How a Christian Conducts Himself

August 28, 2022

Pastor John Hering

Luke 14:1, 7-14

Luke 14:1, 7-14

One Sabbath day, when Jesus went into the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat bread, they were watching him closely.

When Jesus noticed how they were selecting the places of honor, he told the invited guests a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline in the place of honor, or perhaps someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him. The one who invited both of you may come and tell you, ‘Give this man your place.’ Then you will begin, with shame, to take the lowest place.

10 “But when you are invited, go and recline in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes, he will tell you, ‘Friend, move up to a higher place.’ Then you will have honor in the presence of all who are reclining at the table with you.

11 “Yes, everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

12 He also said to the one who had invited him, “When you make a dinner or a supper, do not invite your friends, or your brothers, or your relatives, or rich neighbors, so that perhaps they may also return the favor and pay you back.

13 “But when you make a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. Certainly, you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous.”

Before I begin this sermon, I want to remind us of the common thread we heard in today’s readings: A Christian has a spirit of humble love.  When we approach life with this attitude we are heading in a good direction.  For instance, pastors talk about how to lead God’s people in worship.  Should we wear a robe or not?  Should we sing old hymns or new songs?  Should we have three lessons read during the service or just the one we are preaching on?  Is it important to include the Apostles and Nicene Creed in every service or not?  When we have these discussions, it is important to begin the discussion from a position of humble love—that is not saying just what I want, but how can I best love my neighbor?

There are so many other applications to this truth—how can I humbly love my neighbor.  For instance, when you are at a fancy dinner and they bring the salad.  Which fork are you supposed to use to eat it?  Then comes the soup and you’re down to the last spoonful.  Do you tip the bowl towards you or away from you, or just pick up the bowl and sip it?  Who determines what is the proper way for you to conduct yourself at parties, dinners and even here at worship?

Jesus gave us some pretty unusual rules for etiquette in Luke’s Gospel. No, Jesus didn’t talk about the way we worship, or how to eat our food, but he did have something to say about where we sit.  And I’m sure you all recognize that Jesus is talking about something way more important than seating arrangements.  Jesus uses this parable to help us search our hearts and see what kind of attitude we have toward others. May the Holy Spirit teach us this hard truth:

How God Wants a Christian To Conduct Himself

With Real Humility

As many of you know, our family spent 10 years in Japan.  I’ll never forget the first time we were dining with a Japanese family.  It was all laid out with care and precision, for the looks of the meal are as important to the Japanese as the taste.  They showed us how to remove our chop sticks from the paper wrapper and how to place them on the “Hashiwa” as a little tray to hold the sticks up off the table.  But, it only took a couple of minutes for me to do a big no-no!  I stuck my chop sticks into the rice!  After our host gasped she said, “Don’t ever stick your chop sticks into the rice, because that’s what Japanese do to honor dead spirits!”  And if you think that was bad, June took her chop sticks and picked up a piece of chicken to share with me and I took my chop sticks to grab the meat and we heard another gasp!  “Don’t ever do that!  When we have our dead cremated, the family uses chop sticks to pick up a piece of the ashes or bone fragments, passes them chop stick to chop stick around the table and put them into the urn!”  Oh, Boy!  We had lots to learn.

Jesus was invited to enjoy what appears to be a wonderful meal in the home of a prominent Pharisee.  You can well imagine the customs they followed! One Sabbath day, when Jesus went into the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat bread, they were watching him closely.  This was no casual invitation to a dinner. It was the Sabbath that had all sorts of extra rules to obey and they wanted to catch Jesus doing something wrong.  Then they could discredit Jesus as being the promised Messiah.  But, Jesus was watching them as well.  Jesus noticed how they were selecting the places of honor.

You have experienced this if you’ve attended a wedding reception.  After the ceremony the guests gather in the reception hall for a meal.  They usually have some sort of list that points you to the table where you will sit. Will you be close to the bride and groom or stuck in the corner?  Or if there aren’t assigned seats to you look for a table close to the buffet table or the wet bar?  You can watch people plotting and planning where to sit.  It isn’t hard for us to get a picture of what Jesus is talking about.  Archaeologists have discovered such tables in the home of well-to-do people that is large and U-shaped. The host would sit at the bottom of the U and guests would sit around the table.  The scramble was to sit close to the host—a place of honor. This is what Jesus was observing.

What makes this picture even more interesting is when you know a few things about Pharisees.  The word “Pharisee” means “separate ones.” They were a self-proclaimed group of religious leaders in Israel during the time of Jesus who considered themselves to be righteous, pure, and a cut above the rest. Can you picture them?  Today we would probably call them snobs. With noses in the air, inflated egos and puffed up with pride, they would naturally scramble for the seats of honor. After all, who would be more worthy than a Pharisee? But, Jesus saw more then where they were sitting.  He saw their hearts.  He wanted them to realize that their sin of pride was exactly opposite of the humble heart God sought.

When Jesus noticed how they were selecting the places of honor, he told the invited guests a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline in the place of honor, or perhaps someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him. The one who invited both of you may come and tell you, ‘Give this man your place.’ Then you will begin, with shame, to take the lowest place.  10 “But when you are invited, go and recline in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes, he will tell you, ‘Friend, move up to a higher place.’ Then you will have honor in the presence of all who are reclining at the table with you.” 

Luke 14:7-10

You get the picture.  It would be so embarrassing to take a seat of honor and have someone tell you, “You can’t sit here. Go sit back there!”  The point of Jesus’ parable has little to do with etiquette, but has everything to do with the attitude of the heart.  Someone might have heard Jesus’ parable and thought, “Ok, I’ll take a lowest seat on purpose. Someone will come to me and say, “Please, take a seat of honor!” This thinking would also demonstrate a wrong attitude.

The key to understanding Jesus’ parable is in this “Hard Truth.” 11 Yes, everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  This is a common truth in the Bible that is difficult for hearts naturally filled with pride.  I want people to like me.  I want people to think I’m awesome.  I want people to think I’m something special.  But, why?  Listen to James, Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10). Peter also reflects these thoughts:

“Therefore humble yourselves under God’s powerful hand so that he may lift you up at the appointed time.”

1 Peter 5:6

Jesus taught us a much deeper meaning here.  What is your attitude toward your neighbor? Your co-worker?  Your family member?  And where it really matters—what is your attitude toward God?  Are you thinking that you deserve to have your neighbor, co-worker and family member exalt and honor you? After all, you’ve helped your neighbor, been honest at work, been a good son, daughter or spouse or parent!  You’ve even been a good little member of Divine Peace!  Careful!  You might be sitting in the wrong seat!  When we see what God demands (perfection) and where we have fallen short of Real Humility, we then recognize that the seat we deserve is in the “hot seat” in the back.

But, thank God we know the mercy of Jesus Christ!  Jesus is the King of Heaven who humbled himself to take on human flesh, live a life of perfect humble service, suffer the humiliation of death on the cross and gave us the perfect, humble holiness we need before our Father in heaven.  Because of Jesus we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, we are also heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, since we suffer with him, so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:16-17).  With real, genuine humility we confess because of Jesus we are worthy to sit next to God’s family in heaven forever!  This is cause for real celebration!  So, live with Real Humility for Jesus’ sake and then let’s respond

With Generous Love

It would be so embarrassing if someone came up to you at a wedding and said, “Sorry, you can’t sit here, your seat is back there!”  Can you imagine the anger in the hearts of the Pharisees who were so used to pointing out the faults of everyone else?  Jesus exposed their selfish, self-righteous hearts of sin and put them in their place. After being put in their place they weren’t going to sit quietly.  Jesus’ words caused bitterness and resentment in their hearts.  Jesus knew this and knew there was more to deal with in the hearts, just like there is more to deal with in our hearts, too.

Jesus continues to reach out to the Pharisees and us with his eternal love.  He touches our hearts by the Holy Spirit to create a response of genuine, thankful love.

12 He also said to the one who had invited him, “When you make a dinner or a supper, do not invite your friends, or your brothers, or your relatives, or rich neighbors, so that perhaps they may also return the favor and pay you back.  13 “But when you make a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. Certainly, you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous.” 

Luke 14:12-14

No, Jesus is not saying you can’t invite your friends over for a meal.  Actually, the original language says, “When you have a dinner, don’t keep on inviting your friends.”  That would be like a lobbyist in Washington taking a senator out of fancy dinners, giving them wonderful vacations and then expecting a favorable vote in return.   Neither is Jesus saying that everyone needs to start up a soup kitchen when he says, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, etc.  For Paul also wrote to those who are lazy, In fact, when we were with you, this was our command to you: If anyone does not want to work, he should not eat” (2 Thess 3:10).  You heard it.  They can work, but they don’t want to work.  That is exactly Jesus’ point.  He is talking about our attitude of love.  Loving someone because you are looking for love in return, or loving someone because you are hoping to gain something for yourself is not the love God is looking for.  The Pharisees did things to show how great they were.  Jesus showed us what true love is by pouring out his love for us on the cross.  St. John sums up Jesus’ point like this: We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

And don’t overlook what Jesus promised when humble attitudes are filled with Generous Love.  There is a blessing for us to enjoy as a gracious gift from a loving Father in heaven! you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. Certainly, you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous. When you share generous love with someone who cannot repay you, that’s okay.  God knows. And someday when you are standing before God’s throne of glory, he won’t have to ask, but if he does ask, “Why should I let you into my heaven?”  We will say, “Nothing in our hands we bring; simple to the cross I cling.”  God will say, “Yes, I know you trusted in Jesus, but you know what else?  You may not have given this second thought, but your humble, genuine, generous love for others gave testimony to your faith in Jesus Christ.”  When you show such love to others you may not get a reward, a pat on the back or even a “thank you.”  But, God knows and sees your generous love as a response of thanks for the generous love he has shared with you.  Did you hear me?  Don’t love them because they deserve it.  Love them because they don’t, just like you didn’t deserve love from God.  Love because God loved you first.

 I started this sermon by reminding us of the common thread we heard in today’s readings: A Christian has a spirit of humble love.  When we approach life with this attitude we are heading in a good direction.  You may not eat your salad with the right fork or mistakenly stick chop sticks into a bowl of rice, or even have strong opinions about how we should worship, but that’s not a big deal.  What’s big deal is your Christian attitude toward God and your neighbor!  Be polite when you eat your meals because Jesus loves you.  Worship the Lord with all your heart because Jesus loves you.  Jesus is the source of our attitude adjustment.  Jesus fills us with love from the cross that lasts forever.  May the Holy Spirit guide us all to have hearts filled with humble, genuine love so we Conduct our Lives As God’s Children.  Amen!

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