Sermon at St Mary Hadlow – Trinity 14 – Pride –28th August 2016
Ecclesiasticus 10 vv 12 – 18 God will deal harshly with the proud individual or nation
Luke 14 vv 1, 7 – 14 Avoid pride of place when invited out to dinner
- Introduction. If you were to question 10 people at random in Hadlow Square, “Is any record in the Bible of Jesus giving teaching on social etiquette when one is invited out to dinner”, I guess that 9 out 10 would reply “No”. Yet that is just what we have in today’s gospel. Jesus gives advice on where to sit when one arrives at the host’s house. Our other reading is, unusually, from the book of Ecclesiasticus in the Apocrypha. I thought that it might be helpful by way of introduction to say something about the structure of the lectionary, that is, the list of readings for each Sunday, and a brief introduction to the Apocrypha and to the book of Ecclesiasticus before considering the teaching of today’s readings.
- Lectionary. We use the Church of England’s Common Worship lectionary for our Sunday services and also for Morning Prayer and the mid-week communion. The Sunday readings operate on a 3-year cycle. In year A the gospel readings are taken mainly from Matthew’s Gospel, in year B from Mark’s Gospel and, as now, in year C from Luke’s Gospel, with readings from John’s Gospel included at times in all three years. The year runs from Advent Sunday to The Sunday of Christ the King (the Sunday next before Advent). In the long season of the Sundays after Trinity we have this year been working our way steadily through Luke’s Gospel beginning at Luke 7 on Trinity 1, last week from Luke 13 and this week Luke 14.
The readings are not entirely continuous from Sunday to Sunday or even within a Sunday. For example today we have Luke 14 v1 as an introduction, “On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader to the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely”. The next 5 verses deal with Jesus healing a man with dropsy. Because last Sunday’s reading was also about Jesus healing someone on the Sabbath, the account in Luke 14 is omitted and we move straight on verses 7 to 14, with the account of the dinner party.
The lectionary provides two other readings to complement the gospel reading, one reading from the Old Testament, or occasionally from the Apocrypha, and one reading from a New Testament book other than the gospels. Some churches use all three readings, some use only two readings, perhaps always omitting the OT reading or else like us varying between OT and NT. A further complication occurs in the Old Testament readings during the Sundays after Trinity, in that there is a choice of Track 1 in which the reading stays over several weeks in one book, read semi-continuously, or Track 2 in which the Old Testament reading is chosen for its relationship to the gospel reading. When we use the Old Testament reading it is the Track 2 reading. A psalm or portion of a psalm is also provided.
- The Apocrypha. So from the lectionary, to a brief consideration of the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha comprises those books from the late Old Testament period; books which the early church considered did not live up the requirement of being fully divinely inspired but came near to it. The Church of England defined its position in Article 6 of the 39 articles to be found in the Book of Common Prayer, saying that the Church reads these books for example of life and instruction of manners but yet it does not apply them to establish any doctrine. Today is the first time in over 50 years of preaching and conducting worship that I have had a reading from the Apocrypha. There are 15 books, some historical accounts, some books of wisdom and some narratives and some prayers. The Benedicite, inviting all of creation to join in praising God, beginning “O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord” is perhaps familiar to older members of the congregation, as being sung on Lenten Sundays at Morning Prayer. It comes from ‘The Song of Azariah’ or ‘Additions to the Book of Daniel’. The books are not easy to date precisely but generally come from the 3rd to 1st century B.C. If the books are not fully inspired, what should the attribution be at the end of the reading? Should the reader say ‘This may be the word of the Lord’ or interrogatively ‘This is the word of the Lord?’ Perhaps if one is concerned, just, ‘Here ends the first reading’.
- Ecclesiasticus. So we come to the book from which our reading this morning came, Ecclesiasticus, also entitled ‘The Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach’, easily confused in name with the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament. The book was written in Hebrew by Sirach or Ben Sira and then translated into Greek by his grandson Jesus. Jesus’ prologue tells us that he came to Egypt in the 38th year of the reign of Euergetes. This gives us a precise date of 132 B. C. for the translation. Incidentally by then, in the 2nd century B. C., the whole of the Hebrew scriptures, our OT, had been translated into Greek in what is known as the Septuagint version. This work was also done in Egypt, in Alexandria, a centre of Jewish learning with a Jewish population of about ¼ million. Jesus Christ and the apostles generally quoted the OT from the Septuagint version. Ecclesiasticus got that name because in the life of the early Church it was read from so often for instruction in conduct that it became a Church or Ecclesiastical book. Ecclesiasticus can clearly be put in the category of a ‘wisdom’ book. In the first chapter the word ‘wisdom’ occurs about a dozen times, including, “To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (v 14) and, “To fear the Lord is the root of wisdom” (v 20). Conversely our reading today starts by stating, “The beginning of man’s pride is to depart from the Lord” (10 v 12). So we see that pride is the link between this Track 2 reading and our gospel reading.
- Pride. Jesus’ teaching on dinner etiquette was actually a rebuke to those present. Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, probably on either side of and then near to, their host. His teaching is a straightforward outworking of the second commandment to love your neighbour as yourself. To assume the right to a special place arises out of pride; regarding oneself as superior to other people. How easily this happens to a person in a position of some authority but who has no supreme external authority, in particular, who does not recognise God as the supreme authority. Sometimes people say when challenged, perhaps by a policeman, “Don’t you know who I am?” “I am an MP” or “I am a doctor” or perhaps even, “I am a vicar”. Ben Sira also gives advice, but along a different line, on how to behave at dinner, “Are you seated at the table of a great man? Do not be greedy at it. Healthy sleeping depends on moderate eating” (30 v 12, 20).
- Two types of pride. One might say that there are two types of pride. One is that of a proud person and the other is that of taking pride in one’s work, seeing a job well done. Now there is degree of connection between the two. The person who has done a good job may in effect say what a great person I am. On the other hand we can be proud of other’s achievements such as our Olympic team. Most of them when interviewed expressed a genuine view of gratitude to their support team, their families and friends and say that without such support they could never have achieved what they did. As Christians we can be grateful for the gifts that God has given us. We should not belittle those gifts but with a sober judgement seek to use them in the service of God and of other people. To belittle our gifts is to belittle the Giver. On the other hand the over-confident person, for example a driver or pilot is a danger to him or herself and to other people. That over confidence arises from a wrong sort of pride. We have an English saying that ‘pride comes before a fall’. Actually that saying is probably derived from another of the wisdom books, the book of Proverbs in which one finds the following proverb, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (16 v 18). Isn’t that in effect what our reading from Ecclesiasticus is saying, applying it to nations as well as to individuals?
- The heavenly banquet. I think that it is interesting that the next section of Luke 14 includes one of the guests at the dinner party saying to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God”. Jesus in reply tells a parable about a man who gave a great banquet and invited many guests who, having accepted the invitation, all came up with excuses as to why they couldn’t come. This parable was evidently told to all the dinner guests, challenging them not to refuse God’s invitation to the heavenly banquet, a far greater faux pas than going straight for the best seats at an earthly dinner. Again a form of pride in that they thought that they had got salvation all worked out but were in danger of rejecting God’s Saviour.
- Conclusion. In conclusion, our lectionary gives a wonderful and interesting set of readings from Old and New Testaments and also the Apocrypha. Let us take heed of their wisdom, including Jesus’ warnings at a dinner party. As Christians let us be humble, not with a false humility, but recognising God’s gifts and using them in his service, whilst recognising that true wisdom is found in and through putting one’s trust in God and his Word.
1720 words Christopher Miles
Note: From Wikipedia re Eurgetes V11
He reigned from c 169 – 164 BC jointly with siblings over various parts of Egypt
He reigned from 164 – 132/131 BC jointly with his sister/wife.
He continued to reign until his death in 116 BC