Sunday, September 22, 2019

Sermon -- 15th Sunday after Pentecost (September 22, 2019)

LUKE 14:1,7-14


In the name + of Jesus.

     When Jesus was invited to feast at the home of a prominent Pharisee, he could not help but notice the jockeying that went on among the dignitaries who had shown up.  Jesus lived in a society that was driven by honor.  As the Proverbs declare: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1)  If you were disgraced, it was more than an embarrassment; it was a condemnation.  The Pharisees were the experts in God's law.  Among them were men of varying degrees of prestige and importance.  So, when they arrived at the feast, they had to size up who was there to determine who was the most important and who got the most important places.  The apostles struggled with this mentality too, having arguments among themselves about which of them was the greatest.
     Jesus, therefore, told a parable about people who finagle their way to the most important seats at a wedding banquet.  Those who scheme to get the places of greatest importance clearly think they deserve them.  Few are so bold as to claim a spot in the VIP seating who know they don't really belong there.  If you do claim a spot there and the VIP shows up whose spot you are in, you would be escorted to the cheap seats.  Once again, in a culture that is based on honor, getting moved to the lowest place is not merely embarrassing, it is a sentencing.  It shows you where your honor has dropped to.
     However, the lower place would yield the higher honor.  For, Jesus said, “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.” (Luke 14:10) 
     Now, Jesus was not offering up political savvy when he said this.  Granted, some may have schemed this way, hoping to get themselves exalted in front of the other guests.  But  if you would take it upon yourself to sit in the lowest place, you had better be prepared to stay there.  Jesus did not say that the master of ceremonies is obligated to move you up.  Jesus is not into political games or social jousting.  He wants people of self-importance to recognize their place.  And that is why he warns: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)
     This is a theme that runs throughout the Gospel of Luke.  It began with the Virgin Mary when she sang her song of praise: “He has shown the strength of his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” (Luke 1:51-52)  The Lord does not have much mercy for those who boast how great, how important, and how much more valuable they are than others.  Before God, we all share equal value—sinners.  On earth, we all have the same end result—the grave.  There is no difference.
     Even if God has granted you a position of great importance, you don't need to flaunt it over anyone.  If you do, you spend no time loving and serving your neighbor.  You only want to exalt yourself over your neighbor at his expense.  There is a story about a corporal in the War of the American Revolution who was giving orders to a squad of privates to move wood in order to prepare a bridge to cross a river.  While he was barking out orders, an old man came up to him and suggested, “It looks like those men could use a little more help.”  The corporal turned to the old man and forcefully explained that he was in command and his job was to see that the privates do the work that was assigned to them.  He was not about to lower himself to do the work of privates.  The old man said nothing more and joined in with the men moving the wood around.  Not much later, another soldier came up to the corporal and asked, “Why is General Washington doing the work?”  One man took pride in his supposed importance.  The other sought to serve, regardless of his importance.
     Jesus teaches us to order our lives with similar humility.  We do not need to concern ourselves with our own prestige or the prestige of others.  We simply love our neighbor and serve him in his need—especially if he is needy.  After warning the Pharisees, Jesus also addressed his host.  Rather than sharing his blessings with those who were already richly blessed, the man was told, “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” (Luke 14:13-14)  
     In Jesus' day, those who were poor, crippled, lame, or blind did little to contribute to society.  They were stuck in their difficult condition, often through no fault of their own.  Since they had little to contribute to society, they were judged as having little value and no importance.  The Lord disagrees.  Granted, they cannot pay you back for the time, effort, and money you spend on them.  But they are not to be loved because of what they can give; they are to be loved because of what they need.  And they need it more than most.  By serving them, you share a concern and a common place with them.  You are both sinners.  You are both dying.  You are both in need of God's mercy.  And if you can reflect God's mercy in your compassion for the needy and the lowly, it is all the better for them.  Demanding your respect and flaunting your importance does nothing for your fellow man.  In the kingdom of God, the lowest place yields the higher honor.
     The lowest place of all was taken by our Lord Jesus.  Jesus is God Almighty who possesses all majesty, glory, and honor.  Yet, he put aside his glory to become man.  He did not come to live in palaces or flaunt his royal divinity.  Jesus did not merely become a human being, he took a lowly place among human beings.  The only time Jesus was found in a palace was when he was on trial.  The only time Jesus was adorned as a king was when the soldiers put a robe on him and a crown of thorns to mock him.  When Jesus did use power, he did it to serve the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 
     More than that, Jesus took the lowest place.  He put aside his honor to take up our shame and sin.  He gave up his innocence to take on our guilt.  And he went to the cross which was the lowest place of all.  It was more than an agonizing death by crucifixion.  It was Jesus suffering the curse of the Father for the sins of the world.  It was the damnation for the sin of every sinner of all time.  Jesus was accounted guilty on behalf of the whole world and was condemned for sins he had never committed.  Therefore, because Jesus took the lowest place, God the Father exalted him to the highest honor—that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every mouth confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)  The lowest places yields the highest honor.
     Jesus took the lowest place so that you would be exalted.  He has taken away your sins, and he exalts you to a new status.  Instead of declaring you to be a sinner who has not kept his commands, he declares you to be a saint who has been cleansed of all unrighteousness.  You are now a child of the Most High God.  And if you are a child of God, you are an heir of the heavenly kingdom.  Jesus took the lowest place, but in doing so, he has given you the high honor of forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation.  Jesus did not do this because you have produced something valuable that he wanted to get out of you.  Rather, your value is found in what God gave to redeem you—that Jesus willingly gave up his holy, precious blood to save you.  He did not save you because you were great or important or highly exalted.  He saved you because you needed it and because he loves you.  And that is what highly exalts you.
     As long as we live in this world, we do well to remember our place in it.  We are but dust and breath.  We are sinners who live among other sinners.  We are no more special or important or valuable than anyone else.  The world may value people based on what it can get our of them.  But in the kingdom of God, one's value is based on what Jesus has done for them.  Therefore, we love and serve our neighbors in their need, and especially those who truly need it.  The lowest place yields the highest honor.  Humble service will be highly honored by our God.  For he has exalted you for the sake of Jesus to be his own, and he will bestow on you everlasting honor at the heavenly banquet.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment

Due to recurring spam, all comments will now be moderated. Please be patient.