Trinity 17 (2013)
Delivered By
Pr. Mark D. Lovett
Delivered On
September 22, 2013
Central Passage
Luke 14:1-11

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Self-righteous people are the worst. They’re miserable to be around because they can do no wrong and every opinion they give they expect to be praised for and followed. They always think they’re more humble than others. They always think they can see all the angles of every problem and situation. The worst of the self-righteous are the ones that can’t admit when they’re wrong. They’d rather die and break up friendships and split congregations and never speak to so-and-so again rather than admit that they were wrong, humble themselves and seek reconciliation and reunion.

That’s the case of the Pharisees. They could not admit that they were wrong. They just couldn’t. They’d put too much stock in their laws and customs. They’d made too big a deal about themselves and their status. If they were to admit that they were wrong they’d be too embarrassed, too humiliated. They were too far gone to truly help their fellow Israelites in the ways of God. Their pride was on the line. When our pride is on the line, when we’ve made too big a deal about being right or being offended only to have it backfire, we leave. And we blame everyone else for the trouble our pride has caused. We act offended and even convince ourselves that we are offended by others when in truth, it is our pride that caused the damage. Anything to protect our pride.

And it’s too bad, really. Jesus loves the Pharisees, too. He loves the self-righteous sinner. He loves the congregant who would rather be right than be here. He loves the one whose pride keeps him from returning. And He and His angels rejoice over those that repent; who see their pride and turn from it and humble themselves.

But pride is a hard beast to kill. It’s a powerful demon whose claws dig deep into a person’s heart so that tearing it away is tantamount to tearing out the heart. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. It is death to the old Adam, who is a self-worshiping egomaniac. The opposite of pride is humility. Not the false humility we usually boast in: the humility that loves to be praised as being humble. That’s pride, too.

True humility is telling the truth. No, I don’t love my wife as I ought. I don’t love my children as I ought. I don’t love you as I ought. Sometimes I wish I weren’t your pastor. Sometimes I dream of being free from others. I’m not a good person. I hate and envy and plot. I shirk my duty and I accept honor when, unbeknownst to others, I have been dishonorable. I have feigned offense when admitting my wrong would have meant eating crow. And here’s the humbling part: you’re no better. You don’t love as you ought. Sometimes you wish you were free of your responsibilities, calling the gifts of God “burdens” rather than “blessings”. You daydream of your day of reckoning when the whole world would – especially those one or two people – would see how right you were and how much you have suffered because of others and how great it would be to just once – just once – get what you deserve for all you’ve done and been through.

It’s funny how our daydreams never have us doing our duty. No one every daydreams about dishes or mowing the lawn or going to work for another normal day, or sitting quietly in church singing hymns and hearing God’s word. All of our daydreams are about us in the spotlight. They’re about us being honored. They are about us not having to do our duty. Our daydreams are full of self-love and pride. Our daydreams are full of the comeuppance of others; the shame of others; and the glorification of our point of view, our way, and our life.

 That’s why when we come out of our daydream we say that reality has come crashing back in on us. We have to bring ourselves down from our lofty, self-serving daydreams. And we resent others for it. But humility is doing your vocation. We ought to commit to memory the Tables of Duties in the Small Catechism: certain passages of Scripture for various holy orders and positions, admonishing them about their duties and responsibilities.

It’s a good thing you don’t get what you deserve, though. You see the proud will be humbled. They will be moved from the seat of honor they have stolen by their pride and put in the seat of shame. If every dog has his day, the day of the proud will be the day of judgment.

So Jesus tells a parable to the proud. When you are invited to a feast, don’t take the seat of honor lest the one that invited you ask you to move down and another take the seat of honor. Then you will with shame take the lower seat. Rather, when you are invited, take the lowest seat so that the one that invited you will say to you, “Friend, move up higher.” For the one that humbles himself will be exalted and the one that exalts himself will be humbled.

What is this other than the kingdom of God? God has invited you into His kingdom. Don’t take the seat of honor, which belongs to Christ. He is the truly righteous one. The honor belongs to Him alone. All we have brought to this banquet feast is our sins and our sinfulness. We’re like the party guests that show up late, brought no gift, eat more than our share, try to steal the spotlight, and then complain about everything while fooling ourselves that we’re the life of the party and that the host is super honored by having us here.

So don’t come boasting in your righteousness or your good behavior or your pedigree. Come in humility. Come speaking the truth. You know the truth. So does Jesus. And you’re still invited. You still have a place at His table. In fact, Jesus calls you friend and says to you: move up higher.

When you enter you are humbled. Not by me, but by God. You confess that you are a poor, sinful creature. The Lord’s kindness brings you to true repentance, so that you cry out “Lord, have mercy upon us; Christ, have mercy upon us; Lord, have mercy upon us.” And He does. Because He raises the humble. He takes you from the seat of and He moves you up. He moves you up to hear His word of life and immortality. He moves you up to sing with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. He moves you higher still and gives you His prayer so that you upon His Father as your heavenly Father. And He moves you up higher still, giving you a place at His Table where you eat His bread and drink from His cup.

Not just any place at His table, you are given the place at His table: right in front of Him so that His eyes are on you to bless you and His ears are toward you to hear you. You have His full and undivided attention.

And having His full and undivided attention, you receive mercy upon mercy. Not just in the forgiveness of your sins, but mercy for your whole life. The mercy of the Lord isn’t just about not counting your sins against you. It’s about welcoming you into the kingdom of heaven. It’s about raising you from death to life. The mercy of the Lord is about healing your diseases and cleansing your conscience. The mercy of the Lord is about keeping you in the security of Christ even when you are not righteous, when you are not honorable, when you do not have your eyes on the Lord.

The mercy of the Lord gives you rest from this weary world. Not just respite here at church to recharge you batteries, but rest from trying to please God. For in Christ you are well-pleasing to Him. In Christ you rest. The mercy of the Lord saves you from pointless work and toil, and gives you purpose in His creation as a father, a mother, a son or daughter, a husband, wife, and worker. His mercy makes mundane duty into God-pleasing labor. He is the Sabbath Day in which you do not have to work for His approval or attention. In Christ you rest and the Lord Himself serves you. He feeds you and clothes you; He guides you and keeps you in His eternal kingdom. He brings you here to the banquet, and seats you in heavenly places, in honorable places. He raises you up and gives you His name, His glory, and His honor.

+ In Nomine Iesu +