Sunday, August 19, 2007

Trinity 11 Sermon

Trinity 11 – August 19th, 2007

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

This parable, dear friends, the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, might as well be called the Lutheran Parable. This parable contains the heart of what the Lutheran Reformation was about – the doctrine, the truth that Luther nailed to the door of the Church in Wittenberg, that He preached from the pulpit there, that lives on every page of the Small Catechism. I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified. Justified. Made right, made right with God, where things are all square between God and Man, where things are put to right – where sin and its consequences are paid and done away with. That is the heart of what the Lutheran Reformation was about – that we are Justified by Grace through faith in Christ Jesus – and in no parable does Jesus teach this truth more bluntly than this morning’s. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified. Let us examine this parable this morning, lest like many sincere, well intentioned Christians before us, we forget that justification, that God’s free forgiveness given to us, is the heart of the Christian life.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. Here we see the situation, the wrong thoughts and deeds which prompts our Lord to teach this parable, the ideas that Jesus wishes to correct. There are people who trust in themselves. So, do you trust in yourself? When it comes to your relationship with God, do you trust in yourself? If I were to ask you if you were a Christian, and you said yes, as I firmly hope that you would, and then I were to say, “prove, prove that you are a Christian” – how would you prove it? Prove that you are a Christian. What would you say? Well, I go to Church! I help out there! I give good offerings! I do daily devotions at home, I read my bible. I treat my neighbor kindly! All those answers, they are horrible and wretched. Why? I do this, I do that. They all focus on me and what I do. He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. Do you see how subtly Satan can shift our focus on to what we do? That’s not to be our focus, that’s not where our hope is to be placed. Prove that you are a Christian – Christ Died for Me. God claimed me in the waters of Baptism. God freely forgives my sin – that’s why I am a Christian, because God has had mercy upon me. This is what Satan wants you to forget – that everything in your life as a Christian is first and foremost about Christ and what He does for you. This is what we sing – Just as I am, without one plea – but what? But that Thy blood was shed for me. It’s about what Christ does, upon the Cross. Salvation unto us has come – how? By God’s free grace and favor. Good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never. This is the heart of what we preach and teach – that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works, lest any man should boast. And we need to keep our focus here, upon Christ and what He does, otherwise, Satan will lead us stray, pull the wool over our eyes, and our praise will no longer be thanks to God for His mercy, but rather we will worship that most unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. Keep your focus upon Christ – trust not in yourself and what you do, but trust in Christ and what He has done for you.

Our Lord gives us a wonderful tool to see where we have put our trust. He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. And treated others with contempt. How do you know whether or not you are falling into the trap of self-righteousness? How do you know if you are forgetting Christ and starting to worship yourself? Look at how you treat others. Do you treat them with contempt? Do you look down upon your neighbor? Do you think ill of them, are you short with them? Then you are sinning, not only against them, but you are also sinning against God – because contempt for your neighbor is always accompanied with contempt for God. Let me say that again – contempt for your neighbor is always accompanied with contempt for God. Let me ask you a question. This neighbor that you look down upon – did God create them? If God created them, why do you look down upon them? This neighbor that you look down upon – did Christ Jesus die for them upon the Cross? If God loves them so much that He would suffer and die for them, why do you look down upon them? This is the sign, dear friends, that you have wandered from where you should be. If you look with contempt upon your neighbor, it means your focus is no longer on Christ, but upon you, and how you are a better person than the other. And then, you need to repent.

The Pharisee in the parable is the perfect example of what we are not to do. Listen to how the Pharisee acts. Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ So – there you have the Pharisee – and he strolls on into the temple, and he prays, if you wish to call it that, to God. But what’s the problem? Everything oozes with self-righteousness and contempt for his neighbor. Is it a bad thing to be grateful to God that He has kept you from getting into trouble? No. Is it a bad thing to take time to focus on the worship of God? No. Is it a bad thing to give your tithe? No. So what’s the Pharisee’s problem? His attitude. See Lord, all that I do! I have a right to be here! I deserve to be here! I deserve to be part of Your kingdom! And the Pharisee is lost. Jesus says that he walks back to his house not justified, not forgiven, not right with God. That should chill you to the bone. When you think that you deserve God’s favor because of what you do, you’ve lost it. When you look to what you do, you step away from Christ and step away from the forgiveness He won for you.

Rather, dear friends, you are to be like the tax collector, for he is the example for us. He is our example in how we approach God, in how we worship. But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” There is no bragging about what he does. There is no focus on how good he is, on what he has done for God. Rather this – God, be merciful to me, a sinner. That dear friends, is true Christian worship. What is the first commandment? You shall have no other gods – or Thou Shalt have no other gods before me – if you prefer. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Behold the tax collector. Does he fear God – does He treat God with respect? Yes indeed, he wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven. That is humility; that is respect. Does he love God? Yes indeed, in humility he comes to God’s house, comes to be where God has said that He will be present for this tax collector. Does he trust God? Yes indeed, God, be merciful to me, a sinner. He trusts that God, who says over and over that He is merciful, will in fact be merciful, not because the tax collector deserves mercy, but because God is true to His own Word. This is how we are to approach God – not in pride, not in arrogance, but in humility seeking His mercy.

This is what our worship is about. We don’t brag about all the things we do for God – we don’t talk about what we do. Rather this – as sinners, we come before God, asking for His mercy – and then, by His Word, by His Supper, God shows mercy upon us. How did we begin worship today? Let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins unto God our Father. I, a poor miserable sinner. We sang the Kyrie – Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. We sang the Gloria, where we cry for mercy twice more. What’s the first thing we’ll do after this sermon? Call upon God to create in us a clean heart. We’ll pray – and how? Always asking for mercy. How often do our prayers end – Lord in Your mercy, hear our prayer? When we pray the Litany, there’s a reason for that. Why? We call out for mercy 11 times. We ask God to help us, to deliver us, to spare us. And then, the highlight of the service – the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Word of God is spoken over Bread and Wine, and now Christ is present for us in His Body and Blood, and what is sung? The Agnus Dei – O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us. When we speak, when we sing here in this house, like the tax collector, we are calling out for mercy, over and over again.

And here is the wondrous thing. God gives it. God has mercy. His Word speaks forgiveness to us. His Word restores our wounded souls, His Word creates in us clean hearts. He speaks and we are justified. He places His Body and His Blood upon our tongues, and we are sent from His table forgiven. Just like the tax collector – we return to our houses Justified – we leave this place right with God – not because of what we do – but rather because God works through His Almighty Word and gives us forgiveness, because Christ Jesus gives us His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sin.

God, be merciful to me, a sinner. That is what our lives as Christians are all about. We are sinners who receive from God His mercy. We are sinners who receive from God forgiveness, who receive from God strength to show love to our neighbor, even when our old sinful flesh doesn’t want to. And so, this remains our focus – that we are determined never to have our focus, our worship be about us, but rather like Paul, like Luther, like Moses and Elijah, like all the company of heaven, we are determined to know nothing, to focus upon nothing but Christ and Him crucified. In Christ, we have life, for He gives us His own life, won for us upon the cross. Amen.

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