PENTECOST 15, C – September 1, 2013

SCRIPTURES – Proverbs 25:2-10; Hebrews 13:1-17; Luke 14:1-14 

“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 

I heard an interesting story last week about problems at the state fair in Minnesota. It seems that there was a lot of discontent and arguing – fights had even broken out – in response to the decisions of the judges of the various competitions (such as the best calf, the best apple pie, etc.). The judges’ decisions, it seems, were very unusual. The winner of the best chicken competition, for instance, had only one wing. The winner of the best strawberry/rhubarb pie used a cheap, store bought crust that was sticky and not at all flaky. There were many examples of what the competitors, and most fairgoers, considered outrageous judgments.

In response to the unrest an investigation was launched, and the problem was quickly discovered. It seems that just a few days before the fair began the usual judges of the competitions had gone on strike. So, the fair organizers searched frantically for people they thought would be fair and honest. Well, it just so happened that at the time there was a Lutheran convention meeting near the fair grounds, so a number of those good Lutheran people were hired as judges. Being sincere followers of Jesus, they determined to follow His teaching by humbling the exalted and exalting the humble. The judge of the chicken competition therefore chose the one-winged chicken as the winner because, she said, “she looked so docile and humble next to those other chickens who were strutting around and stretching their wings and clucking so proudly.” The judges consistently rewarded and exalted the humble, and chaos ensued! (I heard this report, by the way, from Garrison Keillor on the “A Prairie Home Companion” radio program in “The Adventures of Guy Noir, Private Eye” segment.)

Things would certainly be different, and so often in this life would not at all seem fair and right, if we lived by Jesus’ words. That’s why it is so hard to follow them. We’re all in favor of, as a general principle, the proud being brought down a peg or two and the humble being lifted up – that is, until it affects us personally; until you’re the one who is being made low. Then, we’re not so eager to follow Jesus’ words.

We must listen carefully to Jesus, for He speaks to us words we need to hear. God’s words are meant to guide our lives, sure: 

  • To guide us in our relationships, especially when you have disagreements and feel you have been wronged. “Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret,” says Proverbs 25. Don’t talk about others to exalt yourself, but humbly serve them by being quiet. Seek to protect the reputations of even those with whom you are having problems. God expects this, and no less, of you who are His children. 
  • God’s words guide us in seeing who we need to reach out to and help. Hebrews 13 says we are even to “remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them.” It is not just the nice and the deserving we are to help, as if we are above others. We are sinners, every one of us, and so are above no one. God has graciously shown mercy to every one of us in Christ! We are to do the same.

But, God’s words will guide our lives only if they first are the basis of our faith. When Jesus, at the dinner he attended in the house of an important Pharisee, told the people, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted,” His main concern wasn’t giving them words to live by. He was telling them to believe, to trust in, and entrust themselves to, God.

God sees things as they are: from the perspective of truth, and from the perspective of eternity. He sees and knows that things you consider so important and precious today will be forgotten tomorrow, overshadowed by other things. God also sees us as we are: not only mortal, with aging and frailty and death before us; but also, as sinful in thought, word, and deed, unable to truly and consistently forget about ourselves and take the lowest position and live for others. If only we were always good and kind and gentle and humble Lutheran Christians, whom others would trust to be judges! We are not, however, and God sees us and our sinful self-concern truly. Still, He loves us and desires above all to save us from our sins: 

  • Eternally and absolutely, to give us eternal life and an eternal home of peace and joy and happiness with Him in heaven. 
  • But also, He wants to save us from our sins here and now, so that we think and do differently, and so live as servants who are a blessing to others.

He has therefore given us His Son. Jesus took the lowest place. He became the self-righteous, self-concerned, selfish and proud and self-serving sinner – you! – before God. He bore our sins and their punishment from God for us, “suffering outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood,” as Hebrews 13 says. The Son of God Himself has sanctified you. By His blood of judgment shed for you on the cross and His blood of forgiveness sprinkled on you in your baptism He has exalted you to the highest place. He has made you holy and righteous before God, worthy to be considered kings and priests before Him! Confident in Christ of your salvation, of your exalted position before God, and of His eternal love, you can now live humble lives of service to others. And, even if this is not appreciated and you suffer loss because of your humble service, you have God’s promise: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” The Lord of all creation is your helper! You can therefore say as you serve: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Heb. 13)

On this Labor Day weekend, as we think about our own jobs and the jobs others have in this country and thank God for the blessing of work, we especially ask that He would make us humble and faithful workers for the blessing of others, as well as ourselves. In your labors, whether they be at home or away, entrust yourself to the care of Him who loves you eternally in His Son. He doesn’t care who you are in this world or what others think of you, for He has exalted you to be His own eternal child in Christ. You can therefore be confident and diligent in your life and your work. This was put so well by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a speech he gave to a group of junior high students in 1967:

“When you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. Don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn't do it any better. If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

Work, and live, trusting in Jesus. He promises, “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” For, at the end, “It is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another” (Ps. 75:7, Introit). Our lives are safe with Him in Christ!