Sunday, September 18, 2016

Homily for The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 17)

Luke 14:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-6; Proverbs 25:6-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” That is the Third Commandment. That is why we are here today. No, it’s not Saturday. It doesn’t really matter what day it is, but we gather on this day because it is the Lord’s Day, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Sabbath doesn’t mean Saturday. Sabbath means rest. The Sabbath Day is a day to rest in the Lord. Yes, it is true that the LORD commanded His people, and you, to not work. There is even an account of a man who was caught gathering sticks on a Sabbath who was put to death for His contempt. That is why some sects of Judaism are prohibited to even flip on a light switch or to punch digits into a microwave oven on a Sabbath. To perform any labor, regardless of how menial, is thought to be a violation of the Sabbath law. Therefore, you can plainly see why Jesus fell so quickly out of favor with the Pharisees. Jesus regularly helped and healed people in need on the Sabbath. He encouraged His disciples to pluck grain and eat on the Sabbath. But, should we therefore conclude that Jesus had contempt for the Sabbath? Did Jesus have contempt for the LORD? No, of course not. But, once again, we see that the Pharisees believed that they practiced the letter of the law, which they truly didn’t, while they knew nothing of the spirit of the law, which is love. Love is the fulfilling of the law. Doing the loving thing is always the lawful thing.
The man who was executed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath was doing so, not out of loving service, but out of contempt for the Sabbath and for the LORD. Those who willfully neglect taking rest in the LORD, time to hear His Word and receive His gifts and return to Him thanks and praise do the same. Thus, Luther explains the Third Commandment in His Small Catechism saying, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” You see, there is absolutely nothing in this commandment about not working, not serving, not doing what needs to be done to care for yourself and others, but the Third Commandment is all about receiving – about setting aside sacred time to rest in God’s Word and Gifts, to thank and to praise Him. If your ox falls into a well on the Sabbath, by all means, help the poor beast and pull him out! And, if anyone has need and you have the means and opportunity to help them, even on a Sabbath, not only are you not prohibited by the Third Commandment, but you are actually commanded to do the loving thing, to do the lawful thing, and to help that person. As Jesus taught, “Just do it!” J
And so it was that Jesus was dining with the Pharisees in the home of a Pharisee on a Sabbath day. You can be certain that some goy (Gentile) prepared the meal, lit the lamps, and even opened the door for the guests. The Pharisees were watching Jesus carefully. That is to say that they were hoping to catch Him in some transgression of the law that they could accuse Him and condemn Him. It was a trap. “And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.” Dropsy would be called edema today, a swelling of the limbs due to excess water. One who suffered from dropsy in the first century would have been considered to be especially unclean, both due to the disfigurement it caused and due to the assumption that dropsy was a result of immoral behavior. St. Luke introduces the man with dropsy saying “And behold!” It almost sounds as if he miraculously appeared before Jesus; and maybe he did. The Pharisees would not have permitted him in because of his uncleanness. Perhaps Jesus saw him outside the window or passed him on his way in. However he appeared there, the man with dropsy became an object lesson by which Jesus would catch the Pharisees in His own trap.
When the man with dropsy appeared before Him, Jesus turned to the lawyers and Pharisees and He asked them, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” They could not answer Him a word, so they remained silent. Though they wanted to say, “No, it is not lawful to heal on the Sabbath,” they could not, for the law that was written on their hearts and in their conscience convicted them. They knew that the spirit of the law was to love, that love is always lawful. This was an opportunity for the lawyers and Pharisees to repent, to be changed in their hearts and minds, and to be cleansed, healed, and restored from their sin-sickness-unto-death. And, over the course of Jesus’ ministry several did including Nicodemus and Saul. However, most did not, but they hardened their hearts against Jesus and against God’s law, against God Himself. In the end, they stood in firm opposition to the LORD, even though they knew in their hearts that He was right and true and innocent. They condemned Him and sent Him to the cross and murdered Him rather than risk losing their power, wealth, and influence among the people.
Jesus did not hesitate. He was not ruled by fear and coercion under the law, but was free in the spirit of the Law and the grace of the Gospel that He embodied and which He was proclaiming to all who felt the burden of their sins and uncleanness and cried out for mercy in humility and repentance. “He took him and healed him and sent him away.” Then Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of the lawyers and Pharisees by reminding them how they would without hesitation help their son or daughter or a beast of burden that was in distress on a Sabbath, but they would not lift a finger to help the man with dropsy, claiming obedience to the law of God as an excuse for their lack of love, mercy, and compassion. Once again they had nothing to answer. They remained silent, convicted by the truth and righteousness of the Word of the LORD.
However, this incident wasn’t about the law at all, at least, not for Jesus, but it was about the Gospel. That is why Jesus quickly turns to teach about humility. Jesus knew the hearts of the lawyers and Pharisees. They were filled with pride and self-righteousness. Their reading of the law permitted them to judge and condemn others and to justify themselves. They believed that they kept the law exceedingly well, and they did in some respects, but, in truth, they had lowered the bar of the law in order to make it more do-able, and yet kept that bar high enough that most others fell short. It’s rather easy to keep the Sabbath if all it means is to sit on your butt and not lift a finger to do anything or help anyone. However, that is NOT what the Third Commandment commands. The Third Commandment, like all the Commandments, commands love for God first and, consequently, love for the neighbor – for all neighbors, at all times, without exception or discrimination, even on a Sabbath, perhaps especially on a Sabbath.
Jesus knew that the lawyers and Pharisees enjoyed and coveted the honor and prestige they had among the people. Therefore He told them a parable about not seeking the highest places of honor when invited to a feast or a banquet. Jesus instructed them to take the lowest place that they might, perchance, be invited by the master of the feast to move up higher, and then be honored in the presence of others since that means so much to them. Jesus doesn’t care about the honor of men, but He knew that the Pharisees did. Still, there was a barb in Jesus’ parable, for the entire situation placed the Pharisees in a passive and receptive position: They were invited to a feast. They might be invited to move up to a higher place. This was not the way the lawyers and Pharisees imagined themselves. They were proud. They assumed that they merited and deserved the invitation, that they merited and deserved the place of honor. Their pride blinded them. They couldn’t grasp the concept that, before the LORD, they were no more worthy, meritorious, or deserving of honor than were notorious sinners – tax collectors and prostitutes – or the unclean – lepers, Samaritans, Gentiles, the woman with the flow of blood, or even the man with dropsy whom Jesus had just cleansed and healed before them on a Sabbath. Indeed, that man was not invited to the feast by the lawyers and Pharisees, but he was welcomed and honored by Jesus in their presence and given the highest place – the love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, healing, and cleansing of Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, the fulfillment of the Law of God, the Lord of the Sabbath and of us all.
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” I suppose this is a law statement to those whose hearts are proud and hard like the lawyers and the Pharisees, but to those who are humble and broken, to those who confess and acknowledge their sinful weakness and unworthiness before the LORD, it is pure, beautiful, glorious, and liberating Gospel. And, that is what the invitation is in Jesus’ parable – Gospel. You do not get into the Wedding Banquet of King Jesus by your merit and worth, but you are invited by grace – grace alone, received through faith alone, in the Word of God Jesus Christ alone. And, though you do not merit a place of honor, you are honored with a place – a place Jesus has prepared for you in His Father’s House, to which He will come and raise you from death to reside forever with Him on the day of His return in glory.
It is said that the cause of Lucifer’s fall from grace was his pride, hence the phrase, “Pride goeth before the fall.” I suspect that there was more to it than that, but there is no doubt that pride was a significant part of his fall. However, pride takes many forms: Self-righteousness, self-importance, selfishness, arrogance, rudeness, insensitivity and lack of compassion and mercy, impatience, lack of self-control, wrath, intolerance, lovelessness. Therefore St. Paul exhorts you to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This begins in your home with your husband, wife, and children, and in the church, your family of faith in Christ. Here is where you are given to love and endure and forgive, so that you may be a light, leaven, and salt when you leave this place and witness to Christ and the glory of the LORD in the world. Right here, in this place and in your homes, more than anywhere else, you must humble yourself and serve your brother and sister in Christ so that you may be equipped to love and show mercy, compassion, and forgiveness to your neighbor in the world, be he friend or foe. For, “there is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” The man with dropsy, the lawyer and the Pharisee, the tax collector and the prostitute, the homosexual, the tax cheat, the liar, the divorcee and the adulterer, the petty thief, the gossip and the backbiter, the fearful and the hateful, the unforgiving, and, yes, even you, are invited to the Wedding Feast. However, do not come with your prideful and arrogant expectations of self-worth and self-importance, but come in humility, in broken-heartedness, contrition, and repentance and you will be honored. You will be honored with forgiveness and healing and restoration and life that never ends with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For, all are one in the LORD, “there is no distinction: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This is His gracious invitation to you. As you have received, so must you also share, for this is the fruit of repentance and love to the glory of God.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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