17th Sunday after Trinity + Luke 14:1-11 + September 18, 2016
Lord, we beseech Thee, grant Thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the devil and with pure hearts and minds to follow Thee, the only God; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Sermon on the Holy Gospel
Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1) Jesus teaches us today about the true use of the Sabbath. On a certain Sabbath Jesus enters the house of a Pharisee, a ruler among that sect of the Jews and notices that the Pharisees gathered there are watching Him closely. It is then that Jesus sees a man with dropsy at the gathering. Dropsy is an older word for what we call edema today, swelling in the hands, arms, feet and ankles. Luke makes it seem as if this man’s presence there was a trap for Jesus. Jesus doesn’t wait for anyone to pose the question that is their minds. He beats them to the punch and asks them, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” The Pharisees, experts in the Law and dire hard followers of the Law, remain silent. Jesus will not keep His peace though. He doesn’t wait for one of them to venture an answer which very well might start an argument or disputation. He takes the man and heals him then lets him go. By healing the man on the Sabbath Jesus answers His own question, “Of course it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath.” He then moves quickly to make his point by asking these men, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” To this question they had no answer. Every one of them, if their beast of burden fell into a ditch, even on the Sabbath, would work strenuously to get the animal out of the ditch. And don’t think that it wouldn’t be work to get a large animal out of a ditch. They all remain silent to Jesus question because they know that he is right and that they have misused the Sabbath for their own purposes.
2) The Sabbath was instituted to be a day of rest, for on the first Sabbath the Triune God rested from His labors of creating the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, visible and invisible. But this was far more than an example to mankind that we are not to work seven days a week or face fatigue, exhaustion, and burn out. The Lord sanctified the seventh day so that man would rest form work so that He might attend to the Word. The Lord did not institute rest simply for the sake of rest, though rest is necessary for mankind. The commandment was given to sanctify the holy day so that on that day the Lord might sanctify man through His Word. The Pharisees rested on the Sabbath. They marked off their steps lest they walked too far. They went to great pains to make sure not manual labor was done on that day. But they did not attend to the Word of God, which is the only means for bringing rest not to the body but the soul. Six days man was to work and eat his food by the sweat of his brow. But one day a week was a day to rest the body so that man might attend to the things of God. It all boils down to that word “sanctify,” which means “to make something holy.” How is anything hallowed? How is anything made holy? By the Word. Jesus prays in John 17:17, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” St. Paul tells us to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, “for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:5). You can’t sanctify the holy day if you’re not dealing with the Word of God. The Lord’s Day cannot be sanctified by the fishing rod, the golf club, or the pillow. It can only be sanctified, hallowed, kept as holy, if you attend to the holiest thing we have: the Word of God.
3) The Pharisees missed this point about Sabbath observance. They might have very well attended synagogue that day and heard the Word. But it had not penetrated their hearts, otherwise they would have easily answered Jesus, “Of course it is perfectly fine to heal on the Sabbath!” Instead they held the command to “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping in holy” over and above the commandment, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). The Lord does not want only part of His word attended to, but all of it. The Pharisees thought that rest of the body was enough to sanctify the Sabbath. They neglected the Word. This much is obvious because they neglected their neighbor. And you cannot neglect your neighbor and love God in your heart. St. John says this much in his first epistle. “If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21). The Pharisees wanted to pit one commandment against another. But the Scripture cannot be broken, meaning that it cannot be made to contradict itself. So these men followed the Sabbath commandment outwardly and externally, but they failed to attend to the Word which taught them faith toward God and love for neighbor.
4) Jesus goes deeper though, in order to drive his point home. He tells a seemingly unrelated parable, “When he noted how these chose the best places.” He says to them, “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you.” This is more than simple etiquette. Jesus’ point about humility towards oneself ties in directly with His teaching about the Sabbath just a moment before. The connective tissue between these seemingly unrelated topics is love for neighbor. The Pharisees could not love their neighbor because they were filled with love for themselves. They had turned a deaf ear to the Word of God, God’s sanctifying instrument, and turned away from their neighbor. They thought more highly of themselves, which is why they jockeyed for position amongst each other when they would go to other’s houses. Jesus’ teaching about humility reinforces what He teaches them about the Sabbath. It is as if He said, “Gentlemen. You fail to sanctify the Sabbath because you refuse to hear God’s word attentively and with a good and honest hearts. Because you refuse to be sanctified by the Word, you treat your neighbor as the humble one and yourself as the one who needs to be exalted. But the opposite is true before God. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
5) It should be clear by now what Christ wants to teach us today through this Gospel text. First, he wants us to be circumspect about how we sanctify the Lord’s Day. Second, he wants to us be on guard against self-exaltation and thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. For the Christ, our Sabbath is not the seventh day. The command to worship on a particular day belongs to the ceremonial law which Christ has abolished. St. Paul teaches us Gentile Christians, “Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17). Nor is the Christian Sabbath Sunday. Christ is not a new lawgiver, as Rome teaches, who taught the Church to move the Sabbath, with all its regulation, to the first day of the Week. That would make Sabbath into a new law for us. It would also mean the Christian is still under the rule of the Law with all its punishments for violating the Sabbath. For you, the Christian, the Sabbath is every day, for every day is holy to the Lord. Sunday is certainly “the Lord’s Day,” which is one reason the Church chose to worship to on it, but there is no necessity laid upon what day one worships, for the Word of the Lord, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” applies to every day (Psalm 118:24). You are to sanctify every day as holy to the Lord. You are to hear the Word of the Lord every day, as you have opportunity, and also as you make opportunity. The wants His Christians to attend not to a certain day, but to sanctify every day with His Word, so that He can sanctify us each day through His Word.
6) That word includes the word of the Gospel by which our sins are absolved, the word that Christ has atoned for the sins of the entire world by His sacrificial death upon the cross, so that all who believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. The word includes the words spoken over you in Holy Baptism, the words by which the Triune God forgave the guilt of your sin and adopted you into His holy household of faith. The Word includes the command to love your neighbor as you love yourself, so that each day you are reminded to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2). The Pharisees neglected the sanctifying word of the Gospel so their ears were stopped up to God’s will: love for neighbor. Let is not be so among us. But let us hear the Word daily through the reading of Scripture. Let us hear the Word preached in this place as often as the Lord gives us opportunity. Let us live according to the meaning of the Third Commandment and sanctify the holy day by attending to the Holy Word of God. By taking the gospel of the forgiveness of sins to heart we will be more willing to forgive others when they slight us. By rejoicing in that blessed word which absolves us of all our transgression, we will be more willing to be gentle and lowly toward others, because we will know that we have humbly received all good things from God our heavenly Father.
7) This is how the Lord exalts those who humble themselves because God and neighbor. He lifts up the humble with His good news. He exalts the lowly by giving them every good gift. Let us so humble ourselves before God, to hear His Word, to be attentive to it so that we repent of our sins and confess them. Jesus’ word is not a potentiality or possibility. It is a promise. Those who exalt themselves will be brought down. But those who humble themselves under His Word He will lift up and exalt as His own child, son, and beloved with every blessing Christ. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Kerrville, TX 78028
Rev. Josh Sullivan (ELDONA)Holy Cross Lutheran Church (UAC)