Sunday, September 2, 2007

Trinity 13 Sermon

Trinity 13 – September 2nd, 2007

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Allow me to ask you a question. Your relationship to God, your Christian faith – it is defined by what you DO for God or by what you RECEIVE from God? The basis for who you are as a Christian, indeed, what makes you a Christian – is that based upon what you do for God, or what you receive from God? This has been the question since the fall of man – it is a question that comes up in the Old Testament – it is a question that is debated even today. Where as Christians do we put our focus, on what we DO for God, or what we RECEIVE from God? In fact, in our Gospel lesson, we see this same discussion going on – and we see our Lord’s Answer, our Lord’s Answer given to a lawyer who had definite ideas about his own answer.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In our text, a lawyer approaches Jesus – and what is this lawyer’s focus? What shall I do? What do I need to do, what work must I do to inherit eternal life? This lawyer, his understanding of being a Christian, of being a believer focuses in on what He does for God. That colors his whole approach, what do I have to do? So Jesus ask him a question. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” There you go. If you want your relationship with God to be based on what you do – well, there you go. Love God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, with your whole strength, and with your whole mind. Well, that should tell us that we can’t do this. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything with my whole heart or with my whole soul. I’m quite often confused – even when I do something good I’ll grouse and complain about it. And as for the neighbor. . . well, it’s pretty hard to love the neighbor as yourself. All too often when I look at my neighbor, I become impatient and unkind, and can just get flat out annoyed. Do all this and live. Jesus sets a high bar there – if your relationship with God is about what you do – you have to do it all. . . always. . . completely. And we can’t do that.

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” This lawyer, he realizes that he can’t do all this stuff. Man, that’s a lot. And so this man does what everyone who focuses on works, on what they do, does. They lower the bar. So, who exactly is my neighbor? Since I have to love – who can I not show love to? What’s the littlest that I have to do? It’s amazing – he asks what he’s supposed to do – and then suddenly wants to make it less. But the law has nothing but harsh demands. And they are thorough. We see how thorough they are through the story of the Good Samaritan.

“A man, was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now, by chance a priest was going down the road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay when I come back.” Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” This is both who you are to love and how you are to love. Your neighbor is not defined by your race, religion, or nationality. It’s not a matter of just who you like, who is your social peer, who is convenient. Who is your neighbor? Anyone and everyone. When we say neighbor we aren’t simply referring to people we like. Behold the Samaritan, who belonged to a race that was looked down upon by the Jews. He shows love, even to someone who probably wouldn’t spare him a second thought, even to someone who might berate him. He is a true neighbor. So who, oh members of Zion – is your neighbor? Yes, your family, yes, your friends – but also that person next door who annoys you – he is your neighbor. The rude person at work – he is your neighbor. That person who doesn’t speak English – he is your neighbor. Indeed, even a terrorist who plans wickedness for this nation – according to God he is your neighbor – and you are beholden to love him and to pray for him.

And the love you are to give your neighbor is not to be shoddy, it is not to be second best. Behold what the Samaritan does – he gives of his time. The Samaritan stops what he is doing, interrupts his travels to care for the beaten man. The Samaritan gives up his animal and walks so that this beaten man can ride. The Samaritan is diligent – he doesn’t just do the minimum, but he stays with the man to nurse him to health – he pays amply and richly to see the man cared for. Behold how you are to love your neighbor – with your time and with your efforts and with your treasure. Indeed, you are to hold nothing back, and all that you have, all that God has made you a steward over is to be used for the ultimate benefit of your neighbors, those God puts into your life.

Now, let us return for a moment to the original question asked in this sermon. Your relationship to God, your Christian faith – it is defined by what you DO for God or by what you RECEIVE from God? So – is your relationship to God defined by what you do? You have just heard from Jesus Himself how one is to love God, wholly and completely. You have just seen His description of how one is to love one’s neighbor. Do you match up? Do you wish to approach God Almighty and say, “Alright, judge me by Your Holy and perfect standards God, and see how well I match up!” No. That can’t be the way we relate to God – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And yet, what is the temptation which Satan gives us? To focus on our works, on what we do. To puff up our pride to where we saunter up to God and demand of Him His respect and blessings because golly gee wiz we’re good Christians. That is the way of death and eternal damnation – and when pride comes creeping at your door, when you start to think that you are a better Christian because of all that you do, repent, lest you fall away from the faith, and God does judge you by what you have done and by what you have left undone.

No, our relationship to God is defined by what we receive from God. Let us return to the story. Who is my neighbor? Let us answer that from the perspective of the beaten man. Was the Priest a neighbor to him? No. Was the Levite a neighbor to him? No. His own people forsake him. But was the Samaritan a neighbor to him? Yes. And why? Because this beaten man received love from the Samaritan. Know and learn, dear Christian, that this image that Christ holds before us describes how you and He relate. Look at your own life – are you not beaten and broken? Has not Satan kicked the tar out of you and left you for dead – indeed, as Paul says dead in trespasses? Are you not unable to help yourself, to do all the things that God wishes you to – to fulfill His law? Beaten and broken. And yet, as the Samaritan came to help the beaten man, Christ Jesus comes down from heaven, takes on Human Flesh, becomes Man – in order to help you. Christ becomes your neighbor – you have a relationship with God only because of what Christ does for you, only because God has compassion upon you. Our Lord comes and beholds us, beaten and broken by sin and He binds up our wounds and sets about the business of healing us. Indeed, He does all the work and carries us to where we shall receive healing. He pays for our healing, not with gold or silver, but with His Holy precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death, that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom. Christ picks us up and claims us as His own – for He picked up the Cross and died for the right to claim us, the right to declare us forgiven, the right to cry out “I have done what they could not – I have shown love to God and neighbor perfectly – It is Finished.” And He cares for us until His return. He places us in His church where we are cared for. Our wounds are bound up just as the beaten man’s were – with oil and wine. In the early Church, the baptized were always after baptism anointed with oil – and the sign of the cross upon their forehead. Oil in this story points us to our Baptism. And wine, dear friends – Christ still binds up our wounds of sin and gives us forgiveness, as He attaches His own blood shed for us to wine, which He gives to us in His supper. Do you see, dear friends – what the basis, what the focus of our relationship with God is? That Christ Jesus comes to us, while we are lost in sin, and that He is the One who starts this relationship, He is the One who sustains it.

Dear friends in Christ, let us with joy and gladness answer the question. Why are you a Christian? Because Christ Jesus has come to you, and you receive from Him forgiveness of your sins and life in His name. You are a Christian not because of what you do for God, but because of what you receive from God – because of what God does for you. This is our joy and hope – for where as we fail daily and often – God is faithful and just and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. This is who Your God is – the God who comes to you and gives you life in His Name. Amen.

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