Sunday, March 7, 2010

Third Sunday in Lent

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen. +

Text: Luke 13:1-5
Theme: The Nature of Repentance

Dear baptized in the Lord Jesus,

It is human nature to make comparisons. People want to know how they measure up against others. Comparing can be useful. Through it standards of quality or achievement can be set up. Healthy striving for excellence can be encouraged. God generally abhors the pursuit of mediocrity. No where does the Bible allow believers to be apathetic about the blessings they receive from His hand. The Holy Spirit always cultivates within the believer a deeper appreciation of His love and a more genuine concern that it be expressed to others. The devil is often the champion of apathy.

But Satan can champion the practice of comparison too. Comparing isn’t always helpful, and often it is not godly. The person who looks to justify himself often does so by making comparisons with others. The activity is often subtle and cannot be identified by any outward indicators. But the method is standard and straightforward: I feel better about my spiritual status because I believe I’m not quite as bad a sinner as the next person- whom I know has done some terrible things. On this basis we seek to build our confidence (which in reality balloons up as a false sense of security) that God is at least more likely to be favorably disposed towards us than the next person.

Today Jesus categorically renounces judging the degree of other’s sins. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way? I tell you, no!”1 Christ does not entertain a discussion on the nature or severity of their sinfulness. He confirms that they were, indeed, sinners. They weren’t simply victims of Pilate’s ruthless decisions. But they were not worse sinners than others. Jesus mentions a second example. “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them- do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?”2 It is clear that some reasoned their deaths involved divine retribution for specific unrighteousness they had committed. The idea was that there was a certain one-to-one correlation between certain sins and God’s punishment. Again, Jesus refutes this thinking.

The bible teaches the universality of sin and the guilt it brings and there can be no equivocating. The call to repentance is always a call to the integrity of this truth, namely: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”3 And great danger lies in trying to make distinctions. This becomes an important premise for understanding the nature of forgiveness. Luther clarifies with these words, “This repentance is not partial or fragmentary like repentance for actual sins, nor is it uncertain like that. It does not debate what is sin and what is not sin, but lumps everything together and says, ‘We are wholly and altogether sinful.’ We need not spend our time weighing, distinguishing, differentiating. On this account there is no uncertainty in such repentance, for noting is left that we might imagine to be good enough to pay for our sin.”4

When our repentance has the certainty that we’re not holding anything in reserve with which we might still try to make a case in our favour, than we are much closer to appreciating the gospel. Isaiah says today, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, to our God, for He will freely pardon.”5 Nor is repentance a singular event. Though it is punctuated by regular and specific events of confession and forgiveness, it is nevertheless, not to be understood as wholly defined by such distinct occurrences. Rather repentance, which properly includes contrition and faith, is the very dynamic by which our relationship with God is characterized. It involves both attitude and activity. Repentance involves a constant returning to the source of life given in baptism. It’s as if God anchors His life-giving promise there like a well of pure water that can only be accessed in one place. But which spreads it benefits wherever the water is carried and consumed. So it is with the Word of God.

Dear friends, the season of Lent reminds us that daily bearing our cross involves the very thing repentance encompasses: exercising our baptismal faith in the midst of success and failure, adversity and prosperity. This means understanding that the Lamb who was slain is the Saviour who is risen. Everything flows to and from His powerful presence and merciful care. Here realities like humility and joy are important. These are gifts of the Holy Spirit apart from which we could live only in arrogance and a facade of happiness. And we can be certain of these blessings even in the midst of the most sever trial and temptations. Remember the fantastic promise we heard earlier, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”6

The believer’s desire to resist temptation, regardless of how weak, is always a sign that faith exists. Holy desires come from the Holy Spirit. They are never natural tendencies of human nature. And the Holy Spirit never equips us for spiritual autonomy. The power to overcome sin is not an independent possession. The wisdom and strength necessary to battle temptation are not absolute virtues which we can wield at will. We are neither capable of nor responsible for waging the struggle against evil and temptation in an autonomous fashion. We are not like firefighters equipped by God with all the necessary gear and sent out on our own to fight the fire. We’re not like soldiers, trained and equipped to engage the enemy and then sent out with best wishes but no commanders.

This common misunderstanding has far-reaching consequences. It tends toward an understanding of the Christina life which sees God and the church as spiritual ‘resourcers.’ They maybe accessed when we need equipping but otherwise we are led to believe we not only can, but even should have the wherewithal to carry on quite independently. It is important to be clear. The Bible does speak of being clothed with the armour of God. It does speak of employing our spiritual blessings and talents in the interests of others. But this is hardly done in self-reliance and autonomy.

Like the air that fills our lungs, the light that strikes our eyes and the blood that courses thorough our veins, the grace, mercy, compassion, and power of God enliven and sustain us continually. Jesus says, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.”7 And again, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”8 Through the word we receive the Holy Spirit, not once, but again and again. Repeatedly we benefit from the dissemination of Christ’s forgiveness in the sacrament. “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ.”9 Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Third Sunday in Lent
7 March 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 13:2-3
2 Luke 13:4
3 Romans 3:23
4 Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles
5 Isaiah 55:7
6 1 Corinthians 10:13 7 John 15:5
8 Matthew 28:20 9 1 Corinthians 10:16