Humbly Exalted, Proverbs 25:2–10; (Luke 14:1–14), Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17), September 1, 2019
Today is the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, meaning that we are halfway through our long journey through the Pentecost season. Our Old Testament reading comes from the book of Proverbs. Only three times in our Lectionary Series, do we get a reading from Proverbs. To learn any Biblical truth from Proverbs can seem a difficult task, even if it does come from the text located in a section of the Old Testament which we call Wisdom. I’ve never even written a sermon on Proverbs before.
As you heard the words of our text read this morning, what did you hear? Yes, I know you heard the Word of God. Yes, I know it was true and wise. But did you hear a unifying theme? Could you tell me what this seemingly disconnected text from Proverbs is saying to us this morning?
Let’s start with the Gospel reading. The Gospel reading follows Christ’s teaching and ministry from St. Luke’s Gospel. Today’s is from chapter 14, the setting is a banquet, but this is no discussion of social etiquette. Today’s Gospel and the controversy over the Sabbath lead Jesus to tell a parable of a wedding feast and where to sit. Jesus’ advice is to sit in the lower place and wait to be invited up to the better seats. Jesus then interprets the parable and gives this lesson: whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. This is a picture of true humility before God.
The Old Testament reading from Proverbs 25 fits well with this Gospel reading. Verses 6 and 7 are no doubt the referent of the parable Jesus tells. All of today’s readings add up to a message of humility before God that leads His people to service and humility toward others.
This reading begins with a comparison between God and kings. God by His nature is beyond the eyes and thinking of human beings. God conceals Himself and only shows Himself in His Word.
Then we hear the wicked cannot stand in the presence of the king. Again, a parallel with the true God is apparent. We, as sinners, cannot stand in the presence of the one true God. Humility before God involves repentance and confession of sin. That is the lowering of oneself, and the refusal to exalt oneself before Him.
To exalt one’s self is to invite humiliation. It is better to acknowledge one’s true place and trust in the mercy of the King to lift the lowly. Interestingly, Dr. Martin Luther connects this verse to the Virgin Mary and the Magnificat, where she praises the Lord for regarding her low estate. As Mary was nothing without the gracious favor of God, we, too, are only “promoted” and lifted up by that same mercy. (AE 21:313.)
The rest of our Old Testament reading admonish the hearers to keep the secrets of one’s neighbor and not to go quickly to court or to reveal, or to accuse, the neighbor. Rather, go to him one-on-one. This seems not to connect directly with the previous verses, and the idea of humility, but upon further reflection, it is easy to see that humility before God leads to a humility in how we treat others. We ought not to be haughty and sure in making public the sins of others or accusing them. Rather we ought to be humble even in our knowledge of others’ faults and actions, knowing the mercy God uses in dealing with us.
Obviously, this text from Proverbs was chosen as part of today’s readings because Jesus used them. He, too, said that it would be better to be invited up into higher glory than to be humiliated before others.
Some proverbs address a specific part of wisdom, and some talk about wisdom itself. Our text today speaks about a specific point of wisdom. If you look at it closely, it mostly speaks about humility. Be humble before the king; be humble with your neighbor; at least humble enough to deal directly and personally with your neighbor, rather than some other public route.
It also says not to reveal the secrets of another, another way of saying that would be: we should let our grievances be between us and our neighbor, and not the subject of public gossip. Today we are reminded to be humble enough to receive reproof when it is spoken to us, and to treasure anyone who has the wisdom to offer us “wise reproof”. We are urged to be humble enough to be faithful, and reminded not to boast, particularly falsely.
There is wisdom contained in these words. And yet they are recorded for us, to teach us, so that we may be wise and exercise wisdom. We need to remember who we are and how we got to be here, as part of the body of Christ. We are sinners. That statement is thrown around so much today that it seems to have lost its sting. Of course we are sinners, you say. Yet, we say it as though it means nothing. What it really means is that we are not nice people. We are not good or wholesome. We are not the kind of people we want others to think we are, that we like to pretend to be.
Sure, we dress nice, and we live in swell homes. We drive nice cars, some of us get to drive a Jeep, and we hang out with “church people”. But we judge others. We gossip. We do things with no consideration for the other person. Our behavior in this regard is like many of the politicians that are in the news frequently. They say one thing, and do another. And the other thing they do is done for their own pleasure, without any thought about what it might mean for others.
We also often do and say things for our own advantage, or for our own reasons without thinking how we would feel if we were the recipients of such words or behavior; or how our doing or saying such things might play out in the lives of those around us. Everything we do or say is not evil or destructive, but there are times and places in which we take care of number one first, and forget the other guy.
Most people feel pretty good about themselves. They haven’t actually murdered anyone. They haven’t stolen anything out of their neighbor’s garage or house. They don’t do drugs. They, we, manage to keep our lives outwardly respectable, and publicly decent.
But God sees the heart. He sees the secret thoughts and desires, like the desires to dominate or be in charge, the desires to injure, the desires to be just like someone else, or to be utterly different from them. He sees when we do or say things to get our way, without considering how they impact others. He sees when we put ourselves and our goals above others, or above Him and His will and His Ways and His Word. God sees our sins even when no one else does. He knows the truth that we can hide from others by putting a good face on and speaking very pleasantly. He even knows the truths that we manage to hide from ourselves.
Yes, we are sinners. We are not nice people. If we saw one another as God sees us, I suspect we could never trust one another, or even like one another. We would know that most of the time, other people are just trying to take advantage of us for their own benefit, and putting another face on it and calling it business, or friendship, or being just being helpful.
And I am sure that many of you might be thinking, oh, how cynical you are today, Pastor; I am not like that. I am genuine with my friends and my family. And sometimes you are, but sometimes you are not, that is what having a sinful nature means. I can see the truth of it in myself, so I know it fits you as well.
So, humility reminds us that we are not God’s people because we are so good or such swell men and women that we just have to belong to this select group. We are God’s people because He forgave us, and called us to be His own through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the preaching and hearing of the Gospel. And He has kept us as His own by Word and Sacrament ever since.
We didn’t just come walking in the front door one day on our own. God snuck us in past the purity sensors and washed us clean in Baptism, and refreshes us each week with the Holy Meal of Christ’s body and blood. There, but for the grace of God, we would be just like everyone else outside of His church, lost and condemned.
So our lesson today of humility is appropriate. It isn’t fun, but it is the proper use of the wisdom and knowledge of who we really are, and how we got to be God’s people. So, we walk in that manner worthy. That means visible humility toward others; even toward those we don’t think deserve it, or who seem that they are just not our types of people.
It means gentleness with someone, even if we think they are a jerk, or wrong, or even being manipulative. It means patience with one another. A “manner worthy” means that we bear with one another, for the sake of one another, and for the sake of the unity of the body of Christ.
Paul says that we do this “in love”. We do it in love toward God, and we also do it in love for one another. True humility teaches us that we are all alike, and connected by God work within us. We all desperately need to be redeemed, restored, and forgiven. We all have been called out darkness into Christ’s marvelous light of love and salvation!
Everyone here has been called by God, and their presence here is God’s choice, just as ours is. And even though we are tempted to doubt that, or act as though it is not true, wisdom teaches us humility. And knowing the Gospel, that Christ died on the cross for you, to pay the penalty you earned by your sins. Knowing the love of Christ for you, and the gift that He has given you, humility brings you faithfully to the altar to receive that gift once again, and be strengthened in your faith and in your life in Christ. Knowing that you have been baptized, called by name, as His chosen servant, and forgiven, is how you daily return to your baptism and find strength and comfort there by contrition and repentance.
The ultimate teaching on humility is Philippians 2:1–11. There Paul spells out the deep humility of the sinless Son of God. How much more do we proud and sinful humans need humility! The humble accept what they are: people totally dependent on their Savior.
This is humility: the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and who and what we are, and who and what we were, and how we got to be here. God blesses us with ears to hear, and hearts to believe, and the humility to live in it, for as Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” Amen.