Sermon on Trinity XVII

(Click here to listen to Pr. Lovett.)

+ Luke 14:1-11 +

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Pharisees were watching Jesus carefully.  They wanted to catch Him in a sin.  They put this man with dropsy before Him to see if He would heal Him.  Jesus knew this.

Our Lord isn’t fooled by us.  He knows why we do what we do.  We can paint up our sins to make them look like sincere and genuine works and concerns, but He knows.  He knows when you lie to make yourself look better.  He knows when you ignore your conscience and silence the Word within you.  He knows when you ignore a part of the Bible so as not to be condemned in your sin and unbelief.  He knows when you cover your tracks by blaming others.  He’s not fooled by our petty complaints that we wouldn’t have had to sin if He’d helped us more in our finances, in our marriages, in our jobs, in our lives.  But He’s not having any of it.  He doesn’t fall for the Pharisee’s trick and He isn’t tricked by your dressed up sin.

Our Lord does not play well with others.  The Pharisees want to test Him; to catch Him in a compromising position.  They try their best.  But Jesus never lets them win.  He never takes it easy on them.  He never softens His blows or holds back a little.  He’s not that kind of friend.  That would be a lie.  He is the Truth.  We let others wins.  We lose to our children on purpose.  We even teach them to let others win every once in a while.  Let little Sally have the ball.  Run a little slower and let your brother win.  And we do this in some measure to build self-esteem and to teach our kids how to be kind.  And in so far as that goes, it’s okay, even useful.  But we also do it just so there’s no fighting, no arguing about who’s ball it is and how he never lets me win.  We force winners to lose and losers to win to keep the peace.  But you can’t live life that way.  Consider the thief that breaks into your home and steals your goods.  Do you let him go with your stuff because he says, “Awww! I never get away with it! I never win!”

Jesus never lets His opponents win.  He never lets sin have its way.  He never lets us have our way.  He never stomachs a lousy theologian just to build but the theologian’s self-worth or self-esteem.  He doesn’t want to build up your self-esteem.  He wants to destroy your self-esteem, your self-worth.  So that He can build up your esteem in Him; so that He can show you His worth, which is keeping you out of hell and in His Father’s house.  If He let the Pharisees have one, if He lets them win just one debate, just one tussle, if He says to Himself, “They’ve tried so hard, they’re so beaten. And they’re actually pretty good at this testing stuff.  I’ll let ‘em have this one.”  If He did that, then He would let their hope remain in themselves, in their abilities, in their goodness.  But that is a false hope.

So our Lord doesn’t let them win.  “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”  He knows they don’t care about the man’s healing or about the Sabbath.  They’re not interested in the answer to this question.  If they were, they would have said something.  They would have tried to warn Jesus not to break the Law.  They wouldn’t have put the man with dropsy there in the first place, trying to lead Jesus into temptation.  But they don’t care about Jesus’ question or the answer.  They only want to catch Him in a compromising position so they can be rid of Him.

If they beat Him at their little game, their little test, then they can ignore His piercing eyes and His pointed words.  If He falls for their trap then they can say to themselves, “See there, He doesn’t have all the answers.  He’s no better than us.”  They’re only interested in knocking Him down a peg or two and establishing themselves as viable players in this game of righteousness.  They don’t care about the Sabbath or about this man’s healing, or even really what is and isn’t lawful.  If they did they’d have rid themselves of all their invented customs and rules and just stuck to Moses.  But they don’t care about that stuff.  They only care about keeping themselves in their privileged positions.  They’re only concerned with doing what they want to do.

It’s the same thing as when teenagers say to their parents, “Oh, like you never drank when you were my age?”  It knocks their parent down a peg.  Their not interested in their parent’s drinking or even in being reasonable.  They’re only interested in doing what they want to do.   So they exalt themselves by humbling their parents.  It’s the reason we ever remind anyone of their foible: to knock ‘em down a peg.  It’s why we point out when police officer speed and when our goodie-two-shoes neighbor falls from grace.  It’s why we find fault with pastors. We think that if we knock ‘em down a peg, if we show that they’re no better than us, then we’ll have them. Then we can ignore their words and rebukes and they can’t hold us accountable since they themselves have been unaccountable.

So we put the Lord to the test.  Here are your options Lord: either you let me skip your Service, ridicule your Church, ignore your commandments, and otherwise live like I want to live, keeping and hindering my children from coming to you by telling them that God doesn’t mind if they skip your Service every now and again for the world’s pleasures, and I’ll make sure I tell everyone how great and wonderful you are, and I’ll make your Service as often as is reasonable; or, option two, you can correct me, chastise me, rebuke my sin and my living, tell me to give up my live-in boyfriend or my Saturday night partying or my Sunday morning golf, you can bring me hardship so that I will repent and conform to your ways, you can denounce my hobbies as temptations and you can call me to account for the what I teach my children by my words and actions, and I will make sure that everyone knows that you’re too demanding, too strict, too fanatical, too much a slave driver. I’ll make sure that everyone knows that you can’t be the real God because the real God is love and it isn’t loving to be so demanding.  Real love would let me enjoy life.  Real love would let me do what I want, at least every once in a while.  After all, if you never let anyone win, if you never let them have their cake and eat it too, you’ll never get anyone to come to your Church or listen to a word you say.  Be reasonable, Lord.

But we’re not really interested in being reasonable.  We only want to do what we want to do.  And our Lord isn’t interested in being reasonable either.   He knocks the Pharisees down.  He doesn’t let them win.  He humbles them.  “Is it Lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” If you were sincere, Pharisee, you wouldn’t put me to the test, you’d obey.  But you’re not sincere about keeping my Word; you’re only sincere about saving face, about keeping your position.  So now you will lose your position as teachers and men of honor.  For which one of you if you had a sheep or a donkey fall into a pit on the Sabbath, wouldn’t save it?  How much more should this man be healed on the Sabbath.  You have failed your own test.

He doesn’t let you win either.  You fail your tests too. You know that just because your friends lived together before marriage or the police officer speeds or your pastor sins or so-and-so doesn’t go to church, that doesn’t justify or condone your sin.  But you are full of pride.  We like who we are and where we are.  If we didn’t, we’d seek to change.  But our sins are comfortable and convenient.  So instead of letting the Lord have His way with us, instead of repenting and being humbled by His Word, we exalt ourselves and hide behind the sins of others, even pitting Scripture against Scripture to get our way.

Repent.  Let the Lord humble you.  Take His yoke upon you and learn from Him.  He is gentle and humble and you will find rest for your souls.  For His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  He’s not going to destroy you or make you squirm.  He’s not going to make you stand naked before the multitude.  He won’t even make you explain yourself.  He will set you free to be His children, to be His people.  He isn’t here to punish you or to mock you or make fun of you. He is here to save you, to rescue you, to redeem you.  Let the Lord humble you because those He humbles He also exalts.

He doesn’t leave you in your sin, to answer for your sins, but gathers you to Himself to be your God and your Lord.  He gives you His righteousness and keeps no record of your wrongs.  He lifts you up and gives you the seat of honor; a seat at His Father’s banquet where He calls you His friends and shares with you His Bread and His Cup.

In Nomine Iesu. Amen.