Sunday, October 12, 2014

Trinity 17 sermon

Trinity 17 – Luke 14:1-11 – October 12th, 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          Think of the cruelest high school prank that you can think of.  I’m thinking of the stories you’ll hear about where the mean high school girls get the unpopular girl to run for Homecoming queen and mock her, or where the nerdy guy gets tricked into thinking the good looking girl is going to go on a date with him and it’s all a set up.  You know, one of those just crushing things that teens will do to each other, where hopes are raised and then dashed.  Our Gospel text shows us the 1st Century equivalent of that.  Both Jesus and this man with dropsy, which is a nasty, swelling disease, are invited to this party, this feast given by one of the top Pharisees, not so that they can rejoice in it, but to be the butt of the jokes and the chit chat and the accusations. 

          “One Sabbath, when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him closely.  And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.”  Again, just a bit of culture to get the context here.  The Sabbath Diner was really the social event of the week – it was the time to network, to show that you were one of the good people.  Your status in society was defined by where you ate on the Sabbath.  And Jesus gets invited, but you know the fix is in, because they are “watching Him closely.”  What does it mean if the group of kids stop talking amongst themselves and start eyeballing you with wicked grins?  It means something is up.  And then – boom, there’s this fellow with dropsy there.  And this reads as being incredibly awkward.  That phrase “behold, there was” is the Greek way of saying that he shows up out of no where, that there’s no good reason for him to be there.  He sticks out like a sore thumb.  There they are – the two losers, Jesus and the guy with Dropsy, and the cool kid Pharisees are watching like vultures, ready to mock and deride.  This really is a nasty set up.

          So, what will Jesus do?  Will he come out guns blazing and just rip the Pharisees a new one?  Will He yell and shout?  Will He just shake His head and walk away?  No, He will show love and mercy, even to these despicable Pharisees.  “And Jesus responded to the Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’  But they remained silent.  Then He healed him and sent him away.”  Jesus calls them on their trap.  You guys were all ready to start tittering and wagging your tongues, weren’t you?  If I healed the guy, you’d complain that I was breaking the Sabbath, if I didn’t, you’d mock what a terrible healer I was.  So, what do you want to see, how do you want your complaining to go.  Sort of deflates the mocking mood a bit.  And then Jesus heals the fellow and sends him away.  Go on, head home, be with people who will actually rejoice with you instead of these holier-than-thou jerks.  But Jesus, He doesn’t walk out.  He doesn’t just write off the Pharisees – instead He stays and teaches.

          “And He said to them, ‘Which of you, having an 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.”  Sorry guys, I know you thought you had this cool catch-22 set up where you could make me stumble, but it’s simple.  If there is an emergency, you do stuff on Sabbath.  If it’s life or death, you act on Sabbath.  If your wife goes into labor on the Sabbath, you deliver the child.  We all know this – so why did you even think this was going to be a set up, why would you even think that Me healing would be something to mock when you yourselves would work for something much less dire?  Jesus deflates them, undercuts them.  They can’t answer; Jesus has left them speechless.

          So what happens next?  Do they decide that maybe they should seek to learn from Jesus, to gain more wisdom from Him?  No – they do what all the cool kids do when their plans mess up – they start to ignore Jesus.  Just pretend that He isn’t there, go back to business as usual.  “Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor…”  Do you see what is going on – the main event of the day fizzled, the prank on Jesus fell flat.  So, back to normal – let’s work on asserting our authority, seeing where we stand in the pecking order.  And you did that, your status within the party, that was shown by where you sat.  And suddenly, they are ignoring Jesus and just go back to jockeying for position at the table.  And so Jesus decides it is time to teach.

“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.  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.”   Understand what Jesus is doing here.  He’s not making up anything new – this is basically what we heard in Proverbs 25.  This is a lesson that every single one of these Pharisees would have known already.  The parable isn’t really giving new information, but reminding the Pharisees to remember the Scriptures.  You Pharisees pride yourself on being the best little Jews, but you don’t even remember the Scriptures!  You puff yourself up – no, don’t do that.  Be humble.  Not only be humble, but be humble students of the Scriptures, be learners – stop pretending that you are masters of anything.  Why?  “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Pride goeth before a fall, you should know that.  And you know what – I don’t want you to be humbled, I don’t want you broken down – I don’t want to be sitting watching you get mocked.  I want you saved, redeemed, and forgiven.

There is an amazing theological point to this.  Yes, what Jesus describes here is the nature of sin.  Sin makes us want to exalt ourselves.  That was the temptation that suckered in Adam and Eve – you will be like God.  If that isn’t self exultation I don’t know what is.  And this is a temptation we all fight against.  We love to make ourselves look good, we love to make excuses when we’ve done something wrong and stupid so we don’t look as bad, we love to put on airs.  In other words, we love to lie, we love to lie about ourselves.  We are constantly tempted to live in pious denial of our sin, our failings, our weakness.  And that is the path of destruction.  No, Christ Jesus calls us away from that – be honest, be truthful.  You and I – when it boils down to it, what are we?  Poor, miserable sinners.  Worthy of punishment, temporal and eternal.  When Christ says that you are to humble yourself, He’s not telling you to take on false modesty – He is calling you to be honest about your own sinfulness.  We have already been brought low, we are humble – we need to just be truthful about it.

Now, there actually is only One who rightly humbles Himself – and that is Christ Jesus.  The old Te Deum from Matins has us sing “When You took upon Yourself to deliver man, You humbled Yourself to be born of a virgin.”  Christ humbles Himself.  Instead of sinners trying to elevate themselves to God, He comes down and sits with the sinners, joins in with us, even joins with us in death, and why?  So that He will be raised from the dead, so that He can raise us and say to us, “Friend, move up higher, be with Me for all eternity.”  This passage is driving at the wonders, the depths of Christ’s redemption, a truth that is proclaimed over and over throughout the Scriptures.  Christ Jesus comes to redeem sinners.

And the beauty of this text?  Jesus takes His time and proclaims this truth, this Gospel, even to those wretched, miserable Pharisees.  Even as they are plotting to mock Him, even as they want to toy with Him, even as they are going off on an ego trip, Jesus comes to them.  Of course He does; they’ve fallen into the well of sin, and He’s going to pull them out.  He sees them in their fallen state, and He wishes to call them up higher! The utter patience that Christ shows here is astonishing and marvelous.  And it is something you should take comfort in.

Let’s face it – if we are here in this Church, we are well and thoroughly tempted to act like the Pharisees.  We are tempted to pretend that our lives are going well, that everything is peaches and cream.  Put on our brave face, act like a “Good little Christian”.  That’s simply the reality.  American Christianity is awash in these Pharisacial attitudes – we Americans expect Christians to be the best people in society, the richest, the wealthiest, the best of the best with all our ducks in a row.  And we here get caught up in that, we play that game too.  We play it to our detriment, our pain, our suffering, our isolation.  We live with so much fear over what other people would think, what they would say.  As though sin should ever surprise any of us – we know better.  Yet, we keep falling into the same egotistical traps over and over, we keep trying to pretend that everything is hunky dory when it’s not.  But you know what – Christ Jesus is still patient with you, and He still deals with your gently and patiently.  And He forgives you all your sins.  He gently pulls you away from all this pride and arrogance and holier than thou BS, and He says to you, “Yes, you are sinner, we both know that, but I have died for you, I have washed you clean in the waters of Holy Baptism – you are mine, without blemish or spot or wrinkle, and I will have you with Me for eternity.” 

Dear friends in Christ – there is no one you need to impress, no one you need to be dominant over, no one you need to put in their place.  You don’t need to try to be one of the cool kids of the Christian world.  All these stresses the world puts upon you, that your sinful flesh puts upon you – they are all empty and shallow and aren’t worth anything.  You aren’t defined by how many people you can con into thinking you are awesome.  Rather, Christ Jesus defines you – Christ Jesus loves you and is patient with you, even when you get all high and mighty – and He will remind you with the Scriptures of who you are, He will show you your sin, but always so that He can then show you and remind you of His great love and salvation that He has won for you with His death and resurrection, because you are His, His own, His beloved.  God grant us strength to see and remember His great love for us!  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

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