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09.01.19 Humility of Faith Luke 14.1, 7-14 Sermon Summary

by on September 4, 2019

For those of us who like parties, especially giving them, Jesus has some advice. It comes through a saying of his that must have been a favorite, as it appears a number of times in the Gospels and in the Epistles that reflect the convictions of the New Testament church.

The saying is, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” It’s not a principle unique to Jesus or Christianity. It’s a common perspective within “wisdom traditions.” James says something like it. (James 4:10) So does Peter. (1 Peter 5:6) Paul has a version of it. (Philippians 2:5ff) And Jesus’ example is based on a saying attributed to Solomon. (Proverbs 25:6-7) Besides these, the truism appears in other religions. “If you strive, you will be humbled: if you are humble, you will be exalted.”

There are various motivations given for this wisdom. In the Epistles, it is the means to peace within the church. For Jesus, it is a means to the primary position in the Kingdom of God. It is also given in contrast to the practices of conventional leaders.

But here in this passage, Jesus gives it so we can avoid embarrassment. “Don’t assume the honored position at a dinner party,” he says, “because some other invited guest else may precede you.” And then you’d have to move down.

I’ve held honored positions. I’ve even held the primary position of host. But as an introvert, I’m naturally more comfortable in the “back row.” But this past year at the North American Academy of Liturgy I found myself sitting between the convener (a fellow student of mine from Notre Dame who now teaches at Yale) and “one of the greatest students to come through the Notre Dame program”—someone I knew about but had never actually met.

As I sat between them, I naturally assumed a humble position. And through the meeting, I discovered my calling for next year’s meeting. With their encouragement I will be leading a discussion and presenting a paper. I discovered my calling by assuming the humble place

When we try to impress others we fail to appreciate how God views us. But when we humble ourselves our humility prompts God’s benediction over us. We discern our calling from the humble place.

This is the character and the fruit of spiritual humility: Observing, listening, responding, and serving. We find our vocation by avoiding embarrassment.

What is the opposite of spiritual humility? According to this passage, it seems the opposite is giving in order to get. This is what Jesus accused the Pharisee of doing—inviting Jesus to the party to get something in return. When we give to get, it is an act of pride. I once found myself disappointed by someone’s lack of gratitude and reciprocal gift giving. It revealed my impure motive in giving. A true gift is given without calculation of return. By contrast, my gifts were given with the expectation of reciprocity.

How can we be sure that we’re giving with the right spiritual attitude? In this passage, Jesus says we purify our motives when we give to the least of these, to those who have no chance of giving us something in return. This is Jesus’ teaching on throwing dinner parties. Invite those who can’t give back. Then we know we are giving as God gives—out of generosity and love.

When we come to the Table we remember that even here, the original guests jockeyed for position. “Who is greatest among us?” they asked. Some were weighing their options with the religious and political power brokers. Some were open to Jesus’ interpretation of the Kingdom. Everyone was represented there that first night. And at the Table today is represented every one of us.

We are invited to come to this table with a question: What do you want me to do? How can I give to the least of these, to be sure I am giving with a pure heart? What I receive freely from you, can I give freely to others?

May we have the humility of faith to receive God’s grace and offer it to others in freedom.

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