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Sermon for Trinity 17
Ephesians 4:1-6 + Luke 14:1-11
There are two parts to today’s Gospel from Luke 14, both of them summarized in the familiar themes of faith and love. The first part emphasizes that it was a Sabbath Day when the events of our Gospel unfolded, a Saturday, a day of divinely mandated rest for the people of Israel. I’m sure you remember the Third Commandment given through Moses: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work…For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it…
The Sabbath commandment was a good commandment, intended by God to give His people rest. It was a commandment that looked backward as well as forward. It looked back to God’s work of creation, which He accomplished over the course of six days, resting on the seventh Here in this commandment, God expected Israel to take Him at His word, to believe in His six-day work of creation, to remember His work, and to enter His rest on a weekly basis. (And, by the way, all the evolutionists of the world—both the atheistic kind and the theistic kind—are rejected by God in His Sabbath Day commandment, because they deny the fact that God made the universe in six days.)
The Sabbath commandment also looked forward. God promised rest to His people in the coming Messiah, who would do the work of God’s holy Law for them and then rest on the Sabbath Day in the grave. As the writer to the Hebrews says in chapter 4, For we who have believed [in Christ] enter that rest.
So again, the Sabbath commandment was a good commandment, intended to get God’s people to stop their daily work routine, to rest their bodies, and especially to get their minds off all the things they had to do, to get their works-righteous minds off all their work at least one day a week in order to find rest in God, to contemplate His work, to concentrate on His Word, and as a result, to set their hearts on His promise of rest in the work of the Christ, of rest in the forgiveness of sins, of rest in the kingdom of God, which is wherever Christ is.
Ironically, for all the talk of “Sabbath rest,” the natural result of that rest—of that spiritual rest of faith in Christ—the natural consequence of that refreshment of the soul, is not idleness, is not sitting around doing nothing, is not apathy toward one’s neighbor, but endless works of love. Because the one who rests in God and His work recognizes that he no longer needs to work to save himself from his sins or to earn God’s favor. His salvation is wrapped up in Christ Jesus and His work. Instead of working to save yourself, instead of working to make God favorable to you, you’re now free to work for your neighbor, to help your neighbor in his need.
At least, that’s how it was all supposed to work.
But that’s not the resting Jesus found on the Sabbath Day He spent at the Pharisee’s house in our Gospel. The Pharisees and lawyers were resting from their jobs, resting from physical work. But they were not contemplating God’s work. They were not even interested in God’s work. They were not resting spiritually in Jesus, not resting in God and His promises. They were “watching Jesus carefully”—maybe they weren’t really resting from their jobs as lawyers, were they? They were watching Jesus, not to learn from Him, not to seek rest in Him, but to try to catch Him violating the Sabbath Day by doing some kind of work. And therefore, as a result, since they weren’t resting in Christ, they were also utterly indifferent toward their neighbor, the man there with dropsy. Where there is no faith, there is no love.
There stood their fellow Israelite, suffering from dropsy. None of them could help him. But Jesus could. He spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He was giving them the chance to plead their neighbor’s case, to speak up for the man with dropsy, to pray for him, or at least to acknowledge that God’s Law allowed him to be healed. But they remained silent. And their silence spoke volumes.
Jesus healed the man. He who gave the Sabbath command in the first place knew what its purpose was—not to deprive sinners of God’s mercy, but to focus them all the more on God’s mercy. He turns back to the Pharisees and asks the pointed question: 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? They would all do it! And if they would do it for an animal, how much more shouldn’t they do it for a fellow human being, for a fellow Israelite! God’s Law was good! But they had changed God’s good Law into a chore, and into a hateful excuse not to do good to their neighbor, not to show love. Again, they remained silent. And their silence condemned them.
Does God command you not to do any work on the Sabbath Day? Not anymore. So 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. Does God command you to hold His word sacred, and gladly to hear and learn it? Yes. Does He command that you must be in church every Saturday or Sunday? No. Does He command you not to despise preaching and His word? Yes. Why? So that you can earn His favor? You could come to church seven days a week and you wouldn’t earn God’s favor by it. No, He commands it, because He wants to talk to you through the pastor whom He has given you.
He wants to talk to you about your sin and expose the lovelessness and the self-righteousness that still dwells in your heart. He wants to talk to you about your inability to do the works that earn His favor, to bring you to repentance again—yes, again and on a regular basis. He wants to talk to you about His work—His work of creation, but even more His work of redemption, the work of Christ, His works of love, like He showed again today in the Gospel, His works done in your place, His work of suffering God’s wrath and punishment on the cross for you, and His Sabbath rest in the tomb. He wants to talk to you about His work of sanctification, in which the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, united you to Christ in Holy Baptism, where He feeds your soul with the body and blood of Christ, and where He sanctifies you by renewing you, day by day, in the righteous and loving image of Christ.
What does that righteous and loving image of Christ look like? It looks like faith and love—faith toward God and love toward your neighbor, and especially love toward your brothers and sisters in Christ. The second part of the Gospel illustrates that. The image of Christ doesn’t look like pushing your way to the front of the line, to get ahead of your neighbor. It doesn’t look like choosing a place of honor for yourself before God and man, like the Pharisees were doing at that Sabbath Day banquet. On the contrary, the image of Christ is the image of Him who chose the lowest place for Himself, who humbled Himself and made Himself obedient unto death, even the death of a cross. It means a life of lowliness and service toward your neighbor, which all begins in the heart.
What did Paul say to the Ephesians in the Epistle? I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The Christian walk that is worthy of the Christian calling involves lowliness. Gentleness. Longsuffering—that is, patience, not just with those who are easiest to get along with, but patience with the one who is the hardest to get along with. Bearing with one another in love.
Why? Because in this Christian Church, none is superior to another, none is closer to God, none is more important than another, and if you think you are any of those things, then you do not yet know Christ. Because, as Paul says, There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
This is the oneness that all who believe in Christ share with one another, and in this oneness, we are all called to lower ourselves, to “humiliate” ourselves, not by denying your own worth, but by intentionally elevating the worth of your fellow Christians in your heart and by your actions, which is simply a matter of imitating what Christ has done for you. That’s what it means to choose the lowest place: to follow Christ Jesus, to sit with Him at God’s banquet, first in lowliness here, and then in glory there. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Just as Christ humbled Himself and was then exalted to the highest place, so you have followed Him down into the depths in repentance and have been exalted with Him before God by faith, so that you have the same saintly status before God as Jesus does. In the same way, as a Christian, follow Christ down to the lowest place in humility, love and service toward your fellow Christian, and trust that God will most certainly exalt you in due time. Amen.