SERMON FOR THE 17TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 10-12-14
The Reverend Brian T. German


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
The idea of having special places to sit is a very old one.  In ancient Israel, for example, only kings could sit on the royal throne.  In Egypt, it’d be reserved for the Pharaoh.  This kind of thing continues in our own day.  If you go to a graduation ceremony, the president or principal sits up front.  Throughout my childhood, only dad sat at the head of the table.  True, I might have challenged him for it once or twice, but it never ended well for me.


Etiquette tends to keep things orderly.  On a very natural level, our Lord’s parable makes sense: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast,” he says, “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.”  The reading we heard from Proverbs puts it this way: “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble” (Prov. 25:6-7).  We can resonate with this.  At my first department meeting, I was very conscious about not sitting in the seat that belonged to the department chair.  No one wants to be embarrassed.


Somewhat less clear, at least at first glance, is why Jesus accepted the invitation to sit and dine with the Pharisees in the first place.  He had already done this sort of thing a little bit earlier in His ministry—that is, healing on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-11)—and it didn’t turn out so well; he was in hot water with this group ever since.  As much as I enjoy dinner invitations—and I do enjoy them—I wouldn’t be too fond of being invited somewhere just to be watched, as today’s account describes it—especially not on my day off from work, as the Sabbath would have been.  In fact, this time it took place at a ruler’s house.  The stakes were raised.

 

 

SERMON FOR THE 17TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 10-12-14
The Reverend Brian T. German


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
The idea of having special places to sit is a very old one.  In ancient Israel, for example, only kings could sit on the royal throne.  In Egypt, it’d be reserved for the Pharaoh.  This kind of thing continues in our own day.  If you go to a graduation ceremony, the president or principal sits up front.  Throughout my childhood, only dad sat at the head of the table.  True, I might have challenged him for it once or twice, but it never ended well for me.


Etiquette tends to keep things orderly.  On a very natural level, our Lord’s parable makes sense: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast,” he says, “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.”  The reading we heard from Proverbs puts it this way: “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble” (Prov. 25:6-7).  We can resonate with this.  At my first department meeting, I was very conscious about not sitting in the seat that belonged to the department chair.  No one wants to be embarrassed.


Somewhat less clear, at least at first glance, is why Jesus accepted the invitation to sit and dine with the Pharisees in the first place.  He had already done this sort of thing a little bit earlier in His ministry—that is, healing on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-11)—and it didn’t turn out so well; he was in hot water with this group ever since.  As much as I enjoy dinner invitations—and I do enjoy them—I wouldn’t be too fond of being invited somewhere just to be watched, as today’s account describes it—especially not on my day off from work, as the Sabbath would have been.  In fact, this time it took place at a ruler’s house.  The stakes were raised.


But a healing was necessary, and our Lord came as the Great Physician.  It may have been a day of rest, but Jesus had work to do; he came to be about his Father’s business.  And so into the lion’s den he goes, where he lets his every move be scrutinized.  He’s despised, and he’s interrogated.  Our Lord does this willingly, of course, and, with you in mind, he does this cheerfully.


After seeing a man with dropsy, it was his turn to ask the questions.  “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”  Should we let this man suffer so that we don’t violate our rulebook, or should we help and befriend him in every bodily need?  “Which of you,” he continues, “having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”  Well, which of us wouldn’t risk breaking some sort of custom or tradition in order to help a loved one in danger?  Outward obedience was never the whole point.  “I desire mercy,” Jesus would say in another place, “not sacrifice.”  And with that, the crowd was silent.  “[H]e took him and healed him and sent him away” (Luke 14:4).


Jesus told the parable about picking the best seats when he noticed that some of the Pharisees were choosing places of honor (Luke 14:7).  Jesus continues to speak this parable to his church because he sees that we still choose places of honor in our own day, by catering to our desires, and by doing things just to get noticed.


Do you see the many kinds of seats available today?  You can have the honor of defining marriage however you’d like, as long as your feelings are in the driver’s seat.  You can have the privilege of determining how much value is in the womb by basing the decision on your future plans.  In my own field, most biblical scholars operate with the conviction that there are some things in the Bible that are true, while others have reached their sell-by date.  The role of the scholar is to sit in the judgment seat and decide.  Every stage of life offers a “high horse,” and some are in low places.  You don’t need any help with the addiction; you’re completely in control.  You don’t need to admit your fault this time; your intentions were better than anyone’s.


“[D]o not sit down in a place of honor,” lest everyone else at the table gradually lose significance in our eyes.  “[D]o not put yourself forward…or stand in the place of the great” (Prov. 25:6), lest we begin to think that the Maker of heaven and earth is not able to peel away the phony pieties of our hearts.  “[T]hen you will begin with shame to take the lowest place,” and lose everything we mistakenly thought we had won for ourselves in the first place.


“But when you are invited,” our Lord says, “go and sit in the lowest (literally the “last”) 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” (Luke 14:10).


The “etiquette” of the Christian church, if it can be called that, is to put everyone else first in every aspect of our lives; to love others until the self fades away.  This is not just humility for the sake of humility, but humility for the sake of Him who was humble even to the point of death.


To chase after the best seats in every room of life is to behave like our significance before God depends on how we feel in relation to those around us.  But the kingdom of heaven does not operate like a Best Buy on Black Friday morning, with pushing and shoving in order to get the best pick.  It is much more like an undeserved seat at a fancy restaurant, where, for some reason, our name has been placed at a dinner plate that would forever be outside of our budget.


“Go and sit in the lowest place…For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).  With this short, paradoxical statement, our subtle ways of honoring the self are stripped to the core.


To sit at the lowest place is to get comfortable right where the Divine Service begins: by confessing that we have indeed put ourselves in high places, in our thoughts, in our words, and in our deeds.  Such repentance is really a posture for every day of the Christian life.  To sit at the lowest place is to recognize that our Lord does His best work not through Sabbath regulations or burnt offerings or our egos but through the brokenhearted, and the crushed in spirit, and even through your weaknesses and mine in order to accomplish his good purposes.  To sit at the lowest place, ultimately, is to confess that the only way to our Easter celebration is through Good Friday.


For good reasons, I think, we’re not given much information in the parable about how one is able to get a better seat.  “Friend, move up higher,” is all that we’re told.  It’s completely up to the gracious action of the host, without any merit or worthiness in the guest.  Unlike the many ladders we try to climb, here’s a promotion without any strings attached.


Much more than a simple lesson in etiquette lies before us this day.  Our Lord delights in giving us a little sermon on His own person and work, as one who always took the back seat in his earthly life and asked nothing for himself.


Because he endured the shame of the cross—because He absorbed into His body the long list of punishments we deserve for our self-seeking maneuvers—we have a beautiful picture here of what God is busy doing among us now.  “Friend, move up higher.”  Friend, connect some water with my Word, and move up out of darkness.  Friend, eat and drink from my table, and move beyond the food that perishes.  Friend, people are coming from east and west and from north and south to dine with you at a banquet where the last will be first and the humble will be exalted.


When it comes time to decide which seat to take, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus: …though he was in the form of God, [he] 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” (Phil. 2:5-8).


Dear Christians, Christ has won a seat of honor for you – it is secure, and it is finished.  In him you have all things, and so there is no longer any room left for worrying about how our spot looks as compared to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  The Judge has allowed himself to sit in the judgment seat so that we can have a seat of honor.  When he looks at the head of the table, he sees you, clothed in His righteousness, enjoying the fruits of His cross with the whole company of heaven.  Friends, move up higher, and taste and see that the Lord is good.  In the name of Jesus, Amen.


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

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a