Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 17], August 27-28, 2016
Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA – The Rev. Roy Almquist

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. [Philippians 2: 1-3]

This wonderful text from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one of my favorite passages from the Christian Scriptures. In these elegant words Paul captures the essence of our Gospel lesson from Luke 14 … The Parable of the Seats at the Wedding Banquet. For what is the meaning of this Parable other than that we are to try our best to be humble while living in the midst of a haughty world?

The hottest show on Broadway right now is HAMILTON. Unless you have been living under a rock somewhere you must be aware that HAMILTON won eleven Tony awards this year and the show is sold out well into 2017. Anyone who wants to see it immediately must be prepared to pay the scalper price of $1000 a ticket.

HAMILTON tells the story of a most unlikely Founding Father. Born out of wedlock and orphaned as a teen, Alexander Hamilton traveled from the Caribbean island of St. Croix to study at what is now Columbia University. He joined the struggle for independence, fighting with the New York militia. Before long he became George Washington’s right hand man and ultimately our first Secretary of the Treasury.

The Broadway musical, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who played the lead in the initial production, is a blend of hip-hop and rap, a far cry from The Sound of Music! But everyone who has seen the show has loved it.

Well, I think it is time for the parables of Jesus to be offered in a modern form. So, with apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda, I give you … the RAP VERSION of Jesus’ story of The Seats at the Wedding Banquet:
When someone invites you to a wedding feast 
Don’t take the best seat, but rather the least 
For there may be one more honored than you 
Then what do’ya suppose the host will do?
He’ll ask you to give your seat to him 
Then your prospects will be rather grim 
For you’ll have to move to the lowest seat 
And that’s what you get for your conceit! 
But rather you should first take the lowest place. 
When the host comes in he’ll save your face 
He’ll move you up to the place that’s best 
And you’ll be seen to be an honored guest 
So, if you exalt yourself you’ll be abased 
But those who are humble … they’ll be raised.
[Inspired by the Berean Bible Study Resources]

When we hear this parable, we could be tempted to dismiss it as an etiquette lesson. Clearly Jesus was addressing a concern that was of critical importance to his contemporaries. In Jesus’ day the value of a person was measured by his public status. The greatest fear was open humiliation and shaming.

Well, two thousand years have gone by but not much has changed. From the middle-school girl who is the subject of cyber-bullying to the person who is by-passed for a promotion or left off a guest list, we live our lives with an equal degree of vulnerability. What people think of us matters!.

Writing to the Philippians, Paul echoes the words of Jesus. We must not be forever looking out for our own status; instead we should be concerned for the welfare of others. Thus we hear Jesus admonish us to avoid seeking a personal pay back for every act of kindness we perform.
But Jesus does not stop with advice on choosing seats at a wedding banquet. He tells us that we should not seek social payoff or personal rewards for our acts of kindness and hospitality. Indeed, Jesus tells his listeners that they should not invite to a meal those who already respect them or who are in a position to reward them. Instead, they should invite the outsider – the poor, the lonely, the socially undesirable, and the ones who cannot pay them back.
These words have an air of authenticity! Indeed, Jesus’ entire life was centered on inviting into the presence of God those who neither expected nor deserved such an invitation. Should we do anything less?

Keeping track seems to be an obsession for many people today. Whether they are monitoring the balance in their bank accounts or cruising for compliments on the appearance of their home, people are continually counting. Why are we this way? Because we have bought into a vision of scarcity and so we live with the fear that there we will outlive our resources … that somehow we will not have enough money, time, prestige, resources, or recognition … we will not have enough.

Oh how we need a new model for living creatively, expansively, generously as Christ’s men and women in this challenging time! How we need examples to help us live with humility in the midst of a haughty world.

We conduct a lot of weddings at Washington Memorial Chapel. For that reason I am drawn to the wisdom of today’s simple parable about … choosing seats at the Wedding Banquet. I recently came across a compelling reflection on our Gospel lesson that speaks profoundly about a different way for Christian people to live in 21st century America. Daniel Clendenin, a contemporary Christian teacher, shares these thoughts [Journey with Jesus]:
When my friend’s daughter, Lisa, got married, they wanted to invite their entire church, but budgetary constraints prohibited that. Instead, after the service, they had the local police block off the main street in (their town) … Guests danced in the streets and enjoyed refreshments from a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cart. …
Lisa’s husband, Chris, had made friends with a number of homeless men who lived under a bridge. As a pastor, Chris had employed them for odd jobs at his church. “Coyote,” the leader of his homeless friends, attended the wedding in his standard attire of jeans with holes in the knees, a scraggly beard, and unwashed hair. He organized his friends to clean up the streets after the wedding, then sat on the curb with a big smile and smoked a cigar. …
As passersby strolled by and inquired about what was happening, they too were invited to the wedding. There were guests dressed in their nicest clothes alongside guests who wouldn’t feel at home at a formal occasion. However they dressed, every person felt welcomed as an honored guest, just as God himself welcomes us and invites us to welcome each other.

Nothing I can think of would make our world more radically different than for people to follow the example and teaching of our Lord. Arrogance and pride seem to be running amok in our nation today. Can anything change? I hope we can make a difference as fully-committed followers of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray: … O God, who made servanthood the highest of all the human vocations, enable us walk in the way of humility and grace, following the example of Jesus Christ, Our Lord … in whose name we pray. Amen.