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Life of the Party
a homily based on Luke 14:25-33
by Rev. Thomas N. Hall

This morning we won’t find Jesus walking on water or healing someone of leprosy or expounding truth on some mountain or hanging with the down and out crowd. Oddly enough, we’ll find Jesus among the high rollers, the movers and shakers of Jerusalem. He’s an invited guest in the home a leader of the Pharisees. To read the entire passage you’d imagine that this leader has invited the same old crowd that usually shows up—important family members, successful merchants, and rich neighbors. The leader of the Pharisees stands by the door like a Macy Mannequin, all robed in gold-embroidery.

"They were watching him closely," the scriptures tell us. Jesus is under close scrutiny by the elite of Jerusalem. They can't afford to have anyone rock the boat. But still, this Jesus is famous in his own sort of way; a man of the common people, a cause celebre by sheer force of his immense popularity. So he's been invited by the guy who's throwing the big bash. Yes, Jesus is at a party of sorts.

So why does Jesus accept the invitation? Has his ministry run out of gas and so he's seeking some shekels from wealthy patrons? Maybe he’s trying to expand his market to reach the wealthy and not just the poor. Of course, the whole party thing could be a set up. Things like this had been happening to Jesus lately. This very crowd has tried to discredit him and to put him away. Maybe they think “give this guy enough rope and he'll hang himself.” Of course, it might simply be that Jesus just seeks a few lighter moments from an otherwise arduous and depressing journey to Jerusalem. We honestly don't know what brings Jesus to the party; the text just tells us that he just shows up at the affair. Apparently his presence causes some stir, turns a few heads. He has just minutes earlier turned the happy hour into a healing service. So, now several of the guests are assigned to watch his every move to make sure he doesn't rain on their parade. Whether by simple invitation or interruption, Jesus shows up.

He enters the dining room with a table that seems as large as a bowling alley. And way at the other end is this head table--like at a wedding reception. That's when Jesus makes this startling observation. He notices that the room is lopsided. No one down at his end of the long table. Plenty of place settings, but no guests occupy them. All the action is at the other end of the room where the guests are trying to elbow their way to the head table. The host and the most honored guests would sit at the prominent table, slightly elevated and in front of the room.

Now to help us see what Jesus must have seen that afternoon, you must recall that their tables had no legs and so were located on the floor. To eat from it you had to lie supine around it. It must have been a Charlie Chaplin scene from where Jesus was sitting. Everyone trying to squeeze in around the head table. Imagine instead of the usual eight persons sitting around one of our tables for the after-church potluck, we have instead thirty full-grown men grunting and pushing to fit around that same table near the pastor. Not a pretty sight.

Why such a scene around the head table anyway? Probably it was this ancient idea that whoever ate closest to a prominent person also shared in that person's status; shared their accomplishments and honor. So they're all squeezed around this table like thirty piglets all trying to get lunch at mom's diner--and not enough stools. Everyone is body to body in order to get a bit of the honor and glory spilling from “a leader of the Pharisees. Borrowed honor.

I discovered a little of that sort of thing when I attended Princeton Theological Seminary. I call it "borrowed ivory." Goes like this: Someone asks,

“Where do you go to school?”


“Oh wow, Princeton, huh?”


Of course, we didn't feel it our duty to tell them that Princeton University and Princeton Seminary were two different institutions with little in common. We seminarians preferred to have others think of us as Princeton University scientists and physicists, Oxford scholar types. Borrowed ivory. Borrowing a little prestige from such a renowned university to boost our self-esteem.

So Jesus--sitting near the back of the room and able only to have a conversation with himself finishes his meal quickly. By the time everyone gets their menu at the head table, Jesus is probably on his second cup of coffee. He taps his spoon against the water glass until everyone pipes down.

"You've got it all wrong, friends. Start out humbly, in the back of the room--as if you really don't deserve to be here--and then perhaps the host may come and say, "Oh hi, I've been waiting for you! Please, join me at the head table. That will really give the dinner guests something to talk about," Jesus laughs. He finishes up his words with a simple rule of thumb: "All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." A paraphrase has Jesus saying, “"If you walk around with your nose in the air, you're going to end up flat on your face."

Those words are familiar, aren’t they? They’re kingdom words. Words of reversal and surprise. The way to the top is down. To get to the front, go to the back. To be exalted, be humble. Jesus is not giving us hard fast rules for attaining honor; he is not giving us a principle that if followed diligently, will result in a promotion or raise. He is, however, telling us something about the Kingdom of God as it is lived out in our lives.

If you’ve been to the self-help shelves lately, you’ll discover how timely Jesus’ words are for our culture. So much is published about how to get to the other end of the table—where the power and prestige is.

Confidence Counts

Be the Best

Stand Up, Speak Out, Talk Back

How to Talk Back to the Telephone Company

Thirteen Secrets of Power Performance

Arthur Sellinger’s Power Volleyball

Could you imagine what would happen to our kingdom wisdom about “those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” if it ever got into the hands of business guru? Amazon Dot Com would soon be offering us such bestsellers as: Humility Counts, or Be the Humblest, or Power Humility—Bottom Strategies for Getting to the Top.

Jesus is not giving us a fail-safe way to power and success via humility. No shortcuts here. In God’s kingdom there is no room for grasping at honor whether at the head table or under the table. There is only room for those who have discovered who’s really throwing the party.

Of all the party-goers that afternoon, I think Jesus was the only one who'd earned the right to be heard. He knew only too well what life at the head table was like and what life at the back of the line was like. That's what Paul describes in Philippians 2—it’s really a hymn about One who enjoyed life at the head table, who actually shared equally in the glory and honor of the Host. Yet long ago while the minstrels played and danced, this One quietly left his chair at the head table and slowly began making his descent to the very last seat in the house. He passed table after angelic table, moved through time and space, passed galaxy after galaxy--this great President--to the lowest place on a strong-necked and stubborn planet.

There, in a shepherd's outpost, while human leaders brokered kingdoms like chess pieces, The Host became the guest. He was born to refugees in a cave or barn, a son of the weaklings, the peasants. So he began conversations with those sitting around his table--a Samaritan here, a leper there, a demoniac, rip-offs and those considered spiritually and socially uncouth. Never made it to the head table, never dined with Caesar or Herod--only bore their whips. According to our Scriptures and those expressed in the Apostle's Creed, Jesus finally died as a deadbeat, a party-crasher. Dead and Buried.

But the Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus has rejoined the great party that God has thrown for us and now as he makes his way back to the head table something is quite different! For walking with him are all those with whom he's sat at table with along the way--those who have shared in conversations around his table--the outcasts, kings, peasants, the aged, the young, the inferior and fearful, the courageous and victorious, lepers, scientists, the feeble, and unloved--you and me.

That's why when it came to Holy Communion, John Wesley could pull down the barriers from the altars that the Church had erected lest an unworthy person receive the bread and cup. He believed that Jesus Christ was both the Host and the Food and because Jesus died for all of us, Wesley invited all of London to receive the sacraments of forgiveness. So 1,000's began to come from the slums and high society when Wesley preached--for they knew that they were welcome at the Table.

So here we are this morning at another party, at another Holy Communion. We've all been invited to sit with each other and with our Host at the Head Table. Of course, we wouldn't be caught dead at God's Big Bash except through the personal invitation of his Son, Jesus. But there is not a person here no matter what you've done or said that will keep you from sitting at Table with God. No one is pushed to the back of the bus at this church. So church, come, come humbly, but confidently offering God the sacrifice of praise. For when we gather together around the Lord's Table--truly Jesus is the Life of the party. Amen.