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Sermon for Trinity 17

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ October 31st, 2011

Sermon on St. Luke 14:1-11

Trinity 17

+ In the Name of Jesus +

Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!

Just before today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus talked about the feast of salvation in the presence of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “And people will come from the east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God” (13:29). Yes, many will come to the feast of salvation to talk and eat with Jesus. These words are fulfilled in today’s Gospel lesson as Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath and talks about banquet etiquette. Rich Gospel for us today as we focus on Jesus’ words, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God” (Lk 14:15).

Jesus was dining at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, one of the unbelieving Jewish leaders. Since many Jewish leaders did not believe that Jesus was the Christ, they watched him carefully to see if he would break their rule of not working on the Sabbath. Their called “church critics” and “church bosses,” those folks who have nothing else to do but point out the speck in someone else’s eye, while ignoring the plank in their own eye. Enter a man with an illness called dropsy. See Jesus’ dilemma! If he heals the man on the day of rest, then He is technically working on the Sabbath. But if He doesn’t heal him, then what kind of Messiah is He? One can easily imagine the Pharisees passing a resolution to overrule the Gospel and claiming the sovereign authority of the majority vote, while ignoring someone in need! But for Jesus, compassion (Gospel) takes precedent over rules (Law), so Jesus healed the man. He then reminded His critics that if their son or ox had fallen into a well on the Sabbath, they would rescue them as well! Jesus did the right thing. Indeed, Jesus worked a double miracle: the healing of the dropsy and the spiritual healing of forgiveness, what St. Luke calls a “sending away” of his sin. Thanks be to God!

After the healing, Jesus noticed how the Pharisees scrambled for the best seats at this meal. According to the custom of the day, the host sat at the place of honor. The best seats were those closest to the host. The worst seats were those furthest away. No round tables of equality here! Rather, there was an important social hierarchy that said something about your identity and worth in relation to the host. Jesus warned them not to take the best seats. After all, you will be humiliated when the host asks you to move from the seat at his table to the waiting area in the bar. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.” Rather, Jesus said to take the lowest place. Take the worst seat in the house, which is furthest from the head table. Then there is no where to go but up! “He who humbles himself will be exalted.” Though not evident in English, there are three different verbs used for “sit” or “recline” in this banquet parable. Jesus first says do not sit down in the best place. Then He says to sit down at table in the lowest place. Finally, he says to sit at the table together with the host when he invites you to move up. See how the Gospel of God’s grace only gets better when Jesus is at the meal! For He invites the least and the lowly not just to sit down or even to sit at table, but to sit at the table to talk and eat with the host.

Taken together, the healing of the man on the Sabbath and the banquet parable remind us of the importance of taking the lowest place. Spend a Sabbath with the sick. Take the lowest place at the banquet. Is this not the way of Jesus Christ and Him crucified? Philippians 2:5-11, St. Paul’s famous “Hymn to Christ,” describes the life and work of Jesus as the One who was humbled yet exalted. St. Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Jesus was fully God, with all the right to sit on His throne on High and lord his Lordship over all creation. He had the right to hang out with the Pharisees on the Sabbath and to sit at the best place in every feast. But He did not consider His Godhead a thing for self-glorification. Rather, He identified with the man with dropsy and with those who are considered the lowest in this world. Indeed, “[Jesus] made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” He made Himself like us in every way, except without sin. “And being in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” On the cross, He took all dropsy, illness, and sin into His own body. He absorbed the wrath of God as He died the most destitute and lowly death every given to a man. But having taken the lowest place, God the Father “highly exalted Him and bestowed on him that name that is above every name.” God the Son was exalted through His resurrection, lifted up in His ascension, and forever worshiped and adored at God’s right hand. And, having received the highest place from God the Father, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

If Christ took the lowest place yet received the highest honor, what does that mean for us in banquet of salvation? Do not presume on God’s mercy. Perhaps you’ve heard folks from time to time talk about their rights at God’s banquet. The right to live as I please, including living together without marriage. The right to be a member of the church, even if I do not particularly care about their confession of faith. The right to take Communion, presumably because my own righteousness avails before God. But we poor sinners don’t have any rights, do we? Rights assume that the individual is self-governing or autonomous. The gifts of God’s banquet – forgiveness and eternal salvation – are gifts, not rights. They were won by Jesus’ blood and confirmed by His resurrection, without any merit or worthiness in you or me. And now the gifts of the Gospel are here in the banquet of salvation. But when we claim to have a right to sit next to Jesus in the banquet of salvation, we are the image of the Pharisees in today’s Gospel lesson, scrambling for the best seats in God’s house. And what does God say to us? “Move down. Give your place to the repentant.” So take the lowest place theologically by repenting of your sins. Make an appointment with your pastor for individual confession and absolution. And while you’re at it, kneel before God. Kneel for the confession of sins on Sunday morning, and of course when you meet with the pastor to confess your sins individually. Yes, take the lowest place by kneeling before God and saying, “I, a poor, miserable sinner,” etc.

And what happens for those who take the lowest place through repentance? Jesus says, “Come up here!” through the forgiveness of sins. Drawing upon other banquet parable in the NT, the following pattern emerges. First, the guests are invited through the preached Word. Everyone is welcome at God’s banquet table: the poor and the destitute, the repentant prostitutes and tax collectors, yes, all who take the lowest place by despairing of their own righteousness. Second, the guests are robed upon arrival at the banquet. You may come as you are to God’s banquet, but only to a point. God Himself will provide a perfect, beautiful white robe of His own righteousness. This is Holy Baptism. Here we are cleansed of our sin and made right with God. We are made so white, so perfect, so righteous, that we are able to come up to the highest place given to mortals: a place next to God Himself in the feast of salvation. Third, those who are invited and robed get to talk and eat with the Blessed Trinity. This is the Gospel in today’s Gospel Lesson: in Christ, we sit with God the Father as if we were the very Son of God Himself. God the Father looks at poor, miserable wretches like you and me, and He only sees the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. He says, “Friend, move up higher! Come and sit at the head table, right next to God the Son. Talk with us in the Word. Eat with us in the Blessed Sacrament. And receive the spiritual healing of forgiveness, life, and resurrection from the dead. For you are in fellowship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

And so today we rejoice in the good news that “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” Or, as some manuscripts read, “Blessed is everyone who will eat the best in the kingdom of God.” Whether this verse should read “eat bread” or “eat the best” does not affect what it teaches us this day. In the Divine Service, we eat the bread of heaven and we eat the best in God’s Kingdom. For here is the finest meal on earth or in heaven, the very body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. As the hymn puts it, “Christ Himself shall banquet thee” (TLH 311.8). + INJ + Amen.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church

Bayside, NY

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