Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Luke 14: 1, 7-14. Focus on how humility is essential to servant leadership and why it’s attractive. Check out Kelly Crandell & our Soloists as the sing – Laudamus te.
Do you remember Cliff Clavin? – The mailman from Cheers? Cliff was one of those guys who had an answer for almost any question that came his way while at the same time knowing almost nothing about whatever subject he was commenting on.
From the episode where Diane is off to Italy to marry Frasier, which is driving Sam nuts and he finally asks his bar mates: “Does anyone know how long it takes to get to Italy from here?” Cliff quick with an answer says.
“Sammy you can make it from here to Italy in 8 hours 37 minutes and 22 seconds with a good tailwind.”
And Sam responds, “Seriously?”
“Well unless you take the polar route in which case you run into those convex currents created by the Aurora Borealis.
To which Carla, the wise cracking waitress responds, “Cliff you’re a roaring borealis.”
So when I hear Jesus warning us not to sit to high up on the banquet table less someone more prominent come along and displace us – the person that comes to my mind is Cliff Clavin – Cliff the guy who’s clueless to social graces and social settings – Cliff the guy who’s not ashamed to think more highly of himself than he should. Cliff the guy who would sit down next to the bride at a wedding only to be asked by the host to kindly take his place at the children’s table in the corner.
But the truth is there’s probably a little bit of Cliff in all of us. Because in a sense this parable is about how we prioritize our lives and whom we wish to be seated next to in life.
I have a friend in ministry whose intellectual seriousness often causes him to miss the point, much less the humor in most situations. When I lament the fact that all of my brilliance, please read irony into that statement, will never be recorded for posterity he quickly tries to solve my problem by pointing out to me that what I need to do is to cultivate people who are the movers and shakers in the community into my church.
And that may be true, but misses the point of the parable that Jesus is talking about. I mean my ego would be flattered if I was being quoted in the paper concerning my latest theological musings and I’m sure I’d enjoy being asked to preside at all the social functions that he’s asked to preside at, but I know that eventually someone greater would come along and eventually knock me down a peg or two and like Cliff I’d eventually be moved down to the kids table.
But there’s one thing that they don’t tell you when you’re trying to climb to the top of the social scene. Eventually everyone is asked to move down away from the host to a lower spot at the table because there will always be someone more important and more eloquent and more influential coming along to take your place.
And the other thing I like to tell my friend is that when you stop trying to sit so high up at the table, when you stop having to blow your own horn you’ll find that life becomes a lot easier and a heck of a lot more fun. And more times than not you just might find that there’s someone out there who’s already blowing your horn for you. And that melody is a lot sweeter than the one you play by yourself.
And though not the main point of the wisdom saying there is one other huge benefit for not thinking of yourself more highly than you should. Servant leaders the type of leader Jesus is trying to train to follow in his footsteps is someone who by their service to others will become so attractive to others that people will naturally invite you to sit in places of prominence simply because they find you fascinating and unique.
Think about Jesus he probably had invitations to sit next to all kinds of prominent, important, interesting people simply because he didn’t seek it and simply let his way of being be the attraction that people wanted to be next too.
So when Jesus tells us to invite to his banquet table those who can’t repay us and says we will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. I believe that’s true but I also know that we get repaid in the here and now too. There’s a reason that Jesus hung out with the sinners. They’re more fun, and often more insightful than those who are trying to climb to the top. They’re less critical and more understanding of human sin and sadness. They laugh more and often! And because of this forgiveness and love come easier to them than to the religious elite.
In short, they are not the Pharisees and Scribes who work so hard to be seen in all the right places, with all the right people. They’re worried about a public image that is at odds with their private image.
Have you noticed how all those who are being brought down by scandal in this country are guilty of the very thing that they’re trying to prevent? To have to live a lie in order to gain and maintain power is the very height of hypocrisy, which is not the worst of sins. As my grandfather always liked to say to those who told him they’d never join his church because it was filled with hypocrites, “You might be right but we always have room for one more!”
The greatest tragedy is the lack of awareness that life doesn’t have to be that hard or lived that unnaturally. The church as Jesus envisioned it – is to be a huge banquet – a wedding feast, not some uptight gathering of people pretending to be perfect. And when God throws a party everyone is invited. And there’s only one way that can work. The least and the lost have to be included because you never know when you might just be one of them. Amen