Sermon: Imitating Jesus. Some Thoughts on Humility.
Scripture: Luke 14:1, 7-14
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date: September 1, 2019
Here’s a riddle for you. What is the one thing you can strive for but once you have it you immediately lose it?
So, let me ask you: Are you a humble person? Think about it before you say anything! Hold that thought right here for just a moment and let’s turn to our biblical text.
Our scripture today from Luke has Jesus attending a dinner party at a Pharisee’s home. Pharisees, if you remember, are religious scholars of the first century and knew the religious rule book backward and forwards. They were considered to be part of what we might describe as “the movers and shakers” of their world. They dressed impressively, their table manners were impeccable, and they wielded a good amount of influence in their Jewish communities. Our Story is picking up towards the beginning of supper. Listen to the Word of the Lord from Luke 14:1, 7-14.
Luke 14:1, 7-14
14.1On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely…
7When 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; 9and 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. 10But 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. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12He 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. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Jesus’ words seem to be giving proverbial advice when it comes to going out to dinner. He then follows that with a second parable which serves to bring out the importance, it brings out the flavors of the proverbial wisdom he has just shared; in fact, the second parable ensures that we don’t just hear Jesus’ words as merely good advice while dining out. Today, Jesus is lifting up for us how we are to live together in community and how we are to be in relationship with one another. Ultimately, Jesus is foretelling what he himself will do for the community, literally for the whole cosmos, come time for the Jewish Passover. Our Story is Jesus telling us, “Imitate me.”
How are we to imitate Jesus? Well, Jesus says we imitate him when we change our perspective and point of view. He is inviting you and me to look at life through the eyes and ears of those who are seated by the restaurant’s kitchen door, you know the least desirable seat in the place! Have you ever sat by the kitchen door of a busy restaurant? It is not the most sought-after seat in the place! It’s the least desirable because it’s often loud. You not only hear the conversations of people in the restaurant, but you hear the banter between the servers and the cooks, too! They’re yelling at each other to get the orders out on time. They’re bickering about how the customer wants her fish cooked. You hear the busboys slinging dirty dishes as they clang and slap against each other. You can overhear the wait staff gossiping about that jerky customer at Table 16 and what they want to do with his food.
But your perspective also changes with what you can see. It becomes obvious from the table by the kitchen door to see which customers are getting better service. You note how the server at the prep station drops a few lemon wedges from her bowl onto the floor and how she quickly scoops them up and places them back with the others to be served. You see the waiter take his forearm as he sniffs his nose down the length of his arm. Since you are sitting in a loud and distracting seat, you cannot really talk with the one you’re with, so you end up watching other customers and diners. Who is talking to whom? Is that couple in a fight? Who is that sole woman dining alone and why does she look so sad? It’s all about perspective.
Sit at the best table in the house and you have beautiful views, quiet conversations, and doting staff service. The Manager usually comes by and checks on you. Other customers watch the staff fawn over you and your party and build up in their mind how special you must be or how important you are.
Jesus is inviting you and me to change our seat in the restaurant, to switch seats at the dinner table, thereby changing our perspective and how we look at and hear the world. When the person accustomed to sitting at the best seat at the table or restaurant is asked to sit by the kitchen, he or she will relinquish their place of privilege and see and hear their surroundings from the place of servitude and from the margins. Your perspective of the wait staff changes as you see her battling the other servers for her order or hear the chef is screaming at her only to have the customer at Table 7 loudly chew her out because the order is not right. When you change your perspective, you discover a sense of empathy for the others in the room. Your outlook on the restaurant might even change as you observe the management relate with the staff. Frankly, when you are seated at the worst table in the place and are by the kitchen, it teaches you how to be a better, more kind and appreciative diner.
At least it can.
Beloved, Jesus wants us to change seats because he knows it will change our perspective from what we are accustomed to a perspective of the ways things truly are. He is asking us to voluntarily give up our places of privilege and assume the posture and position of the lowly, overlooked ones on society’s margins. He is asking us to put ourselves into their places, to spend time walking in their shoes, in order to gain the perspective of how the non-privileged live and how they are treated.
At least it can.
Isn’t this the core of what humility is about, to begin with? Humility is all about one’s purposeful changing of one’s perspective from that of privilege to the standpoint of being powerlessness and need. It means giving up self-importance in order to experience the impotence of power many in our world experience daily. It means intentionally positioning oneself to view the world from a position of “I am blessed” to that of being “I am deserving.” It means learning to live with what we have versus what we think we are entitled to possessing.
At least it can.
Humility is not a quality we are to strive for (that’s an oxymoron in its own right!) but humility is a heart-held virtue from which we are to live out our life. It describes more of who we are at the core of our spiritual lives as opposed to how we act. Humble acts emerge from humbly-lived lives. It’s the position of looking out for “the other” and trying to understand their dreams, their longings, their hurts, and their sorrows. And then something happens when we do.
You see, when our perspective changes, so too do the way we respond to those around us. When we look at others and the world from the position of being down low like they are, we feel their isolation, their discrimination, their sense of being forgotten at the back of the line. What we see in our lives impacts how we feel and relate to those in our lives. Our hearts and the embraces our arms can contain grow more caring and larger and more encompassing. Perspective changes behavior and how we relate with others.
At least it can.
Jesus is calling us to imitate his own humbleness. We read in Philippians 2 how Jesus gave up the form of being God in order to become a human being. Thus, God changing God’s own perspective enabled the Lord to see and experience our humanity, our world, in ways God never had before. It is out of God’s humbleness that His love through Christ was lived out for you and for me. God the Almighty, housed in eternal timelessness changed His perspective by entering our earthly time-bound fleshy existence to experience humanity, to experience our life in a way God never had before!
Our English word for humility derives from the Latin word “humus”, literally the black and brown dirt of the ground comprised of the composted dead leaves, plants and animals of the soil which provide nutrients for other forms of life. Humus is the compost of the soil which brings nutrients to other items planted in the ground so life can take seed, take form, and express itself in a new creation. This is what Jesus did for us, isn’t it? The compost, the humus, of Good Friday brought us new life and growth at Easter didn’t it?
And here is the news flash: Jesus desires our lives to be the humus, the compost through which the Kingdom of God can be planted in the here and now in our broken and hurting world. As Jesus gave his life for us, we are called to give up our seats of honor, our lives, and become the source of nutrients for others as they discover the winsome life with Jesus as well. And we do this by imitating Jesus; we do this in and through our humility.
The Spirit add understanding to these feeble words. Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.