Aug 16, 2006

Sermon Title: “Taking The Humble Seat”

Zachary R. Labagh
M.Sc.The. Student, The Lutheran THeological Seminary at Gettysburg
Fourth Place August 2006 Round

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O’ Lord our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

I was reading an article entitled “Stewards of God’s Mysteries: Stewarding as a model of Congregational Ministry”1 the other day, and it was discussing how we view our role within the church. Many of us believe that this is “my church”; many of my colleagues have talked to me more than once about “their church”; however we forget that it is God’s church. This article discussed what it means to be stewards of God’s church. Christ has called us to the banquet, to serve others, and in doing so to serve the Church; however we forget, we forget that the church is not ours, and more importantly we forget to look for what God desires us to do rather than what we want to do. We need to look at the church through the lens of it being God’s church and realize that we need to take the humble seat in the church. That is what Jesus is calling to, to take the humble seat and serve.

We are called to serve. That is the bottom line. Jesus is telling us in this parable to be willing to go where no one else will go, to seek out those who need help, and not to push our religion on them, but rather to eat with them, and share what we have with them. We are to see ourselves as servants, servants to our Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and servants to those who have yet to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. This calling is not just for me, or the elected leaders of this church, but rather for all of us. We are called, by name, to serve. We have been invited to the banquet, and now it is our choice to choose what place we are going to take, at this moment. But as Jesus reminds us there may be someone else who the host is saving a seat for, therefore we should choose the lowest seat, the seat farthest from the host. It seems Lutherans get this during the church service, for we all like to sit as far back as possible. However this is not humorous to Jesus. We need to be willing to take the lowest place. To go out and find those who need help and welcome them in. To Serve God’s creation.

The Parable which Jesus speaks in Luke 14 reflects the passage of Proverbs 25:6 and 7. We are to recognize our status as servants. Yet we continually forget. We look at the church we attend as “Our Church, with my seat, and my place in it”. I remember an email I received when I was in college. It read a man drove into a church and parked his car. When he got out, someone came in behind him and yelled to him “that’s my spot I always park there.” Though the man was discouraged he walked into the church and sat down. Someone else came up to him and said “That’s my seat that where I always sit.” The man moved without saying a word, though even more discouraged. The service began and during the Confession and forgiveness, the man rose, and all saw him transform before their eyes. His clothes became ragged, his hands became bloodied, and he hobbled to the front of the church, stretching his hands out in front of the cross. He turned and looked at the people in the church, and said to them, “I took your place.”

Rather than seeing God’s church and God’s place for us in it. We struggle to find our place, because we are so concerned with keeping up with everyone else. We want the status, the wealth, the gifts, and goodies that everyone else has, and we can’t have them if we take the lowest seat. We can’t get the new car and house, if we give to those in need, and share what we have. Why would we dare to think of such things? We want the house with 5 bedrooms, even though we only use 1 and with a 4 car garage, because if we have it then we can fill them. How much do we actually need?

The scene of this parable is set at a banquet. A place where food is overflowing and there will surely be enough for all to eat. But no one is looking at the food, no one is looking at the tables bending with the weight of the food, but rather we are looking at everyone else, and where they are sitting. Today we have name cards to tell us where to sit. We go for a banquet and most places tell you where you can sit, yes you might be able to pick which seat at the table, but where is the table located in regards to the head table? In this we struggle. We struggle because we want to be as close as possible. If we desire this because we want to be close to God and have a close relationship with God, there is nothing wrong with that. However if we want to sit close to the head table so we can look down at those who are farther away, that is where the problem lies. We live in a society with wealth classifications, job classifications, religious classifications; we need to classify our lives. How do you classify your place at the table?

I’ve heard people say, “I deserve this seat, because I’ve given to the poor, and helped at the soup kitchens, and organized fund raisers to help others…This seat should be mine.” And there is the problem. Yes that person, did all these wonderful things, but why did they do them? In this statement, it is clear, they did these generous acts, not to benefit others, but so others could see them and benefit from it.

Can you imagine what it would be like if we were all to take this advise and seek out those in need and invited them to eat? How many people would not go hungry at night if this happened? How many people would not commit suicide because they think no one cares?

In Luke’s message we see Christ telling those who are surrounding him about a banquet, teaching how we should live. When one has a banquet we should not invite friends and family, expecting an invitation to another in return, but rather invite those who need to be fed. What an amazing way to discuss Holy Communion! We are invited, by Christ, to be fed. To be nourished, and filled not with that which perishes, but with the Bread of Life. We are the crippled, the lame, the needy. We are those who need to be fed, and we are the ones who cannot repay Jesus for this action. Christ gave himself over for us.

Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews also states our undeniable call to go forth and serve. We are to go out from the church, from those we know, and serve those we do not. We are called to go to where they are; instead of waiting for them to come to us, for if we choose the latter, we may be waiting for a long time, but if we go to them we bring Jesus to them in the moment. One of our biggest calls is to pray. I admire the Upstate New York Synod’s mission statement which reads “A Resurrection People, who Pray First, Walk Together, and Change Lives.” Prayer is the first step we should all take, asking what God desires us to do, and to be. When we pray and we ask for aid for those in need, we are doing God’s will. We are working for others. Not for ourselves. See the difference? That is a humbling experience when we realize that what we are doing is being done not for our benefit but for someone else. We have no right to sit at the banquet feast with Jesus, not even at the lowest seat. But we have been invited, and welcomed. And our call is to do the same for others. To welcome others, into the banquet of our lives. To share what we have with others, in order that we may give grace to them, and Glorify God. We are called to fulfill good, and share what we have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. This calling is not only for the leaders but for all. This is why at the beginning of our Gospel Jesus is questioning the leaders. To see their response. He knew the law. And he changed the law. The law governs us, but grace frees us. We are called as Christians to be doers of the Word, and live our lives according to Christ. Christ did not say that the laws are unimportant, or that we do not need to listen to them, but he interpreted these laws to make them inclusive. Welcoming the unclean, talking to the outcast, and children, eating with sinners, touching lepers and unclean women. Jesus humbled himself, He humbled himself when He came to earth, not as a king ripping open the clouds and descending, but as a child, a carpenters son. He then humbled Himself in His ministry, to eat, and share, and allow Himself to be seen with the lowest of the low. And then He humbled himself even more by dying on a cross, the lowest of all deaths, not because of what He did but because of what we did and continue to do.

It is Jesus’ life, His deeds, and actions, His compassion which we are to follow. We are also called to be humble servants of God’s will here and now. To not walk by those in need, but to help as we are able. We are called by Christ to do the same. To take the humble seat, to give to those in need. God calls the Israelites to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” in Micah 6:8. Christ is calling us to go out and welcome all into the banquet table. Where in the Old Testament only those worthy are invited, Jesus is changing this law, and saying those who need to be fed are welcomed. Christ challenges us to look for ways to help others and in doing so others can see Christ in us.

As we go out from this place, I would encourage you to look for just one opportunity this week to take the humble seat. To help out someone in need, that you would normally walk by. To encourage a co-worker who looks down. To spend some time with someone who is lonely. To Pray. To pray for those in need. Those who do not know Jesus, for those in difficult situations, for those in war areas, famine areas, poverty, for family and loved ones, for enemies and those we just don’t like. Pray. Take the humble seat. And see how your life will be affected by it. I don’t need to hear what you did next Sunday, or after you did it. God will know. And more importantly that person who you helped will know. Christ came for all of us. He took the humble seat, and now asks us to the banquet, and to invite guests. To share what we have with others, and to live with Christ in our lives, not only as a part of our lives, but thoroughly in our lives. Dear Lord, thank you for taking the humble seat, the seat we do not want to take, encourage us to live our lives as your servants, as stewards of your church. Grant us the courage to live as you lived, helping those in need. And Be with us when we need strength and aid. For you are the host of the great feast, you are the bread of life, which sustains and nourishes us always. Amen.

Jacobson, Rolf A. “Stewards of God’s Mysteries: Stewarding as a Model for
Congregational Ministry” Word and World Theology for Christian
Volume 26 Number 3 Summer 2006