12And he said to the one who’d called him, “When you might give a dinner or supper, don’t call your friends nor your brothers nor your relations nor neighbors who are rich, lest they might also call you back and it might become a repayment for you. 13But when you might give a reception, invite those who are poor, disabled, lame, blind. 14And blessed you will be, because they don’t have the ability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Now, I think most of y’all have a fairly good idea about where I got the sermon title. But if you don’t, let me a explain. At one time in my life, I was a huge Seinfeld fan, and I’m talking about when the show was on Thursday night and then when reruns were on every day between five and six. Now, if you’ve ever known a real fan, they have no problem dropping Seinfeldisms into conversations almost at will, things like “Yada yada yada” or “shrinkage” or of course “No soup for you!”
And I guess, in a way, that’s what I’m doing today. You see, in one of the episodes, I don’t remember the season, George Costanza, Jerry’s best friend, came to a life-changing spot in his life. He suddenly realized that every decision he’d ever made had been wrong or at the very least, had turned out badly. And so, from that point on, whatever his instincts told him was right, he was going to do the opposite. In other words, if he thought “up,” he said “down;” “black,” “white;” “right,” “wrong.” When it came to decisions, he did the exact opposite of what he thought was correct. And although I don’t think the term was ever used on the show, this became, at least for me, the Constanza Principle.
And I’ll tell you something, after reading this passage from Luke, you know the two parables Jesus told at a dinner party, I think the Constanza principle might have a very definite application to modern, American Christians, and I’ll tell you why. I think often the values and perspectives of our culture have such a powerful influence over us that we completely forget that following Jesus demands that we look at our world and our communities and even ourselves in ways that are very different from what we’ve been taught; as a matter of fact, at times they may even be the exact opposite.
I mean, take, for example, the story we just read, and in particular the two little moral examples that Jesus taught, the first one dealing with how we see ourselves and the second with how we see others. Now, I don’t know about you, but their implications could be right from that episode of Seinfeld, because what Jesus said not to do is exactly what we generally do and vice-versa.
I mean, as I think about how I view myself, I know that I’ve been shaped by the world, what about you? And good night, if I’m going to have any integrity at all, I’ve got to admit that I’ve bought into the idea that I should focus most of my attention on myself, you know, that I’m a V.I.P. My gosh, I’m important, right; and so is what I think and believe, what I like and hate, what I want and fear. Man, I belong at the head table. Humility may apply to you, not me. Because when you get right down to it, my ideas are the best; therefore, I expect to get my way, right? That’s how the world tells me to think. Good night nurse, I deserve what I want. And if I don’t get it, if things don’t go the way I think they should go, if, by some chance, I don’t get to stay at the head table, then I have a duty to whine and complain. Look, if the one who called me here doesn’t recognize my importance, doesn’t recognize my value, doesn’t recognize that he’s darn lucky to have me here, I’m going to take my basketball and go home. I’ll tell you, if the one who’s the host of this party is so short-sighted and confused that he assumes someone else might be more important than me, well, I’m not going to put up with that kind of humiliation, right? Sure, at least according to how the world tells me to view myself.
And as I look at others, well, I think must of us want folks around us with whom we feel comfortable. It’s like going to a wedding reception and being stuck sitting beside someone you just don’t like. Man, nobody wants something like that. But it applies to more than parties. Let’s take the church for example. I mean, suppose the church was like a brunch or maybe a dinner party, what kind of people should we invite? In other words, if we’re making out the invitations, whose names are we going put on the envelopes? Well, I’ll tell you, if I’m going to follow what the world says is right, I know exactly who’ll I’ll invite, what about you? First, I’m going to include all my friends, because I’d much rather be around people like me than a bunch of bozos I don’t know. That’s one. And then, I’m going to work to get as many members of the family as possible, and if they don’t want to come, well, I’m not going to take no for an answer. And finally, it would sure be nice to have someone come who has deep pockets, if you know what I mean, because let’s get really, bills have to be paid, right? Anyway, if I scratch their backs, y’all understand. And what’s wrong with that. Isn’t that how the real world works. Sure it does. In fact, that’s exactly how it works.
And maybe that’s why Jesus said what he did in those two parables, those two stories that talk about a lot more than seating arrangements and guest list. I mean, maybe that’s why Jesus suggested that the people at a party, maybe they need to show a little humility as they look at themselves. In other words, maybe instead of assuming that they belong up front and that what they think and want should be most important to the host, maybe instead of having that attitude, maybe they should choose a seat in the back and let someone else lead the band for a while and even though they would have served roast beef, to sit back and enjoy the chicken. You see, even though it’s certainly not what the world tells they to do, maybe they should recognize a very simple principle: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and who humbles himself will be exalted.” And I think we all know who, ultimately, does the humbling and exalting, don’t we? That’s what Jesus said.
And to the folks who do the calling, who make up the guest list and who send the invitations, Jesus sure seemed to be suggesting that they need some compassion as they look at others. I mean, why else would he suggest that they not spend any time inviting friends and family and people who could repay, but rather focus on those who really need to be there, because they have nothing else; in his world, we’re talking about the “poor, disabled, lame, blind.” Now that’s what he said, but why, why did he say it? Because “...blessed you will be, because they don’t have the ability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
You see, Jesus was challenging those folks to have humility and compassion, wasn’t he? And you know what that means. As people who are surrounded by what the world says is right, what the world says we should be doing, as followers of Christ, he’s calling us to follow the Costanza principle. And if we don’t, well, “no soup for you.” Now, that’s what he’s saying, isn’t he? Sure he is.
And although we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing it’ll be easy (I mean, I’ll be turning from what worldly common sense says is right), we can still do it. In other words, if we have the will, there is a way. For example, with God’s help we can really change the way we see ourselves. And I’ll tell you, it all starts with accepting that little principle that we heard just a minute ago, that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and who humbles himself will be exalted.” You see, we can claim this idea and trust that, when you get right down to it, it’s God who humbles and exalts anyway. And with that in mind, we can intentionally take our focus off ourselves and what we think is right and what we believe is best. And without storming out of the party because our feelings are hurt or working as hard as we can to make everyone around us unhappy too, we can listen to and actually learn from others. You see, we can find new ways of doing things we may never have considered before, some of which we might like almost as much as the stuff we know is right. And with a little humility added to the soup, who knows, we might actually find that we that we can finally relax and enjoy ourselves. My goodness, being in control is tough, the expectations are high and the responsibilities are even higher. Sometimes it’s a whole lot more fun just enjoying the food than plaining the dinner, especially when God is the host of the meal. You see, humility just may make living a whole lot easier.
And as we look at others, you know, the potential guests to our little shin-dig here, well, we can put compassion ahead of comfort. And although Jesus was frankly uncomfortably clear about who we should and shouldn’t invite, I really don’t think we’re talking about something that’s mutually exclusive. I mean, do I really have choose whether to invite my friends or the poor? Is it really a matter of inviting either my brother or the disabled, my relatives or the lame? And can I only include the blind by excluding the rich? Now, understand, I’m told all the time that you can’t do both, you know, that you can’t to reach out to those on the outside without neglecting those on the inside and that we have to make a choice: it’s either them or us. Without getting into what choice Jesus would make, you know, What Would Jesus Do, because frankly I don’t know; I’m not at all sure this is a choice we have to make. If we humbly work together, why can’t we do both? As a matter of fact, isn’t doing both the very best thing we can do? I mean, I think it’s pretty easy to see how it will help the poor, disabled, lame, blind. But I think it’ll also help our friends and our brothers and sisters and our wealthy neighbors; it might even help us. Gasp. I may be wrong, but something like this just might offer a purpose and a focus that we didn’t have before, a reason for unity right now in the present and genuine excitement and hope as we look into the future. And again, I may be dead wrong, but I think it could also feel dog-gone good, spiritually and emotionally and any other way you can think about it knowing that not only have we responded to the call of Jesus Christ but that we have made a positive impact on the people around us. Do you think just might make us feel good? Who knows, maybe we’ll be able to affirm that Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, “blessed you will be, because they don’t have the ability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” We may feel this all because we decided to follow Jesus and not the world.
Now, if you follow Seinfeld, you know what happen when George changed his life. He met a beautiful girl and ended up working for the New York Yankees. The Costanza principle worked for him, but fortunately for the show, it didn’t take long for him to go back to his former ways. And us, well, since Jesus offered these two parables that sure seem to be saying that we should reevaluate how we see ourselves and others and that maybe we should ditch the values of the world and work into our lives a little more humility and compassion, well, who knows what will happen for us.