Sunday, August 30, 2015

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.
There are many ways to understand and to speak about sin. Sin can be defined as disobedience or rebellion, the breaking of moral rules or “missing the mark,” or simply falling short of God’s commands and expectations for your behavior and life. However, there is another way to understand and to speak about sin that, I believe, gets straight to the heart of the matter: Sin is a failure of love. We love the wrong things, or we love the right things in the wrong way. Either way, sin is a failure of love.
This understanding of sin gets straight to the heart of the matter, because it gets straight to the heart of the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” Luther explains the First Commandment in his Small Catechism in this way: “You shall fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Concerning fear and love, St. John writes in his first epistle, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Likewise, concerning trust and love, St. Paul writes in his first epistle to the Corinthians, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Even Luther’s use of fear and trust in God in his explanation of the First Commandment directs you to love, the fulfilling of the Law.
That you love, what you love, and how you love is directly connected to what you believe about God, what you think about God, and whether you trust in God above all things. That you love, what you love, and how you love is what is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching today in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. For, what you fear, what you love, and what you trust in will permit, or prohibit, you from loving your neighbor. Fear, love, and trust in God above all things frees you to love in any, and all, situations, any, and all, of your neighbors, without fear.
Jesus had just sent out the seventy-two before Him to proclaim peace and that the kingdom of God was near. He sent them with this promise alone, “The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” The seventy-two returned with joy at their success proclaiming, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your Name!” Jesus acknowledged this truth and rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, but He exhorted them to not to rejoice in the subjection of spirits, but to rejoice that their names were written in heaven. Then, Jesus prayed, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
This prayer of Jesus leads you directly into today’s Gospel. Turning to His disciples, Jesus said to them privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” But, what was it that Jesus’ disciples could see that the prophets and kings of old did not? Well, to put it plainly, they saw Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and the covenant promises of God. More to the point, however, Jesus’ disciples saw that God was not their enemy, that they should fear Him, not as a cruel master, but as a loving Father, and that they were not slaves of legalism, but free to act in the same love they had freely received from their loving God.
Immediately, a lawyer, a student of God’s Law, stood up to put Jesus to the test. The lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer’s question exposed his misconceptions about God’s Law and of how men are saved. You cannot do anything to merit inheritance. An inheritance is something that you receive freely because of your relationship with the giver of the inheritance. However, the lawyer was not interested in a relationship with God. Instead, he desired to merit eternal life by his works. He did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but he feared, loved, and trusted in himself and in his works. Therefore, Jesus answered the lawyer’s Law question with a Law answer: He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
However, the lawyer was not satisfied. Jesus had pricked his conscience by saying “Do this, and you will live.” The lawyer knew that he did not properly love God or his neighbor, and Jesus’ command to “Do this, and you will live” let him know the Jesus knew that he did not properly love God or his neighbor too. The lawyer’s sin was a failure of love – He did not love God above all things. Instead, the lawyer loved himself, and he trusted in his works. He despised God’s Law and saw Him as a cruel master instead of a loving Father. And, because he did not love God, he could not love his neighbor.
Thus, seeking to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, “And, who is my neighbor.” Since he did not love God, but feared Him as a cruel master and despised His Law, the lawyer sought to find a loophole, a way around the Law’s demands so that he could justify himself. This is kind of like an employee doing only the minimal, perfunctory duties his job requires, and doing them spitefully and full of loathing for his vocation and his employer. Because he did not love God, the lawyer could not love his fellow man. However, knowing this, Jesus answered the lawyer’s question this time with a parable, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, so that seeing, he would not see, and hearing, he would not hear.
The parable goes like this: A man was attacked by robbers. They stripped him and beat him and left him for dead by the side of the road. First a priest, and then a Levite, a member of the priestly tribe, passed by. Neither man went to the aid of the man alongside the road. However, next, a Samaritan passed by. The Samaritan helped the man, pouring wine and oil upon his wounds and binding them. He placed him upon his own animal and took him to an inn, providing the innkeeper money to cover for the man’s care with the promise that he would return and pay whatever additional costs were incurred. When Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” the lawyer had no choice but to answer, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
The parable is really quite simple. The priest and the Levite could not help the man who had fallen among robbers because they were in slavery to the Law. They, like the lawyer, were students of God’s Law, experts and teachers of the Law, and yet, they did not see the spirit of the Law, love, but they saw the Law as a cruel master and they obeyed it out of fear of punishment for breaking it and out of pride in what they deemed to be their own meritorious works. Like the lawyer, the sin of the priest and the Levite was a failure of love – they did not love God above all things, therefore they could not love their neighbor, the man who had fallen amongst thieves.
However, the Samaritan came to the man’s aid. Now, the fact that the hero of Jesus’ parable was a Samaritan was not lost on the lawyer. Jews in Jesus’ day considered Samaritans to be corrupted in terms of ancestry from Abraham and, therefore, outside of God’s covenant with Israel. And yet, the Samaritan quite obviously loved his neighbor and had mercy upon him, even as the most respected and revered religious leaders of Israel passed by and did nothing. The Samaritan could love his neighbor because he rightly loved God. He believed God to be loving, gracious, and merciful. He himself had received such love from God. Therefore, he did not view God and His Law as a cruel master, but as a loving Father. The Samaritan was not enslaved to the Law of God, but he was free to love his neighbor and come to his aid.
You see, the Law of God, the moral law of the Ten Commandments and the ceremonial laws that guided the worship and day to day practices of the people of Israel, was given 430 years after the covenant that God made with Abraham. That covenant was not a covenant of Law, but of grace. And, though the Law was given later, it did not annul the covenant of grace. As God once looked upon Abraham with favor and blessed him because Abraham feared, loved, and trusted in Him, still you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, and not by your works of obedience under the Law.
And, as you have freely received, so must you freely give. Jesus’ command, “You go, and do likewise,” is not a command of the Law, but it is an exhortation, even a promise and an empowerment of the Gospel. Just as He sent out His seventy-two to preach the Gospel equipped only with His gift of the authority of His Word, so Jesus sends you out to love your neighbor with His love. However, like the Parable of the Good Samaritan, how you hear Jesus’ words – as a commandment of the Law, or as a promise of the Gospel – is directly related to how you view God and His Law: Do you fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Or, do you fear and despise God and His Law as a cruel master and tyrant? Jesus would have you see Him and His Father the way the disciples and the Good Samaritan did: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!”
What do you have to do to inherit eternal life? You don’t have to do anything, but you do have to be something – You have to be a child of God, a recipient of His love, and a bearer of His love. You are His child, born again of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. You are the recipient of His love poured out for you in Jesus’ holy, innocent blood for the forgiveness of your sins. And you are a bearer of His love when you love others as He has loved you. Such love is not a work, but it is a fruit – Jesus’ fruit. Therefore, it is perfect and holy and pleasing to the Father. When you fear, love, and trust in God above all things, you need not fear God and His Law as cruel master, but receive Him as a loving Father who daily reaches down to you in your death to heal and to bind up the wounds inflicted upon you by sin and Satan. He has carried you here, to this inn, to this hospital, the Church, upon the burdens of His Son Jesus who has paid all that was necessary to heal you, to care for you, and to preserve you until He returns to save you and to take you to His Father’s home in heaven. Come, eat and drink His saving love that you may love God and neighbor and live.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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