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Collect of the Day

Almighty and everlasting God, always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than we either desire or deserve, pour down upon us the abundance of Your mercy, forgiving those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things that we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.

Introit: Psalm 68

Old Testament: Genesis 4:1-15

Epistle: Ephesians 2:1-10

Holy Gospel: Luke 18:9-14

Sermon Text:

Every religion out there wants to show people a way they can be righteous before God and be saved. If you’re a Buddhist, follow the eightfold path. For the Muslim you just follow the five pillars of Islam. For the Jew, keep the law of Moses and the traditions of the elders. The numerous religions out there are all basically set upon the same premise: A person can be righteous, saved, and delivered through good works and moral improvement.

But look at our first reading today. Consider the first offspring of the human race. Adam and Eve had two sons: Cain and Abel. Both of them in fact brought the best of what they had to offer to the Lord. Cain’s offering, however, was rejected. He offered it from a faith that believed that God owed him for what he had done. His was a works-righteous faith. Abel’s offering was accepted because he offered it from a faith that trusted in God’s unmerited mercy. Abel’s faith was faith in God’s grace.

Cain had contempt for his brother Abel. His anger flashed and burned, and so he rose up and killed his brother. The self-centeredness of Cain’s works-righteous faith is seen in the fact that he had no regard for his brother: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” What an opportunity God gave Cain, to repent, and be saved!

But he would not. Cain was an unbeliever. All the false religions of the world can be distilled down to the religion of Cain: a works-righteous faith in himself and his own accomplishments. Cain, that tiller of the dust of the ground, represents all mankind. Sinful, filled with pride, and rebelling against the God of love.

But Abel. Abel was a believer. His offering was accepted because he offered it from faith in God’s grace and mercy. He is a picture of faith. The first martyr of the Holy Gospel. In fact Abel, the shepherd of sheep, represents our Lord, the Good Shepherd, the true man of faith who laid down His life for the sheep.

This morning Jesus tells a parable. And St. Luke tells us why he told it and to whom he told it: to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt:

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisees prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” But you know that’s no prayer at all. For he’s just praying to himself, congratulating himself. Not praising and lauding God but honoring and praising himself. Oh, he’s worshiping to be sure. But he’s worshiping the temple of his own heart. It’s an old-time religion. It’s the religion of Cain. The religion of the tower of Babel. It’s the religion of self-righteousness, for which Jesus last week cleansed the temple of Jerusalem, and predicted its utter destruction.

Now direct your eyes to that tax collector. Because when he looks around, he’s not rubbernecking at the sins of others. He’s not preening, strutting, and comparing himself to others. He’s taking a cold hard look within. And seeing things as they really are. The way St. Paul preached in our epistle this morning: That he was dead in his sin, a child of wrath, like the rest of mankind. He saw that nothing good dwelled within him.

But like Abel, this tax collector believed the Gospel. He believed that God’s salvation to sinners was a gift of His grace, all received through faith in the promise. The promise of the Messiah. “By grace you have been saved through faith,” preached Paul this morning: “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

So Jesus ends the parable with these words: I tell you, this man went home justified, that is, declared righteous before God in heaven, rather than that Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Both men sinners. Both in need of Christ and His forgiveness. But only one man justified and declared righteous by God.

So let’s take a little look at the tax collector’s prayer. That way we can learn about the content of his faith. So how does that tax collector pray? Again, his eyes aren’t roaming back and forth, rubbernecking at the shortcoming of others, contemptuous of those who aren’t like him. His eyes are focused on his sins. But even more focused on the mercy of God.

His prayer this morning is translated as “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” And that’s a good prayer, no doubt about it. But that word translated here as mercy might also be translated as propitiation. It’s the word for the mercy seat in the Old Testament. Remember, that golden lid that covered the ark of the covenant containing the two stone tablets of Ten Commandments. That golden lid, that mercy seat, stood between God’s Law and that tax collector. And on that mercy seat was sprinkled blood, atonement blood – propitiating blood.

So when the tax collector goes to the temple to pray, he prays in this way: God be propitious to me. Make payment for me. Send your Son, the Messiah, to be a sacrifice for me. That His atoning blood would cover me, cleanse me, absolve me, and set me free.

God answered that prayer. By sending His Son, Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, to shed His blood on the cross, to suffer and die. And this time He wasn’t enthroned between two cherubim but instead enthroned between two criminals, gasping upon the cross. To make atonement, to sprinkle forgiving blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Blood that speaks more loudly and clearly than Abel’s lamb ever could. The blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world. Blood that bespeaks us righteous.

This morning we remember there are two religions in the world. There is the religion of Cain, which trusts in self. It is a works-righteous faith which only damns. This is the faith of the Pharisee. Then there is the religion of Abel: faith is God’s unmerited grace and mercy. A faith which trusts in the righteousness of Christ, which alone avails before God.

Dear Christians, in today’s parable Jesus also shows us how we are to live with one another. It shows us what the church is all about. Not people who have their act together, but poor sinners, pleading for mercy, and then living together from the mercy they receive from the hand of God.

Let’s not pretend to be anything other than what we are: forgiven sinners. There’s no point in looking down on one another, as though some were worse than others. We are, after all, all brothers and sisters, all a family, where each and all say with the humility of Paul: “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” And so we visit, and encounter each poor soul, in true Christian friendship, considering them as fellow recipients of the eternal love of Christ. Who was willing to suffer and die to set them free.

Our Lord Jesus was often charged and maligned with these words: “This man, he receives tax collectors and sinners and eats with them.” But praise be to God that this man Jesus also eats with Pharisees and is eager to forgive them too! In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Hymn of the Day: Oh, How Great Is Your Compassion LSB #559

Author: Johann Olearius, 1611-84

Translator: August Crull, 1845-1923 (alt.)

1 Oh, how great is Your compassion,

Faithful Father, God of grace,

That with all our fallen race

In our depth of degradation

You had mercy so that we

Might be saved eternally!

2 Your great love for this hath striven

That we may, from sin made free,

Live with You eternally.

Your dear Son Himself has given

And extends His gracious call,

To His Supper leads us all.

3 Firmly to our souls' salvation

Witnesses Your Spirit, Lord,

In Your Sacraments and Word.

There He sends true consolation,

Giving us the gift of faith

That we fear not hell nor death.

4 Lord, Your mercy will not leave me;

Ever will Your truth abide.

Then in You I will confide.

Since Your Word cannot deceive me,

My salvation is to me

Safe and sure eternally.

5 I will praise Your great compassion,

Faithful Father, God of grace,

That with all our fallen race

In our depth of degradation

You had mercy so that we

Might be saved eternally.