Monday, July 12, 2010

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

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

Text: Luke 10:25-37
Theme: The Image of God: A Samaritan?

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God never overlooks the suffering of His people. The perception that He sometimes fails to act in an appropriate or timely manner is due to a lack of perspective on our part. What we see as a tiny piece of the puzzle, He sees as grand, complete mosaic. Coming to terms with this truth is one of the great struggles of the Christian life. God’s apparent weakness or inaction seems to compromise our well-being. Faith must grapple with the reliability of His power and the integrity of His mercy. In the incarnation of Jesus these issues are resolved.

Jesus was known for answering questions with questions. Yet He carefully chose the context to open opportunities for teaching. In response to the question today about how to inherit eternal life Jesus directs the man to the Scriptures. Christ immediately turns the tables and puts this lawyer to the test. He is an expert; he should know what God’s word says. The correct answer was love and the lawyer names it. Love defines the activity of God and is to be reflected in the lives of His followers. God’s unconditional love for the world in Christ, or grace, is the cause of the salvation of all who believe.

The possibility certainly exists that when Jesus asked the man, “How do you read it?”1 He wasn’t only asking for his interpretation of the Scriptures, but asking Him to reflect on the very content of His worship. The faithful Jew recited the words of Deuteronomy 6:4 twice a day: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The next verse contains the lawyer’s response: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”2 This insight stresses the importance of the content of our worship. That which we confess influences what we believe and the opposite is also true. The answer should have been simple for this expert for it was not only the subject of His professional life but the centre of his religious devotion.

Yet this is exactly where the problem lies for him. He seeks to interpret God’s word in such a way that eternal life can be attained by the obedience of love. In order to justify himself he wants to know exactly what the cut-off point is. As a typical legalist he wants to know the minimum amount required to get across the line. In other words, what quantity or degree of love is necessary to be acceptable to God, and thus gain entry into heaven? The defining of who the neighbour is is only one specific case in point. The problems and complications of this mindset universally infect and enslave human nature. Sin is characterized by any and every effort to justify ourselves before God. The belief that this can be done leads to pride, self-righteousness, and idolatry. The realization that we can never be successful at it must finally lead to despair or repentance.

Jesus presses the issue with the so-called story of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan would have been stereotyped as the least likely person to offer help. The improbability of the event is reinforced by the lengths the Samaritan went to to help the injured man. It wasn’t just that he stopped to lend a hand and attend to his injuries. He took him to an inn, paid the expenses and pledged to come back and pay more if necessary. His compassion was comprehensive. His mercy was complete.

The story is misused if it is taught as a moralism. The Samaritan certainly did the ethical thing. But more importantly he did what was exceptional and unexpected because he was driven by grace and not limited by legalistic or ulterior motives. This Samaritan was an image of Christ Himself. The grace of Christ breaks all boundaries and shatters all limitations.
Christ loves sinners not because it should be expected of Him. Justice would demand that He condemn everyone for unrighteousness. In so doing the integrity of the law could be upheld. But instead Christ shoulders the condemnation in our place and on our behalf; and as our substitute the law is still upheld.

Dear friends, we do not measure our sanctification by keeping record of the activities that fulfill God’s law. The law begins to be kept the moment one believes. Faith grasps Christ and Christ is the one who kept the law for us perfectly. The apostle says, “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”3 In Christ the law loses its power to accuse and even death loses its sting. Whenever we try to stand before God- that is to try to justify ourselves, excuse ourselves, or promote ourselves (even if it involves the tiniest attempt at pacifying our consciences)- apart from Christ, we must rely on some aspect of the law for our defense. Despite the hope of approval the law can only condemn and judge us for our failures and inadequacies.

But Christ died and rose again to give us new life. The cross and resurrection free believers from sin’s curse. If you do not believe Christ you cannot know your neighbour. You will always be trying to establish boundaries of exclusion. Your love will be truncated by self-interest; driven by ulterior motives. But in Christ you have the freedom to sacrifice self-interests for others. The Holy Spirit doesn’t lead you back to the regulations of the law, but to Christ. Living in the promise of your baptism means continually drawing on the forgiveness that allows you the freedom to love and be loved. Remember what St. Paul said just weeks ago, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God.”4

Note the marvelous encouragement he gives the Colossians today in his ardent prayers, “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father…”5 And even with that Paul still hasn’t finished His thought.

Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, not only attends to our deepest needs, He tackles them head on; enduring suffering, shame, and contempt beyond what we can fathom. Paul continues by explaining the result, “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”6 The Holy Trinity, by whom the universe was created and within who it exists, restores the intimacy once lost with humanity though Jesus.

He will never pass us by while stranded on the road of life. He tends to our wounds and feeds us with His own body and blood. More than reimbursing for the cost of temporary lodging, He pays the full cost for permanent residency in His heavenly home. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
11 July 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 10:26
2 Deuteronomy 6:5
3 Romans 10:4
4 Galatians 2:20
5 Colossians 1:10-12
6 Colossians 1:13-14