Summary: Jesus was not a candidate for the most popular award in his class. No wonder they nailed him to a tree.
Sermon for Luke 14:7-14
September 2nd 2007
Last week I mentioned one of the greatest privileges of being a pastor is the opportunity to preside over Word and Sacrament. The Sacraments are the easy part, because I really do nothing. After all, its God’s work, not mine. But the Word, the Word on the other hand, the interpretation of that Word can be rather difficult, especially coming from the Lutheran tradition.
You see, we use what is called a lectionary, where the readings run in a three year cycle. Each week there is an appointed Old Testament reading, a Psalm, an Epistle (a letter), and finally the gospel reading. The purposes of the lectionary are important. If one were to be a frequent attendee at church then over a three year period one would have the opportunity to hear a good portion of the Bible read out loud.
Also it is a wonderful sign of unity. Our Catholic, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian brothers and sister from all over the world are studying the same texts at the same time.
Finally it forces us to hear not just the warm and fuzzy parts of the Bible, but all the teachings—Law and Gospel. Law that teaches what we are supposed to do and cannot, Gospel—the good news what God has done in Christ Jesus.
This is rather important because it is the Law/the 10 Commandments/the teachings of Christ that must convict us of our sin. We must know deep down beyond a shadow of a doubt that we cannot do what we should. Why? So that the work of Jesus may shine through. Otherwise Christ died for nothing.
Even though we are all sinners, the gospel—the good news is that we are still loved and forgiven—free again to serve. Yet it all starts with the law.
Therefore, one of the hazards of being that frequent attendee at church is there are occasions, rather frequent occasions when we are minding our own business, listening to the beautiful music, hearing the readings, and all of a sudden it seems like the pastor begins to mock us, ridicule, even try and make us feel bad—when all we wanted to do was come to church, do our duty and perhaps feel good about ourselves. Maybe that’s why not many people attend church on a regular basis! Who wants to be abused?
Billy Graham once stated the most difficult task he faced on a weekly basis is putting together a message from the word of God—Law and Gospel—a message that should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Martin Luther took it one step further in his struggle of preaching by claiming who am I to stand before you saying this, saying that, I am but a miserable bag of worms. Man, that’s how I feel so many times—a miserable bag of worms.
But when I realize these are Christ words and they apply to me as well as you, then it makes the task a little more bearable. Because any of you who have studied the gospels know that Jesus was serious when it came to life and death.
In today’s text Jesus is on a roll. He’s been invited to a house for dinner, a religious man at that. I love the part where it says, “they were watching him closely. Anyway, Jesus hasn’t been there for long and has probably offended all whom where present. He first heals another person, again on the Sabbath. He launches an attack of the guests for the way they jockey for the best seats at the banquet. And finally he scolds the host for the type of people he invites for the feast.
Jesus was not a candidate for the most popular award in his class. No wonder they nailed him to a tree. We would probably do the same thing today. Because in today’s text Jesus is clearly attacking them/us at a very deep level.
Sure Jesus is trying to teach them/us a valuable lesson when it comes to humility, but it goes even deeper. Jesus is conveying that they/we must, we have no choice, we must accept the “lowest” seat, which in Greek is eschatos, or last things.
The seat we are invite into--the seat which we all must someday sit in—is the seat of our own death. If they/we are not humble in this lifetime we will most definitely be humbled or ashamed in the next. Because our death is our lowest or last state, but over and over again the gospel makes it clear that our death—the death of our sin and the death of ourselves is the only condition our resurrection can take place, in which we will then feast forever at the great banquet.
Remember Jesus is at a dinner party with a bunch of certified, solid brass winner; establishment types who think they have it all figured out. But Jesus as he usually does, he turns things upside down and is basically saying to them/us, “You all think you are successful because you are living this extremely short life at the head of the table, at the top. And if you for one moment think that this is what true living is about, then you will be ashamed.”