Sunday, September 02, 2007

Topping the Toppers

Preached Sepember 2, 2007 at Center Moreland and Dymond Hollow United Methodist Churches

Luke 14: 1, 7-14

I was once a campus minister, and part of being in campus ministry is that there were two conferences I went to most summers. One was the National Campus Ministry Association Conference, which was ecumenical, with most of the protestant mainline denominations represented. The other was the United Methodist Campus Ministry meeting. It was a fine summer when both were scheduled.

When I was first assigned to the campus ministry, there was a Campus Ministry training event that was scheduled right before the NCMA event that I also attended. One of the workshop offerings was taking college students on mission trips. I had been on a couple mission trips of my own by then, and thought it would be interesting to learn how to motivate college students to move beyond their comfort levels and experience new cultures.

There were about 8 people in the room, sitting in a circle. And what I thought was going to be wiser heads helping me learn the tricks of motivation became a 2 hour topper marathon. Who had the toughest time on mission; one had their building materials stolen. Another had to stay in their hotel all week because of a constant rain that washed out the roads; another had to stay in their hotels all week because of a government coup, and soldiers from different factions were outside. Someone told their story of the girl who went missing only to be found two hours later, with some American college boys in bar down the road. Then there were the stories of government harassment and the bribes that had to be made, and another round of story topping began.

I didn’t learn a lot of practical material, but I did learn that campus ministers can be as competitive, as conscious of status as anyone else. They can compete for the best seats with the best of them.

Ever met someone who fancies themselves a music groups’ number one fan? Ever met someone who is very good at certain video games? They can be a wonderful help, introducing everyone to the new music, or helping everyone play the game. But sometimes they can also be unpleasant to be around, because they always seem to be bragging or referring back to their claim to uniqueness.

It’s one thing to sit around a campfire and tell the “fish that got away” stories; to be a hunter and talk about the 95 point buck you saw once; that’s an art form. It’s something else to tell your story in competition with someone else, in order to provide yourself with a little temporary pride. Those campus ministers did not help me out a bit, other than to learn that you need to take extra money when you go in mission to some countries, so that the bribes can be covered. They were trying to get to the best seat in the house, exactly what Jesus was warning against in this parable.

To be a follower of Christ is to be humble. Truly humble, not that false humility of the people who are fishing for compliments. Not the humility that makes us feel superior because we are obviously more humble than someone else, but the humility that leads us to serve other people, no matter how obnoxious they are. It’s the kind of humility that allows our talents, gifts and graces to be observed, rather than us telling folks about them.

Jesus knows that all that is good comes from God. Every A in school, from the ones achieved through application of God’s gifts, to the lucky ones, are gifts of God. Sometimes, so are the C’s!

The proper attitude we should project to the world is the love of God. That means love of everyone, and the willingness to believe that everyone has sacred worth.

It’s the love that we model in communion. When we gather for this meal, we are standing with the people around us, seeking grace and sustenance in Jesus. We are all equal in his eyes, no matter how much money we make, how old we are. We are hoping for another step closer to becoming Christlike, to showing the world the value of believing. We love God in the taking of this bread and this juice, and we show that we know that God loves us. When we take it, we are reminded of Jesus’ love for us. And our job after taking it is to take as much of that love as we can into our own world.

Now there are many ways to show that love. We can do so arrogantly, by saying “I am loved by God, and if you would only believe, you can be loved, too.” Or we can do so lovingly, by saying “This is something that I have found that has changed my world, completely re-oriented how I think, and I want to share it with you.” It can also be shared by others observing us. Of course, once we have identified ourselves as Christians, the non-religious, the anti-faith world will judge us, sometimes harshly, sometimes unfairly, but they will judge. That is also an opportunity to love—people being ugly or judgmental toward you is not permission to act like-wise.

Our not responding like with like is a demonstration of love that will at first look like insanity or aloofness, and that is OK. Remember that first impressions are never the proper ones. Understanding Christ and his sacrifice is not something you can grasp in your mind the way this mornings’ Sunday comics can be understood. It takes time, and part of our humility is accepting that we will never understand it all. NEVER. We start at the lowest seat at the table, and spiritual maturity in Christ is realizing that the lowest seat in the house is often the only seat to be in.

What is certainly true is that no matter where you sit, Jesus is in the seat next to you. That is honor enough. No topper in the world will be able to top that, and you are the stronger witness for God’s love for not having to brag about it!

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