Monday, September 30, 2013

LSB St. Michael & All Angels Sermon - Revelation 12:7-12

September 29, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

Today is one of the quarterly festival days connected with Christ that are part of the life of the Church. September 29 is set aside on the Church’s calendar as St. Michael’s and All Angels Day, or as the old English term phrased it: Michaelmas. Like all days should be for Christians, it is a time to set our minds on what the Lord has accomplished for us. But it also provides the opportunity to think about what the Lord continues to do on our behalf through the angels, the wonderful order that He has created.

As many of you know, an angel is a messenger. An angel is a herald, one who doesn’t go on his own, but is sent to deliver news from someone greater than he. We see angels fulfill that role of herald throughout the Scriptures. Time and time again, the Lord sends a message of what He is about to do. Sometimes, that would be done through prophets. But there would be significant messages from the Lord delivered by the word of an angel. This happened in the events of the Old Testament, when angels delivered both positive and negative messages.

But the greatest deliveries of divine messages by angels occurred when the Lord sends news about the arrival of His salvation, a salvation that would be accomplished by God the Son in the flesh. The first two chapters of St. Luke’s Gospel include several angel-events: Gabriel’s appears to Zecharias in the Temple to foretell John’s birth; Gabriel also announces to Mary in Nazareth that she has been chosen to be the mother of the Son of the Most High God; an angel declares to the shepherds that the Christ has been born in Bethlehem; the whole heavenly host provides the choir that sings doxologies when Jesus is born.

Each of those events requires the sending of a good message from the Lord to His people: “Relief is here, your Savior is arriving!” That message battles against the forces of evil, as the Lord’s grace and mercy enter a fallen world in order to bring about reconciliation and restoration. That message declares to the world that there is access to forgiveness, life, and salvation. That message is spoken in the midst of a cosmic war, delivering captives from the fate of eternal death, as Christ’s power works against Satan and the curse of sin.

That is what our Scripture passage from Revelation states in a most picturesque way about the war that broke out in heaven. There is the actual casting out of Satan. The old evil foe, the serpent and dragon, has no place in heaven. There is no room for him in the holy place of God. Wherever Christ is, Satan must flee. And then the loud voice rings out from heaven: “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

That message from heaven concerning Christ’s authority reveals the divine work that is done for our benefit. Just as the devil was cast out of heaven, so it takes place for us. As Christ and His gifts have been given to us, Satan must leave. We renounce him, and all his works, and all his ways. “Depart, evil spirit!” the Lord says, “And make room in My child for the Holy Spirit.” That is what takes place when the Gospel of Christ is delivered to us, when we are recipients of the glorious message of salvation—whether it was when we heard it at Holy Baptism or as we receive it each day of our lives.

As we have been made Christ’s disciples, the people of God, that message of victory is given to us. We hear of how our great enemy has been defeated, how he has been cast out of heaven and cast away from us. But this is not just a one-time event; the Lord’s work for us continues. He gives us angelic protection against the dragon and his angels. What the Psalmist wrote and what we prayed speaks about that: Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge—no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

The promise to us, the Lord’s subjects, is divine protection, a watchful eye and quick hand to help. His servants, these angelic beings, are ministers to us to accomplish this. They not only serve as heralds, they also serve as our guardians. This role of protection is what the Prophet Daniel saw about Michael: “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people.” Jesus also speaks about this personal connection between angels and the Lord’s people: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” They are sent to ward off enemies that we could not stand against, opponents of a greater ability than we possess. The ones who aided Christ Himself to cast Satan out of heaven are present to keep us from eternal harm.

The angels are servants whom the Lord uses. He promises each His people, including us: “Because he holds fast to Me in love, I will deliver him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him My salvation.” The Lord’s deliverance and rescue shall come, even in the times that despair is all around us. The Lord’s deliverance and rescue shall come, because we have made Him our dwelling place. The Lord’s deliverance and rescue shall come, because He wishes to hand over to us the inheritance of life everlasting.

That is what the angelic hosts in heaven above sing about, as we heard from John’s vision. The angels speak about our future, what shall be ours: “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them!” We have conquered Satan. But that victory is not the result of our own efforts. Overcoming our great enemy is not what we have done, but it comes from what has been done for us. The blood of the Lamb and the word of testimony bring about that victory. Christ’s death has removed the curse from us, the result of the serpent’s deception. Christ’s resurrection has defanged the great dragon, and so we are able to tread him under foot.

We have been joined to Christ’s death and resurrection—His acts that bring us victory. But even though the devil is defeated, he wants nothing more than to keep us from obtaining the fullness of Jesus’ work for us. What was said about the earth when the devil was cast out of heaven still stands true: But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” Jesus’ words about temptation echo that thought: “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” As we walk here on earth, we need protection.

But what we need is what the Lord provides. That is what He has promised to us: “He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” These angels will perform the Lord’s will for you, so that you may not falter and fall away, not loving your lives over the life that Jesus establishes, but so that you will rely on what Christ has done for you, trusting it for blessing in eternity. That is why are privileged to have angels on our side, as our helpers. They are with us who confess Christ as Lord. They are escorting us from this world to Paradise, where we will receive the crown of life. So it shall be said of you: “You have conquered by the blood of the Lamb and by your testimony. Let all the heavens rejoice, as Christ’s follower receives life everlasting!”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

LSB Proper 20C Sermon - Luke 16:1-15

September 22, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

The manager was out on his rear. Dismissed, fired, sacked: that was his fate. Why had this befallen him? Why would the manager lose his position and no longer receive a living from his master? Because of his acts of squandering the master’s possessions: “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’”

Squandering the master’s possessions is the exact opposite of what a manager is supposed to do. A manager is meant to oversee what his master has entrusted to him, to use the property or money to bring benefit to the master. But if the manager has been blowing the money or using the master’s assets for his own purposes, then he has acted unrighteously and foolishly. His control over the master’s possessions will be removed. He loses his job.

So when this manager is dismissed and called to turn in the ledger book, he knows that his fate is sealed: “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” The manager knows that he is losing the source of his living. But before he surrenders the ledger book, the manager figures out a way that he will survive: “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” His plan is to manipulate the accounts by reducing the balances of his master’s debtors: “So summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’”

What it is the outcome of this? The manager’s plan benefits the debtors. They have their debts lowered, so they are able to keep more of the crops and oil that they had been working to produce. They are made richer by this plan. And the plan benefits the fired manager also. When he no longer has a job, he can go to these debtors and remind them of how he reduced their bills. And out of gratitude, they will welcome him into their homes as a friend, giving him something to eat and a place to stay. Perhaps there may be a job for him.

And what does the master think of this? “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” The master praises the dishonest manager for the clever solution that he invented. The manager carved out a living by once again using the master’s property. But this time, the manager did not squander it on himself; he used what didn’t belong to him to benefit others. And in return, it benefits him. The rich man’s assets will be lower after all this, but the fired manager actually ends up not suffering the full consequences of his actions. And all the master can do is shake his head and commend the shrewdness of it all.

So why does Jesus tell this story? Why does He use it as a teaching tool? Remember, the parable was not told to the crowds in general, but “to the disciples”. So what does Jesus want His followers to learn? The answer is seen in what Jesus says immediately after the story: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Now, this doesn’t mean that Jesus wants you to be embezzlers or squanderers. That’s not the lesson to be learned; his dishonesty is to be avoided. But Jesus does want you to be shrewd with how you use money and possessions in this world. The manager’s shrewdness is something to imitate.

The dishonest manager in the parable shows just how shrewd people could be with money and possessions. He manipulated them for his own benefit. He lived high on the hog before being fired. And when he was dismissed, the manager figured out a way to use the master’s assets to create a soft landing spot. But how shrewd are Jesus’ disciples with money and possessions? Do you use them to your benefit? Or have you squandered them?

Jesus teaches how He wants you to use money and possessions: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” What does He mean by that? How is it done? Jesus’ statement is a call to charity, to giving. That’s how you make friends. By being generous to others, an atmosphere of gratitude is created. They thank you. They welcome you. They want you in their presence. They may even seek to know why you would act this way toward them. Then there is the ability to speak about the proper understanding of earthly possessions—that they are merely instruments and tools that you have been given to use by God in this lifetime before you receive the greater treasures that are eternal. This is the faithful use of unrighteous wealth that Jesus speaks about.

Jesus emphasizes the importance of using the wealth of this world: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” What you do with the unrighteous wealth reflects what you believe about it and about God who has entrusted it to you for the time that you spend here on earth.

Faithful use of money and possessions means that you avoid it becoming your god. Jesus warns against that: “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Loving money and possessions so much that they become the chief purpose for your lives reveals a false faith. That was seen in the Old Testament Reading with the description of the merchants: “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?”

Those statements showed how these merchants had become devoted to the false god of Mammon. When those thoughts or similar ones are found in you, they reveal that you have become a worshiper of the idols that fold into your wallet, sit in your garage, or lie in your safe-deposit boxes. Unrighteous wealth becomes an unrighteous god. The outcome of such devotion is to miss the true riches that God wishes to bestow. It means losing a place in the eternal dwellings that have been created for you. Ultimately, it is a squandering of the Master’s things.

But when your money and possessions are used to benefit others, when they are used within the boundaries that God has set, those actions reveal the true faith. They show that you trust in Him and not in things. Such actions reveal that you are expecting to receive true riches that God has promised to you. Your works display the belief that money and possessions actually belong to God and that you are meant to be managers of them, putting them to use as He wishes. This is the shrewd way of using unrighteous wealth. Then Jesus’ words apply to you: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.”

Jesus’ parable and teaching have to be seen through the prism of what He has done for you. That is the reason why He can tell the story to His disciples and give them instruction. When Jesus speaks about a person being faithful in a very little and in very much, that statement testifies about Himself. Everything in the world belonged to Him. And yet, Jesus uses what He owned according to His Father’s will. He employed all the assets entrusted to Him for the benefit of the world, as the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”

That testimony about Jesus is what you have received. It’s what you have come to believe. It’s what causes you to think rightly about money and possessions. The ransom given for you by Jesus reveals where true riches are to be found. Jesus’ acts grant you something greater than anything in this world. What Jesus has done shows how much God has loved you—not only that He provides you with earthly goods, but with eternal ones also. Your fate is set; you have an eternal home full of good things. That is why you can use the wealth of this world to make friends for yourselves, why you can use your possessions to benefit others. And when you do, then Jesus’ questions get turned around to become statements of commendation: “Because you have been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, I will entrust to you the true riches. Because you have been faithful in that which is another’s, I will give you what is your own.” He will praise you for your wisdom and shrewdness and welcome you into the eternal dwellings.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

LSB Proper 19C Sermon - Luke 15:1-10

September 15, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

“This man receives sinners and eats with them.” That is the complaint leveled at Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes don’t like the company that Jesus keeps. They give them and Him about the equivalent of “We don’t serve that kind in here” comment found in the old Western movies. Having the tax collectors and sinners around make the scribes and Pharisees more than uncomfortable; it makes them mad.

But why all the anger? Why such grumbling? It isn’t a purely practical concern, like there was only so much food and now all these guests are going to eat everything. No, it’s nothing like that. The anger and grumbling bubbling out of the Pharisees and scribes have their source in what they thought about the people hanging around Jesus and their thoughts about Jesus Himself. They disagree with His welcoming such people. In their minds, Jesus was giving the tax collectors and sinners a status that shouldn’t be theirs, something they had forfeited.

Think about what the tax collectors and sinners had been doing. They were Israelites, individuals who belonged to the Covenant that the Lord had made. But their actions had chucked that identity out the window. Their works revealed an identity opposite of the one that the Lord had given them. The tax collectors were Israelites who helped the Roman government oppress their fellow countrymen. They were making money off of the plight of their kin. And the sinners—well, they took one look at the Lord’s Law and the boundaries it set, and flouted it. All the limitations on sexual behavior were ignored.

So the condemnation of these two groups was right. The Pharisees and scribes were correct in marking them as living contrary to the Lord’s Covenant. The behavior of the tax collectors and sinners was out-of-bounds. As leaders of the religious community, the scribes and Pharisees had shown them the red card and sent them to the dressing room. And there is nothing really to disagree with in that decision…until a change occurs.

The actions of the tax collectors and sinners recorded in the Gospel Reading reveal a change in them: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus].” That’s how the entire episode began. And it’s very important to note that it started that way. What did they want to do? They wanted to hear Jesus. They considered that He had something important to say. And what was Jesus saying? We know that from the earlier portions of Luke’s Gospel, even from His first sermon in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

That message constantly flowed from Jesus’ mouth to the ears of all who would hear Him. It was the content of His preaching throughout Galilee and Judea. The tax collectors and sinners had heard it and believed it. They drew near to receive the teachings that Jesus was bringing, even His pointed instructions to repent, change ways, and follow Him. So they came to be in His presence. That was the intended result. That was what the Lord desired to take place for His people: these lost children of the Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been restored.

Because this is what the Lord desired, it makes the reaction of the Pharisees and scribes unwarranted. They are whining and complaining about the Lord’s Will being done, when their greatest claim was being the best of the Lord’s people. Their objection was antithetical to being the Lord’s people. If a person belongs to the Lord, how can he not want the Lord’s will to be fulfilled? But that’s the position that the scribes and Pharisees had taken against Jesus with their grumbling statement: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus tells the parables and summarizes their point with those famous conclusions: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance…. Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Joy is the proper response, not grumbling.

So why is this event recorded in Luke’s Gospel read with frequency by the Church—either annually or every third year? Because this incident reveals what continually takes place among those who are the Lord’s people. Like the Israelites of old, the Church has been brought into a covenant relationship with the Lord. He has granted all who belong to the Church an identity, placing His Name on them, calling them to His way of life, making great promises to them, connecting them to the salvation found through the death and resurrection of Jesus. That is what He has made you to be.

But like the Israelites of old, the Church also has individuals who stray from it. The Church has members who fit the descriptions spoken by Ezekiel: lost, strayed, injured, weak. There are people who have become tax collectors and sinners. Sheep from the Church’s paddock have wandered off into all sorts of ditches and ravines. Coins from the Church’s purse have fallen behind the bed or under the dresser. But that is precisely when the Lord works, fulfilling His promise made through Ezekiel: “Behold, I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out.” The acts described by Jesus take place: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?...Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?”

The intended result of these acts is to bring about the same reaction in the Church as happened in First Century Palestine: “The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus].” For when Jesus is again heard, the forgiving and restoring takes place, so that the lost and found, the strayed are returned, the injured are healed, and the weak are strengthened. That only happens when individuals are present to hear Jesus’ words of grace, to receive His good news of salvation delivered through the words of absolution, the words of proclamation, and the words of institution. These deliver the benefits of forgiveness, life, and salvation. And when all of Jesus’ people are hearing them, then all is back to the way it is supposed to be: the full complement of sheep or coins is present.

Jesus wants His people to draw near and hear Him. He takes people from great error to great faith, like the example of Paul, whose self-description you heard: “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent…. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the foremost.” That is what is meant to happen in the Church, even in our congregation.

In the next several months, you will begin to see a reviving of the Caring Deacon program in our congregation. While some of the aspects of that program are not really topical to today’s Scripture Readings, one aspect definitely is: the effort to have some of our lost sheep return and lost coins picked up. We want them to draw near to hear Jesus, to receive the gifts that He brings through His words of grace. These individuals are lost, strayed, injured, and weak. Our desire is that this would be changed. Now some may not change at all. Some may end up being like the salt that Jesus described in last week’s Gospel Reading: salt that has lost its taste and is thrown out. But there will be others who do draw near to hear Jesus.

But what will the reaction be? What will you who haven’t wandered off do? Will you act like some of the sheep that Ezekiel described—“push[ing] with side and shoulder, and thrust[ing] at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad”? Will there be grumbling at seeing these fellow members of Christ’s Church return? If so, then you need to hear again the Lord’s words of judgment spoken through His prophet: “the fat and the strong I will destroy.” If so, then you need to listen again to Jesus’ parables and their conclusion: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Those are the words meant for you.

But there is the other reaction. It is found among the friends and neighbors of the shepherd: “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” That is the reaction that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, wishes to share with you whom He calls His friends. But that reaction isn’t just shared. It’s more than “I’m happy for you, Jesus.” No, the joy is what the Church itself has, the wife of Christ who finds her coin: “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” We will be glad for what has happened among us and those who belong to our company.

The joy present in heaven when a sinner repents is the same joy you are meant to have. It is to be yours for eternity. For the Lord Jesus says to you and all the other sinners that He has made to be His people: “Come near and hear the good news: I have come into this world to save people just like you. Be part of My kingdom. Be My guest at My banquet. I have diligently sought you, now you are found. It has happened just like I wanted it to be.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

LSB Proper 18C Sermon - Luke 14:25-35

September 8, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

How can you make bad salt taste salty again? That’s the question Jesus poses to the great crowds that accompanied Him. The question is an interesting one. Perhaps some of you in the pews who understand chemistry well could come up with an answer to it. But Jesus’ question isn’t really an inquiry about physical science and the manipulation of elements. It’s more of a rhetorical question that is meant to help sum up His discussion about being one of His disciples.

“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” Jesus’ question is about the nature and identity of salt. There is something of salt’s essence that gives it flavor, that gives it the ability to season and to preserve. That’s what makes salt valuable. That’s what makes salt good. That’s what turned ancient seaside cities into centers of wealth and led the Roman Republic to build highways such as the Via Salaria that ran from Rome to the Adriatic Sea. But if that essence that gave salt its taste were lost, there would be no value to it: “It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.”

So what is Jesus getting at with this talk about salt? He’s putting forward a bit of a parable. He wants His audience to think about the essence of salt but then compare that to the essence of being a disciple. Jesus is giving people an identity when He calls them to follow Him. He is putting something in them that transforms them. It makes them different. Now they are identified as Jesus’ disciples, the people who belong to Him, the group that has Him as Master. They have received that essence by hearing Jesus’ words and believing what they say concerning His identity and work. They have also heard His teachings that establish a way of life for them. That becomes their “flavor” or “taste”.

This concept is very similar to what had happened for the ancient Hebrew people. You heard from the Book of Deuteronomy this morning. You heard how Moses summarized his restating of the Lord’s Covenant to the people whom the Lord had taken for Himself. They were to be bound to Him and the way of life that He established. That is why Moses says: “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in His ways, and by keeping His commandments and His statutes and His rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” The people whom Moses addresses found their life in the Lord and His Covenant—“He is your life and length of days”. That’s what defined them as the Lord’s people.

But what would happen if the people lost that essence? What would happen if they lost their taste? If the Lord’s people turned away from His Covenant, they would lose the very thing that gave them value: “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.” They would lose their essence as the Lord’s people. It would make them of no use, of no benefit. They would be discarded like the salt that lost its taste.

This is the same message that Jesus gives to His audience. The people had been called by Jesus to receive the kingdom of God that He was bringing. They were to love Him above all things: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” They were to be devoted to His ways, even in the midst of opposition: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” They were to be dependent upon Him for true life and all that is truly good: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.” But if that were lost, then their essence of being a disciple is lost: they had become salt that lost its taste.

Jesus makes the same statements about you. You are also called to be His disciples. That is an identity that He has given to you. Jesus invites you to receive the benefits that He has earned for you. Through His death, He has atoned for your sin and guilt. Through His resurrection, He has made everlasting life your destiny. Jesus makes a covenant with you that declares these benefits to be yours. That is what He did for you in baptism, when you were made one of His disciples, given the holy name of God to bear, and began to be taught His way of life. Jesus discloses to you the two different fates that exist, just as Moses spoke to the Lord’s Covenant People: “I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” That “life and good” is found in what Jesus has done for you—“He is your life and length of days”—and in what He has commanded you to keep. This is the “taste” and “flavor” that has been placed in you, the essence of being the Lord’s people.

But what value or what use exists when this is lost? Your being a disciple of Jesus is an identity given to you. By definition, you believe in Jesus and you follow Him. Without that, you are not a disciple. Without that, your value and identity as a disciple are gone. Without that, the benefits that Jesus has won for you are lost. Everything dissipates like the salt losing its flavor. And remember what Jesus said about that salt that has lost its taste: “It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.

These statements of Jesus exhort you not to lose your “taste” as His disciples. He warns you not to put other objects above devotion to Him. He pushes you forward to follow His way. He directs your hearts to be set on Him. But this is not just negative, there is also a positive display of what Jesus provides, just as Moses set the benefits of abiding by the Lord’s Covenant before the believers of old. You can place devotion to family below devotion to Jesus—even possibly hating them—because Jesus has brought you into God’s household with brothers and sisters. You can even hate your life because Jesus has given you a life that never ends. You can bear the cross because Jesus’ resurrection awaits you. You can renounce what you own because Jesus has shown you that your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions and has given you a lasting treasure.

The taste and flavor of being a disciple remains in you as you abide in the covenant that Jesus has made with you, keeping everything that He commanded. That is why it is so vitally important to know what Jesus has done and accomplished for you, as well as what He has said and taught about discipleship. In a few moments, we will formally place the individuals involved in our parish education work into their offices. There will be prayers and a blessing for them, asking that they be faithful in carrying out the responsibilities entrusted to them.

But why are they given these responsibilities? Why do we want those duties fulfilled? Because they are handing down to young disciples of Jesus the message of what He has done and the way of life that His disciples follow. The essence of being a disciple is being placed in the hearts, minds, and souls of the young people of our congregation and those who attend our preschool. These children will have “life and good” set before them; they will learn that Jesus is their “life and length of days”.

And what is the point of all this? That they, along with their teachers and all of you, will follow Jesus in the way of life that He has established. That they would find delight in the Law of the Lord, thinking about it day and night, producing the fruits of faith and love. That they would dwell in the Promised Land that the Lord swore to give His people. That they would receive the fullness of the resurrection that Jesus possesses and desires to share with all His followers. This is the outcome of their faith, the outcome of being Jesus’ disciple. And it will be theirs and yours, as the identity that Jesus gives is kept and maintained by constantly loving the Lord, walking in His ways, and keeping His commands.

Jesus’ statement is correct: “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.” But salt that has held its taste and flavor has value. It is kept, not discarded. The value that Jesus places on you is giving His life in ransom for you and rising to life again, so that you may eternally share in the benefits of His work. That is the fate Jesus desires for His people, for you who have been called to be His disciples. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

LSB Proper 17C Sermon - Luke 14:1-14

September 1, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus said]: “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. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke’s gospel is full of people watching. He records numerous events where Jesus is present in public—in a synagogue, in a city center, in the Temple, at a banquet. Each time, Jesus is observed and observant. The people watch Him, and He watches the people. The Gospel Reading for this Sunday is one of those events: “One Sabbath, when [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him carefully.” But Jesus is just as observant at that dinner. What Jesus sees leads Him to comment about what was taking place, to speak about the people and about Himself.

The house of this chief Pharisee provides a forum for Jesus to teach: “Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor….” Jesus observes the jockeying for position that was happening in the Pharisee’s house. All of the guests were attempting to place themselves in seats of honor. They desired to be located in spots where they would be identified as important and worthy of being recognized by the other guests. There was fame to be gained and pride to be boosted.

But when we hear this description of the dinner guests, we should not be surprised. This type of jockeying is not unknown to us. We know how banquet seating can be used to flatter and to pump up people. Think of the business dinners, wedding receptions, civic galas, or other events that you have attended. Whether as host or guest, determining where to have individuals sit is a task that requires great thinking: “What will people think if such a person is seated up front? Can we actually have these two individuals sit together? The high table only has 10 places, who makes the cut?” In the Pharisee’s house, the situation seemed even more cutthroat, since the guests were choosing the places themselves, not being seated.

So what does Jesus say about this? What is His response to what He sees? He tells a parable: “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, 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 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.”

Jesus’ statement reveals the folly of those who were jockeying for positions. He points out what their pride will gain for them. There is a gamble in feeding their sense of self-importance. A guest takes the place of honor, thinking that he deserves it. But when the host comes with the truly-honored guest and makes the other person moves, all that seemed to be gained is lost. The shameful path from the place of honor to a lesser place will be traveled.

This statement of Jesus echoes the proverb of Solomon spoken nearly a millennia before the dinner in the Pharisee’s house. You heard similar wisdom from the king of Israel: “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.” The basic premise of this proverb is the same as Jesus’ statement: the shame of being degraded in the sight of important people can be avoided by not being prideful.

But Jesus’ parable in the Pharisee’s house is more than commentary on the social behavior and etiquette. He is telling a parable that reveals something about Himself and the kingdom of God that He is bringing into the world. Jesus speaks a parable that discloses the problem of those who were missing the truth about His identity and not welcoming Him. The wedding feast that Jesus speaks of is more than a reception in Palestine. It is a way for Him to talk about the kingdom of God that was present in His hearers’ midst.

In the religious community, the Pharisees were top of the class. The Pharisees were honored by the people as the religious elite, the ones who displayed the best piety, the best practices of faith. This was not disputed by them. Just the opposite, the Pharisees appeared to revel in it. But despite their position and status, the Pharisees were merely guests to the wedding feast that the Lord was holding. In that light, they were no different than all the other faithful people of Israel. But someone else had come into their presence. The host of the wedding banquet had come invited someone more distinguished, even His own Son.

But the behavior of the Pharisees showed that they did not recognize Jesus’ true status. Even worse, the behavior of some demonstrated that they had begun to think of themselves as the host of the banquet instead of guests. This delusion is why Jesus speaks this parable to them. It is a way of correcting them, so that they would be able to participate in the wedding banquet that the Father would hold for His Son.

So Jesus tells His parable with the closing statement that involves much more than what to do at a dinner party: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” That statement describes what the Lord desires to see among people here on earth. He wants people to be humble, to know that they are not deserving of anything good that He gives them. But at the same time that people are humble, the Lord shows grace and mercy to them. What is not deserved is given. Physical life and the support of it, a place in His kingdom and the salvation that comes with it—these are both given by the Lord to individuals. It is not a matter of receiving deserved wages. No, it is a show of divine generosity.

What the Lord desires to see among people here on earth is what Jesus shows in His life. He is the great example of humility. Even though Jesus is the most distinguished person invited to the wedding banquet, what does He do in His life? He humbles Himself. He doesn’t have a place of great honor in the world. Instead, He becomes a servant. Jesus acts for other people’s benefit. He puts their concerns ahead of His. He even suffers abuse and mistreatment for doing so. But this is what Jesus bears to bring salvation, just as the Epistle Writer states: “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood. Therefore let us go to Him outside the camp and bear the reproach He endured.”

But after all this is completed, Jesus is exalted. That forms the content of the great statement of faith that we make: ”And 
 end.” This is exaltation beyond all measure. The Father gives it to Jesus after He undergoes His great humiliation. But that exaltation will never end and will never be taken away from Him. What Jesus says stands eternally true: “He who humbles himself will be exalted.”

So Jesus observes you and speaks His parable to you. The issue of seating people at a banquet still remains a point of emphasis now in the present day. Likewise, the issue of having a place in the wedding feast—the kingdom of God—that Jesus brings also remains relevant today. Who has a place at the feast? Those whom the Father has invited. That makes it a point of privilege, not right. You did not earn your spot at the table; it was given. You were invited to it. But like the guests mentioned in Jesus’ comments about invitations—“When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”—you cannot repay the Father for being called as a guest. Because Jesus humbled Himself for you and made it possible for you to enter, you were invited to participate in the wedding banquet.

Jesus’ parable calls you away from the thinking that dominated the Pharisees of His day. Being prideful before God is dangerous. Believing that you have nothing wrong with you and need no help, that you and God are basically peers, will lead to a great humiliation. Beginning with shame to take the lowest place could even become not having a place in the kingdom of God. Instead, you are to remember that you are unworthy of anything good, but that the Father has bestowed all that is beneficial to you because of the word that His Son has done. That type of thinking leads to the actions described in the Epistle Reading: “Through [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

There also is the issue of being prideful before others. That also is dangerous. The jockeying for positions at the dinner parties showed that the Pharisees coveted the honor of men. They desired and craved it. And if they could “one-up” anyone, they would do so to accumulate more honor and glory. That is not how it should be within the Church, a community of individuals who are all guests at the divine wedding banquet. Where the stepping on individuals has arisen, it must stop; the Church is not a place for an upward ladder of mobility. Any comparing of how good one is compared to others must come to an end. In its place should be actions that reflect Jesus’ humility, the actions that the Epistle Writer also mentioned: “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

That is what this incident at the Pharisee’s house is meant to teach us. Jesus’ statement is just as cutting now as it was then: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.” Where it has pricked the conscience, that is His message to humble yourselves—to admit fault, to plead guilty, to confess sin. But the promise given by Jesus is just as comforting now as it was then: “He who humbles himself will be exalted.” That is what will happen for you who are saved by Jesus’ humbling Himself to die and rise again for you. The forgiveness that Jesus bestows puts you right with the Father, and so you will be raised and seated at the eternal wedding banquet in the place that He has determined for you.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.