Calling Hours

I know of several examples when families were shocked to learn about the kind of person their loved one was, while standing in a receiving line at the funeral home. What a blessing it is to discover they truly were who you thought they were. I pray our families hear the same about us.

Calling Hours ~ September 15, 2019 ~ Luke 14:7-11

We are in the Gospel of Luke this morning. Luke, a Gentile physician, meaning he was not a Jew, wrote this gospel. Interestingly enough, Luke himself never personally met Jesus. He was an associate and traveling companion of the apostle Paul. As a physician, however, Luke was very interested in detail. He was very attentive to detail. In fact, he begins his gospel with these words:

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.
(Luke 1:1-4)

So, like an investigative reporter compiling a story from several informants, Luke composes his gospel from the accounts of several eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ. In chapter 14, where we are this morning, it begins with a story about a dinner.

One Sabbath day Jesus went to eat dinner in the home of a leader of the Pharisees, and the people were watching him closely.
(Luke 14:1)

The people were watching Him closely, and guess what? He was watching them as well. Please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God. Let us pray.

Lord, upon the pages of this book is Your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Our reading begins in verse 7:

When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!

“Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
(Luke 14:7-11)

Now, I first of all love the reason Jesus gives in verse 8 for not sitting in a seat of honor. He says, “What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited?” Oh, snap! Right off the bat, Jesus is pointing out that there are people more distinguished than you! You may not be all that and a bag of chips! Or at least, not to the degree you may have thought. Ouch. It is tough to be humbled. I know you’ve experienced it in your life – I’ve experienced it in mine – and I’ll tell you what. If you really want to be humbled, try being a teenaged boy. I don’t think you ladies understand completely what a young boy goes through when working up enough courage to ask a lady out on a date. Yes, look at Delano shaking his head. You don’t know how much courage it takes. It is not easy. Sometimes it goes well, and sometimes, well…

The year was 1976. I was a freshman at Triton Regional High School in Byfield, Massachusetts. I entered my freshman year at 12 years old, so I was a little bit shy to begin with. In my homeroom, sitting behind me, was a girl I thought was cute. Her name was Marcy. I know it may come as a shock to you, but Miss Renée was not the first person I ever had the hots for. So, Marcy sat behind me, and I wanted to ask her out. And it took weeks upon weeks of building up enough courage, sweating bullets. One day I turned around, and I said, “I’m gonna go for it!” and I asked her, “Marcy, would you like to go to a concert with me?” and the concert was like next month. And she said, “Well, I’ll have to let you know tomorrow.”

I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I just, “Oh my gosh, what’s she gonna say, what’s she gonna say?” I’m a bundle of nerves, I get in the next morning, I sit at my seat, I’m staring forward, I didn’t want to turn to look back, afraid of the answer she would give. Finally, Marcy comes in. She says to me, “I’m sorry. I have to babysit that night.” I was crushed. Totally crushed. Humbled beyond belief. She actually humbled me twice, because the first time I was humbled when she said no. The second time I was humbled was, I don’t even remember – weeks, maybe even months, it could have been years later – it clicked. Wait a minute. I asked her to go to a concert a month from now. Come on, ladies! How many times when you were babysitting in high school did you know that you had a babysitting date thirty days in advance?! I don’t think so. I got the heave-ho, that’s what I got. Not interested. It is tough being humbled, and it doesn’t get any easier as you get older.

Years later, I applied for a pastor’s position in Massachusetts. It was a church called the Medway Community Church, nice little bucolic town in middle Massachusetts. I thought I was good to go. I had my bachelors’ degree, I had my master’s degree, I had some experience at a growing church in Maine. I thought things were going in my favor. I sent in my application, I answered all the questions, and I got this letter back from them. It says:

Dear Adam, thank you for your patience during our review process. Having reviewed all submitted material, the committee is very impressed with your questionnaire answers, as well as your qualifications. Based on this, we would like to consider you further for this position. Again, thank you for your interest. You will be in our prayers as we proceed with the second round of discovery and for His guiding hand in the decision-making process. Sincerely yours, Michael King, Ministerial Supply Committee.

I never heard from them again! I didn’t even make the round where they wanted to talk to me face to face. Again, I was crushed. What happened? I was humbled. I thought I was a shoo-in! Renée and I actually went to the town and looked around for apartments where we might want to live! Have you ever thought you had something in the bag, only to discover someone else was more qualified, or had more experience, or more education? No matter how old you get, it is still humbling to discover there are some people more distinguished than you!

Why is it, do you think, that we can often have an over-inflated opinion of ourselves? I’m not talking about confidence. Having self-confidence is important. I’m talking about feeling like I deserve special treatment. Just recently, we’ve all been glued to the TV about the college admissions scandal, right? With Felicity Huffman and Aunt Becky! And Lori Loughlin, and they’re paying thousands upon thousands of dollars to get their daughters into USC. This guy that lied about the daughters actually said to USC, “Offer them a crewing scholarship.” You know crewing, where you sit in that long canoe and you row? They put it on their resumé that they were top crewers. They didn’t have crewing at their high school! It was a total fabrication! But they felt, as celebrities, they were entitled to get their kids into top schools.

We often ridicule celebrities when they don’t get the preferential treatment they fully expect because they’re famous. When they’re known to say, “Don’t you know who I am?” I mean, it happens to the best of us. I’ve got nothing against Aunt Becky. We can all fall victim to thinking we are more important than we truly are.

For instance, one of the candidates who was recently running for the mayoral nomination – state rep Brandon McGee. I like Brandon McGee; I don’t have any problems with Brandon McGee. He’s a nice man. But a couple years ago – he’s a state rep, so he works at the Legislative Building – a couple years ago he’s on his way to work. Right across from the Legislative Building is a Dunkin Donuts. Everybody wants a Dunkin Donuts, right? So, he pulls into Dunkin Donuts, he runs in, he gets his coffee, he was gone just a couple of minutes! Comes out, and on his car is a ticket. He parked in a handicapped spot. He was incensed! “How dare you give ME a ticket? I’m state rep Brandon McGee!” I love Brandon, again, nothing against him.

Every once in a while, we tend to get a little bit caught up in ourselves. It’s easy to point fingers at Felicity Huffman, at Lori Loughlin, at Brandon McGee, but we need to do a little bit of looking in the mirror. I know I have. And I ask you, why? Why do I search and search and search for the parking spot right next to the entrance? Do I have difficulty walking? No. There are many people who do have some physical challenges, and yet, out of all the parking spaces in the lot at Stop ‘n Shop, I need the one closest to the door. In fact, when it looks like someone might be headed for a car that’s parked in a prime space, I’ll stop and watch them – are they going to that car? – and wait. And if they are, I’ll wait for them to leave, so I can pull into their spot, just so I can be closest to the door. What is wrong with me? Am I special? Do I think I deserve that space more than anyone else? I’m able to walk from the farthest part of the parking lot. What is wrong with me.

See, we all, I believe, struggle at times, a little, with the original sin. And when I say original sin, I’m not talking about what you may think. What was the first sin? I’ll give you a hint: It doesn’t involve Adam and Eve. In fact, the first sin that I’m aware of, took place a long time before Adam and Eve. Ezekiel 28:17, God says:

“Your heart was filled with pride because of all your beauty. Your wisdom was corrupted by your love of splendor. So I threw you to the ground and exposed you to the curious gaze of kings.”
(Ezekiel 28:17)

The first sin was Lucifer’s sin of pride, which is the exact opposite of humility. In fact, God says to Lucifer in Isaiah 14:

“For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.’”
(Isaiah 14:13-14)

He thought he was all that and a bag of chips. But as the Bible tells us, pride goeth before the fall. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Paul says as much in Philippians 2:3:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.
(Philippians 2:3)

Jesus said He came to serve, not be served. Yet, funny thing is, everyone I know would like to have a butler or a maid. No one wants to be a butler or a maid! We want the parking space closest to the door! We want to sit at the head of the table! True humility is rare. Perhaps rarer than you might think.

Did you know that some of our founding fathers wanted a king? We had just fought a war to free ourselves from the tyrannical king, King George III of England to set up our own nation. It was our war of Independence; and yet there were some who wanted to make George Washington king of America. John Adams wanted to make George Washington king of America! Can you imagine being approached with the offer? “Would you like to be king?” George said, “No, that is not what we fought for our freedom for. We don’t want a king.” And they created this office called the president. They created three equal branches of government – the legislative, the judicial, and the executive. There’s no one major power. When he was elected president, he served his first four years, he got re-elected to second term of four years – he didn’t even want the job! They came to him, he didn’t go to them! After his second term, they wanted to elect him again – there was no rule back then that you could only run for two terms. You could run for as many terms as you wanted to. Again, George said, “No, that’s not what we’re about in this country. We’re supposed to come from the farm, go to Washington, serve our country, and then return to the farm.” There was no idea of a professional politician at this time, not in George’s mind. We should have listened to him.

That’s humility – being able to put the needs of others first. I’ve heard true humility stories. Yesterday, we had a funeral here, a memorial service for Marie LeVan. You’ve heard me talk about Marie LeVan for years. Marie LeVan died five days shy of her 111th birthday, and we told some great stories about her. She was an amazing woman. But I have done hundreds of funerals over my twenty-two years in ministry. Hundreds. At my previous church in Maine, sometimes I averaged fifty funerals a year, because I did a lot for our community, not just for our church. I know of several examples of when people were shocked, when families were shocked to learn about the kind of person their recently deceased love one was while standing in a receiving line at the funeral home during calling hours. Here they are, shaking hands with people going down the line, listening to people say, “You know, your grandfather did this for me and that for me…” “Your grandmother was always…” and they would stand there slack-jawed – had no idea. That’s humility.

Sometimes, in some cases, they did know. In that case, it was a blessing to them to hear that this person, that they loved, truly was the person they thought they were all those years. That’s humility.

It’s like the stories you hear about when grandpa dies, and they go to clean out his bureau, top drawer, they open it up and they find a purple heart, or a congressional medal of honor that he never talked about. That’s humility. It’s what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 6 first four verses, when He said:

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward of your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do – blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets calling attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”
(Matthew 61-4)

Followers of Jesus are supposed to love. We’re supposed to forgive. We’re supposed to serve. We’re supposed help. We’re supposed to give. We are supposed to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, because we are Jesus followers. Not for credit, not for accolades, not for recognition. I mean, I once saw a t-shirt in a catalog that said, “Lord, please make me the kind of person my dog thinks I am.” Right? Your dog loves you, thinks you’re the best thing since sliced bread, no matter what you do! Wouldn’t it be awesome if we really were the kind of person our dog thought I was? Wouldn’t it be great if, when our time comes, members of our family might hear some things about us that surprise them, or affirm what they thought to be true about us? We can do that, you know. I mean, I know pastors often preach about world peace, and overcoming hunger, and stopping persecution and war – sometimes those goals are so beyond our reach, they’re hard to fathom. But this, doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do because we are Jesus followers, humbly – not for credit, not for accolades, not for recognition – this is not rocket science. We can start doing this today, this afternoon. We can begin at home! Loving, forgiving, serving, helping those with whom we live! None of this, “Why should I when they don’t do for me?” or “Why should she when…” Humble ourselves and just do something nice for your husband, or for your wife, or for your kids. And don’t seek recognition or credit. Kids could do something nice for their brother or sister, or mother or father, just because! Not tell them about it! (All the kids are gone; they need to hear this!) Anyway, just do what is right because that’s what Christ followers do.

Hey, we could expand that from our home to work. Bring donuts to work every once in a while! That won’t kill you! Buy some coffee. How about this: This winter – I know, nobody wants to hear it, but winter is coming – when you go out at the end of the day and clean off your car, take five minutes, and brush the snow off somebody else’s car, just for the heck of it. So when they come out they’ll go !!! Don’t look for credit. Just do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Maybe you could find ways to serve at church. Yesterday was not only Marie LeVan’s service, but yesterday we had some birthdays. First of all, yesterday was Bailey’s birthday! He’s 18 years old! Yesterday was also Peg Barles’ birthday. You know, when you come to church every morning and look down in front of you, you will find a pew card and a pencil, and if you ever need to use this pew card and this pencil, you can guarantee that there will be a pew card and a pencil in your pew in front of you. You know why? Because every single week, Peg Barles makes sure every pew has a pew card and a pencil. She doesn’t ask for credit. She doesn’t ask for accolades. She just does it, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a small thing, but when you want this pew card and this pencil, it’s there.

You don’t have to feed the world. But if you want to feed, we do have a feeding ministry on Saturday mornings! Sparrow feeds the hungry of our community. There are people from our church who volunteer at Sparrow. Some of the people you may know. Some you do not. I know who they are – but they don’t tell everybody. They just go and do it. Maybe you could cook breakfast for our kids on Sunday morning. We have some people who do that. You might know some, but I don’t think you know them all. They just do it. Maybe you could volunteer to teach Sunday school, or help in the nursery. Or maybe, you could be Christ in your community. Maybe you could pay for the order of someone behind you in line at the drive thru. You’ve heard those stories, right? Next time you pull into Dunkin Donuts, if you have a few extra bucks, pay for your order, and then pick up the order of the guy behind you! Or if you have a good week, pay for the lunch of the person at McDonald’s behind you. Just do it because you can, because you want to bless someone. Think about it. How many times did Jesus tell people not to say anything about what He did? It’s not about accolades. But there are 2.2 billion Christians in the world today. Imagine the impact we would have if we all humbled ourselves and started doing things like this. What an incredible effect we could have. And then, when someone says at calling hours at our funeral, “Did you know that so and so…” “Did you know that she…” Some people are going to say, “Yeah, I knew that.” Some people might be surprised! But more importantly, those who humble themselves and are exalted? You will get to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” So, let’s humbly do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, because we are Jesus followers. Let us stand together and give God praise in the spirit of prayer.