15th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 14:1; 7-14 Sermon
September 9, 2007
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
202 “Awake My Soul, And With The Sun”
392 “More Love To Thee, O Christ”
428 “O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing”
198 “Saviour Again To Thy Dear Name We Raise”
BEWARE OF THE “RELIDIOTS”
TEXT (vs. 1 & 7-9): “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.’”
Back when I was going to school in Minnesota and would make frequent trips back to Nebraska, I would sometimes take different routes for a little change of scenery. One of my alternate routes took me down U. S. Highway 169 south of Mankato through the little hamlet of Garden City, Minnesota, which was situated not too far north of the Iowa border.
I’ll never forget my first trip through there. It happened to be snowing that evening, which is something not too uncommon in Minnesota. It wasn’t a blizzard; rather it was one of those picturesque snowfalls with large wet flakes.
As I came into Garden City, the town looked almost like a Currier and Ives painting. I was enjoying this sight as I passed through. The highway made a right turn in the middle of town, and right where the highway turned sat a small church.
The church wasn’t the thing that caught my attention however. What I noticed was this big white sign in front of it, which was constructed out of several 4 by 8 sheets of plywood. It was illuminated by a couple of floodlights in the yard, so you couldn’t miss it. At the top of the sign were the words: “A Quick Study of the Book of Revelation.” So I stopped my car in front of the church, got out, and stood there in the cold and snow reading the sign.
Of course I have nothing against studying Revelation, especially since we are doing that very thing in our regular Wednesday Bible Study. But what this sign did, was to make an attempt to interpret some of the prophecy of Revelation in some rather strange ways.
First of all, it said that computers were the antichrist. Bar codes were the mark of the antichrist. And then it took the number 666, which is the number associated with the antichrist, and demonstrated how it could be found in those barcodes. And then they took the word “computer,” and if I remember their formula correctly, they gave each letter the number of its position in the alphabet; e.g. C=third letter, O=fifteenth letter, M=thirteenth letter, and so on. When you added all the letters up, the sum is 111; and when multiplied by the number six, which is the number Revelation associates with Satan and his work, the total is 666. So according to them, if you have a computer in your home, you are giving sanctuary to the antichrist.
In the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s, various weird theories and interpretations regarding the book of Revelation and latter day prophecies were really in vogue. Doomsday prophets were preaching all sorts of private interpretations, many of which were at odds with each other. A lot of books were written on the subject. And if you searched around on the AM radio dial late at night, you could usually find a preacher somewhere yelling, and I do mean yelling over the airwaves his message of certain doom for anyone who didn’t interpret Revelation the way he did.
The big problem with all of this, is that people were taking Revelation and reading it and interpreting to the exclusion of the rest of the Bible. If you went into one of their churches on any given Sunday and listened to a sermon, you could bet that the sermon text would be somewhere from the book of Revelation. It was the same message over and over and over again.
This was intended to scare people. Modern technology was always portrayed as the enemy. Anything having to do with computers and bar codes were to be rejected. It was pretty much a Ted Kosinsky/Unibomber type of philosophy.
People also became terrified of the number 666, even though in most reported cases it was simply being used as the number between 665 and 667. It had become a type of superstition with some people, and a number to be avoided at all costs.
This is the type of thing that happens when people interpret things and jump to conclusions based upon a woefully lacking knowledge of the Bible.
It’s here where I’d like to share with you a word that you won’t find in any dictionary, because it is a word I have coined myself. That word is “relidiots.” The etymology of the word is obvious—"religion" plus "idiots." There are a lot of relidiots out there acting relidiotically. A lot of this misinterpretation of the prophecy in Revelation is the fruit of the labor of relidiots.
Indeed there have been relidiots in all generations, including in Jesus’ day. When we look at our Gospel lesson for today, we meet the prime group of relidiots Jesus had to face, namely the Pharisees.
The scene we have presented before us is taking place in the home of one of the prominent Pharisees. Jesus is attending a meal there. And it’s here where we need to have a brief explanation as to why this was happening.
In those days, the Pharisees would invite various individuals over for the Sabbath meal. Since there was no television or talk radio, this was a form of entertainment for them. They would invite people who could provide stimulating religious conversation. Besides the invited guests, others could attend too, but only as observers. The uninvited observers couldn’t participate, so they would stand at the back of the room out of the way.
Jesus is invited to one of these meals, most likely so the relidiotic Pharisees could trap him in his words and discredit him.
If you notice, our Gospel lesson for today begins at Luke chapter 14, verse 1, and then skips ahead to verse 7. The intended focus is upon the meal itself. However, if we read the verses in between, we see recorded the account of an event prior to the meal.
When Jesus arrives, he encounters a man who is suffering from dropsy, which is a type of a bacterial disease resulting in the painful inflammation and swelling of various parts of the body. Today we would know this disease as cellulitis, or maybe a type of edema.
Jesus asks the question of the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” They refuse to answer him. So assuming that their silence is the same as a tacit approval, Jesus simply reaches out and heals the man. Of course these relidiots will use this event to try to trap him later; but for now, they couldn’t dream up some sort of clever answer for him.
So now it is time for the meal, and everyone has to take their seat. And again, these relidiots show their true colors. They began to scramble to take the seats of highest honor, something like fighting over the seats at the head table at a banquet. What they were acting like was more like children in primary school, trying to be first in the lunch line.
I can almost picture Jesus rolling his eyes and thinking “Oh brother. Could these overgrown children act any more foolish than this?” This was a classic example of their relidiocracy. And even though this situation was tame by comparison with some of the other shenanigans of the Pharisees, yet it showed what relidiots they really were.
The host was the one in charge of the meal; and by that right, he was the one who would dictate who sat where. The advice Jesus gives is very practical too. Guests should take the seats of lowest honor and wait to be invited to the seats of honor instead of assuming that the places of honor were for them. To take those prominent seats and then have to move down would be an embarrassment.
We know that the Pharisees were relidiots. They elevated themselves and looked down on everybody else. They felt that they were God’s chosen people because of how religious they were. But inside, they were greedy lovers of money, they were dishonest, they were controlling, they were violent, and they were anything but humble servants.
As I was thinking of some good examples of the relidiots in our world today, the person that immediately came to mind is a man by the name of Fred Phelps, who is the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.
I’m sure you’ve heard of him. He’s been on the news as the one who has been organizing these protests at the funerals of soldiers who have died in battle. And now, just recently he has been organizing protests at the funerals of those who died in the bridge collapse in Minnesota. He feels that since Minneapolis is such a Mecca for homosexuals that these people deserved to die in the way that they did. He feels that their death was a result of God’s judgment against Minneapolis and St. Paul.
When we see what he has done, we along with most of the American public cannot believe that someone could be so cruel and try to support what they do by misusing the Bible. We cannot fathom the audacity and the sheer unmitigated gall of this relidiot.
In my research, I read a rather lengthy article about him. (For those reading this sermon on our website, you can find this article: http://www.baptistwatch.org/fredphelps.html and be prepared for some strong language and shocking details.)
His congregation, which is comprised mostly of members of his own family, is more of a cult than anything. The article describes Phelps, a disbarred lawyer, as being a man with a violent temper who regularly abuses his wife and children. He elevates himself and looks down on everybody else. He feels that he is God’s true spokesman and puts on a religious front. On the inside, he is very greedy and loves money; in fact he has swindled and cheated most everyone with whom he has done business. He is dishonest, controlling, violent, and is anything but a humble servant of God.
Does this description sound familiar? Phelps is a shining example of a relidiot of epidemic proportions. If he had been around 2000 years ago, he would have made a great Pharisee. He would have probably been the first to cry “Crucify him!” at Jesus’ trial. And he probably would have provided the hammer and handed the soldier the nails when they carried out that sentence. He in no way, shape, or form even resembles what a Christian is supposed to be.
Phelps is not a stupid individual, but he certainly is a relidiot. What he has done is to take the Bible and rip out the love and forgiveness and acceptance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Revelation relidiots I talked about at the beginning do the same thing when they apply the scare tactics of their erroneous prophetic ramblings and turn the focus away from the message of the Gospel.
Today we see the religion of the relidiots take three different, yet simiar forms. For the Pharisees, it was a religion of the law and obedience to the law. For the Revelation doomsday preachers, it is a religion of fear. And for Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church, it is a religion of hate.
Once again we see the difference between a religion and a relationship. And so we look beyond the relidiots to see what the Bible says. And when we do, we see the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its glory. As Christians, we focus upon that relationship, because that is what is of prime importance.
We live in a world of sin. We can’t deny that. At every turn we see the effects of sin on our society. Breaking the Ten Commandments seems to be what our society does best. And sin affects us too. We have broken those commandments. Our sin has separated us from God.
But Jesus came to this earth to bring us back into God’s family and to reunite us with our heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament creates faith in our hearts and sustains that faith. Through faith, we know Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour. Jesus isn’t just some product of religion for us; rather he is our one true Redeemer. Therefore, we have a relationship with him and not just a religion.
The relidiots of this world will always try to draw us away from the message of the Gospel and replace it with something else, whether it be legalism, fear, hate, or something else.
But we know Jesus has fulfilled the law for us. He has removed all fear. And he has paid the price for our sins with the shedding of his precious blood. As sinful as we are, we know that God will always accept us for Christ’s sake.
Despite what the relidiots may say to the contrary, we can look forward to that day with joyful anticipation when we will hear Jesus say the words recorded in Matthew chapter 25 verse 34: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”