Proverbs 25: 6-7
Hebrews 13: 1-8
St. Luke 14: 1, 7-14
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
Don’t you love it when someone comes to you after you just sat down that you will need to move to a different chair? Such a move is more palpable if you were moved to a better seat or in your intent to be modest someone told you that they recognized you and wanted to give to you a seat of honor. It is always better to be moved a status higher. But such a move becomes down right humiliating if you say accidentally sat in the best man’s chair at a wedding’s after party, only to be moved to the very back; or worse if you intentionally sat in a seat of honor thinking that you rightfully deserved but in all reality did not.
I can just imagine a pompous prince of who-knows-what-country attending a pauper’s wedding. He sees a chair that is much grander than any other chair and says to himself, “Now this chair is fit for a prince, let me claim this chair at once as only I a proper prince should be graced with such a fine fixture.” As the wedding party enter into the sanctuary the priest waltzes over to the prince and tells him that he is sitting in the wrong chair, for that chair already belongs to someone else.
“Let me guess, is this your chair, you pompous priest? Let me have you know that I’m the son of your king,” says the prince. And the priest responds, “I see your eyes are working, I am indeed a priest, but only a humble priest who dares not sit in such a grand chair provided by the groom’s family for this special occasion. For you see, that chair belongs to a far more important person: the groom’s mother.” Imagine how embarrassed the prince might feel as he gives up his seat to a kind little ol’ lady.
On an even more humorous note, imagine a man walks into a Lutheran sanctuary well before anyone else arrives. He is new to church and decided he wanted to attend a service. Well he’s been to funerals and weddings and figures that most Lutherans would sit near the front, especially the important Lutherans. As he sits in a pew near the back he says to himself, I hope I’m not sitting in anyone’s seat.
The message of the story goes as such: it is better to humble yourself than to think better. For if you were to puff yourself up, when reality causes you to come crashing back down to earth you will unnecessarily brush your own ego. But if you were to lessen yourself, then when your peers try and cheer you up your heart will be lifted with elation. It is always better to bring yourself down low only for others to bring you back up, then it is to bring yourself up high only for others to bring you back down.
Both our First Lesson and Gospel refer to this concept. The first from Proverbs 25: 6-7, again reads, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” And the latter from Luke 14: 11, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Now whereas these lessons given to us by God are very good and appropriate for simple living, for it is always better to be lifted than humbled by our peers, this instruction is not limited to simply how one should merely act. Yes, it is all good that we utilize these teachings from Jesus in both the Old and New Testament, and we should, to have better relations with all people, but there is so much more to the Word of Jesus behind this mere apparent instruction on how we should relate to each other. This lesson isn’t only about living a life of humility toward other people, but in a much stronger sense a lesson in how we should live in humble service towards God.
To help bring to the forefront this message, let us dive into the readings, starting with the Gospel. The thing about Jesus is that He absolutely loves talking about weddings and banquets. Yet, almost every time He gives a lesson that utilizes wedding and banquet motifs, He does so pointing to God the Father and/or Heaven. In fact, in the paragraph right after today’s Gospel, Jesus does exactly that. He described the Kingdom God via a parable with a banquet motif. And because context is key, one would rightly assume that, though Jesus did not mention heaven or the kingdom or God in today’s Gospel, it is still referencing such. If you were to read in between the lines, it would check out. For is it not better to be lifted up by God than to be brought low by God?
Now as for the first lesson, this checks out even more for is not Jesus the King of Kings? Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence, in the King of King’s presence; or stand in the place of the great, or sit on Jesus’ throne. When you approach Jesus sitting on His throne do you tell Him to get out of your seat or do you bow down to His magnificent glory? Do you tell God to bow to you, or do you bow to God?
Now the answer is simple what we ought to do, but that does not mean we do such. We know we should bow to God than to believe we are better than Him and can control Him, yet all too often each of us may find ourselves in a predicament where we choose to obey our own inner voice than the Word of God.
This was the predicament the Pharisees during Jesus’ times and the Sophists during Martin Luther’s times faced. They caved to worldly ideas, to manmade laws, philosophy, and to themselves. Did not Jesus said if you wish to follow Him to deny yourself, the hate your neighbor, to live in the world but not of the world? The only voice we should listen to is the Word of God. We should humble ourselves and run away from our own ungodly opinions, to not be enticed by the sweet words of man. And as we bow to God acknowledging that you are worthless, and do not deserve heaven, in complete humbleness, God will look at you in boundless love and lift you up to the highest of heights. Let God lift you up. Don’t try and lift yourself up, that’s works alone. Let God do the grunt work of lifting you up.
A story: There once was a man who was rich, powerful, had all that he ever wanted, and believed himself to be the best human being. He gave money to the poor. He built orphanages and helped settle the debts of many. He was widely loved and adored by the masses. After he died he waltzed over to the gates of Heaven with his chest puffed outward and head held up high. Now in front of the gate was Jesus who is holding his hand out to the rich man, but the rich man swats the hand away and says, “I don’t need you and your extremist nonsense! I was a good person and deserve to enter through… Let me through, I say!” Sadly the poor man was lacking in faith for he hated the judgement of Jesus and believed himself to be sinless. This poor man has done so much, he should be allowed in for he was much more loving and kind than those bigoted Christians.
As the man rich in earthly things but poor in higher things fumes to the side he sees a little boy all tattered up and dirty walk up to Jesus. Wait a minute, this was the boy I caught stealing a weak before my death. There’s no way he will enter in. The boy walks to Jesus and says, “I’m sorry Lord, I have failed you. I am just a common thief and deserve not your love nor entrance into your Kingdom, but still I humbly ask please have mercy on me.” No despair on earth will match the despair of the rich man as he sees the boy thief enter into heaven as He gets locked out into the outer darkness.
Christ didn’t humble himself on the cross, dying for the sins of those don’t need His aid. Christ didn’t die for the ones who will enter heaven. Christ humbled himself for those who couldn’t enter into heaven. He died for sinners, like you and me. He paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we wouldn’t. And if it was not for Jesus’ sacrifice, we would be paying the price. We deserve to enter Hell, and there is nothing we can do ourselves and ourselves alone that will save us from that fate. If we get haughty, do you think we will accept the saving hands of Christ? Or do you think we will try to save ourselves, or claim we don’t need Christ’s help, or believe that we already deserve to have a seat at the table of the heavenly feast?
Be careful that you do not let your pride or the world’s pride take charge and whisk you away. Be careful that you do not let the voice of mankind be more powerful than the Word of God. Be careful that you do not come to love or fear man more than God. Without God we and all our schemes are nothing; and if we believe we are something then we prove ourselves to be liars. We need Christ, for through Him all things are possible and through Him we become heirs to the Kingdom. So stop trying to puff yourself up or believe you deserve a seat in God’s kingdom, for He will eventually humble you. Instead bow to the Triune God in all humility and He will not only save you but will make you kings and queens.
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, we humbly pray that though we do not deserve your grace that you continue to bless us now and forever more. In your most holy name we pray: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.