The Highs and Lows of Being a Christian
A sermon based on Luke 14:1,7-14
Sunday, September 5, 2010
This week is supposed to be a good one for clamming. When the tide's in, it's near 25 feet. When the tide goes out, it's negative 3 feet. That's quite a difference in water levels as ebbs and flows with its highs and lows.
But that's sort of the way life is, isn't it? The highs and lows come and go like the changing of the tides or even more frequently like the rolling of the waves. One minute you're celebrating the highs. Things are great. Life is good. But the next, some crisis hits and the lows follow. One month you're plunged into darkness, feeling the cabin fever. But eventually the sun comes out, the temperatures rise, and your spirits are lifted again. Highs and lows.
And there are highs and lows in the life of a Christian too. There are the lows of sin and guilt. But there are the highs of forgiveness and friendship and love. And Jesus tells us that if we want our lives to be full of highs, we should lower ourselves in true humility and repentance so he can lift us up. And we should lower ourselves in service to others that we might lift them up.
Listen again to the way Jesus describes these highs and lows of being a Christian in Luke 14...
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 "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. 9 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. 10 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. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
12 Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
I. Lifted Up in Pride
Do you ever look to elevate yourself and lift yourself up above others? Do you ever put others down so that you can feel better about yourself. Do you talk about those people on that side of town or working for that place or in that political party and silently thank God that you're not like them? I don't think any of us like to admit it, but we can get pretty proud, can't we?
But why is it that we're so reluctant to humble ourselves before others? I think it's because we often we can't conceive of anyone more distinguished than ourselves. At least not among those invited to the same parties we are. Our sinful natures have us convinced that we're not only pretty good, but that we're better than most.
I admit that all too often I'm only concerned about me and my place of honor. And even when I'm being generous and kind, all too often it's only because it makes me feel good about me. That sometimes when I help others it's really a subtle manipulation. Or with sad irony I sometimes boast to myself that I'm the most humble person I know.
The truth is that in my sinful nature I am pretty much a selfish, self-centered person. I like to lift myself up high, to elevate myself above others, to admire how much better I am than they are. And even if you don't admit it and say those things out loud, I know that the sinful nature in you is really only concerned with you.
By nature we're high on ourselves and get everything in the wrong order. We put ourselves first, then others (who can later return the favor), then God, if at all. And we think we're pretty good.
II. Humbled in Repentance
In truth, we deserve to be taken down a notch or two and put into our place. And in our gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus does that very thing. He confronts those proud and selfish attitudes in us. He lowers us a bit, that we might be truly exalted. He lowers us by the preaching of the law:
Do not take the place of honor, for… If [you do] …humiliated, you will have to take the least important place… For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled…"
The truth is, that you and I don't deserve a place of honor. We don't even deserve to be at the table at all. We deserve to be put out the door and to get kicked out of the banquet. For the self-centered way that we act, that's more than rude or obnoxious to God, but downright blasphemous – after all, we put ourselves ahead of God and his will that we humbly serve others… well, we deserve hell. When we exalt ourselves, and lift ourselves hight, and shout, "I'm number one," or when we live like it anyway, we deserve an eternal low, an eternal humiliation forever in hell.
Admitting that, confessing it before God and before each other certainly is a low. But consider the alternative. And consider the high of forgiveness that follow the lows of repentance…
II. Lifted Up in Forgiveness
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled… [But!] he who humbles himself will be exalted.
We deserve hell, but when we humble ourselves and make ourselves low in repentance—and true repentance is a low. It is no fun to feel guilty or to confess and admit that what we've done is wrong, offensive, atrocious before a holy God—well, then Jesus exalts us. Literally, he lifts us up.
How? By his perfect sacrifice for us on the cross. Jesus was at the highest heights of glory praised and worshiped by the angels in heaven. But he lowered himself, beyond the deepest depths that we can ever imagine. He lowered himself to become a man and take on flesh like ours. He lowered himself to suffer at the hands of men. He lowered himself to be tortured to death and he lowered himself to endure the agony of hell separated from the Father.
Why? So that we might be exalted. By his sacrifice lifted out of the muck and mire of our sin, lifted out of hell, up into heaven, and one day he will lift us up out of the grave, give us glorified bodies that will last for eternity and he will honor us at the banquet feast of glory. Talk about being exalted! Talk about being lifted up! Talk about the highs of being a Christian!
There's a picture in the back of church by the nursery door that illustrates this well. A man on his knees completely humbled points to himself seemingly confused that he should be invited in to heaven. But Jesus pulls him up from his knees and points to his place at the table at the banquet feast of heaven. We're lowered in true humility and repentance to be lifted up in forgiveness and glory. What a high!
II. To Serve in Humble Thanks
And now, because of what Jesus has done for us in lifting us up to the heights of heaven and giving us peace with God, we're no longer concerned with self-promotion, self-interest, or self-glorification. But instead, our priorities really are realigned. Now we put Jesus first, concerned less about our honor than we are with his. Our greatest desire is to live to serve him in humble thanks? And how can we do that? He tells us: We serve those around us instead of ourselves.
That means we stop the manipulations we're so good at. Don't serve at home just to get what you want from your family later. Don't serve others only in the hopes you we can get something out of it yourslef. Don't worry if you don't even get a "thank you." That's not really why we serve—to be thanked or for the praise—is it? If it is, you may get your pat on the head, but that will be your full reward.
But what does Jesus say? "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Serve others without any expectation of getting anything out of it or anything back. The poor, crippled, lame, blind, would never be able to throw a banquet or party in return. And don't even do it because it makes you feel good about yourself.
But serve others who can never repay you Lower yourself to wash others' feet. Do it in thanks for Jesus and his sacrifice for you—his sacrifice that lifted you up. Humbly serve others because you're eager to serve him. And what a high it is to serve your Jesus in thanks!
And when we humble ourselves to serve those who can never repay us, we will be repaid by Jesus at the resurrection. We'll be lifted up to the highest heights of honor and glory forever in heaven! And we'll be repaid so much more than we've ever spent. And what a high it will be!
Yes, the lows of being a Christian and confessing our sins aren't much fun. But the highs of forgiveness are more awesome than any other high in this life! So we gladly humble ourselves to serve our Savior in lowly service to others until we're lifted up to the highest heights of glory. These are the highs and lows of being a Christian. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.