Archive for the ‘Pentecost 14C’ Category

“Move Up Higher”

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 29, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This morning, in all three of our readings, one word seems to jump out at us, and that word is humility!   When we speak of humility we can speak it as a command or as grace.  Let me show you what I mean; “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord!”  That is the law… it’s a command.  It doesn’t offer you any help in accomplishing it and if you are truthful with yourself and God this morning you know that on your own you can’t fulfill that command.  But, if I put Jesus into the equation, Jesus for you, it becomes the gospel; it becomes good news for you!  Listen: Jesus humbled Himself in the sight of the Lord for you!  Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross (for you)!” [Phil. 2:6-8]

Do you see the point?  If the focus is on you and your abilities and actions then you have the law, but if the focus is on Jesus and what He did for you in His life and death upon the cross, well then, you have the gospel.  In one way of thinking you have yourself as the center of attention, as the provider of your needs and in the other way of thinking you have God as your focus and Jesus and His cross as your provider for everything… even your eternal salvation.  You see, that is the difference between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross.

In our gospel reading this morning we join Jesus at a dinner party.  But make no mistake, this was not a friendly gathering of supporters or men who simply wanted to hear Jesus teach the Word of God; no in fact this was a hostile crowd that invited Jesus with just one purpose… they wanted to observe Him and use His own Words in order to destroy Him!  But Jesus accepted the invitation so that He could observe them and then offer them His Word, both law and gospel so that He could save them.

Picture in your mind’s eye, Jesus has entered the home of the host, a Pharisee, when He observes other Pharisees in attendance rushing to get the best seats at the dinner party.  There in front of him are a group of men, the distinguished teachers of Israel behaving like a bunch of first graders playing musical chairs; they are each trying to elbow the other out of the way so that they can have the best seats.  Jesus files this observation away as an object lesson for his second topic of instruction, but first He wanted to address their false teaching about what constitutes doing work on the Sabbath day.

Jesus looks around and spots a poor soul looking in on the diner party.  This man had a disease called dropsy.  which is also known as edema, an illness where parts of the body retain an unhealthy amount of fluid and become swollen.  Jesus motions for this man to come to him and asks the Pharisees a question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’  But they remained silent.” [Lk. 14:2-3]  I imagine that Jesus let such an unusual amount of time lapse that they were very uncomfortable.  The question was a very simple one, yet because of their pride and self-serving interests, they refused to answer, so Jesus humbled them. “(Then) Jesus took (the man) and healed him and sent him away.” [vs. 4]  And there is your answer, it is always good to do good on the Sabbath!

Now it was time for lesson #2!  This lesson would deal with their self-serving and self-glorifying behavior, which Jesus observed earlier. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’  Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” [vs. 7-11]

In this parable, Jesus was using an earthly example in order to make a heavenly and eternal point.  He was speaking to the Pharisees, but He is also speaking to us.  And He does this by showing us His own life.  It was Jesus who stooped down to our level.  It is Jesus, God the Son who humbled himself by becoming a man!  He took on the humble form of a servant so that He could serve the sinful world his own obedience unto death, even death on a cross.  Jesus served us by taking the last place at the banquet of death when He sat Himself upon the cold and splintered bench of the cross!  What is the point of this parable?  Simply this, “Everyone who exalts himself (above God and his neighbor) will be humbled, and He who humbles himself (before God and his neighbor) will be exalted!” [vs. 11]  “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up!” [James 4:10]  Once again, Jesus demonstrated that a man centered theology of glory stands in complete opposition to God’s way… the way of the cross!  Jesus is saying that it t is better to be honored by God than by men.  It is better to be humble so that God will reward you than to be full of pride and thus causing God to humble you.  And to understand this parable Jesus decides that we must hear one more.

“Jesus said also to the man who had invited him (to the party), “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite 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, 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.” [vs. 12-14]

What is the point of this parable?  It simply finishes the thought of the first one; don’t do things with a self-serving agenda.  Don’t worry about rewards in this life, but concentrate on Jesus and the humble way of the cross and you will acquire your reward in heaven.  Jesus knew that the only reason that He was invited to the party was so that the host would gain standing with his fellow Pharisees.  He wanted to be known as the one who helped bring Jesus down!  But what he was really doing was bringing himself down, down to hell.  Jesus was using the thunder bolt of the law to shatter the man’s self-righteousness so that once broken and exposed as an enemy to God, he would then seek God’s mercy and forgiveness by repenting of his self-serving theology of glory.  If he would allow Jesus’ Words to humble Him in repentance then the eyes of his heart would be opened and He would see Jesus as He truly is… the Savior… his Savior! 

The idea wasn’t that this man should go out and find the poorest of the poor and the most needy of the needy and have them alone sit at his table.  Instead, Jesus was getting at the man’s motivation behind having this party.  If his motivation was to be admired and repaid by self-glory, then he was paid in full.  But if his motivation was to serve God and be a sincere servant of the kingdom of heaven, then he should do something that no one would notice, or if they did notice they would never reward.  The only way these Pharisees and even you and me can change our motivations from being self-serving to becoming God-serving is if we allow God’s grace to change our hearts and our minds.  But like the Pharisees, we must first see that it is part of our sinful nature to live a life that serves our own interests.  We must confess this tendency to be a theologian of glory as evil and then ask God to help us take our eyes off of ourselves and teach us to look to the cross and to Jesus Christ!

Dear friends in our readings today Jesus asks us to take our eyes off of the things that this sinful world says are good and pleasing and instead place our eyes upon Him and the ways God’s Word teaches are profitable to us and pleasing to Him.  This morning, God’s Word teaches us that Jesus is both the Law and the Gospel.  He is the law when he tells us that if we seek first and foremost glory and fame in this world God will punish us by withholding both in eternity.  But He is also the gospel, when he clearly teaches that He humbled Himself for you so that you would be exalted before God.  Jesus then is our liberty and freedom, but because He humbled Himself for us, he has also become our sin.  His righteousness became our righteousness and His death became our death.  If we will rest in this exchange then His glory in heaven is also our glory!  Because He permitted the Law to accuse Him and allowed our sin to damn Him, and death to devour Him He removed the threat of the law against us, He damned sin, destroyed death, and He justified and saved you!  So the question each of us must ask ourselves this morning is simply this: “Will I rest and trust in this gospel truth?”  If you’re honest with yourself, you will admit that while your heart says yes, you know that your sinful flesh will work with all of its might to break this promise, and that is because it is in the nature of our sinful flesh to serve ourselves and not God.  So what can we do?  We must remember who Jesus is; He is God with us and God for us!

While it is true that right now, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father and from there He will come again to judge the living and the dead; it is also true that He is here with us right now in His Word, in the font, and there at His holy table.  In heaven He stands before God and intercedes for you the baptized with the marks of His suffering and sacrificial death.  But He is also here with us in this sinful world!  He is walking with you and strengthening you through His means of grace.  He is daily working to take your eyes off of the things that are based in earthly glory and moving your gaze to things centered in a heavenly glory; He is moving your focus to His cross and to the place He has prepared for you in heaven.  He is working within you and around you so that as you are strengthened in His grace you won’t be afraid to humble yourself and place God’s will and the needs of your neighbor above your own.  Why He even leads you into your neighbors suffering that is caused by sin, and He does this through the power of His blood poured out for you on the cross and in His Supper; the very blood that has changed you forever.  Because you haven’t rejected the work of the cross and the font, in essence you have taken your own humble seat next to your Savior.  And you know by faith that one day soon you will hear your Savior call to you, “Friend, move up here!”  I pray that you will always desire to hear those Words and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!