You Are Just Not That Special; And Why That Is Just Fine

Text: Luke 14:1-11

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

From our earliest days as children, we fight to be first in line.  Being first in line makes us very proud.  Yes, it feels good to have people following us and looking up to us. It feels good to have that place of honor at the very front of the class. And there is more.  When we are first in line, we feel a sense of security.  Being first in line removes fear of being last.  And guess what?  We continue to do this as adults.  For example, when you are first in line for food, you never have to worry about not getting enough to eat. When you are first in line for a movie theater, you do not have to worry about missing the beginning part of a movie.  As they say, the early bird catches the worm; the one who is first has the best chance for success. Whereas, those who are at the back of the line are like those who snooze and lose.  Indeed, we like to be first because it feeds into our pride, and it also eliminates our fears. 

But there is a catch-22.  There is always a catch.  Our sinful pride and fear thrust us to the front of the line, which results in us trampling on each other, stepping on the little guy, and thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to.  There is always a fight at the front of the line, “I’m first!  No, I am!  I was here first!” 

To complicate things even more, as soon as we have secured our spot at the front of the line, well… there is always somebody more important than us that will eventually steal our spot.  There is always somebody stronger, smarter, and more qualified to knock us out of the front of the line to the back. 

And so, while it makes our pride swell and gives us a sense of security to be at the front of the line, we can also become extremely defensive – always trying to defend our position at the front. When others try to get in front of us, we either have to work to be better than them or fight to knock them down to the back of the line. 

Sigh!  It is a silly game that we all play. It is also a dangerous game as it plays right into our pride and fear.     

This whole game of trying to be at the front of the line is precisely what Jesus is confronting in today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke.  You see, the Pharisee loved to play this game.  They were always trying to be first in the line – to be the most important and honored person.  Frankly, that is why they had such a problem with Jesus. He threatened their game. They perceived Jesus as one who might take their spot at the head of the line. However, what they did not realize is that Jesus doesn’t play foolish games.  Jesus is not motivated by pride or fear, so He really doesn’t care where his spot is in the line. In fact, Christ is much more comfortable at the back of the line. 

This is why Jesus told the Pharisees a parable.  He told them a parable of a great wedding banquet with open seats.  Guests who came to the banquet were expected to give the good seats to those who had the highest rank. The most prestigious people sat in the chief seats. But as we have already heard, sinful pride kicks in, and we fear that we won’t be recognized or noticed in life. We fear sitting at the end of the table with losers.  We fear being left out of the conversations.  We fear not getting enough to eat.  And so fear steers us away from the bad seats at the great table. But this is where a bigger problem comes about. To sit in the prestigious seats, we must be great. We must be somebody. And so, we begin to pretend that we are awesome. We elevate ourselves hiding our faults and exalting our strengths.  And then, once we are puffed up, we sit in those prestigious seats with elevated noses and smug faces shaking our heads in disgust and gossiping about those who are lesser than us.

What a trap, dear friends!  You see, when we seek to be the first in the line, or if we seek to sit in the prestigious places, we are letting fear and pride lead us out of reality into an imaginary fairytale. 

Bluntly stated, you and I are not that special. We just aren’t. If you think you are something special in high school sports, you have let your pride deceive you, for you are nothing compared to college sports and even less compared to professional sports. If you think you are something special in Minot's society, you have let your pride deceive you, for you are nothing compared to the societies in Fargo and even less compared to societies in New York.  If I think that I am something special as a pastor, I have let my pride deceive me, for I am nothing compared to theologians like Martin Lutheran and even less compared to the Apostle Paul.  The point being, when your sinful pride is driven by fear and pride, we imagine goodness and greatness that we do not have.  To think that were are even worthy to sit at the prestigious tables or be at the front of the lines shows just how ignorant, stupid, and foolish we are.  We are simply not that good. If we think we are worthy of these positions of honor and prestige, our pride and fear will eventually lead us straight to humiliation, as there is always someone better than us. 

This is why Jesus says that if we walk around with our noses in the air, we will end up flat on our faces.  This is exactly what happened to Adam and Eve, our first parents.

A line was drawn for Adam and Eve, “you shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for the day you eat it, you will surely die.” They were not to eat of this tree. It was above them. They were to leave it to God. “Ah, but what does God know!  We won’t die,” thought Adam and Eve.  And so, pride goes before destruction.  Dear friends, when we elevate ourselves over God, and when we puff ourselves up, more than we ought to, we are setting ourselves up for certain failure.  The Lord God opposes the proud.  What goes up with pride will always come down with humiliation.  

But this all brings up a challenging point to consider. It is difficult and fearful for us to be at the end of the line. Humility hurts and leaves us with a sense of vulnerability. Nobody likes to be at the end of the line. Nobody likes to be a loser. Nobody wants to be alone at the end. Nobody likes to be at the bottom of a social structure. Everyone knows that when you are last, you are often forgotten. Everyone knows that when you sit at the table of rejects, you are often overlooked.

Dear friends, all of this may be true, but it isn’t true, according to Christ. You see, the world operates on the basis of pride in fear – not faith.  And so if you let pride and fear have their way, you will always seek to be at the front of the line. If you let fear and pride have their way, you will be bound to seek out the prestigious spots in life.  What misery – always seeking, fighting, and striving to be first.  This is not freedom but utter bondage! 

But this is not who you are as Baptized Saints.  The kingdom of God does not operate based on pride or fear but faith. Remember, Jesus did not come for religious superstars, American idols, or the so-called cream of the crop.  Jesus came for the sin-sick. 

If you worry about being at the end of the line, don’t.  If you worry about being alone, don’t. If you are worried about being a loser, don’t. Christ did not come to be at the front of the line, but He came to be at the very back of the line so that you might never escape His grace, love, and mercy.

Never forget that Jesus set aside the privileges of His deity and took on the status of a slave. In His incarnation, Jesus did not claim any special privileges.  Instead, He lived a selfless obedient life so that He might descend so low and so far back in the line - by dying on the cross - that you might never escape His forgiveness, life, and salvation.

And so, it really doesn’t matter where you are in the lines of life. Your social status does not matter.  Who you know and where you sit at the grand table of life mean nothing before God Almighty. The reason why?  Your greatest promotion and your greatest identity are that the Father calls you a beloved Baptized Saint through Jesus.  And there is more; we come into this sanctuary week after week after week standing and confessing with humility that we are poor miserable sinners in thought, word, and deed.  And Christ? He does not despise you. He doesn’t turn his back on you with disgust to dine with angels.  He doesn’t forsake you, looking for religious superstars or American idols. No, He invites humble sinners like you and me to a place of honor, His table – to feast on His holy body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. He invites you and me to the most prestigious table to receive the most prestigious of meals! 

Baptized Saints, it is quite simple when pride or fear lead us to the front of the line, well… we will be humbled and rightfully so. But in humility, when we beat our chest in repentance, confessing sins, we may trust that Jesus will not forget us but exult us. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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