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Sermon for Pentecost 10

July 29, 2013 1 comment

This is the audio for Sunday.

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Sermon for Wednesday in Pentecost 9

July 25, 2013 Leave a comment

israel-demands-kingSermon on 1 Samuel 8:1-22

Heavenly Host, 2013

Click here for mp3 audio Sermon for Wednesday in Pentecost 9

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Samuel’s sons, had great names, pious names.  Joel means “Yahweh is God” and Abijah means “My father is Yahweh.”  But they were men of God in name only.  Samuel’s sons “did not walk in the way of the Lord.”  And what’s ironic is that Samuel had seen the wickedness of Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas.  The Scripture point blank says they were worthless men and did not know the Lord.  (1 Sam 2:12).  And yet Samuel raised two sons who were equally corrupt, who did not “walk in the way of the Lord.”  The charge against them is clear.  They have perverted justice and taken bribes.  They stand in clear violation of Deuteronomy 16: 19 “You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous.”  It’s pretty clear what they’ve done and it’s pretty clear that the fallout from this is enough to break the hearts of the people.

Let’s be clear about what’s happened here with Joel and Abijah.  Their perversion of the Lord’s justice has caused the people to forget the promises of the Lord and prefer a human king.  Dr. Luther keeps us focused here.  “Their sin was not their desire to have a king, for after all God gave them one, but rather, that they set their trust on human help and government when they should have trusted in God alone. This was a grave sin” (AE 52:187).[1]  The elders of Israel want a human king like the other nations have and a king to lead them in battle against their neighboring enemies.  They actually were breaking the First Commandment, trusting in something other than God alone.  So like I said, let be clear here.  The people are not just rejecting Samuel and his leadership in the name of the Lord, they are rejecting the Lord Himself.  While we might focus on the sin of the people who are rejecting the Lord’s rulership, it might be helpful if we were to look at Joel and Abijah and the fallout over their unfaithfulness.  Rather than their sins being merely private weaknesses of faith or morals, their unfaithfulness caused others to question the goodness of the Lord and even reject his leadership and those who serve in His name.

I don’t know that we spend very much time thinking about such things in the church.  I know that we rather often lift up living a Christ-like life as a light to the world, but what happens when those who are in positions of leadership and responsibility don’t just fail to meet goals but sin and sin grievously?  What’s the fallout?  If a once highly thought of pro basketball player really goes off the deep end, it might turn a person off basketball.  If a pastor or teacher or lay leader sins, it could be that it doesn’t just turn someone off church but away from God altogether.  You and I are still getting to know one another but if you want to know something about how I think, this is the kind of thing that terrifies me if I sit and brood on it too long.  Joel and Abijah’s sin caused all of Israel to doubt the goodness of the Lord.

But look closely again at the reading for tonight.  See again the longsuffering of the Lord for the sake of His people.  The Lord tells Samuel to agree to the elder’s request for a king, but also to warn the people about what a king will do.  What will a human king do?  “He will take.”  Count up the number of times that phrase occurs in this little section.  I counted 6 times the king “will take…”   He will take your sons, your daughters, for his armies.  You want a king who will fight for you?  He will take your sons and put them in his army.  He will take the richness of the land and use it to supply his armies.  The best of your fields, your vineyards, your olive orchards, another tenth of your grain and your vineyards, and it goes on and on.  A human king will take and take and keep on taking leaving you little and less and lead you into nothing but a life of war among your neighbors.  This is hardly the picture of the Promised Land the Lord gave His people.  It’s hardly the picture of living in the Shalom of God.  Whether anything that can be said of Israel then can be said of our nation today, I’ll leave to you.  The Lord warns them through his man Samuel of what comes with kings and the elders of the people say they still would rather have a human king and the Lord gave them one.

This can be one of the hardest things for us to understand, that the Lord sometimes gives us what we say we want even when it is not the best thing for us.  Too often our lips may say. “Not my will but Thine, O Lord,” but our actions often say to God, “Not Your will, but mine be done,” as we insist on things that may not be good or salutary for us.  And yet, God is surprisingly generous too.  While it’s not recorded in the reading tonight, we know that out of this human line of kings, comes not just King David for Israel, but David’s descendant, Jesus of Nazareth, king and creator of the universe born in human flesh in David’s lineage to be the true king of Israel.  God is not just king in name only.  Jesus comes to be a heavenly king, not one who raises an army and leads His followers into total war against one’s neighbors but the king of peace in whom we can find reconciliation with our neighbors.  He comes as Yahweh-King in human flesh to be God for His people and to show them the depths His willing heart will endure to win His people back from their defiant high-treason.  He comes as a Redeemer-king, one who dies at the hands of violent men to undo the pain of violence itself.  Tonight, He comes as our King, welcoming us not just to the royal heavenly table He has declared us worthy not just to attend but providing His very body and blood as kingly feast.  And He comes as King to rule, not just in name only and certainly not as dictator but as the very picture of benevolent king wanting the very best not just for His people but for the neighbors of His people that He might win them to His kingdom as well.  Rejoice, dear Christian friends, the Lord our God is king.

Even though we are often like the sinful elders who have lost sight of the goodness of the Lord and His provision and want what only they can see, the Lord still graciously provides and gives us what we truly need—eternal life and salvation and the restoration of the Lord’s kingdom in the coming of King Jesus in flesh and blood for us as our Redeemer-king who has fought our battles over our greatest enemies, sin, death and hell, and He has already won.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


[1] Edward A. Engelbrecht, The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 444.

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A word about Tel Dan and the “House of David”

July 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Interestingly, in a scientific world were prejudice and precondition are supposed to be null and void and observation is supposed to trump all, those scholars lining up against Tel Dan actually referring to a real king of Israel named David are those who reject out of hand any reliability in the Biblical texts themselves.

In a post-modern world it’s too easy to say that there is no such thing as objectivity.  What is at stake here is reliability of the Biblical documents themselves.

Consider it closely.  If these inscriptions actually attest to THE King David, that, in and of itself, lends some objective credibility to the accounts of the Bible.

Keep digging!  I can’t wait to hear about what you folks find next.

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From the sermon cutting room floor

July 24, 2013 Leave a comment

These were some thoughts that I wanted to make work with the text tonight 1 Samuel 8:1-22 but they didn’t really fit the rest of what I wrote.  For anyone doing literary analysis on me in the future (because all the other PhD topics were taken), these were originally three consecutive paragraphs after the fourth full paragraph in the text of the sermon to be posted next.  You can see pretty quickly why I cut them.

 

At one point in my life I had a job where I got to talk to people who were not just church people.  And I can’t tell you how many people I ran into who were former members  of this church or that one but aren’t any longer because of situations that they encountered that caused them to seriously question whether organized religion was truly necessary, that is, whether churches were really what the Lord Jesus intended for His people.  To put it quite directly, they’ve been burned aren’t too crazy about being burned again.  The reading tonight can be quite a corrective for all of us in the church to examine our walk with the Lord more closely and see in what ways we are out of step and what we might need to change to walk more closely in the way that we should go.

This reading from Samuel tonight is also interesting in another way.  I don’t know how much you now about the other world of people out there who reads the Bible in ways very different from the way we do.  They read the passage from First Samuel as part of the founding story for the nation of Israel, as part of the story of Israel’s evolution from a collection of roughly independent tribes to a more centralized government personalized in a king located in Jerusalem.  A hundred and fifty years ago these “scholars” had so deconstructed these texts of Israel’s history, there really wasn’t a really kingdom of Israel, not as we might think of it today, certainly not as it’s described in the Bible here, until much, much later, perhaps even as late as after the exile in Babylon.  All of this business about the exodus and the Promised Land and King David was purely mythological.  Something more akin to King Arthur and Camelot than what we would consider true recorded history.[1]  Now so much of what the scholars considered “fact” has been shown to be nothing but vaporous scholarly conjecture because of the many archaeological digs that have discovered evidence that confirms the Biblical accounts as reliable.  (Click here t learn about the stele at Tel Dan and here to learn about the newly discovered “palace” that may well have been one of David’s. )

But even from what the historians might call internal evidence, that is, evidence from the documents themselves, we can find some interesting hints that the Biblical accounts should be trusted.  If tonight’s reading is supposed to be part of Israel’s founding mythology, why do they look so consistently badly in it?  Not only are the judge’s sons heretics and unscrupulous creatures living completely apart from the favor of Israel’s God, they’re actually the ones whose failure suggests there might be a better way for Israel to be governed than Yahweh’s.  Not much of a heroic founding story.  Ironically, the account of Israel reads like a modernist deconstruction of a founding myth highlighting all the failures and inconsistencies among God’s people.  From the accounts of Abraham’s attempts to help God help Him to the unfaithfulness of judges to Israel’s rejection of the Lord’s way even through to the unfaithfulness of their kings and the eventual fall of Israel and Judea there is nothing but failure after failure on their part and faithfulness upon faithfulness from God’s end to deal with their rebellion.


[1] (Philip R. Davies, Biblical Archaeology Review , July-August, 1994, p. 55)

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Sermon for Sunday Pentecost 9, 21 July

July 23, 2013 1 comment

marymarthaGenesis 18:1-14 and Luke 10:38-42

Heavenly Host, 2013

Note:  Big chunks of this sermon were lifted from  the sermon that was published for the convention delegates this week offered by the folks at LCMS Worship.  My guess is Pastor Weedon wrote it but that’s just a guess.  Parts of it were very good.  You can read the whole thing here.  As usual you can listen to the sermon preached by clicking here on the link 44 Sermon for Pentecost 9.mp3

 

Grace and peace to your from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Martha “welcomed him into her house” (Luke 10:38), just like Abraham in the first reading, who begged the three visitors to turn aside and be refreshed.  And everyone knows that when you welcome a guest, it is the host’s job to be “anxious and troubled about many things” (v. 41) to honor the guest, so that the guest may kick back and relax.  So the busyness of Abraham was running to the tent and telling Sarah to get enough bread ready to feed a small army, then going out to the herd to take the “tender and good” calf to give to his young man to prepare.  (Really, a whole calf for three men?) All so that, at last, as the three visitors sat beneath the oaks of Mamre, Abraham could set before them a rich feast: curds, milk, the calf (and, one assumes, the bread).  And so also the busyness of Martha was rattling around in the kitchen, growing ever more irritated as Mary stayed stubbornly absent, sitting at the guest’s feet and forgetting her duties as hostess.

Jackie, you have been doing quite a bit of the Martha and Sarah kind of work.  Not just getting ready for the new school year to start but preparing for the beginning of a new chapter in the story that is Heavenly Host Church and School.  Now I’m not calling you out and suggesting that you’ve got it all wrong.  The fact is there is serving work, prep work, administrative work to be done.  I know what it’s like to try to hit the ground running.  It’s a skillset that is admired almost universally in our culture.  But the message of the readings today is clear not just for you but for all of us.  When it is the Lord God and two angels dropping in, when it is the Lord Jesus stopping by, the big deal isn’t what you’re rustling up for Him! The big deal is what He’s rustling up for you.  To Abraham and Sarah (laughing behind the tent door), the Lord offers a promise: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son” (Gen. 18:10).  A crazy promise!  No wonder she laughed.  Even Abraham stumbled at what God was suggesting since his wife was so old and, as the sacred writer puts it rather delicately, “the way of women had ceased to be with Sarah” (v. 11).  Yet the promise stood.  And a promise is only as good as the promiser.  In this case, the promiser had almighty power on His side: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (v. 14).

I said before that the message from the Lord Himself today in both lessons is clear.  We are to live and work in such a way that we actually believe this is the Lord’s work and that He accomplishes it, sometimes through the servants He calls into full-time church work, other times by others whose callings are not so clearly delineated.  And quite frankly, that goes for all of us.  Not just those who serve in the church, on boards and committees and volunteer opportunities, but those who carry on the vital callings given them by the Lord.  It’s His work and He will accomplish it.

The story of Abraham and Sarah might be over three thousand years old, but Abraham acts very much like an American.  Abraham is the kind of man who believes like Benjamin Franklin did that “God helps those who help themselves.”  In our society there is a deep distrust of Mary type folks among us.  We wonder whether if they are so heavenly minded, they are any earthly good.  What good is all that prayin’ and meditatin’ for?  Get up and do somethin’.   But just look what became of Abraham’s attempts to fulfill the Lord’s promise for Him.  Every path that Abraham had taken to help God keep His promise had turned to a dead end.  His descendants would not come through Lot. His son would not be the adopted Eliezer.  It wouldn’t be Ishmael born of Sarah’s handmaid.  Only when, Abraham and Sarah were absolutely helpless to bring about anything on their own, when they could only receive from the Lord’s hand by a miracle, the Lord gave His gift and a child was born, a child through whom the blessing of the world itself would begin.  And they couldn’t take credit for any of it!  There’s a lesson there for us all.  A gentle corrective to trust the giver of promises to make good on them and to learn to wait and understand those promises better so that they are appreciated when they are made good.

Fast forward to one day in Bethany, Mary listened attentively to the promised One who was descended from Abraham, and the one whom Isaac prefigured— Jesus, the true Seed of Abraham, the One who would be the bringer of blessing to every family of the earth.  Far better than the yummy smells wafting from Martha’s kitchen was the sweet news falling from His lips.  Mary listened to them, soaked them up, pondered them and wondered.  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).  And here sat the Lord in the flesh, the eternal Son of the eternal Father, who had assumed the Seed of Abraham through His mother’s flesh that He might set a feast before a hungry world.

Oh, not a feast of worldly food, I’ll grant you that.  World hunger remains a problem today and is far closer than many of us realize.  Jesus solved that problem for a day with the feeding of the five thousand.  But you recall how after that miracle, He spoke of having food to eat that His disciples knew nothing about.  They had wondered who had stashed away the snacks for Him.  But He made it clear: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34).  That’s what He ate and drank and literally lived from: the will of the Father.

And that will, simply put, was to supply for the world a feast.  He had come to be the bread of life that you may eat of and not die, but live in Him forevermore.  That’s why Mary chose the good portion and why the Lord was not about to let Martha or anyone else take it from her, just as He won’t let anyone take it from you.  He wants you to have a life that doesn’t end, anchored in the forgiveness of your sins, and that’s the gift that listening to His promises and believing them delivers to you.

That’s why you are here this morning, Jackie, and the rest of us too, whether we know it or not.  We are here not to do something for the Lord, like Abraham or Martha were doing.  We are here to let the great Giver of the Feast speak His Words and promises to you.  Be still, then.  Listen.  And Jackie, I know there’s quite a bit left to do, but here’s the truth of the matter: this work this congregation has called you to is the Lord’s work, ministry.  It’s not just school work; it’s the work of the church.  It’s not just your work; it’s ours, too, as the body of Christ.  He will see to it that it gets done.  The most important thing; the one thing needful, the best portion is the Lord Himself.

Dear Christian friends, what Jesus wants to give you in His great feast is nothing less than Himself.  Your faith isn’t about you and your doings, but about the blessed Seed of Abraham, our Lord Jesus, and His doing and giving.  It’s about Him tending to you, not you to Him; Him serving you, not you Him.  He has done everything and even arranged for that feast to be spread before you through His ministers.  The meal, which you couldn’t put on the table to save your soul, He puts into your ears for your heart to believe and into your mouth with the promise that His body and blood are your forgiveness, life and salvation.  From first to last, your salvation remains in Him, His doing, His gift to you.  Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him! Amen.

 

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Sermon for Wednesday in Pentecost 8

July 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Flying ButterflySermon on Galatians 5:1-26

Click here for mp3 audio 43 Sermon for Weds in Pent 8.mp3

Let’s look tonight at the freedom that Christ has given us and the freedom which has been bestowed onto little Hannah tonight in Holy Baptism.  I think this remains quite misunderstood among Christians, even among Lutherans.  On the one side, there are the folks who are still bound by the Law of God.  You can drive around and see yard signs with the Ten Commandments on them and even billboards put up by the groups like the Seventh Day Adventists who insist on keeping the OT Law as it was given, especially observing Sabbath on the seventh day, Saturday.  These folks are similar to the kind of teachers that were causing havoc among the Christians in Galatia to whom Paul was writing.  They argued that if you want to be a son of the covenant of the Lord, circumcision was still necessary.  After all, Jesus was a good son of the covenant.  He was circumcised.  Go and do likewise.  They insisted on being bound to the Law of God.

So there is a misunderstanding of the Law of God and which commandments, if any remain in effect for Christians today.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is writing specifically against this kind of misunderstanding of the Law, an insistence that the Laws of the OT are still in effect.  Earlier in the letter, in chapter 3, Paul writes, “15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”  (Ga 2:15–16)  Circumcision does not justify.  Worshipping on Saturday does not justify a sinner before God.  Keeping the Ten Commandments does not justify.  Christ justifies; not works of the Law.  So, a Christian is no longer a slave to the Law, the whole law, not just the ceremonial Law or the dietary Law, all of it no longer applies.  But we need to make sure we know what this means.

Christ has set us free for freedom.  Only Christ justifies.  This is Good News for Hannah.  This is Good News for you all because Christ not only paid the penalty for all your sin by His death on the cross, literally taking the punishment you deserve for your sins into His own flesh unto death but that in everything He did, He actively fulfilled the entire Law of God, standing in for us where were unable and unwilling to submit even to then least strenuous of God’s Laws.  Jesus was circumcised; He never ate a ham sandwich; He went to synagogue on Sabbath.  His entire life actively satisfied the whole Law of God.  He is completely and perfectly righteous according to the Law of God and Jesus’ righteousness, His perfect obedience and His perfect satisfaction for sin is bestowed on Hannah tonight and on you in your Baptisms as pure gift.  Only Christ justifies.  “For freedom Christ has set us free!”  This is Good News.  This is the pure sweetness of the Gospel.

It is such Good News people often assume that there just has to be some part of this deal that I have to do, that I have to act on.  For the Judaizers in Galatia, circumcision might have fallen into this category, something a man does to show he is saying “Yes,” to what God has done for him in Christ, but that still makes submitting to circumcision necessary for salvation and, in the end, something we must do.  The same things happen today in a number of churches.  Now when I mention another church, I’m not trying to demonize people in it, or even doubt their sincerity, but rather to point out the error of doctrine that, in this case, ultimately takes away from what Christ has done for us.

As I said when I started, there are churches that teach that Christians today need to keep the OT Laws.  There are some that don’t go as far still requiring circumcision but have turned something else into a substitute for it.  Just look at what other churches make of Baptism.  They teach that there is no grace being poured out here but that it is an act of obedience to God, “An outward showing of an inward faith.”  Baptism becomes something of a spiritual circumcision, a work a believer performs in order to fulfill the Law.  Usually forgotten is the fact that circumcision was most usually an act visited on infants, eight days old.  It was meant to be thing done unto, an external mark of the sheer grace of God of being a part of His covenant people; not an act of obedience by the individual.  My point here is that those who insist on circumcision have even got circumcision wrong, spiritual or otherwise, and so they misunderstand what happened here tonight for little Hannah.  The Gospel is that Christ is our circumcision.  The Gospel is the Christ was baptized in order to fulfill all righteousness.  The Gospel is that in Baptism God ours over little Hannah all that Christ did for her, in her place, as He did for you in your Baptism.  It is pure gift, freely given and given to set us free from sin and its power and its curse.  Freedom in Christ is truly Good News.  Paul has argued this point through his letter to the Galatians and up to this summarizing statement of it.  “For freedom Christ has set us free.”

And yet, we can still get it wrong.  Some say we are free in Christ and so we can do whatever we want.  They say even the moral or natural Law is no longer in effect.  Hence, they cannot speak of God’s loving order for His creation and His desire that we live according to that good order an order He Himself declared to be “Very good.”  They are so free they can find no criticism for even the worst sins against God’s good order.  They argue for freedom but really they are arguing for license, the freedom to declare what is and what is not good.

Dr. Luther helps us understand the Freedom we have in Christ rather quickly.  He writes that the freedom that Christ gives is a spiritual freedom and one to be preserved by the spirit.  It is not a heathen kind of freedom.  We’re in a college town so it seems safe to use this as an example.  We all know that some new students find their new freedom from the rule of mom and dad to be so liberating they don’t go to class or carry on in a morally respectable way.  This kind of freedom is simply the result of the rules being changed not any change effected in the student.   Christian freedom is when people are changed without the changing of the Law.  In giving us His righteousness and power to walk in the spirit, Christ has changed us so that the Law, which was formerly hateful to us, now becomes a delight.  We stand steadfastly in this freedom because Christ has sent the spirit of love into the hearts of those who believe in Him.  This makes righteous lovers of the God’s good order again, not because of their own works (may it never be!) but freely because it is freely bestowed by Christ Himself.

The natural outgrowth of this is to walk in this same spirit of love and truth and not gratify the desires of the flesh.  Hannah will grow up into this.  That is part of the role of parents for children that they be brought up and taught to walk in the spirit that they have been given.  Paul is not being merely moralistic here but saying that in Christ the Law has not disappeared rather it was fulfilled in Him.  In Him we are changed so that we no longer full the Law because we must but rather because we have been given a spirit of obedience which results in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.  For freedom to walk in the Spirit, Christ has set little Hannah and you free.  Amen.

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Sermon for Sunday, Pentecost 8, 14 July

July 18, 2013 Leave a comment

good_samaritan_posterLuke 10:25-37, “The Good Samaritan”

Heavenly Host, 2013

Click here for mp3 audio, 42 Sermon for Sunday Pentecost 8.mp3

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for the sermon today is the Gospel, the story of the Good Samaritan.

What’s so special about this Bible story?  How come this text is so famous that even non-churchgoing people seem to know about it and even enters into the ordinary speak of non-churchgoers?  I think it has something to do with the way we have so often heard the parable preached to us.  How does it normally go?  In a nutshell, were supposed to do good for other people because that’s what Jesus would have us do.  Hence, you cannot sue the guy who scratches the glass of your window with the wire coat hanger because he’s helping you when you locked your keys in the car.  Hence Good Samaritan hospitals across the county to bind up the sick and injured.  Hence when someone turns a good deed, we even refer to them as a Good Samaritan.  Now, while I will agree that it’s great to stop and help people in need on the side of the road, I am quite sure that’s not Jesus’ intention in telling this story.  In fact it’s far more complex than simple moralism.  I’m convinced that Jesus had more in mind for his listeners than merely helping people in need.  The story of the Good Samaritan is meant to be the Good News of the Gospel, not moralism based on the Law.

Jesus isn’t telling this parable all by itself.  Something happened before He said it.  To whom did Jesus tell this parable?  That might also be very important.  Where is Jesus when He tells this parable?  Is it significant that Jesus is talking about the leading people of the ruling class in Jerusalem?  Jesus is walking somewhere in Judea in good Jewish territory and a scribe, a Torah lawyer asks Him to test Him, “What must I do to receive eternal life?”  Notice that the story of the Good Samaritan is not an answer to that question.  It’s an answer to a different question.  But Jesus answers the first question with a question.  “What does the law say?  How do you read it?  And the Torah lawyer responds with a very good answer, Deuteronomy chapter 6, “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.”  And Jesus commends the lawyer for his reading.  But then the lawyer asks, “Well, who’s my neighbor?”  This is the context.  This is the reason Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus tells the story in response to a completely different question than, “What must one doe to inherit eternal life?”  The story of the Good Samaritan is meant to be the Good News of the Gospel, not moralism based on a narrow reading of the Torah.

There are two different ways of looking at the Torah, the first five Books of Moses, specifically and the OT more broadly.  Both the lawyer and Jesus agree that the way to eternal life is through the Torah but they mean entirely different things by it.  The Lord did not give the Torah to Moses and His people Israel for a mere moralizing.  Torah was meant to give life, eternal life.  Those who in the communion of God’s love walk in the way of the Lord receive life.  Torah cannot be a “how to” book of meriting grace before God.  Torah must be read as a book of God’s gracious election and the promised protection and deliverance of His people despite their sin.  If the shift falls away from the mercy and grace of the Lord in the Torah, the focus shifts away from the inheritance God gives to the deeds people do.  The lawyer was reading Deuteronomy 6 narrowly.  It was not about loving his neighbor with the love of God he had been given.  It was about limiting his love by restricting who was his neighbor.  And so Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in response to the lawyers question, “Who is my neighbor?”  And one thing we’ve learned already this morning is that in 2000 years lawyers haven’t changed a bit.

But seriously, the lawyer gets to the heart of our problem with loving one another.  Oh, I can love my neighbor just fine, it’s the abortionist doctor, the slick car salesman, the slicker politician, the slickest lawyer, those are the people I can’t love and don’t want to.  I can love my neighbor as long as he doesn’t have a different skin color or accent, or denomination, or religion.  You see this lawyer is a good Jewish Torah scribe.  He can’t stand Samaritans.  I won’t go into the long story why but Judean Jews saw Samaritan Jews as half-Jews, which was probably worse than not being Jewish at all.  So then Jesus tells the story.

A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell among thieves who stripped him, beat him and left him for dead.  The priest happening by doesn’t help him nor does the Levite.  But the Samaritan becomes the Good Samaritan.  “Which one was neighborly,” asks Jesus.  “The one who showed mercy,” says the lawyer.  “Go and do likewise,” says Jesus.  The story of the Good Samaritan is meant to be the Good News of the Gospel, not moralism based on a narrow reading of the Torah.

What the robbers do to this man is terrible.  But what the priest and the Levite do, or rather fail to do, Jesus puts in the same category as the robbers.  Notice then what the Samaritan does.  He makes up for what the robbers, priest and Levite did to this poor man.  The Samaritan has compassion on the man.  Compassion is one of those key words in the NT that is only used of Jesus and the waiting father in the parable of the prodigal son and this Samaritan.  Jesus is saying something important about the Samaritan.  So first the Samaritan binds up the wounds of the man, gives him first aid, something the Levite could have easily done.  Then he puts him on his mount, something the priest could have easily done.  Then he pays for his debts at the hotel and gives him back his dignity, something the robbers should have never taken away.  This story is Good News.  The story of the Good Samaritan is meant to be the Good News of the Gospel, not moralism based on a narrow reading of the Torah.

Like I said, we usually hear this sermon preached as pure moralism, that is, go and do likewise.  But what about the lawyer’s question motivated by self-justification?  And remember that all of this has to do with the lawyer’s attempt to test Jesus and see what his answer would be about inheriting eternal life.  Remember his first answer to Jesus’ first question?  Love God, love neighbor as yourself.  Jesus is making a bold statement here that loving one’s neighbor is equivalent to loving God.

Doctor Luther writes in a sermon on this text:

“So let us mark and learn well what it means to love God.  This Samaritan loves God, not because of what he gives to God, but because he aids that poor wounded man to the best of his ability.  That’s what God says, if you want to love and serve me, then love and serve your neighbor; he needs it.  I don’t.  For this reason the Samaritan loves God with his money, beast, oil, and wine.  Not that our Lord God needs such help; he is not doing it for God, but rather for his neighbor.  However, it is tantamount to doing it for God since God has so enjoined and commanded it.”  (Luther, House Postils 2:410)

The story of the Good Samaritan is meant to be the Good News of the Gospel, not moralism based on a narrow reading of the Torah.  I’m not saying something different than what you learned in Sunday school.  There is still nothing we can do to merit eternal life.  In fact, if anything Jesus is showing us that the bar is set so high we could never reach it and yet paradoxically, Jesus is showing us that we need not reach it because He reached it in our place.  We are not self-justified.  Christ justifies us.  So we need to run this theology backwards in a way.  We love and serve our neighbor because it is an outgrowth of loving and serving God.  We love and serve God because we have already become inheritors of eternal life.  You have become inheritors of eternal life because Jesus found you on the road, robbed, stripped and left for dead, bound up your wounds, laid you on His mount, carried you to the inn, paid the full price for your care.  This is the Gospel of the Lord.

We love, because he first loved us.  Keep doing this and you will continue to live.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Amen.

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