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The Grace of God – 9/01/13

Luke 14:1-14 (GW)

On a day of worship Jesus went to eat at the home of a prominent Pharisee.  The guests were watching Jesus very closely.

A man whose body was swollen with fluid was there.  Jesus reacted by asking the Pharisees and the experts in Moses’ Teachings, “Is it right to heal on the day of worship or not?”  But they did not say a thing.

So Jesus took hold of the man, healed him, and sent him away.  Jesus asked them, “If your son or your ox falls into a well on a day of worship, would you not pull him out immediately?”  They could not argue with him about this.

Then Jesus noticed how the guests always chose the places of honor.  So He used this illustration when He spoke to them: “When someone invites you to a wedding, do not take the place of honor.  Maybe someone more important than you was invited.  Then your host would say to you, ‘Give this person your place.’  Embarrassed, you would have to take the place of least honor.  So when you are invited, take the place of least honor.  Then, when your host comes, he will tell you, ‘Friend, move to a more honorable place.’  Then all the other guests will see how you are honored.  Those who honor themselves will be humbled, but people who humble themselves will be honored.”

Then He told the man who had invited Him, “When you invite people for lunch or dinner, do not invite only your friends, family, other relatives, or rich neighbors.  Otherwise, they will return the favor.  Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the handicapped, the lame, and the blind.  Then you will be blessed because they do not have any way to pay you back.  You will be paid back when those who have God’s approval come back to life.”

Jesus knew the best way to explain an idea that is difficult to understand was through telling a parable.  The Gospel of Mark says, (4:34) “He did not speak to them without using a parable.”  The Disciples came to Jesus one time asking, (Matthew 13:10-12) “…, Why do You use stories as illustrations when You speak to people?”  Jesus answered, “Knowledge about the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you.  But it has not been given to the crowd.  Those who understand these mysteries will be given more knowledge, and they will excel in understanding them.  However, some people do not understand these mysteries. …”  Then Jesus referred to a passage from Isaiah, (Matthew 13:13-16)  This is why I speak to them this way.  They see, but they are blind.  They hear, but they do not listen.  They do not even try to understand.  So they make Isaiah’s prophecy come true: ‘You will hear clearly but never understand.  You will see clearly but never comprehend.  These people have become close-minded and hard of hearing.  They have shut their eyes so that their eyes never see.  Their ears never hear.  Their minds never understand.  And they never return to me for healing!’  “Blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear.”  Jesus is saying here that He teaches with parables in order to help us who are believers to understand what the infection of sin otherwise might keep from us … helping our eyes to see and our ears to hear the truth.  And there are times when He uses parables to emphasize to those who do not have faith just how lost and confused they really are.  We find here in today’s passage from Luke that Jesus expected the Pharisees and all the people that opposed Him and His message to not understand what He really meant when He told the parable.  Certain things that He had to say were going to be grasped only by the ears and hearts of believers, but to unbelievers the words would be just stories.

Jesus was attending a dinner and after observing the behavior of the host and many of his guests Jesus had a message He wanted to get across – that selfishness and self-righteousness are serious problems.  These Pharisees would rather let a person die on the Sabbath rather than let go of the human rules for the Sabbath that would tarnish their self-righteous self-image.  Furthermore, their selfishness was so serious that it was literally blocking the goodness and love God has for His children.

To unbelievers, this parable sounded like Jesus was babbling about dinner etiquette … who to invite and where to sit.  But In fact Jesus was not was not concerned about telling dinner guests where they should or should not sit at dinner.  What Jesus really wanted to get across to everyone’s heads and hearts was that the way they were thinking and acting was not God’s way.  The way truly righteous people behave is not concerned with self-promotion and self-glorification.  Jesus wanted these Pharisees and everyone else to look to God’s GRACE, instead of their own interests.  God’s way is different – the way of GRACE is different.

To many people GRACE is not much more than a word.  They are aware that it has some kind of religious meaning, but they are not exactly sure what GRACE means.  They know that Christians think Grace is amazing (from the song).  They know that their family would sometimes say ‘grace’ before dinner.  The better informed may recognize that GRACE has something to do with how or why people get to Heaven.  But often times that is about the extent of their knowledge of the word.  So since the point of this parable is GRACE, and before we go any further into looking at the Grace that Jesus is talking about, let us define what GRACE is – God’s free gift of salvation for everyone who believes in Jesus Christ.  Grace is the forgiveness of our sins, NOT because of who we are or what we have done, but instead GRACE is forgiveness that Jesus voluntarily paid for on the Cross by the shedding of His blood.  Grace means that we can not do anything to earn salvation.  Jesus did it all for us.  We believe that through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice we receive this wonderful gift of God called GRACE.

So how does the parable in today’s passage take the advice about where to sit and whom to invite. and teach us about GRACE?  How does GRACE affect how we think and live?  As I have said, we do not have to do anything to earn salvation because Jesus earned it all.  We do not have to wait till later to know if we have eternal life.  We have it now as a gift of God through faith in Jesus.  So what does Grace have to do with how we think and live here on Earth?  Jesus showed the connection between the love of God and Christian humility – the way of GRACE.

Most of the world finds self-worth in what each person does or has done, WHO he is (like being a doctor, a parent, good athlete, president, hero, etc.).  Some find their self-worth in what race they were born into, in money, possessions, rank, privilege, awards, influence, etc.

A believer in Christ has a completely different idea of his own self-worth.  The Christian knows God’s Law, and the Christian realizes that what he has done and keeps on doing is spoiled with sin.  The Christian knows that he breaks every one of God’s Commandments in one way or another, and even keeps on doing it because human nature wants to do things the opposite way from what God wants.  The believer knows that he is a sinner just like all other human beings on Earth.  He understands that he is desperately in need of forgiveness, unable to save himself because sinfulness earns only the punishment of death and Hell.

Understanding and accepting these truths of what we are like in relation to God should do a pretty good job of making us humble.  It is hard to think highly of ourselves when we know we have disobeyed God.

But that is really not what makes it possible for a believer to think and act the way Jesus encourages us.  What makes the difference is GOD’S Grace.  We need to realize that despite our natural unworthiness, God still loves us.  He loves us so much that He sacrificed His own Son, sending Him to suffer and die on the Cross to pay for every one of our sins.  Since all people are that important to God then human opinions of status and honor fade into insignificance.  Who cares about the best seat at a wedding reception when we already have seats of honor at Christ’s never-ending feast in Heaven?  Those who honor themselves will be humbled, but people who humble themselves will be honored.”  The way of GRACE is different.

Grace also teaches believers to put others first, the same way Jesus did.  We are not only receivers of God’s love by grace through faith, we are also to be its distributors.  We are to love our neighbors without regard for who or what they are or are not.  We are to love fellow believers, spouses, and children the same way.  When your neighbor rubs you the wrong way, and you are convinced that he did it on purpose, even then you are to love him, because that is how God loves you and how God loves him also.  God loves us when we are unlovable.  God forgave us when we were unforgivable because – the way of GRACE is different.

Can you see now how radical a change God’s Grace makes in the way a believer thinks and behaves around others and how it changes the way he thinks of himself?  The Pharisees thought a lot of themselves.  Even when they were in God’s presence through Christ, I am not sure they understood the humility Christ was teaching them when He healed the man on the Sabbath, when he told them to take the place of least honor, and told them about sharing with others.  We become humble in knowing what God, through Christ, had to do in order to save us.  God the Son had to die in order to save us.  And as Jesus teaches through this parable, when you humble yourself, you allow others to lift you up – and they may very well lift you up higher than you would have placed yourself.  The way of Grace is different.

Jesus also teaches us here that our attitude toward doing for others, and our attitude in our own humility, is important.  Think of the times when you have seen a group of kids doing a ‘free’ car wash?  The sign says ‘free’, but once they wash your car, they seem to be asking for a ‘donation’.  There is nothing wrong with a group doing fund-raising.  But Jesus was speaking about doing something good for someone without the expectation of getting something good in return.  Because the way of Grace is different, Jesus encourages us to do good for those who cannot repay.  It may be feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, helping the handicapped or some everyday help you can give.  For some this is not easy.  We live in a society that say, “What’s in it for me?”  “Time is money.”  “Watch out for number one.”  But God’s Grace is what makes the difference in our hearts.  That is exactly the way God’s love works.

Think of all the things He has given you, continues to give you, and will give not only to you, but to everyone on Earth.  Physically we have sun, rain, food, shelter, clothing and countless things in addition.  Spiritually we are offered forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in Jesus Christ, we have God’s Word and the Sacraments.  Think about it.  Has the Lord given us any of those things expecting to be repaid?  Again that is God’s Grace at work.  Believers have God’s love at work in their lives.  I do not have to tell you how to show it.  The opportunities to do so will fill your life and are unique to each one of us.  If you pray about it, God will open up more and more opportunities to be just like Him, in giving to those who cannot give back to you.

The best part of God’s amazing Grace is that God continues to give.  We will be blessed for the love we show and give to others.  Our treasure is in Heaven.  Of course this does not mean that we will see rewards here and now when we do things for others.  But that is OK because we can still be confident that the rewards later are infinitely greater than anything we could gain here on Earth.  When we give without worrying about being repaid, we cannot foresee the blessings of our kindness.  But Jesus guarantees that there will be countless blessings at the end of the world, when He comes to take His faithful people home with Him in Heaven.  Because that is where Grace takes us – to Heaven.  Heaven is where we belong.

Even though we are strangers and temporary residents in this world, we still live here physically, but we live here as citizens of heaven.  We know our true worth, our true home, our place and purpose because of the fact that we are saved by Grace through Jesus Christ.  So live with humility toward self and with love toward others.  Because we live by what we have been saved by – the Grace of God in Jesus Christ – let us remember the way of Grace is different, and so are we, in Jesus’ name.

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