Sermon audio here.
In Isaiah 55 God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are My ways your ways,” (v. 8). This explains why our Lord’s teaching about God’s Kingdom in the chapter just before today’s Holy Gospel sounds so strange.
He says God’s Kingdom is like a tiny little seed that’s so small, you practically need a microscope to see it (Luke 13:19). He also compares His Kingdom to a speck of yeast. But not just any speck of yeast: it’s like one that’s hidden in a 75 pound bag of flour (Luke 13:21). Good luck finding that!
Remember that the next time you’re worried about something, whether it’s the health of your body, your finances, or even some concern about our congregation. The world’s so full of sin and darkness that it often seems like God’s kingdom doesn’t even exist. This side of glory, the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. This is why the Psalms are so full of complaints. Life isn’t easy, and God doesn’t always seem interested in helping.
But that’s really what faith is all about: trusting that God is working for your good even when He seems absent or like an enemy. All faith needs is a promise of God the size of a mustard seed, but in Christ, you get the whole Gospel, from Incarnation to Resurrection.
God is content to rule over a kingdom that—at least for now—is so small you can barely see it. God’s not into big and flashy or instant gratification. The mustard seed will eventually grow and the flour will eventually become leavened, but it doesn’t happen overnight. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord (Lam. 3:25–26).
Not only is God’s kingdom too slow for our liking, there’s the problem of the misfit citizens: Peter’s denying, Thomas is doubting, and more often than not, Christians are following their example. Some kingdom!
There’s no getting around it: God rules over an upside-down Kingdom. It’s practically invisible, not in any particular hurry, and is full of misfits. It’s only fitting, then, that His wisdom is entirely backward, too. Today our Lord says the surest way to come in last place is by trying to get ahead (Luke 14:11). In His Kingdom, the only way to win is by losing. The last shall be first and the first last.
St. Paul says you should regard others as more important than yourself. But God knows you can’t help yourself, so He speaks to us in terms we can understand. That’s why when He’s looking for examples to set before us, He often chooses people like the dishonest manager (Luke 16:1–12). We can relate.
Or think about the so-called heroes of the faith. They are first and foremost examples of not only God’s patience, but just how different His thoughts are from ours. Who would choose a notorious murderer as His king or apostle? Yet that’s exactly what God has done in David and St. Paul, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Oddly, the fact that the great heroes of the faith are murderers, extortioners, and prostitutes is tremendously comforting. If God could show mercy even to them, there’s hope for us yet.
God gives us examples we can relate to and speaks to us in terms we can understand. If you want to be honored, our Lord says, don’t sit at the head of the table when you’re invited to a wedding feast. Instead, sit at the lowest place. There’s always the chance you’ll be moved up and be honored in the presence of the other guests.
Now the point really isn’t that you might be moved up, it’s to live generously; to let others have what you’d rather keep for yourself. This has the added bonus of also being in your best interest. Not only do people like being around generosity, it feels good to be generous. As St. Luke says, it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). According to God’s backward wisdom, if you really want to do what’s best for you, do what’s best for others.
Not only is this pleasing to God, it’s incredibly practical. Our faith is supposed to make a difference in the here and now. Too often people think God will only take care of us when we get to heaven, but in the meantime, we’re out of luck. It probably doesn’t help matters that there are times when it seems easier to find that speck of yeast in the 75 pounds of flour than any evidence of God’s love.
But it only seems that way. God’s ways are not our ways. He does His greatest work in the last place you’d expect to find it. Christ overcame suffering and death by suffering and dying. The cross is the unfailing sign of God’s love for you.
No need was so trivial nor was any detail too small for Christ to notice. How often was He moved to compassion by the needs of the crowds? Even today He would guide you by the light of His Word to a peaceful and satisfying life now. Today especially He does this by calling you away from self-preoccupation.
The Christian faith is all about hearing the Word of Christ and living accordingly. Before Jesus taught about putting others before yourself in today’s text, that’s exactly what He did. The lawyers and Pharisees had been looking for a reason to accuse Him, and it seemed like they had the perfect setup. They presented Him with a sick man on the Sabbath and were, as our text says, “watching Him carefully.” If Jesus didn’t heal Him, they could accuse Him of lacking compassion, and if He did, He would be guilty of breaking their law.
But what the Pharisees intended for evil, God intended for good. He turned their deceit into an opportunity to teach about what it means to lead a godly life. Christians aren’t those who hear the Word only, but those who do it (James 1:22). Today’s liturgy put a ton of emphasis on living the Christian life: “blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the Law of the Lord, who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart.”
Satan’s prayer is that you’d enjoy the false security of a dead faith. In his book, you can believe what the Bible says all you want so long as you don’t notice any inconsistency between what you believe and how you live.
Scripture says, “The righteous shall live by faith,” (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:1; Heb. 10:38). Christ calls you to embody His self-giving love, to maintain a kind disposition, and when necessary, to comfort, help, and rebuke; to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and truth (1 Jn. 3:18).
Love covers a multitude of sins. As Proverbs says, “What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?” Love means not being quick to accuse. We’re often guilty of the very same things that upset us about others—or worse.
Unwillingness to forgive is the opposite of love. It’s hatred. Worse, holding grudges is a sure sign of self-righteousness. Those who find their righteousness in Christ are always willing to forgive because they know they don’t deserve the forgiveness He gives them. As our Lord says, “Freely you have received, freely give,” (Matt 10:8).
Beloved, you have not freely given. You’ve opted for self-righteousness and held grudges rather than live in the forgiveness of Christ. You haven’t been eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. You’ve been selfish and haven’t sought Christ’s Kingdom and righteousness with your whole heart. You’ve doubted God’s love and haven’t waited patiently on the Lord. In short, you haven’t lived by faith. Repent.
You don’t even deserve the lowest place in His Kingdom, but Christ willingly made Himself an outcast—He came to His own, but His own received Him not—so that you might not only be welcome in His Kingdom, but be given a seat with Christ at His table. The Kingdom of God is at hand; come and feast with your Lord! The psalm declared blessed those whose way is blameless, and in Christ, that is exactly what you are.
In Christ’s Kingdom, it’s not about status, it’s about belonging. Preoccupation with status will earn you a mansion in hell. Blessed are those who clean toilets in heaven! As the psalmist so beautifully puts it, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked,” (Psalm 84:10). God grant it for Jesus’ sake.
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Luke 14:1–11
The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, 2015: God’s Misfit Kingdom
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