Be Humble or Be Humbled
A sermon based on Luke 14:1, 7-14
Sunday, August 28, 2016 – Pentecost 15C
Pretty soon I'm starting up my Latin Classes again. I tutor Latin to some of the students here at Grace. But it's always good for me too, to review some of the words I once learned in Latin class more than 2 decades ago now.
And one of those words that's really stood out at me as I've been teaching Latin these last few years is the word, hummus—the Latin word for dirt or earth. It's the word from which we get our English word humble, which literally means "close to the dirt," or "close to the ground." It's a fitting picture for humility, isn't it? Your nose is in the dirt. It's the opposite of pride, your nose in the air. It's the opposite of being exalted, lifted up on the shoulders of those beneath you as they parade you around in adulation.
So which you would rather be? Humble? In the dirt? Or lifted up in glory with others chanting your name and singing of your glory?!
But this morning, Jesus encourages us to be humble. That's the better option. If we're not humble, if we think too highly of ourselves, Jesus warns that we will be humbled. A time will come when we're put in our place and brought back down to earth—to the dirt. But if we humble ourselves, he promises that a time is coming when we will be lifted up.
Our text for this morning is from Luke 14:1, 7-14…
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."
Now you know that it's not just social skills and party etiquette that Jesus is trying to teach by his parable. He's not just trying to show us how to advance ourselves by appearing humble before others. The parable is really about being humble before God (and then others) and not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. Because if we don't humble ourselves before him, we will be humbled before him one day and forever.
I. Lifted Up in Pride
So, let me ask: 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 then 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. I can be proud of how good I am. Sometimes when I help others it's really a subtle manipulation expecting a word of thanks or praise from them. Or with a sad twist of 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 or at least give us a word of praise to boost our egos), and then God last, if at all. And we think we're pretty good.
II. Humbled in Repentance
In truth, we all 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, so 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! 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 just 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 high, and shout, "I'm number one," or when we live like it anyway, we deserve an eternal low, an eternal humiliation forever in hell—stripped of our pride, of our vain glory, of every blessing, of our place with God.
And while admitting that truth—that we are selfish, self-centered, egotistical sinners, deserving nothing but punishment from God (here on earth and forever in hell)—confessing it before God and before each other certainly is a low. But consider the alternative: If we don't humble ourselves in repentance, we will be humbled in hell. Be humble or be humbled.
But also consider what happens when we do humble ourselves. Consider the high of forgiveness that follow the lows of such 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. That's the truth. 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, when we do it anyway, 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 humbled himself, beyond the deepest depths that we can ever imagine. He left the glories of heaven to come to this earth, this dirt! (Literally humble, close to the dirt.) He humbled himself to become a man and take on flesh like ours—flesh literally made out of dirt. (Talk about humble.) He humbled himself to suffer at the hands of sinful men. He humbled himself to be tortured to death and he humbled himself to lowest possible place: to the depths of hell, separated from the Father. (Talk about humble!)
Why did he humble himself so much? So that we might be exalted. By his sacrifice he lifted us up out of the muck and mire, the dirt and filth, of our sin. He lifted us up out of hell, up into heaven, and one day he will lift us up out of the grave, literally out of the dirt. He will give us glorified bodies that will last for eternity and he will honor us at the banquet feast of glory. Talk about exalted! Talk about being lifted up! Talk about the glory of being a Christian!
There's a picture in the back of church by the nursery door that illustrates this well. It portrays a man on his knees completely humbled, pointing to himself, seemingly confused that he should be invited in to heaven. But Jesus is pulling him up from his knees as he points to his place at the table at the banquet feast of heaven.
Be humble in repentance. And you won't be humbled at God's judgment. Instead you'll be lifted up in forgiveness now and one day soon in eternal glory!
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 by humbling himself to the depths of hell—for giving us peace with God, and the joy of forgiveness—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 that we're so good at. We don't serve our family at home just to get what we want out of them later. We do it out of thanks to Jesus. We don't just serve others in the hopes that we can get something out of it ourselves. We serve out of love for Jesus. We don't worry if we ever get a "thank you." That's not really why we serve—to be thanked or for the praise. But we do what is right in serving others to bring glory to Jesus who humbled himself for us.
Here's how Jesus put it: "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."
Sit down this afternoon and write on one half of a piece of paper all the people in your life that you interact with. Then on the other half write down ways that you can serve each one of them in thanks to God. Then, this week, go serve them. Serve those who can never repay you. Humble yourself to figuratively wash others' feet.
And do it without any expectation of getting anything out of it or anything back. For 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 them in thanks to Jesus for his sacrifice for you—for humbling himself in the dirt, that you might be lifted up from it. Humbly serve others because you're eager to glorify him.
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 by the one who lifted himself out of the dirt of the grave! 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 glory it will be!
Yes, being humble and confessing our sins isn't much fun. But the high of forgiveness is more awesome than any other high in this life! So we gladly humble ourselves and get down in the dirt to serve our Savior in lowly service to others until we're lifted up to the highest heights of glory. Be humble or be humbled. Be humble and be lifted up! In the name of Jesus, who humbled himself for us, dear friends, amen.