Trinity 17 – September 30th, 2007 – Luke 14:1-11
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost +
Why do you do the things that you do? What causes you to make the decisions you make, to choose the choices in your life? When it boils down to it, why do you do the things that you do? For the Christian, the why of something, the reasoning why something is done is more important than the act itself. As Christians, we are to be focused on acting for the right reason, the right motivation – acting with the right intentions.
So why do you do the things that you do? Our Lord is invited to a Pharisee’s house in our Gospel text – and there is a man there, sick with dropsy. And it was a Sabbath – and all these Pharisees are there watching Him, watching to see what Jesus would do. But they were already lost – what is much more important is why Jesus does what He does. And that is what Jesus tries to teach these Pharisees – this is why He asks them questions and then gives them advice – for the reasons why one acts is just as or more important than what is done.
You see, when it boils down to it – there are basically only two reasons why a person does something – greed or love. A person may act out of greed – act because he expects something to benefit himself. This is the way of the world – where decisions are made on the basis of what is best for me. This is the way of the world, where one holds a finger up to the air before acting, where one spends one’s time wondering what other people will say – and acting only if you will garner their praise. On the other hand, a person may act out of love – may act not thinking about himself or his own benefit – but act simply for the good and benefit of the neighbor. Now, this may require deliberation, it may require thought on how best to aid the neighbor – but there is no worry about what people will think, or even if they will see. This love brings about acts that are done even when no one knows, no one sees, no one praises. This is the way in which a Christian is to approach his life – seeking to act out of love.
Jesus shows us today how foolish it is to act selfishly, to act worrying what the world will think of you. One Sabbath, when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him carefully. And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not? But they remained silent.” Here is the set up. The Pharisees have set a test for Jesus. Their traditions say one doesn’t do work on the Sabbath – and they watch Jesus to see if He would have the audacity to do work right in front of them. Now, Jesus could have been cowered, He could have thought, “Oh, I better just not do anything, these Pharisees might think poorly of me – they might even not like me, not invite me to dinner anymore.” Jesus could have thought how best to use the situation to His advantage – what can I do that will make these people like me more? But He doesn’t. Then He took him and healed him and sent him away. Simple. Jesus heals the guy. Why? Because he needed to be healed. . . and besides, living your life constantly worrying about what others think of you – bearing that burden of constantly trying to bribe people into liking you is folly.
You can’t keep it up – no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you dance the little dances you think they want you to – because human opinion is such a fleeting thing. Listen to the parable Jesus tells these Pharisees. When you are invited to a 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. If you live your life always trying and striving to have other people think better of you – to puff up yourself, to claim honor – you’ll not have it. It won’t last. That’s the thing about the world – it loves knocking heroes off of their pedestals, it loves scandal, it loves tearing people down. And that’s what you’ll get if you live your life playing by the world’s rules – because it doesn’t matter how popular you are now, how many people like you now – someone “better” will always come along – and all of your striving and working will be for naught. Heartache and worry – all for nothing, only to be reduced to the seat of shame.
This is not how or why Christ acts, dear friends. Then He took him and healed him and sent him away. Simple. Decisive. This man is suffering – Christ will stop his suffering, and if the Pharisees don’t like it, they can go rot. Jesus acts with no regard for what the Pharisees will think of Him – He simply acts out of love for this man. But then, Jesus also acts out of love for these Pharisees, these Pharisees who are so prepared to look down on Him. After the man whom He has healed has left, Jesus says to the Pharisees Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day will not immediately pull him out? Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He isn’t trying to justify His actions – He’s teaching. He’s showing love to the Pharisees, He’s trying to show them the right way. Of course you pull your son out of the well – for you love your son and that love will compel you to act. The purpose of the Sabbath day wasn’t to demonstrate how good and holy you are to everyone – it was to provide rest and a time to hear God’s Word, a time to worship and serve God. Serving the neighbor, showing love, that too is serving God – acting in love is no violation – it would only violate false, self-promoting standards that you establish for yourself. Even as the Pharisees try to trap Him so they can look down on Him, Jesus calls out to them, reaches out to them, tries to pull them out of their funk and mire.
And there was no praise for Him in this. No praise for healing the man, no praise for His patience in how He deals with the Pharisees. But Christ Jesus acts out of love – not out of the desire to be praised. Likewise, dear Christians – when you act, your actions must come out of love, and not from the desire for your own vain glory. And showing love as a Christian ought – many times it isn’t very popular. It’s not popular to show kindness to those who are looked down upon – it’s not popular to say no to wrong doing that everyone else is doing – it’s not popular to hold fast to what God says rather than the vain ideas of the day. But it shows love. It shows love by caring for those who need to be cared for no matter what anyone thinks. It shows love by not standing by idly while your friends harm themselves. It shows love because by defending the true faith of Christ Crucified you defend life and salvation for all people. This is to be your task oh Christian – to show love in all things – every act, every decision – how do I best show love here? That is how you are to live – that is how you are to treat your neighbor.
Dear friends – this is how Christ has treated you. Everything Jesus does, He does for you and for your sake. Every action Jesus takes He does to win you life and salvation – no matter what the cost to Himself. Jesus must die, must be whipped and left to die on a cross – so be it, if that is what is required for you to be saved, for you to have forgiveness – to the cross He goes. Christ Jesus always acts so that you might know and receive His love. Shall we ponder the wonder of Church itself – that God has preserved this congregation for so long through so much – simply so there is a place where you can hear His Word and receive His Sacraments? Jesus always acts for you. Shall we ponder the mystery of God’s Word – that God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, chooses to have His Word written and preserved so that you might learn it, hold it on your heart, so that you might never be away from His Word that declares His love for you. Jesus always acts for you. Shall we ponder Baptism – that God joins Himself to you – washes away all your sins and declares you His own child, His own heir, the beneficiary of all that is His – and that He does this freely, indeed, for most of us when we were too young to even say thank you? Jesus always acts for you. Shall we ponder the Supper – that Christ Jesus, as a sign and token of what He did upon the Cross, gives you His own crucified and resurrected flesh in a way that you can receive and handle so that your sin is forgiven and your faith strengthened. I have been asked by those who deny the Lord’s Supper, who deny Christ why Jesus would have to let Himself come to us in this way. Simple. Given and shed for you. Jesus always acts for you. In everything He does – Christ always seeks your benefit. He is the one who comes to you when you are weak and lowly, a sinner who is humble and confesses his sin, and says to you, “Friend, move up higher” – that is, come and be with me, be my companion for all eternity, join me through the trials of this life on earth and then on join me for all eternity in Heaven.
That’s what every sermon here boils down to, isn’t it? It’s what everything we say as Christians drives at. Jesus Christ died. . . for you. He rose from the dead . . . for you. Behold His Body and Blood, given. . . for you. The sheer and utter wonder that Christ acts in the completely opposition fashion of the world – that He craves not His own glory, but rather that God’s priority is showing love to you. This is the wonder of the Christian faith. This is the truth we try to emulate in our daily lives – living our own lives for the benefit of our neighbors. This is the saving truth that we proclaim to the world. Jesus always acts for you. And He has done it, everything that you need – all thanks be to God for His great love for us. Amen.