Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
So that with good courage we say, ‘The Lord is my helper. I will not fear. What can man do to me?’
One of the most difficult parts of being an artist is letting go of the paintings that I have work on for a long time. They become like children to me. Will the buyer put that piece in a place of prominence or will it end up in a dark corner? I had one person question whether the piece would hold up in a steamy bathroom.
I had one person consign a piece, trusting in my creativity. I did what we discussed, but he was disappointed. I made a few changes, including one that completely destroyed the piece. I was able to make another change that helped, but his original requests were odd and I think he realized that after it was finished. I told him he did not have to take the piece and he tried to consign another. I refused because I did not think he’d be happy with my creativity no matter what. He took the piece anyway and planned to give it as a gift to a friend who was coming to visit this month. I wonder if he decided to give it to her and if she would like it. I’ll probably never know.
I have had the experience of seeing my work hanging in a place of prominence. I sent my aunt a cross painting after my uncle died, a way of sharing in her grief and brightening her day. When I went to visit this summer, she made sure to show me where she had hung it. She was so pleased to have some of my work on her wall, and that made me happy. The gift was meant to give her joy, and it does in a very small way. I want my art to make people happy, and whether it gets hung in a place of prominence, a dark corner or a bathroom. It is their piece once it leaves my studio and I have to be humble enough to let it go.
What does it mean to be humble? I think one of the hardest things for me is to “sell myself.” I attended a meeting with a group of artists a few weeks ago and one asked me, “How do you market your work?” I don’t, really. Oh, I post a few pictures on Facebook and I attend a craft fair or two. I open my studio occasionally and invite people to see what I have to offer. Mostly I give my paintings away as donations for silent auctions or galas. I’m not sure I would ever do well as a professional.
As Christians, we live in a paradox. On the one hand, the world expects us to boldly blow our own horn so that we can get ahead. As Christians, however, we are reminded that we are called to be like Jesus, who had it all but humbled Himself for the sake of the world. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells the crowds not to rush for the best seats at a banquet. He reminds them that there are others who may deserve to sit higher, and that it is better to sit lowly and be raised rather than sit according to our expectations and be humiliated when asked to move. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” So, too, it is with us: if we think too highly of ourselves, we will find that there is someone greater. But if we humbly accept the least, we’ll find ourselves raised.
The scriptures for today consist of a number of random thoughts. Each would make a powerful sermon. In the passage from Proverbs, the writer tells us that God’s glory is in what is hidden, but kings’ glory is in the search for God. We might know that heaven and hell are far from us, but we can’t know what’s in the heart of a king. Silver must be refined, for it is in the silver without the dross that we’ll have something precious, so too a king must be cleansed of wickedness to be righteous. The rest of the passage talks about our humility before the king, remembering to take the lowly place and to deal with our neighbors privately.
The writer of Hebrews talks about being a good host, because in doing so we might actually entertain angels. We should seek justice, live honorably and chaste, avoid greed, be obedient to those who have been chosen to lead us, do good and share our resources with others.
The Gospel lesson reminds us that the life of faith, the life of humility, is manifested in a life that is lived for others. When we trust in God, we need not pursue after the places of honor or the satisfaction of our lusts and greed. The humble will be lifted and the place of honor is much greater than anything a man can offer. We will be seated in the presence of God to bask in His glory for eternity. For this we most certainly can praise God.
That’s what it is all about, trusting in God.
The Gospel lesson begins at a dinner. Jesus has been invited to dine with the rulers of the Pharisees, and they are watching closely. They were people for whom outward appearances were of utmost importance. They wanted to see if Jesus was living according to the Law, doing what He was supposed to do. Would He maintain His own purity, especially in their presence?
Jesus noticed a man with dropsy, a disease that made the man unclean and untouchable. Jesus asked the lawyers if it was alright to heal someone on the Sabbath. They didn’t answer, so Jesus “took him, and healed him, and let him go.” The word here translated “took” means to take hold of or grasp, so Jesus didn’t just say a few words and send him on his way. Jesus touched the unclean man, an act that would have made him unclean in the eyes of all those lawyers. Before they could say anything, Jesus asked, “Which of you, if your son or an ox fell into a well, wouldn’t immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” They couldn’t answer this one, either, because they certainly would disobey the Sabbath laws to save their sons or oxen.
Jewish theologians believed God’s providence continued to govern the world. This was confirmed by the fact that people continued to be born and die on the Sabbath. Consequently, the belief developed that God exercised two prerogatives on the Sabbath: He gave life and he executed judgment (2 Kings 5:7.) So only God could “work” on the Sabbath and healing was considered work. By healing the man with dropsy, Jesus not only touched the untouchable, but He did the unthinkable: blasphemed. He made Himself equal with God.
Now, that may seem like an odd lesson on a day when the lessons talk about humility. However, Jesus is the ultimate example of humility. After all, He is God and yet left the glory of Heaven to do the Father’s will, to take on flesh to suffer the humiliation of man so that we might join Him in the glory of heaven. See, Jesus took the lowly seat at the table, was raised and invites us to join Him.
Just as Christ was a humble servant for the people to whom He was sent, we are called to live in faith and share the message of forgiveness and freedom from our burdens with the world. By living a life of humble action, giving to others and sharing God’s grace, we may not end up with fame or fortune or have a huge impact on our world, but we will bless those see God glorified in our life and we will share in that blessing.
We do tend to think highly of ourselves. We each have talents and knowledge that makes us a little better than another. I’m a better photographer than some of the professionals I’ve seen. I’m a better writer than some of the bloggers I’ve read. I’m a better painter than some of the artists I’ve seen. While I might be better than many others, I know that there are many who are much better than I am. That’s the trouble with thinking too highly of ourselves: even though we might be good at what we do, there is always someone better. I could never hope to compete with professional photographers, writers and artists in this world, and I don’t think I want to try. I’m happy to do what I do and hope that those who buy or receive my paintings will find joy in them.
The psalmist writes, “Yahweh, my heart isn’t haughty, nor my eyes lofty; nor do I concern myself with great matters, or things too wonderful for me.” How many of us want to have our work stand in a place of prominence, without realizing how much our work might be needed in the dark corners and bathrooms of this world. It is there, perhaps, that my paintings will bring something the most joy.
Too many people these days need a job, but refuse to work in the mail room because it is below them. Some think that a degree guarantees them a place in an executive suite without even getting the valuable experience of time in a cubicle. But the guy who humbly accepts the lesser job will prove himself and find that he can rise quickly in the company. With both the education and experience, the humble person who works hard and does his job well will be noticed. None of us are “too good” for the lowly work of this world and we are not better than those whom we serve. We do not deserve the high places; we are raised by grace.
We are encouraged by today’s scriptures to settle for a lower place until someone values us enough to give us a lift, yet we live in a world that demands we “sell ourselves.” How do we live in this paradox? How do we do what it necessary to succeed and yet also remain humbly respectful of those who are inevitably better? This isn’t a question of worth or ability. It is a matter of pride. It is good to give an employer reasons to hire you, to do a good job and show that you are a valuable asset to any company or organization; it is not good to be too proud.
The random thoughts in today’s passages come together in the life and work of Jesus Christ. He shows us how to be kind to our neighbor, to touch the untouchable, to have mercy and grace and to do good. He shows us how to be humble, to stop worrying about what others think of us and to trust in God. Jesus shows us that heaven is much closer than we can ever imagine because God has come to dwell among His people, to heal us and to make us clean and pure.
The writer of Hebrews gives us an image of the life of faith manifested in this world. He calls Christians to love one another, to be hospitable to the stranger, empathetic to the imprisoned, faithful in relationships and content in everything. He calls us to look to God who supplies everything we need: physically, emotionally and spiritually. He reminds us to remember the witnesses who have shared the Gospel of Christ with us so that we might be saved and follow their example. We are to stand firm in the truth that Jesus Christ is the same today as He was and as He will be.
“Through him, then, let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which proclaim allegiance to his name. But don’t forget to be doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” The life of faith, the life of humility, is manifested as we do good for others. When we trust in God, we need not pursue after the places of honor or the satisfaction of our lusts and greed. The humble will be lifted and the place of honor is much greater than anything a man can offer. We will be seated in the presence of God to bask in His glory for eternity. For this we most certainly can praise God.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel lesson that we should not do things for the sake of the impression we’ll make on others. Instead of inviting people to our feasts so that they will return the favor, we are to use our resources to feed those who can’t pay us back. We are called to lift them up, to make them better, to do for them what Jesus has done for us. We are called to invite them to the table so that they can experience grace.
Pride means putting ourselves above the God who is our Creator and Redeemer. Humility means sitting in the lesser place and meeting the needs of others. When we put others, especially God, ahead of ourselves and do what is right, we will find ourselves to be greatly blessed. God sees the humble heart and draws it to Himself. There is no better place for us to dwell. Trusting God is where we’ll find joy.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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