"Labour and Humility" Sermon / Luke 14:1-14 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday September 1st 2019 / Season Of Pentecost / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday September 1st 2019: Season of Pentecost / Luke 14:1-14 "Labour and Humility"
One Sabbath, when [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him carefully. And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then He took him and healed him and sent him away. 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?” And they could not reply to these things.
Now [Jesus] told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honour, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honour, 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 honoured in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
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 neighbours, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends.
“How Much Work is Too Much Work?”
Pharisees were a complicated lot; they believed in the resurrection of the dead, they fought for the rights of the poor against the wealthy, they were nationalists with a strong dislike of anything foreign, they were in and of themselves a political movement, a way of thinking, as well as a social movement. In modern terms they were a sort of denomination of Judaism: they liked some of the things Jesus said, yet other things they weren’t sure about so they were watching Him very carefully. And they were watching Him very carefully when Jesus came over for dinner to the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees on the Sabbath. A man with dropsy happened to be there, we are not told why or who the man with dropsy was with, was he with Jesus or was he with the Pharisees for some reason maybe even there as bait to see what Jesus would do, we don’t know the text doest tell us, what the Gospel does tell us is that a question came up because of the man, Jesus asks the question of the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”
Dropsy is a horrible condition where the body retains fluid in the tissues causing swelling – it was commonly caused by contaminated cooking oil: why is this important? Well the Pharisees were very strict about following the law perfectly, including all the dietary and cooking purity laws, which means if this poor soul with dropsy had been a ‘good’ Pharisee he would not have had contaminated cooking oil in his house and would not have eaten anywhere with suspect or known unclean conditions, yes had he been a ‘good’ Pharisee he would have been well and not sick. Therefore as far as the Pharisees were concerned the man with this condition of dropsy would not be a Pharisee, he was not one of them.
Seeing this Jesus nails them to the wall with their hypocrisy, he heals the man and sends him away and then Jesus asks the Pharisees: “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?”
You see Jesus was saying to them, ‘you’d help him if you cared about him – but you are too busy worrying about your own salvation to care about others.’ This is a hard indictment; and St. Luke says that the Pharisees “could not reply to these things.”
To be charitable, the Pharisees were worried that if they worked too much on the Sabbath they would break the third commandment “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” but in their narrow self centered view they forgot that their good works were always to be for their neighbour and not for themselves, that they were supposed to love their neighbours as themselves, to love them as much as they loved their own children, even as much as they loved an ox or a donkey, the modern day equivalent of their car or their truck.
Jesus is trying to let them see that when you love someone no amount of work is too much work when they are in need, and the day in which you help them doesn’t matter. If your son or daughter had a flat tire on the side of the road and they texted you or called you would you not go and help them if you could, would it matter if it were a Wednesday morning, or a Friday evening or a Sunday afternoon?
The Pharisees had forgotten that the Sabbath day had been given to them as a gift – to remind them of God’s love for them, a reminder of His work for them; it was not meant to be a punishment with harsh restrictions on everything from how many steps you could walk, to whether or not you could lawfully swat a fly, or in our day and age whether or not you could change a flat tire for someone in need.
How often are we like these Pharisees, worried about what we can and can’t do as it applies to us alone – so concerned about our own salvation, our own keeping of the commandments, that we fail to act in helping others, fail to love our neighbours.
“How Much Work is Too Much Work?”
For Jesus no ‘work was too much work’ to save us – this is the Good News for you today – hear the words of St. Paul when he wrote to the Philippians: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, [Jesus] humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
“How Not to Climb the Ladder of Success”
The Pharisees in their effort to follow the law perfectly had forgotten themselves – you see there is nothing wrong with trying to follow the law perfectly (in fact we are encouraged and commanded to do so); the real problem comes in to the equation when you think that you can accomplish this by your own merit or will power, when you have convinced yourself that perfection is something that can be grasped by your own work, consistently, repeatedly, over and over again, in such a way that you are truly fulfilling it in a Christ-like way without fail.
Rather, the God pleasing way for you and I to tackle our keeping of the law of God is in the whole hearted attempt to do something perfectly even when you know you will likely fall short – while, at the same time, having a repentant heart which honestly confesses its faults and seeks forgiveness daily. This is the healthy way of life for the Christian who has their righteousness, not in themselves, but in Christ Jesus’ Perfection – Crucifixion – Death – Resurrection – Ascension.
The Pharisees were ‘climbing Jacob’s ladder:’ They thought that with every rung they scaled on this ladder that they had made for themselves by adding to God’s Law that they were in fact keeping the law – in the way that they had interpreted it – they thought that with each rung they were actually getting closer to God while in truth they were stuck in a deep dark well of their own digging.
Jesus had compassion on them; He didn’t leave them thinking this false thought. Seeing that they were left speechless after the question about work on the Sabbath, Jesus like a father reaching down to pull his son out of a well tells them the parable about the dinner guests at the wedding feast and the seating arrangements.
Now for people who are always ‘getting better’ and are becoming closer to God with each ‘perfect’ step, with each ‘perfect’ rung on their ‘perfect’ ladder, hearing these words would not be easy: Jesus said, “… do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited …”
Imagine the stereotype of the wood paneled cooperate boardroom of the past of some multi-billion dollar oil and gas company. Imagine that you are one of the vice presidents of the company and you just closed a big pipe line deal – now you are feeling pretty good about yourself and are expecting some slaps on the back, you think to yourself that there might even be some Champaign! That they might even pass around the cigars! That you might be presented with a plaque of recognition for all your hard work! What a day! You can almost see the top of the cooperate ladder from where you’re climbing! So you walk confidently into the boardroom to discover that in the self-congratulations of you mind you lost track of time and arrived early – the boardroom is empty. “Where do you sit?” forgetting that the company had special guests that day you sit right up next to where the CEO sits and people start filing in. You get a couple of looks from your fellow workers, but this doesn’t phase you, no you think to yourself ‘oh they’ll see soon enough.’
And so they do – just not like you expect: In comes the silver haired CEO with the people. Oh the guests – they were from that little parts company that your multi-billion dollar oil and gas company was buying out. You think to yourself ‘there’s room for them down at the end of the table’ but the silver haired CEO looks at you and says, “Could you go sit down at the end of the table I want our guests to sit up here close to me.” Embarrassed you slink back down to your old seat, the one you regularly sit in about half way up the table but finding it full (the new occupant not wanting to get up) you go even further down the table until you find yourself as far away as is possible not even sitting at the table at all but in one of the hard wooden chairs against the wall.
Grumbling to yourself you resent the newcomers who have taken your place. Believing still that your hard work earned you the right to sit up by the silver hair CEO – Forgetting that he is the one who makes the seating plan and not you. To add insult to injury, as you see it, the sound of the Champaign cork echoes in the big wood paneled board room and you can see the new guests their cups running over, when the bottle gets to you its empty just like the cigar box. With the smell of fine cigars in the air and the sound of hard slaps on the back and laughter, you sit forgotten with shame burning in your cheeks.
Remember what it says in the book of Proverbs,
“Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud.”
“How Not to Climb the Ladder of Success”
Jesus wants the Pharisees to reconsider themselves – they say they are interested in the poor (as long as the poor are poor Pharisees.) St. Paul’s words echo again, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Be careful, reconsider yourself, ‘do Christians sometimes only want to help the poor, or those in need when they are poor or needy Christians?’
Jesus says to the Pharisees, and to us, “when you are invited [to the wedding banquet], 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. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
“Success in Humility”
The Pharisees desired to be successful in keeping the law and the commandments of God but only one person had the success that they sought and that was Jesus – but Jesus didn’t succeed by rubbing everyone’s face in His perfection, Jesus was humble: “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus took the worst seat in the room, allowing Himself to be nailed to the wooden cross on Good Friday for us all without grumbling and without resentment, so that you and I and all people can have the best seat. He was not so wrapped up in His own perfect completion of the law and Commandments of God to ignore or abandon those for whom He laboured. Jesus’ work was always for His neighbors. As children of God Jesus tells you, tells us, that we are to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  We like Jesus are to care for the outsider and to be humble in our work, as imperfect as our work is – and because of our faults and sins we in our Christian lives are to be quick to repent and steadfast in our faithfulness to the one who forgives all people when they ask not showing partiality or favouritism: “For God shows no partiality.”  Yes when Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at His Father’s right hand Jesus did not say ‘You’re on your own now, so you’d better work hard and be successful in keeping the law and this too can all be yours;’ No, what Jesus said, having suffered all, having suffered the cross and conquered death, having been risen from the dead, was this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  In your baptism into Jesus you have the forgiveness of sins, each day He reaches down through those waters and pulls you up out of the well of sin that you repeatedly fall into and pulls you out. When you call from the bottom of the well of sin for help, for forgiveness Jesus will never say, ‘It’s the wrong day, call for help tomorrow,’ No Jesus has saved you at His cross and He likewise works to save you every day, every hour without fail. By the gift of faith in Him, knowing that Jesus is with you always, repent of self centered concerns and love your neighbour as yourself with compassion and humility. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Luke 14:5
 Philippians 2:1-11
 Luke 14:8
 Proverbs 16:18-19
 Philippians 2:3-4
 Philippians 2:8
 Matthew 5:48
 Romans 2:11
 Matthew 28:18-20