The Humble Will Be Exalted

Luke 14:1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." 12 Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

I'm a dog lover, always have been. Still, I do have my limits – limits which apparently aren’t shared by Scott Janssen. Janssen is a regular in the Alaskan Iditarod race – an annual long distance sled dog race in Alaska. Janssen is called the “Mushing Mortician” because when he’s not racing the Iditarod, he owns a funeral home.

A few days before the finish in the 2012 race, one of Janssen’s dogs, a nine-year-old husky named Marshall, collapsed. It was snowing, and the dogs were doing what they often do – dipping their faces into the snow to hydrate as they ran along. Everything was normal, until Marshall fell over.

Janssen observed that Marshall’s snout must have packed with snow when he dipped. Janssen stopped his sled and ran to Marshall. Janssen said, “He was dead. I’m an undertaker. I know death.”

In tears, Janssen acted like a true dog lover. He described his actions this way, “I had my mouth over his nose, breathing into his nose, as I was compressing and rubbing his chest, trying to work the air out.”

Janssen’s work paid off. Marshall took a breath and then was mushed 32 miles to the Rohn checkpoint where the vets gave him an IV and sent him home.

Many of you are pet lovers. What do you think? Do you love your pet so much that you would give your dog or cat or parakeet mouth to mouth resuscitation?

Most of us would have difficulty humbling ourselves to place our mouth over our pet’s mouth – even if it meant saving their lives. But we also have difficulty not showing favoritism, not bragging about our accomplishments, not choosing the seat of honor for ourselves at the party. Yet our Scripture lessons for today speak all about humility.

Humility is a hard concept for us to grasp in our culture. Politicians try to get you to vote for them by puffing up their accomplishments and downgrading their opponent. Parents yell from the sideline for their child to be the star on the athletic team. Your employer notices that you brought your project in ahead of schedule and under budget only if you put yourself in the spotlight.

We want praise. We crave recognition. We desire for people to tell us how good we are. But the lesson Jesus teaches about humility in our Gospel lesson stands in stark contrast to the way we think.  

While Jesus was at the house of a prominent Pharisee, He noticed how the guests played a game of choosing chairs of honor at the table. So Jesus stopped the game of musical chairs to teach them a lesson that not only applied to dinner parties, but also to the kingdom of God. “Go sit in a seat that’s not important. When the host comes to you, he may say, ‘Friend, move up to a more important place. Then all the other guests will honor you.’” He then summarizes the point of His parable by explaining, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This is similar to what we heard Jesus say at the end of last week’s Gospel, “Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last” (Luke 13:30).

What Jesus teaches here is far more than proper etiquette at dinner parties. This is a principle that holds true in the kingdom of God, which Jesus describes as an elegant wedding banquet.

Hollywood stars, Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, recently hosted a fundraising dinner for one of the presidential candidates. How did you get a seat at this posh affair? A check for a measly $33,400 bought you a seat of honor at the banquet. For $33,400, you can feel kind of self-important.

How about the wedding banquet of the kingdom of God? How do we get in? With what sort of attitude? Do we think we can buy our way into God’s banquet with a check for all our good deeds? Do we barge in, as our culture teaches, and be all brash and bragging about our accomplishments? Do we strain our elbows and shoulders trying to pat ourselves on the back for all the good things we have done for God and His kingdom? Do we hide all the horrible sins we’ve committed but accentuate the few righteous things we’ve squeezed in?

There is a temptation to think God should be impressed by the things we’ve done. After all, look at our worship attendance record, or our offering totals, or how well our kids have turned out. And while we may try to boast about what we’ve done for the Lord, we need to remember that it is the Lord who sets the standard. We may very well do some very good things, yet none of them achieve perfection. St. James reminds us, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).

When we compare our deeds with God’s desire for perfection, we can only hang our heads in shame. It is impossible for us to attain God’s standard of perfection. That’s when Jesus’ lesson holds true for us: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.”

Of course we don’t enter God’s kingdom exalting ourselves. Those kinds of thoughts are exactly what Jesus warns us against in this parable.

Rather, we come before God with humility. Coming before God in humility means confessing our sins. Owning our guilt. Admitting our unworthiness. Instead of holding our head up in pride, we hang our head in shame. Instead of running to the best seat, we get down on our hands in knees in confession.

And we have a lot to confess. Admit to God how your life has not matched His holy will. Tell Him how you have messed up over and over again. Acknowledge how many people you have hurt with your words and your actions, as well those you haven’t helped because of your lack of kind words and your inactions. Reveal how often you have neglected God and His Word, not listening to what He’s been telling you all these years.

We are the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind – the sinners. And yet, King Jesus puts His own words into action as He invites people like us to His wedding banquet.

And so we come into Christ’s kingdom, not with big braggadocio and saying, “Hey, look at me!” Rather, we approach God’s presence in lowliness, with repentance, in confession, and with humility, begging, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

We don’t come into God’s kingdom exalting ourselves. Rather, we exalt Jesus. Jesus put His own words into practice by humbling Himself. And how did He do that? In the words of St. Paul: “Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8)!

We were dead in our sin and unbelief. But Jesus did more than humble Himself to give mouth to mouth resuscitation to us – the crown of His creation. Jesus, the only Son of God, came to this earth and took on our human flesh and blood in order to accomplish what was impossible for us to accomplish. He went from commanding angels to sleeping in the straw. From holding stars to clutching Mary’s finger. The palm that held the universe took the nail of a soldier.

Because we could not be perfect, He was perfect in our place. Because He was both divine and human, His perfect life, substitutionary death, and glorious resurrection made God’s declaration of perfection a reality for us. Now, instead of looking at ourselves and exalting our good works, we look to Jesus and rejoice in His completed work that exalts us.

When we humble ourselves to Christ, we realize that we have no reason to boast in ourselves. Instead, we join with St. Paul in announcing, “The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is my only reason for boasting” (Galatians 6:14).

Because Jesus humbled Himself, the Lord exalted Him. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

By our Lord’s sacrificial self-humbling, by His glorious resurrection, and by His exaltation to the right hand of God – we are now lifted up from death to life, from sin to righteousness, from shame to honor. We are invited to the banquet hall for the wedding feast of the Lamb. As we will sing for communion: “At the Lamb’s high feast we sing, praise to our victorious King, who has washed us in the tide flowing from his pierced side” (CW: 141 v1). We blind, dirty, smelly beggars are invited to be the guests of honor at the King’s party.

We receive a foretaste of this wedding feast every Sunday in the Supper of our Lord. This is a meal where Christ is both the Host and the Meal. He who is exalted above the highest places comes to us in lowly bread and wine. He invites repentant sinners to come forward to receive forgiveness that you can see and life that you can taste. As we eat this wedding feast, “from sins’ power, Lord, set us free, newborn souls in you to be” (CW: 141 v4).

An elementary boy came home from tryouts for the school play. “Mommy, mommy” he announced, “I got a part. I’ve been chosen to sit in the audience and clap and cheer.” When you have a chance to clap and cheer, do you take it? It is OK not to have the lead in the school play. Sitting in the audience is important, too.

Demanding respect is like chasing a butterfly. Chase it, and you’ll never catch it. Sit still, and it may land on your shoulder. The Bible says in Proverbs 27:2, “Don’t praise yourself. Let someone else do it.” 

Do you feel a need for affirmation? Does your self-esteem need attention? You don’t need to drop names or show off. You need only pause at the base of the cross and be reminded of this – the Maker of the stars would rather die for you than live without you. And that’s a fact. So if you need to brag — brag about that!

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Amen.