Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Heart of God: Jesus

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Rally Day
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Luke 14:1-14

It’s a humbling experience to come to the realization that you’re selfish. It’s easy to see in others, isn’t it? But there’s so much we need to do simply to take care of ourselves, so many things we do simply to enjoy life, that we don’t see as we should that we very much are absorbed in ourselves. Don’t do it now, but some time take a hard look at yourself and ask yourself if you really can come to the conclusion that you’re not selfish. If you can come to that conclusion, well, there might not be much of a chance of you really listening to the Word of God and taking it to heart. Of hearing it as a message God intends directly to you, not all those other people here today. Or all those people out there who aren’t here. If you can see yourself as you really are, a selfish person, then humble yourself to realize that even this is something that God helps you to see and as something that only He can help you overcome.

Jesus is good at doing this. He’s God, after all. He’s good at whatever He does. And in this particular case—helping us realize that we’re selfish and in need of an overhaul in the humility department—what He does so well is not just lecture people on how they should behave in social situations. No, what He’s really good at—and what He’s really doing here, and, really, in everything He does—is bringing Himself into the center of our lives. The focus. The very core. The purpose for who we are and what we do. Jesus has better things to do than playing the part of Miss Manners, which He would do better than she does any way, even though she’s really good.

Jesus cuts to the chase. And He does that by cutting us to the heart. What is it really about? If we’re honest, our lives as we live them are really about us. What Jesus does is enter that life and show us that, no, it’s really about Him. That may sound kind of goofy, being that Jesus is putting all the focus on Himself. But He’s God, remember? The focus must be about Him.

But how does He do it? I don’t know about you, but if I were a powerful person, I would use it to my advantage. But Jesus doesn’t do that! He’s God, and does things that are for our benefit! Yes, the focus is all on Him, but He brings it about by being humble.

Take just the whole scenario itself of the Gospel reading. The Lord of all creation is taking time to be in an undistinguished house where a Pharisee lives. Okay, you might argue that Pharisees were not just ordinary people because they were spiritual leaders. But do you really think if Jesus had a head trip He’d be sitting there for a meal in a common Pharisee’s home? There are kings and Caesars and far more prominent people Jesus could have mingled with. But in all of creation and all of history He confined Himself for a few moments to this common abode where He witnessed several pathetic religious leaders try to show up one another. Their focus was most certainly not on Jesus but on themselves.

The humility and serving attitude Jesus is exhorting us to here is more than just sitting at the back rather than going to the front where we’ll be noticed. It’s more than just helping those who can’t pay you back. It’s a focus on Jesus. It’s seeing that He Himself has placed Himself at the back of the room. He Himself has invited all those who can’t repay Him to His banquet. So what if we sit in the back? What does it matter if we help those less fortunate than ourselves? Are these things going to get us into heaven? Will they win points with God? Will He take notice of us and give us a higher standing in eternity?

These are the kind of things we turn Jesus’ exhortations into because we’re selfish. What’s going to break us out of this kind of attitude? Jesus. That’s why He came. That’s why He healed the man with dropsy. It was not too small a thing for Him to help the man out. That’s why He took the time with those self-indulgent Pharisees. That’s why He didn’t cavort with kings and important people. He came for the ordinary person. The one who is caught up in all the things needed to do to live. The one who may not even realize that in so doing is very selfish and focused in on him or herself.

Jesus didn’t come to earth and say: “Hey folks! God here! Please bow before Me. Furnish for Me the finest of things. Luxury, a winter home, the very best food.” He came Himself almost indistinguishably. He looked very much like every ordinary person. Why did He do this? Because even though it’s all about Him, He is passionate about us. He created us, after all. We are the crown of His creation. He loves the human beings He created so much that He wants us in the eternal glory of the new Eden—heaven. So for Him it’s actually all about us. He comes not to say, “I’m the Almighty Lord of all creation so humble yourselves before Me.” He comes to say, “Be healed. Be forgiven. Take your place here at the front. Receive glory and honor. Your sins are washed away. There is only abundance of grace and eternal blessings.”

That’s why He has Baptized us. Because He wants to wash in a flood of grace all our sins away. That’s why He prepares a banquet for us today—His very Supper. So that we may feast on the richest of all food: our very Lord Himself, His body and His blood. In the Psalms God described His people this way: “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” God has shown us His ways. While our heart goes astray God has shown us His heart. His heart is Jesus. If we want to see His ways we look to Jesus.

We’re not just talking about humility, even the humility of Jesus. We’re talking about the heart of God and the heart of God is Jesus. Jesus here in the Gospel reading is not telling us how to live, although if we lived in the way described things would be much better and we’d glorify God. Jesus is really showing us the heart of God and that’s why He came. That’s why He humbled Himself. That’s why we see Him doing the very things He exhorts us to do.

That’s why we see Him going to the back of the room and alone taking the sins of the world upon Him on the cross. That’s why we see Him inviting us into His eternal mansion when He knows we can never repay Him. I sometimes wonder if someone was making a joke when they created Labor Day and then gave everyone the day off. Well, this is kind of like the way it is with us and salvation. Payment must be made for our selfish and sinful nature. Work must be accomplished for us to gain salvation. But God tells us to take the day off. He says that we are to rest while His Son alone bears the burden of the work.

That’s why we have all the Bible Studies we have at our church. That’s why we have Sunday school for all the children. So we can grow in Him whose heart is for us and for our salvation. That’s why He continues to serve us through His Word and Sacraments, inviting us to come forward to the front so that we may feast with Him, our very Lord and Savior. So that we may know that the God of all creation has shown us His heart and it is in Jesus alone that we may know everlasting grace and mercy. Amen.


No comments: