EXALT OH DUST AND ASHES
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 14:11
THIS word of God we hear today seizes us by the throat! It exposes the core of our being; the person that resides beneath the self-delusions and self-promotions. It leaves us naked before the eyes of our God and shows us for the self-aggrandizing narcissists that we are, who always head for the best seat at the table and would not react well if asked to step down a notch.
You may be shocked to learn this about yourself. You may have a thousand objections to Scripture's conclusions regarding the human heart; everyone does. You might call forth endless anecdotes about your nobility, accomplishments, and about the glorious trek of human progress, but there is only one virtue that avails before God, and it is humility, as Jesus says.
Yes, you may be shocked at Scripture's assessment of you, but God is not. He watched the Fall of Man take place in living color. He looked on with a Father's broken heart as His beloved children spurned His love, stormed out of the family home like so many prodigal sons, and joined the snake in his mutiny.
Lucifer and his crew knew the consequences and made their choice, but Adam and Eve were innocents by comparison; children enticed by a stranger who offered them candy and invited them to get into the car with him, which they did, and humanity has been paying the price ever since, dedicating its full time and attention to restoring its erstwhile glory. Yet whatever people do to exalt always turns out to be too expensive, oppressive, dehumanizing, often bloody and always short-lived; never as satisfying as the travel posters make it out to be, and like movie popcorn never tastes as good as it smells, but is there any legitimate glory to be found for sinful men in a sin-filled world? The Lord answers the question in today's gospel lesson: "...whoever humbles himself will be exalted." It is that simple, but still no man can attain it because we have no aptitude in such matters; no man except one man, that is, The Man Christ Jesus who emptied Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, and Who thereby stands as the One Mediator between God and man -- you are that man -- reconciled to God by faith in Jesus Christ.
It first happened for you in baptism. By this sacrament you are born from above, born anew as the exalted creation of God. God becomes your Father, Jesus your shepherd, and the Holy Spirit your constant companion who exalts your low desires and extinguishes passion's fire. Baptism admits you to the church, not just to the building or the membership rolls, but to the church's sacred worship and that is the ultimate exaltation in the world, as far as the heavens are above the earth because in holy worship Jesus communes with His people and not us alone, but also the angels, archangels and the whole, entire, numberless, ubiquitous and glorified company of heaven as they worship Christ on the throne. Slain yet alive, sacrificed yet resurrected, giving Himself to sinners in the bread and in the wine, lifting you up above the heavens to reign with Him as kings. In this high and exalted event that takes place every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. earth time, all things are put into perspective for us. Our sins are pardoned, our Spirit is restored and our future glory is again made plain. The things that frighten and trouble us, cast against this scene are shown to be nothing more than the light and momentary burdens that St. Paul names them: not worthy to be compared to the glory that is about to be revealed in us.
Outside these walls we are confronted by sin, disappointment, failure, frustration, pain and death, but Jesus speaks to us tenderly in here and assures us that those things do not get the final word, but that He Himself, Who is the resurrection and life does, and that it will be a good word: judgment on all who would harm us and blessed salvation for us.
Though Christian worship is of a piece, the church has always considered holy communion to be the climax where we humble ourselves before the Lord's throne and await the Lord's touch on bended knee, await His glorified body and life-giving blood to be placed upon our tongues and to course through our being, so that we should be raised up and made well by heaven's own medicine.
We are further exulted when we leave the altar and return to our God-given vocations where we daily drown the Old Man and practice the exalting virtues that St. Paul teaches us today. He says: I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. These are the virtues which exalt us all.
Even more, we are exalted in a most unexpected way; by the humility of death. We know that on the one hand, dying is the ultimate humility. People like to talk about "death with dignity," but that is just sugar candy. Death has always been ignominious, the ultimate humbling, because in death all that we are and know and do and plan vanishes like the morning dew. Yet on the other hand it is the supreme exaltation because in the words of St Paul: for me to live is Christ and to die is gain. Or in the words of St. Bernard of Clairveaux in The Lutheran Hymnal #605, "Exalt O dust and ashes, the Lord shall be thy part, His only His forever, thou shalt be and thou art."
Jesus says: Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. That being the case, let us close with this admonition from St Peter, the Lord's chief apostle, "Humble yourselves, therefore, beneath the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time." Amen
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras