August 21 2022 Only the Lonely  Luke 14:1, 7-14

There are three words I hope you will take home from church today. The words are "Only The Lonely." As you think about these words, the assurances of God's Word will comfort and strengthen you. But I'm getting ahead of my story. Before we get to these three words, we need to look at the full text of Luke 14:1, 7-14. That involves looking at three other words: humility, hospitality, and hope.

Jesus told them a parable about a wedding banquet where people who took places of honor were told to go to lower places. Disgraced, they moved out of the top spots. On the other hand, those who took low places were told to go up higher.  Jesus said, "... All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted" (Luke 14:11).

The Pharisees in our text were boastful, arrogant, and rude. They thought of themselves more highly than they ought to think and in addition saw themselves as Jesus' judges. According to Luke 14:2-6, the host Pharisee and his friends tried to point out the errors in Jesus' ministry since he healed a man with dropsy on the sabbath day (Luke 14:2-6). Jesus' response was quick and stinging. He asked them what they would do if a child or an animal fell into a well on the sabbath. Wouldn't they rescue the child or animal? Of course they would. In other words, Jesus trapped the Pharisees in their own traps. He showed them that they were on a staircase to nowhere.

Some years ago, the Chicago Tribune ran an article and a picture about a fire that had taken place at the Glenview Naval Air Station. The damage exceeded $10 million. The picture of the disaster featured a circular iron staircase which had survived the fire, but ended up detached from everything. The title under the picture was "Staircase To Nowhere." That's what Jesus was saying to those who exalted themselves. "You are on a staircase to nowhere."   Exalting yourself keeps you out of the kingdom of God. In the secular "Me Generation" you frequently hear phrases like this:

"If you don't push yourself forward, nobody will."

"Those who do not step forward, should step aside."

"Move over, here comes Number One."

You can make a case for the theme of this passage being the need for humility. In addition, you can make a case for this passage being about the need for hospitality.   Jesus said, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke14:12-14).

In other words, "Don't get trapped in the game of social reciprocity." Social reciprocity means expecting to be repaid for your invitations by invitations in return. When you do good in order to get back in kind, you are on a stairway to nowhere.

The second lesson for today is about hospitality. "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2). Hospitality means making strangers' needs more important than your own. When we do that, we often receive back much more than we expect.

Abraham saw some strangers approaching his tent. He told his wife, Sarah, to prepare a meal while he talked with the strangers and made them feel at home. As they talked, one of the men said that Abraham and Sarah would have a child. They were old, very old, so when Sarah overheard the prediction, she laughed. Nine months later, a child was born to Sarah and Abraham. They named him "Laughter," the English translation of the Hebrew name, Isaac. These strangers turned out to be angels from God. Abraham, who sought to give, received more than he gave.

Hospitality, really paying attention to the needs of strangers, often results in unpredictable blessings coming back to the one who offers hospitality. Hospitality, with no view toward reward, is a major theme of Luke 14.

But there's another theme hiding in verses 12 through 14. As an extension of the parable about taking high and low seats at a banquet, Jesus focuses on the kinds of people who should be invited to a banquet. These are the lowly, undeserving people Jesus invited to the banquet of the kingdom of God: "... When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you...." Those who are named here are the lost, the lonely, and the hopeless souls of society.

Right after the parable about seeking honor at a banquet comes the parable about inviting people to that banquet (Luke 14:15-24). The social etiquette of the time meant that many people were contacted far in advance of the banquet. Many agreed to come. But others offered excuses. . .

One man said he had a real estate deal that was important and he couldn't come.

Another said he had just purchased oxen for his farm and he couldn't come.

A third said he had just taken a wife and he couldn't come. These excuses sound reasonable to us, but the pricking point of the parable is that these excuse-makers did not put a priority on the host and his invitation. They did good things, instead of the one thing needful. That's what was happening as Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom of God. Many were choosing good things over the best thing. Many were making excuses. Some still are. There is nothing more important than God, but some people make something else more important. There are consequences for such bad choices. If we think something is more important than the kingdom of God, others take our place at the kingdom banquet.

When the excuses were made, the host told his servants to invite the seemingly hopeless souls of society. Notice, the invitation in the second parable goes exactly to the same people Jesus named in the first parable: "the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame." In addition, in the second parable Jesus urges that the tramps of his day, living in the bushes of the lanes and the roads, be "compelled" to come in. The word, "compelled," used here doesn't mean physically forced. Rather, it means urgently invited.

The point of this parable is the answer to the question: "Who should be invited?" The answer is surprising. Everyone! Anyone who is willing to come!

Who are these seemingly hopeless people Jesus wants us to include in our understanding of the kingdom of God? Are they the lost and lonely? Yes, they are, and we are all lost and lonely.  We are all lost and lonely. That ought to bring us to humility. In other words, we can't get into the kingdom on the basis of our achievements. It's not a matter of achieving, but receiving. Our contribution is acknowledged sin. God's contribution is everything else. Sometimes only the lonely get it.

We are all lost and lonely. That ought to bring us to hospitality. In other words, since we have been invited into the kingdom, not on the basis of our worthiness, but on the basis of God's grace, we should offer hospitality to strangers on that same basis. God's grace offers us space; therefore we need to make space for others. Sometimes, only the lonely listen to what God tells them.

We are all lost and lonely. Thus we are all hopeless when it comes to the ultimate relationship of life: the relationship with God. There is hope for the hopeless because Jesus died on the cross to give us the status of the children of God. But only those who acknowledge their loneliness, who stop pretending that all is well and take off the masks of self-satisfaction are willing to follow the instructions God gives in his Word. Sometimes only the lonely hear that Word.

Only those who are lonely and acknowledge that no one in this world can satisfy their hunger, stop playing the world's games. They know that life is not a large scoreboard where the most points measure our worth. They refuse to sell their souls to the people of this world who think they can give out grades.

Loneliness in itself is not a good thing, but all of us have a hidden loneliness which can be the very stuff out of which God makes us into the children he wants us to be. When we are lost and lonely, and know it, we are in the proper place to turn control of our lives over to God. That's what accepting the invitation to come to the kingdom banquet means — accepting that God is in control.

Only the lonely who acknowledge that they are hopeless as to their own power in their search for God, discover that God is seeking them.

Only the lonely hear the call of God: "Come up higher."

Only the lonely.

Take those three words home from church today.