S. Pentecost 12.19 “The Glory of God is to Conceal” Luke 14:1-14

    “The glory of God is to conceal a matter/ but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.”

    This line from our Old Testament reading unlocks the mysteries hidden deep in our Gospel today. It is the genius of Luther and a few others to notice that God hides His glory precisely in order to reveal it, in the same way as He kills to make alive and wounds in order to heal. We human beings look for glory (like love) in all the wrong places. We are distracted by the shiny objects of wealth, power, health, happiness, earthly trinkets. And in being captivated by these tiny, shiny things, we miss the true glory of the King of Kings which is hidden under suffering and cross, like a treasure buried in a nondescript field, outside the city walls of an old Palestinian city.

    Like magi and most of humanity, our first instinct is to look for the King in the shiny, royal palace. And like the magi, this only involves us in deep danger from Herod and his evil minions. Because Herod controls the palace and he’s evil. So the real King is found… elsewhere. Remember in Lord of the Rings, as the four hobbits set out on their quest, they come to the dive-bar inn the Prancing Pony, where they bumble into revealing themselves and the valuable ring they bear and are rescued by Strider, a menacing looking, low-life Ranger sitting in a dirty cloak in the corner of the bar, smoking, and watching them?

    You wouldn’t go looking for the true King in a dive bar, and you’d hope he doesn’t smoke. But Strider turns out to be Aragorn, the true King of Gondor, and a great help to the clueless hobbits in their distress. In the same way, the magi end up being led by the star to find the true King of Kings in Bethlehem, a little baby, lying in a manger, in a poor, rather stinky, stable. Because in a world enslaved by sin and darkness, the Light has to sneak up on us—has to find us in back alleys and dive bars. Because the Palace is under enemy control at the moment and is not safe…

    The glory of God is to conceal a matter/ but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.

    So we see Jesus in our Gospel, the true King, but outwardly a homeless Strider, wandering around telling strange little stories, hanging out with the helpless and healing and encouraging the hopeless. But today in our Gospel, Jesus ventures into one of the houses of the rulers of the Pharisees who have invited Him for Sunday brunch. They don’t believe in Jesus. They don’t recognize Him as Lord, King, God, Savior. They think He’s just trouble. Nor does the Lord, for a moment, trust the Pharisees. When you dine with the devil, you better have a long spoon.

    But as soon as Jesus enters the house, His keen eye notices a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus asks the lawyers and Pharisees, “Hey, guys—is it legal to heal on the Sabbath?” They keep silent because they take it as an axiom that healing is work and work is strictly verbotten on the Sabbath! Jesus just heals the man and lets him go (“this is not a safe place, friend!”). Then He answers the disgruntled rulers “If you have a donkey or an ox that falls in a pit on the Sabbath Day, you pull him out, right? I know you do.” And they can’t answer Him a word.

    The glory of God is to conceal a matter/ but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.

    And so we get to the parable Jesus tells as they’re all sitting down for supper, when He sees they go scrambling for the best places, leaving Him the lowest and worst. “When anyone invites you to a wedding feast, don’t sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place (“Shame! Shame!”). But when you’re invited, go, sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you…”

       And Jesus wants you to have glory. He does! But it just doesn’t come in the way most people see as glorious. It is concealed in order to be revealed—hidden in the lowest place so that low-life low-brow transients like us might find it…

    One of my favorite writers, Erich Auerbach, in his marvelous book Mimesis is comparing the story of Odysseus coming home in Homer’s “Odyssey” to Abraham sacrificing Isaac in the Bible. Auerbach notes that in the Greek tragedies characters speak to empty out their minds, to reveal all their inmost thoughts. There is no background to Homer’s characters. Every day is like the first day of their lives.

    But in the Bible it’s quite opposite. Characters speak in order to hide their thoughts and everything really important is in the background, concealed, hidden, hinted at, like pirate’s treasure buried on a desert island to be found well, only by other pirates. It’s like a voice from a dark alley, saying “Psst! You! Over here…” and you are lured, drawn down those dark alleys, those twisty ways because victories are not inviting to you—like Jacob wrestling the Angel, your gain is to be profoundly vanquished by ever greater things. If the treasure is not buried, not hidden, not hard to find—if it can be possessed in any straightforward, ordinary, rational way it has no interest for you. We’re after the Treasure that possesses us, not the other way around.

       When Jesus speak of wedding feasts, He’s talking Heaven, so listen up; buckle up knucklehead! He’s not Miss Manners giving etiquette advice here. He’s telling you the Secret to entering Heaven, but hiding it under dinner party etiquette advice—like a pirate’s map of buried treasure. The first clue on the map is you have to be invited to Heaven. You can’t just decide to go and barge in, on your own. Oh, no! You’ll never find it that way! The Way is hidden, dark, difficult. Many search, few find IT…

    Next clue: when you’re invited, don’t be surprised if it at first glance it looks less like Heaven and more like something out of Kafka’s “The Penal Colony” or “The Castle”. Don’t go straight for the throne room. Hang out with the rough-looking servants in the low-country. Learn to love the low-brow as much as the high—because the extremes converge

    Now think: what is the lowest place? Uhm, the grave, death, right? And what’s the worst way to get there? Uh, crucifixion—as a criminal on a cross! So, X marks the spot—like any good pirate’s map! If you’re dealing with good people, invite ‘em in the front door! If you’re dealing with pirates you’ve got to bury the treasure in a dark, scary place, to get their interest up. Jesus’ Cross and Tomb fit the bill to a “T” or should I say an X? Here’s the pirate’s dream of buried treasure. Go visit, yourself!

    Because… the glory of God is to conceal a matter.

    Glory can’t be earned, only given. IT’s concealed in a Way only the True King searches out. You don’t possess IT, IT possesses you. Finally, we all find the grave; so that’s the spot Jesus marks with His X, makes the Secret Door to Heaven! By Word and Sacrament (captivated by His Story alone) Heaven Itself opens in this Lowest Place, here, where we kneel: and Peace surpassing understanding guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.