A Sermon for Covenant
“Stand Tall, Sit Low”
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
September 1, 2013
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
Last Sunday we talked of standing tall, and this week we talk of sitting low (and no, this is not my counterpart sermon to men.) Jesus says to all of us, “Sit down at the lowest place, humble yourself, don’t get too big for your britches.”
Only, sitting low sounds as if it clashes with standing tall, and yet, after healing the hunched-over woman, this is exactly what Jesus tells us to do. When you go to a party, he says, head for the card table set up for kids in the kitchen. Or pick the folding chair they drug out of the closet, not the fancy padded dining room seats, but the one seemingly child-sized chair squeezed at the corner edge of the table where you have to keep your elbows tucked in so as not to violate your neighbor’s space. Sit there. Sit low.
Here’s the thing: people who stand tall in the world—genuinely stand tall—they don’t need to be set at the head of the table. They are content, confident, self-assured and self-possessed without the attention, the accolades, the place of honor.
Taking up your space isn’t about getting recognized; it is about doing the thing you’re meant to do whether people applaud or whether they boo.
Now, this can be a difficult cross to bear because once you start being brave, once you start doing the work you’re meant to do, once you start becoming who it is you’re meant to be, you’d sure like somebody to notice. When you believe in your work, you want someone else to care too, to get it, to get you, and we were made for human connectivity, so that is normal. The problem is trying to fill an appropriate need with an inappropriate solution.
Praise and acclaim and fame are not what we so deeply need, but they are so glittery and enticing and intense that for a hairy split-second they can make us feel full, even over-flowing. But it’s like trying to fuel your body on cotton candy—a fluffy non-substance that eventually makes you sick.
Here is what we are (rightly) craving: friendship, support, a listening ear, a tribe to which we can belong, a place where we can be ourselves and be accepted. Let me tell you: it is easier to find what you need, really need, at the card table in the kitchen with the kids than it is in the dinner crowd. Children do not care about your CV or your title at work or your awards but they see value in you just the same. They don’t even understand what it is you do at your job that is oh so important, but they know it is important that you will still play hide-and-seek and checkers. They know that the ability to play and the capacity to imagine and the liberty to show affection and the freedom to speak the truth are the things that will ultimately equal a successful life, not the other stuff you were getting so caught up in your grown-up duties.
So sit low to the ground where the real treasures are buried. Sit low among the children and the socially-awkward and the somewhat smelly and the elderly and the shy.
Sitting low is a spiritual practice whereby you silence your name-dropping and learn the name of a person who will never make the newspaper and you begin to hear the wisdom they are teaching you. You share your life with a person—like a kid or your grandma—who will actually see you and not just the sum total of your accomplishments, or your failures, as the case may be.
Sitting low is a reality check, but it is more than that. It is a healing activity and it is an entry into love and relationship and it is a slowing down and it is a being re-made all over again. Sit low.
When you host a dinner party, says Jesus, invite people not positions. Make it a party for the riffraff, not a parade for titles. Connect with people because they are people you find interesting, not because they are persons of a certain influence. We know we’re not supposed to objectify the poor, but also Jesus is saying, do not objectify the rich. Look them in the eye, not in the wallet.
Connect with people because you need the connection—to be known, to be seen, to be heard—and knowing doesn’t occur when you’ve tidied up the house three notches past perfection and covered the scratches in the table with a tablecloth, wearing the outfit you couldn’t afford to impress a crowd who won’t remember your name in the morning. The Kingdom of God is the complete opposite of that, Jesus says.
The Kingdom of God is order-in-pizza night, invite the neighbors and wear your pajamas night, and call everybody, everybody by their first name from the garbage man to the mayor.
Leave the title and the awards or the lack thereof at the door because we are all doing hard work and a Kingdom party is where we celebrate all of it and let ourselves off the hook for what we were not able to accomplish before the day’s end because nobody can do it all, and we need each other if we’re ever going to relax out of the rat race and into the company of friends.
My sister recently convinced me to watch the movie Lars and the Real Girl, where a quiet, socially-awkward, painfully shy man orders a life-sized doll online to be his girlfriend. He shows up at his brother’s house for dinner with his fake girlfriend in a wheelchair. His family is appalled and alarmed—Lars must be losing it and they don’t know what to do about it. They grit their teeth, serve salad to plastic Bianca with forced smiles, and somehow make it through the first night with their new guest.
Lars, who has never really made friends with anyone, is a sweet and dedicated boyfriend. He pushes Bianca around town in a wheelchair, talks lovingly to her, cares for her patiently, attends to her every imagined need and desire with gentleness.
Their doctor advises the family to play along with Lars delusion, and so, despite their reservations, the family embraces Bianca like an honored guest. They help the “handicapped” Bianca by bathing her, dressing her, carrying her up and down the stairs for mealtimes. They buckle her in the car for trips; they take her to church. People stare at them wherever they go, pushing a giant doll in a wheelchair.
To the family’s relief, the people at church begin to join Bianca’s welcome. They invite Bianca to parties, they greet her on the street, they bring her flowers. When Lars takes Bianca to a party, the host fetches her a drink, people passing by look her in the eye, talk to her as if she can hear them. Lars is delighted at how popular his girlfriend is, and for maybe the first time in his life, he begins to make stilted conversation with people around him, pausing at intervals to lean in for Bianca’s input. He gets a few stares and people here and there gossip idly about the strange event, but on the whole it is just a party and it runs like a party, Bianca and Lars included.
But of course, it was more than party. It was the cracking open of hearts and the beginning birth pains of friendship birthed out of unordinary kindness.
By experiencing the compassion of his community, Lars finally learns that people do care about him and that it is safe to come out of his shell. By loving the strangest person in the room, everyone else is set free to love the strangeness in themselves, to experience the kind of self-transcending love that only happens when you do the nonsensical thing—make friends with a manikin or play pretend with a child or hold hands with an Alzheimer’s patient.
Sometimes we think we are loving others in order to change them, but more often than not in loving others we are changing ourselves. Sometimes the strangest person in the room has the most to teach us. Sometimes the weirdest requests are the ones we are meant to pay attention to. Sometimes an invitation to the outcast will provide just the window we need into our common human condition.
When you are invited, sit low. When your host comes and says to you, “Move up higher, my friend,” you may just say, “Nah. I’m having more fun down here.”