Monday, August 30, 2010

Proper 17 of Series C (Luke 14:1-14)

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, most experts will tell you that there are several major world religions and literally thousands of minor ones. In fact, some say that there are as many religions in America as there are people. Those experts are wrong. In fact, in all of the earth, amongst every group of people that has ever lived, there have only ever been two religions, Meism and Foryouism. Now, I’m not sure you have heard of either of these religions, especially since your pastor just made the names up, but Jesus deals with both in our text for today. In fact, these two religions are diametrically opposed to one another, because they focus people in two completely opposite directions. Meism and Foryouism have always been at odds, and this conflict comes to the fore once again when Jesus is invited to a meal.

Jesus of Nazareth came to the house of a prominent local Pharisee to enjoy a banquet, but it didn’t take long before Meism asserted itself. Jesus watched as the guests chose the honored seats, competing with each other for who would sit in the most favored positions. You see, in Meism, the only ruling principle is that you must seize honor for yourself. You cannot depend on anyone else to give it to you, and you shouldn’t let your own honor be given to another. In Meism, everything is all about and centered upon, well, me. I live my life my own way, I make my own decisions, and no one can tell me differently. I definitely shouldn’t be held up to some kind of outside standard. It’s all about my own needs, my own pleasure, what I want I should be allowed to get.

Meism, as you can probably guess, is a very old religion, in fact as ancient as the world itself, but in our country today, it seems to be gaining great momentum. Its various branches go under different names, Buddhism, Islam, even atheism. In fact, atheism is the purest form of Meism. Some of those other groups still have this primitive dependence on some sort of ‘god,’ but in atheism, it is all and only about me! When it comes to religion, Meists can fit into a variety of different groups, but only if that group encourages me to rely on myself, my own good works, my own obedience, my own efforts. What savior? I don’t need one- I’ve got myself! Many Christian churches have even jumped on the Meism bandwagon. People want to depend only on themselves, and many congregations are only too happy to oblige. Everything from the songs sung to the sermons preached focus squarely on me and my life, teaching me how to get my best life now or achieve my goals. Other congregations rarely speak about sin and do their best to be inclusive and endorse any kind of lifestyle that walks in. Salvation, too, is all about me. There is still some trust in God, but mostly it’s about what I’m doing, how I’m contributing. Don’t worry about me, God, I’ve got this salvation thing covered!

If Meism is all about my own needs, then what do I do with other people? Now, for the followers of Meism, other people are vitally important, because they help us get what we want. They can affirm us in our decisions, they can provide for our needs. But if they do not perform that task, then there is only one thing to with our neighbors- discard them. The follower of Meism knows that relationships are fleeting, so people can be discarded with little or no consequences. Marriage is just a piece of paper, and it’s much better to just sleep around, fulfilling your own pleasures. The prophets of Meism preach that message loud and clear from their pulpits on network and cable TV. In fact, science has been quite helpful in carrying the banners of Meism. The followers of Meism wanted sex without consequences, and science and politics obliged with abortion on demand. Roe vs. Wade was one of the greatest triumphs of Meism. If a baby gets in the way of my life in any way, I can just dispose of it! In a great triumph of Meism, just a couple weeks ago a judge in California declared that gender is irrelevant to marriage! Thousands of Meists now say: I can marry whoever I want! Meists are even excited for the day when legalized euthanasia will provide the opportunity to get rid of anyone who is holding them back. The only time you give aid to another is if you can get something out of it. That is why the host in our text invited only the rich and powerful. Followers of Meism may live in a community, but they will only become involved in a project if it directly benefits them. That only makes sense- why should I do anything that doesn’t assist me in fulfilling my own needs? That is ridiculous! Living in community and helping others doesn’t really fulfill the needs of Meism; instead, I need to rely solely on myself.

Throughout history, the proponents of Meism have dominated the human race, no matter the nationality or religion. The adherents of Foryouism have been comparatively few. This has been a persecuted bunch, trampled on by the world because their defining characteristic is humility. They know that they cannot achieve anything by themselves because they are sinful and corrupted. There is no trust or dependence on ‘me’ here, but instead upon another, someone outside of themselves. They are the poor and needy, those who have nothing to offer anyone but their sicknesses and infirmities. They know this, and therefore they do not attempt to grab the seats of honor, but instead sit in the lowest place. Unlike the Meists, who seize honor for themselves, the followers of Foryouism know that honor is something that is given, not taken. And so they humbly waited for deliverance.

That deliverance came from the greatest proponent of Foryouism, Jesus Christ. Jesus did not seize glory and honor for Himself, though He certainly had the right. He was the sinless Son of God, in intimate communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit. All glory and honor belonged to Him, but He gave it up. St. Paul puts it so well in Philippians chapter two: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.” In an act of utter and complete humility Jesus allowed Himself to be tortured and killed…for you. That is where this religion gets its name: It’s not about you, it’s about Jesus Christ for you! The focus is not on us but on Him and what He has done for us. He gave His life into death for us to pay the price for our sin. And as a result of His humility, Jesus Christ was exalted. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” This is the great paradox of Foryouism. Those who follow Meism attempt to exalt themselves, but in Foryouism, one is exalted only by being humble. Following His death, Jesus was raised in victory over the grave and now He is exalted to the right hand of the Father. His humiliation led to His exaltation.

If Jesus is exalted, then we too will be exalted with Him. Jesus is the host who invites the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, that is, you and I, and He places us at the feast. Jesus calls you by name, for He knows you intimately, and He died and rose again for you. He gave you a place at the feast when He called you by name in the waters of Holy Baptism. When you partake of the Lord’s Supper here on this earth, you are participating in that feast, because Jesus is giving Himself once again for you and for the forgiveness of your sins. At the feast, here in earthly time and there in eternity, our Lord gives us the honored places. Jesus tells us, “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.” We have been humbled by the burden of our sin, but Jesus lifts us up and brings us to the highest places at the feast, the honored seats of those who have been redeemed by His blood. Around that feast will be all those have heard the mighty voice of the Gospel, the ‘for you’ of salvation in the waters of Holy Baptism.

Therefore, the followers of Foryouism do not keep their eyes focused on themselves, but instead upon Jesus Christ and then upon their neighbors. For the Meists, neighbors are something to be used to get us what we want, and then to be discarded. The Foryouist instead sees the neighbor as another person for whom Christ died, and therefore one who needs our service. They do not serve their neighbor in search of reward, but they do so because they have a reward, a reward that is in heaven. Jesus said, “But when you give a feast, invite the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Just like Jesus, the followers of Foryouism place others before themselves, always looking for an opportunity to let the ‘for you’ of the Gospel ring out in another’s ears. For that proclamation is the lifeblood of the one who is in Christ, the constant refrain: Jesus died for you, and He lives for you!

So we have two religions in our world, existing side by side, although the religion of Meism definitely has the numbers. We are all born Meists, and we fall back into that religion on a daily basis. That is why Jesus is constantly working to apply the Gospel to you each and every day, to forgive your sins, for He died and rose again for you and your salvation. Only He can bring you from Meism to Foryouism, only He can bring you to the feast, and we rejoice that He has done so, that He has given up His life for you, to bring you into the feast that will never end, the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom into all eternity. In the Name of our great host and living Savior, Amen.

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