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"Walking Humbly before God"

Luke 14:7-14

Rev. Alan Taylor

Pentecost 15, Proper 17, series C
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Sep 1, 2013 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

God humbles the proud and He exalts the humble.  It is a settled principle of Scripture, repeated time and again in word, as well as, in the stories of the faithful.  Whether it's Joseph's brothers bowing before him in servitude, having learned the error of their ways, or, king David, listening to the prophet as he backed the presumptuous king into a corner of ireufutible guilt and shame, God humbles the proud and He exalts the humble.  The poor widow who reached into her purse to give her last mite as an offering to the Lord was exalted in her humble gesture.  By our Lord's own account, she gave more than all the others who put into the treasury, for, they all gave out of their riches, while she gave out of her poverty. 

John the Baptist, whose martrydom was observed in the church on Thursday of this past week, though humbled before the world, having been beheaded at Herod's command, was exalted by His God and Lord.  Jesus, in fact, called him the greatest among men.  Now, God's exalted servant awaits only that day of God's final exaltation in the resurrection of his body. 

Indeed, "Despised and scorned, they sojourned here;

But now, how glorious they appear! 

Those martyrs stand,

A priestly band,

God's throne forever near. 

On earth they wept through bitter years;

Now God has wiped away their tears,

Transformed their strife to heavenly life,

And freed them from their tears."

God humbles the proud and He exalts the humble.  Beyond the heroes of faith, there are many other historical examples of the principle.  Napoleon, the French general whose military strategies and exploits are legendary, even taught in military institutions to this day, once insolently sneered, "I observe that God is usually on the side of the strongest battalions.” In time God humbled Napolean giving answer to his taunt. 

In 1812 the glittering ranks of France and its tributary kings—numbering some 600,000 men—crossed the Niemen River to invade Russia.  They captured several smaller cities and then they approached Moscow.  At that point God sent down on them the soft, feathery flakes of feeble, innocent snow.  The snows of God, the soft snows that a breath can melt, were too strong for the mightiest battalions of Napolean's army.  The French soldiers perished by the thousands, and the Cossacks with their lances thrust out the miserable, frozen, famine-stricken remnant that the northern winter had not slain. God was not on the side of the strongest battalion that time.  Alexander of Russia knew to whom he owed the victory, if Napoleon did not, and on his commemorative medal were the words, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory”

There is a moment in the history of the heroes of this world, of such as Napoleon and others, that decides their career and their renown; it is the moment when their strength is suddenly revealed to them.  An analogous moment exists in the life of God’s heroes, but it is in a contrary direction; it is when they first recognize their helplessness and their nothingness before God.

That moment of awareness of creaturely helplessness and utter dependence on God isn't achieved by self-analysis, rather, it is worked in them by God's providence and by His word of promise.  St. Paul, whom we often picture as self-assured and strong, was, in his own estimation, unsuited and unfit for his high calling as a Apostle o the Most High God.  To the Christians in Corinth he wrote, "I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."  And, of course, in writing to the Christians in Rome, Paul gave us a candid look at the inner turmoil he faced as he proclaimed the glorious Gospel of God's grace and forgiveness in Christ.  "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

What Paul understood about himself was revealed to him by God.  He understood too that his sufferings, the trials he faced, were necessary to keep him walking humbly before God.  He came to see such things principally as he wrestled with a thorn that pierced his flesh. And the reason Paul had to suffer with that thorn is because of the greatness of things he had seen.  "To keep me (he says) from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited."  God humbles the proud and He exalts the humble.

Whatever the thorn was that Paul wrestled with it was severe and troublesome enough to cause him to plead with God to take it away.  And when Paul pled to God, God always answered him in the same way.  "My grace, Paul, is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in your weakness."  Paul, though wanting to find strength and wholeness in his own body, was instead, forced to find it in Christ, whose body was bruised and battered for him. 

Which brings us to the mystery of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The world is humbled before Him because "He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross."  Through His Passion and shame, Jesus drew all men unto Himself, not by force, not by strength and might, but by humble service and willing obedience to His Father.  Even today, His sacraments impart humbly the gifts of God's grace to those who look to Him for strength and new life. 

And now, God has highly eacalted Him and given Him "the name above all names, that, in time, before Him every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  You and I too bend the knee before Him, not in forced subjection, but in willing obedience, showing Him the honor due His name, for, in His having been exalted to right hand of God, He brings us with Him too, where we will one day be exalted as the dearly beloved of God.  In th meantime, God grant us the weakness and helplessness to walk before Him in humility, that we might find strength in His grace alone, In Jesus' name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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