Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sermon for 8/11/13--Trinity 11


Born a Pharisee

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Each of us is born a Pharisee. Each of us think we can please God better than anyone else. Our inner Pharisee still comes out all the time. I mean, who here doesn't think they're a better driver than most other people? Those of us who have been married for years shake our heads when a young couple divorces. Parents who raised their kids thirty years ago look down on how people raise their kids today. Those who go to church raise an eyebrow when they see the person out on the lake who wasn't in church. Every one of us has some area of life in which we're pretty sure we're doing a better job than someone else, and we look down others who aren't as good as we are.

This goes all the way back to Cain and Abel. With Cain and Abel, there are two religions. Abel's religion is the religion of a God who saves sinners by putting a lamb in their place. Cain's religion is the religion of deeds done for God. One religion receives and lives by God's grace; the other is a religion of getting yourself right with God. Those who think they can do things for God always look down on those who don't. Sometimes, like Cain did, they will even persecute and kill those who live by God's promises. This religion of Cain, the faith of the Pharisee, is the religion we're born with—the religion of the Law which clings to our Old Adam and attacks the new man in us.

This is why the prayer of the tax collector is our prayer. The tax collector knows it's not about him. His one and only hope is what he prays for: that the Lord would be merciful to him. The tax collector is praying that His sins be contained and covered by something taking His place. For Abel it was a lamb. For the tax collector and for you, it's the Lamb of God: Jesus. That's what Jesus does. He comes to cover your sins. We, like the Pharisee, want to show off according to the Law, at least the parts we think we're so good at keeping. We don’t deserve a pat on the back. We haven’t perfectly obeyed the Law—not even in those things where we think we excel. We deserve death. But Jesus comes and saves us. Jesus takes that death into Himself on the cross. He contains and protects us from God's judgment. He covers us and takes our place. That is what the tax collector is asking for, and that's exactly what the Lord provides.

Abel's worship was hearing that the lamb that was sacrificed covered his sins. Cain's worship was that he came and offered God something as if it belonged to Cain and did not already belong to the Lord. The world is full of religions whose worship services are just an exercise in looking and acting holy. Even many Christians fall into this trap when they want a worship service that is all about them and their feelings. But true worship, the worship of Abel and the tax collector, is crying out to God for mercy and having that prayer answered. Christ, by His death and resurrection, has covered your sins. And everything that happens in worship now is about that. It begins with the sign of the cross and the name of God, recalling our baptism at which our sins were washed away. We hear the Word of Holy Absolution, declaring that we poor, miserable sinners are receiving God's mercy. In the Scriptures and the sermon, it's all about Jesus saving us. Then, in the Supper, the Lamb Himself covers us again by giving us his flesh and blood as food and drink. This place where God dwells is not the place for those who look down upon others. It is the place for those who know they are already at the bottom. Here in His Church, Jesus lifts such sinners up and exalts them by His forgiveness!

Jesus rescues us from being Pharisees. He rescues us from being the kind of people who lift ourselves up and put others down. He rescues us from thinking we are better than others. Instead shows us that He is the one who is perfect and righteous for us. Jesus has taken your place and covered your sins just as He has every other person. This means that both you and the person you thought was beneath you are perfect and holy in Jesus. Just as He did for the tax collector, the Lord has you covered. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.  

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