Monday, August 22, 2016

Sermon for 8/21/16: Thirteenth Sunday After Trinity

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Mercy, Not Karma

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

It’s not easy to be a Samaritan. Well, actually, if you’re born in Samaria, then it’s very easy to be a Samaritan. But existing the way a Samaritan existed in a Jewish culture is a difficult thing. In historical context, every pure Jewish person saw Samaritans as unclean, and if you were a Samaritan, the Jew wanted nothing to do with you. And if he did condescend to interact with you, then you could be sure that he would mock you and curse you and even spit on you. Nobody wants to be that guy. After all, it’s hard to be hated by everyone you see; we all want to be liked. But as hard as that would be, it’s even harder to be the Good Samaritan. It’s hard to look upon that person who either ignores you or treats you like dirt and then, seeing that person beaten and bloody and dying, to pick him up and tend his wounds and carry him to safety.
But you know you want to be that Good Samaritan. “Lord, if I was in that position, I would certainly help.” And maybe you even believe you mean it. After all, as Jesus said, “The spirit, indeed, is willing.” But if that is true—and it is—then it’s also true when Jesus adds, “The flesh is weak.” If your boss gives you a hard time at work every day for months at a time, could you honestly say you wouldn’t at least smile to see the man taken down a peg by his boss? If someone cuts you off in traffic, could you honestly say you wouldn’t smile to see her pulled over by a police officer? If a classmate makes fun of you in the hallway, could you honestly say you wouldn’t laugh to see him slip and fall on his behind? The truth is, you drive by the stranger who is stranded on the road in the dead of winter. The truth is, you walk by the beggar who hides in the doorway. Our culture is terribly invested in the idea that you get what you deserve. We like the pagan idea of Karma: you get what’s coming to you. And you think the other guy has it coming to him. But in reality, you are that man who lies bloody, beaten, dying in sin. And what’s more, that is the fate you deserve.
The lawyer who confronted Jesus should have known better. He thought to test the Lord. He was looking for knowledge. He just wanted to see if Jesus met his standards, if Jesus knew what he did. He asked: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” But the question showed more than he meant. He thought he was clever, but actually showed his ignorance. Inheritance isn’t a matter of doing; inheritance is always the gift of birth. An inheritance only changes hands at death.
And that’s what it takes for sinners to receive eternal life: it takes death. The Kingdom is overthrown by violence. God gives up His crown in death. It is now yours by the birthright of Holy Baptism, a holy inheritance in the living Christ. Your bloodline now runs through the cross and you are the rightful heir of heaven. The crown changed hands by war. God in flesh surrendered to death to take away the power of death, to crush the serpent, to make you His.
Blessed are the eyes that see what you see and the ears which hear what you hear. It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. The mercy of God is hidden here. The Divine plan of God's rescue for men is hidden as Jesus changes the question. No longer do you ask, “Who is my neighbor?” meaning to find a way to keep the law or to find an excuse for breaking it. Instead you must ask, “Who was neighbor to this man?” Jesus is your neighbor. He has done what you and the Law could not. He has had mercy. He didn't have to. He was free of obligation. He was moved by His own compassion. He bound up your wounds to take them into Himself. You rode. He walked. He paid for everything, and He promised to come back. This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. It is like an unexpected rescue from death by an outsider who loves everyone perfectly.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, who has been your neighbor? Who loves you as He loves Himself? Who is no phony, but is genuine and authentic? Who makes no profit from your friendship but loves you anyway without fail? The answer to that question is life and salvation: Jesus is the One who had mercy. 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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