Following Jesus: Unassumingly

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, 1 September 2019
A Sermon on Luke 14:1-14 by Samuel David Zumwalt

Luke 14:1-14 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “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?” 6 And they could not reply to these things. 7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “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, 9 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. 10 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 sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “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. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

FOLLOWING JESUS: UNASSUMINGLY

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Welcome in the name of Jesus, the Crucified and Risen Son of God, the ascended Lord of the Church, the One who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead! Whether you are already baptized or on your way to becoming baptized, the Lord Jesus is calling you to follow Him. In His Church, Baptism is the beginning of a relationship with our older Brother, who chooses us and claims us as disciples (that is, learners) through no effort or merit of our own. In that Teacher-student relationship we learn by accompanying Jesus and doing what He does. As we listen to Jesus, we will hear Him teaching us, usually gently but sometimes with greater force, saying: “Not that way, but like this!” Today we learn to follow Jesus unassumingly – by which we mean: not arrogantly but humbly! If you aren’t sure you want to follow, keep listening.

Seeing the World Through the Lens of Social Location

Some people are obsessed with their place in the world. Going to meetings with other pastors can be like your first day at kindergarten where you already start to see how other people dress, how popular they are, and who the teachers seem to like more. With other pastors, you can already see who needs to appear to be smarter, who wants to acquire more influence and a bigger church, and who wants to get close to the bishop and perhaps eventually even become bishop. When I was a young pastor, I loved going to church conventions, because it was the way to make yourself known to other pastors, to laypersons from other congregations, and to the bishop. As an older pastor, I laugh at my younger self when I see that nothing has changed. It’s called sin.

The Pharisees and lawyers (who were Bible scholars) liked their place in the world. They were certain they not only knew the good and gracious will of God. They were certain they were in such complete conformity to the good and gracious will of God, that they could assess who was and wasn’t in their same social location. They were Jewish men, who loved the 613 commandments found in the first five books of the Bible, and they organized their entire lives around the proper keeping of those commandments. They were very suspicious of Rabbi Jesus.

A Pharisee had invited Rabbi Jesus to supper, because the Pharisees knew that Jesus had already previously healed two persons on the Sabbath (Luke 6:10; 13:13). They were watching Jesus closely to see if He would break the commandment against working on the Sabbath by healing someone. Conveniently, a man with a physical ailment just happened to be invited, too. Demonstrating that He is the Lord over even the Sabbath, the Lord Jesus first asked the religious experts if it was OK to heal on the Sabbath and, then, He healed the man. After sending the guy away, Jesus asked whether even these religious experts broke the Sabbath to rescue from a well either a son, who would take care of you in old age, or an animal you needed to make a living. In essence, Jesus asked which was more important: strict observance of the Sabbath or mercy?

Jesus Changes the Way We See Ourselves

Our English word “humble” and the related verb “humiliate” are from the Latin root word, which literally means “on the ground.” When someone is not arrogant, we say, “She or he is down to earth.” When someone is arrogant, we say, “She or he is stuck up.” So, then, Jesus teaches us today: “Not that way (stuck up) but like this (down to earth). A disciple is humble.

There are a lot of people, not just pastors and not just religious experts, who resemble the Pharisees and lawyers. These “stuck up” ones will try to intimidate others on the basis of class, money, education, political affiliation, race, sex, and what is commonly called gender. Now, some of what we are is a matter of birth. We are born with either male or female genetic makeup. We are born with certain physical characteristics because of our racial makeup. We are born into identifiable geographic locations. We are born with uniquely nascent (or raw) gifts that can be honed and developed through practice. We are born into certain socioeconomic classes. Some things about us can be changed by adoption, by relocating, and by education or skill development. We can even change our physical appearance, but that doesn’t change our DNA. In other words, there is a certain “is-ness” about each person. And God loves everyone! Period.

The Pharisees and lawyers (or Bible scholars) thought they had Rabbi Jesus’ social location all figured out. They thought they knew who Jesus was and that He was not in their league. They did not know that Jesus is the Son of God, who would be crucified for sinners and raised from the dead, who would ascend (which means to be differently present) as Lord of the Church, and who will come in glory to judge (which means to sort out) all the living and the dead – me and you. Every year on Ash Wednesday we are reminded we are dust and to dust we shall return.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is the Friend of sinners. When the religious and political leaders execute Jesus by nailing Him to a cross, He is still befriending sinners including a thief who says, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into Your kingdom” (23:42).” And Jesus answers: “Today, you will be with Me in Paradise” (23:43). I need to say this clearly. That scene is not an argument against Baptism, where we are joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection. The thief on the cross was literally crucified with Jesus. That’s what happens when we are baptized. We are crucified with the Friend of sinners and raised to a new life in which we are His and He is ours!

The Unassuming Life of the Baptized

When we follow Jesus, we do so because we know that He is the crucified Son of God who died on account of our sins, Who is risen from the dead and now is differently present as the Lord of the Church, and Who will come again to sort out those who know their need for Him from those who want no part of Him. The down to earth will be lifted up by the mercy of God.

Your baptism into Christ is the only identity that matters. When you are baptized, you have a new identity as child of God that changes how you see yourself, how you see your place in the world, and how you see others, too. Following Jesus, you are freed from getting caught up in this world’s identity politics. Being obsessed with your place at the trough is such foolishness, Jesus says, because, in this world, there will always be those who will sort you out by what they perceive they can get from you. The high and mighty end up just as dead as the lowly poor. In this world, whoever dies with the most toys, the nicest house and car, the best body and dental work can be reduced in a crematory to an average of six pounds of male ash or four of female.

Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, you have the promise that the Holy Spirit will raise you from the dead and give to all believers in Christ eternal life with God. Truly, the only location the baptized need to care about is that we are accompanying Jesus to everlasting life. All the rest of this world’s identities are a matter of “is-ness” and opportunities to imitate Jesus by serving Jesus’ Father and our neighbor joyfully all the days of our lives in whatever way we can.

So, you can be reverent in God’s house and are strong enough to carry the processional cross, you can be a crucifer. So, you are attentive to detail, you can join the altar guild and learn to prepare the altar for worship and clean the vessels reverently afterwards. So, you are able to read well and have a love for God’s Word and the services of His house, you can train to be a lector or an assisting minister. So, you know how to be welcoming to others, you can be a greeter. So, you have an eye for order and love the services of God’s house, you can train to be an usher. So, you have musical gifts and love the services of God’s house, you can sing in a choir or play handbells or another instrument. So, you have bookkeeping or financial gifts and care about how God’s things are managed, you can join the Finance Team. So, you can cook and have a heart for those who are hurting, you can sign up to provide hospice meals. So, you have time and want to help our parish to have a successful Christkindlmarkt, you can sign up to work in some way. Etc.

Today, when the baptized come empty-handed to the Lord’s Table for the Eucharist, the Lord Jesus invites us to receive His true Body and most precious Blood. We, who are sinners, know our need for Jesus to save us every day from the foolishness of this world’s social games and the emptiness of the devil’s promises. We have no need for anything but God’s love in Jesus Christ.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin Insert
Following Jesus: Unassumingly

Praying

“Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 619).

Listening

Luke 14:1 “One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.”

St. Cyril [early 5th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt] “A Pharisee, of higher rank than usual, invited Jesus to a banquet. Although he knew their bad intentions, he went with him and ate in their company. He did not submit to this act of condescension to honor his host. He rather instructed his fellow guests by words and miraculous deeds that might lead them to acknowledgement of the true service, even that taught us by the gospel… Perhaps they might believe that he is God and the Son of God, who took on our likeness but was unchanged and did not cease to be what he had been” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke, 235).

Luke 14:5 “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?”

St. Cyril of Alexandria: “As they were silent from ill will, Christ refutes their unrelenting shamelessness by the convincing arguments that he uses…If the law forbids showing mercy on the sabbath, why do you take compassion on that which has fallen into the pit?…The God of all does not cease to be kind. He is good and loving to people” (236).

Luke 14:10 “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place…”

St. Augustine [late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius, Algeria]: “There are humble religious, and there are proud religious. The proud ones should not promise themselves the kingdom of God. The place to which dedicated chastity leads is certainly higher, but the one who exalts himself will be humbled. Why seek the higher place with an appetite for the heights, when you can make it simply by holding on to lowliness? If you exalt yourself, God throws you down. If you cast yourself down, God lifts you up. One may not add to or subtract from the Lord’s pronouncement” (236).

Luke 14:14 “… For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

St. Irenaeus [late 2nd – very early 3rd century Bishop of present-day Lyons, France]: “Where are the hundredfold rewards in this age for the dinners offered to the poor? These things will be during the times of the kingdom, on the seventh day that is sanctified when God rested from all his works that he made. This is the true sabbath of the just, in which they will have no earthly work to do but will have a table prepared before them by God, who will feed them will all kinds of delicacies” (237).

Reflecting

1. Do I look for excuses not to do the good my neighbor needs from me?

2. Am I irritated by the notion that God will show mercy to those I don’t think deserve it?

3. What would it look like for me to be humbler before God this day and every day?

Learning

(Read this aloud daily until everyone in your home can say it from memory.)

As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.

The First Commandment

You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean?

We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Doing

1. Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.

2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.

3. A new Sunday School year begins this weekend at 9:45 a.m. If you have children or grandchildren, will you bring them to learn the Bible stories? Will you be either a teacher of children who learns or an adult learner?

4. Have you been intending to join the Crossways Bible study? We continue with unit 54 of 60 on 2nd Corinthians this Wednesday at 6 p.m. or Thursday at 10 a.m. Unit 1 begins on October 22.

5. Do you have a 6th, 7th, or 8th grade child ready for Confirmation instruction? Students and a parent are expected to be at the orientation on Wednesday, September 4, at 7 p.m. in McCombs Hall.

6. When you find yourself complaining about the time spent with the Lord in worship and study and in fellowship with His Church, consider how you gladly will spend twice as much time in those activities that entertain, distract, and amuse you while your life in this world is wasting away.

7. Hang a crucifix or cross opposite your pillow so that the last sight you see before turning out the light is your Lord’s cross and the first sight of the new day reminds you to pray.

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”