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Ups and Downs and Downs and Ups, September 2, 2007, Old Zion, Philadelphia

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Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity September 2, 2007

Proverbs 25:6-7 Psalm 112  Hebrews 13:1-8,15-16 Luke 14:1,7-1 

Ups and Downs and Downs and Ups 

At the end of his CD named, Sun Mountain Fiddler, Greatest Hits, Dick Solberg sings: 

Ups and downs, ups and downs,

gotta have downs to have ups.

Downs and ups, downs and ups,

gotta have ups to have downs.

Ups and downs, downs and ups,

that’s the way of life

Rich or poor, young or old,

you always have ups and downs. 

Down, down, down, ya’bring me down,

Down, down, down, you bring me down.

Just when you ask is it ever going end

Here come the ups around again,

You see, maybe it ain’t so bad – after all.[1] 

Or here we can sing:

You see, Christ will bring us back up after all! 

It is often God who brings us down. Some one once said,

“If it weren’t for my bad luck,

I wouldn’t have any luck at all.”

Now that is down there! 

As Christians we have to go beyond luck. Trusting God, we willingly go down, so that God can lift us up. Putting ourselves up, makes us go down. Going down can mean being humble, but when we do that consciously, it becomes disingenuous, phony. So going down merely means facing up to who you really are, with all our faults and short- comings, weaknesses and strengths, and no one is so holy they do not smell up the bathroom and that goes for Miss America, the pope, a saint, a bishop, and certainly you and me. On occasion some people smell up a whole country; but we won’t go there. 

Jesus made the self-righteous Pharisees angry, because he ate with the outcasts, sinners, tax-collectors, and all the other undesirables. You see, Jesus went down. In our story today, it is the last time Jesus eats with the Pharisees. Yes, unless we confess that we are sinners, Christ will not eat with us or commune with us. The only way we can worthily come to the communion rail, is conscious of our sin, so Christ can take it away from us and forgive us. (Here I am quoting Martin Luther.)[2]  

I felt good about Senator Craig’s chief of staff. He maintained that he would continue to be the senator’s friend and when you see all the hypocritical political condemnation of the sinner, that man’s friendship made me respect him.

We could wish that our sins were not so real. They are blemishes. But let me continue quoting Luther. In a case such as this, to be Christian, we do not assassinate a person’s character. Luther bids us cover their sins with our righteousness and act as if their sins were our own.[3] And of course, it is Jesus that can really act as if, because he is the completely righteous one. We cannot claim that. We can help others bear the burden of their sins, yet we also have our own – and everybody has got to be trouble to somebody. It is usually a rough road that brings us to maturity. We are all mixed blessings in one way or another and Jesus calls upon us to forgive each other where we are liabilities.

In our marriage vows we pledge faithfulness for better or for worse. What kind of commitment is it that accepts the benefits of a relationship, but not the liabilities? Bear one another’s burdens and you will fulfill the law of love.     

When you’re high, when you’re on top, and you stay up there; you can’t get down under other people’s problems and help them get through them. You don’t even realize how you made your fortune at the misfortune of others. Therefore the real thing to do is to live shoulder to shoulder with the unfortunate and allow your fortune, in which ever form you have it, faith, wisdom, maturity, wealth, what have you…yes, allow your fortune to alleviate the edge of their suffering in the most creative way you know how.     

For example, a student goes off to college and their parents work hard and sacrifice to pay for it. Then the student comes back and rejects them for their ignorance. The student says, “Their education is so limited!” A mature student will empty himself or herself out, stand shoulder to shoulder with common folk and use the light of their knowledge to light their lives up, to serve them with the light in which we see light. What a cop-out to get high on alcohol, drugs, or other chemicals! Grow up yourself! Lift up the quality of life of others, help raise their standard of living, lift up their hearts. Yes, we lift them up unto the Lord, around the table of the Lord, which is the economy of the Kingdom of heaven.

Luke symbolizes this economy by a great wedding banquet, a feast that God has prepared for those who not only knew what was coming down, but went down themselves. “Amen, amen,” Jesus would say, and they will feel themselves lifted up by the angels into heaven.     

Jesus was going to a leader of the Pharisees. Pharisees were the more moderate and liberal party of the day. The Sadducees were the conservatives. But even the Pharisees could not accept Jesus healing on the Sabbath. Jesus does not flinch under their glare. He heals a man with dropsy right before the meal. He was drowning in his own fluids. With that disease a person drinks and drinks but continues to be thirsty. The water stays in him and makes him swell up like a balloon. He is not bent over under the weight of the world like the woman Jesus healed last time. He consumes great quantities and blows up like a blow fish; takes it all in and can never give it out. The meaning of his disease is that he is a constant receiver, who cannot give.     

When Jesus heals him he says that you would prevent an ox from drowning in a well on the Sabbath, but not a man drowning in his own fluids?     

Jesus comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. They are glaring at him. Meanwhile he continues to make observations about them. Imagine the tension at that meal! They had an order of seating from the highest places of honor to the lowest ones. Jesus sees how they struggle for the highest places. And Jesus describes that approach to their seating arrangement as a parable for what happens in our lives. We often trample each other to get to the top. Political offices are arranged in a pecking order and in every business there is also pride of place, and you certainly have to know your place, the boss on top and the employee, below.      

Now if that order is designed merely to have effective government or to run a business that provides goods and helps people make a living wage, then there is no problem. But it spills over into our life-world and a class chasm puts people on top and others at the bottom.     

We all want to get to the top. But that is where God is, and God does not tolerate anyone trying to take a place beside him, nor those who blatantly try to knock God out of his place, to be God themselves. Luther said, “Let God be God.”[4] We have to be human beings. God can only see us, if we are down below and the further down we are, the better he sees us,[5] hears us, and can send his messengers, send us, to bring help. Of course, we turn a deaf ear to God.     

So if you want to go up, put yourself down and wait for God to lift you up. God needs you down here; God needs you to respond to whom he is sending you.     

When we try to be humble consciously, it does not work. In the Bible Study, Pastor Paul Townsend told us about Brother John. He was a humble man, who was a monk. And he was proud of the fact that he was humble, and then when he realized he was proud of it, he became more humble. But then he became more proud of being more humble, and that, of course, goes on and on.      

To be really humble you have to melt away among the common folk and be yourself in such a self-forgetful way, that you are not even conscious of it anymore. It is like the way you cannot be good and know it. If you know you are good, then you aren’t. That gets into the self-righteousness syndrome again.     

So Jesus embarrassed the guests by showing them how immature they were. Then he criticizes his host about the way he picked his guests. Everybody that was somebody was invited. “No, invite the nobodies,” Jesus says, “the people who cannot repay you.” Then the source of your giving will be pure and completely unselfish. It will be coming directly from heaven, out of God’s inexhaustible source.     

“Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to your banquet.” If you are like me, Jesus exasperates you! “Jesus, you are no longer preaching. Now you’re meddling! They will ruin my party! It’s my party and I’ll invite who I want to!” Yes, I want to be seen with the elite, the rich, people with beautiful bodies on red carpets with gorgeous dresses, people who have proved they’ve gotten somewhere in life, (not the lame!) and those who have the eyes that see and can interpret our times. I want them at my party, because they make me somebody by association. What will people think of me if they see me with this low-life?     

Ah, but that is the point, isn’t it? I should want God to see me, but I want to be seen by those who can give me worldly success. God can’t see you or me up there. Let me explain: if God can’t see you, you don’t exist. It is only when you get down where you love others as you do yourself, that God sees you and you become somebody in God’s eyes. In the end that is the one thing that counts.      

God will one day throw a banquet, way over there at the end of time, and all of us sinners will be sitting around that welcome-table on that great-getting–up-morning and we’ll have nothing to give. We’ll be there just as we are, with empty hands, just as we are, with our blemishes galore, but God will remove every spot and wrinkle and make us pure. Then he will provide such a feast for us at his glorious table, with such a spread of goodness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and love till our lives rise up so high, they will be overflowing as we worship and praise God and enjoy him forever! Amen. 

N.B.: My German sermon develops further some of the ideas contained in this sermon.

[1] See his product website: This CD is the sixth one down. I’m not sure of all the words, I have up here, because some of the words required my guessing. Only cassettes are left, all the CD’s are gone. His “Orange Blossom Special” on this CD is superb. Plays “Ode to Joy” and other songs while he’s playing this one.


[2] I also remember Brian Gerrish saying this in his lecture at Luther’s Jubilee in Washington, D.C., 1983.


[3] From “The Freedom of a Christian”, see Philip and Peter Krey’s, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, March, 2007), p. 89-90.


[4] Luther says this in many places, one time for example in “A Sermon about Preparing to Die” (1519) in section 12. WA 2:690.16. That means Luther’s Works, the Weimar Edition, page 690, line 16.


[5] This comes from Luther’s explanation of the Magnificat: again, see Peter and Philip Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, pages 94-95.


Written by peterkrey

September 3, 2007 at 2:56 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

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