Paths of grace: Humility (Luke 14:11)

Transcription of Sunday, September 3, 2017 sermon.

September 3 cover pic

In the gospel lesson today we heard Jesus say these words, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

As we begin talking about this path of grace this morning, the path of humility, I want to assure you that I am not an expert on humility. I know that there are some people who would disagree with me. They say, “Well pastor you’re not like some of the other pastors we know. At their churches they have parking spots right by the front door for the pastor and for the pastor’s wife. You’re not like those pastors. You always park in the spot furthest away from the front door.” Y’all give me too much credit. The only reason I park way back there is because I don’t want anymore dings or scratches on my car. It has nothing to do with humility. In fact, I have a lot to learn about humility.

Jesus says those words in the middle of a very interesting occasion where he is at a meal with a ruler of the Pharisees. This is someone who is held in high regard by the religious community. When Jesus is there, they’re watching him carefully. They always want to catch him saying something or catch him doing something that will discredit him. But at the same time, Jesus is watching them. The way Luke describes it, he’s watching them choose the places of honor. So Jesus tells them this little parable. And he says, “When you’re invited to a wedding feast, don’t take the most important seat, the seat of honor at the head table. There might be somebody else there more important than you. You’re going to have to take the walk of shame when someone tells you to go sit at the end of the table. Instead, always sit in the lowest seat so that when the host sees you he’ll say, “You don’t sit down way back here. Come on up and sit near me. Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This is not a new teaching. This is not something revolutionary from Jesus. These words were Solomon’s words of wisdom from Proverbs 25:

Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence, or stand in the place of the great.  For it is better to be told “come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble. (Proverbs 25:6-7)

This is a biblical truth that’s been around for a long, long time.

Here’s the question I want us to think about this morning: Do we exalt ourselves? Do we jockey for the seats of honor? Do we presume to sit in better seats than other people? And if so, how do we do that?

We all do it. it’s something we all fall into. it shows up in a number of different ways.

Sometimes, it shows up whenever you think or talk about “those” people. For some reason we have the tendency to talk about “those” people that we don’t approve us, or they do things they shouldn’t be doing. As soon as you start thinking that way, you’re positioning yourself. You’re a little bit better than them.

Or it happens on those occasions when someone confronts you with something you’ve done wrong. Your first response is to talk about those who have done far worse things than you have. You’re doing the same thing. You’re positioning yourself over and above them. You’re better than them.

Or when they confront you, you turn it around. You say, “Well what about you? What about the things that you’ve done?” You’re doing the same thing.

Or those occasions when the conversation is all about you. You’ll ask someone, “How are you doing?” Before they have a chance to answer, you say, “it’s been a tough week, and I’ve had to do this at work, and my family’s driving me nuts” and on and on and they never get a chance to answer. It’s all about you.

These are the ways that even without thinking we tend to put ourselves in a better position than other people. We don’t even realize it. The path of humility is not one we would normally choose. We want to impress other people. We want them to think well of us. And sometimes we even try to impress God.

So let’s stop right there and make sure we all understand – you cannot impress God. It’s impossible. You know the bible verses.

You know Romans 3: None is righteous, no not one. Nobody lives the kind of life that would impress God

isaiah 64 — the best things that you do are nothing more than dirty rags. We are so corrupted by sin. Our sinfulness contaminates everything. Even on our best days, we don’t look any better than we did on our worst days. That’s what sin has done to us.

When Jesus said to a group of people, “Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone,” everyone drops their rock. Everybody knew they weren’t the one.

So we can’t do that. We’re never in a position to impress God with who we are or what we’ve done.

But here’s the good news this morning: you don’t have to impress God. You don’t have to impress him at all. God already knows about your failures, he knows about your sin and he knows exactly what your life is like As we humble ourselves and we confess our sins to God, and we say to him, “We don’t deserve anything but your punishment, Lord. Please, have mercy on us!” God does the same thing everything single time. He forgives us. He cleanses you from all unrighteousness and he lifts you up. When we humble ourselves, he lifts us up. We don’t have to lift ourselves up.

It’s the most amazing news ever, but something we always have to remind ourselves. We come together and we think we don’t even deserve to be at the table, and God invites us to sit with him in the skybox or on the fifty yard line as if we were his own family. That’s who we are to him. That’s important we are to him. That’s how valuable we are to him. We are his dearly loved children.

The path of humility is the path Jesus chose to take. Jesus had all the fullness of God in him. He could do anything — all powerful. Jesus knew everything. Everything of God is in Jesus. Yet the bible tells us Jesus didn’t choose to use that. He empties himself of his divine power on purpose. He humbled himself. He became a servant. He put himself under the law and the will of God, and became obedient even to the point of death on the cross.

The cross is the worst seat in the house, and that’s the path Jesus took. He allowed himself to be nailed to that cross and be the worst sinner ever. He takes the lowest place. The one who didn’t have any sin became sin for us, and died with our sins, so God could lift us up, and we can be the righteousness of God. Jesus didn’t show off or try to impress people with his divine powers. He gave it all up, to die for us.

That’s the path our Lord reveals us and the path our Lord calls us to follow. Following that path is a challenge, but it is not an impossibility. Following that path begins with a change in your attitude and the way you think.

it’s interesting how often your thoughts condemn other people and lift yourself up. it’s scary when I think how often in my mind I think less of people who are overweight and don’t exercise, or they can’t stop smoking, or they can’t keep their marriages together, or they can’t handle their children, or they can’t keep a job. What am I doing? I’m exalting at the expense of others.

The apostle Paul says in Romans 12:3 “Do not think of yourself of yourself more highly than you ought. I do it all the time.

instead, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3, we ought to consider others more important than us. God’s word is a very good mirror to show me what I’m like. And suddenly it reveals that when you look at someone else, you should see someone that God has created. They too are his workmanship (Eph. 2:10), created by him for good works and for a purpose. So we’re looking at someone who’s valuable. When you’re look at someone else, you are looking at someone for whom Christ died. They were important enough to him that he redeemed them. He purchased and won them from all sin, death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death. When you look at someone else you ought to see someone who is a son or daughter of the king. That’s what he call them. They have the seats of honor and will reign in his kingdom.

So God’s word helps turn things around and helps us realize there’s a much better way to look at others.

It helps when we gather together for worship. This is the great equalizer right here. We all say the same words and confess our sins and the only plea we have is “Lord, be merciful.” And we all hear the same words of forgiveness. We all begin humbling ourselves and God lifts us up. We all start at the same place, at the baptismal font. There with water and his word our Lord washes us makes us his children. His death and resurrection now defines our lives, not what we’ve done, or what we can do, but what he has done for us. We come and kneel at the altar and we eat from the same loaf we drink from the same cup. The same gifts of grace for everyone of us.

Worship is the key to seeing others differently and having the right perspective and remembering that God lifts us up.

Just as gathering helps us keep that perspective, when we go to do his work, when we go for mission and ministry, that too helps our perspective.

Whether you are going on a mission trip with adults or the kids in the summer or down to the resource center, you think you’re going to help somebody who doesn’t have what you have. Once you do it, you realize they’re helping you. They’ve got things you don’t have.

Some of us have made the trip to Haiti to help, especially after the earthquake in 2010. Our minds said, as we packed up supplies and things to take with us, “We’re going to help these poor people. They hardly have anything.” They have two sets of clothes. They only eat a few meals a week. They don’t have much of a house to live in. They don’t have clean water or sanitary facilities.

Then we get there and we serve the people and realize they have things we don’t have. They have lives uncomplicated by schedules and pressures and the stress of having to do so much and always be on time. They’ve got time to spend with family and friends and have relationships. They don’t have a lot of things, but for them that’s freeing. They don’t have to worry about their stuff when a hurricane comes. They are free of that burden. They don’t have to worry about taking care of their car; it doesn’t run anyway. They are free. When they gather for worship their praise is unrestrained and joy pours out of them. They don’t to exalt themselves. They don’t have much, but they have a Savior. He lifts them up.

So it’s one of the ways God teaches us that we’re not up here and the rest of the world is down there. They have much to teach us. The psalm today taught us that the Lord instructs the humble in his ways. You want to learn something from the Lord? It’s going to happen on the path of humility.

God is very good at knocking me down a peg or two when I start to think a little too highly of myself. I get a little too confident, a little too confident and I say something stupid and I forget to do something important. I have to humble myself and I have to apologize. God always forgives me and gives me another chance.

That’s a good God who will do that for us. Who will never let us get carried away with ourselves and forget about him or the other people in our lives who are so important. Jesus’ words are a blessing: Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

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