Sunday, October 4, 2009

Trinity 17 Sermon

Trinity 17 – October 4th, 2009 – Luke 14:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
These past few weeks we have discussed the various things that Satan can throw at us in order to make us fearful – violence and illness and poverty and even death. And Christ our Lord resoundingly conquers them all. Our Lord beats down everything Satan can throw our way. And then we get this Gospel text – and it’s not Satan, it’s not the ills of the world opposing Christ today – no, there is a very different set of opponents here today. It’s the Pharisees. So we are going to look at this text, see this interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees, and see what we learn from it for us.

One Sabbath, when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him carefully. So here’s the set up – Jesus is at dinner with the some Pharisees, who are eyeballing Him something fierce. And it wasn’t just dinner, it was Sabbath dinner, the meal of the day of rest, where no work is to be done. Now again, one of the things we need to unlearn, a habit we need to break ourselves of, is thinking of “those” Pharisees. We hear “Pharisee” and can think villain – but we shouldn’t. We should think of ourselves, the people here. The Pharisees were the “good” Church going folk of the day. As evidence of this – is the idea of Sunday dinner, the dinner together on the day of rest and worship foreign to any of you? Of course not! It’s something we ourselves often do. It is vital, in order to apply this text to ourselves, to remember that when Christ addresses the Pharisees – He’s not addressing people outside the Church, people over there, but this is specifically something that warns us who are within the Church, applies to us who are here on Sunday morning, to us who care about religion. This is a warning about what sort of foolishness we can fall into. And the Pharisees of that day were watching our Lord carefully, but as we shall see, they were not watching to learn.

And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy. This is one of the more humorous verses of Scripture. “Behold” gets used for something that is great and astonishing in Scripture – the angels appear to the Shepherds, and “behold!” Jesus is baptized, and “Behold, a voice from heaven” comes forth. It’s the word that is used to introduce something wondrous – and then we have it used here. Oh look, it’s a man who is sick – well, we all just wonder how he got here – because I know all of us today have random sick people just show up at our fancy Sunday dinners. This is an utter, bald-faced set up. Jesus has been healing people – the Sabbath is a day of rest – so what are you going to do now, Jesus? Are You going to heal on the Sabbath? And Jesus knows it is a set up. Listen.

And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Jesus responds, Jesus answers them with a question. Is it proper to heal on the Sabbath? You guys are trying to catch me doing something that you can complain about later, right? But they remained silent. Then He took him and healed him and sent him away. Jesus just quickly, sort of matter of factly, heals the guy – and lets the guy go to his own home. Jesus heals him, sends him back to his own family, where I am sure there was much rejoicing. No fuss, no big Technicolor production in front of the Pharisees though – Jesus simply goes about His business and heals the guy. But there’s the rub – He worked on the Sabbath, He worked on the day of rest.

Healing the man, Jesus turns to the Pharisees and says, “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?” And they could not reply to these things. And then Jesus shows them the folly of their test. Rescuing, saving another was not considered “working” on the Sabbath. If stuff comes up and you need to act now to show love, you show love – but you plan on resting on the Sabbath, but if the house ends up catching on fire, you put out the fire. It’s a foolish question, a foolish test that the Pharisees set up for Jesus, simple and obvious, one they should have known already. I mean, this is the type of thing a Jewish child would have known. So why, why did they play this silly, stupid game? How did they get so confused, so caught up where they ignore and abuse God’s Word? Jesus will show us.

Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor. Just as these Pharisees had been watching Jesus, Jesus had been watching them, and in particular, how they sat. How did they go about getting ready for their meal, how did they arraign the seating? That can be a sticky wicket – if you’ve ever set up seating for a formal meal, well, who goes where, and we can’t put him there, but who gets the head of the table, on and on and on. And Jesus had been watching them, and then He speaks this parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding 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.’” It’s a real possibility. Someone more important, of a higher rank, and then you’ve got to give up your seat, and where just a few moments ago, you had been proud and sitting up front where everyone can you see, you have to get up and walk in front of everybody and just try and find a place to squeeze in somewhere in back. It’s a warning against pride. That’s the problem with these Pharisees today, they were proud. They were arrogant, they were just so sure that they were the bees’ knees. They had elevated themselves as though they were the ones who would be able to test Jesus – and yet, when the tables are turned and He asks them questions, they have nothing to say for themsevles.

This is the danger of which our Lord is warning us today, dear friends. Pride and arrogance kill faith. I mean this simply – pride goeth before the fall. There are two good reasons for this. First of all, if you are prideful, if you are arrogant, you cannot do what God demands in His law. The Law is love God, love your neighbor – to do what God commands you must be focused on other people. If you are proud, if you are smug, you aren’t focused upon your neighbor – you are focused upon yourself, upon showing yourself to be good, to be worthy of the best place. Pride is sinful – and when we give into pride we cannot act as we ought. Think about it – when you’ve been all puffed up, have you ever treated your neighbor as you ought? When you’ve been arrogant, have you shown understanding and compassion? We are called to be agents of service, people who serve in our home, in our community, here at Church, through whatever organization or means available. Pride makes us to forget the neighbor we are to serve, arrogance has us turn our backs upon them. In pride we forget the Word and fall into sin.

But the true danger of pride and arrogance isn’t just that they lead to sin, but that they attack faith directly. What is faith but trusting in Christ Jesus, trusting that He can do for you what you can’t, trusting that Christ Jesus can win you salvation by His death upon the Cross? If you let pride and arrogance run your life, are you going to trust Christ for salvation? If you are prideful, wouldn’t you in your pride try to do things yourself, to fix your own messes, to be your own savior? If you are arrogant, would you even think you need a savior? Do you see how pride and arrogance can be so dangerous, for they completely skew the way in which we see ourselves and our Savior – they make us to be lost.

But Christ Jesus does not want you to be lost – “But 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.” Consider what our Lord describes here. He describes one who is humble, who does not elevate himself above others, who doesn’t lord things over his neighbor, who doesn’t play that “I’m better than you” game. Rather this, the person comes to the feast, simply glad to be there, and continually receives yet more and more great and wondrous blessings. You are invited, be happy with that, and enjoy whatever invitations you receive.

This is what God does for you. He is the one who elevates you, who calls you into His house and gives you more and more abundantly of His love and mercy and forgiveness. He sees you here, and He calls you friend, calls you to come ever and ever closer to Him. He sees you enter this place in Humility, and He says, “friend, come up here to My table, and receive My Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sin.” This is not something you must earn, something you merit by jumping through hoops – but rather this – God eagerly desires you to have this wonderful gift, and when you are prepared for it by confessing your sins and having faith in the words “Given and shed for you” – He gives gladly.

Consider how our Lord sums up this whole teaching: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” This is the standard call to repentance and forgiveness. It is like what John says in 1st John – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” – if we exult ourselves, if we ignore our sin yet cast judgment upon others, we are in fact spurning God, but – “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But when God beholds us, humbled and brought low by the weight of our sin, He pulls that burden off of us, carries it upon Himself to the cross, and kills it. He beholds us in love and says, “I know you cannot rise on your own – behold, I have risen from the dead, and My life, I give to you.” Consider that by being among the forgiven we will share in the eternal life and resurrection that is Christ’s – is there any more exultation that we could possibly hope for? Most certainly not.

And so my dear friends – be on guard against yourself, lest you in your own pride and arrogance grow to despise your neighbor and the Word of God. Rather this; confess your sins, and in humility approach the God of mercy who is quick to give you life and salvation. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

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