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Love Is Merciful and Humble (St. Luke 14:1-11)

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

“Love Is Merciful and Humble”
Rev. Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus

St, Luke 14.1-11; Ephesians 4.1-6

13 October 2019

Soli Deo Gloria!

Sinful pride lies at the heart of all sins. St. Augustine called it “the mother of all heresies.” The sinful pride of the Pharisees blinded them to the real heart of God. We see it in this incident of the man with dropsy, literally, from the Greek, an excess of water. Today it would be called edema. Luke says that the Pharisees “were watching [Jesus] carefully” because it was a Sabbath and they believed that the Third Commandment required them to refrain from every kind of activity that might be called work, even acts of mercy. They were watching him maliciously. The Pharisees had a severe God. They believed that God’s demands were so severe as to forbid acts of mercy to others on the Sabbath. Their sinful pride distorted God and the commandment to love one’s neighbor.

When I read the Gospel accounts of our Lord’s miracles his opponents never denied that a miracle took place. The evidence of healed people and those risen from the dead by Christ was obvious to all. Rather than denying the obvious, these whistleblowers complained that Jesus violated the Law of God. They shouted “there-there” about Jesus healing on a Sabbath day. Healing constituted work, they said, and that violated the Third Commandment. When Jesus and his disciples ate some grain from the field on a Sabbath, the Pharisees complained that it wasn’t allowed on the Sabbath. Jesus cited what David did in eating the bread of the Presence which was for the priests only, concluding, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” [Luke 6.1-5] Jesus claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God. In every instance when Jesus performed an act of mercy on a Sabbath the Pharisees had a quick whistle.

Jesus presented a dilemma for these whistleblowers: “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?” [Luke 14.5] That they had done this is evident from their non-response. A son is one’s flesh and blood! His life it as stake. An ox might be the source of one’s livelihood. They made exceptions for themselves but not for Jesus and the people he healed. They were determined to get him in their crosshairs. His execution as a lawbreaker was all that mattered.

The Pharisees did not really understand the Law of God, yet nobody upheld it as vigorously as the Pharisee. The Pharisee remains the example of the hypocrite, one who says one thing but does another. In the parable of the wedding feast Jesus exposed their hypocrisy of thinking the they were better than others. It would not be the last time Jesus ripped away their artificial spirituality. For the Pharisee everything was external. What went on in his heart he covered up with a veneer of piety.

At first, the two incidents seem to be unconnected but they aren’t. This healing of this afflicted man leads very well into the second part of our reading. It goes to the character of the Pharisees. Eventually, it describes the character of all people, ourselves included. Not everyone is satisfied with his calling in life. No one likes to be subservient so we resort to all sorts of ways of elevating ourselves. We want to be on top, have the positions of honor and prestige, even if we don’t deserve them. The Swedish teen who has had her 10 minutes of fame on the world’s stage believes that the whole world should listen to her, a 15 year old, on the matter of climate change! Some even nominated her for the Nobel Peace Prize. Thank God she didn’t win! The downfall of many is that they want to have it all. And they want it right now. A surprisingly high percentage of young people aspire to “be somebody famous” at a very young age. Sadly, many of them become infamous.

In the parable of the wedding feast, another way of describing the feast of salvation, the guests scrambled over each other to get the places of honor. “Ah, yes, I must be at the head table!” Jesus deftly deflated their pretense by having the host call the arrogant ones down, literally. “Give your place to this person” because he is more prominent than you. The arrogant one has been dealt a severe blow to his ego. What will people think? They’ll think that you are a pompous windbag. And they would be right. Who was more arrogant than a Pharisee?

But the one who takes the lowest place has no where to go but up. The host of the feast says, “Friend, move up higher.” Friend! Here is one who has not put himself above or before others but takes the lowest spot.

Who fits this description better than our Lord? He is called the “Friend of sinners.”[Luke 7.34] He sits in the lowest spot with the outcasts. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Mk 10:45]

And when his own disciples resorted to the same behavior at the Last Supper, believing that Jesus was about to inaugurate an earthly kingdom, Jesus instructed them:

25  . . “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. (Lk 22:25–27).

Jesus describes his innocent life, death, and resurrection here! He is not the one standing on the street corners making a show of himself, but he is one who serves even to the point of suffering a criminal’s death. He laid down his life for those who did not deserve it. Paul writes:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, 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. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5–11).

In our reading mercy occupies center stage. Christ was merciful to all. The Psalmist says [Psalm 145.9 KJV] that his mercies are over all his works. That includes the Law which the Pharisees elevated over mercy. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” [Psalm 130.3] Without Christ’s mercy we would all be lost.

The Pharisees’ religious practice was very severe. But the Law is severe! It allows no mercy and those who break it are lost. All of God’s harshness, his severe punishment, landed, not on us, but on his Son. Christ took the lowest place of all as the one who took all of the world’s sins into his own body and redeemed us, having mercy on us.

Paul writes that you are to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” “Walk in a manner worthy” doesn’t say that you have to earn your spot at the heavenly banquet table! Quite the opposite. No one earns it. It is bestowed in Holy Baptism. Paul exhorts you to live in the grace and mercy of your Baptism into Christ. God the Holy Spirit has placed you into this one Body of Christ, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints. You were called to that one hope that belongs to your call. To “walk in a manner worthy” means living the redeemed life that Christ has earned for you. This is what is meant by spirituality. It isn’t some ethereal quality that you feel. It is a real flesh and blood existence as you live among others—family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and even enemies. Walk in humility and gentleness, following the example of your Lord Jesus Christ. Paul lists those characteristic results of your calling: Humility with gentleness, patience, forbearance of others’ weaknesses which comes from love.

Most of you have heard about the “cancel culture,” those people who look for fault in everyone else but themselves. They hound, badger, and even do violence to those they deem deserving of censure for violating their self-made standards. The deal with only surface things although they seem to judge everyone’s heart but their own. Luther said:

“People who prize only their own deeds as meritorious, while despising as dirt what others do, are arbitrary and disgusting. In short, they are insufferable clowns, as we say in German, Hanswursts, whom nothing pleases except what they themselves have done” [Luther’s House Postils, vol. 3, p. 45].

Hanswursts, that is, “Jack Sausages,” comic figures. Incidentally, that is the comic figure we chose for our Brat Trot logo!

These words do not focus on those outside the Church. God’s Law already has judged them. Jesus and Paul focus on those inside the Church. Believers are to “walk worthy” of their calling. You are to reflect the love and mercy of Christ.

This bond you have is a sacred bond. Look at your fellow Christians here in this sanctuary! In particular You are united with them. You share “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” And for that reason there should be no trampling over others, nor arrogance, nor judging; only merciful service of the brother or sister in Christ. Such “walking the walk,” so to speak, extends beyond these walls into whatever your earthly work might be. Your vocation is to be Christian in all you say and do.

That probably won’t bring you any earthly rewards. In fact, these days it will usually bring the scorn of the world which hates Christ and those who belong to him. But there awaits the wedding feast of the Lamb in his kingdom which has no end when Christ will call you “friend” and invite you to move up higher.

Love is patient and forbearing,

Clothed in Christ’s humility,

Gentle, selfless, kind, and caring,

Reaching out in charity. [LSB 706.2]

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

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