Archive for the ‘Leviticus 18:1-5’ Category

“Can You Do It?”

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

Seventh Sunday in Pentecost, July 11, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This morning, God’s Word confronts us like a bolt of lightning and the crash of thunder. “Do this and you will have eternal life!” [Lk. 10:28b]  “Go and do likewise!” [v. 37b] These aren’t Words of encouragement that Jesus gives they are the absolute demand of perfection, which God’s Holy Law insists on!  Follow the Law perfectly and you will be assured of peace with God and eternal life!  Can you do it?  The lawyer in our gospel reading thought that he could; he thought that he could not only follow God’s rules and statutes found in the 10 Commandments in a way that would please the Lord his God, but he also thought that he could teach others to do the same!  And if we are honest with ourselves, we fool ourselves into thinking that we can do it also!  We think that we should get a passing grade from God for our honest effort at being good.  But as the lawyer discovered, God doesn’t grade on a curve.  He doesn’t look at our best effort and say, “OK.  Good attempt.  I’ll take it from there!”  No friends, God demands perfection!  Are you worried about this?  Good!  Because this truth must never leave your heart and mind or it will cheapen the gift of grace that God’s has given to you and demands that you live by.  And what is this gift of grace?  It was the same message that Jesus commissioned the 70 disciples to proclaim in last week’s gospel reading: “The kingdom of God has come to you!  God’s forgiveness, love, and mercy are yours if you will not reject them.”

The lawyer, the expert in God’s law undoubtedly was aware of this message that they were sent out with.  He heard Jesus instruct them not to rejoice because demons fled at the mention of Jesus’ name.  Instead, Jesus told them to rejoice because they had received salvation themselves through Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the good news!  And to this, the lawyer was irritated and moved to confront Jesus.  “What about the Law?!  Are you setting a side God’s Holy Law!?  How then can I receive eternal life?  What must I do to be saved?”

I. And to this question, Jesus asks each of us who would find comfort in rules, God’s Holy Law, this one question in return: “What is written in the Law?  How do you interpret it?” [v. 26] And along with the lawyer, many of us “good Christians” can answer: I must love the Lord, my God, out of my whole heart, and in my whole soul, and in my whole strength, and in my whole mind; and I must love my neighbor as myself!”  And to this, Jesus replies, “Very good!”  Now go and do this perfectly and you will live!”  Perfectly?  Wait a minute Lord… no one can do it perfectly but God!  Come on now; isn’t that impossible?  Yes, but you are the one that wants to be doing something; so go ahead and do, do, do!  Do until there is no more time to do and then look back at what you have done and see if it was perfectly done!

And so the lawyer’s dilemma becomes our dilemma.  The very rules we sought refuge and protection in have become the very trap that springs its jaws of death upon us;  sinking its vicious teeth within our flesh and refusing to let go or offer any way out of a sure and certain death!  What can be done to help?

Like the lawyer, we must read the law the way that it was meant to be read.  We must understand the very heart and mind of God Himself.  We must learn that the heart of God is love, not anger; mercy not punishment; grace and not payment!  When we say that we must love the LORD our GOD we are calling upon His covenant names.  His name Lord or Kurios in the Greek is the very name He gave to Moses within the 10 Commandments.  And that name is Yaweh in Hebrew, which in English means “I am that I am.” The unchanging covenant Lord.  And the word God, which in Greek is THEOS and in Hebrew is ELOHEKA, means the God of power and might who puts all of His power on behalf of those who love Him and have faith in Him.  So the Lord that we love and trust is the God that does all of the work to save us!  Both of these names of God together make up one complete name.  A name that declares that our creator is both the One furnishing the means of our salvation and the ability to accomplish it!  He alone gives us both the desire to fulfill the Law and the ability to trust in His grace and love so that we can be assured that we have received both of them!

II. The lawyer and perhaps even we, ask the wrong question.  The question is not what must I do to inherit eternal life, but rather what must I have to receive eternal life!  And the answer is, you must have a new heart!  If we must love God out of our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind, but when we look at these things and we find them sinful and incapable of that which God demands, then we can only conclude that it is impossible for us to please God with them.  In which case we are either completely lost without hope, or we must look for a new source of strength and hope.  And that is the very place Jesus wanted to lead the lawyer and even you and me this morning. 

In our Epistle lesson this morning [Col. 1:1-14], St. Paul gives us a picture of a congregation that is demonstrating the kind of love that God’s law demands.  In vs. 4 he says that he had heard of the Colossians faith in Jesus Christ!  How did they know about Jesus?  Through the Word of God!  They heard about Him through Paul’s teachings about a covenant God who came to them in the human flesh of Jesus Christ, to do what they could not.  He lived a perfect life on their behalf.  But that was not all that they heard about; they also heard that this Jesus, the very Son of God died the death that their sinful flesh deserved, and He died that death also on their behalf.  Why?  To prove that the Lord their God, is first the covenant God of the Jews, and second to show that He is the God and Savior of the entire world.  “For God so love the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:16]  This is the very life that the lawyer was searching for but missed!

But what about the other half of the demand that the Law presses down upon us; you know, the part that says that we must love our neighbor as ourselves?  How can I love someone who only means we harm… someone who seems to hate me?  Well Paul tells the Colassians that they are fulfilling that demand as well, when he says that he also heard of the love that they had for all of the saints.  How did they receive this ability to love?  By receiving a new heart; the heart of Jesus!  Ok… then how did they get this new heart?  Again through the Word of God; that Word that we call the Word of truth, the gospel, which came not just to the Colossians but even to you!  It is this Word of truth that is bearing fruit within you and it is growing even now!  What is it growing?  The love of God… the very heart of Jesus Christ!  When did this happen?  The day you first heard it within the waters of your Holy Baptism.  The day you understood the grace of God… the love and mercy of God that was in it!  And it is happening even now!” [Col. 1:1-8]  And it is that same Word and your dependence upon the Lord your God that fills you with the knowledge of God’s perfect will and all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  Why?  So you CAN walk in a manner worthy of the sacrifice, love, mercy and grace of your Lord Jesus Christ!  And now, because of your faith in Jesus alone, God’s Word is creating within you a way to walk that pleases Him.  Through His Holy Word and Sacraments He is forever strengthening you with His power, according to His glorious might so that you can endure all things, even your own sinfulness and failures with patience and joy!  This is entirely the work of God dear friends, which has transferred you out of the kingdom of darkness and into His kingdom of grace and eternal life… the kingdom of His beloved Son Jesus Christ, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins!

III. Friends, it is your Lord Jesus Christ who is your Good Samaritan!  It is your Jesus who has taken you out of the world of sin, death, and the devil.  He has defeated this motley crew of bandits that has beaten you and left you for dead.  He has smashed them and sent them scurrying like a pack of dirty vicious dogs through His divine power.  It is your dear Jesus who is healing your wounds, wounds caused by the vicious lash of the Law, and He does this through the balm of His gospel Word.  He tells you that your covenant God is a God of love and mercy, not a God of hatred and revenge.  It is your Holy Jesus who puts you upon His own cross, which He bears upon His shoulders, and He carries you into His church, where you are forever cared for with the sweet taste of forgiveness and peace with God.  Even now He is nourishing you unto eternal life with His own Word and Sacrament… His means of grace, so that you would know that you have a God of peace and love. 

And what does He ask in return?  “God and do likewise.” [Lk. 10:37b]  But now, this command is not a demand that can’t be fulfilled.  No friends, God does not want you to leave here feeling helpless and confused like the lawyer.  Instead, He wants you to remember that you have been given a new heart; His heart.  He wants you to remember that it is He who is living within you and through you; you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you!  In Jesus Christ, you are more than a conqueror; for neither life nor death, powers nor principalities can separate you from God’s love which is your through Christ Jesus!

 Can you do it?  Si sepuede… yes you can, through Christ who is within you and strengthens you! 

Now may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus who is your “Good Samaritan”!  AMEN!