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The Places of Honor

A message preached by Jay P. Rowland at the First Presbyterian Church, Rochester MN on Sunday August 28, 2016.

Text: [see below]

The Places of Honor

LUKE 14:1, 7-14

On one occasion when Jesus[e] was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

2Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they were silent. So Jesus[f] took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5 Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child[g] or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?” 6 And they could not reply to this.

7 When 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; 9 and 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.10 But 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. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 He 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.13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

 

 

The Places of Honor

Places of honor are good to have.  Whether in our church, community, nation, or our world it’s important that we know about the people who made contributions and sacrifices–who they are and what they did. Honoring them keeps their spirit alive no matter how long ago they lived or died-and perhaps inspires others to do likewise.  Here in Rochester the exhibits honoring the Mayo brothers, the Soldiers’ Field Memorial are two great examples; in Washington DC of course there’s the Lincoln Memorial; the FDR and MLK and the WW2 and Viet Nam Veterans Memorials and so on.  In NYC there’s the 9/11 memorial. These places of honor keep alive the sacrifices and contributions people have made–and for me, personally, give glory to the God who gave them life and breath and the life they shared. Then of course there’s places of honor for special occasions, most notably wedding receptions, but really any time we save a place for someone so that we know where they are during the occasion.

Apparently there was an occasion in which Jesus was invited for a Sabbath meal at the home of a very important religious leader. To be invited to this man’s house would have been considered an honor.

The missing verses from Luke’s story for today are fairly significant (v.2-6):  Jesus sits near a man with “dropsy” probably what today is referred to as edema—signaling either a serious, chronic heart condition or advanced diabetes—and so it’s likely that the man’s swollen legs were visible to all.  I imagine Jesus greeting this man and asking him his story.  In doing so, Jesus gives this un-named man a place of honor.

Jesus later observes how the guests that day chose their seats carefully. A person’s reputation in the community was made public on such occasions by where they were seated–the more “important” the person, the nearer he would be seated to the host. Interestingly, from what Jesus says, people seemed to know where to sit (or perhaps where they wanted to sit).  From Jesus’ description it seems to me that people aren’t sitting near the man with the edema. To Jesus, the most important person in the house that day was the man no one else was sitting near.

So there they are, surrounded by the best and brightest religious minds of their community–gathered in the home someone considered perhaps best of the best—the most important of the most important people in town.  With all that religious knowledge and wisdom gathered in one place, Jesus is most interested in someone who is suffering.  The others are curious about what Jesus will do while they complain about where they’re sitting, all the while missing an opportunity to do something truly “great”.

The text notes that everyone there that day was watching Jesus very closely.  Jesus asks this gathering of the most talented and recognized religious minds whether or not it’s lawful to heal a person on the Sabbath.

… crickets …

In a room full of experts on the Sabbath and the other Ten Commandments, and all things concerning God, not a word is spoken in reply to Jesus question.

Jesus heals the man and sends him home.  Perhaps the latter was the more merciful of the two actions.

I read recently, “Those who are willing to play second fiddle make beautiful music in the symphony of life.”  Jesus sees that he’s surrounded by a bunch of first fiddles. What he says to his host and to all the guests is essentially: if you truly care about what God cares about, invite more people like that fella you all ignored and didn’t seem to want me to help. Get to know people like him. If you only mingle with people just like yourselves, you lose touch with the magnificence of God.
Humility has always been the mark of truly great people. John Lee Taylor tells the story about a man who was being honored at a banquet.  As he was being introduced with a glowing, lengthy recitation of his achievements, the man leans toward his wife and said: “Ever wonder how many truly great men there are in the world today?”

His wife whispered in reply, “One less than you think.”[1]

[i] John Lee Taylor, www.Ministry Matters.com for August 28, 2016, published July 23, 2016

There’s nothing inherently wrong with occupying places of honor. It serves an important purpose as we’ve noted. And it’s important to recognize those in our midst who are making a difference in our communities.  I think the point Jesus is trying to make is that there are places and people of honor all around us at any given moment.  Jesus knows it’s easy for us to overlook people of honor in the eyes of the Lord but who are untouched by the spotlight this world likes to shine upon the best and the brightest and the higher profile segment of our communities.

The good news is that Jesus gladly and continually leads us to those people and places of honor. Jesus more than hints who and where these are on any given day. The even better good news is that though we are easily lead astray and tend to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, Jesus shows up right on time ready, willing, and able to take us where he would have us be.  As long as we’re open to hear God speak to us however that may happen for you or for me, it’s been my experience that once we’re willing to go wherever Jesus leads, we get to the place we belong.  And the best part about that is it often becomes a place where we feel we belong.

There’s a story about two brothers who were well-liked but had a wild streak. That streak got the best of them and they started stealing sheep, earning money off the local farmers. One day they were caught. It was decided that a proper punishment was to tattoo the letters “S T” for sheep thief onto their foreheads.  One brother was so embarrassed he left town and never came back–perhaps that was the intent.  The other brother was remorseful. He chose to stay.

Most wouldn’t have anything to do with him. But he was determined to make amends. Whenever there was sickness, the sheep thief was there to help care for the sick. Whenever work needed to be done, the sheep thief showed up to help. It made no difference whether the person was rich or poor, the sheep thief was there to lend a hand. Soon he was an integral part of the community. He lived his life to serve others. He became a well-respected friend of all.

Years later, a traveler came through town. He sat at the sidewalk cafe eating lunch and noticed an old man with the strange tattoo on his forehead, sitting nearby. It seemed that whoever passed by the old man stopped to chat. Children even stopped to give him an affectionate hug. The stranger asked his waiter about the old man, “what’s with the guy with the tattoo on his forehead and what’s S T mean?”

The waiter thought for a moment then said, “It happened so long ago none of us remember anymore … We think it probably stands for Saint.”[2]

No matter what has happened in your life, no matter what you have done or left undone, it’s never too late. God has made a place of honor for you and for me.  Open your heart, give him your life, then watch your life become “sacrifice of praise”[3] as described in Hebrews

Along the way, following his lead, I believe that one day we shall look up from our doings and even our sufferings to find ourselves seated with Jesus and one another at the Table of Grace he sets for us – in The promised and everlasting Place of Honor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] John Lee Taylor, www.Ministry Matters.com for August 28, 2016, published July 23, 2016
[2] Billy D. Strayhorn,  Ministry Matters™ (op cit)
[3] ibid