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LSB Proper 17C Sermon – Luke 14:1-14

August 28, 2016

August 28, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Whenever Jesus goes to a dinner party, you know that it’s going to be an interesting evening. That’s seen in the narratives recorded by the Gospel Writers. Today’s Gospel Reading was one of those incidents. This one started with a healing that Jesus performs in order to properly teach about the meaning of the Sabbath Day: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But then Jesus begins to offer His commentary about the behavior of His fellow dinner guests: “Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor.”

Jesus’ parable addresses the jockeying for position that the other people were doing at that banquet. They were choosing “the places of honor.” The people wanted the best seats, the places at the high table. They desired to be seen as important, to be honored by the others who were there. Sitting in those good seats close to the host would be an indicator that the individual was a big deal, someone to be admired. And the hosts were part of this; they sat their honored guests in visible places to impress the others who would be present.

But when Jesus observes this, He offers a critical commentary: “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.” He warns against such jockeying for position due to the hazard it can bring. Instead, Jesus exhorts a different behavior: “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.”

Jesus’ evaluation and instruction are rooted in a concept that He wants His audience to learn. He is teaching them about humility. It’s not the first time that the LORD had spoken on this subject. You heard the proverb in the Old Testament Reading: “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.” Solomon had spoken of the same hazard that can come from trying to make oneself more important than they truly are. That hazard is exposure as not being all that. Such exposure comes when a person of higher rank and status also shows up. Perhaps it would be someone not expected. And when that occurs, then the poser is humbled. A public shaming ensues, as the host or king puts that person in their place.

The idea of posing or posturing continues today. We all see it. People pass themselves off as experts in a field, when they really don’t know a whole lot. Or there’s bragging about experiences that are made out to be something much more than they truly were. Some claim to know all sorts of important people, when the interaction wasn’t more than just a handshake in a reception line or being in the same room with hundreds of others. And then we read about the revived phenomenon of “stolen valor,” when individuals pretend that they were war heroes and award winners.

Why do those types of activities happen? Because people chase after “places of honor.” They crave recognition. They want to be seen as important. They covet what they haven’t earned or can’t have. But if they can gain adoration and applause, they will. Scheming to do so won’t be above them, even if it’s as simple as taking a place so that cameras catch them in the same frame as the host or picking out a front seat.

The LORD’s words speak against such foolishness. It’s summarized in Jesus’ statement: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” But Jesus’ critical statement is more than commentary against the actions of those at that dinner party. They are applicable to us who weren’t there. And yet, Jesus’ teaching is even deeper. For the social behaviors of people and the possible public humbling they may receive aren’t His true concern. No, Jesus is addressing something much bigger. At the highest level, Jesus’ words are a way of speaking about the way that people may think about their status in the LORD’s eyes.

Think again on Jesus’ parable. It’s true that He doesn’t want His followers to suffer embarrassment and shame when they attend banquets. Even more so, He wants His audience to receive an eternal exaltation. Jesus wants them to be received into the heavenly banquet that the LORD is preparing for eternity. He wants to grant them that great privilege. But that’s exactly where Jesus’ statement about exaltation and humbling comes into play.

This is the greater truth that Jesus is revealing here during that dinner party at a ruler of the Pharisees’ house. He is speaking about salvation. But He gets there by moving from the lesser matter to the greater. Jesus’ discussion about the jockeying for good seats is meant to lead them to that truth. Part of that includes learning about just exactly who it is speaking to them. At that banquet, Jesus is the highest ranking person, even if He isn’t occupying the seat of honor in that room. But if anyone tries to make themselves of greater importance than Jesus, they are gravely mistaken. Such an attempt will lead to an eternal humbling. For He is no one’s peer. No, the relationship needed between Jesus and an individual is Lord-Servant or Master-Disciple.

That is the truth for all of us here. We cannot put ourselves up as equal to Jesus. That means removing attempts to justify our lives or to claim that we are truly righteous in and of ourselves. We are to adhere to Solomon’s proverb when thinking about our status before Jesus, the true King: “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.” Presenting ourselves as being holy and without flaw will lead only to humbling as the LORD’s standard of righteousness is put up against us and we are found lacking.

But Jesus’ words spoke of a good end that will be given to those who understand this. Remember how He closed the parable: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Yes, those who try to raise themselves up will be pulled down. But those who acknowledge the reality of their own foibles and faults will be raised up. That raising is through the reception of the salvation that Jesus brings.

The irony is that we are raised up precisely because Jesus humbled Himself, took the form of a servant, was obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Then we become partakers in the exaltation that Jesus received in His resurrection and ascension, as we are scooped up by Him through Holy Baptism, Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar. Through these things, Jesus bestows His salvation to us. He invites us to be present with Him now. He says to us: “Friend, move up higher.” And Jesus gives us a place in the heavenly banquet that lasts for eternity.

Because we know about this humbling and exalting that is taking place for us, we have a true understanding about being part of the LORD’s kingdom. It is a matter of privilege that we have a place in it. All honor is taken from us and rightly given to Jesus. That helps us give the full glory to Him as our Redeemer. It also allows us to speak like the Psalmist: “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” That is true as we become content with what Jesus gives to us.

But there is further application of Jesus’ teaching for us. What He says about humbling and exalting does address our actions, particularly within the Church. Jockeying for places of honor within the congregation, people making claims that they are greater disciples than other believers, creating rivalries instead of continuing in brotherly love: such actions are inconsistent with the teaching that Jesus gives. They are instances of ungodly pride. Instead, the mind of Jesus is to become the way that we think. His will becomes the driving force for our behavior. Remember how we prayed at the beginning of the Divine Service: “O Lord of grace and mercy, teach us by Your Holy Spirit to follow the example of Your Son in true humility, that we may withstand the temptations of the devil and with pure hearts and minds avoid ungodly pride.” That petition is directly tied to the teaching that Jesus gave at the dinner banquet.

So we hear Jesus speak: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” We take His teaching to heart. That leads us to confess our sins and receive His salvation that came from His sacrifice: “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood.” It leads us to adore Jesus as our only Redeemer: “Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.” It leads us to abide by the order that He establishes: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” And it also lead us to acts of charity: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

With the true humility that is created in us, such actions shall be seen among us during our lives here on earth. But even more importantly, it will bring us to the place that Jesus has prepared: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” We shall hear our Host say to us: “Friend, move up higher.” And we will be seated with all those whom the LORD exalts, the humble who rely on Him for salvation and all good things.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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From → Sunday Sermon

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