Sunday after Trinity
ďLiving Under MercyĒ
August 27, 2006
Epistle Lesson and Gospel Lesson both define the gospel. The Epistle Lesson defines the gospel according to the fact
of it. The fact is that
Jesus died for our sins just as the Bible said He would.
He was buried, and rose the third day.
The gospel is the death of Jesus for our sins and His
resurrection from the dead. This
is no myth. He was seen by
many witnesses. They were
witnesses in the literal sense of the word.
They did not simply have a religious experience.
With their own eyes they saw Jesus alive from the dead after He
had died on the cross. Over
five hundred people saw Him at the same time.
The gospel is fact, not fiction.
Jesus died for our sins, was buried and rose from the dead on the
the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector the gospel is defined
according to the reception of it. The
fact that Jesus died for your sins will not benefit you unless you
receive the forgiveness of sins that His death provides.
The fact of the gospel is rooted in history that has happened
once and for all. Jesus
died once and for all. He
cannot die again or rise again. Itís
history. The reception of the gospel takes place here and now when and
where we live. And itís
not as if you receive it just once in a onetime dramatic religious
experience. You receive it
in your need and without your need you wonít receive it.
Thatís the message of the parable our Lord tells us or the
Pharisee and the publican.
once said that hunger is the best cook.
Jesus said, ďBlessed are they that hunger and thirst for
righteousness, for they shall be filled.Ē
The gospel is factual. It
is historical. It isnít
simply a matter of opinion. Itís
true whether or not you believe it, or experience any joy from it.
But the gospel is not just fact.
The gospel is Godís promise.
The gospel does something for you.
It gives to you what you hunger for.
It gives you the righteousness that Jesus promised.
It satisfies your spiritual needs.
It quenches your spiritual thirst.
But this promise is for the hungry.
It is for the thirsty.
Some folks see little point in
going to church on a Sunday morning, or at any other time for that
matter. Work, travel, and
various social events take precedence over going to church.
The idea that going to church on a Sunday morning is a religious
obligation is somewhat passť. There
are few religious obligations these days.
Where there is little sense of duty, there will have to be a
sense of need. But there is
often neither duty nor need.
The Pharisee understood his
duty. He took it quite seriously.
And he wasnít willing to do just the bare minimum.
He didnít fast just a few times a year as was expected.
He fasted twice a week. He
didnít just give a tenth on some of his income.
He tithed on all of his income.
He didnít just do what the law required.
He went above and beyond the lawís demands.
He took his religion seriously.
He gave thanks to God. He
did his duty.
If more people practiced their
religion with the seriousness of that Pharisee the world would be a
better place. When he contrasted himself from other men he was not lying.
He didnít extort money from others the way tax collectors did.
He didnít cheat his neighbor.
He didnít commit adultery.
He was a decent man and a good citizen.
And he thanked God for it. He
saw what a righteous man he was and did not neglect to give credit where
credit was due. He thanked
God. He remembered that he owed thanksgiving to God for Godís
great generosity toward him. So
he went to the temple to offer praise to God.
His work, his leisure, his social life, and his travels did not
keep him away from his religious duty.
But he did not go home justified.
God did not accept his praise.
God did not receive his thanksgiving.
His worship was in vain and his duty was left undone.
He might as well have stayed at home.
What was lacking?
Faith was lacking. But
surely the man believed in God! He
took Godís law seriously. He
went to Godís temple to pray. He
thanked God for making him the man he was.
How can anyone say that the man lacked faith?
He certainly gave greater evidence of believing in God than do
those who donít bother to go to church at all or only when they feel
particularly religious. And
they claim to believe in God! Surely
the Pharisee believed in God!
Well, yes, he did, after a
fashion. He believed that
God was good. He believed
that God blessed him with good things. He believed that God required
obedience. He believed that God calls on us all to do our duty.
If this is what faith is then the man had faith.
But this is not what faith is. Faith is born in humility.
Faith is the gift of God. God
elicits, established, and strengthens faith in your heart only after he
humbles you. Whoever exalts
himself will be humbled. It
will happen now or it will happen on Judgment Day, but it will happen.
You cannot exalt yourself. God
is not impressed by our claims. When
we presume to think we are more righteous than others we need to
remember that God knows how righteous we really are.
He doesnít look merely at the outward act.
He sees every motive. He
knows where our hearts are. He
understands sin better than sinners do.
There is a knowledge from which we will run and hide.
We must be abased. We
must be humbled. And God
Himself must do it. When He
does He is preparing us to receive the gospel.
Now Iím not saying that there
is a certain kind of religious experience that you must experience.
You must feel just this way.
You must say just these words.
You must be able to examine your inner contrition and find the
right level of sincerity, the correct amount of humility.
Not at all. The tax
collector went home justified. What
did he see in himself? Nothing
but sin. ďGod, be
merciful to me, the sinner.Ē Thatís
it. He lays claim to
nothing but Godís mercy. This is what repentance is all about. We donít quibble with God.
We donít engage in a spiritual comparison with others.
We donít measure how deep our sins are and how good our
righteousness is to see if perhaps our righteousness might outweigh our
sin. No, we confess.
How can we possibly understand our own sin?
The very nature of sin is that it darkens the mind, confusing and
misleading us. The humility
out of which God exalts us is not a precondition that we must meet.
It is rejecting any and all reliance on ourselves, confessing our
utter sin and unworthiness, and throwing ourselves on the mercy of God
Faith is trust.
But it is not an unfocused trust in the general goodness of God.
The tax collector prayed: ďGod, be merciful to me, the
sinner.Ē It was a plea
for forgiveness. He was
asking that God not look upon his sin but look instead at the sacrifice
for sin. God be propitiated
to me. Thatís what he
prayed. Turn aside your
anger. Donít judge me
according to my sins. Judge
me according to your mercy. Donít
look at what I have done. Look
to the blood shed for me. For
the sake of the blood, turn your face of anger away from me and let your
face of grace shine upon me instead.
It is as we sing in the hymn:
naught, my God, to offer,
There is a popular opinion held
by folks who donít go to the temple to pray.
It is that religious folks are generally like the Pharisee.
The alleged hypocrisy of churchgoing Christians is frequently
given as an excuse to avoid going to church altogether.
Look at all of the hypocrites that go to church!
Yes, a whole lot of hypocrites go to church.
And a whole lot more stay home.
Religious hypocrisy is not limited to those who set out to do
their religious duty as the Pharisee in Christís parable did.
Religious hypocrisy is endemic among those who ignore their
religious duty. There are
two features of the Phariseeís religion that they retain with vigor.
They trust in themselves that they are righteous and they look
down on others. They trust
in themselves that they are righteous.
They donít need to hear the gospel.
The fact of it is irrelevant to them.
The reception of it doesnít cross their minds.
They think they are good enough for God just as they are.
And when you trust in yourself that you are good you will look
down on others. Itís easy
to see their faults when you are blind to your own.
Indeed, the less you can see your own sins the easier it is to
see the sins of others.
Those who live under mercy can
show mercy. You know
yourself as a sinner. You
donít trust in yourself that you are righteous.
You know you are not. You
cry out for Godís mercy. God
justifies you. He covers your sin with the blood of Jesus.
He directs against His dear Son the anger that you earned by your
repeated disobedience. His
innocent Son became your brother. Now
God punishes His innocent Son in
your place. His anger
against all of sinful humanity is poured out upon Christ alone. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, quenches that anger.
He takes it away. He bears all your sins away.
And every time you come to church to pray, Jesus is here.
Every time you confess your sins, Jesus, through His minister,
absolves you. You donít
throw up to God any kind of promise or merit or excuse.
You plead only two things: your need and Godís mercy.
Godís mercy is only in Jesus Christ, and wherever Christ is,
there God is merciful. So
you come to the temple to pray. You
come to meet Jesus. He
never fails to cover your sin with His righteousness and your shame with
His holiness. You receive
the gospel. You eat and
drink the body and blood of the Lord Jesus.
You go home justified. That
means youíre a saint.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus