Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sermon for 8/25/13--Trinity 13



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

Luke tells us that the man in our text, “wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor?’” We know what it means to justify ourselves. We know all about trying to explain why you should get away with what you did wrong. "Officer, I don't want to get in trouble with my parents so I'm trying to get home before their curfew." "Honey, I know it was expensive, but the one I have is too out of date and old so I needed a new one." "Mom, I know my grade is bad, but you don't understand how unfair the teacher is." We try to justify ourselves. It’s the most-worn tool in our belt.

But Jesus won't let the man justify himself before God. And He won't let you do it either. He won’t let you or Himself take the easy way out. Instead He rescues you from your own sinful way of thinking. And how do sinners think? Well, we say, "Love God with your whole heart and love your neighbor as yourself." Sure. I can do that. Those are good rules. The Law of God is good…but only until it gets specific—until loving God means actually being in church as often as we can; until it means confessing not just a generic God, but Jesus who is true God and man; until loving our neighbor means forgiving the people we can't stand, those who hurt us and wrong us. You might say, "Lord, You don’t know what they said and did to me!" But the truth is, it doesn’t matter what your neighbor says or does to you. It doesn’t matter how demanding God is. “For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

The way Jesus rescues us is the way the Samaritan rescues the man who is lying half-dead on the side of the road. When we justify ourselves, sin comes along and robs our self-made righteousness and leaves us for dead. What does the Law do? How do the commandments help? They don't. They just pass by on the other side. We need Jesus to come and pick us up from the muck and mire of our sins, to wash our wounds and take care of us. And He does exactly that, all at His own expense—a payment not of cash but of His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. That's the price Jesus pays. He spares no expense to rescue us and heal us. Then He brings us to the inn of His church and pours in the oil and wine of Word and Baptism and Supper, the gifts which heal us and restore us to life.

The Law condemns us because we don’t love God or our neighbor as we ought. We can’t. But Jesus fulfills the Law by being both God and man, both God and neighbor. On the cross, Jesus fulfills the Law by trusting in His Father above all things and by loving His neighbor—the world—by dying for our sins. Jesus saves us from our sins by being the One who takes on our sins. That saves us from having to justify ourselves to God on the basis of the Law. Now when we hear the Law say, "Love God and love your neighbor," we don't have to make excuses. Rather we answer truthfully, "I don't! I can’t. But my Savior Jesus has kept the Law perfectly and loved God and neighbor for me!" And now the Law becomes not a way to justify ourselves but to serve our neighbor. When you fail at that, there are no excuses and no need to justify yourself. There’s more Jesus, more forgiveness, and then more chances to do whatever your neighbor needs as God gives you ability.

It's easy to attempt to justify ourselves, to make excuses, to explain to God why we should be let off the hook. The Law doesn't give any wiggle room. “Love God. Love you neighbor.” If not, you're doomed. But Jesus kept it perfectly on your behalf. He's pulled you out of the ditch where sin left you to die eternal death. He's bound up the wounds that death and the devil have inflicted on you. He's died your death so that you would be free to live your life—not to impress God, but to be a blessing to those around you—again, not because it gets you to heaven, but because your neighbor needs you to. 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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