Summary: You see, it turns out that much that we think is reality is illusion; and things which seem of little significance may play the key role at the end of all time. A sermon in three parts.
(This message was preached in three parts separated by singing.)
I. Finding Our True Place
(This first segment is taught as a children’s object lesson. In preparation a number of chairs was set out equal to the number of children with one being especially nice and another being very shabby. Chocolate bars were cut into various sized pieces, one somewhat larger than the others, and an extra piece somewhat smaller. The children are then invited to come and find a seat at the front and enjoy a piece of chocolate as they answer a few questions and listen to a Bible Story.)
(This is written in advance, if the children behave differently the preacher will have to improvise.)
I notice that when I called you to come and sit with me here at the front you all headed for the nice leather-bound chairs and left this poor chair for the visitors who were too shy to race to the front. Why do you think that you did that?
Jimmy* I notice that you have taken the largest piece of chocolate from the plate. Do you know why you took the largest piece? Does anyone know why Jimmy took the largest piece? Jimmy, what would you do if I told you that that piece was a special piece I was saving for my mother who is visiting today and likes chocolate very much? I suppose you would be left with this very tiny piece, wouldn’t you. I’ll bet you wish you had been satisfied with an average size piece now. (Don’t worry, my mother will be happy to have the smallest piece instead.)
Do you know why we do these things? Adults, do you know why we cut off cars in traffic, or jump out of our seats as soon as the airplane lands even thought the flight attendant asked us to remain seated? We do it because we somehow believe that we are more important than the rest of these people. That is why we take the biggest and best things for ourselves, we think that we deserve them more than anyone else.
I want you to listen to a story that is based on a parable that Jesus told. It was about a party that someone was having. A lot of people were invited, and when they got there, they saw that the seats were set up so that some were closer to the birthday cake and others were much further away. Which seat do you think you would choose?
Some people came very early and took the best seats they could find. But when the person who was having the party came and saw all the seats full except for the ones far away, he came to those sitting close to the front and said, “I’m sorry, but my closest friend has yet to arrive and I was keeping these seats for him. You’ll have to choose a different seat.”
But if they had come in and seen all the seats and chosen one of the poor seats far away, the person having the party might have come in and seen them so far away and called to them, saying, “You are good friends, you should have better seats, here, come and sit in these good seats.”
How do you think you would feel if you had to move to the poor seats with everyone watching? How do you think you would feel about being asked to take the better seats?
Jesus says, ‘It’s better to humble yourself and allow God to lift you up, rather than to be so proud that God must knock you down.’
(Dismiss children with a prayer.)
Conclusion: Selfishness is the deification of the self. That’s what Stuart Briscoe called it. This story is not told to give us a tip on how to get the very best seat. It’s not a story about how to find prestige in the world, but Jesus told it so that we might understand where we really fit with God.
When we humble ourselves, only then do we discover our true place, and only then are we in a condition for God to lift us up.
II. Finding Our True Blessing
How long had Jesus silently observed the supper cycle of the Scribes and Pharisee’s? Had he watched it ever since he was a boy? It must have been hard to miss.
On one day a leading Scribe would invite all the Pharisee’s to dine with him. Then the Pharisee’s decked out in their best robes would strut through the city to the home of this important man where they would wrestle over the seating plan.
With dinner over, a leading Pharisee would then invite all the scribes to join him for dinner the next week, and the scene would be perpetuated. But the invitation list never seemed to change. There were the occasional additions of celebrated Rabbi’s or a new Pharisee, and there were deletions, anyone that fell out of the social circle. But always it was the same procession, the same struggle for prestige and the same re-invitations.