Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost


Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 17)
Sept. 1, 2013
Text: Luke 14:1-14

            Jesus has more in mind for us today than simply a lesson in table etiquette.  To be sure, we ought to carry ourselves humbly before others.  But Jesus is not giving us the secret to gaining honor in the esteem of our peers.  He is proclaiming to us our standing before God and what God has done about it in Christ, His Son.  Our standing before God is not only the lowest seat, it is no seat at the Table.  By virtue of our sinful nature and our manifest offenses against God’s Law, we have excluded ourselves from the Kingdom.  Yet in our arrogance and pride, we traipse right up to the seat of greatest honor and belly up to the bar as though we deserve to be there, as though we have every right to be there and everyone should know it.  Well, maybe in our great “humility” we don’t take the highest seat of honor, but we certainly don’t take the lowest.  Because in any group, while we may not have the audacity to claim we’re the best, we’re certainly not the worst.  There are always others with whom we compare ourselves and think that they are lower than us.  And here our sinful pride and self-absorption proves the very point that in and of ourselves we don’t belong at the Table at all.  That’s our standing before God.  We have none.  In our sinfulness, we stand condemned to an eternity forsaken by God.
            But here is what God has done about it.  He sent His Son.  He who from eternity has occupied the highest seat, God the Son, the only-begotten of the Father, the Father’s eternal Word, became a man.  He became nothing.  He took on the form of a servant.  Born of a poor, unwed Virgin, Mary of Nazareth.  Raised by a carpenter, Joseph.  No room for Him in the inn.  Laid in a manger.  A God who sleeps, cries, drinks His mother’s milk, spits it up, and does all the other things babies do.  Look what God has done.  He took the lowest seat, so low that it led Him finally to a criminal’s execution, His suffering, death, and crucifixion.  So low, it led Him to the grave.  For you.  That’s what God has done about our standing before Him.  The Lord Jesus took the lowest seat that He might say to us, “Friend, move up higher” (Luke 14:10; ESV).  “Your sins are forgiven.  I have ransomed you from your condemnation by my death, and given you standing before God in my own righteousness.  And the proof is that the Father has raised me up higher, raised me bodily from the grave, and seated me at His right hand to rule all things for your good.”  As it turns out, the parable Jesus tells this morning is really about Him and what He has done for us.
            It is also about how God deals with us in His Word.  Jesus is in the house of a Pharisee.  The Pharisees believe that, by virtue of their meticulous observance of the Law, they deserve the places of honor at God’s Table.  Not only that, the other guests at the dinner party jockey for the best seats.  It betrays their pride and selfishness.  Then there is this man who has dropsy.  Well, he must have done something very sinful to have that affliction.  There is no place at the table for him.  How does Jesus respond to these people?  By His Word, He humbles the Pharisee and those who choose the places of honor.  By His Word, He heals the man with dropsy.  He exalts the man who occupies the lowest place in the group, effectively saying to him, “Friend, move up higher.”  To the rest He says, “Give your place to this person” (v. 9).  For those who exalt themselves before God and before one another, God will humble by His Word of Law.  Those, however, who have nothing and are nothing, who are poor and despised in this world, who trust in no supposed righteousness within themselves and confess that in and of themselves they are nothing, dead in trespasses and sins, them God exalts by His Word of Gospel to the place of honor, forgiving their sins, healing their diseases, and giving them eternal life.
            There is a Pharisee in every one of us.  We compare ourselves to other people and thank God that we are not like other sinners.  Maybe we’re not the best, but we’re certainly not the worst, not as bad as that guy over there.  Repent.  There is a tendency in every one of us to choose the places of honor at the dinner table.  We want to be first in line, first to get what is to be gotten, looking out for number one, even if it’s at the expense of another.  Just watch children at school when they’re told to line up, or when they have to share limited resources.  Adults aren’t any better.  Just observe our behavior on the highway.  Repent.  You know who you really are?  You’re the man with dropsy.  And you look at the other people with dropsy or whatever affliction (by the way, I’m not really talking about dropsy… I’m talking about the disease of sin), and you think that you’re better than that.  You’re not as bad as that guy.  Well, there’s no room for that with Jesus.  Jesus will put you in your place by His Word of Law.  Your pride shows you for who you are.  If you’ve ever despised anyone, for anything… if you’ve ever looked down upon another human being for any reason, if you’ve ever whispered about someone behind their back, if you’ve ever rolled your eyes when a certain someone entered the room, you are the Pharisee.  You are the sinner.  You don’t belong at the table.  Repent.
            Repentance is taking the lowest place at the table.  Repentance is confessing that you are only in that seat because of God’s mercy, that you don’t belong at the table at all, that you are nothing in and of yourself.  And you know what Jesus says to the repentant sinner, to you, beloved?  Friend, move up higher.”  “Your sins are forgiven.  You are healed.  Go your way in peace and with joy.”  You are actually baptized into this pattern and this way of life.  You are baptized into Jesus’ death.  So in Him, you have taken the lowest seat.  You are baptized into His resurrection.  So in Him, God has exalted you to the highest place, raised you from spiritual death even as He will raise you bodily on the Last Day, and seated you in the flesh of Christ at His right hand in glory.  So, that being the case, you are freed from the old competition with others to be first, greatest, and best.  You already have the place of honor in your standing before God.  You have it in Christ and on account of Christ.  So what else is there to achieve?  No, now you can die to self and sacrifice for others.  You can serve others.  You can have mercy.  You can forgive those who sin against you.  You can give others your place in line.  You can give what you have to someone who does not have it.  You can “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (v. 13) to your table, even though they cannot repay you, because you know that your reward is in heaven, that God will bless you for it even now in this life, and that you will be repaid in abundance at the resurrection of those who have been justified by faith in Christ (v. 14).
            I wonder if St. Paul had this parable in mind when he penned these words we all know and love from Philippians 2: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 3-11).  It certainly sounds like a commentary on our Gospel, doesn’t it?  In any case, the humility of Christ is your exaltation.  And now the Table is set.  There is a place for you.  It is a place of honor, dining with the King.  And Christ Himself says to you this morning, “Friend, move up higher.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

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