Thursday, September 2, 2010

August 29 Sermon (Proper 17)

“There is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves.”
Any guesses where that is from? From the book of Ecclesiastes found in your bible (Bravo Carl!). So who doesn’t like to party and enjoy a good meal with friends & family? Certainly we as Episcopalians are often thought of in that vein, think of all the jokes about us:
What's the difference between a Baptist and an Episcopalian?
The Episcopalian will say hello to you in the liquor store.
We do like to party, we enjoy meals together. We haven’t seen a potluck that we haven’t liked here at St. Peter’s! The parables of Jesus, told in the Gospel of Luke are full of parties! Think how many banquets, feasts, celebrations that are mentioned! (Feast at the end of the Prodigal Son) Parties, banquets, feasts – they were part of the lives of people of Jesus’ day and they are part of our lives today.

And Jesus uses those occasions of celebration to teach us about the Kingdom of God, and in that Kingdom, humility is important even at a party. At a meal on the sabbath thrown by the Pharisees, when there would be a pecking order, Jesus watches people take the seats of honor & privilege. So he tells them a parable…
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, go and sit down at the lowest place. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Jesus in his wisdom, using an old proverb, reminds all to not take one of the best seats, for there might be someone who is the more honored guest & you would be disgraced. His parable, though, is not just about a dinner party and where to sit, but its about our whole lives and the willingness to humble ourselves knowing that God honors those who are humble. For humility helps us see our place in God’s creation, as both created in God’s image and equal to others. And through that humility, Jesus wants us to think of our neighbors, especially those who are often forgotten in our society. Jesus said,
“when you give a luncheon or a dinner, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you.”
Quite a contrast to inviting the movers and shakers, the privileged, the ones who would repay us. But it is those who can’t repay us, who need our help, these are the ones Jesus said we should invite. It is to see others through the eyes of humility, out of love and respect, that not only looks to our own well being, but the well being of family, of community, of all; humility is part and parcel of being a disciple of Jesus.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. -- C.S. Lewis
A gentle reminder we are not the center of the universe. But it is through humility that we can achieve greatness. I think of a story told by Muhammad Ali to his young daughter…
A king sensed something special about his slave Omar. Omar served the king well as his personal attendant. The king rewarded Omar for his faithful service with a beautiful robe and set of clothes. A courtier was very jealous of Omar and looked for a way to discredit him before the King. He noticed that every day Omar took a large sack into the royal treasury and left with the same sack. The courtier immediately reported to the king that Omar was stealing. The next morning, the king hid outside the chamber to see for himself. As usual, Omar entered the room, opened the sack - and took out of the sack his old slave robe. In the large mirror in the treasury, Omar said to the reflection: "Omar, once you were a slave. Never forget who are you are and how blessed you are." The king was deeply moved by Omar's humility. "I knew there was something special about you. I may be a king; Omar, but you have a king's heart." (from Hana Ali, More than a Hero)
Omar remembers who he is, he is not puffed up because of his new position or his new clothes. He does not presume to have a higher place, but it is the king who sees his humility and exalts this humble man whose heart is set right. Likewise, God honors the humble in heart, those who are content with what they have. For we are called to do good and to share what we have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

(story told) I think of a Thanksgiving in Berkeley, CA Before going off to relatives, I joined fellow parishioners at the shelter in downtown Berkeley to cook a meal. They can’t repay us but it was worth every minute. It is a ministry of Good Shepherd parish and it has become one of my fondest memories. (Faith in action)

There may be nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves as Ecclesiastes says, but it must be tempered with humility and we must remember those in need for as Henri Frederic Amiel once said, “True humility is contentment.” May we be content and humble and feast with all brothers and sisters on earth. Amen.

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