On Pride – Sermon September 1, 2019

Photo of Chin women in tea rooms during cooking group which also distributes food.  Not only group that shares food and hospitality on our church site during the week.  In fact when I went through them virtually all groups do.

Apart from tea/coffee being available at all times when centre open we have Wednesday fortnightly community meals, Men’s shed where meal and food available, women’s group on Thursday, youth centre 3 times a week where snacks and drinks, Chin cooking group.  Good all this is happening because

Food plays a conspicuous role in the Bible. Jews celebrate liberation from Egypt with the Passover meal. Many of their 613 commandments deal with dietary guidelines. Jesus’s first miracle was to turn water into wine at a wedding party. The gospels speak of the Lord’s Supper,  a material sign that signifies spiritual realities.

           There are stories about feeding the multitudes, eating with dirty utensils, farming, fasting, which foods are ritually clean or unclean and why, whether a believer could eat meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols and then afterwards sold in the local market, and the poor begging crumbs from the rich.   

           Jesus often ate with fringe people, so much so that his detractors disparaged him as a glutton and a drunkard.  But Jesus also ate with religiously zealous and socially powerful people.

Jesus had a very high view of the importance of meals – and for more than the very practical reason we need sustenance. Rather every time Jesus sits down for a meal with others he is anticipating that this meal can become a foretaste of  the heavenly banquet – these meals are a slice of heaven, a glimpse of life in the reign of God.  It is for that reason Jesus is prepared to become the offensive guest who will not sit silently by and see these meals become the private plaything of the religious and social elite who turn them to their own advantage and further their own status. This excluding of some from the guest list, this jockeying for position and status, all this is an offense against God and a betrayal of the grace of God.  It is no wonder then that in the gospels, and in Luke especially these meals became a  battle ground for Jesus –  in Luke there is not one meal that Jesus attends where it does not turn into conflict..

In today’s gospel reading Jesus gives teaching about seating; Seating  is  important when we go out to the movies, to a concert, to the footy for on these occasions we  pay more to get a better seat so we can all the better see the action. 

Seating arrangements are pretty important.  If you don’t think so then why do most of you, and me, sit in the same seat week by week here at worship. Sometimes I even hear people here at various churches identified by their choice of seat, “You know so and so, tall, wears glasses and sits near the left hand entrance”.   That is mostly saying we humans are creatures of habit and like familiarity and security.

I was at a  wedding reception having pre dinner drinks when something happened that I had not experienced for years and years.  The MC  called us to attention and then proceeded to read out the table numbers and who was sitting at them and invited those guests to go into the dining room and take their seat.  Well you can imagine the growing anxiety and self consciousness, not to mention shame,  of those of us left to the last few tables farthest from the head table,  stuck far down the back of the room wedged between the toilets and the kitchen.  More than one of the guests commented it flicked them back into being a little boy or girl lined up at play time at primary school  picking up sides for a  football or netball game.  I’ll have you, and you, and you, and then you get to the last four or five kids and they become a job lot “rest of you can go on that team”:

 Now we are getting a bit closer to what Jesus was on about in today’s reading.  You see its not about  us seeing the action, but our obsession with being seen at the action.  Its about having the best seats in the dining room as a status symbol.  By now we know Jesus well enough to have a good idea that in giving the instruction in Luke’s gospel he is on about something more than social etiquette and good manners when eating out.  

When we scratch not too far beneath the surface the mad scramble for the status of the higher seats is revealed to actually be about pride. Pride is unmasked as a deep seated insecurity.  Pride is not so much a sense of being number one but a thinly disguised fear that you are not number one.  a deep seated fear of being overlooked.  It is why pride is so easily satirized.

As someone who has worked out of neediness in many areas of my life, let me be clear: very often, acts that look like ego from the outside are actually coming from neediness on the inside. That need to be noticed, to seek approval, to feel accepted and important — that neediness can drive lots of awkward, strange, or even bad behavior.  It can be complicated sometimes.

When I was still a fairly young Christian I recall being impressed by a guy who told us how he empties the rubbish bin that sits in the corner of his office each week to remind him to be humble.  It was only years later I had the thought, “wait a minute you have told us all how humble you are”!?

Have you ever found yourself, like I have on too many occasions, doing a humble act, thinking a humble thought, and then congratulating yourself for being so humble.  Giving a homeless person on the street $5 and then walking away feeling self congratulatory and when your are searingly honest with yourself realising you did not in reality give that homeless person $5 you just bought yourself $5 of good feelings about yourself.

One of the benefits of really understanding our value to God and of growing in our perspective of the world through God’s eyes, is our ability to see scrambling for position as the neediness that it often is. People who are comfortable in their own skin, and who are comfortable in their relationship to God and to God’s world, don’t have to have the approval of others or the seat of importance in order to be okay inside.

There’s a great scene in Stephen King’s memoir On Writing where he describes an incident between himself and his wife Tabitha, who is also an accomplished author in her own right. They were taking a trip, and Stephen was driving. He had asked Tabitha to read over some of his latest work, and … well, let’s King himself tell what happened next:

There are some funny parts in it — at least I thought so — and I kept peeking over at her to see if she was chuckling (or at least smiling). I didn’t think she’d notice, but of course she did. On my eighth or ninth peek (I guess it could have been my fifteenth), she looked up and snapped: “Pay attention to your driving before you crack us up, will you. Stop being so ___ needy!”

Jesus throws out the challenge to deliberately put yourself in the place and with the people that will easily be overlooked. Now that takes conviction and assurance.  Some would call it stupidity and self destruction. Another name for it is humility.

Our society does little to encourage true humility – but despite that we do know and recognize when we are in its presence enough.  Humility is an ease within yourself, a self acceptance that is not threatened by others success and so always driven to have to compete. It is usually accompanied by thankfulness.  It is a sense of being at peace in your own skin and with your own achievements and person.  A sense of your place in the world. 

All this is gift; it is grace; it comes to us from beyond.  And it is only this that frees us from the neurotic obsession with the fear that we be overlooked and will not win the applause of the crowd.

  God’s reign does not work on the same principle that is at the very heart of our way our society works – reciprocosity. That is we give in order to get.  Much of our economy, our social lives, work on this basis. At school and university you will be prepared for a life that works on being seated at head table. God’s kingdom works on grace.  From Jesus it appears that one of the clear evidences of this grace is when we are moved to invite the least in this world with the unspoken request, 

Could you give me the blessing of your inability to pay back.

God’s dinner party has as its guest list all those sitting home on their own on a Sat night – the socially inadequate, the spurned, the neglected, the demon possessed, the self loathing

It is the breaking of the law of reciprocisity and the introduction of grace. That is the only way you will ever find out if you are doing this, giving this, in order that you will get back at least as much if not more.