Got Humility?

A sermon based on Luke 14:1, 7-14 preached by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Sioux Falls, SD on September 22, 2019.
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You ever hear the story about the guy who was awarded a special honor? He was given a special pin of humility. It’s special because it’s only given to one person a year. Problem was that this year’s honoree had his pin stripped from him. His offense? He wore his humility pin.

Humility isn’t something that comes naturally to anyone. It certainly didn’t come naturally to a group called the Pharisees. They were proud of many things. Now some of the things they were proud of were good things. For example, they loved God’s Word. They loved reading their Bibles! And they knew more than we might give them credit for. For example, they believed there were good and bad angels (or demons). They believed in a resurrection of the dead. They knew God was serious about keeping his commands. In fact, they were so serious about keeping God’s commands that they added a bunch of laws around them!

Recently, I heard a positive reason why they might have done this. Perhaps they were hoping that they would be so busy trying to keep their man-made laws, they’d be too busy to break God’s laws. The problem was, they became conceited at how well they thought they kept their laws. They thought they were theological giants and everyone else were tiny insects.

Then comes along this guy Jesus and he starts getting the attention they used to get. They did not like that. To make matters worse, Jesus was doing things that they couldn’t. They could teach, but Jesus was teaching with an authority they could not. They could help someone in need, but Jesus was healing them. He made the lame walk; the blind see. He drove out demons. He even was said to have brought people back from the dead.

But what really irritated them was when Jesus told someone “Your sins are forgiven.” Why? Remember, they knew their Bibles. So they knew the only one who could do that was the Son of God, the promised Messiah. And they didn’t believe Jesus was him. They were so accustomed to standing on the first place platform, they didn’t realize they were standing in Jesus’ spot.

So the Pharisees were constantly watching Jesus looking for something they could accuse him of. They were watching him at the meal in our reading. Only thing was, Jesus was also watching them – and he could read their hearts. He could easily see how they fought over the best seats.

So he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

There are a couple of questions I need answered when I look at this parable and Jesus’ advice. Why does he use the picture of a marriage feast? Is there any significance there? And why is Jesus giving what is at best basic advice on humility, and at worst, what could be mistaken for self-serving false humility?

Why the wedding feast? Being generous to the Pharisees, even as they were watching Jesus, maybe they thought they were doing Jesus a favor inviting him to this feast. But here’s the thing. They couldn’t see that God had been inviting them to the marriage feast of heaven all along in his Word. They couldn’t see it because they were too high and mighty on their pedestal of pride.

It reminds me of one time in my first year of seminary. I’m not proud of this moment. I don’t share it as an example to follow! But I was having a hard time adjusting to my new schedule with classes starting at 7:30. I sat in the front row with a very tall teacher first hour. One day – not on purpose – I was just too tired and I fell asleep in class. I fell asleep hard – drooling on my keyboard, the whole nine yards. But here’s the thing. My professor was so stinking tall and he always stood right in front of me – he had no clue because he was way up there and I was way down here.

That’s what happened to the Pharisees. Here is Jesus, God himself, inviting them to the marriage feast of heaven and they can’t see it, because they thought they were way up here and he was way down there. They were too tall to enter through the narrow door like Pastor talked about last week.

But here’s the thing. Every day we act like those Pharisees. We stand before the Word of God and we make the door narrow. We come here and confess the Word is true. But do we always live that way in how we think and speak?

And it’s hard to answer that question truthfully isn’t it? After all, we don’t like to talk about the things we’re not good at do we? We like to segment our lives into different parts. I might do that to ignore the parts I’m not good at. Maybe it’s the anger part or the generosity part or the patience part of my life. Deep down, when I get to it – it’s an element of pride. Whether I realize it or not – whether it’s patience, anger, or whatever – part of me is pridefully wanting to stand tall and not bend down before the Word of God in that area.

Here’s what I mean. You ever had something done to you that was hard to forgive? You ever hear a prayer in church and thought that’s easy for pastor to say; he doesn’t live with him. He hasn’t heard the many broken promises! Or maybe there’s something you wish you could forget and you hear Jesus say forgive as I have forgiven you. Have you ever been tempted to ask – that’s just one small part of God’s Word right?

Jesus says whoever exalts himself will be humbled. And we’re talking about more than a little embarrassment here. I deserve to be humbled forever in hell for exalting myself over God’s Word.

Only the Holy Spirit could lead someone to see that Jesus is not giving us a lesson on how to be humble. He’s not giving general guidance on humility. What he is saying is that anyone who exalts himself or herself over God’s Word will be humbled at the marriage feast of the king at Judgement Day.

Yet. Yet, we must also remember from where Jesus is inviting us to this feast. He is not shouting at us far away from heaven. No, Jesus humbled himself to be born a human. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Now that is someone who was willing to bow down low. He gave up his glory and power. He kept all of God’s commands perfectly. And why did he do that? He didn’t do it so that he could stand tall over everyone and do a victory lap for himself in heaven. He lived perfectly so that he could bend again. He bent a bruised and bloody back against a cross. He bent down under the weight of all our sins and he paid for them all. You can stand before God because Jesus bent down for you.

And we strive to live a life that shows him gratefulness. Your sins are forgiven. You can live in humility and not lose a thing. Show your humility and love for Jesus in your words and actions. Even if it means letting go of something, we could never let go of more than what Jesus has already let go of to save us.

That’s the motivation Jesus is talking about when he says not to throw a feast for someone who can pay you back. What he is saying is: don’t buy groceries for someone so they’ll do it later for you. Do something because you remember, you remember the view from the cross. Serve one another in humility – not to gain attention for yourself but to gain a follower for Jesus. And here’s the amazing thing. Jesus still promises to recognize and honor you at the last day.

Humility doesn’t come naturally to any of us. Humble yourself before God’s Word. How awful it would be to not and for God to return and say “excuse me, you’re in my spot.” Rather, humble yourself before him and amazingly on the last day he exalts you before the eyes of the world and says “Well done good and faithful servant” – come to a better spot.

It doesn’t come naturally to any of us. It comes down from heaven. Jesus came down from heaven. He came down once and he will come down again with strength and grace. Bend with me in humility to this life giving Word. Wait in expectation for Jesus to come again. His coming graciously brings you heaven. And there is no higher honor we could ever imagine. Amen.