Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sermon -- 15th Sunday after Pentecost (September 1, 2013)

LUKE 14:1,7-14

 In the name + of Jesus.

      This is what the Lord says: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” (Isaiah 55:8)  No matter how much we hear that, we still like to believe that God thinks like we think, that God wants like we want, and that God does what we would do.  Or we think that God should.  But we are sinners and God is holy.  Therefore, God will not think, want, or act like we do.
     Jesus highlighted this when he was invited to a banquet by a leader of the Pharisees.  As he reclined at the table with the other guests, he noticed how the people were jockeying for prominence and prestige at the table.  They all wanted to be important.  They all wanted to be admired.  And they all firmly believed that they were worthy of the honors they were competing for. 
     We have been trained to sneer at the Pharisees when we hear about them.  That’s understandable, as Jesus blasted them and exposed them for the hypocrites they were.  But we are no different.  Like the Pharisees, we play the games that are so common among men.  Like the Pharisees we sneer at, we think that we are better, that we should be admired, and that we are worthy of honor.  We commend ourselves for our good works.  We are convinced that God must love us and smile upon us because we are better behaved, more moral, and spiritually sincere in all of our actions.  Our yearning for honor has a religious veneer on it, but that makes it all the more dangerous as we convince ourselves that we are worthy of a higher place in God’s kingdom.  If Jesus called them to repent, he calls us to repent too.
     Jesus told a parable.  “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor….” (Luke 14:8)  You heard the rest of the parable earlier, and you may have thought, “Well, that’s brilliant!  If you play the game right, someone will announce to the guests that you are much more important than you pretend to be.”  That does not reveal a devout heart, but a devious one. 
     Listen again to the beginning of the parable: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor….” (Luke 14:8)  Dear friends, you have been summoned to a wedding feast.  Jesus summons you to a higher place.  Your Lord, Jesus Christ, has called you to partake of the eternal banquet, to recline at the table of heaven, and to feast on the sacred meal.  He calls to give you good things even though you have not done good things.  What’s more, in order to gain your place at this blessed table, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord and Creator of the universe, humbled himself and took the lowest place for you.  Jesus submitted himself to the temptations and mockery and cruelty to redeem you. 
     Satan tempted Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3)  Satan challenged Jesus to prove himself, to exalt himself, and to abuse his divine power.  Jesus’ enemies blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy!  Who is it who struck you?” (Luke 22:54)  Both rabbis and Roman soldiers beat the Lord and mocked his omniscience.  As he hung from the cross, his enemies mocked his claims, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35)  Finally, even his Father forsook him as darkness covered the whole land for three hours.  Jesus took the lowest place—forsaken by his Father, mocked by his enemies, and abandoned by his friends.  He lived in innocence, and yet suffered for your guilt.  He was crucified naked, and yet was covered with your shame.  The Son of God endured the lowest place in humility so that you would be reconciled to the Father, glorified by him, and received at the divine, heavenly banquet.
     “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor….” (Luke 14:8)  Dear Christians, do not claim the place of honor; for you did not earn it.  Nevertheless, you find a loving, crucified, and risen Savior who summons you, “Friend, move up higher.” (Luke 14:10)  The place that you cannot earn Jesus gives you.  If you exalt yourself, you will be humiliated by God.  But here, Jesus exalts you.  Jesus summons you to a higher place.  He honors you in the presence of his Father, before angels and archangels, before all the company of heaven, and before all who are here.  He takes away your guilt and declares you to be great and glorious.  He gives you the wedding garments to wear—a robe of righteousness washed in his blood.  He calls you to partake at his table in this world, and he calls you to partake at the wedding feast of the Lamb in Paradise.  And every place at his banquet is glorious.
     After addressing the guests of the banquet, Jesus addressed the man who hosted the banquet.  He said also to the man who had invited him, “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.” (Luke 14:12-14) 
     Once again, we see that God does not act like we act.  It is natural for us to care for those who are our friends, relatives, or even well-to-do neighbors.  That’s because we deem them worthy of our time and attention and honor.  We feel that they are deserving because they have benefited us in the past or will benefit us in the future.
     However, the Lord’s ways are not our ways.  He is the one who has invited you to the feast.  It is not because you are worthy or because you will prove yourself beneficial to the Lord.  You and I are the poor, the lame, and the blind.  But Jesus summons you to a higher place.  Our Lord has poured out divine riches on you.  He carries you on his shoulders.  He enlightens you to see his salvation. 
     Jesus summons you to a higher place.  Your place in the banquet does not speak of your goodness, but of Jesus’ goodness.  He summons you because he is merciful and gracious.  He knows that you cannot pay him back, and that is the point.  The banquet is prepared for you by Jesus.  It is given to you for your benefit.  You eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins, for the strengthening of your faith, and for your salvation.  This is where the Lord gives you the most holy things, and you receive them because he has declared you to be his holy people.
     Likewise, you get to go and be merciful and gracious to others.  So what if they do not deserve it?  Mercy is never deserved.  So what if they cannot pay you back?  Grace is a gift.  It does not—cannot!—seek to be repaid.  Love does not look for getting something out of people.  Love only seeks their well-being.  Your flesh may feel ripped off.  And your flesh may continue to tell you that other people are just not worth it.  Put such selfish thoughts to death.  Do not exalt yourself, for you are no better than the people whom you think are worthless.  You are saints because of Jesus’ work, not yours.  The mercy that Jesus has poured upon you, you get to pour upon others.  It is not given because they are worthy.  You give it because it is needed. 
     Dear Christians, you have been invited to a wedding feast.  Here is your seat at the banquet.  Jesus summons you to a higher place.  You are partakers of the most holy things.  You are recipients of divine blessings.  You are beneficiaries of God’s mercy.  You are permanent guests at the wedding feast of the Lamb!  There are no higher blessings.  There are no greater joys.  And there is no better place.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.