Christianity is not about being destroyed by the confusions and concussions of
The time; it is about being discovered.
Hugh E. Brown
Presumably, the reason that we Christians are here today is that we long to be discovered. Why, you ask, is this the case? Well, because Christians seek to get right with God, to discover their true natures, and to realize their potentials as creatures who have a divinely intended purpose and destiny. Christians believe that they were made by and for God. And reading the Bible is the way that Christians discover who and what they ought or ought not to be. What Christians discover in reading the Bible is themselves. They find that the Bible is their story. And they read it in order to identify with its cast of characters in order to be discovered or found out. They do this all the more because they understand that the Bible is about God’s Word, as it addresses, summons, corrects, punishes, prepares, and transforms man in a process of reconciliation with himself. The Bible is a dialogue between God and man, in and through which man can, if he so chooses, not only be discovered , but be changed and transformed into a creature who is made to be moved progressively towards his created end.
So let us see if we can apply these truths to our journey together today. This morning we find ourselves at the home of one of the Pharisees on the Sabbath-day. Or to put it into our contemporary context, we find ourselves at church. The Sabbath-day is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath-day (Mark ii.27), and so we are here today to find ourselves, or, again, to be discovered. In this morning’s Gospel, we find that Jesus is an invited guest. And, indeed, just as Jesus was an invited guest two thousand years ago on the Jewish Sabbath, so too must he be our invited guest on ours. For, if we have not invited him to be a part of our Sabbath, we shall never be discovered. Remember, as Christians we desire to be discovered or found out in relation to God’s Word. Jesus is God’s Word made flesh, and so our lives must be measured and judged according to his presence. So as we welcome him to this morning’s feast or supper, let us be sure that we are welcoming him with an open heart, intending completely to discover and find not only who and what he is, but who and what we are in relation to him.
If we would find and discover who we are in relation to God this morning, then we are struck by an immediate interruption to the Sabbath-day dinner which Jesus attends. Remember, the interruption is all important and revealing for what it should say to us. Remember also, Jesus writes straight, with crooked lines. The Sabbath is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.(Mark ii.27) Before Jesus was a certain man who had the dropsy. (Luke xiv.2) At the feast, is a man who is afflicted with what we would call edema, or a case of excessive fluids in the body which could lead to or cause congestive heart failure. Dropsy makes one unable to move about and function in any normal ambulatory way, and so is a severe handicap. At any rate, this man is clearly very sick. And he is in need, and so presumably has come to the Sabbath-day dinner for healing. And before Jesus does anything, he asks his hosts a question. Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day? And they held their peace. (Luke xiv.3) What is the point of the Sabbath-day? Jesus asks. Why are you here on the Sabbath-day? No doubt to celebrate the glory of the Lord. But how are you celebrating? And what is his glory? Is the glory of the Sabbath-day not thanksgiving for and rejoicing in the power and presence of God? And what is this power and presence, if it is not the hand of God which approaches to heal, change, and transform you, taking you away from the confusions and concussion of these times, in order to reconcile you once again to God himself? Who are you and why are you here? Jesus asks.
Jesus proceeds to heal the man afflicted with the dropsy. The man in need is offered the place of prominence on the Sabbath-day. Who is he? He is one whose condition cries out for the presence and power of God on this day. His need reveals who and what he is, and who and what he needs. Jesus will give to him what God bestows most fully on the Sabbath-day, the glorious healing power to those who know their need. Jesus continues, Which of you shall have an ass, or an ox, fallen into a pit, and will not straight-away pull him out on the Sabbath-day? (Luke xiv.4) Each and every one of you, Jesus says, will instinctively rescue his ass, his ox, his dog or cat from any harm on the Sabbath-day. So what does God do for you on the Sabbath day, O ye of little faith? You are here on the Sabbath-day, to find and discover yourselves, to admit and confess what you find, and to open your souls to the glory of the Lord, in his healing power. You are in a place away from the confusions and concussions of the time, with those whose worship of God sets them apart for the apprehension of his glory, his merciful response to sinful condition. You are here, first and foremost, to be discovered and found out in relation to God. And today, Jesus says, you can see yourselves in the man with the dropsy. You shall see in him all of your physical, mental, and spiritual handicaps. In this man, if you open your eyes, you will see an outward and visible manifestation of your own inward and spiritual helplessness and frailty. You shall see that you are here to be healed and transformed.
But how seldom is this the case. The Pharisees in today’s Gospel lesson cannot answer Jesus a word. So can neither you nor I. We are silenced. We read in the Gospel that he put forth a parable to those which were bidden when he marked how they chose out the chief seats, saying unto them, When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the chief seat; lest a more honorable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame, to take the lowest place. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest place; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto to thee, Friend go up higher…(Luke xiv.7) We begin to see ourselves more commonly in those described by Jesus in the parable. We come to the Sabbath-day dinner seeking out the chief seats. We are here sated by our own pride and conscious of the good that we think we are doing for God. We act as if we are entitled to be here - to scope out the space, to take our pride of place, and to cleave to our notions of right order, good conduct, and proper religion. We come here to prove that we are religious, to seek out our own glory, importance, and prominence. If we are not enraged that some stranger has taken our seat, we are irritated and distracted by another whose external and visible behavior does not conform to our notions of proper church ritual. We remain caught up in the confusions and concussions of the time because its habits and mores are carried by us into the church.
I hope that in our silence, with the Pharisees this morning, we are here to be discovered and found out by God in Jesus. I pray that we learn that prior to any great feast, be it the Jewish Sabbath or the Christian Eucharist, we remember that like the man with the dropsy we are dangerously ill, and like the ox and the ass terribly lost. I pray that we are here for the mercy of God precisely because we have been discovered and found out as those who need what Jesus alone can bring and do. I pray that we might remember that he that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke xiv.11) I pray that in reading of the man and the animals who cannot help but be humbled, we might find ourselves, be discovered by the Saviour, who will then say to us, Friend go up higher. (Luke xiv. 10) I pray that we shall realize that being asked to come up is a liberation from that arrogant ignorance that refuses to be discovered and found out. But, remember, if and when we are discovered, there is a way out. For, after all, in making the Sabbath-day for man, and not man for the Sabbath-day, (Mark ii.27) Christ has every intention of humbling himself to heal us, that we might then be exalted. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons