Sunday, August 31, 2014
Homily for The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 11)
Luke 18:9-14; 1 Corinthians 15:1-10; Genesis 4:1-15
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It wasn’t the sacrifice that was the problem. They both returned to The LORD a portion of what He had first given them, just like you do. Cain offered a portion of his harvest, and Abel offered the firstborn of his flock. It was meet, right, and salutary to do, just as it is meet, right, and salutary for you to return to the LORD a portion of what He has given to you in thanksgiving and praise. Your offering, your sacrifice, is a confession of your faith – what you believe about The LORD and about the things, even your life, your faith, that He has given you. Anything you might return to Him is already His. However, in returning it you are confessing this truth. You are confessing your faith in the LORD, that He is the LORD and that you are not, that the things you offer to Him are truly His and not yours, that you trust in Him with all your heart, soul, and mind that He will provide for you what you need, that He lovingly provides you with all that you need for your body and life out of Fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in yourself. And so, it’s not that the LORD prefers animal sacrifice to a grain offering. No, It’s not that at all. In truth, I don’t believe that the LORD cares that much about what you offer and sacrifice. But He cares immensely about why you offer and sacrifice.
The preacher to the Hebrews explains it this way: “By faith Abel offered The LORD a greater sacrifice than Cain, and through his faith he was commended as righteous, because The LORD commended him for his offerings.” You see, it was not what Abel offered, but rather why, that The LORD commended. The LORD commended Abel’s faith. Then, as a result, the LORD also commended Abel’s offering, His sacrifice. Indeed, this is precisely how the LORD would receive Abram and his faith hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of years later. The LORD credited Abram’s faith to him as righteousness. It wasn’t righteousness, of course, on it’s own, Abram’s sin-corrupted and weak faith, but rather, the LORD chose to view it that way – the LORD chose to view Abram’s faith as righteousness.
We see this scenario played out, a little differently, in the sacrifices of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. In that situation, both Elijah and the prophets of Baal offered the exact same sacrifice, a bull. As the story goes, the LORD accepted Elijah’s sacrifice even though three times – in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – he had poured four jars of water on the wood of the pyre. “Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” All the while, the prophets of Baal limped around the altar they had made and cut themselves and raved on, “but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.” Of course, the prophets of Baal did not believe that they were sacrificing to the God of Elijah, but to the demon god Baal. Here the LORD demonstrated by His prophet Elijah that there is no other God but the LORD. We construct gods – false gods and idols – out of things that the LORD has made – wood, stone, iron, etc. – and too often, we make ourselves out to be god. Then our sacrifices and offerings are like Cain’s and the prophets of Baal – the work of our hands, our actions, our wisdom. There is no faith in the LORD, so there is no one to accept the sacrifice, to answer, or to justify. Just as the fool has himself for a lawyer, so does the idolater have himself for a god. If your god is yourself, then no one can hear you, speak to you, or help you but yourself. Good luck with that.
However, there’s a whole lot more to what the LORD desires from you in sacrifice and offering. The LORD desires from you love – true love – that is selfless and sacrificial love, like the love with which He loves you, the love that the LORD says is the fulfilling of the Law, the love Jesus teaches there is nothing greater than. We pick up on this in the latter portion of the story about Cain and Abel. After Cain had murdered his brother out of jealously and rage, the LORD asked him, “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain infamously answered, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” Indeed, Cain was his brother’s keeper. And so are you your brother’s, your neighbor’s keeper. Not only did Cain not help and befriend his brother in every bodily need, but Cain hurt and harmed his brother in his body – Cain murdered his brother. So, too, do you murder your brother and your neighbor when you have no care for him at all. Your Lord Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Jesus interprets the Fifth commandment much more broadly than did the Pharisees and the scribes, much more broadly than did Cain, having the Law of the LORD written upon his heart, who asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” “But, Pastor, this has nothing to do with making sacrifices and offerings to the LORD,” you say? Jesus follows up His teaching about the Fifth Commandment saying, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
What might your brother here in church have against you? What might your neighbor in the world have against you? What might your brother or sister, son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother have against you? Who have you hurt or harmed in their bodies, by thought, word, or deed? Who have you not helped and befriended when you had the opportunity, by thought, word, or deed? How often have you felt in your heart, thought in your mind, or spoke with your mouth, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Why does the Lord say to leave your gift at the altar and first be reconciled to your brother? Because, anger, hate, and lack of concern for your brother, which is apathy, are the very opposite of love. These things corrupt your offering. They pollute your sacrifice. And they are symptomatic of a deeper problem – idolatry, self-love, making yourself to be god. These are the characteristics of Cain, not Abram. These are the characteristics exemplified in the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable.
St. Luke prefaces this parable of our Lord by saying, “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” Right away we see the two-fold problem, the cause and the effect, of lovelessness and idolatry: “They trusted in themselves that they were righteous” and so as a result “they treated others with contempt.” The Pharisee clearly trusted in himself that he was righteous: He set himself apart from other worshippers. He thanked God that he was not like other men, even naming a list of notorious sinners, but especially the lowly tax collector kneeling behind him. He named his works before the LORD – fasting, tithing, etc. It was in these things, his works, that he placed his fear, love, and trust – not the LORD. He took credit for these things. What he gave was from himself, his own offering, his own sacrifice. He did not love the LORD, but he loved himself. He did not love the LORD, so he could not possibly love his brother, his neighbor, “extortioners, the unjust, adulterers, or even the lowly tax collector.” This is the fruit of original sin – idolatry; the same sin committed by Cain and his and our parents.
The tax collector, or the publican for you King James devotees, is the picture of humility. He stands far off. He does not look up, but beats his breast in repentance and grief over his sins. He boasts of no works, no goodness, no righteousness, but he throws himself upon the mercy of the LORD. Jesus says that “this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” This is because justification is gift of the LORD’s grace which you receive by faith, not by works and merit. The tax collector had faith – even if it was weak faith, sin-tainted and corrupted faith – and the LORD credited the man’s faith to him as righteousness. It wasn’t righteousness, of course, on it’s own, but rather, the LORD chose to view it that way – the LORD chose to view the tax collector’s faith as righteousness.
Hear these Words of the LORD: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” Thus, even St. Paul confesses, “I worked harder than any of [the Apostles], though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” Let your daily prayer continually be what you prayed in today’s Collect: “Pour down upon us the abundance of Your mercy, forgiving those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things that we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Christ, our lord.”
Come, now, and receive “those good things that we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Christ, our Lord” – the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, and the keeping and protecting of your life today, through death into eternal life. Come and receive the sacrifice that the LORD has made for you, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. Come, eat His body and drink His blood and live. “For, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.