“The Fine Line” September 1, 2019

   “The Fine Line”

Jeremiah 2:4-13

Hebrews:13:1-8, 15-16

Luke 14:1, 7-14


Well, it is upon us as all across the land elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and universities are gearing up for another season of academic excellence – that’s the hope, at least. Those of you who have been or are still in education know the drill all too well: the year begins with high hopes, high ideals, and high expectations. This is a good thing because you’re going to need all the positive energy you can muster for the year ahead. And good leadership understands this; good leadership knows the importance of starting off on the right foot.

For the past few years, the McMinnville School District has put on a gigantic “Welcome Back” assembly for all of its employees. Now this is not your typical school assembly with boring speeches and half-baked entertainment. No, Mac schools go all out. There are costumes and music and dancing and all sorts of whacky stuff all designed for one thing and one thing only – to start off the year with the right spirit and the right attitude. But here’s the kicker: all of the skits and dancing and wearing of the goofy costumes are the responsibility of the school administrators. That’s right – the school principals, the department directors, all the folks who are normally “in charge” are required to put on the biggest show of the year whether they like it or not. I’m sure that many of them, if given the choice, would choose not. It pulls them out of their comfort zone, and I found it fascinating. I found it fascinating to watch as folks who have been placed in positions of authority suddenly found themselves thrust in front of the rest of the staff – hundreds of people- to dance around and prance around in costumes that don’t fit so well doing things they would never dream of doing in private, much less in public. But there they were, and it got me to thinking. “What a great way to level the playing field,” I thought to myself. “By publicly humiliating the directors and administrators in front of the entire district, there’s going to be a sense that everyone has worth, everyone is important, and don’t be getting any wild ideas that any of you deserve a seat of honor.” Funny things is that when we asked the superintendent about this little theory, she disagreed. “I don’t do this to humiliate them,” she said. “No, I do this instead to teach them the value of humility.” The value of humility….now that’s interesting. Come to think of it, I believe that Jesus had a bit to say about this as well.

The gospel text from Luke 14 is one of those timeless lessons on – wouldn’t you know it- humility. (Lk 14:7) When Jesus noticed how the guests sought out the best seats at the table, he told them a parable. “When someone invites you to a wedding celebration, don’t take your seat in the place of honor. Someone more highly regarded than you could have been invited by your host. The host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give your seat to this other person.’ Embarrassed, you will take your seat in the least important place. 10 Instead, when you receive an invitation, go and sit in the least important place. When your host approaches you, he will say, ‘Friend, move up here to a better seat.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11 All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.” All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up. Well, OK, this little parable doesn’t surprise us a whole lot. We’ve gotten used to the fact that Jesus has a way of flipping things upside down to make a point; of showing us the total opposite and then inviting us to see different, to think different, and to be different. But this time around, I just don’t know. Sometimes you need to go to the front of the line, sometimes it doesn’t do anyone any good to hold back, to hesitate and it’s confusing when it seems that Jesus is telling us that’s not so. But here’s the thing: Jesus is not talking about wedding banquets or black tie dinners here. I have a feeling he could care less about who sits where in the temple or the congregation. No, Jesus is talking about the one thing that he does care about, and cares about deeply: the Kingdom of God. This is the celebration, this is the event, that we have been invited to and we enter into the kingdom with the confidence of a people who have been saved by the grace of God. This is our great joy-the joy of our salvation. But we’d better not have the arrogance to think that we get to sit at the head of the table in God’s kingdom. That might word in the boardroom and that might work at the County Commissioners’ meeting, but Jesus doesn’t care so much about that. Jesus asks, Jesus demands, that we approach the kingdom with the right heart and with the right attitude. Jesus demands that if we accept the invitation to the kingdom of God, we’d better know the value of humility.

I ran across a saying this week that reads, “There’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance. It’s called humility. Confidence smiles, arrogance smirks.” And it has cause me rethink my ideas of this thing we call humility. CS Lewis tells us, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Well, that’s a start, but how else might we get a grasp on being humble. In our lives, in the church – in the body of Christ – and in the kingdom, this is probably our most important calling, yet the toughest to call to answer. “Humility is a strange thing,” it’s been said. “The minute you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it.”

Yet Jesus insists. He insists because there are no bad seats in God’s kingdom, there is no fighting for the best spots at the table of grace. We all are welcome and we all get fed. That is the blessing, that is the joy, of this invitation into God’s Kingdom.


Amen & Shalom


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