Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sermon for 29 August 2010, Proper 17C

Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.

St. Luke 14:1, 7-14

Friend, Come Up to a Better Place

Proper 17C, 29 August 2010

Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

When other people see you, what do they think? When they watch how you carry yourself, how you speak, what you wear, how your hair is done up, who you hang around with, what do they think? How does what other people think make you feel about yourself?

We want to feel good about ourselves. We want to be liked, appreciated, admired. Human beings like us tend to want approval, acclaim, status, love. When we’re noticed, we want to be seen with the best people, the best clothes, the best sporting equipment. We want others to think we are indispensable to our congregation, organization, and community. Our culture reinforces these notions. What is a resume’ but a socially acceptable bragging sheet? It is a powerful feeling to know some secret gossip about the person we don’t get along with. How good do we feel when we see a positive write-up or photo of ourselves in the local paper? We like to be given respect by those who know us—or even from those we barely know or do not know at all. We like to be noticed.

Jesus had received a lot of notice early in His ministry. He was even held in esteem by some of the religious leaders of the day until they realized that He was no mere rabbi.

1 And it happened one Sabbath, when Jesus came to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, they were carefully observing Him.

Jesus was not the only one being observed at the house of this certain prominent leader of the Pharisees. Jesus was paying careful attention to those who had been invited to the meal. They wanted to be noticed sitting in the seat of honor, or as close to the seat of honor as possible.

7 [Jesus] was saying to the guests this parable when he noticed how they picked the places of honor at the table, saying to them: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, (the first seat) for a person more honorable than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, with shame, you will occupy the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the last place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11 The one exalting himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

How humbling is this text? How it cuts each of us to the heart! How often have you acted like the guests at the meal? We have been so busy climbing the social ladder at school, or work, or in the neighborhood, that we have forgotten what God thinks as He closely watches us. There is a better place to live than climbing the social ladder.

Don’t look down your nose at anyone around you, thinking that you’re better, smarter, more organized, more well-dressed, more socially astute, more experienced in the outdoors. Really, how would you fare if God used the same standard of judgment on you? There is a better place to live than the world of gossip and putting other people down.

Some of you would love to have that place of honor. Others would be more comfortable out of the spotlight, sitting in the corner. What all of us have in common is that we care too much about what other people think. The heart of our sin is selfishness, self-centeredness. You probably would never say it aloud or even to yourself, but each one of us would prefer that we were god instead. Our prayers often reflect that. Instead of always praying, “Thy will be done…” we are angry, or disappointed, or frustrated that our demands of “My will be done” are not met. We’re back to breaking the First Commandment.

Even pride becomes our enemy. Most people do not even think of pride as sin anymore. Pride is the dandelion of the soul. Its root goes deep; only a little left behind sprouts again. Its seeds lodge in the tiniest encouraging cracks. And it flourishes in good soil: The danger of pride is that it feeds on goodness.

Do not find your self worth in yourself. Self-esteem is a popular answer given today. It is false security, a temporary fix, and an un-Biblical crutch. There is a better place to live than the dark and dreary land of self-esteem.

Esteem Christ instead. Self-esteem is fleeting. Our glories are temporary. Instead of focusing upon yourself, a poor, miserable sinner, and see the blackness and darkness and lack of worth inside yourself, look outside yourself. Christ esteem, not self-esteem. Do not find your self worth in what other people think of you, not even in what you think of you! People are fickle. Their appetites and tastes change—not always for the best. Do not worry about what other people think. There is a better place to live than in the fickle world of popular opinion.

Consider instead how your Lord sees you. God has given you worth. He created you. He placed His name upon you in Holy Baptism. You are claimed as His own. You are His. He valued you enough that Christ died for you—for you! He values you so much that He gives you His word of forgiveness, of absolution.

God would love to give you status. You do not claim it for yourself. You do not find it in other people. You find it in the One who calls you to the feast, the One who puts in your mouth His Body and His Blood.

As a Christian, you are being carefully watched in this community by the prominent, the religious leaders, and others. What do they expect to see?

They expect to see people like themselves wanting attention and approval from other human beings. They can see Christians who have despaired of self-esteem and chasing after the false god of popularity. They expect people who will do anything, even change religions, in order to fit in. They can see persons not ruled by what other people think of us.

As Christians, we find our worth in what God says we are. He calls you Friend.

“Friend, come up to a better place.”

“But I’ve been your enemy since birth. How can you call me friend?”

“I know you have been my enemy. Yet, I humbled myself to be born a man to die for you and restore your relationship to me. I made it possible. Friend, come up to a better place.”

“But I can’t make it there. I can’t come up of my own strength.”

“I know. That is why I came to you. I offer the invitation to come and I came to exalt you.”

“But I’m not worthy.”

“I know that, too. The price has been paid. It took My death and Resurrection. You are My friend. I declare you Holy and that is what I make you. It is not possible for you to deserve this honor on your own. It is My gift to you. You were not worthy, but I am. That is yours as well. “

In a “me first” world, the lessons for today remind us to put God first by placing others before ourselves. It is a more fulfilling life. How many rich and famous people are truly happy? Do all of the homes, boats, cars, trucks, snow machines, vacations, or fancy jewelry really make people happy? Casual sex doesn’t make people happy. It causes more problems than it solves Marriage should be honored by all, the Epistle says. Adultery, sexual immorality, the love of money, and the lack of contentment are inherently selfish. The author of the letter to the Hebrews and our Lord call us to be selfless.

Christ put your eternal salvation above His own life. Christ’s actions are not merely an example to follow, although they are an important part of the Christian life. Even more important is this: when Christ humbles Himself, you are exalted.

Then, certain of our identity, status, and worth in Christ, we serve even the least of those who are His brethren and thereby serve Him.

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Some have compared the church to a money sinkhole. “Billions of dollars are spent with no apparent result,” they point out. Our Gospel reading for today tells us that the church is an establishment that does not have a great deal of “return on investment”—at least the kind we or the world can see. What the church gives, serves those who cannot repay. We help the poor, we serve the needy, and we comfort the sick. We do not expect much back from them. Above all, we dispense God’s forgiveness freely to all. How can anyone repay God for that? Following Christ’s example, the church gives and gives—unconditionally, with no expectation of return. Your support of this ministry through your dollars, time, and service gain little earthly reward, if any. But the eternal reward—that is something!

We await that bottom line. We may not see the numeric results Americans expect as pragmatists. We are to use the Lord’s gifts in His way so that others can see their worth, their status, their identity in Christ as forgiven sinner-saints. We are to sow the seed of His Word, be as living sacrifices, as humble servants.

In order to be servants, we must be aware of those who live, work, and study around us. Get to know your neighbors, coworkers, and classmates. Listen to them. Care for them. Provide for their physical needs, if necessary. And introduce them to the Biblical Jesus so that they may dine at His table. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. He serves you His very Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Serve others. Bring them to Jesus, so He can serve them, too.

The glory anyone could give us in this world will pass away. The gifts and identity Christ gives will never fade away. Remember who you are in Christ, His Friend. And eagerly await with all those whom Christ has called Friend the resurrection of the righteous when the Lord invites you into your heavenly home saying to you again, “Friend, move up to a better place.” Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.