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There's No Math in Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-35
Trinity 22

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

    When I was a student in school, I enjoyed math.  It came naturally to me.  I liked the multiplication tables and the patterns in the numbers.  My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Fischer, told my parents that I should go into computers as a career.  What I especially liked was how everything makes sense in math.  There are clear right and wrong answers.  If you use the formulas and do the work correctly, everything works.  There’s no uncertainty about it.  There’s a goodness and beauty to the algebraic equations and the geometry and the physics of things.  Of course, then I took AP Calculus as a senior in high school which didn’t make quite as much sense to me, I got a C, and that’s where my math journey ended.  

    Whether or not you liked math in school, the reality is that we all tend to approach life in a mathematical way.  Particularly in our relationships, we want the equation to be balanced and proportional, for everything to add up and be equal so that no one gets taken advantage of.  You do this for me, then I’ll do that for you. If someone mistreats us, we’re inclined to subtract the amount of kindness we show them.  We keep a mental tally adding up the wrongs that have been done to us.  In the legal realm, we believe that there should be measured consequences for people that do wrong.  What God says in the Old Testament makes a lot of sense, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth.”  That’s a balanced equation.  It’s a fair and just punishment.  It’s proportional.  And in the realm of the Law, that is good.  Another way of saying it is that the punishment should fit the crime.  Restitution should be made that is mathematically equal to what was stolen and the financial damage that was caused, and so forth.  When God established this form of justice for Israel, it actually protected people from disproportionate punishment that was vengeful, from increasingly violent retaliation.  With governments and civil authorities, an eye for an eye is a just way of doing things, and a much better way than mob rule or vigilante justice.

    God’s Law is mathematically satisfying like that.  Of course, a huge problem arises for us when we hear what the just punishment for our own sinful rebellion against God is.  “The wages of sin is death.”  That may not seem fair until God’s Word brings us to see the depths of our own depravity in thought, word, and deed, our failure to love and trust in Him as we should, our constant obsession with ourselves and our own needs and desires.  We are like the servant who owed the king 10,000 talents.  Just one talent was the equivalent of about 6000 days of work.  So, doing the math, that’s 60,000,000 days of work which the servant would have to do to cover his debt.  In other words, he could never pay it back.  That massive amount of debt points to the absolute futility of us trying make up for the debt we owe to God.  It’s a sign of how deeply ingrained our sin is that we think we can make things right with God by just being a good or spiritual person.  Even if I spent every moment of every day doing good works to try to pay my debt to God, it wouldn’t be anywhere near close to enough.  And besides, if I’m doing these things for my own benefit, to save myself, are they even good works to begin with?

    Our only hope comes not from the Law but from the Gospel, not from mathematical precision and fairness, but from forgiveness and mercy.  When the first servant in the Gospel pleads for more time to pay his debt–as if that would help–the King does an amazing and unexpected thing.  He completely forgives the debt!  No math was applied here in coming up with a payment plan or marking it down by some percentage.  Rather, it was just completely wiped off the books.  And this is exactly what God has done for us in His Son Jesus.  Our Lord absorbed the debt we owed; he took the hit and paid the price.  His death on the cross purchased our freedom and released us from that worst of all bill collectors, the devil.  Your account is settled by God’s mercy.  You are free from the power of sin, free from hell, free from being afraid of God.  You are forgiven.  You’ve been given a new life and a new beginning.

    So now what?  What does this mean for the way we live and for our relationships with others?  The fact is that it’s hard for us to give up our mathematical, record-keeping ways, isn’t it.  It certainly was for Peter.  He comes up with a mathematical rule, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  Up to seven times?”  We might say that number’s actually a little too generous, considering he didn’t take into account whether these were minor sins or major sins.  We might come up with a more sophisticated sliding scale: Ten times if it’s something little; only one time if it’s something big.

    But Jesus’ answer shows that Peter shouldn’t really be using math at all.  Our Lord says, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.”  Now, that’s still math, you may say.  But the point is clear.  Are you really going to be keeping track all the way up to 490 times, making a little tally mark in your notebook of other people’s sins against you?  How absurd would that be?  Jesus’ point is to stop counting, stop using mathematical rules of the Law as your guide.  You have freely received an immeasurable amount of forgiveness from God.  Pass that forgiveness along to others also without measure.  

    Interestingly, Jesus’ words could also be translated as “Not seven times but seventy-seven times”–which is significant because there are exactly seventy-seven generations from Adam to Christ.  In Adam all die, but then Christ comes in whom all are made alive.  Every generation is covered, no one is left out of the full gift of divine forgiveness through the shed blood of Christ.  But whether it’s seventy-seven or seventy times seven, the meaning is the same–perfect forgiveness multiplied without measure for all people.  That is how God is toward us.  That is how we are to be toward others.  To limit your forgiveness is to limit God’s forgiveness, and that invites His judgment.

    So it is that the first servant goes out from the king’s presence.  You would think he’d be filled with joy with such a huge burden lifted from his shoulders.  You’d think he’d be like Ebenezer Scrooge with a changed and merry heart on Christmas morning.  But instead, the first servant in the parable goes out and finds a fellow servant who owes him 100 denarii, 100 days’ worth of wages.  That’s not a small amount of money; just like the sins done against us sometimes cause us not a small amount of pain.  But in comparison to what he had just been forgiven, it was pocket change.  And yet, the first servant grabs the other servant by the throat and says, “Pay me what you owe!”  And when he couldn’t and begged for time, the first servant had him thrown in prison.  He couldn’t let go of his mathematical bookkeeping ways and allow the king’s freeing mercy to be passed along to others, to the great grief of everyone who saw what was happening.

    When the king heard about this, he was enraged.  “You evil servant! . . . Should you not have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?”  The king had the servant thrown into jail until he paid off all the debt.  Hell could be defined as the place where everyone gets to pay off their own debt for all eternity.

    Jesus says, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”  Hear those words well.  If you are harboring a grudge or withholding forgiveness or desiring revenge, hell is your destiny.  Let those words crush that hardened, unforgiving heart.  Repent, so that Jesus’ forgiveness might freely flow first to you and then through you to your neighbor.  For He desires to rescue you from your unforgiveness.

    Unforgiveness is a hardening of the heart, a clog in the artery of faith that is eventually lethal.  When we refuse to forgive, we put ourselves in opposition to God and destroy our own desire to be forgiven.  People who harbor grudges rarely, if ever, are found on their knees confessing their own sins before God.  People who try to settle the score for every wrong done to them rarely acknowledge the score God settled when He hung Jesus on a cross to pay the price for their sinfulness.  Those who refuse to be reconciled with others also refuse to be reconciled to  God.  We cannot be on our knees and at each other's throats at the same time.

    Please note here that to forgive “from the heart,” as Jesus says, does not mean that forgiveness is a feeling but that it is an act of the will.  You don’t have to be in a forgiving mood to forgive.  And the other person doesn’t even have to be sorry, for that matter.  They might reject your mercy.  Forgiveness simply means we do not return evil for evil, anger for anger, sin for sin.  We don’t let what they did to us enslave us, filling us with poisonous bitterness, making us want get back at them and make them suffer.  We dismiss their sin and let it go.  For remember, Jesus not only took your sins on Himself, but also all the sins that have been done to you.  He bore your abuse and your humiliation, too.  All of that He took away from you; all of that He put to death on the cross.  Your enemy’s sins have been answered for, too.  If there is to be vengeance for them, that belongs to the Lord, not to us.  Since God deals with you in love because of what Jesus has done, you now have the ability and the freedom to forgive others in the seventy times seven way of the Gospel–not by your own power but by the power and mercy of Christ.

    You may not be able to forget what’s been done to you.  But that’s OK; Forgiveness is not amnesia.  God does not forget the sins He forgives.  Instead He refuses to act on them because he remembers that He has already done them to death at the cross.  That’s what the Bible means when it says that “God remembers our sins no more.”  God doesn’t dwell upon them or think about them; He puts them out of His mind.  Instead, He dwells upon what His Son has done for us.  God doesn't get even with us because Jesus evened us up with God (and then some) by offering His perfect life in our place.  In the same way, we don’t necessarily forget what we forgive.  How can you forget adultery or murder or abuse or betrayal?  It means we don’t act on it; we don’t try to get even.  We are the conduits and pipelines of God’s forgiveness to others.  And that forgiveness is mathematically limitless, as limitless as the merits and love of Jesus. We lose nothing when we forgive.  For we draw it all from Christ.

    The body and blood of Christ are here for you today with that immeasurable forgiveness of sins.  Math doesn’t apply here, only infinite and incalculable divine love.  Revel in receiving the mercy of God here at this altar.  Revel in being an instrument of the mercy of God to others out in the world.

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit 

(With thanks to the Rev. William Cwirla for a couple of the thoughts in the final paragraphs)

Created by The Word

Genesis 1:1 - 2:3
Trinity 21

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” All things have a beginning except God.  He alone is eternal and uncreated.  We reject the evolutionist belief that the stuff of this universe has always been here and somehow formed itself into what we see now.  For then we would be declaring the universe to be eternal, making a god out of creation rather than the Creator.  That is the very definition of idolatry.

    The God who created all things out of nothing is the Triune God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Even in the beginning, we have a glimpse of God in His three-in-oneness.  The Father creates.  The Word of the Son is spoken.  The Spirit of God hovers over the water.  The Father creates through the Word, His Son, and He does it by the Holy Spirit who is in and with the water.  You can see here that creation and baptism are intimately connected with one another.  Both are beginnings, creation and new creation, the work of the Father through the Son in the Spirit with the water.

    Interestingly, the Gospel of John in the New Testament begins just like Genesis, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  Through Him all things were made.”  The Word is Jesus, the Word made Flesh. Through the living Word of His Son, God created everything out of nothing. “Let there be light,” the Word says, “and there was light.” The Word is powerful and creative.  He brings about what He says.  Through the Word all things were made–water and sky, plants and trees, fish and birds, animals and man. All creatures owe their existence to Christ the Word, whether they know Him or not.  In fact, it is written in Colossians 1 that not only were all things created through the Son of God but that in Him all things hold together still.  Jesus is the Logos, He is the logic, the wisdom of the universe.  The Laws of nature, the intricate complexities of the smallest strand of DNA to the largest galaxy, the beauty and the orderliness and the liveliness of creation all find their source in Him. 

    One of the many reasons we reject evolution as the origin of life, then, is because it’s opposed to this Scriptural truth of the centrality of Christ.  It imagines that all this beauty and order and life can be produced by chance random processes, that chaos can order itself, without any person doing the designing and organizing and sustaining.  To use a familiar example: if I were to say that an auto assembly plant exploded, and out of that Big Bang, perhaps after a long time, came a perfectly assembled car, you’d think I was a stupid.  And yet what evolution proposes is infinitely more improbable than that; for our eyes, our brains, our DNA are vastly more complex in their design than a car.  Not only does evolution fail to say where all the stuff in the universe came from (which is no small matter); the key question that evolution has yet to explain is:  how can life come from something that’s not alive?  Such a thing has never ever been done in the laboratory in even the most rudimentary way.  We know that life only comes from another living thing, and that the Source of all life is God.  The fact that there are similarities among living things is not a sign that we have the same ancestors, but that we have the same Creator.  Our God is like a great artist who in His creatures shows a definite style to His work.  

    Of course, there are some who try to embrace both sides of the debate:  Believe in God and believe in evolution.  They propose that God created all things through the process of evolution.  But that is mere fantasy and a delusion when compared to Scripture.  For not only do the time frames not work–7 ordinary days of evening and morning vs. billions of years–but the way in which all life, especially human life, comes into being couldn’t be more different.  For the evolutionist, to get to human beings like you and me, death has to be in existence right from the start.  It’s a necessary factor in the process of only the strong surviving and supposedly developing into higher and higher forms of life.  There’s all sorts of death and bloodshed before human beings ever come on the scene.  But there is no death at all in Genesis 1 and 2, not even among the animals.  Full-fledged human beings are present before there is any death.  What does Scripture say? “The wages of sin is death.”  First God creates human beings, and then there’s death after they fall into sin.  Evolution turns that Scriptural truth completely upside down and replaces it with a lie.  For by denying that death is the wages of sin, it denies the need for a Savior from sin.  It denies Christ.  It undermines the Gospel which says that Christ took the wages of death upon Himself to free us from the curse of sin when He died in our place on the cross.  Denying the Biblical narrative of creation undermines and contradicts belief in Jesus.  For Jesus is the creative Word made flesh who alone breaks the curse on this fallen world by His death and resurrection and who brings the new creation.

    It is only after the fall of mankind in the Garden that we see and experience death and disorder and decay all around us. It is written, “The whole creation groans.” These groanings can be heard in the earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes and fires that turn order into a pile of disordered rubble. Many creatures no longer multiply as they once did.  Species go extinct.  Weeds grow in our garden.  Our attempts to rule over and use this creation often end up harming creation.

    Above all, we see this death and disorder in ourselves.  Our first parents, Adam and Eve, turned away from God’s creative and ordering Word and believed the father of lies, who said that God is not to be trusted.  The Lie turned the creature against the Creator.  Turned inward on ourselves, the image of God is broken in us.  There is disorder in our homes and our relationships with others.  There is disorder in our hearts, where what we desire and what we know is right are in conflict.  There is disorder in our bodies, where sickness and bodily ailments take their toll, leaving us finally in the disordered dust of the grave.  

    The Word brings life.  The Lie brings death.  The Word says, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Children are a gift from the Lord.”  The Lie says, “Children are a burden, not a blessing.  Better not have too many; that will leave too big a carbon footprint on this planet.”  The Word says, “The two shall become one flesh. . . What God has joined together.”  The Lie says, “You don’t need God to join you together in  marriage to have sex.  Follow your heart’s desires.”  The Word says, “Male and female He created them.”  The Lie says, “Male and male is fine; female and female is fine.  People should be free to love whomever they want, even to live according to whatever gender they choose.”  The Word says, “Have dominion over creation; fill the earth and subdue it.  Continue God’s creative and ordering work.”  The Lie says, “Humans and animals are equals.”  The Word says, “God is your Father; you shall be as He is.”  The Lie says, “The animals are your ancestors; you shall behave as they do.”  The Lie says, “You’re fine just the way you are; no need for you to change.”  The Word says, “Repent, and believe the Gospel.”

    And here is that Gospel: Just as He did in the very beginning, yet again 2000 years ago God spoke His Word into the chaos and darkness of this fallen world.  The Father spoke His Word by the Spirit to a young girl named Mary, and the creative Word was made Flesh in her womb. The creative and ordering Word who made all things and set them in order in the beginning was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary in the person of Jesus.

    Jesus entered this world bearing our humanity to set things in order once again, to battle the darkness and the disorder. He healed the diseased. He cast out demons. He brought mercy and forgiveness to tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners, calling them out of darkness into His marvelous light.  He brought order to our disordered humanity.  He undid the damage of the Lie and took the curse of the Law against our rebellion.  Jesus took into Himself the disorder and the darkness and the decay and the death and He conquered it all in His body on the cross.

    When Jesus rose bodily from the grave on the first day of the week, a new and eternal light dawned.  The resurrection marks the beginning of a new creation.  Just as light first shone into the darkness on the first day of the old creation, so the light of Christ broke through the darkness of our death on the first day of the week.  A new creation has broken in even as this old one is passing away.

    And the creation account itself in Genesis actually foretells and foreshadows this saving work of Christ.  For notice how the days are marked: it’s not morning and then evening the way we usually think of it, but first evening and then morning.  First it’s darkness, then it’s light.  First it’s the shadow of death, then it’s the light of life.  Jesus dies in the darkness of Good Friday to subdue creation, which literally shook at His death, and then He rises at the dawn of Easter on the first day of the week to be the Light of the world, to put an end to death and to bring about a new creation.

    Man was created on the sixth day, and then God rested on the seventh.  In the new Adam, Jesus, man was redeemed on the 6th day, Good Friday.  Then He rested in the tomb on the seventh day with His work finished.  And He rose again to bring about an eternal eighth day.  The Scriptures say that in the new creation there will be no night.  For the Lord God will be its light and the Lamb will be its lamp.  We will need no rest; for He Himself is our rest and our peace.  From Him flows mercy and forgiveness and life.  In Jesus the image of God is restored to us.  In Jesus our lost humanity is given back to us, and we are made fully human again.

    And all of this is accomplished by the words of God.  He speaks, and it is so.  “Let there be light,” and there was light.  Jesus says to the nobleman in the Gospel, “Your son lives,” and indeed he lives and is well.  Jesus’ Word, the sword of the Spirit, accomplishes what it says.  And so it is for you.  Jesus speaks His Word to you, and His Word creates what He says.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  And your hearts and minds are stilled and calmed.  “I forgive you all your sins.”  And your sins are truly removed from you as far as the east is from the west.  “This is My body; this is my blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  And indeed, by that Word, the bread actually is His body and the wine actually is His blood, that you may be cleansed and filled with His life and light.  God’s creative Word is still in effect for you.  Like the nobleman in the Gospel, trust in that Word.  Cling to it.  Believe it that you may receive its blessing.  For only the Word of Christ can recreate you and put you back in order again.  It is written, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”  “Then God saw everything that He had made in Christ, and indeed it was very good.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

(With thanks to the Rev. William Cwirla for some of the above)

Practical Forgiveness

Mark 2:1-12
Trinity 19

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Sometimes church doesn’t seem particularly practical.  We come and we hear about God’s Law and sin, we hear about Jesus and forgiveness, and we’re tempted to say, “That’s all well and good, but I’ve got some really important issues that I need help with in my life.  My marriage is strained right now.  With all this inflation I’m having a hard time just paying the bills.  It’s not easy trying to raise kids in this crazy and messed up culture.  I’m dealing with health issues and pain every day.  I’m paralyzed by depression and anxiety.  I just lost a loved one.  I feel isolated.  I don’t need the same old doctrine and theology, I need practical help right now.  I need something that’s going to give me a spiritual boost and make me feel closer to God.  Forgiveness is fine, but I need something more.”

    Perhaps similar thoughts were going through the mind of the paralytic at the beginning of today’s Gospel.  There he is, lying on his stretcher-bed, the one that his friends had worked so feverishly to get lowered before Jesus, literally going through the roof because of the crowds.  They had certainly come with the expectation and hope that Jesus could help him and heal him.  I mean, why else would they have gone to such great lengths?  I don’t think that they went through the roof simply so that they could hear Jesus better.  They were undoubtedly looking for something more.  They rightly believed, passionately so, that Jesus could help the paralyzed man.

    And yet, it is written that when Jesus saw their faith, this is what he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”  That’s it.  Nothing else.  And that might well have been the end of the story, except that some scribes got upset at Jesus and thought He was blaspheming for doing this.  “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they say.  Of course, they answered their own charge, didn’t they?  Yes, only God can forgive sins, and guess who Jesus is–God in the flesh, the Word incarnate, Son of God and Son of Man.  Surely God was in that place, and the scribes did not know it.  “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” Jesus says.  God the Father forgives sins in and through His Son, the Man Jesus.  That’s what Jesus offers and gives to this paralyzed man.

    But why does Jesus deal with the paralytic in this way?  You could see how the bed-ridden man might have taken offense at Jesus’ words.  “Are you blaming the victim?  Are you saying that the reason I’m like this is my own fault, that it’s because of my sin?”  But Jesus doesn’t particularly focus on what the implication of His words might be.  He simply says, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”  In the Gospel of Matthew it is recorded that Jesus preceded His absolution with the words, “Take heart; be of good cheer.  Your sins are forgiven you.”  There we begin to see the reason why Jesus addresses the paralytic as He does.  The man who had to be carried wherever he went certainly must have felt the spiritual burden of his condition.  “Has God forgotten me?  Is this a punishment for my sins?  Does God love me or is He angry with me?”  All of that is addressed in Jesus’ words, “Be of good cheer.  God is on your side.  I am with you.  Your sins are forgiven you.”

    It is very often in times of trouble or physical distress that our conscience attacks us.  “Is this a sign of God’s disfavor toward me?”  When the body isn’t well, that’s a reminder of our spiritual unwellness before God.  The fact is we are all very much like this man on the stretcher–inwardly paralyzed by our  sin.  Just as the paralytic couldn’t move his limbs, neither can we do anything by our own strength that moves us toward God or merits favor with Him.  Just as the paralytic couldn’t work, neither can we on our own power do works that are counted as good and holy in God’s sight.  It’s all limp and corrupted.  But then we are carried before Jesus, even as our parents literally carried most of us to the baptismal font, and Jesus speaks to the deepest need of our troubled souls. He says to you yet again today, right now, “Child, don’t be dismayed and discouraged; be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven you.”  God is with you and for you.  In Christ you are at peace with the Father.  Take heart.

    Jesus addresses those who questioned His authority to forgive by saying, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”–then He said to the paralytic, ‘Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’ And he arose and departed to his house.”

    The proof that Jesus had the authority to forgive sins was in the healing of this man’s body. That outward cure confirmed and uncovered the truth of the greater inward cure. For the real and lasting power that brings physical healing and restoration is the forgiveness of sins.  After all, the Bible says that death came into the world through sin. In other words, everything that troubles us, everything that causes us to deteriorate and lose our health and finally die is a result of the sin to which we are all in bondage. So it follows that if the sin is taken away and forgiven, then the consequences of sin will also be taken away–the sickness and paralysis and disease and pain will also, in turn, be removed. If the wages of sin is death, the forgiveness of sins is life, including full bodily life.  Now there’s a good reason to invite your friends and family to church: tell them that we raise people up here from disease and death whenever the forgiveness of sins is pronounced.

    So when Jesus healed this paralytic, He didn’t actually give him anything new.  Jesus simply revealed what the paralytic had already been given when He forgave his sins.  Jesus first went right to the root of the problem.  He didn’t only treat this man’s physical problems, the outward symptoms and effects of sin.  Jesus destroyed the deadly sin-cancer itself.  This paralyzed man is healed as soon as Jesus forgives him.

    And that’s exactly how it is also for you. The power of Christ to heal your body and your mind and your soul and eternally restore your lives is contained in His words, “I forgive you all your sins.”  For those absolving words get to the heart of the situation. They deal with the very spiritual syndrome which attacks and eventually tears down your life.  You may suffer from any number of aches or pains or physical or mental ailments.  But when Jesus pronounces to you the forgiveness of your sins, He is also restoring your entire being to the blessedness of paradise and healing you.  For Christ has taken away the very source from which those troubles come.

    Now, that healing is probably not visible to you yet.  You may not feel any differently.  For just as it was with the paralytic, there is a delay between the forgiveness being spoken and the healing being revealed, just like there’s often a delay between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder.  The one comes now, the other in all its fullness at the return of Christ.  But the point here is that they are intimately connected.  In fact they are one and the same thing.  To be forgiven is to be healed and made whole, in both soul and body–by faith now, by sight on the Last Day. Therefore, you can face your troubles and your health issues with bold confidence and firm trust in God.  For all of your prayers are answered most profoundly, all of your needs are addressed most deeply in Christ’s words of absolution.

    What could be more practical than that?  Forgiveness addresses not just our perceived needs, but our real and deeper needs–fellowship with God, a restored and clear conscience, confidence in who we are as His beloved children.  When you say, “I have problems; I need answers; my life’s a mess, I sure could use a miracle,” our Lord replies, “Here’s your miracle: your sins are forgiven you.  I was paralyzed for you on the cross to release you from the bondage of sin’s curse.  I was lowered into the depths of the grave to set you free from the power of death.  And I arose from my mortal bed so that you also might rise with me in glory to a life that is free from disease and trouble and pain.  Every problem and trouble you face is conquered and overcome in Me.  I will see you through it.  Trust in Me.  Cling to my words.  Walk with me by faith till the day of Resurrection comes.  All of those prayers you’ve prayed for healing and relief are answered with a resounding ‘yes’ in Me.  There is peace and contentment and even joy for you right now as you wait for those answered prayers to come to pass, when I return and tell you also to rise.”

    It is written, “All the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus]” (2 Corinthians 1:20).  He says “yes” to your prayers here in Lord’s Supper.  Here is the remedy that heals you, the medicine of immortality, the living body and blood of Jesus given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, to enliven you and make you whole.  Here is the gate of heaven, where you are not only close to God, you actually commune with Him.  Surely God is in this place, and you have been given to know it.  Here you partake of Him who is the Life in the flesh, who incorporates your bodies into His own, and who will therefore raise you from the grave just as He was raised.

    So be of good cheer. Through Jesus God is not angry with you.  Do not be angry with Him. Be at peace.  Your sins are forgiven you. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation and the resurrection of the body.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Stopping Our Work to Receive Christ's Work

Luke 14:1-14
Trinity 17

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

    When we were in the Holy Land last year, one of the interesting things that we ran across in a couple places was something called a Shabbat elevator, a Sabbath elevator.  There were no buttons to press.  The elevator would stop at every floor on the way up and on the way down.  That way a pious Jew could keep the Sabbath by not doing the “work” of pressing the button.  A lot of us got a good chuckle out of the silliness of that and how it completely missed the point of the 3rd Commandment.

    The Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading also seem awfully silly like that, don’t they?  It’s easy for us to mock how ridiculous they are.  None of us would think for a minute that it would be bad for someone to be healed on the Sabbath.  God was obviously not forbidding that when He told us to “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”  Why would it be OK for someone to get a trapped animal out of a pit but not OK to help someone trapped and afflicted with some disease?  To us that just seems absurd.  It’s easy for us to justify ourselves and think that we certainly would have done better than the Pharisees.

    But don’t just dismiss them.  It’s worth considering, why is it that they were thinking that way?  What did they wrongly believe that led them astray?  They were thinking that the way they would be counted as good and righteous in God’s sight was by how well they kept His commandments.  That’s a common belief to this day, isn’t it?  And keeping the Sabbath was a particularly important commandment.  Every seven days they were to stop their work, just like God did on the seventh day of creation.  In their mind, it was an offense against the Creator to do any work, even if it was something good like a healing; there were six other days for that.  Especially someone who was a teacher like Jesus should know better, they thought.  If He was a true prophet of God, He would be setting an example which showed that righteousness comes through obedience to God’s Law. 
    Now as Lutherans, we think we’re pretty well defended against the Pharisees’ false teaching.  We’ve rightly had it drilled into us that we’re saved not by our own works, but by Christ alone and what He has done for us.  However, we sometimes then fall into the opposite error of the Pharisees.  I mean, why is it that so many Christians are tempted to just disregard the 3rd commandment?  Why are so many gone from church for weeks and months at a time and are not remembering the Sabbath day? Is it possible that we actually have the same root problem as the Pharisees?  Think about it:  If people believe they can do without the preaching of Christ and the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, there’s only two possible reasons for that: either they don’t think they have any real sins that need to be forgiven, or they think that their own private spirituality and efforts at good living are enough to merit God’s forgiveness and favor.  And so Jesus’ words and sacraments become basically non-essential, just something perhaps for Christmas and Easter.  Do you see?  In the end it’s the exact same sin as the Pharisees, thinking that righteousness comes by what we do, apart from Christ’s divine service to us.  Those who purposely skip church are trusting in their own works instead of Christ’s works, just like the Pharisees.

    Now of course, there will be times here and there when you simply can’t make it to divine service because of sickness or an unexpected work obligation and the like.  We don’t want to descend into Pharisaic legalism here.  But imagine if people treated the other commandments the way they do with “Remember the Sabbath Day.”  Think of how ridiculous it would sound: “I only commit murder a couple months out of the year when the weather is warmer; most of the time, though, I respect human life.” Or “I refrain from adultery, except when the kids have sports or when I’m working. Otherwise, I’m a faithful spouse.”  Or “Stealing once or twice a month isn’t a big deal; I earn my own way most of the time.”.  And yet, that’s the way many talk about remembering the Sabbath day, as it if it were merely a suggestion that we could sometimes ignore based on our plans and desires.  Even if we thought we didn’t have any need for church at all, even if we thought it was completely pointless, still we should be eager–simply because God has commanded it–to hold preaching and His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

    And it truly is a glad thing to remember the Sabbath day, because it’s not about trying to merit God’s favor by your good church attendance; it’s about receiving God’s favor dished out to you as a free gift in Christ’s preaching and supper.  “Lord to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life!”  The Sabbath day is all about us stopping our work so that we can focus on God’s work and receive His work for us in Christ.  That’s where real Sabbath rest and peace is to be found in this world that is so restless and lacking peace.  This commandment, like all the commandments, is given for our good, not primarily as a burden but as a blessing.

    When Jesus healed on the Sabbath day, He was showing precisely what the day is all about.  We gather around the Great Physician to receive His healing mercy and forgiveness.  What the Pharisees failed to see was that in Christ God was the One doing the work here.  Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.  And the Sabbath work that He does saves us and redeems us in both body and soul.  Again, remembering the Sabbath day means that we stop our work and all the activities and the running around and the busyness of our life to dwell upon on God’s work and receive His divine service to us in Christ.  We focus not on our performance but on what He performs and does for us through His words and water and bread and wine.  And we respond then with glad thanksgiving and praise that confesses what He has done.

    Now it is true that this commandment applies to us in the New Testament differently than it did in the Old Testament.  Back then, the day of rest had to be the 7th day of the week, Saturday.  But with Christ’s coming the Law was fulfilled so that the requirement to worship on a particular day no longer applies.  Colossians 2 says, “Sabbaths are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”  The Old Testament day of rest pointed us forward to Him who is Himself our rest and our peace, namely, Jesus.  Why focus on all the Old Testament shadows when the One who is casting the shadow has come!  

    Just consider how wonderfully Jesus fulfilled the 3rd commandment for us in order to save us.  Not only was it his custom to be in the synagogue each Sabbath where the Word of God was preached and taught; not only did He love being in His Father’s house, meditating on and talking about the Scriptures; but He redeemed and renewed the days of creation, including especially the seventh.  Think of Holy Week as a new creation week.  On the first day, Palm Sunday, the Light of the world entered into Jerusalem to do His Father’s business and carry out the work and the mission He had been given.  He taught and labored throughout that week.  On the sixth day He suffered and died to pay for our sins, triumphantly declaring of His work, “It is finished!”  And then what did He do on the seventh day?  He rested in the tomb, sanctifying our graves and making them a holy place of rest from which we shall rise again on the Last Day.  He then brought into being an eternal 8th day, an unending Easter by conquering death for us.  His bodily resurrection has ushered in a new creation, free from the curse of sin, rich with mercy and divine life.  That is why Sunday is called “the Lord’s Day” in Scripture and is the church’s primary day of worship.  Divine Service can happen on any day of the week, of course, but at its center is always the Word of the risen Savior who said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

    Since the Sabbath is all about God’s work, what Jesus is doing, it is necessary that we come before Him with an attitude of humility.  It’s not about us and our works.  This is His show, His teaching, His meal.  Our place at the table is not something for us to achieve for ourselves but for Him to give.  We all come before God as beggars, without any right to exalt ourselves in His presence.  Whatever we are is a gift of His grace.  

    So instead of jockeying for the places of honor at the table and in this world, Jesus says, “When you are invited, go and 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.”  So humble yourself before God.  Acknowledge your sin in true repentance, trusting in His mercy.  Do not come to assert your spiritual rights based on your works, but come recognizing that it is the Lord’s place to bestow honor and glory, and it your place simply to receive what His good and gracious will gives.  Those who love and honor the Lord in humble faith will be exalted by Him and brought to everlasting glory in the presence of the whole creation.

    For this is the way of Jesus Himself.  He put Himself in the lowest place, the place of death, in order to save you.  He bore your shame on the cross to restore your honor.  And now Jesus is exalted to the highest place at the right hand of the Father.  And the good news is that He has raised you up with Himself.  By your baptismal faith you are united with Him in such a way that you share in His exaltation as members of His body.  Remember, this is a wedding feast that Jesus speaks of.  It is the celebration of His holy union with the Church, His bride.  And if He is honored, then she also is honored with Him.

    It is written in Ephesians that you who believe are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. That heavenly place is here for you today.  Jesus is here among us at the head of the table.  To every penitent heart He says, “Friend, go up higher.”  “Come, ascend these steps to this holy place.  Share in My honor by receiving My own body and blood.  Be filled with My forgiveness and My life.  Here is your Sabbath rest and healing.  Here is the foretaste of the Last Day, the day of resurrection, when you will go up higher forever.”

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve

Matthew 6:24-34
Trinity 15

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

    As Lutherans we don’t often use the language of “choosing” when it comes to matters of faith.  For we know that our conversion to the faith was not our choice or decision.  God is the One who turned our cold and unbelieving hearts to faith by His Word and Spirit.  Jesus said to the disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).

    And yet, we dare not forget that once we are brought to the faith by the Holy Spirit, we do make choices about how we will live, whether it’s according to the Spirit as God’s redeemed people or according to our old fallen nature.  We can and do choose either to honor God or to bow down to the world’s idols.  Joshua said to Israel of old, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell.  But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

    Just like OT Israel, we also are surrounded by false gods, the things that vie for the primary devotion of your heart, things that consume your time and attention, things that call you to look to them for happiness, to trust in them for protection.  And so it’s important that you choose actively and intentionally to serve the true God.  Failing to do that is actually to default to serving the idols of the world.  Jesus lays this all out in the Gospel when He says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”  Either you’ll be devoted to the Creator above all or to some aspect of this created life above all.  But it can’t be both.  A choice has to be made.

    It’s jarring sometimes when you read the OT to see how frequently the Israelites had household idols that they didn’t give up; or how they would worship the gods and goddesses of the pagan nations around them while still paying lip service to the Lord.  And yet it’s really not all that different today.  People still like to think that they can have multiple gods, multiple spiritual masters, that they can love God and be friends with the pagan world, too.  But the truth is, only one thing can hold the #1 spot in your heart and run the show.  

    Here’s a way to test how it is with you.  What is something in your life that you would consider refusing to give up if God asked you to?  What things cause you to put God in second place when there’s a conflict between the two?  If it’s a choice between God’s approval or your family or friend’s approval, which relationship comes first?  If it’s a choice between holding to God’s Word and potentially harming your job situation, or compromising God’s Word and getting ahead financially, what do you do?  If it’s a choice between divine service or some extracurricular event; if it’s a choice between honoring God or honoring your own desires–where does He rank in the actual day to day practice of your choices?  When it comes right down to it, our hearts are often more strongly attached to people or politics or the praise of our peers or possessions than they are to the Lord.  

    Jesus revealed this one day to a rich young man, who wanted to know what he must to do inherit eternal life.  He had done his best to keep the commandments.  Scripture says, “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me’” (Mark 10:21).  The idol of mammon had to be dethroned from the rich young man’s heart before he could serve the true God.  And at least at first, he couldn’t do it.  He went away sad.  The good news is, according to tradition, that rich young man was Mark, the writer of the second Gospel, who was eventually brought back by the power of Jesus’ words to repentance and faith and a new life.

    That is where we find hope for ourselves, that even in spite of our idolatries, the Lord looks at us and loves us, and He says to us, “Get rid of your idols.  Put your time and resources to their proper use, and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”  The Lord doesn’t give up on us, in spite of our divided hearts.  He loves us enough to call us to repentance and away from those idols that would destroy our souls.  He calls us back to who we truly are as His chosen, baptized people.  He calls us to serve and follow Him so that we might have real and eternal life with Him.  You know, you’re going to serve some god or idol no matter what; might as well be the only One whose benefits endure.  Jesus is the only Master where, by serving Him, you are made truly free.

    In today’s Gospel we see that one of the things Jesus came to free you from is anxiety and fear.  He calls you to stand where there is solid footing and certainty, trusting in Him and in His Father’s care.  With mammon there is no certainty; it is undependable, and so there is worry.  There’s always the fear that bad weather or economic downturns or rust or mold or thieves or hackers or scammers will threaten our money and possessions.  Like all the hype leading up to Aaron Rodgers becoming quarterback of the NY Jets, and then the sad reality of it all evaporating in a moment, we know that mammon is only temporary, here today, gone tomorrow.

    Our Lord Jesus seeks to free you from all that by saying, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? . . . The [pagans] seek after all these things.  Your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”  Take heart in those words, “Your heavenly Father knows. . .”  He knows what you’re dealing with.  He knows what you need.  So don’t be afraid.  And don’t think that the Lord has forgotten you.  For if He is your Father, then you are His children.  And He does not forsake His own family.  He is working all things together for your eternal good.  If he feeds the birds and clothes the flowers, will He not also take care of you who are of much greater value?

    And if you sometimes doubt whether or not you have much worth or value, consider this: What other creature can say that they share in the same nature as the Son of God?  Not even the angels can say that!  Jesus has given you the greatest worth by becoming your blood brother, a real human being.  He sanctified your humanity by taking it into His divinity.  You have infinitely greater value than any animal or anything else in this world.  Next time you’re feeling like you’re not worth much, don’t go down the path of the self-love advice of the world, “I’m beautiful just the way I am.”  No, go down the path of the love of God: He gave His only Son to redeem you and to restore the image of God to you.  It is written in Romans 8, “ He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”  That’s where your worth is, in Jesus, who paid the highest price of His own blood in order to redeem you and have you as His own beloved treasure.  You are beautiful in Christ, forgiven and holy.  And if that is the case, if your Father in heaven has taken care of the big stuff for you–forgiveness of sins and eternal life–well, then certainly you can trust Him with the smaller, temporal stuff, too, right?  Don’t worry; just pray.  It’s in the Father’s hands.

    Though this world is falling apart and winding down to its end, still the eternal Son of God entered into it to claim you and buy you back.  He became like you so that you would become children of the heavenly Father in Him.  Jesus took upon Himself the curse that our sin has brought on creation.  He endured all of its devastation and its corruptness and its death for you on the cross.  In so doing Jesus caused death itself to die and the curse to be broken.  He destroyed the sin that makes everything only momentary.  He proved that by coming forth from the grave in power, the beginning of a new creation that will never perish, for death no longer has dominion over Him.

    Trusting in Jesus, knowing all that He has done and prepared for you, your worries and fears are calmed.  You are freed from the anxiety that causes you to want to turn to the idols of this world to give you what you want.  For if God has provided so bountifully for your eternal needs, certainly He will care for you in all the necessities of this temporal life.  And even when the hard times come, even if it’s all taken away and God’s care seems to have vanished, we know that we who are His baptized people are not forsaken.  We believe that even when terror and tragedy, sickness and death come, He who created us can and will also recreate us in the resurrection of the body on the Last Day.  So literally nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Not a thing.  In Him all things hold together.

    What is it going to be, then?  What’s your choice, the everlasting Father in heaven or the passing idols of mother earth?  Scripture teaches that you become like what you worship.  Serve mammon and you will eventually pass away; serve the living God and you will have real and enduring life.  

    For the true God first serves you.  The Father gives you clothing, and much more than that, He has robed you in Christ’s righteousness.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  The Father gives you daily bread, and much more than that, He gives you the Bread of Life, feeding you the very flesh and blood of Christ here in the Holy Supper for the forgiveness of sins.  The Father gives you a place to live, and much more than that, He gives you an eternal dwelling place in His own household, as royal children of God in Christ.

    So ponder where the idols are in your life.  And then, “Choose this day whom you will serve.”  Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things that you need will be added to you.

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

Isolated Together

Luke 17:11-19
Trinity 14

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

    It would be interesting to know the back story of each of the 10 lepers in today’s Gospel.  The Bible doesn’t tell us much about them, not even their names.  But I’m sure they all had a tale to tell about how they ended up in their current circumstances.  Each one of them had been expelled from the life that they had previously known.  Each one of them were outcasts, cut off from family and friends and society by this contagious skin disease that they had.  Where would they sleep?  How would they eat?  Maybe food was brought out and left for them; maybe they had a way of getting food for themselves.  But the Old Testament Law of God Himself said that they were to live outside of the city and apart from the community.  If anyone came near them, they had to warn them of their uncleanness.  They were isolated and alone.

    But here in the Gospel, we see that they are not alone.  They are isolated together.  They all have the same ailment, so they are drawn to hang out with each other–something that otherwise might not have happened in regular life; even normally estranged Jews and Samaritans are here together.  They are a community of those who are all in the same predicament.  They are a fellowship of outsiders, finding at least some comfort in facing their disease together.  

    It occurs to me that in many ways, this is what the church is.  We all feel isolated in one way or another–sometimes by afflictions of the body or the mind which cut us off from others, sometimes by the duties and the obligations of life that consume most of our time and energy.  Always we are isolated by our sin which alienates us from our neighbor and which divorces us from God’s presence.  We are a motley gathering of people who might not ordinarily hang out together, except for the fact that we all know that we are broken in body and soul, that we don’t really fit in or belong in this fallen world, that we are outsiders looking in from a distance at the life which we were originally created to have.  In that isolation we gather together and are united, a fellowship of those who hope for deliverance from God and a better life and healing in Jesus.

    In the end we are exactly like the lepers in their prayer: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” We’ve already prayed it more than once today, “Lord, have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord, have mercy upon us.”  We’ll continue to pray it later in the liturgy, “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.”  For that is our only hope.  Who knows how the lepers heard about Jesus, but the good news had gotten even to them.  Their prayer may have proceeded from very weak faith, perhaps little more than a cry of desperation.  But it was directed to the right place, to the One who truly is merciful, to the One who hears our cries and our prayers, and whose mercy endures forever.

    We must learn to be like these lepers, to not give up calling on the name of the Lord for help, but to have confidence that He will answer us for our good.  For the temptation exists for us to grow weary of that and to look for our primary fellowship in places other than His church and to put our hope in something other than the mercy of Jesus.  With the God-given institutions of family and church breaking down, various identity groups have risen to fill that void, people who define themselves primarily in terms of their ethnicity or their sexual proclivities or their political ideology.  The truth is, everyone needs fellowship; everyone is a leper looking for some community to belong to, even if it’s just by sharing a common hobby, or a sports team to root for, or a favorite bar to have a drink together at, or a social media interest group to be a part of, or a child’s athletic event to cheer at with other parents.  But we should never fool ourselves into thinking that those things can give us the deeper fellowship that we need and crave, when they only dull the symptoms of our brokenness for a time.  These worldly fellowships promise a place where we can just “be ourselves,” but so often they can end up being a diversion and distraction from our greater need for divine mercy.

    There is no distracting or pretending with Jesus, no call to just look on the bright side and have a positive mental attitude and “manifest your truth” or whatever the current gobbledygook is.  He deals with us as we are, decaying and dying, and He calls us to live by faith that in Him there is real hope and real healing and real fellowship to be had as His followers.  He tells the 10 lepers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  That’s what you do when you believe that your leprosy is cleansed and healed.  

    The thing is, nothing appeared to be any different with the lepers.  Outwardly they looked the same.  But they believed the promise implicit in Jesus’ words that in fact, things were no longer the same.  And it is written that “as they went,” they were cleansed.  As they held to Jesus’ words and traveled  down the road, they were healed.  

    That’s exactly how it is for you and me.  Jesus comes to us with our leprous spirits and declares to us, “You are clean; you are forgiven; you are holy.  Sin and sickness, death and the devil have no power over you.”  And yet it doesn’t look or feel like much has changed.  By all appearances it seems that we’re still dealing with the same old problems and challenges.  But what has changed is that now we have the words and promises of Jesus to hold onto.  And He does not lie; His words are true and powerful to accomplish what they say.  And so we walk by faith, not by sight.  As we journey, believing Jesus’ Word, we are cleansed and saved and made whole.  Down the road, on the Last Day, our faith will turn to glorious sight, and we will see how what Jesus said was indeed true all along.  Our bodies, together with our souls, will be fully restored and glorified in the presence of Christ.

    We know that Jesus’ words deliver these things to us because of the destination of His journey.  Not only did the lepers go to Jerusalem to show themselves to the priests, the Gospel says that Jesus was going there Himself, to be our Great High Priest.  The ten went to get a new lease on life; Jesus, however, went there to give up His life.  His very purpose in coming into this fallen world was to make that ultimate priestly sacrifice to release us from sin and suffering, from death and the devil.  Jesus came into direct contact with our contagion and breathed in our sin-poisoned air; He was afflicted with our afflictions in order to save and rescue us, as it is written, “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.”  When Jesus comforted someone, He took their sadness on Himself; when He healed someone, He took their sickness on Himself; when Jesus forgave someone, He took their sin on Himself.  And Jesus has done that also for you.  All of the weight of the fallen world was laid on Jesus’ shoulders, and He carried that load to the cross, where it perished with Him.  Your sin and sorrow and sickness have been overcome, left dead and buried in the tomb from which Christ arose in triumph.  

    Believing in Christ, you have everything now.  Through Him you have healing in the midst of sickness, holiness in the midst of brokenness, victory in the midst of things which overwhelm you, even life in the midst of death.  By faith you have it all in Christ–a truth that will be revealed to all creation at the close of the age.

    That’s how Ephesians 5 can speak of giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Samaritan leper is our example here.  He goes to the true Priest, bowing before Him, worshiping Him, giving Him thanks.  This is what divine service is all about: recognizing the Lord as the Source and the Giver of every good gift, receiving those gifts with thanksgiving, glorifying Him as the leper did with a loud voice–no need for us to be bashful about speaking up and singing out in church.  

    One more thing: Jesus asks a haunting question near the end of the Gospel, “Where are the other nine?”  He might ask of us, “Where are the other 70 who aren’t here this weekend, who didn’t come back to give honor to the Source of their life and healing and joy and hope and every good thing that they have?”  It’s not as if Jesus gets grumpy when He doesn’t get a proper thank you.  But He is saddened by the great harm we do to ourselves when our heart is attached more to the gift than the Giver, more to the creation than the Creator.  You wonder what eventually happened to the other nine.  Scripture doesn’t say.  The one thing we do know is that it’s the outsider who got it right, the one with nothing in himself or his lineage to boast of, the one who was just overwhelmed with thanksgiving for what Christ had done and who bowed before Him as the living Temple of God on earth.

    Let us, then, also bow before the Lord this day; let us kneel at His feet before this altar, where He is truly and bodily present to cleanse leprous sinners like us.  One of the names Christians use for the Lord’s Supper is the Eucharist, from the Greek word for thanksgiving.  For as we receive His life-giving body and blood into our mortal flesh, our hearts are filled with thanks, and our mouths speak out this thanksgiving.  We declare that it is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to God for His mercy in Christ Jesus and especially for giving Himself to us here in this Sacrament.  

    This is what binds us together in a true and lasting fellowship: this communion, this receiving together of the medicine of immortality, this flesh and blood of Jesus which restores our flesh and gives us new life.  Here is the fellowship you seek.  Here is your identity group.  You are Christians.  You are those who call out to the Lord Jesus for mercy and who receive it from Him with a resounding “Thanks be to God.”  Listen again to what Jesus said to the Samaritan, for He speaks it also to you:  “Your faith has made you well.”  Your Jesus has saved you.

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

The Good Samaritan, Jesus and You

Luke 10:25-37
Trinity 13

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    I imagine that when you heard the reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan, many of you thought to yourselves, “I know this one well enough.  Don’t have to listen too carefully; the meaning of this one is easy: you’re supposed to help out strangers and be nice to your neighbors, even if you don’t like them.  It’s basically the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  We should all try harder and not make excuses and be more like the Samaritan.”  And that is true as far as it goes.  We should be kind to one another and help those in need.  

    However, that’s actually not the main point of today’s parable.  Jesus is doing much more than just telling us to give it more effort in doing good works.  After all, even the unbelieving world can get on board with a message that we should be kinder and nicer, right?  In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons why people stay away from church–because they think that church is basically just about telling you to be a better and more moral person.  And who wants to take a couple hours out of their weekend to have somebody preach that to you?  Besides, there’s all sorts of people out there giving you advice on how to be a better version of yourself that is more along the lines of what you want to hear anyway.  So who really needs “organized religion?”  However, the church, and today’s Gospel parable, is about much more than that.

    We know that because of the reason why Jesus tells this parable.  He tells it to a lawyer, an expert in the OT law, who was trusting in his own keeping of the law to make himself righteous before God.  This is the kind of guy who actually likes church to be all about moral improvement, because he thinks he’s doing really well, and his religion can affirm that he’s a good person.  The lawyer tests Jesus by asking Him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Lawyers almost always ask questions they know the answer to in order to keep the line of questioning under their control.  Jesus goes along with the line of questioning, but responds with a question of His own: “What is written in the Law?  What is your reading of it?”  And the man correctly summarizes it: Love the Lord your God with everything that you are, and love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus tells him, “If you want to gain eternal life for yourself by your own doing, hey, go for it, buddy.  Do that and you’ll live.”  But, of course, the question left hanging out there is, “Can you actually do that?”

    Just think about what the Law demands of you.  It requires that you love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and mind and strength.  It doesn’t say “some” or “most” but “all,” everything that you are, no exceptions, no failures, God at the heart and center of everything.  James 2 reminds us, “Whoever keeps the whole Law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”

    And then, there’s more.  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  The Law recognizes that we know how to love ourselves; that comes quite naturally.  Of course, some might say that they don’t actually love themselves, that they’re filled with self-loathing.  But the point still remains the same: whether we like what we see in the mirror or not, we are stuck on ourselves.  We’re focused our wants and our needs.  What the Law is teaching here is that we should be focused on our neighbor and stuck on his needs in the same way that we are always doing that for ourselves.  And we should do that freely, naturally, from the heart, even if our neighbor is someone we don’t like at all.

    This summary of the Law is what Jesus presents the lawyer with.  And you can tell that it made the lawyer uncomfortable and a little defensive, because he then tries to justify himself.  Isn’t that what we do when the Law backs us into a corner?  We come up with excuses and exceptions and defenses and justifications. “I did the best I could, a lot better than most people.”  The lawyer tries out a self-justifying question, “Well, who is my neighbor?”  Maybe if that category can be narrowed down a bit, perhaps to just family and friends, he can claim that he kept that commandment.

    It’s only then that we hear the story of the  Good Samaritan.  So it’s important to understand: Jesus tells this parable not to help the lawyer with his own moral improvement, but rather to cut him down to size, to nuke all of his self-justifying thinking, and to get him to see that he’s in bad shape and needs to be rescued and saved.  So don’t get the idea that the Samaritan is primarily a picture of you in this story.  The Samaritan is first a picture of Jesus.

    Our Lord Jesus is saying to the lawyer and all of us today, “Repent.  You are the man laying on the side of the road.  You are the one who has been robbed of the glory in which you were created.  Sin and Satan and world have beaten you and left you in the ditch, physically alive, but spiritually dead.  The Law cannot save you.  It can diagnose your condition, but it offers you no medicine.  Like the priest and the Levite, it passes by on the other side.  Only I, Jesus, your Good Samaritan can rescue you.  I have come to you as a foreigner from the outside, the Son of God from heaven. Though I  am despised and rejected by the Jewish leaders, I have come to show you mercy and compassion.

    “As one who shares in your flesh and blood, I am here to take your place.  For I myself will be robbed and stripped of My clothing; I myself will be beaten mercilessly and left dead on a cross, buried in a grave.  But this is the way I will defeat your enemies.  This is the way I will take away their power over you.  I will take the whole curse into my body, your sickness and sin and hurt and death.  And by My divine blood I will break the curse; through My resurrection, I will give you new and immortal life.  You cannot win this fight by your own strength.  But I am fighting for you.  When death and the devil grab hold of My weak flesh, they will learn all too soon that they have grabbed hold of the almighty God; and I will tear them limb from limb and utterly destroy them.  I am with you.  I am the beast of burden here to carry you.  Lean on Me. You are safe; you are forgiven; there is nothing now that can separate you from My love.”

    The Good Samaritan Jesus comes to you and He cleans up the wounds of your sin in the waters of baptism.  He pours on the oil of His Holy Spirit to comfort you and the wine of His blood to cleanse and purify you in Holy Communion.  He gives you lodging in the Inn which is His holy church.  There you are continually cared for through the preaching of His words of life.  For although your sins are fully forgiven, yet the wounds of sin are not fully healed.  We still live with their effects in this world, don’t we.  The Church is the hospital where those wounds are tended to by the Great Physician, lest they become infected.  The innkeeper is the pastor; Jesus provides the innkeeper with two denarii, so that the Lord’s overflowing compassion might continue to be given to you in His ongoing ministry of the Gospel.  Jesus promises to pay whatever it takes to restore you.  For in fact He has already paid the full price for you by His sacrifice on the cross.

    In particular, those two denarii point us to Jesus’ resurrection.  A denarius would pay for one day’s room and board.  A two denarii stay would mean that the man would be up and out on the third day.  This is what Jesus has done for you.  He paid not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, and He rose on the third day so that you may share in His bodily resurrection and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  It is as we heard in the OT reading: “After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.”

    The lawyer had asked the question “Who is my neighbor?”  And the answer to that is “everyone.”  But notice how Jesus changed the question.  He changed it from the Law to the Gospel.  He said, “Who was neighbor to the man?”  Who is neighbor to you?  The answer to that question is just one; it’s Jesus.  He is the One who had mercy, who loved you as Himself.  He is the One who kept the Law for you, in your place, so that in Him you may inherit eternal life, as the Epistle said, “The Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

    Repenting and believing in Jesus, He now lives in you and through you to love and be the neighbor to others.  He frees you to “go and do likewise”–not because you have to in order to be saved, but simply because your neighbor needs you.  In that sense, you actually are the Good Samaritan in this parable.  You do likewise for those who are in need.  For we see Jesus in those who are weak and suffering.  Since Christ became weak for you and bore all your infirmities and sorrows, you learn to see Him in your neighbor.  You show love for Him by loving them.

    So learn the point of this parable: You don’t have to justify yourself; you actually can’t anyway.  Jesus has taken care of that for you.  You are in the family of God by grace.  And so the promised inheritance is yours in Jesus, a free gift, won by His death, delivered by water and the Word, sealed by His body and blood.  As you rest and recover here in the Inn, be strengthened in the certainty that very soon your Good Samaritan will return to you as He has promised.  The risen Jesus will come again to take you to be with Himself in the place that He has prepared for you in His everlasting kingdom.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠