Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 17

30 Sept 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 14:1-11

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

We have lived in the sinful world for so long that we have convinced ourselves that right is left, up is down, and darkness is light.

We are so utterly deluded that we actually think we have even one thing to brag about. If we have a skill or talent, we expect to be fawned over and paid handsomely. If we have good looks, we expect heads to turn and people to defer to us in all that we do. If we have money, people had better kowtow to our every wish. If we hold a position of power, people had better give us due respect.

The reality is this: we are all poor miserable sinners who are so feeble and helpless, we need God to take extraordinary measures to save us from the consequences of our own monumental failure. We are fools, liars, thieves, know-it-alls, bullies, and arrogant blow-hards who need to be taken down a peg – which is why our Lord gives us this lesson.

He encounters a man suffering with dropsy – which is known today as edema. It is a swelling, a puffing up of part of the body in such a way that not only that part, but the entire body is put at risk. Jesus is about to heal this man on the Sabbath – knowing full well that His puffed-up arrogant opponents, the Pharisees, would be offended.

Of course, the Pharisees see themselves as greater than this quirky preacher who is gobbling up all the attention from the poor people (who, in the eyes of the Pharisees, ought to be too busy flattering the Pharisees to notice Him).

Just before performing the miracle, Jesus prods them to answer His question about sin and the Kingdom of God. He wants them to surrender, to tell Jesus that they obviously have a messed up understanding about God’s Kingdom. In other words, our blessed Lord is looking for repentance. But that would mean eating crow and admitting failure. And so, they remain silent – even though they know what is about to happen.

Our Lord heals the man puffed-up by dropsy. He is almost taunting the self-righteous but confused Pharisees to charge Him with breaking God’s law. Jesus points out their hypocrisy in being willing to rescue a farm animal on the Sabbath, while condemning Jesus for healing a person. Again, the Pharisees remain silent. They still will not admit to being wrong.

In their stubbornness, they will not yield the point. They have no good answer, so they just stew. They will certainly not admit they were wrong. They will certainly not ask Jesus to teach them and forgive them for their errors. They are the classic example of the celebrity who tries to get special treatment by saying: “Don’t you know who I am?” Of course, the problem isn’t that Jesus doesn’t know them (He certainly knows them very well). Rather, the problem is that they don’t know who Jesus is – even with the evidence staring them in the face again and again.

And so they remain silent. Once more, our Lord reaches out to them, this time using a parable. This little story isn’t even about the Sabbath. For the Pharisees suffer a greater sin than false doctrine regarding the third commandment. The problem is far worse. They actually have a false god that is leading them to hell unless they repent. This is a first commandment issue, and their false god is themselves.

Their pride is a very serious sin, for it is one that stands in the way of repentance and healing.

Like the man with dropsy, the Pharisees are puffed up – not with bodily fluids but with boastful folly. They are arrogant, prideful, thinking themselves better than everyone around them – which translates to better seats at the social events.

Jesus tells of people who assume they are due a high degree of honor, and claim the best accommodations – that is, until a person who outranks them shows up and orders them to move to the cheap seats – which would be a terrible social embarrassment.

Such an embarrassment could be completely avoided by picking a humble seat, and then when you are asked to move, it will be a show of honor rather than of humiliation.

Jesus tells them the moral: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This, dear brothers and sisters, is how the Kingdom of God works. It is so different than our prideful secular world that values hubris and encourages arrogance. God’s Kingdom looks at things as they truly are: we don’t deserve honor. We don’t deserve glory. Rather, we have earned nothing but wrath and punishment, death and hell. It is painful, but it is the truth.

We strive to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy by being honest with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with God by beginning our worship by invoking our baptism in the name of the Triune God and then by confessing how much we don’t deserve to have received that gift of baptism. Rather than claim a nice seat for ourselves, we speak harsh words concerning ourselves to all who are listening: “I am sinful and unclean. I have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. I deserve temporal and eternal punishment.”

There is no stubborn silence here, no haughty gaze at Jesus, no folded arms and contemptuous sneering. There is no plea that we truly keep the Sabbath in spirit and in truth, that God owes us gifts because we have earned them, or that Jesus is the one who has it all wrong. No indeed, we seat ourselves in the cheap seats and tell everyone we deserve it.

This is not false humility – for we know it’s true – every word of it. We are indeed “poor miserable sinners” and cannot save ourselves. We’re not heroes, we are villains. We’re not successful, we are failures. We’re not here to get a medal placed over our heads, but rather deserve to have a rope tied around our necks.

We come to the Lord’s banquet on our knees, in the position of slaves and servants, in the posture of humiliation and submission.

And what does our Lord do? He comes to us at the banquet and He says: “Friend, go up higher.” Our blessed Lord Himself exalts us – not because we deserve it, but rather because he has earned it on our behalf. In acknowledging our wretchedness, we become recipients of His grace.

He lifts our downtrodden countenance, bids us to rise from our knees, and to depart in peace.

This is the Great Reversal of God’s Kingdom. He who knew no sin became sin for us. He who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords became the Criminal of Criminals. He is the One who, in fact, humbles Himself, and who is exalted by the Father. In His humiliation, we are exalted, beckoned to “go up higher,” to be glorified with the glory that He freely shares with us.

“For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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