For The Glory of the Lord!

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 13C, August 18th, 2013

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“Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.” [Proverbs 25:6]

One of my favorite sayings I speak to remind myself to choose the good over the indifferent or self-serving path is to say “I’m doing this for the glory of God.”  Now, this little statement has gotten me through a lot of tough times, but I’ve also found that it can also become a dangerous way of drawing glory away from God and to myself.  Let me show you what I mean.

You say to me, “Pastor, that was a good message.”  And I say with great joy in my voice, “Thanks be to God, all glory goes to Him!”  Or, your spouse may say, “I really appreciate the way you’ve been helping out around here.”  And you say, “Yes, if it had not been for the Lord, I certainly would not have been able to do the things that I did.”  Or how about this one; A pro athlete scores on the field, and drops to one knee and points up to the sky.

Now in and of themselves, all of those examples are really harmless.  But, if the reason each responded the way they did, was to create a false sense of humility in order to look better or be perceived in a way that earned favor and respect from others, well, to that, God’s Word says, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”

Humility is a slippery thing to display before others.  When it is generous, every one knows it, and they will at least silently confess that it is a trait that must be acknowledged and admired.  But it isn’t a trait that can be faked in a consistent fashion.  If it isn’t real, people will know!

I’d like to tell you a story about two brothers who grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. One went away to college, earned a law degree, and became a famous lawyer in a very successful law firm. The other brother stayed on the family farm. One day the brother who was a lawyer came and visited his brother, the farmer. He asked, “Hey bro, why don’t you leave this place and make a name for yourself like I did?  Then you can go anywhere and hold your head up high like me?” The farmer brother pointed out at the wheat fields and said, “Do you see all of that wheat out there? Look at it closely and you will notice that only the stalks that are empty of kernels stand up tall. But the ones that are full always bow low.”

Said differently, “The branch that bears the most fruit is bent the lowest to the ground.”  But for what are we bearing fruit?  Is it for God’s glory or for our own?  Why do we really do the things we do?  Is it for God’s glory, to draw others to His kingdom, or is it for our own reputation and comfort?

When we analyze all of our actions, we must be honest and admit that humility, true humility, is like a slippery watermelon seed. Once you get it under your finger and you think you have it, “plop,” it shoots out of your grasp!

So what is the answer?  How can we be humble in a way that is genuine and pleasing to God?  And the answer is, “You cannot!”  Martin Luther confessed this same thing in his catechism when he taught, “I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.  But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel…”  So you see, it is only when the Spirit of Christ has come into our hearts that we can begin to turn away from our self-serving, false humility and show true concern for others.

In our gospel lesson Jesus tells two stories, both of them based on what He is seeing at a dinner party.  Both stories are means to get at the motivation behind the actions of those present. Jesus knows the hearts of every one there in a way that no one else could ever know.  So armed with this knowledge He points out how each person is trying to elbow out the other for the best seat at the party.  He says, that instead of fighting over the best seats, simply take the lowest seat and wait to be called up by the host.  We can be certain that each of them knew that Jesus was talking about them.  Jesus sees and He calls a thing what it is… and their thing was pride and a haughty, self-serving spirit.

Now, we might not be able to relate to a scene like this in a way that the guests at the dinner party could, but what if Jesus said, “When you go to Costco and the vendor puts out free samples, don’t elbow your way to the front of the line to get your sample, instead let everyone else go first, so the vendor can say, friend come here; I have saved the best sample for you!”

Remember, Jesus is watching.  “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”

But Jesus is not done teaching about humility.  He has one more story.  He says that “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not (keep) invit(ing) (only) your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, (also) invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”  [Luke 14:12-13]

Now once again, most of us may not be able to identify with this life style of the rich and famous.  So I want you to let go of the illustration that Jesus used for that specific person and apply the lesson to where you are right now.  Who are your friends and what activities are you involved in?  The point is that if you help or invite only those who will probably help and invite you in return at a latter date, then your gracious spirit is nothing more than a self-serving one.  You will have been paid in full; there is nothing there that God will admire.  So, do the opposite.  Help the poor and needy in a way that no one sees.  You can do things like giving liberally and often to our community pantry here at Trinity, so that your neighbor receives food anonymously.  Give generously with your time, talent, and treasure, in a way that makes a difference for others and not for yourself.  In other words, God knows why you do what you do.  If it is to be noticed and admired by others, to get something out of what may appear to be a selfless act; well then God says you are paid in full.

So how can we ever have true humility?  What is true humility?  Well St. Paul gives us a pretty good list of selfless acts in our Epistle reading (Hebrews 13:1-17).  Let’s look at those: Be kind to strangers, visit or care for those in prison, honor your marriage and the marriage of others, keep your life free of loving money and be happy with what you have.  But again, how can we do that in a way that is God pleasing?  And again, on our own we cannot, but through God’s work we can! “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”  Instead, remember that it is the Lord who is your helper, so don’t be afraid.

This is true humility.  Admitting that on your own you are helpless to please God.   Admitting that without His help you deserve judgment and punishment.  But true humility always bows low and accepts whatever truth God has declared.  And this is the truth you must hear.  It is not about you, but it is about Jesus, God’s Son and your Savior.  Jesus is the one who came and took the lowest position.  Though He is our Creator and God, he became our servant and friend.  He chose to be born a man, he ate with sinners, he stooped down to wash feet, and He bore the scandal and humility of the cross for you!

He brings the proud low, He speaks a Word of judgment to humble those who think they are something for a reason.  So that they and we might see who we really are.  So that we might see ourselves as God sees us.  So that when we see the truth about our sin we might also see God’s only solution to that sin… Jesus Christ!

True humility looks to Jesus alone, but not as some kind of example.  We are not to approach life’s dilemmas by asking “What would Jesus do in this predicament?” but instead we are to ask, “What has Jesus done?”

You see the humble life and struggle of Jesus is not an example but a substitute.  His struggle becomes our struggle, His death our death, His resurrection our resurrection.  He is our Master, our Redeemer, and Savior.  In our baptism He not only called us His own but He in fact gave us His humility.  So we can say you will be humble because you are humble.  And you will know that you are humble when you experience the hardship, suffering, and pain of the many crosses that come in this life, without being overcome with worry, fear, or anger.

“Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great.”  That is a work and an assignment only God can perform, and He has done that very thing for you, through His Son, Jesus Christ.  This morning, before we leave this place, Jesus would have you remember that through your baptism He has called to you with these words, “Friend move up higher.”  When you leave this world of struggle, and you enter into the resurrection of the justified, you will have left the cross behind and entered into Jesus’ kingdom of glory.  And there, you will be welcomed with a holy kiss and asked to take your place of honor at Christ’s banquet table.  How good it is to be called forward in the King’s presence and stand in the place of the great, and it is all through Christ alone!  AMEN!

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