Saturday, August 20, 2016

Trinity 13 Sermon

Trinity 13 – August 20/21, 2016 – Luke 10:23-37

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
One more Saturday/Sunday where everything revolves around justification. Two weeks ago, the tax collector went home justified; last week Jesus fixed the deaf man's ears – made them right, made them just. And today, we get told the tale of the Good Samaritan. “Come on, Pastor Brown! Even the Good Samaritan? How is the Good Samaritan supposed to be a text about justification? This is the Sunday where the Pastor is supposed to stand up there and wag his finger at me and tell me how I don't love my neighbor enough and that I need to do more and be like the Good Samaritan.” Again, you're partially right. You don't love your neighbor like you ought to. In fact, I'm sure that if I had a video instant replay of everyone's week, I could pause several times for each of us and say, “Yep, right here – see this. Jerk move. That was rotten.” I know some of my own, some things I probably didn't notice – I'm sure you know some of your own, and there's probably some you didn't see either. Of course you don't love your neighbor like you ought to – now, what to do about it?

Jesus starts the text by reminding the disciples that Prophets and Kings longed to see Him, that He is the fulfillment of the ages, the promised Messiah – but some folks just don't see it, aren't focused upon Jesus. Exhibit A, a lawyer, a master of Jewish Law. And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The Lawyer doesn't see Jesus. He doesn't see the Messiah. Doesn't even see a prophet. Teacher. But not even that – this lawyer is going to put Jesus to the test. His question isn't respectful, it's more along the lines of, “Alright, smarty-pants, I've got a question for you.” The only problem is, it shows just how far off this fellow's thinking is. Let me demonstrate: What must I do to inherit my parents' money – well, I guess I'd have to find some way to bump them off, make it look like an accident so it pays off triple. Do you see? You don't do anything to inherit, because you inherit when someone dies – and if you are doing something to cause that, that's bad.
And so Jesus just tosses it right back at him – what's the Law say, how do you read it lawyer man? And this is a basic, simple answer. Love God, love your neighbor as yourself. The Lawyer knows it – it's basic, you all should know it as well. And then Jesus says, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Did you hear what Jesus did? He didn't say, “Do this and you will inherit” - do this and you will live. Alright fella, since you want your life to be a result of what you do – just life perfectly, and you'll not die. Good luck with that, knock yourself out. Now, remember, the Lawyer was going to test Jesus, put Jesus in His place. And He fails miserably, and He's embarrassed. And what do we sinful human beings do when we've done something stupid and embarrassing? But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” He desires to justify himself. There's that justify word. Sinful man wants to justify himself – it was part of his initial question – what must I do. It's part of his embarassed response. Uh, no, I didn't just ask a question a 6 year old should be able to answer, it was setting up this follow-up – um, who is my neighbor. Who can I reasonably be expected to love! And then we get the tale of the Good Samaritan.

Therefore, my friends, understand what Jesus is doing when He's telling the tale of the Good Samaritan. It's not the finger wagging law bomb we expect saying “This is what you better be doing if you expect God to love you and bless you.” It's not even directly answering the lawyer's question. He had asked “who is my neighbor.” Jesus, after telling the story asks, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” So, lawyer, which one of those looked to be a neighbor – what's a neighbor look like? And the lawyer knows the answer is the one who shows mercy. And Jesus tells him to do mercy, to be focused there. Why? The lawyer hadn't been thinking of mercy – he'd been thinking of what he must do to prove himself, to demonstrate how good he himself is. He thinks neither of God nor his neighbor – but mercy deals directly with God and the neighbor. Listen.

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 that 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. So, there's the set up. Mind you what is going on. The road between Jerusalem and Jericho switched back and forth between mountains. It was winding and you couldn't see far – it was the perfect place for an ambush. And an ambush happens. Robbers come and beat the fellow half to death. And a priest sees it and skirts right on by. Likewise the Levite, the fellow of good stock. Be fair to them. What they do is utterly reasonable. Don't believe me? Let's say you're driving through Kankakee and you hear gun shots. Are you stopping, are you searching for the wounded, or are you locking the doors and getting out of there ASAP? Don't belittle the priest and the Levite here. Show them some mercy; what they do is typical and reasonable. Now, what the Samaritan does - well, that's just nuts.

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.  And 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 you when I come back.’ So what's a Samaritan? They were people who were hated by the Jews. Ancient enemies. They were the conquerors in the OT lesson. 900 years of bad blood. So in the story this Samaritan is someone who is a stranger in a land where no one likes him. So, if there are robbers, they can rob him and even feel patriotic about it. If anyone should get out of there, it should be him. But no, he stops. Puts the guy on his own animal – so if the robbers come he can smack the donkey and off it will go, carrying the wounded to safety while he is left behind for the robbers to beat and kill. It's an incredibly brave act. And then, when they get to the inn – well, they didn't have hospitals in those days – the closest thing would be an inn, where they were notorious for cheating travelers, over charging them... perhaps a bit closer to today's hospitals than we like to admit. But the Samaritan says, “Alright, here's some cash – take care of him, and whatever else you need, I'll pay you later.” Generous – foolishly generous. So, which one acted like the neighbor – the one who showed foolishly generous mercy.

In reality, this is a story of Justification. While you should indeed strive to be like the Good Samaritan, while you should strive to show mercy – you aren't the Good Samaritan. You aren't. If you are anyone in this tale, you're guy beaten half to death. That's what life here in this fallen world does to us. We get kicked in the teeth by sin – by the sin of our neighbors and the stupid sins we ourselves do. And we get beaten and smacked down. So how does that get fixed, how does that get made right? Is it by the law? Is it by our own works? Is the solution in the tale someone sitting down next to the half-dead fellow and saying, “Well, see, you need to be nicer, and you need to be stronger, and probably smarter too, oh, and just stop bleeding because that's messy, and while you're at it stop moaning so much.” What good would that be? He's half dead, he's not doing anything to rescue himself. And likewise, you, you who were dead in your trespasses, you aren't capable of doing anything to rescue yourself. For that you need a rescuer, a Justifier who shows you foolishly generous mercy. And that is Christ Jesus.

Psalm 23:4 – Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Are you stuck dealing with sin and on your way to death? So be it, for into this fallen world comes Christ Jesus to be with you, and now you need fear nothing. For even though this Christ Jesus was despised and hated – He lifts you up, carries you to safety, binds your wounds, and all of this, free to you. Costly for Him. Remember the Catechism - He has purchased and won me, a lost and condemned creature, not with silver or gold, not with 2 denarii, but with His precious blood and innocent suffering and death. And it is free. What did the half-dead man do to “inherit” such kindness? Nothing. Well, other than to get robbed and be beaten near to death. Nope – everything flows from mercy – from God's mercy, His mercy which drives him to rescue and redeem you. It's all about justification.

Dangnabit Pastor Brown – more justification when the text even ends with a go and do likewise. Well, yeah. Because “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” You've heard and seen Christ and His mercy. Indeed, you've been given life in Christ. You've been redeemed and forgiven – and where there is forgiveness there is life and salvation. So mercy is going to flow. And if you don't waste too much time thinking about it, don't spend too much time playing the angles and wondering how you can butter up either God or your reputation – you'll simply show love, show mercy. Because you are justified. You are made right – and having been mercied by God, God will use you to give His mercy to others. But that has nothing to do with causing your salvation, or changing what God thinks of you, or even some claptrap about how “good” you are. You're good because God says you are. You are valuable because God says, “You're worth the life and death of Christ Jesus.” You've received love and mercy from God, and love and mercy will just pop out. Your actions, your love, your good works are not the cause of your salvation, not the cause of God's relationship with you. They are the fruit, the result. The love you show is simply the love that Christ has poured on you and through you, overflowing to others. The mercy you show – it's the mercy He's covered you with with; it's just going to get onto the people you come across. You have inherited eternal life – for Christ Jesus has died for you, and even before you were born He earmarked you in His will, in the Testament in His blood – you are forgiven, and you have life in Christ. You are, in a word, Justified. Your life is being drenched in Christ's mercy, even from the font unto this moment. So yes, see and hear Christ; be focused on mercy - go and do likewise, this do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me – so that you would be refreshed, that you would receive even more mercy from God so as to be strengthened in faith and love. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Trinity 12 Sermon

Trinity 12 – August 13/14th, 2016 – Mark 7:31-37

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
I don't know Pastor Brown! You said last week that we'd be talking about “being justified” for a few weeks here, and then we had a healing in our Gospel lesson. That's not some fancy-schmacy justification text – in fact, I didn't hear the word “justified” one single cotton picking time in any of those readings. And you're partially right... you didn't. At least not directly. But if you will, be patient, and let me lay some justification ground work here. To be made just is the same idea, the same word in Greek, in fact, as to be made “righteous”. In our Epistle lesson, Paul speaks of a ministry of righteousness. Same idea. What Paul preaches, his ministry is given to make people righteous, to make them justified, to make them forgiven and clean and perfect. It is a ministry of life – one that gives life. The Spirit gives life – we confess in the Creed that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of life. So all this language in the Scriptures of justified, righteous, forgiven, holy, life – it all boils down to this. God, in His love for you, fixes sin and its impacts. He justifies you, He makes things right again. Everything He does drives to this idea of fixing, restoring, making folks who have been ravaged by sin right again. And that is why, dear friends, our Gospel text is most certainly about justification, about righteousness – about the Just and righteous Christ bringing justification and righteousness with Him. Listen.

[Jesus] returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay a hand on Him. Now, today, when we hear of this fellow, we want to think, “What's wrong with his ears? What causes the speech impediment – is it neurological, is it something structural?” We look at things in a very, blunt, earthly, materialistic way. It's just something physical. But one of the things that they understood in the ancient world is that these physical problems that we see aren't utterly detached from spiritual realities. They understood the idea of the Fall – that because of sin and wickedness, all sorts of problems and evils were unleashed upon the world. They understood that the wages of sin was death – that sin meant that in this world things were going to break down and fall apart and not work right – and that when you saw someone whose ears didn't work, whose mouth didn't work – this wasn't just a physical problem for some sort of medical craftsman to fix. It pointed to a greater spiritual problem, it reminded everyone of the condition of sinful man. Which is why, even these people in the Decaoplis, the pagan cities on the far side of the Sea of Galilee figure that maybe this Jesus, maybe this Holy, Spiritual Man, can do something for this deaf fellow.

So picture it in your mind – you have Jesus come into town, and they've heard the rumors about Jesus. It was just south of them where Jesus had cast out a bunch of demons – cast them into the pigs. They've heard other tales from across the sea of Galilee, but you know how those Galileans are, so excitable, not like us civilized folks. So they bring this deaf man to Jesus – both in hope for the deaf fellow and also as a challenge to Jesus. Alright Spiritual Man, we've see you tangle with the demons, with the spirits – but is your spiritual juju so strong that it will even fix the physical world? Lay hands on Him, let's see what you got! Do you get the sense of anticipation, of excitement, of spectacle. Bring the deaf man up onto the stage and let's see what this Jesus can do, and then we can all cheer and applaud!

But that's not what Jesus does. He doesn't say, “Oh, is that what you want – well (smack hands together), come on, be healed!” and smack the deaf man upside the head like some religious huckster. Listen to what Jesus does - “And taking him aside from the crowd privately....” It's not a show people. It's not a spectacle. It's not entertainment time. Rather, this fellow here is in bad shape. Consider. He's deaf. And Jesus has walked into town, and they say, “Let's get deaf bob, get him healed” - so they picked this guy up and dragged him through a crowd – and they didn't have sign language back then, so he may not even have a clue as to what is going on. And let's say that Jesus did heal him in front of the crowd – what would they have done? Cheered like mad – so suddenly you go from being deaf to where the first thing you hear is the roar of the crowd. It would have been really messed up and confusing. That ain't right – that's not how you do it. So Jesus pulls the guy aside – let me deal with you one on one.

“He put His fingers in his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.” Now that Jesus has the fellow's attention – Jesus touches his ears, his tongue. I'm going to deal with these for you – you've been brought for a healing. You get that? You understand? And when the fellow knows what is going on – then Jesus acts. And note how He heals – because Jesus is teaching here. The crowd wanted Jesus to fix things by laying his hand on – letting his mojo flow, something like that. That's not what Jesus does. As the deaf man watches, Jesus acts. “Looking up to heaven, He signed and said to him, 'Ephphatha,' that is, 'Be opened.' And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” Do you see what Jesus teaches? Alright fella – I'm looking to heaven because this is a spiritual thing going on here, and it needs a Divine, heavenly answer. I hope you all didn't think I was just making stuff up when I said physical aliments had a spiritual component – it's right here in the text, that's why Jesus, to explain what He's doing looks up and sighs, looks up and acts out a prayer. And then Jesus speaks – Christ Jesus, the Word of God incarnate speaks a word. He says “be opened”... and things are opened. That's actually a pretty basic lesson on the relationship between the spiritual and the physical – between God and His creation. When God speaks, what He says happens. Be light – there is light. Be opened – the ears are opened. The very first thing this guy hears is the very Word that gives Him hearing. Which is all sorts of wondrous.

And then we get the ending that folks often get confounded by. “And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” This idea consternates people. Well, why wouldn't Jesus want them telling everyone? There's been many theories, possible explanations. I tend to take it this way – they are already on the verge of a frenzy. Jesus doesn't want them any more whipped up – because generally when He heals, He also preaches – because, you know, Spiritual things. The Spirit gives life. Except if they are all busy running around and gabbing, they don't get to listen. Wait, come back, we haven't had the sermon yet... oh. Well, there they go. There's a time to listen, to get to the fullness of what is going on. “And they were astonished beyond all measure, saying, 'He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.'” They get that they have seen creation restored. “He has done all things well” - that's the same language you get in Genesis 1 at the end of each of the days of creation – and it was good. They understand that they've seen a fantastic miracle of creation, of things being put right.

But this was just the appetizer. It's not the main course. Jesus comes to fix things. He is the Righteous One who comes bringing righteousness. He comes to justify things. And this is certainly a fixing – it's a making things right... but because the fellow was still a sinner in a sinful world, you do know what happened? Well, this deaf man who was healed. He's long since died. His body isn't hearing things at the moment, his tongue isn't talking right now. Neither are any of the folks in that crowd. Fixing the guys ears for a time – that's just an appetizer, that's just a temporary fix. And Jesus moves on to the greater fix. Because again, all these physical problems flow from a greater spiritual problem – the problem of sin and death. So that is what Jesus really has to deal with. The very Word of God Himself becomes man, strides right smack dab into the middle of death – goes to the Cross and dies... to justify mankind, to place His righteousness over and against sin and death – to wipe out death. Jesus rises to bring this justification to light, to ensure that every single person who has suffered death on account of sin is raised to life, a life where their ears work and their tongues work because that's the way He had created us to be in the beginning and He wasn't going to let Satan mess that up.

You see, the big fix, the big healing wasn't the deaf guy hearing. However, because Jesus dies and rises – that deaf man who has since died – well, he's going to be raised. He's going to hear the trumpet, the cry of the archangel and be raised – and then his mouth will rightly sing Christ's praise for all eternity. Us as well. This actually plays in with the next section of Mark – chapter 8 begins with the feeding of the 4000 – and they are all excited then too... but no, that feeding was just an appetizer. The real feast comes on the Last Day, when we are brought in full to the feast of the Lamb that has no end.

And what of us? Well, we're in a better spot – we know that Christ has died and risen – we see a bit more clearly what is to come. Granted, we are still sinners in a sinful world with bodies that age and fall apart. Jesus healed the deaf man who had a speech impediment – and yet here I am, preaching even with my own speech all messed up to a congregation where there's a whole bunch of you who if not deaf don't quite hear right. We're still in this world – but Christ Jesus calls us to this place to see beyond just the hum-drum cold realities of this world. He makes us to see spiritual truths. You are baptized, you are forgiven, you go in peace, you join in His Supper. These are all things we see now, realities we have now – but they will blossom in full come the last day. You who were washed clean in your baptism and joined to Christ's resurrection there at the font – you have that now – but you'll see it more come the last day. You have forgiveness now, your sin is gone now – but come the last day when you are raised the former things won't even be remembered, all lingering guilt will be gone. You have peace now, but you get buffeted constantly by the world and your sinful flesh – again, come the Last Day – just peace. And with the Supper – well, we get the foretaste of the feast to come – a bit of bread and a small cup of wine is hardly a hearty appetizer – but your seat at the eternal feast is well prepared, and when all is ready, Christ will call you to that feast, and nothing, not sin, not death, not Satan will be able to get in you way, nothing will be able to separate you from that loving feast of God. Why?

Because you are justified. Because Christ Jesus loves to justify people – to make them just and right and proper and good and how they were meant to be. Even as He's on His way to the cross, He does a little touch up work on the way – guy, let's fix those ears and that tongue for a bit – but His focus is always on the true prize, having you redeemed from sin and death and with Him for all eternity. Jesus justifies you – He gives you life, life you see now in part, and then in full. And so now, we'll go on with service – I'll slur my way through the liturgy and we'll hit the ocassional off-key note in our singing, and we'll creak our way to the altar – justified now yet looking towards the completion come the Last Day. And it will come – for you are justified by Christ Jesus. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Trinity 11 sermon

Trinity 11 – August 6/7th, 2016 – Luke 18:9-14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” Justified. That's going to be the theme, the key idea for the next few weeks here. The last month or so had plenty of heavy, soul-searching lessons, where we pondered in depth and detail our own sin, pondered the ways Satan attacks us – but now we're going to focus in on being justified. It is a big, important word in theology. To be justified is to be made, to be declared, to be proven right, just, and good. And so the question before us this day, my dear friends, is how are you, how is a Christian to be justified, how are we shown and made to be righteous and just? Let us consider our parable, a familiar one – the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” Now, there should be a big warning sign here going off in your head – a warning from Catechism lesson number 1. What is the first commandment? You shall have no other gods before Me. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and... trust in God above all things. Did you catch it? Some who... trusted in themselves. Trusted in themselves that they were righteous, that they were good enough already. Where's God in that equation? Where's God in that thought process? He's not there. I'm a good human being, see how great I am, and I'm certainly better than that fellow over there. How am I to be justified – why would I need that – I'm already great as is! You see, dear friends, when we get texts in the Church that are heavy with the law, that show us our sin, the point is to remind us of our need for God, our need for a Savior. It is to teach us humility so that we don't run around like a jerk all full of contempt, so that we don't think we are all that and a bag of chips. Because that's a trap we all can fall into. It's easy to be arrogant and cocky and dismissive of others. And so Jesus tells this parable.

“Two men went 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. 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.'” And here's where we have a hard time hearing this parable. We associate the Pharisees with villains. We think of the Pharisees as “bad guys” - when in reality, they aren't – not from an earthly point of view. Listen to what the Pharisee says he does – and there's no reason to think he's lying – He fasts, so he's devout in his personal devotion. He gives tithes of all that he gets – nothing really bad about that. I mean – basically, think of it this way. Would I be happy, in theory, if you read your bible every day, did daily devotions, and put in 10 percent of your income into the offering plate? Yeah. The Pharisee is a swell guy – he looks to be the type of guy you'd want your son to grow up into, the sort of guy you'd want your daughter to get married to. And as for the tax collector – well, we tend not to like the IRS that much, but we don't generally think of IRS agents as vile, corrupt, and evil. So we don't get the contrast being set up in the parable. So if you will, let me try to modernize it.

One Saturday/Sunday two folks walked into Trinity here. One was a life long member, born and raised a Lutheran, a fellow who made good on his God given talents – has a good job, shows up to Church, regularly helps out – all his ducks are in a row. Shakes everyone's hand before service because, well, we're all glad to see him. And then, surprise of surprise, in walks a junkie – and not one of our own who has fallen into trouble. I mean a miscreatant – dishevelved,dirty, maybe even still high. The sort you sort of lean away from. And the good old Lutheran boy thinks, “God, I thank you that I'm not messed up like him. I've heard the stories about him, and I'm so glad I've never done anything that dumb.” Meanwhile – the pond scum fellow just sits off by himself, head in his hands just thinking, “God forgive me, God help me.”

Do you get that distinction, that contrast? For the folks that were listening to Jesus, they would want to like the Pharisee, and they would instinctively not like, not trust the tax collector. The Pharisee is the good guy, the Tax collector is the bad guy, and yet, Jesus says of the tax collector, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” Now hear this rightly – I'm not saying that I want you to stop tithing and start shooting heroin. Not the point. The Pharisee, the good old Lutheran, had by all accounts what we would deem a better life. I'm sure it was more enjoyable, more virtuous. Easier, even. Being in the gutter stinks. I hope and pray that you all stay away from gross and vile sin, from heartache and pain this week in your life out there. But here's the thing – they are in the temple, and in the parable, it was the tax collector who actually understood what the point of the Temple was. The Temple was not the place you went to primp and preen before God and the church folks and show everyone how awesome you are, how much of a good boy you've been. Going to church isn't like visiting Santa at the mall and sitting on his lap and telling him what a good boy you've been so give me a new bicycle. Going to Church isn't the time you get to hold social court and get reaffirmed in how wonderful you are by people whose lives are just as prim and proper as yours. This is a forgiveness place for sinners, this is a mercy house for the messed up. And that, is what you need.

You see, God knows you too well. While we all tend to strive to put on the brave face in front of other people – while we all will say as a matter of course, “Oh, I'm fine” - God knows. He knows what's been going on – the troubles at home that you don't tell other folks, the struggles at work. He knows your frustrations. He knows the thoughts that have been flying through your head that you are far too ashamed to mention to anyone. And He knows them – even when you want to saunter around and act as though everything in your life is just perfect and wonderful... even when you've lied to yourself so much that you actually have conned yourself into thinking that everything is fine. He knows what's really going on, and so God has established this place to be a house of mercy and forgiveness for you. A place where you don't have to pretend, a place where you can be honest and simply say, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

And He will be. That's the point. “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified.” You see, this is how it works. You don't have to prove anything to God. Being in the Church isn't like going to the fair where you have to be so tall before you can ride the rides. I'm not standing by the door before service saying, “You must be this holy before you can come in here.” Because before God, in terms of how you relate to God, it's not about your works, not about what you've done or have left undone. We confess that's all a mess. No, your relationship with God is this: He is the One who justifies you. God almighty sees you, battered and bruised and broken – sees even those things that you have hidden so well from everyone else – and there is no revulsion, no disdain, no contempt from Him. Rather simple and pure and unadulterated love. Love that drives God to care for you, to take your sin away from you. Seeing your sin, Christ Jesus says, “There's no way I'm going to let that be the story, let that be the tale of your life” - and so He takes your sin upon Himself, and suffers and dies upon the Cross, He rises from the dead – and all for you. And He takes water and attaches His Word to it and washes you with it and claims you as His own. He takes bread and wine and by His Word gives His Body and Blood to you with it – all so that you are forgiven, so that you know it, so that you realize that all this junk in your life – it isn't your junk anymore. It's Christ's junk, and He crucified it for you – and you, now, in the sight of God, are righteous and just and holy and perfect and lovely and wonderful. Because Jesus says so. He shows mercy. You are justified.

Our sinful nature fights against this, though. Since our youth we've become accustomed to telling tales, to putting our own spin on things, to try to explain things away. We want to tell our own story of justification. How many of you got in trouble recently, got caught doing something you shouldn't, and then tried to talk your way out of it? “Well, you see, I was going to do this, but then dut-da-dut-da-duh, and then blah-blah-blah, so I just had to yaddy-yaddy-ya.” You know what that is? That's telling a story to justify myself, telling a story to say that what I did is actually fine and understandable and it's not that bad. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it! Or maybe it's someone else's fault? Or maybe at least we aren't as bad at that other person? And we dig ourselves deeper and deeper. The simple fact is, when we drop the ball, we drop the ball. And the kicker is, we get tempted to try to fast talk God! But this is where God steps in, and He says, “You don't need to try to tell Me any tales – I know what happened. I'll fix it, I'll make things right, and I forgive you.” God in His mercy cuts all that self-justification talk off. He doesn't even want you to think about justifying yourself – He wants to be both the One who is Just and the One who justifies you. Because He wants to exalt you – He wants to raise you up from the dead and give you everlasting life as His own sons and daughters – and it doesn't get more exalted than that.

So let God be God. Let Him be the One who justifies you, who forgives you. And never be afraid to seek His mercy, never be afraid to confess your sin. You don't need to explain anything away – Jesus has already died for you. Rather, be on guard against your own pride, your own ego that you try to pull you away from God and His mercy. Because when it comes to your relationship with God – it's not about what you do for Him – it is all about what He has done for you – Christ Jesus has forgiven you and given you His own eternal life, and nothing tops that. Now, let's have the Supper and go home justified. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +