Signs of the Church: Humility
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 14:1–14:14
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 31-September 1, 2013
“Signs of the Church: Humility”
I’ll begin today’s sermon with two words: Uriah Heep. And everyone here probably falls into one of three categories when it comes to Uriah Heep: 1) you have no idea what I’m talking about or who (or what) Uriah Heep is; 2) you grew up listening to Uriah Heep, the British hard rock band in the late 1960s and 1970s; or 3) you have read Charles Dickens’ classic, David Copperfield, in which Uriah Heep is one of the chief characters and the antagonist. It is from this character in Dickens’ novel that the rock band took their name. Uriah Heep in David Copperfield, is a pretty shady character, motivated by greed and a master of hypocrisy. He frequently tells people that he is “ever so humble,” and “humbly proud,” but behind this façade of false humility lurks a monster of manipulation who’s out to get the boss’ firm and his daughter by hook or by crook. Uriah Heep sets himself against the hero of the story, David Copperfield, and uses everything in his power to work against him. There is humility, and then there’s false humility.
On this Labor Day weekend, our summer preaching series, “Signs of the Church,” comes to a close. Over the summer, we have been focusing on signs of Christ’s presence among us in his Church. We’ve looked at signs within the Church, the Body of Christ, like witness, compassion, hospitality, prayer, generosity, and peace – all of which are what we would expect to see as signs of the Church. However, the last two Sundays we have also focused on two rather counter-intuitive signs of the Church: division and exclusive, which at first glance are probably not what we would expect to see as signs of the Church. I encourage you to check out all of these sermons on our church’s website (http://www.sjlc.com) and read them to get the full picture of what this series has been about, and to enlarge your understanding of Christ’s presence in the world through his Church. Today as this series closes out, our focus is on Jesus’ words in the Gospel lesson under the theme, “Signs of the Church: Humility.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Did you notice the connection between today’s Old Testament lesson (Proverbs 25:2-10) and the Gospel lesson (Luke 14:1-14)? The book of Proverbs is all about wisdom – godly and practical advice for living, much of it from King Solomon, who was noted for his great wisdom. In today’s reading from Proverbs, we’re told what to do if we ever find ourselves in the presence of royalty: “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” (Proverbs 25:6-7). Okay – good to know, but how many of us will ever find ourselves hobnobbing with royalty? Not likely. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus takes up this theme of humility. We’re told that He had gone to a dinner party at the home of a ruler of the Pharisees, and that “they were watching him carefully” (Luke 14:1). But after healing a sick man there at the party, the tables are turned as Jesus watches them, and observes people vying with one another for the best seats, the places of honor, at the dinner party: “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” (Luke 14:8-9). Okay – good to know. Start low and work up, mindful of what Jesus says: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 4:11). Is that it? Is all Jesus teaching us here about social etiquette?
The parables Jesus told are about God’s kingdom and what this is like. God’s kingdom is like a wedding feast or a great banquet, Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel lesson. The truth is that we are outsiders who really should not be at that feast or banquet in God’s kingdom at all. But to our utter amazement we discover that God has saved the best seats for us! Stubborn pride doesn’t get us into the banquet hall; only humble faith in the awesome and amazing grace of God. Humility is a sign of the kingdom of God. It is a sign of Christ’s presence among us in his Church, and it begins not with us, but with Jesus. Truth be told, there is more of Uriah Heep in us than we care to admit – a scheming and manipulative false humility that works overtime to preserve our fragile pride in self. Contrast this with what Jesus tells us about who He is: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus came to serve; to give his life away – for us! He came to strip away the false humility that is part of our sinful human nature, and recreate us in his own image. He came to pull out the props that we’ve built to hold up our pride in self so that our identity, purpose and meaning in life are rooted in him, and not ourselves. Jesus shed his precious blood to take away our sin for a purpose, and that purpose is what we’re told in today’s Epistle lesson: “Through him [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15). That sacrifice of praise is not just an offering we put into the collection plate. It’s our whole life – our selves, our time, and our possessions! Our whole life becomes that sacrifice of praise to the Lord. By God’s amazing grace, the truth of his Word begins to be realized in each one of us: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:3-8).
The Lord Jesus who humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross, now calls on us his people to do the same. He calls us to leave our pride behind and follow his example. Surely that is needed in the world today now more than ever. On this Labor Day weekend, when we pause from our work and labor, let us consider how God would use us in our respective callings and places of work to be the hands and feet and mouth of Jesus. How might the humility of Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior, bless and transform these environments? Perhaps it’s not even as hard as that. Humility leads to hospitality – extending Christ's love to others not only through what we say, but what we do. Much of Jesus’ teaching took place around the table at a meal, and that is the setting of today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus tells us: “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14). Can we do this? Will we do this? Jesus calls us to do things a little differently, and invite those who cannot return the favor. The opening verses in today's second lesson encourage us to practice humble and godly hospitality: “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:1-2). Do we see the face of Jesus in the stranger, the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind – those who cannot repay our hospitality and invite us to their home? The radical transformation which Jesus has accomplished in us through his humility calls us to radical living. On this Labor Day weekend, when we may be having backyard cookouts or gatherings, invite someone to your home who cannot invite you in return. As Jesus tells us, “You will be blessed” (Luke 14:14). Amen.