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The Voice of the Accuser
Luke 14:1, 7-14 9-27-20
I’m going to start today by asking you a simple question.
Keep your answer in mind, or even jot it down on a piece of paper if you have one nearby.
What is the thought you most frequently have about yourself?
What is your mind saying to you about you?
Reading today’s scripture from the Gospel of Luke takes me back to my school days.
The time of day I dreaded most in school wasn’t math or English … it was lunch.
After I bought my hamburger and chocolate milk at the cafeteria window, I would slowly walk down the rows of green picnic benches where we ate.
I would do my best to look confident and unconcerned while my eyes anxiously swept over the lunch area, scanning the options of where I could sit.
Some of the popular kids usually broke the rules by pulling a couple of benches together where they sat boisterous and laughing, pretending that they weren’t hoping we were eavesdropping and envying them.
Some of those boys had arms casually draped over the shoulders of girls I never had the guts to speak to.
That table was off limits to me.
Some of the math and science whizzes huddled together thinking they were special, but of course nobody believed that except for the teachers.
There would always be a few kids sitting by themselves telegraphing hopeful smiles to anyone walking by … having anyone sit with them would be a relief.
That is pretty much the caste system that Jesus saw as he walked into the Pharisee’s home for this dinner.
In first-century Palestine, the closer you sat to the host the greater your status.
Entering the dining area, Jesus saw people jostling for position, nudging their way forward to the higher-status places.
From Jesus’ point of view, this scene couldn’t be more preposterous.
All those people – each created by God, and each loved by God – elbowing their way through a crowd of equally loved people hoping to be tossed a crumb of meaningless human acknowledgment.
It was just like in school: social status was currency.
Someone seated at the in-group’s table would expect respect and favors from lesser beings relegated to sitting elsewhere.
When I would sit near the in-group’s table, and have a minute of talking or joking around with those popular kids, a little of their prestige would rub off on me.
In Jesus’ time, just being at the prominent Pharisee’s party could elevate your status.
Of course, you’d then be obligated to reciprocate in some way, maybe publicly showing deference to him, or loyalty to him in business dealings.
All social interactions in that world were like currency.
I wonder if you saw the episode of The Office where Dwight brought a plate of bagels to work and badgered everyone to take one.
As soon as someone said, “Thank you” and took a bite, Dwight would smile and say, “You’re welcome … now you owe me.”
His plan went all wrong when Andy insisted on immediately repaying the gift so that he wouldn’t be left in Dwight’s debt
… and it turns ridiculous as the two then went back and forth trying to trick the other to unwittingly receive a courtesy without repaying it and thus becoming obligated to the other man.
Jesus might have viewed the Pharisee’s dinner party in a similar way.
He says, the first shall be last … those depending on the social currency of prestige will be the most disappointed, because in the end it isn’t worth squat.
The first shall be last … those most driven to push to the front of the line may secretly be feeling the most powerless and vulnerable.
Social reciprocity was the backbone of the patronage system of the first-century world, perpetuating the privilege of a few, and guaranteeing the poverty of the majority.
Jesus stared the host in the eye and offered a challenge:
In the future do not invite friends, family, or the wealthy to meals, since they are able to repay with business or a reciprocating invitation.
If you invite someone so that they can return the favor, well, that’s your reward.
But if you extend hospitality to those who cannot pay in return, then your reward is a renewed heart.
Luke 14:13 “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”
This reversal of expectations and status is a constant theme throughout the gospels.
The world expects the powerful and privileged to flaunt their power, to build their wealth, and to have those with less to be in their debt.
But in the true reality in which we live – the Kingdom of God – what matters is that we embrace, encourage and support all of God’s people, whatever status the world assigns them.
I started this message by inviting you to consider what is the most frequent thought you have about yourself.
Probably it is not something like, “I’m doing a really good job.”
And I doubt it is something like, “I am a really lovable person.”
If you have those thoughts, then good for you.
But what is most likely is that you have some kind of accusatory voice talking to you day and night reminding you of where you have messed up or where you are not worthy.
Satan is sometimes called the Accuser, and his message of shame agitates and sustains an internal state of inadequacy, resentment, or regret.
Next time you hear those accusing messages that only serve to diminish your experience of your one, precious life, think of them as coming from Satan.
Satan, the Accuser, the Prince of Lies gets into your head to undo the blessings of life, joy, love and purpose that God has given you.
You may have tried to answer the accuser’s messages of shame by acquiring social status – making lots of money, earning extra graduate degrees, or having thousands of Facebook followers.
You may have tried to dull the accuser’s voice through shopping, drinking, anger, or dominating other people.
But in the end, none of those things will ever be enough.
And it’s not just you.
Every single person has regrets, resentments and flaws that the Accuser will latch onto and then build upon, and so we all have to struggle with his efforts to instill his corrosive half-truths and lies.
Your hot buttons may not be mine, but in the final analysis all shame is our fear of disconnection.
Shame is that we are not worthy, lovable, capable, whatever – so that we are not acceptable.
Self-rejection is Satan’s best curve ball to make you strike out in life.
Martin Luther is paraphrased as saying, “The devil rummages through your garbage looking for already forgiven sins and then rubs your nose in them and says, this is who you really are.”
Memories from six decades ago of walking from the cafeteria counter past the benches of laughing teenagers still stirs deep emotions in me.
First, are painful memories of not feeling liked or accepted, and then the shame of often sitting alone.
But more recently, I’ve felt another emotion: sadness.
Sadness that that young man would be robbed of so much life for so long because he bought into the Accuser’s never ceasing tirade of half-truths about his unworthiness.
Here are three things I’ve learned about combatting Satan on this front.
First, remember that Satan’s purpose is to work against God.
God is love, therefore Satan is hate.
He uses fear, resentments, regrets, shame or addictions – or anything that separates us from God, our community and our best self – to turn us against ourselves.
Satan will tap on our shoulder and lure us into addictions to take our minds off our shame, to sinful behaviors that give a quick shot of feeling we’ve risen above our flaws, or to obsessive behaviors to fool us into thinking we can control the world to go our way in spite of our short-fallings.
Jesus entered the world of sin so that we might have life and have it abundantly.
Satan’s toolbox includes an assortment of tools to rob us of that abundant life and its joys.
You and I, every day, have to decide whose voice to believe, and to remember that the destructive voice is most likely the Accuser.
Second, remember that everybody is flawed.
God didn’t create us to be gods, but to be humans, and humans by definition are flawed.
Satan will try to use your flaws to defeat you, while God will try to use them as the frontline of growth.
That also means that you don’t need to hold yourself up to impossible standards.
All unhappiness is caused by comparison – so the Accuser will keep pointing out where someone else is smarter, prettier or wealthier hoping that you will wilt in their shadow.
You messed up? You’re not liked by everyone? Your body is not likely to be featured in the next Victoria’s Secrets catalogue?
Well, welcome to the human race.
Anyway, you know those pictures are doctored.
I once heard Cindy Crawford say, “Even I don’t look like Cindy Crawford”.
Third, God created you and never stops loving you.
God doesn’t make junk.
God makes people who are lovable and precious in His sight, just because they are who they are.
Right before this talk, we saw a mini-movie of people who were losing their way.
Life gets tough, and the Accuser’s destructive voice can wear us down until we forget what love is.
One Sunday evening a fellow student barged into Will Willimon’s dorm room back when he was still a student in the mid-60’s.
He couldn’t contain himself and burst into a story.
“Guess who I just sat across from on the flight from DC to Greenville?”
Without waiting for an answer, he said, “Martin Luther King! Just like he looks like on TV. He slumped in his seat as soon as he got on the plane. Looked real tired. So, I didn’t bother him. Finally, I got up the nerve to speak.”
I said, “Dr. King, it’s an honor to meet you. I’m active at my college … we’re in the movement. I’m coming from a training session in Washington. I really appreciate what you’re doing.”
“Unbelievable!” Willimon exclaimed. “What did he say to you?”
“Nothing. So I said, ‘Dr. King, my father is a farmer in low-country South Carolina. He’s such a racist. I have tried to talk to him, tried to explain why the fight for racial justice is so important. But he says terrible things, I’m not going home for Thanksgiving because I don’t want anything to do with such a redneck, racist old fool.’
“Suddenly Dr. King lunged across the aisle, grabbed my arm, and said in a voice loud enough to wake the whole plane, ‘Son, you’ve got to love your daddy’
“Then he turned and went back to sleep.”
King’s prophetic voice reminds us all that love must be the final voice, or else the Accuser wins that round.
So, if you are one of the majority of people who don’t get to sit at the in-crowd’s table, your task is to hear God tell you that you are loveable, capable and precious anyway.
And if you are one of those who do have popularity or other gifts, your task is to invite those who wouldn’t otherwise feel worthy of sitting at your table.