Luke 14: 1, 7-14
It’s Labor Day weekend, and you know what that means, right? The Clarence Center Labor Day fair and parade. School starts this week – and for most parents, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” and, oh yeah, are you ready for some football? The NFL's regular season kicks off this Thursday, September 5. And our beloved Bills begin on Sunday the 8th. At home. Against New England. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
But I came across some trivia this past week. Exactly 50 years ago, on September 7, 1963, the Pro Football Hall of Fame opened in Canton, Ohio. There were 17 charter members.
A man by the name of Jim Thorpe was one of them. How many of you remember Jim Thorpe? How many of you have at least heard of Jim Thorpe? He was the most famous athlete of his time, able to run with speed and power as well as pass, catch, punt and kick. After leading the Canton Bulldogs to three unofficial world championships, he became the first president of the National Football League.
By the way, he also played six seasons of major-league baseball and won two gold medals in the 1912 Olympics. King Gustav V of Sweden honored him during the closing ceremonies by saying, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.”
To which Thorpe replied, “Thanks, King.”
Today, success leads to excessive celebrations. You see it in the end zone after almost every touchdown. Sometimes they even mock the other team – as one of our own Bills players did a few years ago. That antic earned him and the team a 15-yard penalty. How different today from the days of Jim Thorpe and his simple, “Thanks, King.”
And it’s not just football – and don’t get me wrong – I love football – I love watching and cheering for the Bills – but there seems to be something going on in the world of sports – in the world of entertainment – that I find alarming.
• I think of Alex Rodriguez – one of the most talented men to play the sport of baseball. Not content to play the game on talent and natural ability, we now associate him with using performance enhancing drugs.
• I think of Miley Cyrus at the Video Music Awards and the sexually suggestive act she put on this past week. And thanks to her, we now have a new word added to our vocabulary – twerping. Quite frankly, I didn’t need to know that word or see the antics it suggest.
At the risk of sounding guilty of indulging in self-righteousness – which in and of itself is a form of arrogance, I know – but I want to ask, “What’s going on?” And I don’t mean to pick on – or condemn – any one athlete or entertainer. That is not my intent today. But I use these as examples of what can happen when a person – any person – it could just as well be you or me – but when a person gets caught up in an exuberant display of their own sense of importance.
Something like that is happening in our Gospel reading today. And I can’t help thinking that what we see going on in certain segments of our society today may be just what Jesus is talking about today when he says, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
When going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, Jesus said, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down in the place of honor.”
And here’s the kicker. Jesus is saying that someone more distinguished than you might show up, which would cause your host to come to you and say, “Give this person your place,” which would then mean you would have to move to a place of lower honor.
Instead, Jesus says, “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.” SO all of you sitting in the back row – come on up here! There’s plenty of room in the front seats. Oh! You’re okay where you are? Alright. You had your chance.
Anyway – this is an important lesson that we need to listen to. Maybe it’s even kind of a warning. Listen again. “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Let me share with you another story that comes out of the world of sports. A few weeks ago at the Canadian Open, golfer Hunter Mahan left the tournament to be with his wife, Kandi, who had gone into labor three weeks early.
The really amazing thing about Mahan’s decision is that the thirty-one year old was leading the tournament at the time and had a real chance of winning the million dollar prize. According to Mahan the decision was easy, because he wasn’t focused on himself or the money, but his family.
“When I am done playing golf,” Mahan said, “I’d rather be noted for being a good husband and good father than anything else. Success comes and goes. Seeing your daughter every day, having a family – that is stuff that makes you happy to your core.”
Folks, may I suggest to you that that kind of attitude is what comes from knowing Jesus Christ. That Christ-like attitude is what Jesus is talking about today – an attitude that overcomes pride and the desire for – well a desire for attention that says, “Look how great I am.”
Look, we’re all gifted. We’re all talented. There is something that each one of us has the ability to do – at least one thing – that we can take pride in at the end of the day. And there is something quite good and healthy and necessary in hearing, “Good job. Well done.”
My wife, Nancy, is a good cook. When our daughter Special came to live with us from Liberia, Africa – she was 15 at the time, and that was 29 years ago – after an exceptional dinner, Special exclaimed, “Mean meal, Mom!” That’s become a Milleville tradition whenever there is an exceptional meal. “Mean meal, Mom!” Of course we never hear, “Mean meal, Dad!”
But there’s something good say to your son or your daughter who’s just played well in a soccer or baseball game, “You looked good out there today.” “Great essay for that school project.” Or “Wonderful presentation at work today.”
There’s something good in hearing someone tell you that you are valued. That you are appreciated. That you are loved.
But there’s that fine line between healthy pride and an unhealthy pride that leads to arrogance – and learning how to receive compliments graciously – without fishing for them. I know because I fish for complements all the time. I know, because I do wrestle with pride. I know that there are some Saturday’s/Sunday’s where I preach a sermon and I can tell that I have hit a home run. And I want to do a kind of victory dance in the end zone – you know – behind the altar over there. But don’t worry! I can also tell when my sermons are duds. And the confirmands who take notes on my sermons let me know. I guess it’s all a matter of attitude – a sense of what I might call healthy pride – and an unhealthy pride that leads to arrogance. It’s that latter attitude that Jesus is warning us about today.
But still – we like to be noticed. And we need to be noticed – but for the right things and in the right way. Let me share a story with you from a guy by the name of Terry Hershey.
A school bus was making its final round of the day. A young boy jumped off just as a man jogged by.
“Hey, mister,” the boy shouted, “can I jog with you?” The jogger wasn't in a hurry so he nodded and the boy joined in jogging. Within five minutes the boy gave the jogger pretty much his whole life story. His name was Matthew; he was ten years old, precocious and full of life.
Abruptly, however, Matthew stopped. “Look at this,” he ordered as he showed the jogger an 81/2 by 11 inch piece of paper that had been laminated. In big black letters across the top it said, “Fourth Grade Math Whiz.” Underneath was Matthew's name, the school name, the date and the teacher's signature.
His pride was undaunted. “I'm a math whiz,” he went on beaming, not waiting for the jogger to come to that conclusion by reading the card only inches from his face. “Last year my sister was the math whiz,” he continued, “but this year, I'm the math whiz!”’
“That's great,” the man replied.
“Yep,” said Matthew. “But you know what's really great? When I get home, my dad's gonna be real proud.”
And isn't that what we all really want? We want to make our father proud, our mother proud. We want to earn the esteem of family members and business colleagues, teachers at school and friends at church. And that's fine. Nothing wrong with that. But more important than all of these, says Jesus, is to make God proud of us.
Right there at the end of our reading from Luke today – we learn this when we look around to those who are helpless, hurting, the destitute, the hungry, the homeless, and do something for those who can do nothing for us in return. It's all right to want to be one of the beautiful people, says Jesus, as long as you understand who the beautiful people really are. They are not those who are always buying more trinkets to impress their neighbors. They are those who are using the blessings of life to bless others.
Worldly people seek to exalt themselves. But as followers of Jesus Christ we know that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” We all want – indeed we need – recognition. But recognition of the right kind – the kind that it is my hope that we will one day hear from Jesus himself – those words – “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
And turning to Jesus, we can simply say, “Thanks, King.” Amen