He told us to stop trying to find our importance

“Get Elevated, Part 2”

Last week we began a two part series called: Get elevated. In this series we are delving into one passage in Luke. Jesus is at a fancy party at the home of an influential leader, and at this fancy party he first tells us how to be guests and then he tells us how to be hosts.  Last week we looked at what he said about being guests. He told us to stop trying to find our importance by trying to connect with the important people because we are already connected to the most important person… the King of King, the Lord of Lords… Jesus told us that we are already elevated so high.. we are already so important in the eyes of God… He said, so at a party go to the lowest seat. God is circling around this party we call life and he will stop at your table and ask you to move to a seat of honor.

This week I want to focus on what Jesus says about being a host. After he turns to the guests and teaches them, he then turns to the host of the party and tells him a thing or two about party invitations.

Eric and I went to Kenya early in our marriage. We had known an Episcopal Priest who had come to live in New Haven for a year and so we wrote a grant to travel to Kenya and learn from him.

We lived in a relatively large home that had a roof and two bedrooms, but like the mud huts next to it, it did not have electricity, running water, or a stove. Of course the lack of modern conveniences was certainly a culture shock, but the biggest culture shock we found was the Kenyans’ spirit of welcome.

Whenever we entered a new home, the host would ask us to pray over the place even though we were just lowly students.  Our hosts were sometimes pastors and prominent leaders in the community, but still they asked us to pray for them because they said, guests are a blessing. Whenever we visited a church service, they always asked us to sit on the altar next to the priest because they said that we were their honored guests.

And you would think perhaps that this was because we were American, but no this was just a part of the fabric of the culture. Their common phrases were “feel free” and “you are most welcome.” In America I have seen bathroom signs read: “Don’t even think about throwing paper towel in this toilet.” In Kenya there were welcoming signs all over… there was even a welcome sign in a modern bathroom. It read: “You are most welcome to only throw toilet paper in the toilet.” I have never seen such a friendly sign in a bathroom..

We were so awe struck by this culture of welcome. We asked about it many times, and they kept repeating that guests are blessings. They finally became emphatic about it and said, “you are a blessing to us. We believe that your presence blesses us.” It was so hard for us to see this because we felt like we were anything but a blessing. In fact times we felt like we must be a huge drain on our hosts. After a couple days of living in Kenya, we realized that many of our hosts had to walk miles to buy meat and then set the fire and then walk to the river to get water.. then boil the water over the same fire. Many of our hosts were sugar cane farmers and the profit on their fields was so minimal. It is customary to offer four cups of tea to every guest. We tried to decline knowing that each cup was a large expense, but they would have none of it. One Kenyan family gave us a chicken and another even tried to give us a goat. We tried to offer money for our meals, but our Kenyan host told us firmly to never again offer to pay, because if the host received any money it felt like it would undermine the blessing. He said clearly, “Guests are a blessing. God blesses us when we receive a guest. We do not want or expect anything in return.”

In ancient Israel, folks would invite friends to their home in order to get an invitation back to their friend’s house. Important leaders wanted to invite important people so that they could also be invited to other important parties. At this party of important people in our scripture today, Jesus turns to his host and tells him, invite people into your home who cannot or may not be able to invite you to another fancy party. Invite guests without any expectation that they will return the favor because Jesus says, God is the one who returns the favor.

He says, “Do not invite your friends in case they may invite you in return…invite the poor… You will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection.”

Invite people into your home without any expectation that they will return the favor and God will bless you. The Kenyans we met lived by this word we hear from Jesus today. Guests are a blessing.

We know that guests of course might drain our resources of time and money, but modern research actually backs up this idea that guests bless our lives profoundly. Scientists explain that as we evolved… our brains became hard wired to operate out of what they describe as a scarcity mentality. When we operate out of this scarcity mentality everything is a zero sum game. If you win, I lose. If I give, I need to get back because resources are scarce and I need to think first about protecting and guarding my resources. When we operate out of a scarcity mindset our fear and anxiety can increase and our connection with others decreases because our connection to others becomes transactional rather than relational.

In a TED talk, Grace Rodriguez explains that we can shift our minds away from this hard wired scarcity mentality to an abundance mentality. She explains that when we have an abundance mentality we believe that if you win, I can be happy because it might mean that I might win later. If I give, you do not need to give back because resources are unlimited and if we run out of something we can always make more. When we shift to an abundance mentality, our confidence, resourcefulness, resilience, and connection increases.

Grace argues that we can make this shift from a scarcity mentality to an abundance mentality by opening our homes and our communities to people without expectation that we will get something in return. Grace explains that welcoming people without any desire to get something in return creates a safe place where people can connect deeply with one another. The environment is no longer transactional… because it is only about relationship.

I think we can have transactional relationships not just with guests at a party, but even with our family and closest friends. We can easily fall into this scarcity mentality and start offering our homes, our time, our money, our help, our love in order to get something in return.

But today Jesus reminds us to offer our resources, our homes, out time, our money, our lives without an expectation that we will get something in return. Jesus reminds us to get back to relating to one another deeply rather than treating our relationships like transactions.

Jesus reminds Jesus says, “do not invite your friends…in case they might return the favor.” Life is not scarce. God has given you an abundance in this life… so operate out of God’s abundance.  So go to the lowest places… And invite people without any expectation of return. Live like the Kenyans who open their homes and wait for God’s blessing. Give, open your home without expectation of return and watch as God blesses you and your guests. Watch as God elevates you above the scarcity and into a place of abundance… into a place of confidence, connection, resourcefulness, resilience, and belonging.