Sunday, September 18, 2011

Homily for The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 13)


Luke 10:23-37; Galatians 3:15-22; 2 Chronicles 28:8-15

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel lesson assigned for this day is the so-called Parable of the Good Samaritan. I imagine that about half of you will soon tune me out and begin thinking about today’s football game, where to have lunch, or what you need to pick up at the grocery store because you’ve heard this parable many times before and you believe that you understand it well enough. But I say to you, you’ll want to pay attention to this sermon today, for I venture that you haven’t heard it taught quite this way before.

As for the other half of you, I imagine that you will be listening extra attentively today because you love this parable and you receive a considerable amount of comfort in believing that you imitate the Good Samaritan in the parable pretty well and thus obey Jesus’ command to “Go, and do likewise”. But I say to you, you’ll want to pay attention to this sermon today, not because it will confirm you in your justification by works, but because it will teach you how to receive and to give grace.

For, this so-called Parable of the Good Samaritan is not a parable of the Law and judgment, nor is it a lesson in morality concerning how you should treat others, but it is a parable of grace – free and boundless grace. And, contrary to popular opinion, the so-called Parable of the Good Samaritan is not really about the Samaritan at all, but it is about the naked and beaten half-dead man lying in the ditch.

No, the parable is not about the Law, for the Law cannot help you. The Law must, and will always, leave you alone, naked, and dying in a ditch. The Law cannot help you. That is why the Priest and the Levite pass by on the other side of the road. It’s not necessarily that they don’t want to help you, maybe they don’t, but they probably do. Either way, it doesn’t matter, because they represent the Law and they can’t help you. They can’t even help themselves.

And there’s the crux of the situation: Because of the Law, we are all like the poor fellow in the ditch, wounded, bleeding, dying, and utterly alone with no ability to remedy our situation. If we’re going to get out of the ditch, be bandaged up, healed and restored to life, someone’s going to have to help us, someone’s going to have to lift us up out of the ditch and carry us and care for us at their own expense. Thus, the crux of the situation is this: Do you confess that you are the man in the ditch? Do you confess that you are dead in your sins and trespasses, unable to change your dead and sinful condition? Do you depend and trust upon the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ to step into your sin and death and to raise you up to new life? Or, do you insist upon your self-righteousness and good works, believing that you are not dead in your trespasses, but that there is at least something about you that makes you better than others and more worthy in the sight of God? That is to say, do you identify with the good, pious, and self-righteous Priest and Levite? Or, do you identify with the selfless Good Samaritan? I say to you today, it doesn’t matter, either way you remain in your sins. For, the Law cannot help you. And, no works, no matter how good they may be, no matter how pure and selfless your motives may be, no works can save you from sin and death. No works can raise you from the ditch of the grave to new and eternal life. Only Jesus can do that. And Jesus has done that, not because He was the Good Samaritan and was better than most, but because He became what you are, the man in the ditch, and He died your death and God the Father raised Him to life because He loves Him, because He laid down His life for you.

Now, I recognize that this is a somewhat unorthodox treatment of the so-called Parable of the Good Samaritan, but I make no apologies for that. For, despite what you’ve heard, despite what I’ve heard, Jesus is not teaching you in this parable to imitate the Good Samaritan when He says to you, “You go, and do likewise.” Rather, Jesus commands you to imitate Him and Him alone. Yes, Jesus did indeed act like the Good Samaritan many times throughout His life and ministry. Yes, He most certainly did step down into the ditch with unclean sinners with absolutely no concern for himself and lift them up, care for, and heal them. But Jesus never saved anyone by His selfless acts of kindness anymore than you can save anyone, even yourself, by imitating the Good Samaritan. Rather, Jesus saved the man in the ditch, and Jesus saved you and all men, by becoming what you are, by becoming that man who fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. And it is that kind of selflessness, it is that kind of good works that Jesus calls you to imitate and to go, and do likewise.

For, the way of Jesus is not the way of good, pious, or even gracious and merciful works, but the way of Jesus is the way of death and resurrection. Jesus came to save sinners, and only sinners can be saved. Jesus came to seek the lost, and only the lost can be found. And Jesus came to raise the dead, and only the dead can be raised. In fact, Jesus Himself exemplifies the least amongst men, the poorest amongst men, the weakest amongst men, the most pitiable amongst men, and the most unrighteous amongst men as men and the world count these things. He came from the heights of the heavenly Jerusalem into the ditch of our Jericho and there He fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and left him half dead upon the cross. But He did this willingly, He did this selflessly with no concern for Himself and His own well-being. He had everything to lose and He willingly lost it all for you.

Now, what keeps you from going and doing likewise? Is it not that you believe that you do have something to lose? Is it that you have your money to lose? Your health? Your reputation? Your life? What is it that you love more than you love God? What is it that you love more than love your neighbor? Jesus invites you to lose it. Jesus invites you to become a loser like Him. For, Jesus’ “You go, and do likewise” is not a command of the Law, but it is an invitation to receive grace like the naked, half-dead man lying in the ditch. When Jesus says, “You go, and do likewise,” it is tantamount to the call, “Take up your cross and follow me.” No, this is not a parable meant to inspire us to go out and do good and then feel good about ourselves because we have been good neighbors. This is a parable about entering the way of Christ.

In baptism you died with Jesus and in baptism you have been raised with Jesus. The life you now live is His life and you live it to God and to your neighbor. Jesus sends you out to your neighbor as lambs in the midst of wolves, that is, He sends you out to die to yourselves for the sake of your neighbor. He has not called you to good works. He has not called you to virtuous worship. He has not called you to outward piety. But He has called you to die with Him and to live with Him in selfless, sacrificial service.

As St. Paul writes in today’s Epistle, “promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring.” One of those promises was that an heir of Abraham’s own flesh would inherit the blessing of the covenant God made with Abraham that in him all the nations of the world would be blessed. Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness. Thus, Paul writes, the righteous will live by faith. When you confess that you are in the ditch, naked, helpless and half-dead, then you sinners will be forgiven, you lost will be found, and you dead will be raised. Only when you have lost everything are you in a position to receive everything by grace. Only when you have received everything by grace are you in a position to lose everything for your neighbor. The man in the ditch had nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Good Samaritan had everything to give because he had nothing to lose. To embrace Jesus (the biggest loser) is to be lost to the world and to everything in it. But the promise remains that “He who loses his life will find it.” And, your lostness is the one thing no one will ever be able to take away from you.

Losing is the name of God’s game, and it’s the only game in town: follow Me, or follow nothing. Following Jesus does not mean imitating the Good Samaritan, but it means taking up your own cross and dying to yourself. It means being so lost that you have nothing to lose so that you can be truly merciful to your neighbor. Don’t worry about imitating the Good Samaritan and his works, as good as they are. Rather, spend your time and energy losing the things that keep you from being lost, dying to the things that keep you from being dead, and then join Jesus in His Passion for sinners, the lost, and the dead. For, the highest worship of God is not in your praises, thanksgivings, and works, but the highest worship of God is in receiving His gifts. Then, when you have died to yourself, repeatedly, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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