12th Sunday after Pentecost – 8/28/2022
Well, another Eastern Montana Fair has come and gone. For many of us, this marks more than the calendar that summer is drawing to a close. To be sure, the calendar tells us that fall does not officially begin until September 22. However, all students and teachers intuitively know that the fair signals that our brief hiatus from school for the summer is ending. And so it is that all schools in our area will begin classes for the 2022–2023 school term this coming week.
This startup of schools, of course, includes our own Trinity Lutheran Classical School. I know you all join me in praying that the Lord might bless our teachers and aides with His wisdom and strength to carry out their noble tasks as servants of the Word of God and grant them true joy in their ministry to the children He has brought to us.
Indulge me for a moment or two to make a few comments about Christian education. Christian education stands apart from other education. It is so different from education in the secular realm that those who despise Christianity would like to label Christian education as subversive to society. I suppose, in a sense, I would have to agree with these voices. What a genuine Christian education teaches is completely counter to everything our culture teaches us. You heard me correctly. Christian education, just like the faith it teaches, is counter-cultural. In other words, our Classical School curriculum, our Sunday School program, our Catechism classes, our Bible studies, the sermons we hear, and even the liturgy of our worship, are not only different from everything you and I are taught and confronted with in our daily lives in this world, but they are purposely the absolute reverse! They counter our culture!
Can you and I handle this? If we are teaching the truths of Christ as we ought, we should not be surprised if the world considers those of us who teach the Christian faith, teachers, pastors, and parents, to be subversives. The Scribes and Pharisees considered Jesus as such. They charged him before Pilate as a subversive and an enemy of the state.
It is Jesus that we teach. His truth and ways are contrary to conventional wisdom! Not surprisingly, Jesus issued a warning: "If they hated Me, they will hate you because of my words!"
Today, if you are up to it, we are going to allow this radical, Jesus, to teach us. Now, be prepared. He has single-handedly turned our whole world upside down! He is a true revolutionary! There is nothing conventional, or to use today’s vernacular, politically correct, or progressive about his methods or his teaching. Some of what he has to say will shock you. Some of his teachings will no doubt incense you. But all of it, I guarantee you, will challenge you to think and live in a counter-cultural manner!
In our text, we find that Jesus had been invited to the home of a prominent Pharisee to dine with him on the Sabbath. Rest assured that social grace had nothing to do with this invitation. From Luke's description, we know that Jesus' host had more in mind than simply being cordial. It was, in a word, a trap. This Pharisee had also invited some of the experts in the law. It was a conspiracy to catch Jesus either breaking the law especially that of the Sabbath, or else saying something contradictory to the law so that they might have grounds to charge him with heresy or even blasphemy.
Jesus was more than happy to oblige them. Right before their eyes, Jesus healed a man who had been grotesquely disfigured by dropsy, or as it is often called today, edema. (The body swells from water retention.) Jesus' action was sure to raise the hackles of these legal types, who considered such an active work and, therefore, a violation of the prohibition of work on the Sabbath, an action punishable by death.
However, Jesus headed them off at the pass. Before they could raise their cries of "lawbreaker" against him, Jesus pointedly asked them, "Who among you, if his son or ox were to fall into a well, would not immediately haul him up on the day of the Sabbath?" He had them! What could they say? They all knew, Sabbath or not, they would not even hesitate in mercy to save the animal. Could they then attack Jesus for mercifully acting to save this poor man?
Jesus, then, instantly made them all ponder the real purpose of the Sabbath. "Why did God give them the Sabbath in the first place? Was it intended to burden humanity or, as the word implies, to impart it to the rest? Jesus would comment elsewhere: "The Sabbath was given to man, not man for the Sabbath."
By turning the tables on them in this way, Jesus was now ready to challenge their cherished assumptions about other aspects of life in his kingdom. He had noticed that as all the guests had arrived, like little children scrambling to be the first in line, these grown leaders of Israel were hurrying and pushing to sit at the chief positions of honor at the table. (Custom has it that these would have been the center places.)
Jesus told them this parable: "When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sat at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. "
Although Jesus was known to give very practical advice on occasion, His goal here was not to be a first-century Emily Post and teach social etiquette. His message "is not about party manners and human endeavors to look good and avoid embarrassment. Rather, Jesus' teaching expands on his unique role as host of the Messianic banquet, who calls people into fellowship at the table of His Messianic feast "(David L. Bahn, Con. Pulpit Helps, vol. 8, part 3, p.51).
In a world characterized by corporate ladder climbing, pride, arrogance, getting ahead of everyone else, large egos, and self-assertiveness, Christ's kingdom fits in like a square peg in a round hole. Christ’s kingdom is not a place of arrogance but rather of humility. Christ’s kingdom is the exact opposite of being concerned with oneself first. It is always considering others as more important than oneself. Instead of honor being seen in those positions which exercise authority over others, Christ's kingdom is a place where the humbled are honored, the lowly elevated, and the servant of all is considered the greatest! Is this not truly radical for our culture? No wonder the enemies of Jesus’ apostles lamented: "They turn the world upside down with their teaching!"
Try this on for size. Do you have more respect and honor for the person who serves you the burger, shines your shoes, and empties your bedpan than the person in the White House? (Given all that our current president has been doing and initiating to irritate you, using him as an analogy right now might not have been the wisest choice!)
But I think you get the message. Imagine hearing your graduating son or daughter say, "You know, I don't think I want to be a business tycoon or bank president. I want to serve people by being a house cleaner or a maid. " How you react will tell you a lot about whose mindset you have, God's or the worlds.
And think about the last time you did something for someone else without wanting or needing any sort of recognition, or a slap on the back. Was it just yesterday, or are you having a hard time thinking of such a time? You see, we have all allowed the world to indoctrinate us with its perverse concept of glory. It's completely self-centered and self-seeking.
But as Jesus' proposed scenario illustrates, honor is not something one achieves or deserves. Honor is a gift given. It's not an honor when you have to grab it for yourself. Such glory-seeking will eventually end in humiliation. God will see to it. In the long run, it is not the President Biden’s, or even the LeBron James’s of this world that will be held in the highest esteem. Rather, it will be the Mother Theresa's of the world. Jesus says, "The meek shall inherit the earth." The God who "shows no partiality to princes and does not favor the rich over the poor" (Job 34:19), delights in showing grace and favor to the lowly and exalts those who are humble (Luke 1:52).
This counter-cultural ideal is defined and expressed more clearly in Jesus than anywhere else. Although He is God in human flesh, "He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant ... He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross" (Phil. 2:6-8). It was not above Jesus' divinity to stoop down and wash His disciples' feet, nor enter the homes of the poor and outcast. He considered it an honor to receive in his body the punishment of worthless and despicable sinners like you and me!
God the Father rewarded Jesus' humility with honor and glory, seating Him at His right hand and placing all things under His feet.
Of all the people who have experienced what true honor is, we, of all people, have experienced what true honor is. Jesus, the Son of God, has served us with his very life. Through Holy Baptism, we have been washed in the blood of this Servant and made heirs with Him of heavenly glory. The way of humiliation has been imprinted on our very souls. Jesus' humiliation has brought us the wealth of eternal honor. We, of all people, can afford to be humble and do not need massive earthly paybacks or the accolades of men!
The upshot of all this, then, is how does God's service of me in Christ lead me to live concerning my fellow human beings? Do I live to be honored by them or to live to honor them? Jesus said to His host: "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. "
The very words Jesus uses here teach us just how counter-cultural his ways are to the way our world programs us to think. When he describes the meal we invite our relatives and rich neighbors to, he refers to it as dinner. But when he speaks of inviting the dregs of society—the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind—to a meal, Jesus uses the term "feast". The latter is a meal for a king! You dressed the dog for them! You are more than simply being cordial. You are treating them like royalty!
When was the last time you and I gave royal treatment to a poor, needy person instead of giving them the leftovers from our pantry? Who are you and I willing to put ourselves out there for our friends or strangers who could benefit the most from our help? Whom do we strive to be around: Miles City's elite or the snubbed of society? Do we look for opportunities to serve others, or do we always expect others to come begging and then praise us for our efforts? Whom are we more likely to invite to worship so they can hear the good news of God's wedding banquet: upstanding, good, and clean people or smelly old vagrants who come panhandling to our door?
Do you see just how formidable our task is in Christian education—in making disciples of Jesus Christ? Yes, I’m afraid, we have to be a little subversive. We don’t need to just educate people, we have to reprogram them! What we have to teach is the exact opposite of everything our perverted culture trains us to think and do. Christian education, therefore, cannot be relegated to a Sunday school class once in a while. Our minds and hearts need to be re-shaped...according to God's will and ways. We daily need to be infused with the humility of Christ that is brought to us through the Gospel of the Lord and His Holy Sacraments. His humiliation has brought us exaltation. We need no other honor and glory.