The First United Presbyterian Church
Rev. Amy Morgan
October 6, 2019
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,
2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Luke 14:1, 7-14
1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to a house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely… 7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
My very best friend is getting married next month, and I have a HUGE dilemma! Like a silly, my bestie decided not to assign seats at dinner, and I’m not sure where I should sit. I, of course, think I should sit next to my very best friend on THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF HER LIFE. HOWEVER, her sister is also part of the wedding party. TECHNICALY, she’s the maid of honor, but that’s only because she’s family. I would be SO EMBARASSED if I sat next to the bride and then had to MOVE so her sister could sit next to her. But I really am the guest of honor here, don’t you think? What should I do?
Best Friend Forever
Let me begin by assuring you that you are not the first person to experience this dilemma. I’ve seen this happen at many swanky receptions. So many important people, so few seats of honor. You are blessed to get to support your best friend on her special day. But remember that you are blessed to be a blessing. Why don’t you bless your friend by allowing her to avoid the possible discomfort of having to choose between you and her sister? Take a seat with some of the party-animal cousins or see how many condiments you can mix together and dare a kid to drink at the kids' table. It’ll be more fun for you. And if your bestie really needs you by her side, she can always come and invite you to sit closer.
I’ve got kind of a big birthday coming up – I won’t say which one – and I want to celebrate with a big blow-out party in my honor. I also want to keep it kind of exclusive, you know. I’ve got some friends and acquaintances in very high places. I’m thinking I can use this as an opportunity to get myself “in” with more of the right people, you know. Could lead to invitations down the road to some really classy events, help me network with the upper crust, move up in the world, you know. I’m even thinking of adding a feel-good factor by turning the whole shin-dig into a fundraiser. I’m sure there’s a worthy cause people would want to contribute to – helping the poor, lame, blind, you know. So my question is: which cause is most important to you, Jesus? I want to follow you and do what’s right with God, you know. So what should I raise money for with my posh birthday bash?
That’s great that you want to use your birthday party as a means of helping those less fortunate than you. And I’m glad you want to celebrate your birthday. I’m glad you were born, too.
But I have to tell you, this party is not one I’d be likely to attend. I think you may want to reconsider your guest list.
If you invite all your well-to-do friends and neighbors, you are correct in thinking that they might in turn invite you to parties and events that could move you up in the world. However, at some point you all may realize that your relationships are based on Return-On-Investment, not friendship and love.
I’m glad that you want to help people on the margins of your society, but money is not all they really need. What they need is an invitation to relationship. And what you need are relationships without reward.
Why not scrap your planned guest list and, instead of a fundraiser, throw a party for kids in foster care who don’t get big birthday parties? Or bring your party to a local nursing home with activities that you and all the residents can enjoy together? Either way, I’m betting this kind of party will make you feel a lot younger on your birthday. It may not help you move up in the world, but you will definitely be following me and doing what’s right with God, you know?
I’m about ready to throw in the towel. I’ve done everything I can to get ahead in my career, and I feel like I’m moving ahead at a snail’s pace. I’m not paid what I’m worth, I don’t get promotions, and my co-workers are racing ahead of me. My boss just doesn’t appreciate how hard I work and what an asset I am to the company. In staff meetings, I always come prepared with my reports in order. When a new opportunity is presented, I always try to be the first to volunteer, but someone else usually beats me to it. I have been angling for the corner office for years, but I just can’t seem to catch a break.
I see one possibility on the horizon, however. My team is making a big presentation next week, and I have the opportunity to undermine one of my team-mates who has been one of my biggest obstacles to advancement. I think I can work it out to come out as the shining star and make my co-worker look like a total loser. The problem is, if this backfires, I could be sent back to the bottom of the pile. It’s nothing illegal, nothing that would get me fired. And I think it might be my last try before giving up. What should I do? Should I risk losing the little ground I’ve gained to go for the gold?
Racing to the Top
I can understand your frustration at being underappreciated for what you do. There were times in my career when people loved me for my work. At times, they were ready to give me the corner office. But most of the time, people didn’t really appreciate what I was doing. Even now, I don’t get the credit I deserve. Sure, sure, when people see a beautiful sunset they want to praise the Creator, but I get all the blame for the bad things that happen in the world and very little credit for all the good. *sigh*
But enough about me!
Listen, there’s this Proverb that says “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.”
In other words, your plan is a bad idea. Not just because it’s risky and you might get caught engaging in underhanded tactics with your co-workers. It’s like I always told people when I was on earth: those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Look at me, for example: I never did make it to the corner office. In fact, I set aside divinity to become human. I humbled myself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. But God highly exalted me, giving me the name that is above all names. You can read about that in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, if you like.
You can also read in the gospels about some of my contemporaries who exalted themselves and were ultimately humiliated.
Pontius Pilate, with whom I had a little chat prior to my condemnation to death, ended up botching a skirmish with the Samaritans and getting summoned to Rome to answer for his mismanagement of the region. Herod schemed with the Romans and powerful Jewish council in an attempt to promote himself, but as soon as the leadership in Rome turned over and he lost his patron, he fell out of favor and was exiled to Gaul. The High Priest Caiaphas was a shrewd collaborator with the Romans and rose to the top of his field, but in the end he was deposed after a change in leadership.
This is all to say, I think it wise to work on humility. Don’t feel like you need to show off your accomplishments or elbow others out of the way to get the best seat at the table. Like the wisdom of Ecclesiastes tells us: It is God’s good gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in their toil. Or, in the words of the Life is Good guys: Love what you do. Do what you love. If you really are talented and dedicated and passionate about your work, your boss may eventually notice and invite you to move up. If you are found out to be the kind of person to has to sabotage others to get ahead, you’ll likely end up back at the bottom of the ladder.
I just want you to understand how humble I am. I’m way more humble than the other people at my school and my church. Other people are always bragging about their grades or their cool friends or how great they are at sports. Well, just so you know, I am a straight-A student, I’m in National Honor Society, I’m on the Varsity soccer team, my parents are both doctors, AND I go to church EVERY Sunday. I’ve been on three mission trips, I help serve meals at the local homeless shelter, and I tutor underprivileged kids after school. And you will never hear me bragging! I always let people go ahead of me in line, I go out of my way to sit with new kids at school, and I make sure everyone else has a chance to speak before I share my thoughts in our church group.
Here’s the problem. You said pretty clearly that if we humble ourselves we’ll be exalted, if we sit at the lowest table, we’ll be asked to move up. But that isn’t happening. How long do I have to wait? It’s hard to be humble!
In Your Peace,
#1 in Last Place
I think you’re missing the point.
While I applaud your efforts, and your actions are admirable, I think this is a case of doing the right things for the wrong reasons. You seem to have turned humility into one more competition, one more measure of success. You even seem to think that humility is a method for success and achievement.
The reality is, when I said that those who humble themselves will be exalted and the last shall be first, I was describing the reality of life in God’s kingdom. The idea is not to invert the system and compete for the lowest place. The idea is that those who are undervalued in society are deeply valued by God. Humility isn’t something you work at or aspire to. It’s a way of seeing the world. Remember the advice I gave about who to invite to your party? You don’t invite the poor, lame, crippled, and blind to show everyone how humble you are. You invite them to show that you value them the way I do. In the same way, you shouldn’t sit at the lunch table with the new kid because it will help you move up to the popular kids’ table. That’s not going to happen, I’m afraid. You sit with that kid who no one else will sit with because you want to know them and love them and share my love with them.
Don’t change the things you do, simply change the reason you do them. Then you’ll find out what I meant when I said those who humble themselves will be exalted. Remember that being exalted in the kingdom of God looks different than being exalted in the eyes of the world. Your reward may not be excelling at sports or academics or popularity. Your reward will be the peace and joy that comes with living into the kingdom of God here on earth.
I started at a new school this year, and so far I hate it. My parents split up over the summer, and my mom got an apartment in a different school district. She said the schools are so much better than where we lived before, but I don’t think so.
I sit alone at lunch every day, except sometimes when this one girl sits with me and spends the whole time smiling at all her friends and waving to make sure everyone knows she’s sitting with me. She’s never actually talked to me.
I tried joining the basketball team so I could get to know other kids, but I wasn’t good enough to make the team. One of the kids suggested I work with their personal trainer. Like we could ever afford that! I tried out for the school play, too, but didn’t make that, either. Turns out, you have to be able to dance and sing. It seems like I’m not good enough at anything around here.
The kids aren’t all mean to me or anything, they just seem to not notice I’m there. I feel invisible. I’m lonely and I miss my friends at my old school. I’m tired of being alone. Can you help?
Lonely at the Lunch Table
You are always invited to sit at my table. Right next to me. And everyone is welcome to join us. At my table, there are no insiders or outsiders, and nobody is better than anybody else. Everyone is good enough. My table is always a party, always a celebration. My table connects all Christians in all times and places. No one sits alone at my table.
My table is a reminder that you are loved and cherished by God. While your worth may not be recognized by your peers and teachers, you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. I have called you by name, you are mine.
I once taught people that the poor in spirit are blessed, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Yours is the kingdom of heaven, my lonely friend, if only you will see it. I long to be your friend, your companion. Let the Holy Spirit give you comfort and peace.
I cannot promise you friends, success, popularity. I can’t promise you an easy life. I told my disciples that “I do not give as the world gives.” That’s good news and bad news, depending on how you see things. On the one hand, I don’t judge you on your skills and abilities, your charisma, your success, your wealth or social standing. On the other hand, I don’t dole out money, fame, or the “good life” to some people and withhold it from others. I give you peace. I give you faith, hope, and love. I give you a kingdom where these are the things that matter most. Live in this kingdom, and you will never be lacking.
Join me at my table.