Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sermon for Pentecost 15: "Exalted in Christ's Humility"

+ Pentecost 15, Sept 1, 2013 +

Redeemer Lutheran, HB

Series C, Proper 17: Proverbs 25:2-10; Hebrews 13:1-17; Luke 14:1-14

 In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Everything Jesus says and does revolves around these words. Jesus’ words are a stern warning and a gracious, abundant promise. 

For the Pharisees and the Pharisee in us – these words are a death sentence. But for the sinner in each of us, humbled by the Law, these words are comforting. Christ exalts us in His humility.

In Jesus’ words we see our lives in Baptism, we come to the Table acknowledging before God that we’re only sinners and deserve nothing but his present and eternal punishment – and yet, we’re invited to the feast. Our names are in His book. You’re his guest.

But these words aren’t just about your life in Christ. These words are about Christ who took the lowest seat in life and asked nothing for himself. Everything he did and said was for you.

For though he was in the form of God, He took upon himself the form of a servant and humbled himself unto death on the cross. You are highly exalted in Christ’s humility.

Usually when we hear the word “humility,” we think of that embarrassment, modesty or congeniality. Those are all acceptable uses of the English word, but that’s not exactly what the New Testament means by humility.

The irony about humility is, the more you self evaluate whether or not you’re humble, the less humble you are. Humility doesn’t look to itself or its popularity level. It’s similar to every WWII veteran I’ve met. Call ‘em a hero and they say those other guys out there who died; they’re the heroes.

You don’t get humility by looking at yourself or keeping a score sheet on all the ways you’ve been humble. That’s what the Pharisees were up to – thinking of themselves.

For Jesus, humility is the complete opposite. Humility is related to death. Humility is sacrifice.

That’s why Jesus is going to Jerusalem - to take the lowest seat on the cross for you and exalt you in his humiliation on the cross.

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. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

It’s no coincidence Jesus is at dinner with the religious experts of his day. Keep your friends close but your enemies closer, the Pharisees thought. Well, beware of Pharisees bearing gifts…and dinner invitations. They were watching Jesus closer than the NSA on Facebook, just waiting for him to break one of the 39 rules they had made to keep the Sabbath. Leave it to sinful man to take YHWH’s gift of a day without work and create more laws about not working.

To heal or not to heal? That was the question. And it’s hard for us to appreciate how shocked the Pharisees were by Jesus. Picture a naked, grungy homeless man looking for food, clothing and a cup of water who waltzes into the Ladies Spring Tea, plops down at the table nearest the front while the hostess quickly helped him with no thought of anyone else.

Do you see? Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath ruffled every Pharisee feather, it was a crime against the Sabbath Law and against common decency. Jesus flips the table on everything the Pharisees cared about: purity, cleanliness, holiness – especially when it came to food.
Jesus is completely reversing the way they relate to God and the people around them. And it has nothing to do with social status or keeping the Law, but living by faith in his undeserved forgiveness.

Today, healing on the Sabbath can be just as repugnant to us in the church as it was to the Pharisees. Just think about how we react when homeless people visit Redeemer for church or food. Do we move pews, plug our noses and try to ignore them (hoping they’ll go away), or think, well, if we feed them they’ll just keep coming back. Or think about how we treat visitors from different social, ethnic, or economic groups. We say all are welcome, but do our actions reflect that regardless of the size of their house or their offering envelope? Will we only look at our community and evangelism if there’s something we gain in return?

Repent of exalting in yourself. Repent of counting yourself as more significant than others. It’s hard – if not impossible to humble yourself. It must be done outside of you. Humbling is God’s work upon us. His Law humbles you to death. But that’s right where he wants you. I have come not to call the righteous but sinners, not for the healthy but for the sick.

What’s truly remarkable about this dinner party is that Jesus accepted the invitation in the first place. That should tell us something about God’s character. Jesus ate dinner with religious elites who hated him as well as the dregs of society. Jesus was socially indiscriminate. That’s redemption story. Christ came to the world to save a world entirely opposed to him. While you were still a sinner, Christ died for you.

Having ruined the Pharisees appetite with that healing, Jesus goes on to plagiarize the Proverbs in the next course…

 “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. 10 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.

Again, Jesus is teaching us about His work. Jesus left the highest place to take up the lowest seat in the house, a cross and a grave. It doesn’t get any lower than that. He humbled Himself to death for you. And from that place of humility, the Father highly exalted Him and seated Him in our humanity at His right hand. And in Christ, we are seated there too.

Jesus isn’t trying to ruin your party plans for your next big shindig. But to exalt you in his death and resurrection. Boast in your goodness, and the Law will put you in your place, it’ll humble you. Take your place with sinners, and you will be exalted. All you bring to the Lord’s table is your confession and a plea for mercy, and you will hear “Friend, come up to a higher place.”

Jesus came to dinner that night to tell the Pharisees – and us - that life isn’t about bookkeeping. Not your life towards God. Not your life towards the neighbor. Jesus came to announce that the entire bookkeeping department has been done away with. Forget about getting into the Guinness Book of Spiritual Records. Forget about making a social or spiritual buck. Jesus isn’t interested in making a list and checking it twice. What’s the point in keeping records, Jesus doesn’t.

For your record of sins – every single one of them – is nailed to the cross. And God’s not the least bit interested in hauling out the books and going over them ever again.

Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. And… Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

That’s what Christian humility looks like. Don’t look to yourself, look to the person you know who’s in need. We count the lives of others more significant that ourselves because Christ considered your life more significant than his.

Our lives of sacrificial service flows from the sacrifice of Christ’s cross. You’re brought up to the best seat in the house, the Lord’s Table where the humble means of bread and wine are Christ’s body and blood. Here at the Lord’s Table, you who were humble and lowly in sin are exalted in forgiveness and salvation. Here you who were sick unto death receive the medicine of immortality. You come to his Table, not with a laundry list of good deeds, but simply as forgiven sinners. That’s what it means to live by faith.

Faith which delights in simply being a guest. And that’s what you are. Christ has taken the lowest seat on the cross and made you his honored guest. For Jesus’ dinner invitation to you reads “Friend, move up higher.”

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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