Text: Luke 14:1-11
In the name of Jesus: Amen.
Doesn’t Jesus’ parable from the Gospel of Luke sound just like a Junior High Lunchroom, where everyone is ranked from the lowest table to the highest table? You know what I am talking about – the lowest tables in Junior High are where the geeks and rejects sit. And the highest tables are where the jocks and pretty girls sit.
And so, each and every day in Junior High, kids are ranked from high to low. Everyone wanted to sit with the jocks and pretty girls, and no one wanted to sit with the geeks and rejects. But nonetheless, they all have to choose a seat.
If a student is doing well in sports or started dating a new girl, well… they can move up and sit at a higher table.
But, if a student said something embarrassing or acted in a way that was not cool, they have to move down to a lower table.
To the point, every table have a rank from high to low. And every person is ranked from high to low as well. Youth are very much into ranking everyone and everything. And we adults? We are no different. We like to rank everything as well. Yes, EVERYTHING, even ourselves.
From the houses we buy to the clothes we wear, to the cars we drive, to the schools we attend, to the farm equipment we use, to the jobs we have – and even the churches we go to – we, Americans, rank everything from high to low.
And once everything is ranked from high to low, we Americans want everything ranked at the top. We want to live in the best parts of town, with the newest-looking car and the most fashionable clothing, while our kids go to the most prestigious schools, while attending the hippest and cool church in town. And to accomplish this, we try not to look weak, we hide our failures, we max out the credit card to buy the best and latest things, and we put metaphoric masks on to pretend that we are something special.
Now, keep in mind that we do not all rank things the same way, for we sometimes value certain things more than other things.
For example, farmers don’t really care about wearing fashionable clothing, so they don’t rank clothing, but they will certainly rank each other’s farms – building large quonsets to store the most advanced and newest combines on the market. Unlike farmers, soccer moms in suburban cities will rank their families by trying to out volunteer each other in their kids' events while also bragging about where they live and how big their houses are. Men rank all the time too. If they are not strutting around like a rooster with flexed muscles and puffed-out chests, they are comparing their toys – accumulating the newest guns, the fastest cars, or the biggest pickups. Again, we are constantly ranking ourselves.
Dear friends, some things never change for humanity, for this ranking is exactly what Jesus was confronting in our reading from the Gospel of Luke.
You see, the Pharisees that Jesus confronted in our reading from the Gospel of Luke were always trying to be in the seats of honor – to be the most important persons in the room. And when Jesus showed up that day at that leader’s house, the Pharisees really struggled. In other words, Jesus threatened their ranking system. They perceived Jesus as one who might take their spot at the head of the table. However, what they did not realize is that Jesus did not care what seat He sat in. The reason being, Jesus never was motivated in His ministry by pride, fear, or coveting.
Dear friends, this is all really such a mess.
Think about it a bit more with me. We fear sitting at the low tables – ranked at the bottom - because we fear being left out or rejected by others. We fear being weak. We fear being looked down upon. And we fear that we won’t be recognized for our imagined greatness.
And the high tables? Pride can inflate our ego, and we can think that we have earned the high tables – that we are more important or better than other people. To sit at the prestigious table, we know that we need to be great. And so, we begin to pretend that we are awesome. We elevate ourselves to rank #1, while hiding our faults and exalting our strengths. And then, once we are puffed up, we sit in those high tables with elevated noses and smug faces shaking our heads in disgust and gossiping about those who are lesser than us.
But maybe, you are wise enough not to give way to the foolishness of pride. Maybe you have a good check on your ego and pride. Well, if you do, be careful of something else, called ‘coveting.’ You see, if we are not guilty of fear or pride, a covetous mindset can take root in our minds saying,
“If only I could get to the top – if only I could get to the biggest and the best stuff, then I would obtain true bliss and happiness - contentment.”
Dear friends, listen up! What an absolute mess we are! Our pride blinds us. Fear paralyzes us with the thought of rejection at the bottom of the rank. And covetousness keeps us dreaming about the top while ignoring what is right before us.
If we let pride, fear, and covetousness have their way, we will always seek to be at the top of the rank. If we let pride, fear, and covetousness have their way, we will always rank everything, tossing others below us, striving for that which is above, while jumping from fear to pride, to covetousness, and then back to fear, pride, and covetousness. Trust me, it is an endless circle of being afraid of the bottom, being prideful for the top, and then dreaming for the top – and then doing it all over again, and again, and again. What a sick existence! What misery – always ranking, seeking, fighting, striving, worrying, huffing, and puffing. This is not freedom; this is utter bondage! And yet, we all do it. Just look around; we see this everywhere and with everyone.
Baptized Saints, knock it off! Yes, knock it off. This is not who you are. The kingdom of God does not operate based on pride, fear, or coveting. The kingdom of God is not about ranking, as if some have a little more Jesus than others.
And so, if you worry about being at the end of the rank, don’t. If you worry about being alone, don’t. If you are worried about being a loser, don’t. If you are constantly dreaming about contentment at the top – stop. If you are consumed with pride – twisted with a thousand emotions, always comparing, ranking, and looking at your status among others – give it a break! If you are more interested in acquiring rank than receiving righteousness, repent!
Baptized Saints, being a Christian, is quite simple. There is no rank before Christ. Either you are righteous in Jesus, or you are not. It is that simple. And so, everyone – one and all – repent, and hear the good news. Jesus does not do the whole rank thing. He does the opposite. Jesus set aside the rank of His deity and took on the status of a slave. In His birth, Jesus did not claim any special rank. Instead, He lived a selfless obedient life so that He might descend so low in the rank – by dying on the cross – that you might never escape His forgiveness. You are in Christ – and with Christ you have complete righteousness. God be praised!
Dear friends, one and all, hear this loud and clear! Rank does not matter for Christ. In Christ, there are no divisions and no ranks of righteousness. In Christ, there is no hierarchy of forgiveness. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female. And there certainly is not jockeying for position.
It is quite simple – in Christ, you are in Christ. And that is it. That is enough.
And so, if you sit in a high table or low table, it does not matter. If you sit with the jocks or the geeks, it does not matter. If you have a nice car or a junky car, it does not matter. If you live in a mansion or a shed, it does not matter. It does not matter because you are in Christ. And Christ is what matters, not what seat you sit at or your ranking in life.
In fact, when you are in Christ, you need not walk around all high and mighty but are completely and totally free to sit at the lowest place to simply love everyone else above you. Because of Christ, you are content to be simply be yourself. And if you do have a high rank – in Christ, you know that your rank is not for bolstering yourself but is intended to be used to serve and bless your neighbor in need.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.