2017 Joint Parish Meeting

2017 Joint-Parish Meeting                       

St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches

Stats

Total Mileage Since Last Meeting: 12,342 (increase of 52 miles from last year)

Services: 134 (both congregations combined); additional weekly services at the nursing home in Hillsboro; Plus, occasional pulpit supply in Fargo and Devil’s Lake

    • Communion Services: 57 (combined); monthly communion services are hosted at the nursing home; in addition, regular communion during shut-in visits
    • Baptisms: 2; Nora and Axton at St. John
    • Funerals, Memorial Services, Burials: 3 at St. John (Warren, Jeannie, Kay); 1 at First American (Arlene)
    • Confirmations: 3; Nathan and Calvin at St. John; Chad at Trinity

Total Membership: St. John, 211; Trinity, 48

Events Attended: Circuit winkels each month; LWML zone events and national convention, ND BoD meetings; District pastors’ conferences (May 1-3, Oct. 2-4); PALS (Feb. 20-21, Jul. 13-14)


Report

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

St. Paul wrote these words to the Philippians from his cell in Rome as part of his final encouragement to them. Even amid their own many trials and sufferings, their love for each other and for Paul abounded more and more. They even sent their brother Epaphroditus to care for Paul in his imprisonment. Through them all, St. Paul was encouraged and strengthened in the faith. So, near the close of his letter, he turns the encouragement back their way. “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

They are to rejoice because the Lord is at hand. Truly, we are nearer to His return than when we first believed. The Day will come when every knee will bow, and we shall enter into Paradise with Him. But, until then, Christ Himself remains near us in His Word and Sacraments. Through faith in Him, we all have access to our Father in heaven, who promises to hear and answer our prayers. For this reason, the Philippians and we have cause to rejoice. The Lord hears and answers our prayers; He cares for us in every need. As we pray to God with every need and with all thanksgiving, our hearts are ruled by His peace. Through His Means of Grace, our God continues to bind our hearts and minds together into one and keeps us together in His Son, Jesus Christ.

This year has been a year of celebration. We have been marking this year as the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. We’ve been celebrating with the hymns of Martin Luther, with Bible studies, a hymn festival, and other events. Yet, we’ve always kept in mind that what we are truly celebrating is the Gospel: the teaching that our sins are truly and freely forgiven by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. By His death on the cross, He has secured for us the forgiveness of sins, and gives that to us freely, apart from any works or merit of our own.

We rejoice, also, as we note that this year has brought some physical changes and renewal to our church buildings. Trinity’s building has received new doors and insulation. The Lord’s altar at Trinity has also been adorned in new, beautiful paraments. This last summer, the members of St. John stepped out in faith and built a playground on their property for the benefit of the community. Much of St. John’s building has also received new flooring just recently. Truly, the Lord has blessed us with these buildings. Even for these reasons alone, there is cause for rejoice and thanksgiving to God.

But, there is another reason. It’s the same I said last year. We are still here. We live in a world that is very evil. I know that is hard to say and, perhaps, harder to accept. We are surrounded on every side by temptations to sin, including the temptation to neglect our attendance in Sunday worship. There are forces at work in the world seeking to deprive us of our freedom to worship the only true God without fear. But we are still here. The Lord continues to gather us, His flock at Trinity and St. John, around His Word and Sacraments. By His Holy Spirit, He continues to call us to hear His Word, receive His gifts, and sing His praise week in and week out (and sometimes, even more often). What a wonderful thing. What a privilege we have to know that our sins are forgiven, that we have eternal life, that we have a God and Father who is Lord of all – yet, Who answers our every call. For this, we rejoice.

Has this been a year without challenges? No. At times, we’ve continued to struggle attendance-wise. Additionally, there has been some (perhaps, expected) financial stress this year. I’m not saying these things to call anyone out, but to admit – as your pastor – that we are still sinners. Just so, in the hymn of the day this last Sunday we sang, “Chief of sinners, though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me.” Though we are great sinners, we have a greater Savior, still. I am convinced that this year, again, He will continue to forgive us our sins and guard and protect us against all evil.

St. Paul encouraged the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always, for He and His advent are near. In all things, they were to make their requests known to God. And God, with His peace that surpasses all understanding, kept them in Christ Jesus. God grant the same to us, His humble servants at Trinity and St. John, in this next year.

Your servant in Christ,

Pastor Jacob Swenson

2017-11-15 Joint Parish Meeting

Unlimited Forgiveness

Text: Matthew 18:21-35

One of the conclusions that we all come to as we work our way through this life is that things don’t last. They wear out, they run out; they expire. One of the lessons I’ve had to learn over life is to smell my milk before I drink it. And, something I find myself doing with unnerving frequency is buying new socks. For some reason, I wear holes in my socks quickly, and I have to throw them away and get new ones. Everything has a number of expected uses, a shelf life, or an expiration date – which we have all learned to accept. But, what about forgiveness?

Forgiveness is the topic of the day in the Gospel text. St. Peter went to Jesus with a reasonable question. When my brother sins against me, how many times I am required to forgive him? How many times before I can stop? In some areas of our country, legal systems allow for three strikes – then you’re out. In our personal lives, we tend to mirror that standard. St. Peter was especially generous, he offered to forgive his brother up to seven times before he cut him off. How does our Lord respond to the question? “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Mt. 18:22) That is, the forgiveness we offer to our neighbor should never be exhausted or run out. There is no point at which we can stop forgiving our neighbor and get a new one. Jesus will illustrate this with a parable. As our multitude of sins have been forgiven by Christ, so also are we led by Him to freely forgive those who sin against us.

I.

It is a totally understandable – and relatable – question that Peter asked our Lord. We’ve all been in situations or are in one now, where we have been repeatedly sinned against, even by the same person. The flip side is also true, we have all been guilty of repeatedly sinning against other people. What prompts Peter’s question is Jesus’ teaching in this chapter. Matthew 18 is largely concerned with caring for our neighbor in Christ. The chapter opens with Jesus teaching that we should humble ourselves and become like children before God. Then, Jesus talked about how, if our brother sins against us, we should go and speak to him. If he refuses to be reconciled, Jesus said to take one or two others with us and go speak again. If he still refuses to be reconciled, it is to be told to the congregation and – if he still then refuses to repent and be reconciled – the offending brother is excluded from fellowship.

So, Peter follows this up with the question, “‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Mt. 18:21-22) Peter’s question resonates with us. Forgiving is hard work. Often, it involves no small amount of spiritual hurt and anxiety. As such, we get tired of forgiving. So, we stop. And the world says we’re right to do so. But, what does Jesus say? We are not to forgive our brother seven times only, but seventy-seven times. The phrase that Jesus uses in the Greek is meant to convey an unlimited amount, not just a bigger – but still limited – amount than what Peter graciously offered. In no uncertain terms, Jesus says that we are to forgive our neighbor in Christ. Period. No limits. The relationship between a Christian and his or her neighbor is to be one of complete love and forgiveness. At no point should our forgiveness run out or dry.

II.

It’s like this, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.” (Mt. 18:23) In this parable there is a king who wishes to reconcile the debts of his servants. Right away, one was brought to him who owed ten thousand talents. A talent itself was a large amount of money. One commentary I read did the math and said that this would be the equivalent of sixty million days of work. Since the man could not pay this monumental debt, the king ordered that all that the man had be sold to cover at least part of it. The man begged for patience while he tried to figure out some way to pay. But, instead, the king felt compassion for the man and, “released him and forgave his debt.” (Mt. 18:27)

Straightaway, the man went out and found one of his fellow servants. The other did owe him money, and a large amount – about 100 days’ wages – but certainly less than the first servant had been forgiven. The first servant began choking the other and demanding payment. When the man begged for patience, in the same way that the first had implored the king, his cries were steadfastly ignored. The Greek says the first servant kept being unwilling to forgive and instead threw his fellow servant in prison until such time as the debt be paid.

Now, in short order, the king found out about all this. He said to the unforgiving servant, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Mt. 18:32-33) The expected behavior of the first servant is that, as he had been forgiven a monumental debt, so he would in turn forgive the debt of his neighbor. Instead, he refused to forgive. So, the original forgiveness from the king was set aside. “In anger his master delivered him to the torturers, until he should pay all the debt.” (Mt. 18:34) Our Lord provides for us the interpretation of this parable, “So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Mt. 18:35)

III.

This is a difficult text to hear, as Jesus is calling us to do something we cannot do. And, quite frankly, we have done the opposite of what Jesus says here. We have let our forgiveness toward others lapse, and we have often refused to forgive, even in the first place. We find ourselves in the position of the first servant. We are about up to our necks in sin and it’s poised to drown us all. We know that for each and every sin, there is payment to be made. The cost of our sin is such that we could not pay it in a billion years. Yet God, who is the king in the parable, forgives us. He forgives us at great cost to Himself, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His Son. By His grace, our colossal debt is forgiven. So, we, in turn, should forgive those who sin against us. And, not seven times, but seven-times-seven.

The question before us is how. How can we forgive so much, especially when we are hurt by others’ sinning? On our own we can’t. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches…apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5) But, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. This is why Jesus has given us the sacraments: so that we might receive the forgiveness of our sins, be strengthened in the faith, and have our love for our neighbor increased. This why we are to receive the Lord’s Supper often. On our own, we tend to look at forgiveness as a limited resource that, once it’s gone, it’s gone. But that is not how we are to be. Instead, through the Sacraments, the love of Christ is poured into our hearts, and through that we are led to love and forgive our neighbor as often as he does sin against us.

Peter’s question to Jesus is totally understandable. Like the milk in our fridge that expires or socks that wear out, we also treat our forgiveness like it’s something that can expire or run out. But, Jesus says our lives are to be lives of love and unlimited forgiveness. On our own, we cannot do this. But, Christ, through His Word and Sacraments, gives the forgiveness His won to us and, through these things, leads us to forgive others. May He grant that this day we receive the Sacrament for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith, and the increase and sustaining of our love for each other.

Healed in Soul and Body

Text: Matthew 9:1-8

Lord, Thee I love with all my heart; I pray Thee, ne’er from me depart, with tender mercy cheer me. Earth has no pleasure I would share. Yea, heav’n itself were void and bare if Thou, Lord, wert not near me. And should my heart for sorrow break, my trust in Thee can nothing shake. Thou art the portion I have sought; Thy precious blood my soul has bought. Lord Jesus Christ, my God and Lord…forsake me not! I trust Thy Word.[1]

The words of our hymn were written around 1567 by the pastor Martin Schalling. Martin served many years as a pastor and was removed not once – but three times – from his office for refusing to compromise his Lutheran beliefs. Through it all, he trusted in the Lord’s mercy and grace. The same could also have been sung by the paralyzed man and his friends in the Gospel text.

When they heard that Jesus was in the area preaching, teaching, and healing, some men brought their paralyzed friend to also be healed by Jesus. Recognizing faith in their and the man’s hearts, Jesus declared to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.”[2] Then, as a demonstration of His great love, and His authority to forgive sins, Jesus healed the man. The man picked up his mat and went home, leaving the crowds to glorify God.

We see in this text Jesus’ great love and compassion, and His great desire to heal. The order Jesus did things in the text can also teach us something. First, He diagnosed and healed the man’s greater affliction: his sin. Then, Jesus also healed his body. He does the same for us. Jesus heals our souls of sin now through the Gospel, and in the resurrection, our bodies, too.

I.

Our text from Matthew 9 continues in a string of teaching and miracles from our Lord. Just before our text, Jesus crossed over to the east side of the Sea of Galilee. That was when He calmed the storm. While He was on the other side, He cast the demons out of two men. The demons went into a herd of pigs and drowned them. All the people of that city came out and begged Jesus to leave them. So, He did. He crossed back over to the west side, to His home base in the town of Capernaum. Jesus did many miracles there: healing Peter’s mother-in-law, raising a girl from the dead, and just generally healing many people. Thus, in our text there was a great crowd around Jesus. This was a standing-room only situation.

As Jesus was teaching, some brought to Him a man who was paralyzed. St. Mark and St. Luke tell us that, because the house was so crowded, and they couldn’t otherwise get to Jesus, they actually cut a hole in the roof of the house and lowered the man down. St. Matthew writes, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven.’”[3] What an odd thing to say. And yet, maybe not. The men approached Jesus in faith, seeking healing. Jesus the Great Physician diagnosed and healed the man’s greater illness: his sin. As great as the man’s physical affliction was, his paralysis had an expiration date. When he died, he wouldn’t be paralyzed anymore. In the Resurrection, the full use of his body would return. There’s one thing that could de-rail that though, sin and its fruit.

See, we’re more than just our bodies. As Christians, we recognize from Scripture that all we see is not all that exists. You might have this memorized, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”[4] We believe that when God formed each of us in the womb, He gave us not just our body, but our soul as well. Which of these two lasts longer? Well, our soul, of course. And, just like our bodies, our souls are prone to sickness, too. The illness of our soul is sin. When we die, the sickness in our body dies; not with our soul. Sin, which separates from God, unless it is forgiven, clings to our soul forever. And, those whose sins are not forgiven or those who reject that forgiveness, have their sins bound to their souls forever in hell. Therefore, Jesus first healed the man’s greater illness, his sin.

II.

St. Matthew at this point writes, “Some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’”[5] St. Mark tells us that, in this standing-room only situation, the scribes were sitting. This marks about the beginning of serious opposition to Jesus. Their charge was this: that Jesus was committing blasphemy by forgiving the man’s sins. Blasphemy is when you take the glory that belongs to God and ascribe it to anything else. Blasphemy in general is breaking one of the first three Commandments. So, they accused Jesus of blaspheming by forgiving sins, which only God can do. This line of thinking Jesus called evil.

St. Matthew continues, “Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’”[6] Jesus asked them why they were thinking evil. Then, He turned the tables and asked them question. Which is easier to do? To say he is forgiven, or to tell him to walk? Obviously, it’s saying your sins are forgiven. How can you really measure from the outside if someone’s sins are forgiven? When sins are forgiven there’s isn’t an external change in the person. But, if you say, “get up and walk,” and that doesn’t happen…that’s pretty quick proof of something. So, to demonstrate that He has the authority to forgive sins, Jesus told the man to get up, and he did. Jesus healed the man’s soul and his body.

Jesus did this because of His great love for the man and for us. We are all weighed-down and beset by sin. It clings to us, pressing in on us from every side. Were it not forgiven, it would drag us all down into the eternal pit of hell. So that that might not be the case, Jesus took on flesh to suffer and die for you. Through His Word and Sacraments, He offers healing, peace, and pardon to you. In Baptism, your sin was washed away, and you received the Holy Spirit. Through the preaching of the Word, the Holy Spirit strengthens you in the faith and daily declares to you that your sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ. In the Lord’s Supper, we partake of Christ’s very body and blood, which purifies and heals us from the inside. By these things, our souls are healed, and we receive passage into the eternal kingdom of heaven.

Every Sunday we confess our faith not just in the forgiveness of sins, but also in the life of the world to come. In the text Jesus healed the man’s soul and in the Word and Sacraments, He heals our souls. Jesus healed the man’s body and, in the Resurrection, will fully restore ours as well. Jesus’ great love doesn’t just cover our souls, but our bodies, too. Otherwise, God wouldn’t have given us bodies or continued to care for them throughout our earthly lives. Just as the man was healed in the text, we all will be healed in the Resurrection. When Christ returns, He will raise the bodies of you, me, and all believers. We will together be changed. Our bodies will no longer bear the effects of sin, but will be as God created them to be.

In our text, we see Jesus’ great love for all mankind demonstrated. When a paralyzed man was brought to Him seeking healing, Jesus recognized His greatest need – the forgiveness of sins. Jesus forgave the man, healing His soul. Then, Jesus also healed the man’s body. Through the Word and Sacraments, Jesus has healed and continues to heal our souls of sin. And, in the Resurrection, He will fully heal our bodies, too.


[1] “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart,” stanza 1.

[2] Mt. 9:2, English Standard Version.

[3] Mt. 9:2.

[4] Heb. 11:1.

[5] Mt. 9:3.

[6] Mt. 9:4-6.

The Law, and How to Keep It

Text: Matthew 22:34-46

Our Lutheran Book of Concord says this near the end,

The distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a particularly brilliant light. It serves the purpose of…properly explaining and understanding the Scriptures…We must guard this distinction with special care, so that these two doctrines may not be mixed with each other…When that happens, Christ’s merit is hidden and troubled consciences are robbed of comfort, which they otherwise have in the Holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely and purely.[1]

Today we have another text in which the distinction between the Law and the Gospel brought up and taught to us by our Lord. When questioned by the Pharisees about the Law, Jesus explained the holy and righteous will of God, the actions that all the Commandments are pointed towards: love of God and love of neighbor. As Jesus said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”[2] Our Lord went on to explain the Gospel: that He is both the promised Son of David and David’s Lord, his Redeemer.

The thing about the Law and the Gospel is that you can’t have one without the other. These two teachings must remain and be preached in the Church until Christ returns. If you take away the Law, the Gospel gets turned into a new Law. If you take away the Gospel, then you doom people to eternal condemnation. Therefore, our Lord rightly teaches both the Law and the Gospel in this text. Today we confess that in the Law we are taught God’s holy and righteous will and in the Gospel, we are taught what Christ has done for us.

I.

The text this week takes place during Holy Week, around the Tuesday. Sunday was the Triumphal Entry, and much of the first part of the week Jesus spent teaching in the temple. While He was teaching, the challengers just kept coming. First, it was the chief priests with the elders, then the Pharisees. Then came the Sadducees – who don’t believe in the Resurrection. Then came the Pharisees, again, in our text. Their plan? Get Jesus to trip up and incriminate Himself. So, the text begins, “When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?‘”[3]

This was an on-going discussion for the Pharisees. They and their scribes and the rabbis would argue back and forth about which is the greatest commandment. If Jesus said something different than the others generally responded, then they got Him. Jesus won’t be caught in their game. He cuts through the muck and goes right to the heart, as only the author of the Law could. He cites from Deuteronomy 6, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”[4] As Jesus said, this is the first Commandment. We are to fear, love and trust in God above all things. But, a second goes with it – again from the Old Testament – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[5]

These two commandments are the sum of the whole Law. In fact, all Scripture is directed to this end: that we love God and love each other. Sounds pretty simple. But, remember, Jesus is preaching the Law here. He’s speaking to the Pharisees, of whom we’ve had examples over the last number of Sundays: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector or the parable about humility from last week. The Pharisees were known and loved for their outward piety. But in their hearts, they did not love their neighbors and, therefore, did not truly love God. And neither do we.

The great commandment is that we love God with all that we have and are, but do we? To use an illustration from Luther, we would rather have a gold coin in our pocket that we could use to feed our appetites than hear the whole and pure Gospel read. God’s holy and righteous will is that we love our neighbor as ourselves, yet so often – for all we care – our neighbor can take a hike. Like the priest and Levite, we pass by while the Samaritan suffers. Even if we don’t pass by physically, we hold both contempt and apathy in our hearts.

II.

The will of God is given to us in the Law: we are to love Him above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. This is good, right, and true. Jesus says, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” And, I think that’s devastating. Because, the whole of Scripture directs us to those two things, and condemns for our failure to do them. This is what the Law does: it shows us what we are to do, and it condemns us when we don’t. Therefore, the Law must not be preached alone. But, after the Law, the Gospel. This is what Jesus does. He has just taught the right understanding of the Law, which is both good and hard for us to hear. In it we hear what we are supposed to do, but that which we fail to do. What we need now is the Gospel.

Jesus preaches the Gospel here in an odd way, by talking about King David. King David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sang Psalm 110, which says, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’[6] We know from elsewhere in Scripture that the Messiah would come from the David’s bloodline. This is shown in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. But, here David – and Jesus by citing it – says that not only would the Messiah be his descendent but also his Lord. And, by “Lord,” he also means “Redeemer.” To redeem someone, in the Scriptural understanding, is to buy someone back from something else. In David’s case and ours, Jesus is our Redeemer and Lord, for He has bought us back from sin, death, and the devil.

“Not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” Jesus is David’s son and Lord, and ours, by purchasing us out of death by His own suffering and death in our place. But, before He died for us, He kept God’s Law for us. First, He did truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Second, He perfectly loved the whole world by dying for the whole world on the cross. By these things Jesus both fulfilled God’s Law in our place, and secured for us the forgiveness of our sins. This is the distinction between the Law and the Gospel: the Law shows us God’s will for us and condemns transgressions against it, the Gospel shows what us Jesus did for us and gives to us.

But, if we cannot do the Law or obtain merit before God by our works, why is the Law still preached? Well, because the Commandments remain holy and righteous and good. They are God’s will for us as Christians. Besides, it is good to not steal or kill or commit adultery. Sometimes we need the reminder. When Jesus was questioned about the Law, He didn’t say we should put it on the shelf and talk about something us. Rather, He taught the Law and then the Gospel. The Gospel is different from the Law in another way, too. The Law doesn’t actually give us the ability to keep it, but the Gospel does. The Gospel doesn’t just tell us we are forgiven, but through being preached it actually does it. The Gospel is the instrument through which the Spirit creates and sustains faith, and through which we are equipped and led to do God’s will, the Commandments.

We won’t keep them perfectly, since we are in the flesh. Now that Christ has atoned for our sins, God our Father no longer looks down at our failures as an angry judge, but, to use Luther again, God looks at us through His fingers. He sees only the righteousness of His own dear Son. For our part, as God’s dear children, we seek to do the will of our Father. The Lutheran Confessions say that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a brilliant light and the way to rightly understand Scripture. In our text, Jesus teaches both the Law and the Gospel. In the Law, He shows that God’s holy will is that we love both Him and our neighbor. In the Gospel, Jesus showed that He is both David’s Son and Lord, who has redeemed us all by His perfect life and death.


 

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 552.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt 22:40.

[3] Matt. 22:34-36.

[4] Matt. 22:37.

[5] Matt. 22:39.

[6] Ps. 110:1.

Heavenly Humility

Text: Luke 14:1-11

This week we find ourselves back in St. Luke’s Gospel, with Jesus continuing His journey to Jerusalem, to suffer and die for us. Our text finds our Lord reclining at table in the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. As Jesus traveled spreading the Good News, preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins, it was His practice to preach also in the synagogues on the Sabbath. Often, someone who heard Him would invite Him over for dinner. Earlier in the Gospel, it was Levi the tax collector. A couple times it was a Pharisee. And now, this time, a ruler of the Pharisees. At first, the Pharisees invited Jesus to see if He was the real deal. But, now, the text says, they were watching Him closely so that they might have something to accuse Him over.

When we heard this text last year, we learned that Jesus used this occasion to again teach the true meaning of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not about ceasing from all work, but rather that we set aside time each week to hear God’s Word and receive His gifts, so that we might then share that love with those around us. Jesus showed this by healing the man of his affliction. He demonstrated what He had taught elsewhere, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” and, as St. Paul says, “The whole Law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’[1]

We turn now to what happened next. As our Lord looked around, He noticed how those who were invited would seat themselves in places of honor – each of them jockeying for the most prestigious seats. Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought not to choose places of honor for themselves, but rather live in humility. He summed up the teaching with this key passage, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”[2] Today, we confess that as our Lord humbled Himself, we also are called to humble ourselves before God and live out that humility in love toward others.

I.

On a first reading of this passage, it’s easy to breeze through and move on. We get that it’s about humility. We get that the guests were wrong to deliberate and choose for themselves the places of honor. The same point was brought up in both of the other texts today, as well. Something we said a few weeks back on Mission Sunday was that all of Scripture is about Jesus. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus went through all the Law, the Prophets, and Psalms and explained that they were about Him. So, I’d like us to consider first how this passage is about Jesus.

You might think that’s silly, since Jesus is the one telling the parable. But, think about it this way: Is Jesus not the image of humility? Is not His whole life one big exercise in humility? In fact, that’s what we call the period from His conception by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary up to His death on the cross – the Humiliation. For, He, being very God of very God, did not rest Himself on His eternal glory, but instead set aside that glory to take on human flesh. It had been the Father’s plan from before the foundation of the world that the Son should be sacrificed as payment for sin. Jesus, Himself being full-God, still did not disobey the Father but humbly submitted to His will. Remember Jesus’ words in the Garden, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”[3]

At any point along the way, Jesus could’ve demanded the homage of the people. He could’ve decked Himself in gold and glory – but He didn’t. The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve. Isaiah prophesied, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” Neither did Jesus have a permanent earthly home, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”[4] After the miraculous feeding, when people wanted to make Him king by force, Jesus withdrew and would not allow it. Jesus humbled Himself perfectly, even to death on a cross. “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.”[5]

The point of His humiliation was so that He might accomplish the work of salvation for us. Because of the Fall and by our own sinful nature, we are unable to save ourselves. We are incapable of contributing a single thought, word, or deed, to our own salvation. Instead, Jesus did it all. And, He gives His salvation as a gift through faith. He gives salvation to those who humbly confess their sins and look to Him for forgiveness. So that we might confess our sins, He gives us His Law and pastors to preach that Law, so that we might recognize from the Commandments how we have sinned and humbly repent. Through pastors, He also preaches the Gospel, where we learn that though our sins are like scarlet, in His blood we are made white as snow. So that we might this mindset, that we stand as beggars before God, Jesus reminds us, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Remember the tax collector and the Pharisee.

II.

We’ve learned now how this text first applies to Jesus. Jesus is the prime example of humility. He set aside His glory for a time to become the ultimate servant, even unto death. Then, He who humbled Himself was exalted by God the Father when He was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of the majesty on high. Now, how does this passage concern us? As we’ve discussed already, the goal of this text is that we would learn from it to be humble. First, we are to be humble before God. It’s not because of how good we all are that we gather on Sunday mornings, but because of how sinful we all are. We have all sinned, and do sin continually. Yet, by the Holy Spirit we have been brought to confess our sins and receive forgiveness. Even this very morning. When we see the punishment Christ endured, we know from Scripture that that punishment was the earned reward for our unrighteousness. Therefore, we always pray that God continue to create clean hearts within us.

Second, humility before God is lived out in humility toward others. That was the malfunction of the Pharisees that prompted this teaching from Jesus. The Greek says that they were all choosing for themselves the places of honor. Each person was considering himself in relation to the others, and reaching the conclusion that they were the best, most honorable person in the room and that the others should give place to them. Such happens among us also in our thoughts and our words, when we, too, look around and consider ourselves as of higher standing than everyone else. We forget St. Paul’s words that there is one body and one Spirit, and we were all called to one and the same hope in Christ.

The readings this week direct our minds to the mind of Christ. He didn’t consider His position as God and disregard our lowliness. Instead, He set aside His glory and honor to suffer and die in our place, for our salvation. Though we deserve nothing but wrath and punishment, our sins are forgiven by God’s grace. Therefore, we are called to be humble before God. May our Lord Christ, by the Holy Spirit, grant us always a contrite and willing spirit, that we, too, would consider less of ourselves and more of our neighbors. May the mercy we’ve received also be lived out in humility and love for our neighbor.


[1] Mark 2 and Galatians 5.

[2] Lk. 14:11.

[3] Lk. 22:42.

[4] Is. 53:2 and Matt. 8:20.

[5] Phil. 2:9.

Practice the Sunday School songs with Deaconess! (September)

Alleluia and VerseAlleluia and Verse Video with actions

Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
Alleluia, alleluia.

Take My Life and Let it BeTake My Life and Let it Be video with actions

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.