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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Luke 14:1, 7-14
"The Best Seat in the House"
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
August 29 , 2004
Who gets the best seat in your house? In our house, back in the years BC (Before Children), it was easy: the cats. They were like the 500 pound gorilla in the old joke. Where did they sit? Anywhere they wanted. But that was before toddlers and preschoolers – now a kindergartner (yeesh!) -- took over, and claimed every seat – especially the good ones. Now, if the kids don't have the good seats, they're being used by stuffed animals and/or Barbie for tea parties and dance recitals. And the poor cat is left quivering in the closet.

For those of you who are UT football fans, some of the furniture stores in town have the ultimate chair. An orange, overstuffed leather recliner with built-in cup holders, a flip-up cooler under the arm rest, built-in remote, and 5-way heated massage. Get me that and a plasma TV, and I’d never leave the house. Kristen and Emily and Anna might. But they’d come back. Someday.

Every house has a favorite chair, a "best seat." Men, usually, are the ones who claim them. Women don’t seem to sit down as much – can’t say why. Favorite chairs have become a cliché, a running TV joke. Frazier’s dad had one. Archie Bunker had a favorite chair. It’s now in the Smithsonian. Funny thing that a stained recliner says so much about our nation.

There is a "best seat" in every house. Walk into any home, and you can tell which one it is. Who gets to sit in the best seat in the house is a matter of privilege. The privilege might go to the pets, or the kids, or the mom, or the dad, or occasionally to an out-of-town guest who doesn’t appear to be staying too long. A silent pecking order lives in our homes along with us. And as long as everyone accepts the order, life is good.

Who gets the best seat in this house, this place we call God's house? Well, first, you have to determine where the best seat in the house is.
Front pew, back pew... far left pew... far right pew...
Whose pew will do for you?
Does your cushion contour conform to you?
Is an impression left when you are through?
Are you new? I wouldn’t sit there if I were you.
And once you know where the best seat is, without applying yellow tape and warning signs, how do you determine who gets it? Would you give the best seats to the biggest donors, like in college sports? Or, maybe you'd want to give the best seats in God’s house to the biggest sinners. After all, they’re the ones who need it, right? You could have sections, like in restaurants. "Sinning? Or Non-sinning?" "Little sinning? Or big sinning?"

Someone actually suggested to me that one Sunday, after the time when we stand to greet each other with the joy of Christ, I should ask everyone to sit in different places. Not a chance in God's green earth. Anyway, I know exactly what would happen. You'd all stay exactly the way you are, but move one pew forward. You people are smart.

Even in the politics of church seating, there's a silent pecking order, or, in this case, a pewing order. And as long as everyone accepts the order, none of us get too freaked out.
Who gets the best seat in God's heavenly kingdom? Would you want the best seats in God's kingdom? When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor [and I think for our purposes we could substitute the words, "privilege" or "tradition" just as well] he told them a parable.

"When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor [or privilege, or tradition], in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.

But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

He said also to the one who had invited him, "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…."

The poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind literally weren't allowed to come to worship, or to come to dinner parties, because the common sense of the day told everyone that these were an embarrassment to their creator, loved less by God than people with healthy bodies and fat wallets. But Jesus turns common sense on its head. At his house, at his table, things are different.

So who are you in the parable Jesus tells? Are you one of the ones without honor, privilege or tradition on your side? Or are you one of the ones who expect a good spot – at home, in worship, or in line at Wal-Mart? Whether this story is good news or bad news depends on which person in the parable you identify with. When Jesus talks about judgment, so often he says that we "judge ourselves," and that our actions are our judgment. We talk about how someday we'll "sit" in judgement. Maybe that someday is already here.

If we think about the parable, we can judge for ourselves where we stand, or in this case sit. Whether we pay for the seats now or pay for them later -- in Jesus' kingdom, the price is unacceptably and impossibly high. How much does a good seat in God's kingdom cost? A good seat at God's table costs us everything.

Everything. You think you have status? You think you have wealth? You think God owes you one? Think again.

Gratefully, gracefully, the seating chart of heaven not a matter of price, or status, or owning up. It's more like owning down. And here’s where Jesus turns conventional wisdom on its ear. Sure, it may be socially beneficial to sit at a "lower place" so the host can come and promote you, but that’s not the point of the story. If that’s all you get from Jesus’ instruction, then go back and look again. Because in the end, where we choose to seat ourselves is irrelevant.

Neither honor, nor privilege, nor tradition hold any weight. A secretly self-serving humility means nothing. Even all the good works we can pile up under our seat (like so many Sears and Roebuck catalogs to make us fit better at the big folks table) – even those good works mean nothing. Because the seats aren't for sale. That we can expect seats at all in God’s kingdom is an act of grace. That we have a place at all at God’s table, is grace. That we have a place at all in God’s home, is grace. That we can look to the future with hope, instead of a dread of judgment, is grace. And the faith that whatever in this life strips us of our ability to buy a break will someday be wiped away, is grace beyond grace beyond grace. God gives us what we can’t ever achieve because God loves us. The gospel is not a guide for getting a good seat. The gospel is good news that there are seats, priceless places in God’s kingdom. And they’re all good.

If you have a view of God’s mercy and grace, then the seat you have is pretty good. If you can see the hurts and joys of other people, the seat you have is pretty good. If you can see beyond your own nose, the seat you have is pretty good. And if you can see the Master, the seat you have is very good. If you have an idea where all goodness comes from, your seat is very good. But whether your seat is in the "front row," or whether you're at the end of the line, as long as your seat is at the table, the Master can see you. And you've got the best seat in the house.