Friday, July 19, 2013

Homily Proper 10 - Luke 10:25-37, July 14, 2013

"… wanting to justify himself..."
            I had a good reason for doing what I did.  Or did not do.  You understand, right?  But she hit me first.  They don't pay me enough for my work, so I helped myself to some of the money.  I’m sorry - I did not get enough sleep.  God forgives me anyway, so it does not matter what I do.  Compared to those evil people, what I do is not that bad.  Everyone else does it.  I mostly do the right thing and so my few mess-ups are not that big of a deal.  It’s not my fault.
            Justifications.  We know them.  We hear them.  We have said them to justify ourselves.  To make what is wrong appear right.  Interesting that the religious expert was first trying to test Jesus, to make the right Christ look wrong.  The Savior turns the tables – “Well what do the Scriptures say is necessary to earn eternal life?  You know the answer to your question.”  And suddenly the hunter finds himself trapped.
           He figures he loves God enough.  But he knows he does not love every person the same way he loves himself.  So there has to be a limit, right?  Who is my neighbor?  Let's be reasonable here, Jesus.  There are some people whom I do not have to love, right?  I mean, they do not deserve it.
            You hear the justification in his words.  His love does not measure up.  And so where he does not have love for his fellow man, well, God understands and does not expect that from him. 
            Do you hear the justifications in your own words?  Those who know we are saved by God’s grace and not by our works will right away hear what is wrong with the man’s question.  “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?”  How ridiculous, right?  You cannot earn Heaven.  You can never do enough right to get yourself in, to make up for the sins you have done and the good you failed to do.  And besides, Jesus did it all – everything necessary to earn our place in Heaven.  By Christ's death, we inherit eternal life.
            So why do you and I still justify our evil?  Why do you and I even spend time coming up with ways to explain it should not be a problem when we do the wrong – or fail to do the right?  Why do we find reasons that our spouse, or friends, or family, or the stranger we just happen to come across on our journey deserve less than our best?  “They need to put up with my rudeness because I am having a rotten day.”  Or any of the other excuses we give as we try to justify our actions.
            Why do we not simply apologize?  Confess our sins and ask for forgiveness?  “Well, the person might not forgive me.”  That is true.  But you know God does not say you only have to do the right thing if you know the other person will respond the right way.  He expects us to love Him with all our heart and all our strength – and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  And I know I do not care for it when others try to give me lame excuses for their bad behavior, so why do I do it to them?
            Sin beats us senseless.  When we look at our thoughts and actions in the light of Christ, it makes no
sense.  We might not see how our sin hurts anyone, but the Lord assures us it victimizes our neighbors – and ourselves.
            Along comes God the Samaritan, the Christ from the faraway land of Heaven to this unholy world so foreign from the Paradise God created.  He finds us along the side of the road, robbed by sin.  Beaten up and left for dead by the evils we have done and the evils done to us.  His love and compassion go all the way
to the depths of His spirit.  In our language we talk about our hearts being moved, feelings from the hearts, tugging at our heartstrings and so on.  But the Greek word for compassion is splachna – your spleen, in your guts, the depths of your stomach is where they said you feel this deep care and concern.
            Moved by this deep love, Christ sets to work healing our wounds with His Gospel, cleansing all the infections of unrighteousness, washing away the filth with Baptism, forgiving us, feeding us with His Supper to nurse us back to health and wholeness, raising us up to live our new lives in Him to the glory of His Father.  Just as the Samaritan promised to return and take care of everything, so also that is what Christ Jesus promises us.
            When you have received such great love it moves you to compassion for others too.  We love because God first loved us – not just doing good for others, but actually caring about them.  As 2 Corinthians 1 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 
            You can see how Christians throughout the centuries have responded to the comfort God has given them by sharing that comfort.  How many hospitals or orphanages were started by Christians out of
compassion for the stranger in need because Christians took the Good Samaritan to heart?  And in our own day it is impossible to count all the different ways Christians work to relieve suffering and hardships.
            Of course it does not have to be some great big work that will last for years like building hospitals.  You do not have to worry about going out and finding people to help.  You have plenty of opportunities to show mercy to neighbors as you simply go about your day and God puts them in your path.  In some cases you might fix their problems.  In other cases you simply will not have the ability, the knowledge, the money, the skills to do it.  In short, you are not the Savior.  It is sad that while we try all sorts of ways to get out of doing what we can do, we feel bad about things we cannot do.
            However, though you are not the Savior, you know the Savior.  In any and every circumstance what
you can do is pray.  So often we fail to take that good work seriously, to take it for granted, to see it as not doing much.  However, the God who grants us the privilege of praying to Him – He certainly takes it seriously.  The Lord sees it as such a good thing, such an important thing, that He commands it, and promises to receive our requests for our neighbors.  And so on their behalf we take their concerns to God's throne of mercy through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
            Now here is the thing.  As I talk about our good works of mercy, Sin is already at the door of people’s minds, going to work, getting people to think about the works and forget about our Savior’s work - like the religious expert who tested Jesus.  He wants to know, “Who is my neighbor” because he is thinking about his works and afraid that everyone is his neighbor and knows he can’t do good works for all of them, so he is hoping for a smaller number.
            However, did you notice Christ’s question is not, “Who is your neighbor?”  His question is who “proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  And that answer is NOT everyone.  Only one Man proves Himself to be a merciful neighbor without exception or excuse.  Only one man loves God with all His heart and with all His soul and with all His strength and with all His mind.  Only one Man is neighbor to everyone, loving all His neighbors as He loves Himself – loving us to His dying breath.  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Only the Son of God paid to restore you from the wounds of sin.  And the Son of God promises to return to care for you through His death and resurrection.  On account of Christ, true God and true Man, all of your evil excuses are also forgiven.  Amen.