Angels At Work Defending Us
Four Part Sermon Series; From Where Does My Help Come?
Daniel 10:10-14/12:1-3, Rev. 12:7-12, Matthew 18:1-11
September 27 and 28, 2019
Michael and All Angels / 16th Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 121 – I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I have a theory I’d like to run past you in this four- part sermon series. It is that there are only two kinds of people – those who need help and realize they need help and those who need help but don’t think they do.
Permit me to get personal. Did you come to church this morning looking for help to make it through this week, or did you come, as Forest Gump might say, for no particular reason?
Two parts to our sermon today:
Part I – We all need (help.) Back in 1975 or so, Debi and I were married, in college, didn’t have a lot of money, and didn’t always think things through very well. It was a summer weekend, and we were invited to a campground by friends of ours several hours north of the Cities. And so we took off after work in our 1968 Mustang, arrived at the campground in darkness, and had no idea how to find our friends. No cell phones in those days. No idea what their camper looked like or even what kind of vehicle they drove. And so we decided to sleep in our car and wait for daylight. Except it was hot, and the mosquitoes were bad, and so we decided to drive back to our college apartment. Except we were tired, and could hardly keep our eyes open. We needed help, oh how we needed help. It is our belief that an angel drove our car the past 8 or 9 miles or so. I opened my eyes on the corner of Lexington and Marshal, and I repeat, it is our belief that an angel drove our car the past 8 or 9 miles or so. (My hunch is that if I asked for a show of hands, a fair number of you all would have similar close call stories to tell, stories of angels watching over you and your families.
Part I is that we all need help, but it’s by no means an occasional help that we need. Every day we need assistance in resisting the devil, who is like a lion roaring around, seeking him who we devour. In both Luther’s Morning and Evening Prayers, we pray that God would send his angels to be with us, that the wicked foe may have no power over us. In Baptism liturgy, we say it again and again that we renounce the devil and all of his works and ways. In our Lord’s Prayer we have prayed it thousands of times, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
There is a 16th century painting by Gerard David titled St. Michael Defeats the Seven Deadly Sins. There are seven demons underneath St. Michael’s feet representing the seven deadly sins. This painting reminds us that these sins are evidence of Satan’s work among us.
The 7 sins the ancient church has considered deadly are lust, gluttony, and greed. They are sloth and out of control anger, they are envy and pride. Every day, Satan and his angels have an agenda, which is to draw everyone of us away from Jesus Christ and all that is true and right and salutary. The Bible says that the evil angels were created holy, but they sinned and are forever rejected by God. The Bible says the evil angels are cunning, they are powerful, and they are of great number. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
I lift my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
I’m still wondering – did you come to church looking for help today, or as Forest Gump might say, did you come for no particular reason?
Sermon Part II – Help has already arrived, and this very day, help is (on the way. ) Three sets of comforting truths we would offer today about this help that has already arrived, and is in fact on the way in this hour. The first set of comforting truths is about St. Michael, the second is about the good angels, and the third is about Jesus Himself.
What we know about Michael
The Feast of St. Michael and all angels dates back to the 4th century in the eastern church and the 12th century in the western church. In the 16th century, Luther rejected all kinds of saints days from the church calendar, he felt there was too much superstition included. But this feast he encouraged because it pointed so clearly to Christ and the very comforting nature of the doctrine of the angels.
We hear of Michael three times. First in our Old Testament reading for today, a messenger came to Daniel while Daniel was in captivity in Babylon. Daniel needed help, and one angel showed up to do just that. Daniel must have presented a sorry sight, crouching on hands and knees, trembling in fear. Here we find an Angel showing God’s love to a broken man, an angel stooping in love to help a man laying unconscious near the Tigris River, an angel reminding Daniel he was precious to God, an angel giving him information God wanted him to know about future generations.
The messenger tells Daniel that he would have been there sooner but had been delayed because he was being held by the kings of Persia. But then Michael, one of the chief princes came to help him. The angel tells Daniel things would get worse before they got better, but that Michael, the great prince would be in charge of the nation of Israel. Michael, the great prince would be delivering his people, Michael, the great prince would be watching over everyone whose name would be found written in the book of life.
Dear friends, we learn today, along with Daniel, not to be discouraged, no matter what the world is throwing our way. Do not be discouraged, there are forces at work in the world we don’t know about and we cannot see. We trust in a God who is charge both of the visible and the invisible.
A second time we hear of Michael is in the book of Jude, where we read that Michael challenged the devil over false teaching about the body of Moses. While on the one hand, churches and pastors and teachers in every generation are called to contend for the truth of God’s Word against false teaching and false doctrine that comes from men and women……..there it takes Michael the archangel to contend directly with the father of lies, the Satan himself.
A third time we hear of Michael is in our second reading for the day, where John catches a glimpse of the invisible, he sees war in heaven. He sees Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. He sees the casting of Satan out of heaven, which culminates with the ascension of Jesus back into heaven, where he is forevermore sitting at the right hand of his father, ruling all of heaven and earth.
You may remember that back in the day of Job, the devil was permitted to stand in the presence of God and accuse Job of being righteous only because God had blessed him so richly, the devil was permitted to stand in the Council of Angels before God in heaven, he asked for and received permission from God to afflict Job as few men have been afflicted.
Dear Friends in Christ, such good news we have on this Feast of Michael and All Angels, as a result of the suffering, the death, the resurrection, and the ascension of Christ into heaven, the dragon, aka the ancient serpent, aka our adversary, aka the devil has been cast out of heaven, out of the presence of God. Oh he still roams the earth and causes all kinds of trouble. His leash has been shortened, and in the last days, it will be lengthened, and he will cause even more trouble, but praise be to God, help has already arrived, and this very hour, help is on the way.
What we know about the good angels – The Bible / Catechism tells us three truths about the good angels. #1 the good angels are holy spirits confirmed in their bliss. They are a fixed number, and no, it is not true that when loved ones die, they become angels. When baptized and believing people die, they go into the presence of Christ, and their bodies go into the ground to await the resurrection of the dead. The Bible / Catechism tells us that good angels are of great number and great power. In Daniel, thousands upon thousands of angels, even millions of angels are minister unto Jesus. In 2 Kings 19 one solitary angel slaughtered 185,000 of Sennacherib’s army. Let that settle in the next time your grandchild is afraid of the dark or your child is afraid of classmates at school or you are trembling at what the future might bring your way. In today’s Gospel lesson, we learn once again that angels spend their days praising God, they spend their days carrying out his commands, and specifically, they serve as guardians over God’s people, especially the children.
We think today about every child that is baptized in this sanctuary, we think about the 80 or 90 children in our Sunday School, we think about the 100 or 110 children in our Lutheran School, we think about the 50 pre teens in our confirmation classes, we think about the 80 or 90 teenagers in our Release Class time these days, and we hear Jesus saying, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man came to save the lost.
In the church, there is truly no child left behind. Oh parents will still be making all kinds of mistakes, and school systems and Sunday Schools and Confirmation Classes will be far from perfect, but every child, with no exception, will have an angel watching over him, every child, with no exception will have an assigned angel with intimate access to God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.
Dear friends, two lessons in closing today, as we realize #1 that we all need help and #2 help has already arrived, and in this very hour, help is on the way. Lesson #1 is to not be overconfident, and Lesson #2 is to never despair. We learn not to be overconfident for this simple and frightening reason – the devil and his angels are many, they are cunning, they are nasty, they are powerful, they don’t play fair. But lesson #2 is to never despair. We know that Michael and his angels number more than the evil ones, we know that the good angels are smarter, they are more powerful, they are in the presence and do the bidding of our father who is in heaven, they rejoice every time a single sinner repents, we know three are legions upon legions of angels fighting the same battle in the same world right along side of us.
What we know about Jesus
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who know that their help comes from their Lord who made heaven and earth. They know that it wasn’t for the angels that Jesus left the right hand of the Father almighty and came in the flesh, it was for them. They know that it wasn’t for the angels that Jesus went to the cross with his physical body and was crucified until he was dead and buried. It was for them. They know it wasn’t for the angels that Jesus paid the price and cancelled the debt and drank the full cup of a righteous God’s wrath. It was for them. They know that it wasn’t for the angels that Jesus Christ rose upon the third day, ascended into heaven on the 40th day, and sent out his Spirit on the 50th day, it was for them. They know it is not the angels that Jesus gives his body and blood to eat and drink. It is for them. On their normal days, they stumble, they fall, and they need all kinds of help. But they know exactly where to go for that help, and on their good days, they stave off discouragement, they do battle with the temptation to be full of themselves, and by the grace of God they never despair. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Whom Shall I Fear? Fear of a Guilty Past
Third sermon in a series of three
Annual Theme Sermon Series, “God’s got this!”
September 22, 2019
Psalm 27 // 2 Corinthians 12:5–10 // John 8:1–11
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is Psalm 27, our annual theme verse, and annual theme God’s Got This!
Dear Friends in Christ,
Two weeks, ago, we dealt with the problem of present pain, the idea that we most associate with fear, the terror, the horror of what is right before us, knowing that our God is a very present God in our day of trouble. Last week, we considered the fear that lies behind our anxiety over the future, that our future is most affected by that great action in the past – the death and resurrection of Jesus on your behalf.
Today, we consider a third fear, not of the present or of the future, but today we consider fear of a guilty past, and it is eminently appropriate for me to be delivering this sermon because today (Yes, today!) marks 6 years since I was installed as your pastor here at Trinity Lutheran in Janesville, MN.
It has been and is a privilege and an honor to serve, and in almost every way it’s been a joy. The way I am strong has made you strong. And in turn, the way I am weak has hurt you and our life together. The longer our time grows, the more mistakes you’ll have seen me make.
And this truth, the truth of our theme, is still apparent: the longer you live, the more you will struggle with... Fear of a guilty past.
A fellow preacher told a story, about a man named George D. Aldrich recalling a story from Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle (the Sherlock Holmes guy): “He said that at a dinner party he had attended the guests began discussing the daily discoveries made to the detriment of people occupying high stations in life and enjoying the confidence of the business world. Dr. Doyle said that it had always been his opinion that there was a skeleton in the closet of every man who had reached the age of forty. This led to a lot of discussion; some of the guests resenting the idea that there was no one who had not in his past something that was better concealed. As a result of the controversy, Dr. Doyle said, it was suggested that his views as to family skeletons be put to the test. The diners selected a man of their acquaintance whom all knew only as an upright Christian gentleman, whose word was accepted as quickly as his bond and who stood with the highest in every respect. ‘We wrote a telegram saying “All is discovered; flee at once” to this pillar of society,’ said Dr. Doyle, ‘and sent it. He disappeared the next day and has never been heard from since.’” There’s a skeleton in every man’s closet. There’s guilt over the past in every man’s mind.
We go to our text. David writes, “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear. Though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.” There were at least two times in David’s life where armies encamped against him in strong fashion: once was through no fault of his own, the King Saul had it out for him, and David couldn’t help but flee. But the second time, the second time, it was his own son, one he had raised, who raised an army against him, one that he loved, Absalom, was coming after him to kill him, to take his throne.
Consider the humanity of that story, from 2 Samuel 13–18. Could a dad like that keep himself from wondering what went wrong? Could a dad keep himself from wondering what he could’ve done to make this different, where he failed, what he could have done better?
Not all of us have sons that look to kill us and take the throne of Israel, not all of us have sons, but all of us know the fear of a guilty past.
The woman of John 8 knew it too. She was caught in the act. She was guilty. She was going to receive what the thief on the cross did in fact receive: due punishment for her crime. It wasn’t a misunderstanding and it wasn’t a cultural issue. She was guilty of sin there before the Pharisees, the scribes, and before the Son of Man, the Judge of the Living and the Dead, Jesus himself.
And Jesus, knowing her past, knowing her guilt, he says something that our culture knows, “Neither do I condemn you.” And our culture usually ends there, but Jesus continues “Neither do I condemn you, now go and sin no more.”
Notice what he does to her guilty past. One way you could say it is that he forgives but doesn't forget, but that doesn’t get to the bottom of it. He acknowledges her sin, and he forgives that sin. He sees her for exactly who she is. No illusions, no frills, no lies, exactly who she is, warts and all, and he forgives her and tells her, “Go and sin no more.” We get what Jesus means by the first part (at least we think we get it). He’s talking about his atoning work on the cross for this woman. He has taken away all of the guilt of her sin and has paid the entire price for it. It is nailed to the cross it is no more. But what does Jesus mean by “Go and sin no more?”
That’s what Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians 12. He had much the same kind of a life. Obvious sin. Obvious baggage, Obvious guilt, Obvious room for condemnation, a guilty past.
What does Paul mean, “I will not boast, except in weaknesses”? He means, “I will boast in the guilt of the past. I will boast in my shame. I will boast in my weakness.” He means what he says next, “So that the power of Christ may rest on me.”
I will boast in my weaknesses. That’s different from a Hugh Heffner, boasting in his millions and his playboy mansion, his obvious sin. That’s different from a Kim Kardashian boasting in her fame, in her possessions, in her obvious materialism. That’s different than a “You do you” “I’ll do me” attitude, that says we don't have anything to do with each other.
Instead, it’s an attitude that says, “I am strong because of Christ’s strength.” It’s an attitude that says, “My worth isn’t based on my performance; it’s based on Christ’s accomplishments.” It’s an attitude that says, “I can fully and freely admit every one of my shortcomings, because ‘my grace is sufficient for you.’”
I can be content when others insult, when others bring up the past, when others look down on me, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.”
So, how are we to be content in hardships and weaknesses? How does God got this in the middle of our guilty past?
When we repeat it. We can hear again and again how we have been forgiven. There are two kind of repetition in this life: repetition that makes something meaningless and repetition that makes something meaningful. Meaningless repetition that, when you say it over and over again it becomes meaningless. Take any word of the English language. You say it enough you write it enough and it starts to look strange, starts to look wrong.
The other type is repetition that makes something meaningful. You say, “I love you to your wife” over a lifetime and you will understand what that little word love means in a way that you could not have known when you began the journey. You hear how God forgives you enough and it will mean much much more to you after you realize how much there has been to forgive.
The difference between the two? The difference between is the time you take to say it. Today, take the time to dwell on the forgiveness proclaimed in the cross. Take the time to remember that forgiveness is the miracle that only God can give, and he lets you be a part of it too. Take the time to pause, to think, and to thank God for what only he can do.
God’s got this. Amen
Fear From Present Pain
First in a Series of Three – Whom Shall I Fear?
Psalm 27: 1-4, Romans 8:31-39, Mark 5:35-36
September 8, 2019
Psalm 27:1-3 – The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Some time ago, I went into the dentist for what they like to call a deep cleaning, and pretty soon into the conversation, I asked if I could have the laughing gas, also known as nitrous oxide. The dentist’s assistant indicated that it would be $20 extra, to which I replied, “no problem.” She asked if I wanted the nitrous oxide instead of Novocain, to which I responded, “No, in addition to the Novocain. And then I added, “I’m not a fan of pain.” To which she said, “no problem.” I say I’m not a fan of pain. Debi would tell you that I’m a big baby. Which seems a bit harsh to me.
We are starting a three part sermon series today, “Whom Shall I Fear?” Next Sunday is “Fear of Future Worries”, the Sunday after that, “Fear of a Guilty Past”, and today “Fear of Present Pain.” Today, we focus not so much on our regrets out of the past which are haunting us, not so much on the anxiety we have with regard to our future, but rather the troubles and the tribulations that face us here and now, in these very days. Three Scriptures we would explore today, three comforting truths that would help us not to be afraid in these days, three lessons we would learn about what it means to be, as Paul declares, more than conquerors through Christ who loved us.
Truth #1 that would help us not to be afraid in these days is that Again and again, David would flee for refuge to God’s (dwelling place)
In Psalm 27, David would teach us that if you put the presence of Almighty God on one side of the scale and all the armies of his enemies on the other side of the scale, the presence of the Lord would win the day every time. He specifies two great blessings of what it means that his sins have been forgiven and his soul has been saved. Blessing #1 is joy, which is symbolized by light, and Blessing #2 is security, which is symbolized by words like stronghold / shelter / hiding place / cover of his tent.
Even though it was true that David’s enemies were lurking in all kinds of dark corners, one thing matter more than all of that, that he was free to worship in the house of his Lord. One thing mattered more than all of his troubles, that he could gaze upon and revel in the beauty of the sanctuary. One thing mattered more than all of his present pain, whether it be self-inflicted or otherwise, was that God was with him and that he could flee for refuge to his dwelling place any time that he wanted to do so.
Story of Mom fleeing for refuge to her Bible and her big green prayer book when she was afraid. When any of us kids were out and about on a Friday or Saturday night, she wouldn’t go to bed until we came home. We knew that she would be drinking warm milk and crackers (an old remedy for not being able to sleep), she would be reading her Bible, she would be worrying, she would be saying her prayers. Again and again she would flee for refuge to the presence of her God.
Fast forward four decades, and now it’s Debi and my turn to sit up and worry and pray until our kids came home. Except Debi refused to do that. I would say, “don’t you think we should stay awake and pray until they come home?” She would say, “No, they’re God’s kids too. He loves them even more than we do. He will stay awake. I’m going to bed.” One more time, Debi got it right – she rested in the promises of God, she trusted that their Father in heaven neither slumbered nor slept, God was with them.
Romans 8:31-32 – What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can e against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Truth #2 that would help us not to be afraid in these days is that Not only is God with us, He is (for us). In Romans 8, Paul argues from the greater to the lesser. If God has already done the greater work, why would you think he couldn’t do the lesser? If God has already sacrificed his one and only and beloved Son for us, why would we think he wouldn’t be fighting on our behalf in the midst of pain and suffering here and now. If Christ was willing to suffer and be crucified until he was dead and buried for us, why would we think he wouldn’t be sitting on the right hand of his Father in these very days interceding for us?
Romans 8 has sort of a “bring it on” mentality that well equipped soldiers might have as part of a well trained army. If God is for us, who can be against us. Bring it on! If the devil tries to tell us that God is punishing us with present pain for sins we have committed, our Father fires back with the fact that he has already punished in full his only Son and we walk away declared not guilty. Bring it on! The world will try to condemn us with every weapon in its arsenal, but Jesus fires back that he is holding the whole world in his hands, and that nobody nowhere no how is going to separate us from his love. Bring it on!
The problem we have so much of the time is that we try to take on our enemies with our own strength instead of putting on the full armor of God. (Story of Laurie Paulson, a well built and strong running back from Hankinson, leading the charge against my team, the Wyndmere Warriers. At one point he came right at me, an outside of linebacker, and instead of going low and tackling him, I tried to hit him high and he flattened me. To make matters worse, I smarted off before the next plan and said something like, “Laurie (a girls name if I ever heard one), try that again!” And he ran my direction and right through me a second time, and then a third. To make matters worse, the ref was irritated me, as well as my coach. Not one of my shining moments, I’m sure you would agree.
Dear friends in Christ, it is only by the grace of God that we dare say to the devil, bring it on. It is only when we immersed ourselves in the Word of the living God that we dare say to the world, bring it on. It is only when we spend time in prayer that we dare think of ourselves as “more than conquerors.”
Mark 5: 36 - Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe….39 -And when he had entered, Jesus said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping….41 -Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was 12 years of age.)
Truth #1 that drives out fear is that God is with us. Truth #2 that helps us not be afraid is that God is not only with us, he is for us, and Truth #3 that would help us not be afraid in these days is that Even when it seems as though all is lost, in Christ, (it isn’t)
For the synagogue ruler named Jairus in today’s Gospel lesson, all was lost. His 12 year old daughter was dead, his friends were telling him not to trouble the Teacher, his family was already hiring the professional mourners to do their weeping and their wailing, the funeral director of that day was getting ready to do a burial, but Jairus insisted on believing. He seemed to have a little spark of faith in the midst of the kind of pain only a parent who loses a child will understand
To Jairus, Jesus declares, “Have no fear, only continue to believe.” To the professional mourners and the scoffers, Jesus says, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” To the little girl, Jesus says, I say to you, arise. Even when it seems as though all is lost, in Christ, it isn’t.
In closing, I take you back to my mom sitting on her couch, reading her Bible, saying her prayers, worrying, not sleeping. Wednesday night, September 4, 1968. That night her worst fears came true. Her son Curtis didn’t come home, he didn’t just fall asleep while driving his car, he died by way of a one car accident. Could life get any worse? Could the pain be any more intense?
And yet in the very next day, her Pastor took her and her family by the hand, he read Psalm 23, he read Scriptures that spoke of their son being in the presence of Jesus, he read Scriptures that spoke of resurrection, he invited her to not be afraid, only to believe.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks whose lives include all kinds of bumps and bruises, some days mere annoyances, other days they are rocked by tragedy. On their not so good days, they worry, they lose sleep, they pray, and they wonder if their prayers will be heard. But on their good days, they fear, love, and trust in God above all things. On their good days, they know that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. On their good days, they stand up straight and say, The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? t\They are still and know that God is God, they hold their heads up and say to one another, “God’s got this.” On the days when they gaze upon the beauty of the Lord in his sanctuary, they are bound together by a confidence that looks forward to the day when Jesus Christ will take by the hand little girls and little boys, he will take by the hand old men and even older women, they look forward to the day when he will take by the hand all who have believed and been baptized into the Name of the Triune God, and he will say to every one of them, “Arise.”
The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?
Moving Towards Humility
Fifth in a series of Five, “Now What?”
Luke 14:1–14 // Hebrews 13:1–17 // Proverbs 25:2–10 // Philippians 2:5–10
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text is Luke 14, especially these famous words of Jesus, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Dear friends in Christ,
We’ve been in the midst of a five-week sermon series as we explore the question “Now What?” and consider our future together. We’ve been wondering about the future for many years now, and here, it seems, we find ourselves at a crossroads, asking the question, Now What? What are we going to do next? How do we honor the past and move toward the future. More importantly, what are the needs of our community that our Lord is asking us to meet with the words of the Gospel?
In the last five weeks, we’ve been moving towards contentment, moving towards certainty, moving towards division, moving towards the narrow door, and today, moving towards humility, towards getting low.
Get Low! I have never been the biggest person ever, and that was true in high school too. So, when I was playing basketball down in the post, with guys who had twenty, thirty, fifty pounds on me, my coach Rick Riehl would tell me, Paul, you’re not going to be able to push them around, so you’ve gotta get position. You better just get low. A bigger, stronger person might have the luxury of being out of position, but a scrawny guy like me, you could see that the only thing I could possibly do was to get low.
Get Low! Several years ago, I had the chance to watch my little niece. She was at that very cute stage when she had learned to walk but she was a little wobbly. We went to a play area and she saw a tunnel that she wanted to go through, and the top of the tunnel came to about here. She was just a couple inches too tall, so she pressed her forehead against the top of that tunnel, pushed against it, and cried, unwilling or unable to bend her head down. What was very frustrating for her was almost comical on the outside, because you could see that all she needed to do was get low.
Today, we consider Jesus’s teaching on humility in Luke 14, how he bids the folks at a dinner party to humble themselves in all their vocations, in every chapter of life, and no one makes it through that dinner party unscathed.
First, we consider moving away from pride. Second, we consider what it means to move toward humility.
First, we consider moving away from pride. Who is Jesus speaking to? This dinner party was full of the social elite. These were the educated, the wealthy, the well-connected people, and they were wanting to keep and improve their position in life, and they were here because they had received an invitation to a dinner party hosted by a prestigious man with a popular and controversial teacher attending, and they wanted to be there to trap him.
They were after their own social position, their own social standing. They wanted to look good in front of others. In fact, they had a chance to be immortalized here in our text. If they would have trapped Jesus in his words, their social stock would have risen, and they would have been there, at the time when Jesus took it on the chin. Except that he didn’t.
What are we tempted to take pride in? There are a host of bad things that you can have pride in... anger, treatment of others, ability to use others... but there’s also a host of good things that its still sinful to take pride in... that I’m a good father... that I’m a successful worker... that I’m . Do you notice the common denominator? The focus is on the “I.”
Jesus bids us and the Pharisees to get low today. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” He says, “Go to the lowest station, because when you are there, the host may ask you to move up.” Do you notice what that does? When you get low, it takes the focus off of you, and puts it on the other.
But look at another example in our text: the man with dropsy. Don’t you wonder how he got there in our text today? He just kind of appears before Jesus. But one can imagine that he too was invited to this important dinner party as a prop. He was there, because the Pharisees wanted to test Jesus, wanted to trap him. You see, dropsy, or edema as we call it, was a condition where your body retained water, and it caused painful swelling apparent all over the body. In the ancient world, it was considered an outward sign that God was punishing you. And this man, he was used by the “righteous” Pharisees as a trap for Jesus. That is humiliating.
But the one who humbles himself will be exalted. Out of everyone at this dinner party, the man with dropsy is singularly blessed. He is called up to the head of the table. He is healed. He is saved. He is sent away.
The kingdom of heaven is like a family that is called to get low. Week after week, they get low. They get into position to receive all that God would give, and as often as they get in position to receive forgiveness, the forgiveness of God overflows onto them.
Jesus invites us to move away from our pride, and, part two, Jesus invites us to move towards humility, and to be humble is to get low.
Because, of course, Jesus was humbled for us. Philippians 2 says it like this, humbled to the point of death. Have you considered lately that Jesus chose to die? He chose to hang upon the cross, but that was not of the “I” in his life, not my will but yours, dear Father in Heaven, yours be done. He was humble to the point of death so that he could glorify the Father and send the Spirit that would witness in our hearts to Jesus once again.
Do you see that the nature of our Triune God, one in three and three in one, is one of humility, one of each person of the Trinity giving and receiving from the other? Our God is the Great I AM, and he is point of Jesus’s last parable to the lead Pharisee in Luke 14.
The person who invited Jesus to this dinner was the leader of the Pharisees in that town. He had chosen his attendees carefully, and he expected them to play their part. He had set up this dinner party for his own benefit.
But Jesus’s words go beyond just the situation that is before him in our text. It’s common sense to us that we would care for those who care for us, that we would invite those who invite us, that we would give gifts to those who give gifts to us.
What Jesus is saying is dangerous, isn’t it? Inviting those whom you don’t know, inviting the desperate, inviting the hardened, inviting those whom our society and our neighbors would consider a lost cause, a burden, a risk, a bad investment.
But it is precisely here that we find a picture of our Father who is in heaven. While you were still an enemy, he invited you to his banquet table. While you were sinning against him in most grievous fashion, he was sending his son to die for your sin. While you were looking on without counting the cost, he was counting every penny of the sin that you had done, for the express purpose that he could pay for it all. And because he invites, so do we invite.
It’s the kind of thing that we do when we believe that our reward is in the resurrection of the just, that our lives are hidden with Christ on high. It’s the kind of thing we do when we ask the question, “What can man do to me?” It’s the kind of thing that happens after you remember our theme verse for this year, Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my Light and my Salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the Stronghold of my Life, of whom shall be afraid?”
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town that’s moving away from their pride. More and more they fall to their knees, through away their arrogance and cry out “Not my will but yours be done.” They are moving towards humility, the kind of humility that chases after a savior who humbled himself for their sake. The kind of humility that makes disciples for Jesus Christ.
God’s got this. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther