You May Not Want to Invite
Jesus for Dinner
Pentecost 14 Luke 14:1,7-14
for the sermon today is a story that I told several years ago. In
preparation for any sermon, I follow a systematic process. That is,
I read several Biblical commentaries written by Biblical scholars. I
examine my old exegetical notes. I also read my old sermons on a
particular text. The following is an old story that goes with this
text. I told this story twelve years ago, and I actually had
forgotten that it happened. I would like to tell the following story
because it is so symbolic of self prestige and a feigned self
This is a story
about my wife, Jan, and myself. It occurred a number of years ago
when I was a pastor in Eugene, Oregon. I am not sure how it happened
that Jan and I got on the guest list of Ms. Jones.
I need to tell you
about Ms. Jones. In those years, Ms. Jones was THE patron of the
arts in Eugene, Oregon. Ms. Jones was the “hostess with the
there was a concert in Eugene, a guest conductor or guest musician
would often be brought in to perform with the Eugene Symphony. Ms.
Jones would normally have a private party for that guest conductor
later during the same evening of the concert. These elegant parties
would be held at Ms. Jones villa which was located on the banks of
the Willamette River. Ms. Jones would always invite a photographer
from the local newspaper, the Register Guard. The photographer would
take the appropriate pictures and then in the next Sunday paper, in
the Society Section, there would always be pictures of the guest
soloist with Ms. Jones and other dignified people from Eugene. When
it came to sophistication, Ms. Jones was Ms. Culture in Eugene.
We still don’t
know how it happened, but my wife Jan got on Ms. Jones guest list.
And we were invited to our first society party in Eugene. The party
was to be at the Eugene, Hotel. The Eugene Hotel was the classiest
hotel in the city in those years.
We knew that there
would be many important people at Ms. Jones private party. The
professors, the doctors, members of the Eugene Symphony, instructors
from the music department at the University of Oregon were all going
to be there. Also, the guest conductor and the guest violinist from
the Pittsburg Symphony were going to attend. The guest violinist was
to be the honored and esteemed guest of the evening.
Yes, Jan and I were
invited to this private party at the Eugene Hotel. It would be held
after the concert. I was to give the opening prayer for the evening
fete. So Jan and I were going to be seated at the head table, along
with the violinist. And this man, the violinist, was exceedingly
handsome. You should have seen the pictures of this man on the
evening program for the concert. He was “drop dead” handsome,
just gorgeous. I could imagine how charming he was going to be. My
wife was definitely thrilled to be seated next to this “dude.”
I am getting ahead
of myself with the story. I need to backtrack. Jan was at home, busy
getting ready for the party, in full anticipation of this event
awaiting her. She was dressing herself up so lovely. She had this
long, new green dress, with a fashionable cut and colors and a nice
low neckline. She had her pearls out for this one. Jan really looked
classy for this party.
Meanwhile, if you
know anything about me, I am late for everything. I was late for
this event as well. I had been on a youth retreat. I was coming home
from the youth retreat, driving the yellow church school bus. I was
so late for the evening concert that I did not have time to leave
the bus at church. I didn’t have enough time, so I drove the bus
home to our house. I parked the school bus out in front of our house
and dashed into our home. I quickly showered, shaved and coloned and
came out in seven minutes and said, “I am ready to go to the
My wife gave me
that icy smile. Of course, we were ten minutes late by now. We
jumped into my car, turned the ignition, and the battery was dead. I
thought, “That’s no problem.” I asked, “Where is your car,
Jan?” “It is being fixed,” she replied. “Well, how are we
going to get there,” we both asked. “Well, the church bus,” I
So I escorted my
wife Jan across our front lawn and she elegantly climbed up into the
yellow church school bus, wearing her lovely evening gown. I then
drove us down to the Eugene Hotel. As I told you, it was a classy
hotel for classy occasions and there were several classy cars in
line, waiting for the valet. Mercedes. Cadillacs. Porches. Women
were in furs. The valet was helping each of the ladies out of their
cars. I was watching what happened and thought I knew how to do
this. I then pulled up our church yellow school bus to the valet
station. The sign on the side of the bus said, CENTRAL LUTHERAN
CHURCH in bold letters. I hit the brake. I opened the door. I looked
the valet in the eye and nodded for him to escort my wife out down
the steps of the school bus. My wife looked elegant as she was
stepping down from the bus, pretending that she was not at all
embarrassed by all of this.
I said to the
valet, “I hope you wouldn’t mind parking my bus, along with the
other Mercedes.” He thought that was inappropriate so I drove the
bus two blocks away and I parked it near the city jail.
Things did get
That is, we walked
into the area where there was an hor’derve table. It was a lovely
table. I had on a nice suit, shirt and tie. I probably was not
watching carefully and the tip of my tie got into the mayonnaise
bowl and I didn’t see it. A short time later, I had to get up in
front of everybody and say my prayer. I said to the lovely crowd
seated before me, “Let us bow our heads in prayer.” I then bowed
my head and looked down and saw the mayonnaise on the bottom of my
tie for the first time. So I prayed with my hands over the spot of
mayonnaise. What do you do in a situation like that?
Well, a short time
later, we were sitting at the head table. The table prayer had gone
OK and I had covered up the mayonnaise quite well. Not everyone
could sit at the head table with this guest violinist and the
conductor of the Pittsburg Symphony, but Jan was elated that she was
sitting next to this handsome violinist. I was sorry to hear that
they spoke in French. The conversation was primarily in French that
evening, and my wife simply cocked her little beautiful blonde head
and smiled while I was miserable through the whole thing. My wife
absolutely enjoyed that conversation and enjoyed that evening. But
to be honest, I didn’t. I am more like the school bus driver.
It is with this
mood of the Eugene Hotel, society, Cadillacs and Mercedes and head
tables and guests of honor and trying to be prestigious and trying
to cover up one’s sense of self importance; it is with this mood
that we approach the mood of the gospel story for today.
Jesus had been
invited to a society party. It was a society party among the leading
citizens, perhaps of Jerusalem, and they were Pharisees. They were
the “rich cats.” All the important people were there. The
professors. The politicians. The high priests. The chief priests.
Members of the Sanhedrin, the senate of the day. This particular
Pharisee had a beautiful home located high in the hills overlooking
Jerusalem and its candle lights at night. The ladies came to the
gala party with their gold necklaces and their strings of pearls
draped around their lovely low cut evening gowns. The man looked
stately in their purpled linens, with their gold rings displayed
prominently on their fingers. There was the small talk that goes
with all sophisticated parties, with the sophisticated hor’derves
and toothy smiles. Everybody was being witty, disarming and ever so
clever. People were all having a good time.
Jesus was the guest
of honor at this local feast, just as the violinist was the guest of
honor in Eugene. Jesus was the guest of honor that night, and
everybody who counted for anything wanted to be seated near Jesus.
These people all wanted to be at the head table with Jesus, there up
in front, where all the important people are seated. Ms. Jones was
there and she ushered everyone in to be seated. The last person to
be ushered in was Jesus himself, the most honored guest of the
evening. Jesus was at one end of the table and Mrs. Jones was at the
other end of the table. All the important people were there at the
head table. Everyone was envious of those at the head table, but
surreptitiously so. Everyone wanted to be at the head table,
but pretended they didn’t.
Then Jesus spoke.
Hmmmm. You are not sure that you want to turn Jesus loose at
a party like that. Jesus said to everybody but to nobody in
particular. “Why are all of you people trying to be so important?
Why are you so anxious to be seated at the head table?” Everybody
was a little embarrassed by his opening remarks. Then Jesus went on,
“For a person who exalts himself in this life will be humbled.
When a person humbles himself in this life, will be exalted.” The
people in the banquet room all laughed nervously. It was a nervous
coughing sound. “Augh. Augh.” It was a little nervous laugh that
we all laugh on similar occasions. The people thought to themselves,
“Psychological type. He is pretty sharp on the edges but there is
a bite to his words.” People were starting to feel uncomfortable
and a bit embarrassed. Jesus looked down at the end of the head
table and said to Ms. Jones who was dying a thousand deaths, “Why
did you invite all of these people to the party? Why didn’t you
invite some of my friends? Some of the prostitutes? The
homeless? The beggars from downtown? The widows over at the nursing
homes? The street kids? The really sick people? The really poor
people? The garbage collectors? Ms. Jones, why didn’t you invite
some of my friends to the party and to be here seated at the
Ms. Jones was
upset. She pursed her lips. She furled her brow. She slightly
tightened the muscles around her eyes. She took a quick sip of
water. She said nothing, but she thought to herself, “This
is the last time I will ever invite Jesus of Nazareth to dinner. He
has no manners. No sense of etiquette. No siree. He will never
be invited to one my parties again.”
From that social
scene, we hear that classic line from the lips of Jesus, that
classic line which has been memorialized into the literature of the
human psyche. Jesus said, “A person who exalts himself will be
humbled, but a person who humbles himself will be exalted.”
What is the
greatest of all the Christian virtues? What is the most important of
all the Christian virtues? If I asked you, of all the important
virtues in the Bible, which is the most important? Wouldn’t almost
all of us answer that question with the word, “love.” We would
say with the Apostle Paul, “So faith, hope and love, the greatest
of these is love.” If you were asked to name the most important
virtue to be found in the Scriptures, would you not say with the
Apostle Paul, “love?”
It is important to
remember that Jesus didn’t.
One time, the
disciples of Jesus were with each other and they were arguing about
who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom of God. They were
arguing about who was going to the Secretary of State in the kingdom
of God or the Chief Justice on the heavenly Supreme Court. Jesus
responded to their arguments and said, “Whoever humbles himself
like a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus said, “Like
a little child.” Before
they get to first grade. In a little child, there is no
conceit. In a little child, there is no need to be number
one. In a little child, there is no need to be better than
other children. We often learn that stuff about conceit in first
Usually, when we
hear the teaching, “whoever is greatest in the kingdom of God,”
we hear that we are to have the “faith” of a little
child. But in this story for today and in other stories of
Jesus, what makes a child great is not their faith but their
humility. What makes a child great is the profound awareness and
quality of life where there is no need to be better than other human
beings. Where there is no need to use the gifts that God has given
us to elevate ourselves above other people, ever so subtlety.
times in the Scriptures we hear this teaching of Jesus. “Whoever
exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever discovers humility will
be exalted in the heart and mind of God.”
If we are to be a
follower of Jesus Christ, we are to learn this quality of humility.
It is so important to Jesus, and so important to us as well.
Well, what is it?
What is it to be a humble person? What is Jesus talking about? It
sounds so old fashioned. It sounds so fuddy duddy. It sounds so
1910ish. What is it to be a humble person?
To be humble. Does
it mean to feel inferior? Does
it mean to put yourself down? Does it mean to compare yourself to
others and come up short? Does it mean to have a walking inferiority
complex? Obviously not.
To be humble. Does
humility mean to be timid? To be a mouse in the corner? To be a
Melvin Milktoast? To be afraid to say anything to anyone? To be
afraid to stand up and be counted? Is that what it is to be humble?
Well, then, what is
humility which was so crucially important to Jesus? And is so
crucially important for your life and mine? What is it to be a
Humility is the
opposite of pride or conceit. We need to first talk about pride and
conceit. It is easier to talk about pride and conceit. What is a
conceited person? What is a proud person? Think of images of conceit
in your mind? When you or others around you have struggled with
pride and conceit, what is it? We all know what it is. Pride is to
take the gifts that God has given to us, and use those gifts to
compare ourselves with others and elevate ourselves above others
around us. We use our God given gifts in such a way to elevate
ourselves above another person.
According to our
ancient church fathers, pride is the first of the seven deadly sins.
Pride/ conceit is the source of all other evil. It is the source of
greed, envy and covetousness. It is very closely related to
selfishness. A conceited person, a prideful person is often a very
selfish person. Such a person thinks, “I want the world to center
What is the result?
What is always the result of conceit or pride? It is
division. Division and conflict.
Recently, I was on
a seventh grade retreat and we had a wonderful time. The theme of
the retreat was “Cliques or Community.” I asked the seventh
graders what a clique was. These kids knew what a clique was. They
said, “A clique is when all the popular kids get together and feel
that they are slightly better than everybody else.” And what is
the result of this? The kids replied, “It just splits up the
group. We are not all one. We don’t feel comfortable with each
other.” We all remember what it meant to be part of a clique in
seventh grade. We all know how divisive it was and is.
When you are in
seventh grade or seventeen or seventy years old, the price is the
same. The price is divisiveness. No matte what age, the result of
pride or conceit or self elevation is always division within
the community. There is always a division between outsiders
and insiders, those who think they are better and those who
But when you have a
little child who is one or two years old, they do not compare
themselves to anyone and elevate themselves over others.
Jesus asked, “Who
is greatest in the kingdom of God?” Jesus answered, “Whoever humbles
themselves like a little child.”
At the heart of
this quality of humility is an attitude of the heart which realizes
that all of my gifts come from God. All of my talent. All of my
money. All my personality traits which allow me to advance in life.
Everything that I have is a gift from God. Humility is grounded in
this deep psychological awareness. You cannot have genuine humility
And so I will
repeat it. Humility is grounded in a deep core psychological
awareness that everything I am and everything I have is totally a
gift from God. Therefore, how can I boast? How can I use these
God-given gifts as a measuring stick to elevate myself above others?
Do you remember the
following limerick? “Little Jack Horner sat in a corner, eating
his Christmas pie. He stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum, and
said, ‘O what a good boy am I.’”
But what if little
Jack Horner had stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum and said,
“I have the best Christmas pie in the whole wide world. My
Christmas pie is better than your Christmas pie. My pie is redder.
My pie is bigger. My pie has more whip cream. I have a freezer full
of Christmas pies and you just have a small slice. Nah. Nah. Nah.
Nah. Nah. Nah. I am better than you are.”
Down deep inside,
we all know that it was little Jack Horner’s mother who made and
gave him his Christmas pie. It was his mother who filled the freezer
with Christmas pies. Down deep inside, we know that it was Jack’s
mother who made each and every pie and gave them to her little boy.
Deep down inside, we have this psychological awareness that
everything we have is a gift from God. We all know that.
Let’s move in a
slightly different direction. This quality of humility that Jesus is
talking about also has a sociological dimension. By that I mean to
say, that in this story, Jesus is inviting us to associate with the
so-called “lowly of society” who are often referred to as “one
or two classes down.”
Do you remember
when Jesus addressed Ms. Jones at the banquet and said, “Ms.
Jones? Why did you not invite my friends to the party? Why
didn’t you invite the poor, the maimed, the blind and the lame?
Why didn’t you invite the lepers? The prostitutes? The homeless?
Why didn’t you invite all these people, Ms. Jones?”
To be a Christian
and to walk the Christian life is to break through the sociological
barriers of status. Christ wants us to break through our
sociological barriers of status where our friendships, our
sociological patterns and our Christian companions are primarily and
only with middle class people.
As I mentioned to
you last week in the sermon, in this Biblical passage from Luke
chapter ten through Luke chapter eighteen, Jesus is the
counter-revolutionary. Jesus is the most radical revolutionary who
ever lived. In these chapters, Jesus is not trying to win votes in
Peoria, Illinois, (to use a line from last week’s sermon.) But
Jesus is inviting you and me, sociologically, psychologically and
personally, to break out of our middle class only status.
Jesus wants to turn your world and mine upside down. You see, there
is not only a psychological dimension to this story of Jesus. There
is a sociological dimension as well.
I would like you to
imagine with me that it is the year about 1860 CE. I would like you
to imagine the time of the Civil War. I would like you to go to the
movie, GONE WITH THE WIND. Would you go to the movie, GONE WITH THE
WIND? We are going to visit a southern plantation.
We are going to the plantation called, Tara. Tara is lovely
with its long rows of trees on either side of the road leading up to
the mansion. The mansion at Tara is lovely with its tall colonnades
and its gardens and its lawns and its cotton fields stretching away
from the mansion. It is Saturday night and a big party is going on.
The owner of the plantation has thrown of banquet and who is there?
Who is present at the party at Tara? In Jesus’ story? All
the rich friends? No. In Jesus’ story, all the people who were
working that plantation are present. The black slaves. The cotton
gleaners. The poor people. Because Jesus turns everything upside
down in his stories.
Today Jesus invites
us to change our social patterns, whereby we start to connect with
the homeless, the street people, the handicapped, the elderly, and
the impoverished of our community and world.
Today, if Jesus
were telling this story, he would not use the word, “leper,” who
were the social outcasts of his day. Today, Jesus would say, “The
man and the woman infected with Aids? Make sure they are at the head
I am really glad
Jesus wasn’t down there in Eugene, Oregon for the banquet that
night at the Eugene Hotel. I can see it right now. I can see the
school bus pulling up to the party at the Eugene Hotel. I can see my
wife walking down the steps of that school bus to be greeted by the
valet. I can see the people who were at the head table. I can see
Ms. Jones who was there. The conductor. The guest violinist was as
well. I am so glad that Jesus didn’t show up for that banquet. I
mean, you just don’t know what Jesus would have said to Ms. Jones.
And you just don’t know what Jesus would have said to you and me
and everybody else in the room. I suspect that his words would have
made us all feel uneasy, uncomfortable and embarrassed. You may not
want to invite Jesus to dinner after all. Amen.