Sunday, August 21, 2016

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.
In our Old Testament reading today from 2 Chronicles, the men of Israel had taken captive 200,000 of their own Judean kinsmen, men, women, and children. The LORD had delivered the people of Judah into the hands of their kinsmen because His wrath burned against them and their idolatry. However, the actions of the men of Israel against their southern brethren had far exceeded the righteous judgment of the LORD. The Israelites “killed them in a rage that reached up to heaven,” and they intended “to subjugate the people of Judah and Jerusalem, male and female, as [their] slaves.” Because the Israelites were unmerciful, uncharitable, and unloving to their own kinsmen, the LORD became angry with them. Therefore, Oded, a Prophet of the LORD rebuked them saying, “Have you not sins of your own against the LORD your God? Now hear me, and send back the captives from your relatives whom you have taken, for the fierce wrath of the LORD is upon you.”
The Israelites had somehow forgotten that they were no more righteous in the sight of the LORD according to their own merits than were their southern kinsmen who had fallen into idolatry and apostasy. Thus, the Prophet Oded rebuked them and reminded them of their own sins upon which God’s wrath would be outpoured if they did not repent and show mercy. As Jesus would put it over 700 years later, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
How often do you fail to show mercy to, to be neighbor to, those right in front of you, those closest to you, to your own family members, your kinsmen, and to your brothers and sisters in Christ right here in this sacred space? Charity begins at home – Charity begins in your home, and in this home, the Church. If you do not show love, charity, compassion, and mercy to those who are closest to you, how do you think you will be perceived outside of these walls? Jesus teaches you of a love that reaches beyond the boundaries of your own family and church to people very much unlike yourselves. Satan tempts you, and your flesh is all too eager to agree, that you are right to judge and condemn others for their sins. God condemns homosexual acts, right? Therefore you think that you are justified in condemning homosexuals, while feeling reassured that you are in the right and enjoy the favor of God. How about those how have abortions? Illegal immigrants? Those living together outside of marriage? Those ISIS terrorists you fear and hate? What is your pet sin you like to be so indignant about and that makes you feel better about yourself? “You hypocrite.” Repent. “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Repent, and show charity, mercy, love, and compassion to your brother, your sister, your neighbor, the stranger, even your enemy, or have you forgotten the mercy you have received from the LORD through Jesus Christ who died to set you free and to cleanse you from your sins?
When you refuse to show mercy, compassion, love, charity, and forgiveness you are holding the Law against your brother and you are submitting yourself to its slavery once again. The Gospel of Jesus Christ’s vicarious atonement has set you free from the Law’s condemnation; will you hold others to a slavery from which you have been set free? The Gospel has set you free from the condemnation of the Law that you may do it, that you may keep the Law without coercion and without fear of punishment when you fail. This is true freedom, freedom to love God without asking how much or how often or how sincerely, and freedom to show mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness to your brother, sister, neighbor, and enemy without fear.
That was the sin of the lawyer to whom Jesus taught a lesson about the freedom the Gospel gives to show mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness. The lawyer knew the Law of God well, but he didn’t recognize that he was incapable of keeping it. When Jesus asked him what is written in the Law, the lawyer answered correctly, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all you mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus then said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” The lawyer was not pleased with Jesus’ response, for Jesus did not praise him for keeping the Law as he had expected, but implied that, though he knew the Law, he failed to keep it. Though the lawyer was right in saying that love is the fulfillment of the Law, he did not keep the Law by showing mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness to others, particularly to those who were unlike himself. Therefore Jesus told the lawyer a story, a parable, about a priest and a Levite who were so enslaved to the Law that they could not help a fellow Jew who had fallen among thieves and was left for dead bleeding out in a ditch, and a despised Samaritan, unbeholden to the Law, who gave all he had to help a stranger and enemy.
Undoubtedly, the lawyer identified with the priest and the Levite, two outstanding figures of righteousness and piety under the Law of God. Surely, he thought, they were the “good guys,” for they were most like himself. Sadly, they truly were like the lawyer: proud, not thinking of their neighbor, and most importantly, interested in justifying themselves by their keeping of the Law. But, then comes along a Samaritan, hated and despised by the Jews for being idolaters and apostates, much like the Judeans in the Old Testament lesson today. The Samaritan didn’t spend time deciding whether or not is was lawful for him to help the man, but he had compassion on him, went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, set him on his own animal and brought hi to an inn and took care of him. Then he left him, giving the innkeeper money to care for him and promising to repay him for any extra when he returned. The Samaritan knew that the spirit of the Law was love for God and for neighbor, just like the lawyer had answered, but he put his love into action showing mercy and compassion for the man in the ditch, who was a Jew, not like him, and an enemy. Where the priest and the Levite, and the lawyer alike, knew the letter of the law and believed they were right and just in passing by, the Samaritan knew that love is the fulfilling of the Law and that love covers a multitude of sins, his own first. The Samaritan had known love, mercy, and compassion and therefore he freely extended these to his neighbor. He was free from the coercion of the Law and fear of punishment. He was free to keep the Law and do it without fear.
This story is popularly called the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Like so many of the popular titles given pericopes in the Scriptures, this one is also unhelpful. There is no mention of the Samaritan being good, or of the priest, Levite, and lawyer being bad, for that matter. That little word good in the title misdirects our focus upon the works of the Samaritan instead of the much more important thing, his faith in the mercy and forgiveness he himself had received from the LORD. The Samaritan believed and trusted that the LORD loved and forgave him. He knew the LORD’s compassion and mercy, and therefore he was free to love his neighbor, his enemy, without any coercion or fear that he was doing something wrong. It was not that the Samaritan was good, but it was that he was repentant, forgiven, and humble. The so-called Good Samaritan wasn’t good, but he was compassionate and merciful, and that is what the LORD desires from you as well.
“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Jesus asked. “The one who showed him mercy,” the lawyer had to answer. The word proved is an interesting word choice. The Greek word means appeared or seemed to be. Jesus was focusing the lawyer upon the actions of the three men, the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan. The lawyer thought he knew who was righteous and kept the Law, namely the priest and the Levite. However, Jesus’ parable forced the lawyer to confess that it was the Samaritan who appeared to be, who seemed to be, who proved to be neighbor to the man who fell among robbers. The lawyer had answered correctly concerning the Law, love God, and love your neighbor, but now, the same Law by which he sought to justify himself was condemning him. He did not show love. He did not keep the Law. And, neither do you when you refuse to show mercy, compassion, love, and forgiveness to your brother, sister, neighbor, and enemy.
The Lutheran faith, the Christian faith, is a confessional faith. That means that appearances matter. What people see you saying and doing matter. Your words and your deeds are a confession of what you believe in your heart. When you come to church and show reverence in your worship you are making a confession of what you believe about Jesus in your hearts: that He is God, your Savior, and your Lord, and that He is present among you now with His sin-forgiving, faith-increasing, temptation-protecting gifts of Word and Sacrament. And, when you leave this place, what you say and do towards your brother, your sister, your neighbor, and your enemy are a confession of what you believe in your heart that God has done for you, and is doing still for you, in Jesus Christ His Son. So, be careful of what you do and what you say, and do not judge and condemn others without first considering your own sins, failings, and unworthiness. This is not an exhortation to bless sinful behavior. That you can never do. But, this is an exhortation to love the sinner, to love all sinners, all the time, just as your LORD and God has loved, and continues to love, sinful you. Only sinners can be forgiven, and there is no one for whom Jesus did not die that their sins might be forgiven. Let your words and deeds communicate to all, without discrimination, that the forgiveness you enjoy is available to them and to all, to the glory of our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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