THE THRILL OF VICTORY AND THE AGONY OF DEFEAT
Luke 14:1; 7-14
Be honest. How many of you have heard the sermon title before? Are you old enough to remember ABS’s Wide World of Sports, and the phrase “the agony of defeat” being declared as a skier misses his jump and crashes down the snowy mountain? That was an excellent introduction to the show each week because to this day, I have not forgotten it. Then again I have also had heard it said that “people learn more from mistakes than perfection.” For example, Mary Ann learned to not wear dress shoes with the heel worn out when she slipped last February and spent four months in a shoe boot. Radford and I, along with other preachers, must be founts of wisdom from the mistakes we have made leading worship over the years! But of course, there are more profound examples too. Gymnast Simone Biles took plenty of falls before she finally mastered two moves named after her: a double layout half out on the floor exercise, and the Yurchenko half on with two twists on the vault. Wow. Elon Musk had several false starts with his Space X Starhopper rocket prototype before he sent it up and had it land softly upright on August 27th. Those blast-offs and landings are marvels to see. And it took lots of tries to make them happen. When it comes to storms, when Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead Florida, it devastated the area. But building codes all over Florida were strengthened. With subsequent storms, structure have been made safer. Now our church’s roofs and our steeple have been constructed to the highest codes in our history. Many in the area actually survived the glancing blow of Hurricane Dorian this past week. Live and learn; trial and error. Embarrassment and dignity. These events are part of life.
Jesus had such as sense of wisdom regarding human nature; it is almost as if he could see our foibles and missteps long into the future. Here’s an example:
When he noticed that guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit in the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host…. But when you are invited, go and sit in 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. (Luke 14: 7-10)
These words were said at the time of a special journey to Jerusalem, perhaps for a special holy day, when relatives and friends opened their homes to family members, friends, and dignitaries. Their literally was “no room in the inns” on those weekends. Don’t picture parable just as a banquet for wealthy people. Many in that crowd could have been poor, and opening their home to guests would have been at an enormous cost, when a goat or fatted calf—perhaps supplemented with hummus, breads, and vegetables—was prepared to feed a large crowd,. The gathering might have included people who thought they were “somebody special” back home, but here, all ended up on an equal footing. If you have ever had a guest in your home presume to choose where to sit when you already have a seating chart in mind, you know how stressful that can be. In in the midst of hurricane Dorian, devoted leaders opened shelters to whoever needed them. They were all in a safe place together; there was no VIP section! Even neighbors took in neighbors, and relatives invited family members or friends to cross or leave the state to gain safety. Some stayed here and shared their home with someone who would have been alone. What a great time to have shown humility and thankfulness! Did you receive gratefully? Did you offer graciously? This is what Jesus certainly learned as a boy from Scripture: Proverbs 16:5 says: “Every haughty person is an abomination to the Lord.” Proverbs 16:18 says: “Pride goes before ruin; arrogance before failure.” And this one nails it, Proverbs 25: 6-7: “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence; do not stand in the place of nobles. For it is better to be told, ‘Step up here,’ than to be degraded in the presence of the great.” A bit of hyperbole makes Solomon’s point in those Proverbs. In situations such as Jesus’ parable, and in the situations we faced over the last week, people certainly felt tensions. Some may have cried, some may have stress snacked constantly, and some may have forgotten their manners as they stood in lines for food or sat in line for gas. Some shared a shelter with people they did not know well. So tensions may have risen. Nothing is helped by short tempers, words hotly exchanged, or kindness forgotten. Hopefully with acts of hospitality, some here were able to receive or offer hospitality, reframing this story into one of grace and kindness. We will still run into people who feel special or entitled. But as Mark Twain once observed: “A self-made man is like a self-made egg.”
Remember: you are a child of God who, like everyone else, needs nourishment, wants safety, and at times, remembers to do unto others as we would like to have done unto us. After the storm, many people got to know their neighbors even better. This week and beyond, we can show not only our Christianity, but also our simple humanity, and our willingness to be a neighbor to others. “What would Jesus do?” He taught us part of what he would do in the parable today. Go and do likewise.
Let us pray:
Holy God, in the storms of life, calm us. Help us to use our resources wisely, to show kindness unselfishly, and always, to walk humbly, following the example of Jesus. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner September 8, 2019