Sermon for September 1, 2013

Luke 14:1-14 (15th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

September 1, 2013

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

Our text is the Gospel Lesson recorded in Luke 14:

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “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, 9 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. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

             Imagine the following.  You’re in a crowded room.  As you scan your surroundings, you’re momentarily frozen.  Emerging from the middle of a group of chattering people is the host, the one with authority over who is and who isn’t supposed to be here.  His eyes are locked on you, and with his index finger, he’s indicating that he wants you to “Come here.”  Frozen in that moment, what are your first thoughts?  Are you terrified to the point that you can barely pull your feet across the floor, or do surprise and excitement radiate off your face and add an extra spring to your step as you head in his direction? 

            When it is God who’s doing the summoning, either reaction might be appropriate, and each will in fact be in order for some.  Our God has prepared a never-ending banquet, which He desires to be for all people.  But those who presume upon His “Come here” will never taste of it.  Will you and I be those to be disappointed?  Or will you and I, through Jesus Christ, have a seat at God’s banquet table to enjoy for eternity?

            In our Gospel lesson, Jesus says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.” 

            You are in the best seat you’ve ever had in your favorite stadium cheering for your favorite team.  And they’re winning!  (You must be cheering for the Orioles!)  The problem is, the seat you’re in doesn’t quite correspond with the section, row, and seat number on your ticket, which is way up there in the serious nosebleed section.  Though from here you can see and hear and experience the game like never before, you haven’t enjoyed yourself for even a second.  You’re paying more attention to the usher than to the game.  And the dreaded moment finally comes.  “Excuse me, but you’re in the wrong seats.  I’m going to have to ask you to move.”  Busted and embarrassed, unable to look anyone in the eye, you begin the long walk up and up and up until the game shrinks to cheap-seat dimensions. 

            You and I are tempted to seat ourselves in God’s presence in the best seats available.  We make that determination based on our works.  “I should have the best seats at God’s banqueting table because I am so kind to others.”  “I faithfully attend church, a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod congregation!  And I give a couple dollars each week to the church, and I even volunteer to serve on the council!”  “I think I obey God most of the time, not 100%, but at least 90% of the time.”  Shouldn’t we be rewarded for these things?  Haven’t we earned the best places in God’s eyes? 

            These attempts at self-glorifying seem appropriate in our world, which constantly tells us things like, “Hard work will get you moving up the ladder.”  “You’ve earned it or you’ve deserved it.”  “If you try as hard as you can, that’s enough.”  “You’re not as bad as the people sitting next to you.” 

            Our own pride and arrogance leave us shocked and appalled that our works do not merit for us a place, even the best place, in God’s kingdom.  We think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. (Rom. 12:3)  And it takes God’s revealed Word to bring us back down into reality.  You and I, well, we “ain’t all that.”  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23)  “For all who rely on doing the works of the law are under a curse.” (Gal 3:10)  You and I are severed from Christ because we have fallen away from Him because of our sinful nature and our sinful actions. (Gal. 5:4)  Isaiah put it so well, describing himself and us, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6)

            God’s Word puts us in our place.  It’s true.  We are guilty.  We remember the countless ways we have fallen short of God’s perfection and holiness.  We’ve hurt our spouses and children by what we have done and how we have said things to them.  We haven’t always been honest with others, or even ourselves.  Unbecoming language flows from our mouth.  Our minds harbor lustful thoughts, hidden hate, and devious actions.  In our own right, we shouldn’t be allowed at God’s banquet table.  Our sinfulness should prevent us from ever coming near to the best seats in His kingdom, for Jesus said, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.”  Stranded in our sin and banned from the eternal banquet, we were confronted with and humbled by our inability to seat ourselves in God’s presence.  We can do nothing but confess our sins, and before God we must slink to the lowest place. 

            But Jesus continued by saying, “he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  It is God who exalts us to His banquet table.  It is God who lifts us up from the humbling that took place under His condemning word of Law.  God the Son clothed Himself in human flesh so that He might defeat death and the devil and deliver us from the power of sin.  Jesus Christ was made like us in every way, except without sin, so that He could satisfy God’s wrath for our sins. (Heb. 2:17)  Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, but He maintained the righteousness that we cannot.  Jesus, the Son of God, allowed Himself to suffer “outside the city gate,” driven outside of Jerusalem, to be crucified, bleed, and die so that you and I and all people might be made holy by His shed blood through the forgiveness of our sins. 

            It is God, then, who graciously seats us in His kingdom at His table.  God the Lord says to you, “Come up here!”  To the font and be washed in the baptismal waters and joined with Christ.  “Move up higher!”  Receive forgiveness of sins and be reconciled to me and to one another.  “Come up here!”  Hear my Word and the Holy Spirit will create in you a new heart.  “Move up higher!”  Eat and drink at My table.  Feast on the abundance of My house for your forgiveness, life, and salvation as you eat and drink the very Body and Blood of My Son, Jesus, with the bread and wine.  “Come up here!”  Remain in My presence forever.  Never be separated from Me again, and rejoice in the unending life I have given you.

            You have just arrived at your favorite stadium to cheer on your favorite team.  You’re out of breath from walking up the stairs to your seat.  The players look like insects and you can’t tell where the ball is.  Even if your ears hadn’t popped from the altitude, you still probably wouldn’t be able to hear the sounds of the game, and you feel as if a nosebleed might be coming on.  Then a hand on your shoulder startles you.  You’re even more startled to see that the hand belongs to an usher who tells you that your seat number was drawn as a winner and you’re today’s lucky Fan of the Game.  Another seat awaits you.  Down you go, closer and closer to the field.  The usher stops at a seat you would never be able to afford—a seat that allows you to experience the game in a way you’d never imagined. 

            The Lord motions with His finger to you, “Come here!  Move up higher!”  And you are thrilled!  You do step toward Him with eager anticipation, because He’s told you and you know that because Jesus died and rose again for you, you do have a seat at God’s eternal banquet celebration!  Amen.   

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