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Friday, September 17, 2010

A homily on good works

The following is a homily on good works by a Lutheran pastor:

Pentecost 16 Luke 14:1-11

1 et factum est cum intraret in domum cuiusdam principis Pharisaeorum sabbato manducare panem et ipsi observabant eum 2 et ecce homo quidam hydropicus erat ante illum 3 et respondens Iesus dixit ad legis peritos et Pharisaeos dicens si licet sabbato curare 4 at illi tacuerunt ipse vero adprehensum sanavit eum ac dimisit 5 et respondens ad illos dixit cuius vestrum asinus aut bos in puteum cadet et non continuo extrahet illum die sabbati 6 et non poterant ad haec respondere illi 7 dicebat autem et ad invitatos parabolam intendens quomodo primos accubitus eligerent dicens ad illos 8 cum invitatus fueris ad nuptias non discumbas in primo loco ne forte honoratior te sit invitatus ab eo 9 et veniens is qui te et illum vocavit dicat tibi da huic locum et tunc incipias cum rubore novissimum locum tenere 10 sed cum vocatus fueris vade recumbe in novissimo loco ut cum venerit qui te invitavit dicat tibi amice ascende superius tunc erit tibi gloria coram simul discumbentibus 11 quia omnis qui se exaltat humiliabitur et qui se humiliat exaltabitur

In the name of the Father and of the †Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

If God has blessed the Sabbath Day as He has then this Day is especially a day of good works. This day is a day of rest, following in the pattern of God’s own rest from the work of Creation. We also see this day as a day of the New Creation, the 8th Day, following Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead. So there is rest from our labors and new life that comes from being in Christ. When Mary is called blessed among women it is because through her womb God bears the good works of salvation in His Son. Sinful man and creation cannot bear good works. There is no rest for sinful man or hope of new life. Then, where sin by Adam and Eve corrupted that creation which was called “good” by God, He returned to bless man and all of creation through the birth of the Second Adam by the Blessed Virgin and His good works of fulfilling the Law, suffering and dying for all sin, rising and ascending into heaven. When the Church celebrates the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary it is not just for her sake it is to remember God’s power in that which is humble. Does not the birth of Mary magnify the birth of Her Son? So the Apostle, who once persecuted the Church, now writes in confidence to the Church at Ephesus that he bows His knees to the Father. He writes, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” These are lofty words but they show, like the words of the Magnificat of Mary, that God can and does work His powerful good work in Mary, in His Church, in us – in Christ. Through Christ we come back around to what it means to have rest in God, to believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, a world without end.

The Pharisees also believe in the Creation and in the Sabbath rest. They are very careful to not break the Third Commandment. It is not that they do not know the Law, it is that they have forgotten that the Law is good. This is God’s Word to His covenant people. The Law is for their good. So while God blessed the sabbath, they forbid good to be done on the sabbath (Theophyl.)

Jesus eats bread with them at the house of one of the chief Pharisees. As the Evangelist records, “They watched Him.” Although He is invited to table He is not really welcome. Jesus knows their thoughts so when the man with dropsy appears before Him He takes the opportunity to probe them with the question, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?” Healing is a work, a good work. Yet since it is a work, does it not mean that doing it on the day of rest is breaking the Law? They cannot respond. On the sabbath day would they not save an ass or ox that has fallen into the pit? They are speechless. We may draw parallels today to those who may place such value on plants and animals, and the earth itself, to save them while human life is devalued to the point that taking the life of the unborn becomes simply nothing more than a choice. Would they save the ass or ox who has fallen into the pit and not allow for healing of the man with dropsy? Sin is speechless before the holy God.

In the face of their silence Jesus tells a parable. He noticed that they chose the better place. What if someone more honorable comes to the wedding. They will have to move to a lower place, even the lowest place. When invited, take the lowest place. You may be invited to the higher room. Rather than being put to shame you will receive more honor. “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus heals the man with dropsy that the good work of God’s mercy may be shown to those who have the best places and yet have forgotten their place before God. They look down on the man with dropsy yet they would save their animals fallen in a pit. He who they look down on is healed and they are put to shame. The Law is not given to make others sacrifice but that all may know the mercy of God. We are not invited here to false humility for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The Pharisees and lawyers have their vocation yet they have lost sight of Him who gave them what they have. Their vocations have become a means to better themselves over others rather than opportunities to recognize the mercy of God and to work while it is day. The Lord who created them and the man who had dropsy desires mercy. This is the same Lord who gave them the Law. He is the same Lord who will offer Himself up as the sacrifice for their sin and the sin of all on the cross. Here is the ultimate good work of mercy and healing. He, born the Son of God, is knocked down in shame and crucified amongst thieves. Yet by being lifted up on the cross He draws all men to Himself. At the cross the Father’s mercy conquers the pride of sin. At the resurrection, He who has descended to the lowest place, is raised in glory. He eventually ascends to the highest places where He has prepared the best places for you and me and all who call upon His name for mercy.

Our Father’s mercy first given us in Holy Baptism is there for us in His invitation to the Holy Supper. The Apostle Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus may be applied to this Sacrament as I applied them earlier to the mystery of the Incarnate birth of Jesus by the blessed Mother of God. Through this Sacrament, we who are weak and sinful, become those who also have Christ dwell in our hearts. Here He works His powerful good work in us so that we, as Paul says, “may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.” Only if Jesus goes before us guiding us on the right path and only if He follows us, forgiving us our sins, are we able to be intent on good works. These are works that He has prepared in advance for us to do. These are works that will follow us after we die. These are works that are rooted in Christ and His mercy. Christ makes our works “good.” He who sanctifies us, is He who creates what is good and redeems what is destroyed by sin. We are poor and needy. Like Paul, we bow our knees to the Father and cry in repentance, “Have mercy on me, O Lord.” By His Body and Blood we are given forgiveness and given the foretaste of the feast to come. This blessed Sacrament is the God-given feast of the one Church, here on earth and there in glory. In the words of the Psalmist,
102: 16 “For the Lord shall build up Zion;
He shall appear in His glory.
17 He shall regard the prayer of the destitute,
And shall not despise their prayer.

This same Lord invites you to the altar saying, “Come unto Me all You who are weary, and I will give you rest.” He never rests from His good work of keeping the Sabbath Day holy with the holy Eucharist, that you “may be filled with the fullness of God” and abound in His good and merciful work of working good works in you, that others may see them and glorify your Father in heaven. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the †Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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