Blessed at Table in the Kingdom of God

Text: Luke 14:1-14
Date: Pentecost XIV (Proper 17) + 8/29/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

God Himself is present:
Let us now adore Him
And with awe appear before Him.
God is in His temple;
All within keep silence;
Humbly kneel in deepest rev’rence.
He alone
On His throne
Is our God and Savior;
Praise His name forever! (LSB 907:1)

These are the words of their deeply pious, even mystical author, Gerhard Tersteegen (1697-1769). These words have been sung by many almost as a sort of “ordinary” of the liturgy, a regular or common “call to worship,” Introit or preparation to the worship service. Though from a man of Reformed theological persuasion and Moravian background, nevertheless these words speak not only of a mystical, spiritual, ethereal or charismatic almost palpable divine presence but can also be sung in adoration of God’s real and true sacramental presence in the sanctuary set apart for His dwelling and dynamic visitation through Word, absolution, water, bread and wine, in pulpit, font and altar. “It is the glory of God to conceal things” (Prov. 25:2) and this is how God “hides Himself,” right in front of our eyes in the most humble of means and circumstances. Now, how ought we to enter God’s presence and conduct ourselves in His sanctuary? With awe and silence “humbly kneel in deepest reverence” says the hymn. You know, a person will conduct him or herself in this way only to the extent they truly believe that “God Himself is present.” Otherwise we will just race about, maybe gabbing loudly beforehand not pausing for a reverence or a silent bow, those outward actions reserved only for “Showtime,” which conduct calls into question whether faith be right at all.

We heard the wisdom of Solomon today referring to the proper and expected conduct of a subject before the king, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble” (Prov. 25:6-7). Besides having practical application in the palace school of budding members of the royal family, or even for us commoners for showing proper respect and humility before earthly sovereigns, certainly such would apply all the more in appearance before God, the King of the Universe in His Church! As sinners, we dare not presume to enter the Lord’s presence on our own terms, which are terms only of debt and guilt for violation of God’s Law. In another place (Matthew 22:11-14) Jesus tells a story of a man who entered the wedding banquet without a wedding garment and was ushered out. That story was not as much teaching about proper attire as it was concerning the spiritual attire that no one may enter the Lord’s presence without first dealing with God’s condemnation of our naked pride and sinfulness. And the only way to “deal” with that is to hear and receive the invitation to salvation on His terms, namely, by repentance of sin and being clothed with the garment of the righteousness of His declaration of forgiveness all on the basis alone of the atoning work of His own Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. A person is justified, saved, on God’s terms or not at all.

Now, fear of punishment is enough by itself to make us keep silence and cringe in trembling reverence before God. Just ask the prophet Isaiah who, when he “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up,” and felt the foundations of the thresholds shake at the voice of Him who called, said, “Woe is me! …for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Is. 6:1-5). But greater still, not less so, ought to be the silent reverence and humility at the Word of grace, as when the angel touched the prophet’s mouth with a burning coal even as the Lord Jesus touches our mouths with His body and blood, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Is. 6:6-7). For which is the more amazing, God’s wrath or God’s grace? Which is more undeserved? Which calls for the greater reverence and humility? Surely it is grace.

The Lord God has invited us and the whole world into His presence on His gracious terms. And He has made those terms known. The central teaching of the Bible is how God justly declares sinners to be righteous in His sight, not willy-nilly or on a whim, but for the sake of a person’s faith in the holy suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the way of humility and humiliation. It began with the humility of His mother Mary who said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant…he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:46-48, 51-52). So Jesus taught, saying, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt. 11:29). “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like [a] child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3-4). Then, indeed, “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him” (Philippians 2:8-9), and us in Him! For His death was for all sin. His resurrection is life for all.

Such a demand for humility in our relationship with the King of the Universe, then, also translates to our relationships with our neighbor, one another and with the world. Jesus moved in that direction in today’s Gospel. From speaking of our relationship with God He then draws analogies to our relationship with others. “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends…but…invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and…you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Our life of faith now is directly connected with our eternal lot. Proper humility before God in repentance and faith shows itself in our table fellowship with Jesus and with the fellow sinners in whom He dwells, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” “Let brotherly love continue,” says our reading from Hebrews. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” (Heb. 13:1-2). “Clothe yourselves, all of you,” writes St. Peter in his First Epistle, “with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Pet. 5:5). And grace is what we’re looking for.

Today we rejoice and celebrate with heart-felt thanksgiving and gratitude that we are counted among those washed and clothed with Christ, by the gracious invitation and cleansing of God through the forgiveness of our sins. Let us conduct ourselves with humility in the King’s presence; not, however, out of raw fear, but out of true fear of God that acknowledges His Lordship, holds His Word sacred, and praises His grace and mercy toward sinners. Then let us also live in true humility and love toward one another.

In Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe says to us today, “Come up here” as He forgives you all your sins, and now also to receive that forgiveness in a very personal way in the sacrament of the altar. We come to Him with the prayer of humble access, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the Word and I shall be healed.”

God Himself is present:
Hear the harps resounding;
See the hosts the throne surrounding.
“Holy, holy, holy!”
Hear the hymn ascending,
Songs of saints and angels blending.
Bow Your ear
To us here:
Hear, O Christ, the praises
That Your Church now raises. (LSB 907:2)