The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Vicar Lehne sermon
Text: St. Luke 10:23-37
In Christ Jesus, who always loves us, his neighbors, as himself, dear fellow redeemed:
The lawyer was not happy. After all, he was an expert in the Law. He knew what the Law said and what it meant. And yet, in a verse that came just before our text for today, Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Luke 10:21). Not only did this suggest that little children knew more about the Law than the lawyer did, but this also suggested that faith, given by God, was all that was required to understand the Holy Scriptures and to be saved. The lawyer had to prove that he understood the Law better than little children, better than Jesus. So, he put Jesus to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (verse 25)?
The Law clearly stated what a person had to do to be saved, so if Jesus’ answer showed that he did, in fact, believe that it was by faith that a person was saved, he would prove his ignorance. However, Jesus didn’t answer the lawyer’s question. Instead, Jesus turned it on him, saying, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it” (verse 26)? While not what the lawyer was expecting, he now had a chance to prove that he understood the Law. So, he summarized the Law by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (verse 27). Jesus then responded to the lawyer by saying, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (verse 28).
Wait, so Jesus didn’t think that a person was saved by faith alone? That’s what Jesus’ response sounded like to the lawyer. However, that’s not what Jesus meant. He was actually trying to get the lawyer to see that he couldn’t live up to what the Law demanded and that it was purely by God’s grace and mercy that he was saved. But the lawyer didn’t see what Jesus wanted him to see. Instead, the lawyer shifted his goal to justifying himself. Jesus had told him to “do this,” but he already thought that he had. He had loved God like he should and his neighbor as himself—as long as “neighbor” was defined in a certain way. To see if Jesus saw things the way he did, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
This question was intended to prove to Jesus that the lawyer was needed to legally define what a neighbor is. After all, in the lawyer’s mind, since the Law was given by Moses to the Jews at the Mount Siani, then a neighbor had to be someone within the Jewish community, and he wanted to make that belief law. However, Jesus didn’t give the lawyer the justification he was looking for. Instead, Jesus showed that everyone is our neighbor, and therefore, (1) we’re not to show our love just to those we think deserve it, but (2) we’re to show our love to everyone, just as Jesus loves all of us.
In the parable, Jesus not only put the priest and the Levite, whom the lawyer would associate himself with, in a bad light, but he also put the Samaritan in a good light. The Samaritans were certainly not people whom the Jews would consider to be their neighbors. They were a mixed race and didn’t follow the Old Testament to the letter like the Jews did. But by using the Samaritan as the good example, Jesus made his point abundantly clear, so that even the lawyer had to admit it when he said that the one who “proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers” (verse 36) was “[t]he one who showed him mercy” (verse 37), or the good Samaritan.
When we hear accounts from the Bible like these, we can often times think to ourselves, “Yeah! You tell them Jesus!” However, we fail to realize that Jesus was not just speaking to the lawyer. He was speaking to all of us. Like the lawyer, there are those whom we don’t think deserve our love. Maybe it’s because they are murderers. Maybe it’s because they committed adultery. Maybe it’s because they didn’t keep a promise that they made. Or maybe it’s simply because they don’t belong to our group, like how the Jews viewed the Samaritans.
There are even times when we don’t think that those whom we would normally consider to be our neighbors deserve our love. In times like these, we act like the priest and the Levite, who passed by a fellow Jew in need of their help, simply because it wasn’t convenient for them. We might be willing to help someone in need, as long as it’s convenient for us or it benefits us. But, if we think that people have to deserve our love, then we also have to admit that we don’t deserve God’s love.
Since we have to keep the entire Law in order to earn God’s love, as Jesus told the lawyer, then we have to admit that we’ve failed. Sure, on the surface it may look like we’ve kept the entire Law, but Jesus shows us that it doesn’t take much to break the Law. We may think that we haven’t murdered anyone, but Jesus says that “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22). We may think that we haven’t committed adultery, but Jesus says that “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). We may think that we haven’t sworn falsely, but Jesus says, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:37). We may think that we don’t have to show love to our enemies, like how the Jews thought they didn’t have to show love to the Samaritans, but Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). And these are just some of the ways that we fail to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We’re like the man who was attacked by robbers; beaten, bloody, and clinging to life; except we’re not the victim. We’re that way because of the sins that we committed, and Jesus would have every right to pass us by on the other side of the road and leave us to the fate that we brought upon ourselves. But he didn’t. Instead, like the good Samaritan, he came to help us in our time of need.
During his life on earth, Jesus was a good Samaritan in every way that we failed to be. He had compassion on those in need, feeding those who were hungry, healing those who were sick, and casting out demons. He didn’t let the background of others stop him from helping them. In fact, he would often times associate with Samaritans and those whom the religious authorities considered sinners. He even showed love to his enemies, praying while he was on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And he wasn’t concerned for his own wellbeing, putting the wellbeing of others before his own, with the ultimate example of this being that he willingly laid down his own life for our benefit. As the apostle Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
On the cross, Jesus paid the price for all of the times that you didn’t show love to your neighbors. You did nothing to deserve the love that Jesus showed you, for you were completely helpless and dying on the side of the road. But Jesus washed your wounds with the waters of baptism, nursed you back to health by feeding you the medicine that is his own body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, and clothed you with his own perfect and holy garments. Because of what Jesus did for you and still does for you, you haven’t just received the forgiveness of sins that he won for you, but his perfect fulfillment of the Law has also been applied to your life. Now, the Father no longer sees the beaten and bloody sinner that you once were, but only the new man that his only begotten Son, Jesus, made you. This is the same message that Jesus was trying to get the lawyer to understand, that he had come to save sinners and open heaven to all who trust in him.
The lawyer didn’t get the answer from Jesus that he was looking for. He thought that he had a better understanding of what a neighbor is than others did, and he thought that by showing love only to those whom he thought deserved it would earn him a place in heaven. Jesus showed him that his understanding of what a neighbor is was wrong and also that he needed the grace and mercy that only God can give in order to be saved. It is a message that the lawyer needed to hear, as well as all of us. We have not loved our neighbors like we should, but Jesus has loved us. Because of his love we now live, and because of his love we love one another as he has loved us.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
+ + +
(picture from “Parable of the Good Samaritan” by Jan Wijnants, 1632-1684)
The First Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 John 4:16-21
In Christ Jesus, who is constantly busy and active distributing the gifts of His love, dear fellow redeemed:
We know why the beggar Lazarus in the Holy Gospel for today was laid at the gate of the rich man. It is because the rich man obviously had the means to help him. But having the means to help and having the desire to help are two different things. The rich man did not care about Lazarus. He cared about his fine linens and his great feasts. This man lacked love. It is no surprise to learn that he also lacked faith. We know this because his soul went to hell when he died.
Faith and love go together. Those who have faith have love for others. Those who do not have faith do not have love for others—at least not the kind of love that God requires. The world is very confused about love. The world thinks of love as a feeling, an emotion, the thing that makes me happy. This love is not so much focused outward toward others but inward toward self. We are told to cultivate a self-love, to focus on what is self-fulfilling. And if someone does not show us the love that we require, then it is time to find another who will.
What if God defined love in this way? What if He said that He will love us only if we properly show love to Him? This is what we would think if all we had was the Law of God. The Commandments tell us to perfectly love the true God only, to perfectly honor His name, to perfectly hear and learn His Word. But we have not loved God like this. So what is stopping Him from walking away and never coming back?
He does not walk away from us, because His love for us does not depend on our love for Him. He loved us even in our fallen and rebellious state. In perhaps the most well-known passage in the Bible, the apostle John records these words of Jesus about God’s love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Joh. 3:16).
God loved the world not because we had earned His love, as though He owed something to us. He loved the world because He is love. And He expressed that love not by making us as comfortable as He can on earth before our sad and hopeless death. He sent His only Son to redeem us, so that we have hope in this life and are saved from eternal suffering in hell.
This is the love that John refers to in today’s text when he says: “God is love.” Some take this to mean that whoever and however and whatever I choose to love, God supports me. Like a 70s hippie, God just wants us to love, man, and there are no rules or restrictions about that love. But characterizing God’s love in this way is false and blasphemous. God does not approve of our sinful behavior. He does not support the destructive things we do that go against His holy Law.
If the love I have for someone or something does not agree with the Ten Commandments, then it is not the love of God. So it is right for a man and a woman to love each other and want to serve one another. But it is not right for them to express that love in a sexual way until they are married. It is right for two men or two women to have love for each other and work on building their relationship. But it is not right for them to pursue a union of flesh. It is right to admire the nice things one’s neighbor has. But it is not right to covet those things and seek to take them.
It is so important that we recognize this. Some Christians have the idea that as long as they say they believe, then it does not matter how they live their life. They don’t like to be told that “Christians shouldn’t,” or “Christians won’t.” “No one has the right to tell me if I’m a Christian or not,” they say. “I know what I am in my heart.” But what if the rich man had called himself a good Christian? Wouldn’t it be natural to expect him to help the beggar Lazarus as God’s Commandments require? Wouldn’t his inactivity make his personal testimony questionable?
If our life is lacking in the love that God requires, and it is filled with a selfish love which God condemns, that calls our faith into question. Then what we say is totally different than how we act. Let’s say you called yourself a Bears fan, but you wore Packers gear, and you rooted for the Packers even when they played the Bears. Could that cause someone to wonder if you really were a Bears fan?
When that kind of inconsistency shows up in the life of a Christian, between what he says and what he does, this indicates a problem. In that case it would be good and loving for another Christian to warn him about the inconsistency, so that his faith is not lost. Jesus clearly tells us that it is possible to lose faith (Luk. 8:4-15). Faith is more than mere knowledge. It is not just a recitation of the facts given in the Bible. Faith grabs hold of the promises of the Gospel. It clings to the perfect life and atoning death of Jesus for our righteousness and forgiveness.
Faith receives what God gives by grace. Faith does not express itself defiantly, as though a believer could never be guilty of a sin. Faith expresses itself in humble repentance for sins committed day after day, and it looks to Jesus for salvation. Only Jesus lived the life of love that God requires. He lived a life of perfect love toward God and neighbor. His life of love is why we are acceptable before the Father. His love is credited to us by faith in Him.
Where faith is alive by the grace of God, it is also active. Faith bears fruit in our lives. It is active in a Godly love. “We love because He first loved us,” writes John. This love for others is not self-serving; it is self-sacrificing. It is not pleasure-seeking; it is service-oriented. It is not boastful or arrogant. It is not calloused or insensitive. It is patient and kind and generous and forgiving. That is the love God has for us, and it is the love He calls us to have for each other.
But we have not loved in this way, not always. We can all look back (and we don’t have to look very far) to see where we have failed to love like we should. So how confident can we be on the day of judgment? Will we stand before God and say that we loved as He loved us? John writes that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Are you afraid to give an account before God of how you have loved? Are you afraid of His punishment?
The blessed truth is that we will not be judged on the last day by what we have done or failed to do. We will be judged by what Jesus did. His perfect life of love is credited to us by faith. In this way, we are just like a beggar. When a humble beggar receives a gift, he does not think about how well he has begged or how worthy he is to get something. He is simply grateful to receive. He recognizes that he has been given something that he did not have before and had no ability to get.
This is what God has done for us. He has brought to us the perfect work of Jesus—His holy life, His atoning death, His great resurrection. He doesn’t wait for us to prove our worth before He will give it. He reaches down to us through His Word and Sacraments, peels open our sin-clenched hands, and gives us blessing after blessing. He did this for the beggar Lazarus, and He does it for us. He gives us such abundant riches that there is more than enough to share with others.
Suppose someone handed a beggar a million dollars. Wouldn’t it seem harsh if he turned up his nose at his fellow beggar friends and kept his newfound wealth all to himself? In the same way, since we have received such great riches from God, why would we keep them to ourselves? How could we gratefully receive His love, but not want to show love to those around us? A faith that is alive and well by the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word cannot help but extend love to others.
This is what you are prepared for in church each week. You come here to be filled up with the love of God. You come to have your bag of faith resupplied. You are filled with God’s forgiveness, His courage, His peace, and His strength. You leave here spiritually rejuvenated, blessed. Having received these gifts, your faith is ready for action. Now you see one neighbor lonely, another sad, another in pain, another racked by guilt. You know what they need. They need the love of God in Christ. So you show your love by listening to them, by caring for them, and especially by pointing them to Jesus and the undying love He has for all.
A Living Faith Is Active in Love. Your faith is alive because it is fixed on Jesus, and Jesus is most certainly alive. And because your faith is alive, it is active in love. The love you show does not have to come from some source or supply of love inside you. That kind of love often runs out. But the perfect love of your Lord for you and for others is never exhausted. As you continue to draw on His love by faith, you will never be without love for your neighbors.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
+ + +
(picture from painting of the beggar Lazarus by Fyodor Bronnikov, 1886)