Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sermon: Trinity 13 – 2011

18 September 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 10:23-37

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

A lawyer comes to ask Jesus a question. But when lawyers ask questions, quite often they aren’t really questions at all, but rather arguments. Whether this lawyer is genuinely seeking the truth regarding eternal life or if he has some other motive isn’t really known – at least not from his initial question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

But his question is odd. It’s a weird question. For the two verbs: “do” and “inherit” don’t really go together. To inherit something is an act of grace. It is the act of receiving a gift from someone who has died. The question “what shall I do?” just doesn’t fit. It implies that one can control the dead. The question: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” presumes that you can earn God’s grace.

Our Lord sees through the question – and He baits the lawyer with a question of his own – actually two questions: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” Jesus asks the lawyer a factual question and asks for his own spin on it.

And what lawyer is going to refuse such a softball? He winds up and gets ready to hit it out of the park. “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.” He cites the chapter and verse of the law. But the lawyer neglects to explain it how he “reads” it. Of course, if he really understood it, he would not be asking the Teacher for the explanation.

And notice our Lord’s answer: “Yeah, you’re right. Just keep the law perfectly.” Jesus has out-lawyered the lawyer. He has painted his opponent into a corner. The only way out of this corner would be for the lawyer to say: “But I cannot! I cannot by my own power or strength keep the law!” He could have said: “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess all my sins and iniquities.” He could have at least said: “I don’t understand, please explain.”

But he doesn’t.

“But he, desiring to justify himself,” posed another question. And this time, the question is no question at all: it is definitely an argument. For he was “desiring to justify himself.”

Dear brothers and sisters, when confronted with the law, when called to repentance for our sins, when forced to confront the impossible reality of “do this, and you will live,” we have two choices: either confess and receive the mercy of the Lord, or seek justification from somewhere else: from our reason, from our delusion that we are good people, or from a watering down of the law. Our lawyer knew what the law said, but he did not know how to read it! Perhaps more accurately, he did not know how to read himself, his sinful heart, his corrupted nature: the part of him that was is rebellion against God and refused to admit it.

“Desiring to justify himself.”

As sinners who fall short of the law’s demands, there is only One who can, and does, justify us: and it is not ourselves. Rather, it is Christ. It is Christ who comes to us in the flesh; Christ who teaches us both the law and the gospel; Christ who dies as a ransom for our sins, Christ who rises for our justification; Christ who ordains the apostles and establishes the Holy Sacraments and the preaching of the Holy Word.

It is Christ and Christ alone who justifies us.

To make this point, our Lord tells a story. It is a familiar story called The Good Samaritan. In this parable, the hero is a man who is despised by his neighbors and brothers, and yet, the hero does what is right, motivated by love, and does not think about how it affects himself.

It is the story of the Truly Good Samaritan, Jesus, despised by His neighbors and brothers to the point of being nailed to a cross. And even knowing this, He obeys His Father’s will and does what is right and just and salutary, carrying out the self-sacrifice that pays for our sins, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves: loving the Lord His God with all His heart and with all His soul and with all His strength and with all His mind, and His neighbor as Himself.”

He does this, and dies. And yet, He also rises. He lives. And He gives this life to us, dear friends!

The Samaritan in the story does for us half-dead victims of this fallen world what all the priests and Levites won’t, and can’t, do. The Truly Good Samaritan rescues us. He binds up our wounds. He applies the wine and oil. He takes us to the hospitality of His Father. He pays for us. And He promises us do even more for us according to our needs. And He vows to come back for us.

In short, He justifies us so that we do not have to even try to justify ourselves!

He saves us out of love, and He implores us to “go and do likewise” – not to justify ourselves (as if we could ever do that), but rather to show love and mercy to our neighbors, who are likewise battered and beaten up by the ups and downs of this fallen world.

Instead of the lie of self-justification, our lawyer heard the truth of divine mercy.

Jesus is our Good Samaritan, dear friends! Jesus is our rescue, our life, our justification! He forgives us, heals us, takes us home, and continues to watch over us – even until His promised return.

Yes, indeed, our Lord out-lawyers the lawyers because He keeps the law for us outlaws. Let us confess! Let us receive Him who receives us in our wounded condition. Let us inherit eternal life! Let us be justified by the Justifier and saved by the Savior. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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