few minutes, we will sing together the African-American spiritual “Let Us Break Bread Together” in preparation for The Lord’s Supper. In each of the three stanzas of the hymn, we sing that we will break bread together, we will drink the cup together and we will praise God together “on our knees.” To be on one’s knees—whether literally or figuratively—is the ultimate expression of humility—it is a sign of obedience. It is this humbleness of spirit that Christ modeled for us. This is the path that he
3 It had a profound effect upon the lives of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of what has become the Methodist church.
4 William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1955), 104-105. Emphasis mine.
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encourages each of us to seek. It is a humility that is steeped in awe and wonder of the great love that God showed for us on the cross…of the boundless riches of his mercy…of his never-failing grace that permeates all of our lives in spite of our failures…of nothing that we have earned or ever could have earned. Such knowledge should bring us to a point of grateful humility and thanksgiving.
And so we come to the table this morning. We do not come to the table as if we own it—for that could never happen. We do not own this table. It is the Lord’s Table…and those who are invited to this table are the ones that Jesus mentions in Luke 14. They are those who are poor. To them, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” To those who are crippled, to the lame, and to the blind—to those whose bodies and spirits have been broken by the way that life has beat up on them, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden…and I will give you rest.” To those who are discouraged, to those who have come to view the world with the eyes of a cynic, Jesus says, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” And to those who deem themselves to be failures, to all those who have messed-up in their lives, the unknowing, the hurting, the naïve, the questioning—the scriptures tell us that “To all who receive him, to those who believe on his name, he gave the right to become the children of God.”5
The time comes quickly upon us. The table is ready. The supper is prepared. Our gracious host awaits…
To God alone be the glory! Amen.
Hymn #323 “Let Us Break Bread together”
5 Matthew 5:3, Matthew 11:28; John 10:10, John 1:12.