Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the seventeenth Sunday after Trinity 9/26/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11:00am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity17 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
When my brother and I were little, maybe seven years old, we got into some trouble. We weren’t bad kids, really; at least I don’t remember us that way. Most of the time it was the typical seven-year-old kind of trouble; the kind of trouble you might get into by pairing up Kool-Aid with homemade slingshots.
But one day the trouble wasn’t so mild. One day my brother just disappeared. He was gone.
The early ‘90s had a lot of free-range-children; and though we weren’t quite as free as some, we were among them. I can’t remember why I wasn’t with him, but I know he was playing with some other kids from the neighborhood.
And then he was gone. They all were. The neighborhood kids weren’t in the neighborhood anymore.
The reaction from my parents is pretty much what you would have expected. Lots of praying; lots of yelling; at times, I think they were the same thing. They called the police. They called their friends. They knocked on doors and looked behind bushes. I can’t say for certain that it was there for us, but I distinctly remember a helicopter.
Now, most of you have met my brother, so you know the story has a happy ending. He’s married with four little girls and is an elder at the Lutheran Church – all is well. But it wasn’t going so well that day.
Dad finally found him with the others in an abandoned house a block or so away. Of course, he wasn’t supposed to be in there. But nothing would stop the search and rescue. Whatever it takes, a father will go in there and get his son.
Now, I happen to think my dad is fantastic. But I also must admit that he’s not unique in this. Most any dad would do the same. That’s a point Jesus makes in our Gospel this morning.
Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out? verse 5
The plot might be even thicker than it appears, though. Due to their legalistic approach to Sabbath rules, the kid shouldn’t have been at the well in the first place. Fetching water could be interpreted as work. And work was a no-no on the Sabbath.
So, it isn’t just a question of helping your child out of a well. It’s his fault that he’s somewhere he should not be.
Then again, maybe it’s not that complicated. The Pharisees are fathers, too. Dad wouldn’t think twice about kicking down the door to an abandoned house to save his son. And the Pharisees would have pulled out their children regardless of how they got there. They’re not heartless, uncaring men. And even if the jury was out as to whether the rescue was technically permissible, or whether the child could learn a lesson by delaying the rescue, they’re not going to wait until the next day.
Of course, they are only men. Their mercies have natural limits. They can pull a man out of the water, but they can’t pull water out of a man.
That’s the condition of the person brought before Jesus. He has dropsy, what we now call edema. It’s a condition where excess fluid gets trapped in bodily tissues and swells.
To demonstrate that Jesus has power over His creation, that he has the power to heal and to save, Jesus heals the man.
It’s an impressive miracle, a divine work, and they would have recognized it as such; especially since Luke reports that they’re watching Him closely. But I hope they were listening closely as well. The Parable of the Wedding Feast is a capstone teaching on what has just happened.
The man who had dropsy was as low as you could get. He was ritually unclean. He had no place of honor. Really, he would have had no place at all. He might as well have been at the bottom of a well, with all the other lost sons of Israel. The man with dropsy did not deny his condition. He was by nature sinful and unclean. And it just so happened that his body was evidence of that.
Though he was not invited, Jesus welcomed him. Though he was unclean, Jesus touched him. Though he was in the lowest place, Jesus raised him to the highest place.
This is more than a lesson on social etiquette, and it is even more than a lesson on the verse you just heard from Proverbs:
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. verse 6
Jesus is demonstrating to them the nature of God’s Kingdom. Only the sick can be healed. Only the guilty can be forgiven. Only sinners can be made righteous. Only the empty can be filled. Only the humbled can be exalted. And only the dead can be raised.
This is the great reversal. This is the beating heart of Christianity. There are other doctrines and they all matter; but they can’t mean anything if this is lost:
Jesus, the only One who ought to be in a place of honor, gives up His place of honor. He gives it up in His humiliation – when He descends from heaven to take on your flesh. He gives it up when He lays aside His divine attributes to live as you live. He gives it up when He perfectly satisfies the Laws demands, but dies as a criminal in your place.
Jesus made Himself nothing. Prophetically, the Psalmist writes:
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. Psalm 22:7
He descended to the bottoms of the proverbial well and the literal hell. He did this so that He could say to you, “Friend, move up higher.” That’s who you are. By Holy Baptism He has humbled you and exalted you, brought you down and raised you up. By grace He has brought you into His Kingdom, into His court, and into His wedding banquet. He lays the Supper of His body and blood before you now at this altar, that you would feast.