Sermon preached at Our Savior on 9/5/10 for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost. Sermon text: Luke 14:1,7-14
Wow! It's you! I can't believe you're all here! I mean, I've seen some great people in my life, but none of them compare to you. You're literally the smartest, most skilled, strongest, most beautiful group of people that I've ever seen in my life. You can do absolutely anything you want to do, and you came here! I mean, wow. It's amazing. I'm so honored!
Ok. You're probably starting to think, "What does this guy want?" My goal really wasn't to butter you up; I wanted to make a point. It's probably pretty unusual for someone to give you compliments like that. Not just to tell you you're pretty good at something, but the best -- the best at everything! It's enough to make you suspicious or make you think the person saying it has gone a little bit nuts.
But imagine that nobody's telling you that you're the best and great at everything. Imagine that's what you think about yourself. Everywhere you go, you know you're the best. Everyone you meet, you know you're better. No one could have an idea more intelligent than yours. No one can do anything that you couldn't outperform them. You really are the best, and you know it.
Maybe you know a few people who act like that. They're arrogant, they think they know everything, and they're usually not too fun to be around. Thankfully, very few people as arrogant as I've described. But, even if we don't have that kind of arrogance, do we have true humility?
Humility is a very important trait to have. It means you don't think of yourself too highly. It means you put the needs of others ahead of your own. It means you don't rely on your skills and abilities. You don't assume they're better. Instead you look for something better to come outside of yourself.
We need to be humble spiritually. Jesus warns us of that in our text. We need to be spiritually humble enough to realize there is nothing in us that should make God love us. We have done nothing to deserve God's love, his gifts, his eternal salvation. In fact, we deserve the opposite. But being spiritually humble also means we recognize the great things that Jesus Christ has done for us. He paid for our sins. He was perfect in our place. He has given us his forgiveness, his life, his salvation. And he didn't give those things to us because we were so great, but because he is. Realizing that makes you spiritually humble. That's the point that Jesus makes in the events of our text.
He's kind of in a potentially awkward social situation here in Luke's Gospel. One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. (Lk. 14:1) The Pharisees, you might remember, were highly respected people in Jewish society at this time. People listened to them and revered them. And they loved it. For the most part, though, they did not love Jesus. He was a challenge to them. He often spoke against them. And they were looking for a way to take him down.
But here in our text, Jesus turns the tables on them a bit. They're watching him to trap him in something, but he ends up watching them. He noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table. (Lk. 14:7) It's hard to put ourselves in this exact social situation. But apparently where someone sat at a dinner party showed what status they had. Jesus saw that most of the Pharisees he was eating with wanted the best spots. Like little kids rushing to be first in line for snacks, these grown men tried to get the places of honor. They were not being humble.
So Jesus called them on it and told a parable. When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. (Lk. 14:8-9)
Again, it's a little hard for us to imagine this exact situation in our culture today. But this might help: imagine that you're at a wedding reception. You want the best spot available to eat the dinner when you get there. So you go to a really nice looking table and sit down. Imagine your embarrassment when the groom taps you on the shoulder and says, "Um, this is the head table. The wedding party needs to sit here. You have to move."
The not-so-humble attitude of wanting to sit in the best place can lead to embarrassment and trouble. Jesus is warning us to have a humble attitude. He warns us that bad things tend to happen with an arrogant attitude, but blessings come with humility. As he put it, Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Lk. 14:11)
I want you all to understand something here. Jesus did not speak this parable so that we could learn better wedding reception etiquette. His main goal was not that we act in a humble way to avoid social embarrassment. Like so many of his parables, Jesus was using common stories to illustrate spiritual truths. He wasn't warning us to make sure we stay humble at parties. He was warning us to make sure we stay humble before our God.
We tend to think that it's good to be at least a little bit proud. We want people to have high self-esteem, right? We don't want people moping around feeling sorry for themselves, like they're no good at anything. A little bit of self-confidence can help people in life, whereas constant humility can be self-defeating.
In the same way, we like to be self-sufficient, don't we? Many of us don't like the idea of accepting charity from others. We want to do it ourselves! We're in the USA, after all; we can do anything we put our minds to. Why bother being humble when we know how good we really are.
Those things are all true to a certain extent. But make no mistake: you've got nothing to be proud of before God. He has commanded perfection of you, 100% of the time. Have you delivered? God demands that you not only don't do anything wrong, but that you do everything right. Every temptation you need to avoid, every person in need you need to help, or you have fallen short of God's demands. Falling short of God's demands doesn't bring rewards; it brings punishment.
In the same way, if you're so proud that you won't accept any charity from anyone, not even from God himself, what are you left with? You're left with your own record. Your own sins. Your own mistakes that only bring death and hell forever. Jesus is telling you: take this warning! Humble yourselves! Recognize that you can't be proud before your heavenly Father!
Instead, humble yourself. The book of Philippians puts it best. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)
Jesus is the only human being to truly live up to these standards. He obeyed his heavenly Father perfectly -- even though he himself is true God. He came to us in humility. And what grace that his humility is what rescues us from our arrogance! What undeserved love of God that Jesus' perfection is what rescues us from our sins!
Our sins condemned us, but Jesus rescued us. Our sins humble us, but Jesus lifts us up. He doesn't do this because there is anything good in us; he does it only because he loves us! Do you see what a Savior we have? He didn't come to teach us party rules; he came to save us. And he did. He gave us more than we could ever ask or imagine.
That's why we can put aside our pride. That's why, by the faith God has given us, we want to live in humility before God. That's why we want to humbly serve God in everything we do in our lives. The humble attitude our God works in us by the love of his Son is bound to show itself in humble actions in our lives.
Of course, in this sinful world, we'll be tempted to be arrogant and proud even in the actions and good things we do. Jesus warned about this too. He said that if you throw a dinner-party, Do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. (Lk. 14:12-14)
Again, Jesus' main point here isn't telling us that we should all throw parties and invite poor and crippled people, or that having a dinner with your family is bad. No, again, he's making a spiritual application for us with a real world example. He's telling us that our actions aren't supposed to be looking for earthly gain.
Don't do people favors so that they'll do one for you in return. Don't help someone so that you will be recognized as some great person. Don't give your time, your talents, or your treasures so that you will get some recognition for it. Give out of love for what God has done for you. Serve, because Jesus served you with his life, death, and resurrection. That's what matters. Not the stuff of this world, but the glory of eternity that Jesus won for us.
When we continue to grow in God's Word and Sacrament, God is going to strengthen us to live like this. Focusing on our Savior's humble self-giving love for us moves us to love him and serve those around us! Jesus saw our humble state. He knew that our sins would shut us out of eternal life forever. So he fixed it. In humility, he saved us. He won us blessings now and heaven forever. Focus on that. Live for him.