September 1st, 2013
Christ the King and Redeemer Lutheran Churches, Racine, WI
Sinful pride. Selfish, sinful pride. This is one way of describing what Jesus observed as he was invited to the pharisee’s dinner party. Who knows what kind of subtle and not so subtle jockeying for position occurred as each pharisee sought the best seat in the house, the place of honor. Because surely, each one thought, he deserved it. I imagine Jesus shaking his head in disappointment as he watched this all play out. How prideful, how arrogant, how full of themselves those pharisees must have been.
“Oh Lord, I’m so glad I’m not like those pharisees” we might say to ourselves. Just like the pharisee who prayed, “Oh Lord, I’m so glad I’m not like that tax collector, that sinner, over there”.
The truth is, we are no better. The truth is, we are just as sinful. The truth is, there is a prideful little pharisee inside of each of us, an Old Adam, a sinful nature, that really really thinks highly of himself. But he’s a hypocrite and a liar.
Let’s put it this way. Do you think you’re a good person? Maybe you’ve been Lutheran long enough that you know better than to say yes. But somewhere in your heart, you think you are, don’t you? You’re a good citizen. You pay your taxes, you mow your lawn. You try not to treat people poorly - or at least you mind your own business. And you come to church, which most people don’t even bother to do anymore. Maybe you’re here every Sunday. Maybe you give generously and serve willingly. Maybe you’re even the pastor. Or even a missionary. And I suppose each of us could pretty easily tally up all the reasons that we are pretty good.
And it’s not too hard to look across the pew and think how that person over there is worse than I am. Sure, nobody’s perfect, but that one’s a gossip. That person is rude. Oh her? Her children are terrible, have you seen how they behave? And that guy - he’s the laziest person I know. Who’s this person darkening the door of the church? Oh, another c&e Christian... and don’t judge me, but I’m secretly judging you - not so much because I care about you but to reinforce my own notion that I am good and you are bad, and I may not be perfect but at least I’m not you.
The pharisees are alive and well today, and their sinful pride thrives in the sinful heart of all of us. We must be honest. The law of God silences us as it does them. Jesus would kick the pedestal out from under us and have us see our sin.
Humble yourself. Take the lowest seat. It’s not Jesus as miss-manners. This is a spiritual truth we do well to follow. We need to compare ourselves, our lives, our works - not against others but against the standard of God’s holy law. Do I love the Lord with all my heart, soul and strength? Do I love my neighbor as I should? Do I keep the 10 commandments? Do I honor God, his name, his word? Do I care for my neighbor’s possessions and life and good name? Am I chase in everything I say and do? If the law of God doesn’t humble you, sinner, you’re not listening too carefully. If the commandments of God don’t show you your lowly, sorry, state, then your ears are plugged with rationalizations and lies.
The truth is we don’t even deserve the lowest seat at the table in God’s kingdom. We deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment. We deserve to be cast out of the banquet where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Christ should say to us, “depart from me, I never knew you!”
But Christ has come to humble proud, but also to elevate the humble.
He is a doctor for the sick, not the healthy. He is a savior only for those who need saving. But he is the savior.
And he knows humility. He’s the only one who really knows what it is to humble himself. To come down, to be made low. We’re starting out from a position of already poor, crippled, lame, blind. Dead, even, in our sins. But Christ, the Son of God, left the highest seat of his heavenly throne, and humbled himself to be born of a virgin. He lived a humble life, and died a humble, shameful death. If you want to talk about the “lowest seat”, look to Christ on the cross. He humbled himself thus, for you, and for all.
And God exalted him. He raised him from the tomb, and glorified him in resurrection. He proved his victory over death for 40 days, and then reclaimed his heavenly throne, ascending to the right hand of the Father, to reign over all things. His rightful seat, once again.
And this too, for you. Having paid for your sins, died your death, taken on your burdens and griefs and shame, paid the price for you fully - his resurrection paves the way for yours. His Ascension leads the way for your own passage to heaven. And his reign on heaven’s throne is also a foretaste of the glory to come for us. In heavenly glory, the saints of God participate in his reign, are awarded the crown of righteousness, and yes, even thrones (Rev. 4:4).
So seek not the highest place, the honor and glory that your sinful nature desires. Think none too highly of yourself, your merits, your works. Don’t compare yourself to others, but to the standard of God’s holy law. And repent, dear Christian. Repent and confess your sins. Humble yourself before the Lord.
And he will lift you up. For the sake of his Son who was lifted up on the cross, you will be lifted into righteousness. Lifted up from the dust of death. Lifted up from the grave, in the resurrection of the just, lifted up to heavenly glory forever.
And in Christ, we begin to learn humility. Seeing our sin and our savior, and by his Spirit, we begin to humble ourselves not only before God, but before our neighbor. Never perfectly, and never to earn favor or puff up our own pride, but always in joyful response to his humiliation and exaltation for us.
The Christian, for example, is not too proud to be corrected. The Christian doesn’t say, “I know it all. I went to Confirmation 50 years ago. I don’t need to keep growing in the word”. Rather, the Christian humbly learns from the word taught and preached in truth and purity.
The Christian, for example, is not too proud to serve a neighbor. Even a neighbor that doesn’t “deserve” it. For what do we deserve, after all? And the Christian can, and does, humbly share the hope within him, not because he is so great, but because Christ is. “Let me tell you why I need Christ, why I need to go to church - because I sin a lot and I need Christ’s forgiveness.”
So we come today, in humility, in confession of our sins, even to kneel... and Christ will lift us up. As we receive his gifts here in bread and wine, body and blood, we depart in peace from the banquet. We are lifted up in the forgiveness, life and salvation that we receive. And we go in the hope of an even greater glory to come. In Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.