SERMON FOR THE 11TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 8-12-2018
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
What does it mean? Well two men walked into Luther Memorial Chapel for Divine Service: one a lifelong Lutheran – the other, an inactive member, who had fallen away but now in desperation and tears had darkened the church doorway after many years. The first man looked around and prayed silently “God, I thank you that I’m not like these other men, I’m still married, all my kids are successful, I’m on the village board, church trustees, and rotary club.” He glanced over at the inactive member and thought about that man’s divorce, his kids, who were now addicts or in jail, and said to himself, sure I’m not perfect, but I’m in much better shape than that guy.”
But that second man, entered Luther Memorial, sat in his pew, and barely had the courage to look around. He sure wasn’t in a position to compare himself, and rubberneck at other people’s sins. And how could he? The only sins he saw were his own. He knew God’s judgment on him was just: He had squandered his inheritance. He hurt others by the way he lived. He knew at heart he was a rebel, who deserved nothing good. He was cut to the heart by God law, he knew his condemnation was just. So he prayed, “I a poor miserable sinner” and boy did he mean it. He didn’t just mouth those words, but had the guts to believe them, and take it to heart.”
He was contrite, grieved over his sins. But all the more he had courage to pray - Not to pray like the first man, who only thanked God, that his sins were not so serious. No, this second man prayed and thanked God for his chief attribute which is mercy. “God,” He prayed, “be merciful to me, a sinner.” More accurately “Lord, be propitious toward me, make payment for me, save me from hell and judgment.” Lord make redemption for me. And Greek grammar here is a little interesting because he actually doesn’t say “a sinner” but rather the definite article “the sinner” as if he’s the only sinner in the whole world. In a way, he is writing the hymn, “Chief of Sinner Though I be.” The Lord teaches us this morning saying, “I tell you, this man, this second man, this broken, troubled, repentant sinner, who clung to God’s mercy went home justified, declared righteous before God and the holy angels, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
Dear Christians, the temptation of the pharisee, and that judgmental churchmen, is a temptation that exists within each and every one of us. It’s a temptation toward pride: of strutting around, preening and pruning ourselves, like a peacock, comparing ourselves to others – in a way that’s always favorable toward ourselves. Today we put the brakes on our pride and self-conceit. We learn humility and the danger of looking down on others. And we start by recognizing that every blessing you have, a job, a friend, a retirement account, a halfway decent reputation, a life free from public scandal. Advanced degrees, academic success, a home and food on the table. We must remember one very important principle: Everything we possess, everything we’ve received, we have received from God. Everything we enjoy could just as easily all be taken away in a single day and just as easily be given to another. The begger on the side of the road might as well be you, the welfare bum, the leach on society. Could be you, should be you.
It’s an uncomfortable thought but true. The leftist students and activists in the universities who are generally poorly informed and lacking in real world experience, are in way right about the realities of privilege and inequality. Their diagnosis of these problems are right but they nearly always go wrong in the prescription.
So although hierarchies, and distinctions of persons will always exist, it should be at least a starting point to acknowledge that everything we have is in fact an undeserved privilege. Really for all of us!
It’s something of a miracle that we would enjoy any of these things at all. After all, you confessed this morning in the confession of sins that you actually deserve temporal and eternal punishment for what you’ve done. Remember those words: “I confess unto you all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.” Ever really think about what the means?
How shocking, how surprising then that today God comes in great mercy to dwell with sinners, to receive them in love. Jesus has stepped in, interceded on your behalf. God’s wrath rained down on him instead. He was beaten, scourged, cursed and dead on a tree, that you would be blessed, absolved, and approved by God your Father. Raised up from the dead he brings healing and life, forgiveness and restoration, resurrection to these mortal bodies unto immortality and heavenly bliss. God serves us in the Divine Service, in his body and blood, and if that’s weren’t enough he follows it up with temporal blessings galore: coffee hour, good friends, and the like. How wonderful, how undeserved! Everything a gift – out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in us. Through the holy cross of Jesus comes all good things. We are only recipients of his grace.
So therefore, God keep us from all evil pride, a sin which thrust the Lucifer, that high ranking angel out of heaven. A pride which drove out Adam and Eve from paradise. Pride, which worked murder in the heart of Cain and brought untold suffering, chaos, and destruction for the whole human family.
In Vienna in Austria, there is a church cemetery in which the former ruling family, the Hapsburgs, are all buried. When the royal funeral used to arrive the mourners knocked at the door of the church to be allowed in. The priest inside would ask “Who is it that desires admission here?’ The guard would call out, ‘His apostolic majesty, the royal emperor.’ The priest would answer, “I don’t know him.” They would knock a second time, and again the priest would ask who was there. The funeral guard outside would announce, ‘The highest emperor’.
A second time the priest would say, “I don’t know him.” A third time they would knock on the church door and the priest would ask “Who is it?” The third time the answer would be, “A poor sinner, your brother.” Well then, the funeral could start for the royal family.
In the year 1517, Martin Luther wrote to a friend, George Spenlein, an Augustinian friar, troubled and still learning about justification by faith: Therefore, my dear Friar, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to praise him and, despairing of yourself, say, “Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours. You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not.” Then Luther wrote this to his friend George: “Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners.”
The Scriptures say: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We believe that in the death of Jesus the sins of the whole world were charged to His account in order that His righteousness might be credited to the world.
We believe that God the Father offered up His Son in payment for our sin. Christ’s obedient sacrifice and payment for sin in His death upon the cross fulfilled the whole will and Law of God in our place (Romans 1:16-17 and 3:21-26).
Like that poor tax collector we believe that the chief attribute of our God is mercy. And so we pray like him, God be propitious to us, make redemption for us, pay that enormous debt which I could never pay. And pay he does. He has purchased and won you from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and by his innocent suffering and death. He paid it all, to the last penny and then some!
And how is this treasure acquired? What must a debtor do whose bill has been paid by another - that he would be debt free? Accept the payment! What must a prisoner do whose prison cell has been opened, that he might enjoy the freedom? What must the indicted criminal do, who has been pardoned and received amnesty. He must accept it. Believe it, remember your baptism, and walk before him in righteousness and purity forever.
This righteousness of Christ has been offered, presented, and distributed to all who hear. Paul says, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” and “we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” “And to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
The disciples asked Jesus: how can we do the will of God. To which Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Today in our epistle we heard these words “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Dear friends of God, hold on to this blessed doctrine so that when death finally embraces you, you will not despair but in faith, pray with a glad heart “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” Then you will not merely go down to your house justified – rather you will go up into heavenly mansions declared righteous by all the company of heaven. In the name of Jesus. Amen. May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Prayer of the Church
Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
Be merciful to us, heavenly Father, for daily and much do we sin and transgress Your holy will. For the sake of the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, forgive our sins. Fill us with Your Spirit, that we would remain humble, never forgetting that we have been saved by grace, through faith, which was not our doing, but Your gracious gift. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Be merciful to our neighbors, especially those who have sinned against us and done us harm. Give us patience and strength, that we would deal with them gently and humbly, and that we would be ready to forgive as we have been forgiven. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Be merciful to Your Church both here and in every place. Send forth faithful servants to deliver Your grace and mercy to sinners in need. For Pastor Jacob Gaugert, The Wildauer family, the Cortrights, the Sovitzky family, Dierdre and Temish Christiansen, that true unity in the faith would be found wherever Christ crucified is proclaimed and his mercy extended. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Be merciful to our land, that those with any authority would exercise it with wisdom and righteousness so that we would be enabled to live in freedom and peace. Extend Your mercy unto all nations of the world, that all peoples would know the consolation of Your love. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Be merciful to all those in need, especially children who lack food, clothing and shelter, and provide for their needs. Look in mercy also upon all orphans who are in need of parents to care for them. Provide them with fathers and mothers who will love and care for them as their own. Until such provision is realized, bless those who care for them, that they would do so in love that is filled with mercy and compassion. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Be merciful to the sick and our homebound members especially Carol, Dorothea, Betty, Doris, Cliff and Carol, Teresa, Ethel, and Paul, that they would receive not only temporal relief, but that, in all times and places and under all circumstances, they would know the forgiveness of their sins and the hope of eternal life won for them in Christ Jesus. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Be merciful to those who come to the holy altar today, that they would approach Your throne of grace humbly and with reverence, and that they would receive the true body and blood of Christ in faith and for their highest good, being united in one holy fellowship with all Your saints. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.