Sunday, October 27, 2013

Reformation Sermon

Jesu Juva

“We Are Beggars, This Is True”
Text: John 8:31-36; Romans 3:19-28; Revelation 14:6-7

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

There are a lot of famous sayings attributed to Martin Luther - some of which he actually said. But that’s what happens when you’re famous. People attribute things to you, even if they don’t really know that you said them; even if it just sounds like something you might say. It gives whatever is being said instant credibility . . . or discredibility.

Today I want to think a bit about one thing Luther did say - or actually, that he wrote. You could call it what led to his great Reformation breakthrough. It’s actually, though, not what most people think of when thinking of the Reformation: the three solas - sola gratia, sola fide, and sola scriptura (by grace alone, by faith alone, and by scripture alone). For those three terms, while accurately describing Luther’s theology, he probably never said all together like that. The grouping of those three phrases like that would come a little later. No, the phrase I’m thinking of, that is so significant to Luther, that we could say led to his Reformation breakthrough, is this: We are beggars, this is true.

Luther wrote that phrase on a little slip of paper that was found in his pocket when he died. Now, like the many sayings that are attributed to Luther, there is some disagreement over what exactly was written on that slip of paper; different versions of the story. But what all the versions agree on is this last line. We are beggars, this is true. And I would say this to you today: when you know that, then you know Luther, you know the three solas, and you know what the Reformation was about. Including what came to be known as kind of a fourth sola: sola christus.

We are beggars, this is true. When you know that, you know there is absolutely nothing you can do for God. You cannot climb up to God through meditation or contemplation or mysticism. You cannot be righteous through your own efforts at good works and prayer and self-denial. You cannot earn God’s favor or merit by going above and beyond the call of Christian duty. You cannot offer to God anything you have to atone for your sins. All of these things were being taught at the time in some way, shape, or form. But if you’re a beggar, you cannot. If you’re a beggar, you got nothing.

If you’re a beggar, you’re like the people in the subway station standing there with a cup, calling out for help. Or, to put that in the words of the Bible, calling out: Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me

Now, in the subway stations, many just pass by those beggars. Some pretend not to see them. Some don’t care. Some are skeptical of them. Some are too busy to help. Some are late and in too much of a rush. But for us who are beggars before God, there is one who stops. The Son of David. The Good Samaritan. The Good Shepherd. The Son of God Himself, the promised Messiah. And He doesn’t just throw a coin or two into our cups; He pours into our hearts His forgiveness, life, and salvation. He takes us out of the subway station and puts us in His mansion. He feeds us, dresses us, cleans us, and binds us up. He does everything for us beggars, all that we need.

Once He does, that doesn’t mean we’re no longer beggars - we still are before God. For everything we have is His, though given to us. So how silly if we were to then go out and start bragging! I did this. I built this. I earned this. I achieved this. No, we are beggars, it is true. Always receiving. Always receiving from our God and Saviour what we need. 

And that’s why our salvation is by grace alone - sola gratia. Our Lord helps beggars. There is an old saying in the world: God helps those who help themselves. I cannot think of a much more unbiblical and untrue saying. God helps us not because we deserve it, not because of who WE are, but because of who HE is. God helps those who cannot help themselves. As beggars, all that we have from God is pure gift. Completely undeserved grace. Sola gratia.

That’s also then why our salvation is by faith alone - sola fide. All we can do is receive this gift of God, this undeserved gift, by faith. For if you’re that beggar in the subway, you could brag about your cup - how big it is, how strong it is, how marvelous and magnificent it is. And if someone asked you: how did you get that help? You could say: I have a great cup! But it’s not really. It’s because you have a great Lord, a great and merciful Saviour. Your cup is your faith, and He fills it. It’s all Him. It’s all by grace, through faith. Sola fide.

And that’s then why it is by Scripture alone - sola scriptura. Our cup, our faith, is given and formed by the Word of God. The Word of God which tells us of our Saviour, where we learn of His great mercy for us. The Word of God by which we learn of the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross, by His perfect life, death, and resurrection in our place. And the Word of God joined with water, words, and bread and wine, attaching God’s promises and gifts to these things, making them means, or vehicles, of grace. Turning plain water into Holy Baptism. Turning plain words in to Holy Absolution. Turning plain bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus in His Holy Communion. Without the Word, we wouldn’t have these and we wouldn’t know of them. So this too is all Him, all gift. Sola scriptura.

And putting all this together, you have sola christus - by Christ alone. Which really isn’t so much a fourth sola as it is the overarching one. For it is Christ alone that creates and fills the other three. We are beggars, this is true. He is the friend, the helper, the Saviour, of beggars. This is true. Everything we are, everything we have, is Christ alone. From creation to redemption to everlasting life - it is all Christ. Sola christus.

We are beggars, this is true. No matter who you are, no matter how accomplished, no matter how wealthy. All people, the reading from Revelation reminds us, every nation and tribe and language and people need the eternal Gospel. That we might receive what we do not have. That we might receive what we need for eternal life. 

We are beggars, this is true. This is what Paul was explaining in Romans. For the Law of God shows us how beggarly and miserable we are. The Law say be this, but we are not. The Law says do this, but we do not. The Law says don’t do this, and that we do! And so boast, Paul asks? What do we have to boast of? No, the Law of God shuts us up. The Law holds us accountable. The Law shows us the debt we cannot pay. We are beggars, this is true. And still running up the debt.

But, Paul goes on, while we are all beggars, this is true, we are forgiven, this is true! Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Through Jesus who paid our debt. Through Jesus who died our death. Through Jesus who risen from the dead, gives us His righteousness. Who fills our beggarly cups with the riches of His grace. 

And did you catch the three solas in those words from Paul? The Law and the Prophets, he says, bear witness to the righteousness of God - sola scriptura. Justified by His grace as a gift - sola gratia. To be received by faith - sola fide. All by Christ Jesus, who is all in all - sola christus. That we beggars may boast after all. Not in ourselves, but in Christ. We are beggars, this is true. But now we are saints, this is true! (But more on that next week!)

And then finally we heard from John. Actually, he didn’t say we are beggars - he uses even stronger words: we are slaves. Slaves to sin. Slaves in bondage. Slaves who cannot do what we want to do. Because of the sin in us. The sin born in us. The sin that keeps erupting out of us in hurtful words, selfish deeds, shameful thoughts, and impure desires. And it is a slavery that is dangerous and deceitful because it masks itself as freedom. For you think you can do whatever you want, but what you want is what your slavery tells you to want, what your sin tells you to want, what your sinful flesh craves and the sin you feed it. Giving up Paradise for a tasty bite or two, that quickly turns bitter. Yes we are beggars, this is true.

But then we get John’s version of sola christus. We are beggars, this is true, but if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. The Son, hope for beggars. The Son, friend of beggars. The Son, freedom for beggars. The Son, Saviour of beggars. Or as Luther wrote in his hymn: 

With might of ours can naught be done, 
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is!  (LSB #656 v. 2)

Sola christus, for beggars. There is freedom in no one else. But there is freedom in Him. There is no other way for us beggars to have hope. But there is hope in Him.

We are beggars, this is true. So if you remember only one saying of Luther’s on this Reformation Day, remember that one. And stick out your cup of faith in repentance for Jesus to fill. To fill you with His forgiveness, His mercy, His love. To fill you with His Spirit. To fill your mouths now with His Body and Blood. For the truth is: where Jesus is, it’s good to be a beggar. 

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pentecost 22 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Cross is the Bedrock of Faith”
Text: Luke 18:1-8 (Genesis 32:22-30; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5)

(This sermon inspired by and for some of the thoughts and phrases indebted to the Rev. Dr. Normal Nagel and his sermon on this Gospel in Sermons of Norman Nagel, pp. 238-241.) 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

And Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

It’s easy to lose heart, isn’t it? Jesus knows that. He is a man in every way like us except without sin. He knows what it’s like when bad news comes, when our foundations are shaken, when the future looks bleak and uncertain. At such times it’s easy to lose heart - to lose confidence, to lose courage, to resign yourself to the thought that this is just the way things are and they aren’t going to get any better. And it can happen even toward God, can’t it? We worry, we doubt, we wonder what God is doing . . .

Not always, of course. There are good times in our lives as well. Days when the sun is shining, friendships and health are good, there is laughter and good times.

But this parable of Jesus is not just for those times when we lose heart - it is so that we may not lose heart. It is so that in both good times and bad, we live by faith in a God who loves to give, to care, and have mercy. Even when that giving, care, and mercy are not evident or obvious. So that faith be the bedrock of our lives, and nothing else.

Like the widow in the parable. She is a nameless nobody, and what little she had seems to have been ripped off by her adversary. So she goes to the judge and issues her petition for judgment, for justice. And she won’t give up. She does not despair, she does not lose heart, for faith is alive in her. She won’t not be given to. She wrestles with the judge. She pounds on his door and his ears until she receives what she has come for. She will not let go. Faith does not let go.

That’s the parable. But here’s Jesus’ question: when the Son of Man comes, will he find such faith on earth?

Good question. Jesus is the Son of Man, and He is the one telling this parable, but Jesus is not referring to that current time - but to when He will come again, in the end, in the final judgment. This is what He will be looking for. Faith. Faith that looks to Him, relies on Him, and cries out to Him. Faith that clings to the Word and promises of God, not our own opinions of who God is and what He ought to be doing. 

So if the Son of Man came today, would He find such faith on earth? Well, yes and no we would say, I suppose. It’s a mixed bag. There are plenty of folks, as Paul wrote to Timothy, who have itching ears . . . who accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. But there are plenty of widows, too, I would say. Maybe you just cannot see them. Maybe they look like they have it all together. But maybe every night, that friend or neighbor or co-worker of yours is down on their knees, crying out to God like this widow.

But the question - if the Son of Man came today, would He find such faith on earth? - is better directed not at others, but at ourselves. How is it with you? Faith or unfaith? Gratitude or thanklessness? Joyous receiving or grudging discontent? Eager listening or insolent attitude? Humility or pride? What you think of God, what you believe about Him, is reflected in these things. The widow in the parable would not give up because she knew this worldly judge would do right. How much more the children of a heavenly Father who has promised good. 

And not just promised, but fulfilled that promise.

The judge did not want to be bothered, did not want to be troubled. But the one who is our judge is so troubled for you that He goes to Calvary for you. And there He gives His judgment. Jesus is condemned and dies in your place, for your sin, for your unfaith, so that there be now no condemnation for you. Only forgiveness. 

This is how God is toward us. Then and still today. And when the Son of Man comes, what we cannot see clearly now we will see clearly then. When we stand before God we will see how tenderly He has brought us through those dark times, when everything went wrong, and we and our lives seemed widowed and worthless. We will see how generously He has provided for us so that we did not even know the danger and need that surrounded us. We will see how our Father’s delaying, His seeming not to care, was simply part of His wanting our good, readying us for larger gifts, the wholeness and fullness of good - His life and salvation.

So yes, God delays. He patiently and lovingly puts up with us, bears with us and our faltering and little faith that doubts and fears and seeks our life apart from Him. Longsuffering is the word the Scriptures often use. For your Father is no uncaring judge, but loves you more than you know, more than we should expect. And so He is nurturing you to the bigger and better things He wants to give you. Scouring out the sin and wrong expectations . . . like with Jacob. No small wrestling match was that, that went on all night, that left Jacob injured and blessed. So too God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - is working for you.

So how do we pray in this way, like this widow? How do we pray and not lose heart? Well, I would say, you do already. You do when you pray as Jesus taught you to pray.

Our Father - my father who adopted me as His son, His daughter, in Holy Baptism, not because I deserved it but because I didn’t, because He loves me . . .

hallowed be Thy Name - your name by which we cry out to you; your name by which we know you; your name by which we know that you are good and loving and merciful; your name that you have given to me and place upon me in baptism . . .

Thy kingdom come - your kingdom come to me; keep me in this kingdom, in the faith, in the church, in your love and care . . .

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven - on earth. Yes, here and now, your will be done, your will is done. Your mercy, your gifts, your salvation given. Do to me, work in me, according to your will . . .

Give us this day our daily bread - and help me be satisfied and thankful for what you give to me each day according to your will, be it what I had in mind or not, be it ease or trouble, sunshine or storm, and trust that it is good and for my good . . .

And forgive me - forgive me my unfaith, my pride, my attitude, my thanklessness, my doubting you and your love. And through your forgiveness, give me the faith to forgive others, for you are the judge, not me; you are the avenger of wrongs, not me; you died for those sins already . . .

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil - deliver me from the evil one who would plant all kinds of false and deceiving thoughts of you in my mind, and so cause me to follow my own path and desires. Let those seeds not take root in my heart and mind, but only the truth of your Word, the truth of your love.

And praying all that, the judgment for which we cry out, like this widow, then is given. We do not have to wait for the last day, the final judgment. Already Jesus comes to give His judgment on earth - for the judgment rendered at Calvary is given to you here - as His Word of forgiveness is spoken to you and His Body and Blood given to you. Words that give what they say. And you are mercied, you are forgiven, you are raised. For the Son of Man comes now, even as He promised. And faith receives the gifts that He comes and brings. The gifts He freely gives. The gifts He loves to give. The gifts He died to give.

If He delays, He wants you only to grow strong in this faith, in openness to His giving - in ways you might not expect! - and to the always more He wants to give. To make you whole and new and do, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, more than you expect or imagine (Eph 3:20).

[So Jesus] told them [this] parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

Jesus is drawing very near to Jerusalem when He tells this parable; very close to the cross. And Jesus knew this would be a time when the disciples would lose heart. But, in fact, Jesus on the cross is not a time to despair, not a time to lose heart. Jesus on the cross is the certainty of faith. For we pray not to a God who is far away in power, who may or may not hear, and may or may not act - like a judge who doesn’t want to be bothered - but to a God who hung on a cross for you, has promised to hear, and promised us every good. Which means that even His cross and your cross are good. 

So cry out to the Lord, in good times and bad. Beat on His door and on His ears. He loves such prayers of His children. And He will come quickly.

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pentecost 21 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Going Somewhere?”
Text: Ruth 1:1-19a; 2 Timothy 2:1-13; Luke 17:11-19

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

You’ve seen them. Men, women, and children. From Syria, Lybia, Iraq, Sudan, and many other countries. Streaming over the border to the countries around them. Fleeing war, famine, drought. Looking for hope, for life, for peace and rest and safety in another country. Refugees we call them.

That was Naomi, Elimelech and their two sons - refugees. For them it was a famine that made them make the difficult decision to leave Israel and flee to the country of Moab. They probably weren’t the only ones. And, we are told, they wound up staying ten years. So they settled in for the long haul. Their sons married native girls, named Orpah and Ruth.

But trouble didn’t stay in Israel - it followed Naomi. As if the famine and living in a strange place weren’t enough, not only her husband but both her sons died while they were stuck in that foreign land. So when it was time to go back home, Naomi did not return uneffected. She was beat up and beat down. And maybe she didn’t want any reminders of this tough and bitter time in her life. Maybe she wanted her daughters-in-law to have a better life than she had. And so she tells them: Go back. Go home. That would be better for you.

But one, Ruth, would not go back. She had been blessed by these refugees. She had received from Naomi and Elimelech and her husband something far more valuable than family, nation, land, or home. She had learned there was something more desirable than an easy life. She had been given the God of Israel. She had been adopted not just into Naomi’s family but into God’s family. So she would not go back. Instead she says: where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.

The Apostle Paul would not turn back either. He too had received something far more valuable than anything in this world. Arrest and prison could not sway him. Persecution and suffering could not turn him back. His former life was a pretty nice life, you know - he was well-respected, highly advanced, and a pretty important guy. But compared to what he had received, the grace and forgiveness of his Saviour, all that was a Moab to him now. So like Ruth, he would not go back. 

And he gives the reason why - a saying, he says, that is trustworthy and sure:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful - 
for he cannot deny himself.

Now, what exactly does this saying mean? Well, follow along.  . . .  He starts with baptism. If we have died with Him - that’s baptismal language for Paul. We die and rise with Jesus in baptism. We die to sin and rise to live a new life. Not the old life, the Moab life, but a new life as a child of God, adopted into His family. And baptized by Him we will also live with Him, both now and forever. 

But as a baptized child of God, you will face difficulties, struggles, and trials you will have to endure. Like Naomi and Ruth. Sometimes for doing what is right. Sometimes for speaking the truth. Sometimes for resisting temptations to sin, for not going along with everyone else. Sometimes with trials sent by God to strengthen you. Sometimes with attacks by the evil one to weaken you. And you might feel walked on now in all this, but if we endure, we will also reign with him. You won’t just live with Him, Paul says, you will be exalted and reign with Him. 

Some do not endure, though. Some deny Him. When the going gets tough, they get going. When the trials get hot, or the temptations get hot, they get out of the church. That’s what Israel tended to do in the days of the judges, when Ruth lived. They would fall away from God, deny Him. As a result, He denied them His protection and allowed foreign nations to come in and conquer them, in order to discipline them, that they might return to Him. 

And when they returned, they found a faithful and forgiving God. For, Paul goes on to say, if we are faithless, He remains faithful. And yes, even Christians can be faithless. Even you and I can act without faith, violate our faith, and be false to our faith, turning back to Moab. Such is the case when we do not forgive, but hold on to anger and grudges, that is going back to Moab. When we listen to the wisdom of the world and follow it instead of the Word of God, that is going back to Moab. When our hearts are captured by the pleasures and things of this world, that is going back to Moab. When our mouths which here confess the creed and out there curse and swear and speak words that cause hurt and pain, that is going back to Moab. Our Father brought us out of our Moabs in baptism and forgiveness and has given us a new life as His children, are we going to keep going back?

But even though we act in these ways not of faith but of sin, He remains faithful. We are not constant, but He is. For He cannot deny Himself. He cannot deny His Word. He cannot deny His promises made and given. He cannot deny those He has made His sons and daughters in baptism. He is faithful. He forgives. He restores. He heals. He lifts up.

That’s what He did for Paul. That forgiveness. That life. That undeserved grace. Jesus came for him. Jesus knocked him off his high horse and onto his butt, but lifted him up again. Jesus struck him blind, but then enlightened him. Jesus sent him out into persecution and trials, but also strengthened him and remained with him. And so Paul, like Ruth, would not go back. He would suffer, he would work like an athlete, he would endure all things, but he would not go back. But when he did, when he fell, he would repent. Nothing could compare to what he had received.

And so too for that leper. We normally hear this reading at Thanksgiving and the focus is on the leper giving thanks, but hearing it now gives us a chance to hear it a bit differently, and with a little different perspective. That this leper too would not go back. He would not go back to his Moab - he had to go back to Jesus and fall at His feet and worship Him. He had received so much - not only cleansing, but life, from Jesus. His disease was a death sentence. His disease separated him from his family and all other people . . . except for other dying lepers. His disease made life not worth living. But Jesus bridged that gap, came to him, drew near to him, and gave him his life back again. And not just his physical life, but spiritual life. A life of faith and hope and love.

And so too has Jesus done for you. The disease of sin is a death sentence for us. Sin has driven wedges between family and friends. Sin can make us feel that life is not worth living. Sin means that we cannot approach a holy God but are separated by our uncleanness from Him. But for you just as for this leper, Jesus bridged that gap. God came to us in the flesh in His incarnation, drew near to you in the water of our baptism, and raised you to life. That we who are unclean be clean again . . . and again and again.

So perhaps the song of Ruth the Moabitess, the song of the Samaritan leper, and the song of Paul the persecutor could be the song that we are going to sing in just a moment - the words that we will sing just before coming to the altar to repent and receive the forgiveness, life, and salvation of Jesus in His Body and Blood.

We will sing this: What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call on the name of the Lord. I will take the cup of salvation and will call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord's house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem (Offertory, Divine Service 2, LSB p. 176).

No leper, no foreigner could do that. No leper, no foreigner could be in the midst of God’s people. No leper, no foreigner could be in the courts of the Lord’s house. But you can! You have been cleansed. You have been made holy sons and daughters of God in Holy Baptism. 

So when you go back and fall back into sin - and you do and you will, no matter how resolute you are! - when you act faithless, return to the one who is faithful. The one who puts Himself and His Word of forgiveness and His cup of salvation here for you. No matter who you are, no matter what you have done, no matter what you are going through, no matter what lies on the horizon, no matter what your fears and troubles, He is here for you. To hear your prayers, to take your burdens, and give you His love. And He will be here tomorrow and the next day and the next. The world may say “go back.” Many might tell you there’s a better way. But there is only one who laid down His life for you, who went to a cross for you, that you might live with Him forever. 

So maybe we’re refugees too. Taking refuge here from a world which seems to be wandering farther and farther from God and deeper and deeper into sin. We’ve come looking for drink, looking for food, looking for forgiveness and peace and rest. And we find those things here, in the house of our Saviour.

And finding and receiving those things here, perhaps there is a Ruth or two out there who needs them too. From a faithful Saviour who is here to give. And maybe there’s a leper or ten out there who needs the cleansing that Jesus is here to provide. Maybe you’ll be their Naomi, or their Timothy, or their Paul. To let them know that here is what they need. Here is what we all need. Not just for life here and now, but for when we finally get to go home, to our fatherland.

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pentecost 20 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Mercy Is Better”
Text: Luke 17:1-10 (Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:1-14)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

A couple of weeks ago, four young men in New Jersey went shopping. They needed batteries and cable for the stereo system in their dorm. They went to the store and found what they were looking for, but there wasn’t anyone else there - no employees, no cashier. So after waiting a bit but no one coming out to help them, they left the money (including tax) for their purchase on the counter and left.

What happened, it turns out, was that the store was actually closed. The lock on the door had malfunctioned. But a store security camera recorded what they had done. The media caught wind of this and it became a story of no small renown and aired on both local and national news. These young men were brought onto shows as guests, applauded, and even given $50 gift cards - just for being honest, just for doing what is right.

But it’s not just these young men. When you give money back to a cashier because they gave you too much change, they’re shocked. When celebrities or athletes choose not to sleep around but save themselves for marriage, jaws drop. When a husband or wife forgives their spouse instead of getting a divorce, they’re regarded as heroic.

But not to Jesus. In fact, how different from all this are the words we heard from Jesus today: So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ 

When you do good, when you help others - you’ve only done your duty.
When you resist temptations to sin, to take revenge, to take what is not yours - you’ve only done your duty.
When you forgive those who sin against you, even up to seven times a day and more - you’ve only done your duty.
When you are faithful, kind, and compassionate - you’ve only done your duty.
If you keep all the commandments, from 1 to 10, in all their depth and breadth - you’ve only done your duty.
No TV appearance. No $50 gift card. No lavish praise and applause deserved. You’ve only done your duty

Doing all these things are what not only Christians, but all people, are to be doing all the time. It is how we were created, how we were wired, to be. But sin has short-circuited us, so that now instead of forgiveness and doing good being normal, Girls Gone Wild, Men Behaving Badly, and Get What You Can While You Can are now expected.

And it’s a trap you and I can fall into as well. Thinking that when we’ve done something good, when we’ve forgiven that person who sinned against us, when we’ve been generous with our time or money, when we had the opportunity to sin but didn’t, that we deserve something for that. A little quid pro quo - if not from the world then at least from God. And are you disappointed when you don’t see it coming? When you’re not rewarded? When it seems as if God is gypping you and it’s just not worth the effort?

Well, Jesus says, what do you expect? Does the servant who comes in from plowing or keeping the sheep expect his master to be so thankful that he did his duty that the master gets up and serves the servant?

Oh wait. That is what Jesus did! No, He does even more, for He does it for us who don’t even do our duty. We come here, to the house of our Saviour, fresh from a week of failing to do good, of provoking others, of failing to forgive; a week of pride and selfishness and hurtful words; a week of, if not hurting others, then at least failing to help as much as we should; a week of failing to do our duty . . . and our Master, our Saviour, serves us unworthy servants. He removes our filthy, sinful rags, washes us clean from our sins, and dresses us with His righteousness. He speaks to us His Word, and He sets His food and drink, His Body and Blood, before us and says come and eat. I have prepared everything for you.

Is not this what we should marvel at? That we perhaps do not shows the real danger of our wrong thinking, when we think that we should be rewarded for doing good and that God owes us.

In that kind of thinking, everything starts with us. We do, we act, and then God responds. But that is the wrong order. That is completely upside down. For in reality, in truth, everything starts with God. He does, He acts, and we respond to Him. Without Him there is no world. Without Him there is no life. Without Him we have nothing.

And so the right way of thinking is that God acts, God speaks, in mercy and love and kindness, and we receive from Him. Everything undeserved. Or as we confess in the Creed (and as our catechism students are learning right now): I believe that God has made me and all creatures, that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or withiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

This is right thinking. This gets the order right. And it is better. Mercy is better. If we get what we deserve, we get nothing. If we get what we deserve, we pat ourselves on the back. If we get what we deserve, then God is no Father, but simply an employer or a master. But if we receive mercy, we get all we need and more. If we receive mercy, we receive love. If we receive mercy, we have God as our Father, His Son as our Saviour, and His Spirit to live in us and guide us and help us.

Mercy is better. Sometimes we don’t see it that way, thinking that mercy is only a last resort, the hope of the hopeless, the domain of the down and out. But that is what we are. Down and out sinners, deserving of death and condemnation, in need of mercy. And we have a merciful God.

And so we have come this day, we who have received mercy, and we confessed that we have not lived mercifully - we have not lived as receivers of mercy nor as givers of mercy. For to do our duty, all that God has commanded us, the Ten Commandments, is that not to show mercy and love to our neighbor? To do for them and give to them what our Father has given to us? But I have not, we repent and lament. And we plead: Lord, have mercy. And He does. He forgives, He speaks, He feeds, and He sends us back out with these gifts and His blessing and bids us be merciful to others. Not to give them what they deserve, but to be merciful. For mercy is better.

This is what Habakkuk was writing about. He looked around in his world in his day and saw Girls Gone Wild and Men Behaving Badly and asked God: How long? When are you going to judge all this and end all this? God didn’t give him an answer, but instead replied: the righteous shall live by his faith. Faith that receives the mercy of God, trusts the mercy of God, and gives the mercy of God to others. Even when the world around us is falling apart. Or maybe especially then! Faith, Habakkuk. Mercy. Mercy is better.

This is also what Paul was writing about to Timothy when he talked about not being ashamed of the Gospel. Paul was a prisoner at the time, and was no doubt receiving no small amount of mocking. This is how your God takes care of you, huh? This is how He rewards His “great missionary?” But Paul knew of mercy, not rewards. He knew of the one who had mercifully come to him and changed him and turned his life around and gave him the opportunity to preach. So I am not ashamed, Paul said. Faith, Timothy. Mercy. Mercy is better. I know what has been mercifully promised to me on the Last Day. You too, Timothy. 

And you too, people of God, loved by God, redeemed by the blood of God. Your God who hung on the cross in mercy for you, now sets himself on this altar in mercy for you and serves you. For mercy is better. That as unworthy servants mercifully declared righteous by Your Saviour, you live by this faith that receives the mercy of God and gives the mercy of God. And if your faith seems too small and weak and not up to it, that’s okay. Even faith as small as a mustard seed is sufficient. Your Father will see to it that you have what you need, and more. All that you need for both this life and the next. To do good and to forgive. To both live and die in His mercy and love.

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.