Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sermon -- 17th Sunday after Trinity (October 12, 2014)

PROVERBS 25:6-13

In the name + of Jesus.

     When you read through the book of Proverbs, you may get the impression that Solomon’s words are nothing more than pithy advice.  The whole book appears to be one verse of homespun wisdom after another.  But if that is all the book of Proverbs is, then we can put it on par with Aesop’s Fables or the Farmer’s Almanac.  The big difference is that whenever we conclude a reading from the book of Proverbs, we say: “The Word of the Lord.”  Therefore, the book of Proverbs is more than handy advice.  It is divine revelation.  And though we may not always grasp why the Lord gave us individual proverbs, we can be sure that these are God’s words.  These are sayings our Lord wants us to know and to ponder.
     Solomon wrote: Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” (Proverbs 25:6-7)  We live in a society where people demand respect from other people but do not place a very high priority on showing respect.  It is bullying disguised as self-esteem. 
     While some may cower to demands of respect, such demands will not work before a king.  The king reigns supreme.  He does not propose laws that can be debated or vetoed.  The king makes the laws because he is the law.  And when the king makes a judgment, there is no court of appeals.  The king is the judge.  His word is the authority.  His word is final.  So, to prop yourself up before a king or to demand respect and honor from him is foolish.  You do not exalt yourself before a king.  Only the king can truly exalt you.  If you exalt yourself, the king will humiliate you by letting you know what your place really is.  Then he will subject you to it.
     The Lord God Almighty is the king before whom you and I stand.  We often forget our place before him.  We are always inclined to tell the Lord how good and godly we are.  Perhaps we compare ourselves to others and expect God to rank us accordingly.  Perhaps we think of some good works that we are especially proud of and want God to reward us for them.  Or perhaps we think that God thinks of us as highly as we think of ourselves. 
     Again, Solomon warns, “What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?” (Proverbs 25:7-8)  We like to think that we are good judges of people.  We grade them both on their actions and on their attitudes.  The standard by which we grade is ourselves.  We compare others with us.  Often, we take the worst that we see in others and compare it with the best that we see in ourselves.  Then we look down on others while we exalt ourselves, assuming that God shares our judgment.  Do not bring hastily to God’s court what your eyes see and what you assume to be true.  You will be put to shame by people whose stories you do not know and whose hearts you cannot read.  It is just as likely that their good deeds and kind words will put you to shame because they are better than yours. 
     “What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court…” (Proverbs 25:7)  Your case, based on what you think, will be thrown out of God’s court.  You will be humiliated because your judgments are flawed.  Your judgments are flawed because your heart and mind are flawed.  Sinners always dream and scheme how they can exalt themselves.  We write and recite our own eulogies long before we die.  Some may humor you and let you exalt yourself.  But before your God and King, you cannot exalt yourself anymore than you can make yourself weigh less by pulling up on your shoes.  The King knows your heart, and his judgment is always right and just.  This news does not inspire confidence.  It instills fear, and for good reason.  Repent.
     Solomon wrote, A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.  Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.” (Proverbs 25:11-12)  The Lord speaks a fitting word to you, and to the one craving hope, it is a most beautiful, lovely, and priceless word.  This word fitly spoken is a word of correction, because it points you away from yourself and your own judgment.  It is a word that graciously delivers you from trying to make a case for yourself.  It is a merciful word which spares you from trying to exalt yourself in God’s presence.  After all, God is only pleased with that which is holy.  And no matter how fond you are of how well you behave, you cannot possibly believe you are holy. 
     Do not humble yourself before the King because that is how you play the game or that is how you get noticed.  Be humble because that is your rightful place.  There is no reason for you to exalt yourself.  Nonetheless, the Lord has taken notice of you in your lowly place.  Kings usually do not waste their time considering the outcasts, but your King, Jesus Christ, has take up your case and has united himself with your cause. 
     The King of heaven and earth descended from his throne on high to have compassion on the lowly.  He took your place in the court, and his neighbors filed all kinds of shameful charges against him.  Even though Jesus is the God that Caiaphas made Israel’s sacrifices to, Jesus did not exalt himself or demand respect in Caiaphas’ court.  Jesus did not even refute the charges; he simply accepted the guilt.  Then Jesus was led to Pilate’s court.  Even though Jesus is the God who worked out world history to bring the Romans to power and Pilate to his position of authority, Jesus did not demand his due from Pilate.  He did not protest that his sentence was unjust or that the charges were untrue.  Jesus took the lowest place; for he was standing in the stead of sinners.  He submitted himself to suffer and die for you.
     As Jesus endured scorn and shame at the cross, he continued to speak fitting words.  He prayed for mercy on his executioners.  He absolved a criminal who confessed that he deserved the death sentence, but more importantly confessed that Jesus was his King.  And Jesus finally spoke before he died, “It is finished.”  Any effort you feel you need to make to prove yourself better than your neighbor is finished.  Any argument you dream up to console yourself that you are good enough is finished.  Any scheme that you devise to convince God that you are good enough is finished.  These are finished and unnecessary and useless.  Jesus has taken your shame so that he can exalt you.  The righteousness you need to stand before God Jesus has been rendered.  The sins you need to be cleansed of Jesus has taken away.  Jesus rose from the dead to claim complete authority over all things.  And your King has uttered the final word: You are acquitted, forgiven, and saved.
     Only the King can truly exalt you.  And he does!  It is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” (Proverbs 25:7)  Jesus has summoned you to status that is higher than any this world knows.  Jesus has given you a name greater than any this world can give: You are a Christian.  You have been cleansed by the blood of Christ.  You have been branded by the name of Christ.  And you will inherit a place at the heavenly feast with Jesus Christ.  To assure you of that, Jesus summons you already to his feast now.  Here, the holy things are given to the holy ones.  The holy things are the body and blood of Christ, and the holy ones are you; for you are Christ’s.  This is how Jesus highly exalts you.  It is Jesus who makes you children of the Most High God and heirs of his everlasting kingdom.  And since Jesus is the King of heaven and earth, his word has authority.  His word is the law.  He is the judge.  And his word is final.  Only the king can truly exalt you.  He does, and he will for all eternity.

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

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