This was the advice given:
Dear Anonymously Anxious,
So often at these gatherings we want to sit near the host and the most distinguished guests. To the degree that we will sometimes strategize how to get the best seat. I do not recommend this course of action. When we go after the best seats, our actions are telling others just how important we believe we are, and risk putting our host, other guests, and ourselves in a truly awkward position. For if a more distinguished guest arrives, and your host had intended the better seat for them, it will feel disgraceful to be asked to move to a lesser seat.
I would recommend that you actually take the worst seat, the one that is the furthest from the host and influential guests; the one that is uncomfortable to sit in for any length of time. Far better for your host to come and move you further up at the table, and be honored before everyone else. And if I may take this one step further - influential community members like yourself might avoid hosting these kinds of banquets geared entirely for the affluent and prominent. These networking events only ever benefit the powerful people in the room, and an invitation always comes with an expectation of reciprocity. Far better to throw a banquet for those who can never possibly reciprocate. If you want to host a lavish meal, why not invite those experiencing poverty or loneliness? This is the path where true blessing can be found.
Anonymously Anxious, I wish you the best of luck at this dinner party. And remember, as my readers know me for saying: ‘All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’*
Jesus of Nazareth
Alright, so we know Jesus did not really keep an advice column for his local paper. In reality, when we find him in today’s gospel, he is in an incredibly tricky position. Jesus has been invited to attend this sabbath meal at the home of a local religious leader, and is one of many influential guests at this event. The text actually tells us that these folks were keeping a close eye on Jesus to see how he would handle himself (Lk 14:1). When Jesus notices his fellow guests strategically maneuvering for the most prominent seat, he offers them this parable on humility. One reason why we might play with this parable as an advice column is because Jesus’ wisdom in this text is timeless.
Last Sunday during the sermon, I shared a question I’ve been preoccupied with - What does it mean to be the Church today? We explored one of the unchanging roles of the Church: to proclaim in thought, word, and deed the transformative power of God’s Love, which can change this world for the better when humanity works in concert with God and one another. We focused on the idea that one way our generation is particularly called to embody this work is by bringing hope to the hopeless.
While there are many ways we can do this, today’s gospel lesson on humility offers us yet another way of offering that hope. Particularly given the overall sense of loneliness, despondency, and disenfranchisement within our society. We are told again and again through various forms of media that the balm to our souls will be More. More stuff, more alcohol, more drugs, more sex, more netflix and chill; more power; more money; more ego; more, more, more. Yet in spite of this pervasive messaging, these things seem to only deepen our overall sense of despair.
A theme throughout the gospels is Jesus' repeated emphasis on humility, which he models through servant leadership. Jesus rarely focuses attention on himself, and routinely redirects people's attention towards God’s dream for this world; the greater good of creation. Which, in the context of the wider culture, is unusual - both then and now.
It is his servant leadership style that makes him stand out. Some of the most memorable leaders within the history of the Church are the ones who embraced Jesus’ model of servant leadership. Read up on any of the saints for inspiration. They could see beyond themselves, which allowed them a vision of what could be possible when we set our egos aside and work towards a greater good for the whole of creation.
This is what we are signing up for when we choose to follow the Way of Love and be a part of the Church. We are telling the world - it’s not about me. It is about this greater good that we believe is possible through the transformative love embodied by Christ and Christ’s Church.We believe in this so deeply, that we want to live our lives as servant leaders. And when the Church remembers that is what we are about - the world doesn’t quite know what to do with us.
Because the Way of the World is focused on the gratification of the self: what do I want, what do I need, what do I stand to gain. Me, me, me. But the Way of Love is about the greater good of all creation: What is creation asking of us? What do our neighbors need? How can we better support the whole community?
When we embody servant leadership, it is with greater ease that we proclaim in thought, word, and deed that there is another way to live. Those who have been living with the fog of societal despair, witness embodied servant leadership, and it often inspires that fog to begin to lift, and seeds of hope can take root in the soil. The effect of this is that our shared sense of hope grows; we believe that change really is possible when we work in concert with God and one another.
Change starts within each one of us. And it starts with a small dose of curiosity and self-awareness. When we are seeking to solve a problem, ask ourselves: Who am I trying to help here? What are the needs of all the affected parties?
When we are struggling with a situation in our family, with our colleagues at work, or in a ministry at church, ask ourselves: What are my motivations? What will help this system be the best version of itself?
This kind of ongoing examination prevents us from focusing too much on personal preservation, seeking reciprocity or self-serving opportunities. As that is not the dance we have been invited into.
Rather, we have been invited into a flash mob dance. This is when a group of people assemble in a public place and perform together for a brief time before quickly dispersing in different directions. Those who were simply going about their day, suddenly find themselves in the middle of something beautiful and unexpected. These unsuspecting folks are startled awake with a bigger, more beautiful dream of what is possible when we work in concert. In turn, this feeds our collective and communal sense of hope. As the Church, when we say yes to this dance, we become part of a movement that brings hope to the most unexpected places.
As we head back into the world today, I wonder if we all might do some reflecting:
What does the word ‘humility’ stir up in you? Why?
When have you been inspired by servant leadership?
Is there an instance when you saw people work in concert towards a greater good? How did that inspire hope in you?
Where in your life might you need to do some shifting of perspective? If so, what needs to change?
* Luke 14:11
We are blessed to have a diversity of preaching voices in our parish. Our guild of preachers is a mixture of lay and clergy. We hope you enjoy the varied voices.
Meet our Preachers