Pentecost 12, 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
August 28, 2022

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            Justin, the new data entry clerk, pulls up for his first day of work at a fortune 500 company. Ignoring the “reserved for CEO” sign, he parks in the space closest to the building, heads inside and takes the elevator to the top floor in search for his office.  As he gets off the elevator he steps onto a rich marble floors and heads to a corner office paneled in cherry with red leather furniture and a tremendous view of the city.

            A secretary comes running in behind him, “Who do you think you are?  You don’t belong here.”  He responds, “I work here, I just got hired to do data entry.  This office is great.” 

            “How dare you come into this office, you do not belong here,” the secretary scolds as a burly, uniformed security guard walks in.  “You need to come with me,” the guard says and takes the young man by the arm and escorts him off the top floor and takes him to his windowless, basement cubicle. “Don’t let me ever catch you up there again. And also, I believe that is your Hyundai they are towing away out front.”

            The clerk was aiming high and got shot down.  He wasn’t obeying the rules of business. You have to earn your way onto the top floor. The top floor is for important people who have paid the price and worked their way up.

            In this life we have a tremendous sense of who is important and who is not; who are the winners, who are the losers, who are the people we want to be like and who are the people we shun.

            The way of the world is too often a relentless climb up the corporate ladder in which people are urged to keep pressing upward and upward not worrying about what corners you need to cut or who you have to step over or step on as you climb. 

            Ironically, the relentless desire to climb higher and higher at work far too often leads to the Peter Principle kicking in.  The Peter Principle explains that in an organization people who are successful at their current positions will be promoted over and over again until they reach the level of their incompetence and then they will stop being promoted.  Since it is difficult to admit failure and move back down one step, the Peter Principle sadly means that there are a lot of people who are in over their heads at work trying desperately to make sure no one finds out they are not very good at their job and counting down the days until retirement when they can escape their misery. 

            It seems that the world is all about getting ahead and moving forward and advancing in life so you can rise up above the little people and have enough money to insulate yourself from the riff raff.  At a cemetery in St. Charles, Missouri, I noticed that they are selling graves in an exclusive gated section of the cemetery.  I guess there are some elite folks who do not even want to rest in peace next to common folks.  

            The Pharisees at Jesus’ time are well tuned to where people are in the pecking order.  They know the winners and the losers.  They care deeply about their positions in life. When they eat a meal they are very concerned about where they sit and who gets the place of honor.

            Jesus teaches them that God’s way is a different way. God does not care about your social standing.  Jesus teaches in our Gospel reading today not to exalt yourself, but rather to humble yourself.  Luke 14:10–11 (ESV) 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Humble yourself.  Seek to be a servant to others instead of seeking to boss others around.  Seek to serve those who can never repay you. 

            Humility is not the way of the world, but it is the way of the Lord.  Our Lord Jesus came to serve, not to be served.  And this is a radical teaching in Jesus time and in our time. Be humble and be content.

            The writer to the Hebrews in our Epistle lesson teaches to be content with what you have in life.  Be content with your marriage.  Hebrews 13:4 (ESV) 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 

He teaches to be content with money.  Hebrews 13:5 (ESV) 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Be content with your place in life.  Do not let the monster of envy drive you to try to keep up with others. Now, it is not wrong to enjoy the gifts of God within your means, but never as a competition with others, never to show off your status.

            This is a fine balance in life.  You should work hard at whatever you are given to do because this is one of the ways that you love and serve your neighbor.  You should not say, “I am saved by Jesus, so I can be lazy at school or waste time on the job.”  Work hard because it is the right thing to do.  When my kids each began to work at Pizza Chef I would give them the same advice.  “Show up on time and do what the boss tells you to do.”  If you do these two things they will love you as an employee.  Work hard, not so you can prove your better than others, but because working hard is the right thing to do.  A nice side effect is that hard work is often rewarded.

            We are sorely tempted to compare ourselves with others.  This past Thursday I was helping a third grader whose shoes were untied and his laces double knotted.  A second grader walked over and proudly said to him, “You need help with tying your shoes?  I can tie my shoes all by myself and I am in second grade.”  We all do that in different ways.  It is far too easy to fall into the habit of comparing yourself with others and even announcing how you are better than someone else.  I may not be perfect, but I am better than you.  Sadly, this is the way of the world.  But it is not Jesus’ way.  It is not your way as a disciple, a follower, of Jesus.

            Here at church, gathered in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, no one is better than anyone else.  Together you began worship by getting on your knees, humbling yourself before God and confessing that you are sinful and unclean.  You are united in your need for Jesus.  You come forward and kneel together to receive the body and blood of Jesus.  There is no distinction.  There is no rich or poor, no winners or losers, no celebrities and nobodies, you are united together as sinners needing the blood of Jesus.  You are united in receiving the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. 

            Now, because you live in this world, there is a strong desire to want do something to contribute to your salvation; to climb up the ladder of Christianity and be able to look down on those other people who are not as good as you; to believe that you are accomplishing something toward your salvation by your own works.  You want to move up the ranks, but with Jesus there is climbing up, there is no Peter Principle.  You cannot rise to the level of your incompetence because you are born into incompetence.  When you confess that you are by nature sinful and unclean it is an admission that you cannot do it.  You cannot save yourself.  You need Jesus and Jesus gives you what you need. 

            Now, you should do good works.  You should do good works, but not because they help you advance in life or the church. Do good works because they help your neighbor.  Do good works to love and serve your neighbor.  Love and serve others knowing salvation is a gift, knowing that when it comes to salvation, you can do nothing and Christ has done everything.  Boast not in yourself, but in Christ on the cross for you.  St. Paul teaches in Galatians 6:14 (ESV)  14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 

            There are no ladders to climb here in the Lord’s house. You cannot rise above others.  You are equal as sinners and you are equal as saints of God redeemed by the blood of Jesus.  You cannot climb any higher because you already have been made perfect in Jesus. Amen.