Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Luke 14:1-11, Ephesians 4:1-3)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity + September 23, 2018

Text: Luke 14:1-11, Ephesians 4:1-3

Not everyone who gathered around Jesus was there to simply to hear Him and be healed by Him.  Some were there to watch Him and wait for Him to stumble.  At one such instance, Jesus is at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees.

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy.

As it happens, there is a man with dropsy there.  Today we would call that edema, a buildup of fluids in the body.  The two most common causes for this are heart failure and cirrhosis of the liver. [1]  In one case, edema is the result of a failing heart and you could say there’s no one to blame. But cirrhosis is a different story, because that’s usually the result of a drinking problem.

It’s this kind of hair-splitting which happens when people watch each other carefully.  It’s borne out of a prideful heart, because how can you criticize others without being sure you’ve got it right?  But Jesus isn’t interested in what caused the man’s dropsy, either spiritually or clinically. 

And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

More to the point, when we gather for worship, are we keeping the Sabbath in our hearts?

Jesus takes the man and heals him, and calls out the hypocrisy, which would make a distinction between sinners who deserve mercy and those who made their own bed and ought to have to sleep in it.  So what is the Sabbath for, if not putting right what was broken by sin?  If you’re a hair-splitter, a prideful rule-follower, then you get out your ruler and start measuring other people (always other people!) to see how close or how far off they are.

The irony is in the contrast between the man with dropsy, who is healed, and the religious men who are swollen with pride and receive no healing of their souls.  They go home just as sick as they were before, but perhaps unaware of the severity of their soul-disease.

The Sabbath is about mercy to the undeserving, healing to the sick, and lifting up of those who are humbled.  That’s why Jesus tells the parable of the banquet:

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Maybe that’s why everyone sits in the back pews.  But seriously, no matter where we physically rest our behind, the right posture for our soul is knelt down before the God of heaven.  He has come down to us in this most ordinary of places, to meet with us and have mercy upon us.

He has come among guests who could never possibly pay Him back, even the first cent.  Now, humanly speaking, if we’re friends with someone, and it happens to be a one-way friendship where we do all the giving and they do all the taking, we consider that a burden.  But this kind of giving and receiving relationship is actually divine, because God is always more ready to give, especially to those who are sick with sin, backsliders, failures, and those who are at their wits’ end.

When we look around at our fellow guests, we share something in common with each of them—we are sick with sins both inherited and actual, we are weary from the week before and we need the Lord’s Word to refresh us, we are wanderers in the wilderness of this life and we need direction for the days to come.  These humbling facts we all have in common with each other as we gather here.

It’s kind of like when you go to urgent care.  You’re looking around at the people around you and it’s clear that everyone needs to be there, whether they have a cut or nasty cough.  The common denominator is that all of you are there because you’re not well.  The same goes for us, as we look around at those who are here today.  Whether fine clothes or t-shirts, young or old, a grizzled or bubbly personality, we are all gathered around Jesus who has mercy on us as we are.

The Lord’s calling to us to all, is one of humility.  As I’ve been saying, He calls us to humility toward God, realizing we are worthy of none of what we have—we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, but we pray that He would give them all to us by grace.[2]

He also calls us to humility toward one another, as fellow heirs of grace. It matters how we treat one another, certainly as fellow Christians but also as we regard everyone we meet.

So, St. Paul writes to us, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:1-3)

When God is at work in our hearts, this is the kind of work He does.  Not only goes He call us to a blessed calling as children of God, but He also gives us His Spirit to leave the sin-sick life for the new life we have in Christ our Savior.  The wonderful calling of God includes humility and gentleness, but also helps us with patience.

As much as we would like to have things change on our schedule and the people in our life change on our terms, God gives us His patience.  When you think about the most frustrating person in your life, consider how God thinks of them.  Sometimes you get fed up with their behavior or their hard-headedness, but then consider how long-suffering God is toward them.  That’s the kind of patience that is yours by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Even the people who drive you crazy, you are able to bear with in love because God has called you to peace, forgiveness, and humility.

Another blessing of God’s calling is that He brings unity.  Humanly speaking, there are many things which divide us—difference of opinions and past wrongs we can’t let go of.  But what is God’s bond of peace?  It’s the reconciliation which bridged heaven and earth, holy God and unholy sinners, when Jesus was stretched out upon the cross.  His blood has the power to overcome even years of wrongs.  His mercy toward us can change even the bitterest heart and make it a place where selfless love dwells.

All of this comes together when the Church gathers for worship.  The one Holy Spirit has called us together, as children of the one Father.  Together, we call upon our one Lord, setting aside our human and sinful differences.  Like the Te Deum pictures, we are “the holy Church throughout all the world [which] acknowledges You: The Father of an infinite majesty; Your adorable, true, and only Son; also the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.”

This is what the Sabbath is truly about.  Sinners, sick and needy as we are, gather around the Lord Jesus.  Humbled as we are by our sins and the follies of this week, we come here because God exalts us, and raises us up as forgiven children to live together.  May God help us to do this! Amen.

[1] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/edema/basics/causes/con-20033037

[2] Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, 5th Petition

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