First Lesson: Jeremiah 2: 4-13
Responsive Reading: Psalm 1, 10-16
Second Lesson: Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16
Gospel Lesson: Luke 14: 7-14
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin with a story. When I was at Luther Seminary, I managed the Seminary’s mail room. One Saturday a gentleman came into the building where the Olson Campus Center which was the location of the mail room. The gentleman said he lived across the street, which was plausible with the number of students it was hard to keep track of neighbors. The gentleman was clean-cut and looked like a guy living in Saint Anthony Park would look going about his business on a Saturday morning. The gentleman had a dilemma; he had locked himself out of his house. He needed to call a locksmith. He only needed $20, before the locksmith would get to work. He needed a loan because his wallet was in his house. This gentleman promised to come back within a half-hour with $40 and an offer to buy lunch for whoever helped him out. Now being good Lutheran seminarians, you want to be trusting of your neighbors. I handed the gentleman $20 then waited around for a couple of hours only to never see this gentleman again. Now everyone hearing this story can point out plenty of problems with this scenario. There are people out who by their nature always end up on the short-end of the stick of these arrangements hence the title of Today’s sermons.
Let me ask a question, though “Is being a sap or sucker always bad?”
A few months back, I read a book by Adam Grant titled Give and Take. Grant’s specialty is in Organizational Psychology. Grant’s book describes three types of people that you will meet in the office, but we could easily apply to life in general.
The first type of person is a taker. Takers are ruthless. Takers make sure to get the better end of every deal. Takers are always in competition with others. Takers will always let you know of their accomplishments. Many people think you need to be a taker to get anywhere in the world.
How do takers operate? I have a friend who I’ll call Dale. Dale lived in Fargo when I attended Concordia. Dale and I would go out to eat quite a bit. Dale’s policy on tipping at restaurants was interesting. Dale would start out with a small albeit low amount. Dale would stiff the waitress/waiter on a tip at any real or perceived slight of service. Dale was always thinking about what was in it for him. Dale was always on the defensive about people taking advantage of him. Dale would be the first person lecturing me about my foolish giving away of money. Certainly not everyone is as extreme as Dale without being a doormat.
The second type of person is a matcher. Matchers are all about fairness. You want to give to others just as much as you receive in return. Matchers will give favors for favors. Matchers will give back scratches to get back scratches.
Matchers make sense as people. If I walk down to Zup’s, and when I see some delicious fatty, red meat, the scenario from this point forward is relatively straightforward. I will then make the decision that I would rather have the red meat than the money, and Zup’s would rather have the money than the red meat. Seemingly everyone wins in this interaction, so most people won’t admit to being takers, but being a matcher doesn’t seem like a bad deal. A matcher might ask for collateral before offering to give any sort of money to a total stranger. So matchers seem sensible.
The third type of person that Grant describes could be called all kinds of things they could be called a sap, a sucker, but Grant calls them “givers.” Givers are about giving more than they receive. Givers are about giving their time without receiving any obvious benefit in return. Givers would be the type of people where the saying that nice guys finish last could be apt. Givers would do things like hand money to complete strangers trusting that they will return it.
What can we say about givers? When studies were conducted about who were the least successful: engineers, salespeople, and medical school students , givers were at the bottom. Givers seem to be just too caring, and too trusting to advance in the world. So if givers are at the bottom of the ladder.
Who is at the top? Again, it’s the givers. Givers can be both champs and chumps at the same time? So our question this morning is this “How do givers get to the top”? Givers are able to ask for help for help when they need it. Givers realize that they can never get anywhere alone.
Now as you picture givers, takers, and matchers that you now in your life.
Let’s talk about Our Gospel lesson for today from Luke 14. Luke 14 takes place right after Jesus heals the crippled woman on the Sabbath. Jesus is dining at the home of a Pharisee.
Now to understand our lesson, you need to understand the world in which Jesus lived. The whole Greco-Roman world operated via a class system. You had the “patricians” who were the elites; you had the “plebs” who were the commoners. Lastly, you had non-citizens and slaves who were entirely separate class from these. For many generations, the classes could not intermarry. Within Jesus’ day, the various classes didn’t have a lot of interaction with each other. When I read Kent Kaiser’s book Company Town, Reserve’s Hat System would not be entirely dissimilar to the social realities of Jesus’ day.
So Jesus is having dinner with a group of Pharisees. The Pharisees would have been the religious big shots of Jesus’ day. The Pharisees would have been made up of scholars and other political/religious elite. Now with Jesus being the center of attention, everyone wanted to sit the closest to him.
My Dad and I have been to more sporting events over the years then I could even begin to count. Occasionally, we’ll spot two open seats better than where we are sitting. Dad without hesitation will seek to claim the better seat, whereas I’m more cautious. I would much rather stay in our regular seats for the whole game. What happens if someone is sitting in our seats? Dad acts like it’s no big deal, whereas deep down I’m annoyed. It’s hard to shake the idea from my head that someone should get something as simple as a seat they don’t deserve.
Now back to Jesus having dinner with the Pharisees. The Pharisees have their ranks and the thinking goes that those at the top of the Pharisee food-chain should get the seats that are the closest to Jesus. How do you determine which Pharisee has paid forth the most spiritually to sit on the fifty-yard line of Jesus’ presence?
Jesus says the Pharisees understand his kingdom all wrong? “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”- Luke 14:11.
How can we make sense of Jesus’ words? Let me tell another story: In 1994, my hometown of Lindstrom was having its centennial celebration. We wanted a keynote speaker with local ties. Nils Hasselmo who was at the time the President of the University of Minnesota agreed to come. Hasselmo was a perfect fit: born in Sweden, spent a summer in Lindstrom growing up, spent his teaching career as Chair of the Scandinavian Studies department. After Hasselmo’s speech, my parents were in charge of organizing a reception for dignitaries from the community with Hasselmo as the guest of honor. My grandparents hosted the event at a lovely setting on South Center Lake. My parents hired a caterer who they had known for a long time. The caterer put together a nice spread with just one problem. When the caterer was bringing the food into the house, he dropped the chicken salad. The glass bowl shattered. The caterer though refused to chalk this up to a loss, so he decides to put the chicken salad in merely another bowl. Let’s just say this was the first chicken salad recipe to contain shards of glass and it was served to one of the most distinguished men in the State of Minnesota.
What this story reminds us is that even those at the head of the table will face unexpected trials throughout the course of life. Jesus is saying today that our shared human experience is such that who gets the closest seat is pretty much irrelevant.
So Jesus in our lesson for today wants to address two key things. 1. Who sits where at the Pharisees’ dinner party? 2. Who is invited to the party?
The list of people that Jesus wants to see invited is not just limited to his family, his friends, or the rich. Jesus wants to invite those that are never going to be able to give him an invitation that’s any good at all. Jesus wants the pro-wrestling, monster truck loving, non-religious management crowd at any party that he’s going to be.
Jesus being a preacher of grace was going to operate as a giver. Jesus was going to invite to the banquet even the guy that conned me out of $20, even if I stood outside protesting. If you understand the politics and class-system of Jesus’ day, then you begin to understand how radical his message truly is in reaching out to cripples, foreigners, lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, and all kinds of other sinners. What Jesus is saying is this. The Kingdom of God isn’t you where you take something to receive something. In the words of Steve Molin “The Kingdom of God is about being invited to a place where you don’t belong to be”. The Kingdom of God is about giving you a place of honor regardless of what events in life previously have brought you to this place.
So how should we understand Jesus’ Words that the humbled being exalted, and the exalted being humble? What should our interpretation be of the first being last and the last being first? What should you think about saps and suckers?
Remember the Christian Faith is not about claiming the best seats in the house for ourselves. The Christian Faith is rather about God giving us an invitation to the party handed to us by Jesus. Amen
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take. Penguin Books. New York. 2013. Print. P.4.
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take.P. 5.
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take.P. 5
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take..P. 7
 Analogy based on Grant’s language from P.10 of Give and Take.
 Luke 14:1, 7-14.
 “Social Class in Ancient Rome”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 24.May.2016. Web. Aug.23.2016.
 “Nils Hasselmo”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 17.Mar.2016. Web. Aug.23.2016.
 Brown, Jeannine. “Commentary on Luke 14:1,7-14.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 29. Aug.2010. Web. Aug.23.2016.
 Molin, Steve. “Friends in Low Places.” Lectionary.org. 2001.
 Similar statement from Jesus’ ministry found in Matthew 19:30, 20:16.