Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Glory of Humility

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
St. John the Baptizer
August 29, 2010
Luke 14:1-14

If you are truly humble and someone asks you if you are you would not hesitate to say no. How could you claim to be humble if you really are? Those who are truly humble will see clearly just how self-absorbed they really are.

That’s why we need the saints. The Scripture lifts up the saints so that we may follow their example. The saints that fill its pages are people just like you and me. People who are sinners. They mess things up even when they are seeking to be faithful to their Lord. They are examples for us so that we know that it’s not just us, out on our own, wondering if we got it right or not, if we’re living as God has called us to live or not.

One person the Scriptures lifts up as an example for us is John the Baptist. He was martyred for faithfully proclaiming the Word of God to the world. Since the commemoration of John the Baptist falls on this day, August 29, we might be able to make a case that there is no greater summary of what Jesus is teaching in our Gospel reading for today than the words of John the Baptist himself, speaking about Jesus: He must increase, but I must decrease [John 3:30 ESV]. It was Jesus Himself who said that of all people born of women, none was greater than John the Baptist [Matthew 11:11].

This is exactly the kind of contrast Jesus is painting in the Gospel reading. It is the paradoxical nature of the Gospel that presents opposite things like humility and glory and doesn’t deny either.

If you think of glory when it comes to the people of this world you would think along the lines of kings. You wouldn’t think of lowly John the Baptist, unkempt and clothed in camel’s hair. And yet, in our Lord’s Kingdom John the Baptist holds the position of honor and the king is relegated to the folding chairs in the back. But any king worth his salt would surely see that it is only in humility that he can rule his kingdom in a way that brings true glory to himself and the office he occupies. If he treats the people of the kingdom as not nearly as important as he is they will resent him and not see in him or the kingship glory but disdain. But if the king treats his subjects with dignity and governs in a way that provides what is best for them they will gladly give him honor and glory.

We don’t hold up John the Baptist as an example for us because he was such a great man. We hold him up because he pointed us to Christ. His glory was in the wardrobe he got from the thrift shop. John the Baptist didn’t seek glory, he sought Christ. Christ exalted him not because of any earthly value but because he humbled himself to point people away from himself and to Christ.

The glory and exaltation and honor John received was not by men. It wasn’t in the eyes of the world. It was the opposite. The world disdained him. The world mocked him and wanted him out of the way. And it was easy enough to make that happen, just get the man who has the power and means, to separate John from his head. No more dealing with a man who’s got nothing better to do than tell people what God has to say.

So why are you worrying about what’s coming to you? Why are you concerned with what you deserve and what you need and what you want? Why are you laser-focused on getting the best place when it is up to God who gets that? Why are you scanning the scene and comparing yourself with others, who has what, and what they deserve and don’t deserve, and what you have and don’t have? Why are you not content with what God has given you? Why are you not humble and laser-focusing on what will make others happy and what will help them? Why are you not rejoicing in the blessings of others instead of envying them? Why are you questioning why God has not blessed you more abundantly?

You hear the Word of the Lord and you exchange it for your own desires. You hear ‘humility’ and you desire glory. You hear ‘spiritual and eternal blessings’ and you long for temporal and physical ones. You hear ‘suffering and hardship’ and you seek a life free from those things. You hear the Law of God and push it aside for only the good news.

To this Jesus can only come with more Law. Paul says that “whatever the Law says it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be stopped” [Romans 3:19 ESV]. This is what Jesus does in our Gospel reading: “And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they remained silent.” After healing the man He said to them: “‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?’ And they could not reply to these things.” We don’t know what’s in the heart of others, but Jesus does. He pours on more Law because they need to be chopped down to size.

Jesus is not malicious. He doesn’t derive pleasure from driving us down. He brings us down, He lays us out, so that we may be raised up. They say that an alcoholic can’t see his way out until he has hit rock bottom. If you can’t go any lower there’s only one way to look and that’s up.

The funny thing is, Jesus doesn’t sit up there at the edge of the pit and yell for you to come on up. When you look up you will find the answer staring you in the face, right beside you. Jesus has come down into the pit, right where you are. He hit rock bottom Himself because He stepped down from His highest and glorious seat to the lowest, right where you and I are at.

When Jesus attempted to wash Peter’s feet Peter recoiled in horror. You are the Lord, I’ll wash your feet. But Jesus stopped him in his tracks: If I do not wash your feet, you have no part in Me. Jesus told the slaves to take the day off, He was taking over the dirty job. When John the Baptist was busy with his baptizing Jesus stood in line. John the Baptist would have none of it. I need to be Baptized by you! But Jesus silenced him. He doesn’t tell us to get on board with Him, He comes to us and brings us into union with Him.

The Scriptures are loaded with examples of people who took their position of power and abused it rather than seeing that all they have is from God and ought to be used in service to others. King David wasn’t satisfied with all the material wealth and pleasures he had amassed. His desires took over him and he committed adultery and in order to cover it up, murder. The Scriptures are equally filled with examples of servants of God who rejoiced in their lowly status. Mary wasn’t a queen or even the most popular kid in school. But she realized that she had ultimate glory because the Lord had brought His favor upon her. She knew she didn’t deserve it and even wondered why God had chosen her, but she submitted to the will of the Lord.

God does an amazing thing to pull off this kind of paradox, where those who seek glory are brought low and those who know they don’t deserve anything are given glory. All the religious leaders wanted to do was celebrate the Sabbath day. Jesus dropped the bomb on them, should we leave this guy in a helpless state one day longer so that the Sabbath can be enjoyed with our feast? It might seem ironic that time and again they accused Jesus of breaking God’s Law by healing people on the Sabbath while they themselves were having this feast, with the very best food and invitations sent out to honored guests. But in their celebration of the Sabbath they got it right. This was the way to observe the day of rest. Enjoy the blessings Almighty God rains down on you. Receive. Eat up and enjoy the company of those close to you.

What they failed to recognize is that it wasn’t just for them to enjoy. Why not share the wealth? Why not invite those who don’t feel all that special to share in the celebration? This is what Jesus brings to the table. Namely, He brings Himself to the table. But He doesn’t pass everyone by, muttering, excuse me, pardon me, VIP needing to get to the front. He serves. He takes off His clothes and wraps a towel around His waist. One man there was suffering from an ailment. But Jesus takes on Himself the ailment we all suffer from and then spreads a feast before us.

How you celebrate is by rejoicing that it is Christ Himself who makes it all happen. He silences you so that you don’t have to offer up all your great reasons of why you deserve His blessings. He throws them in the trash. He kills you, bringing to an untimely death your sinful nature so that you don’t have to enjoy the blessings of God while keeping an eye on those worldly passions that are catching your eye. Jesus suffering on the cross was the supreme glory of God, bringing His Son down in order to raise you up to new life. He raises you up to where He is because He got down on His knees where you are to lift you up. If you’re in the back, don’t worry, He has saved the best seat for you. It is up here at His Table. It is where He gives you Himself, His Body and Blood, for you, healing you of your pride, giving you new life so that you may serve and truly enjoy all His eternal blessings. Amen.


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