Summer is in the air. Can you feel it? Birds are singing. Flowers are blooming. Honeybees are buzzing and stinging. Ouch! The house needs cleaning and the grass needs cutting. (To capture the mood, go outside, take off your shoes, put on a straw hat and read this aloud, while leaping wildly in the air, and gaily flinging dried flower petals.) Yes, summer is nearly over, the season for romance, long walks, pollen induced allergy attacks, barbecue grills and golf. (Pause) Why golf?
I don’t want to brag or anything, (Yes, I do!) but did you know that I once played eighteen holes of golf with the one and only, Arnold Palmer and won by three strokes? (No, not a golf klutz with the same name. No, I did not cheat. No, I can’t afford to bribe him! Yes, his health is good!)
We played at Harbourtown in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. It’s a beautiful golf course if you stay in the fairway, but full of water hazards, huge sand traps and thickets if you mess up. Can you imagine how intimidating it is to stand on the first tee with one of the great legends of golf? Yet, Arnie (his friends call him Arnie, I call him… sir) was kind and gracious but he was also determined to win.
For the first 13 holes it was nip and tuck as we struggled to a tie score. He would win one hole with a spectacular birdie then I would win with another. But on the 14th hole, I sunk a 35-foot putt to go ahead by one stroke. Am I good or what? On the 17th hole, I made another birdie. And finally on the 18th, Arnie went for broke on a long putt and missed. Victory was mine. Let the celebration begin!
“Yahoo! I beat Arnie!” I shouted while pumping fists into the air and performing a version of the funky chicken! (Wouldn’t you like to see that?) Hey, it’s not every day you beat Arnold Palmer!!!
Are you getting sick and tired of my arrogant boasting yet? Of course you are even if this crazy story is true and it is… sort of. But here is the point. When you hear someone sound off like this… do you have an urge to hug him… or do you want to slug her? No one enjoys the company of a bragger or a famous namedropper. Yet, could a little of this obnoxious tendency be in all of us?
When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “If you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t always head for the best seat. What if someone more respected than you has also been invited? The host will say, ‘Let this person sit here instead.’ Then you will be embarrassed and will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table! “Do this instead—sit at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place than this for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored.” (Luke14: 7-11)
Jesus is talking about more than good table manners, isn’t he? The most important people at a wedding feast are, of course, the bride and groom. Not you! What would a wedding be without them? By maneuvering to get the best seat you detract from the couple’s happy moment and look like an insensitive jerk or worse. We see it in others, but do we notice it in ourselves? Not always.
By trying so hard to beat Arnold Palmer, I missed the opportunity to enjoy his company and admire his unique abilities. Likewise, our arrogant attitude detracts from the God we all claim to serve and prevents us from appreciating and learning from the immensely talented people who surround us.
Our society applauds a “win at any cost” mentality and expects us to revel in the victory. Yet, Jesus clearly demonstrates another answer. It is in our humility not our boasting that we truly discover God.
Now Larry, what is the truth about that celebrity golf match? (Pause) Did you know that it is simply amazing what computers can do? They can simulate almost anything… even a game of golf. Yes, I did play Arnold Palmer at Harbourtown, but from the comfort of my office and computer screen. Sorry!
Just think, in one story, I’ve been exposed as arrogant, boasting and slightly deceitful. At one time or another haven’t we all? Maybe this is why we need God and from the sound of my bragging… me too.