O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Friend, move up higher
Friend, move up higher
Based on Luke 14:1-14
Preached on September 1, 2013
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Fellow baptized saints,
Nice guys finish last.
But I don't need to tell you that. You see it and live it every day.
Very likely you'll go home today and watch the Bluebombers lose to the Roughriders, and you'll say to me, yeah but pastor, the Riders only won because they were able to bend and push the rules to the limit, they only won because they were able to break the rules and not get caught. The Bombers are the nice guys. That's all.
But if you don't watch the game, you'll watch the news, read the paper, or listen to the radio and hear about another corporate fat cat who broke the law, took a slap on the wrist, and walked away with a multi-million dollar severance package; or a violent criminal who raped or murdered somebody only to get off on a legal technicality; or a politician who sold his vote to the highest bidder, got caught in a scandal, but keeps getting re-elected anyway.
Meanwhile, you go to work, bust your butt for and take abuse from your employer, coworkers, clients, customers and the slougher takes home an equal or bigger paycheck, the customer files a complaint on you and gets a freebie, and the boss makes ten times your wage off of your work.
You may be returning to school where you'll see that cheaters often do prosper; athletes get preferential treatment and inflated grades; some of the nastiest guys get the pretty girls, and the trampiest girls get the good-looking guys.
You love your spouse and family. You watch out for and help your buddies and sacrifice for their welfare and one day you find out they are cheating on you, or have betrayed you. Heck, even at church you look around and feel like you are finishing last while other churches seem to be flourishing. Maybe being nice, doing what is right, playing by the rules, and living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God isn't such a great idea after all. I mean, even Jesus broke the rules. It's right in our Gospel lesson today. You read it to us pastor.
One Sabbath, when [Jesus] 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, [that is, excessive swelling]. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?" But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, "Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?" And they could not reply to these things.
Why not? Why couldn't they reply? Because the Pharisees didn't get it. Nor did they want to. You see, they were all about taking the best seat and taking heaven by storm.
But what Jesus is showing them and teaching us is that the Commandments given by God are for the benefit and service of His people. He didn't speak these words and set these laws in place as chores to earn our keep or rules of the game to win entrance into heaven. They were made for the continuing sustenance and nurture of the crown of His creation, for mankind.
"One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?" And he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath."
That sure sounds good, doesn't it? But try living that way in the real world, right? Live for the benefit of your neighbor. Follow the rules so you don't hurt or harm anybody. Oh, yeah, then break a rule to try to help somebody and see where that lands you. Sounds like a ticket to jail or the bottom of the stuff happens pile.
And everybody knows that if you want something, you need to go and get it. If you want success, you can't worry about being nice or following the rules all the time. You have to make it happen and take your place in the world. You can't even get to heaven without pleasing God and making His Gospel and Church more appealing to people than the bare words of the Bible and the canned worship of the liturgy.
Yeah, nice guys finish last, and you need look no further than Calvary, where the nicest Man of them all, the One who played by all the rules and fulfilled all the Law for us, suffered the persecution and taunts of the not so nice, and even the eternal punishment of our sins as He was forsaken by the Father and left to die. Christ chose lowest place for you.
But He didn't stay last, did He? No, He rose from death, hell, and the grave. When He said, "It is finished," He wasn't finishing last. He was finishing first! And now that He has ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven, He is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
As St. Paul said, "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." Jesus has made Himself the first and the last, and covered it all in His precious blood.
You have peace through His blood, dear people of Beautiful Savior. You have been baptized into His fullness to dwell in the body of His church where you are reconciled to Him to be at peace with His Father in heaven. Your Father in heaven.
But here, in your vocations and lives with one another in this fallen world, be content to sit in the lowest place, as you serve your neighbors—yes, even the ones who break all the rules and take advantage of you. Because, here in Christ's church, through the plain Word of God proclaimed and heard and confessed and sung together in the historic liturgy along with all the saints who have gone before us, heaven comes to earth and you are able to come to the table of His wedding feast here at this altar, where your Savior, the King of kings says to you who have been beaten up out there in the world, treated last because of His Word which is upon you - He says, "Friend, move up higher" - take and eat, take and drink at my heavenly banquet. I forgive you. I understand you. And I have a place for you.
In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr