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14th Sunday After Pentecost PDF Print E-mail

TEXT: LUKE 14:1-14/HEBREWS 13:1-17/PROVERBS 25:2-10
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets, but now in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, through whom also He made the world (Heb. 1).  Dear hearers of the Word made flesh;

As a single vicar in North Carolina, I was the guest at lots of meals.  The dear people in our sister congregation no doubt understood my lack of culinary ability and took pity on me.  But those dinner invitations were also a time of sizing this Midwesterner up a bit – of asking lots of questions – and sometimes of suggesting things a vicar might attend to.  Dinner invitations can have more than one purpose.

One Sabbath when he (Jesus) went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.  They were sizing him up!  Among the Pharisees being the guest at a meal meant that you were fair game for in-depth probing and analysis.  They wanted to know what made you tick.  They wanted to know where you stood.  Among the regular attendees, such meals were also more about where they stood in relation to one another (their status) than about the menu.  In the Pharisee-world the better you were perceived to do with God’s law, the higher up the table you moved.  This pecking order of group goodness corresponded with their view of moving on up closer to heaven – to the Messianic banquet by their good works. 

At the dinner in question they put Jesus in the spotlight over a man who had dropsy.  Jesus responded by saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?   They remained silent.  Then he took him and healed him and sent him away.  The English doesn’t fully express the Greek text - for the words “sent him away” means “release”.  It is also a common word for forgiveness – for release from one’s sins.  Jesus releases the man from the effects of sin. 

However, Jesus’ good work of healing the man with dropsy didn’t quite fit their Sabbath score-keeping methods.  He finds it necessary to silence their objections by showing their own concern to actively help a son or an animal in need of urgent rescue.  “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”  And they could not reply to these things. 

Then, he told a parable…when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited…to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor…lest…he who invited you…say to you, “Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.  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.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus isn’t trying to be Miss Manners in order to teach them general table etiquette.  Nor is He trying to teach them how to climb higher up on the seating chart before God by attempting to go lower than they reckon they deserve.  Jesus is warning them of their sin: If they try to exalt themselves, they will be humbled.  But conversely, if they strive to be the humblest, jockeying to get the lowest position, that’s also a losing effort.  Nobody likes someone who takes pride in their humility – who puts on airs about being a lowly servant of others.

In addition, Jesus implicitly denounces the nature of their guest list.  He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.  You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

If they were truly interested in keeping the law they would be inviting the downtrodden of society.  The man with dropsy who had earlier dropped by should be eating with them now.  He’s the man who gets the most from this meal.  He was released from His sickness and restored by Jesus.  Meanwhile the Pharisees are busy with their status and their being in a certain spot with each other and with Jesus.

Dear Christians, life in our world is a lot like life in the Pharisee’s world.  It’s about getting what you earn.  It’s about satisfying need and moving on up.  It’s about making the grade.  It’s about being the best spouse, best parent, best worker, best provider, best friend, best student, you can be.  It has to be this way – in this sinful world.  When incentive to work is absent, work also is increasingly absent.  Our slothful natures have to be motivated into action with the law – such as, If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat (II Thess 3:6).  In like manner, Solomon directs the sluggard (lazybones) to the harvester ant and how they work and gather up the harvest (Prov. 6:6-11).

But the multitude of requirements we have to do and to succeed at and to provide for can be overwhelming and conflicting.  Long hours at work mean less with the family.  More attention on current friends and local family means less attention on distant family and past friendships.  Midnight hours of study may mean better test scores but less physical activity and worse health. Needed meetings at church may compete with needed rest.  Tending energetically to one project may mean delaying a dozen others.  How many things are there on your “to do” list?  How many things are not on your list that should be each day?

Consider just what the Holy Spirit caused to be expressed in our reading from Hebrews today.  Show brotherly love.  Show hospitality to strangers.  Remember persecuted Christians and imprisoned Christians.  Honor Marriage (God’s gift of marriage between male and female).  Let the marriage bed be undefiled (before and during) – in thought word and deed – in your prayers – amid all the slop from Hollywood – amid all the false political and elitist pressure – you honor marriage.  Don’t love money (even in a recession).  Be content with what you have (even when you need more). Don’t be misled by false doctrine.  Remember your pastors and obey them.  Pastors keep watch over the souls of those who hear you.  Do not neglect to do good.  Add these to your daily “to do” list and any balloons of false confidence can easily be popped.  And that’s just a few verses of Scripture!

Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair or right or even sane.  Some think the answer is to better balance life.  Self-help books will tell you how. – seven steps – maybe 20 – maybe 40 days to get it right.  Simplify – prioritize - systematize – synchronize - spiritualize.  You know – try harder – be smarter!  Or maybe you’re trying too hard – so lighten up a bit.  Just ladle out what you can here and there and be moderately good at the whole merry-go-round of things on the calendar.  Do the best you can and your seat at the table of family and friends; of school and work will be fine.  Remember also, to work on your self-esteem - and O Yes, have a nice day!

Tragically, it is that frame of mind that dominates humanity’s view of heaven as well.  Just give it the old college try!  Do the best you can at juggling all your responsibilities and God won’t deny salvation to you – it wouldn’t be fair.  You should esteem yourself highly before God.  He can’t expect you to honor marriage the way John the Baptist did – speaking so clearly God’s Word that it cost him his head.  What does He expect – perfection?  Well, Jesus did say, Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5:48).   So do you really want to contend for a seat in heaven based on your performance or your esteem of yourself?

Another pastor, preaching on this text, pushed the point in the opposite direction.  He said that we should let our daily responsibilities and vocations accuse us.  After all, they show us what God gives us to do – and that’s Law - and the Law always accuses.  You see our vocations are profoundly helpful in showing us our limitations.  By the time you finish your daily tasks (or what portion of them you attempted) – you’re tired – perhaps bone tired.  You want a break.  You wish you had more time.  You wish you had more energy.  You may lament your thankless attitude during part of the day or the way you crabbed or snapped at another.  The to-do list hasn’t grown shorter – in fact with the last days of summer racing by – it’s about to mushroom. 

Doing housework or bookwork or schoolwork through the years has not made them easier.  The one thing that does seem to multiply through years of duty are the aches and pains.  You can’t do all that you need to do the way you need to do it.  Tomorrow won’t be any easier!  That’s how life is in this world – way beyond your limitations.  That’s why one of the hidden blessings of our vocations is that they unmask our frailties and our flaws and our many, many failings.  They show us that we do not measure up and that we never, never will.  They accuse us for what we haven’t accomplished in the past and can’t make right!  They accuse us for our lack of joyful, humble, perfect service in the present!  They will accuse us every day in the future until we die.

Why is it that you aren’t meeting every need and fulfilling your daily responsibilities perfectly?  Why is it that they indict you with your inadequacies and your weaknesses?  Because of sin – sin in the world – and sin in your heart!  The truth is that you are as sick with sin as the man Jesus healed was sick with dropsy.  It made his cavities, his joints and tissues painfully swell up with fluid.  It drained him of energy and activity.    He didn’t care one lick about table position.  He came to Jesus because he needed help and healing.  He believed that Jesus could provide release from that which bound and burdened him and “release” is what he found.  That’s how Jesus deals with you!  As you gather here in weekly worship that’s what Jesus comes to give you – release and rest!

He doesn’t say, “If your week was good enough - I’ll forgive you.”  He says "Peace be with you!"  He doesn’t say, there is food only at the top end of the table so work your way up a few pews.  He says, "take and eat," "drink of it all of you."  He doesn’t say – you messed up too much in the past to be forgiven.  He says "Peace be with you!"  He is the one who took the lowest place – the place of becoming sin for the whole world.  He is the one who was seated in the middle place – between two criminals – on the tree of the cross.  He suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  He was there not to give a feast for the rich that He might be invited in return and be repaid.  He was there to feed the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.  He was there to provide the bread of life for you and me who cannot repay Him.  Risen from the grave He who serves you today will be repaid in the resurrection of the just – in your resurrection, for He has made you just!

Fellow-redeemed, this world is not your end and the way of this world is not the way to everlasting life.  But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever and in Him God will never forsake you.  As you come into His presence today, burdened and weary He says “come up here”.   As you ache over the sin-sickness that besets you and how much you leave undone in your place in life, He says, “Friend, move up higher.”  God gives recompense to those who seek no recompense.  God gives healing to those who are hurting!  In this world of seating position and merit and demand, Jesus comes into your midst to give you His merit - and release from all your sins - and delight (His delight in you).  Through water and word and bread and wine He continually says, “Friend, move up higher” – take my place because I’ve taken yours.  In His Name - Amen. 


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