18. September 2011
If you want to know what this Sunday is all about, look to the collect of the day. This prayer “collects” the various themes of the propers (Introit, Psalm, Gradual, and readings) into a short petition. That’s why its prayed right after the Introit, Kyrie, and Gloria, and shortly before the readings. It sets the parameters and framework for you to understand what has and is to come in this Sunday’s Divine Service.
These collects always address a person of the Holy Trinity, followed by our problem and a plea for help, and ending with a doxological termination, a praise ending. Today’s collect began with this petition to the Lord: “Almighty and everlasting God, give us an increase of faith, hope, and charity…”
Only the almighty and everlasting God can give what fallen mankind inherently lacks. The problem of natural man is that he lacks faith, hope, and charity. He cannot love God with his whole heart. He cannot believe that Jesus is His savior.
Natural man has no faith, that is, trust in God’s judgment by the Law and consequent reliance upon our Lord’s ever-enduring mercy. Therefore, he has no hope. There is no need for hope where there is no Law. There is no hope where there is no Gospel. Faith believes the Law is good and wise and trusts in Christ’s merciful redemption for our transgression against it. Faith has hope in and through Jesus Christ.
The reason why things have become so miserable for so many is that we have intentionally forgotten God’s Law. Sure, there are laws in our land. Many of them are of the “nudge-nudge-wink-wink” variety. The speed limit is only valid if you exceed it recklessly. Its only cheating your government if you get audited. Its only abuse if there are marks to prove it. Its only slander if your not being honest. The slippery slope of lawlessness only leads us further into the muck and mire, moving from despair to nothingness.
Without the revelation of Holy Trinity spoken into our hearts, life is but an “aimless mote.” Without the knowledge of the Law-giver, the natural law we know so well seems pointless and void. In the worst case, the law is so toothless that natural man sends it to the easy chair like Grandpa, to talk to himself, mumbling about how life was better when he was young. People used to stay married. People used to help their neighbor raise his barn, care for his crops, drive him to the hospital, watch the house while he was away. People used to be better.
That’s why the Scriptures are so insistent on putting the Law immediately before your eyes. We those tablets of stone are staring you down, you can’t help but acknowledge you are miserable. Demonic robbers have stolen your innocence and blessedness. Satan has stripped and beaten you, to the point that there is little of God’s original image left. By all outward appearances you have no right to be called a Christian.
There you are, bleeding and half-dead. You have nothing to give and completely poor in the things of God. You are so far from God’s almighty will, fallen and dying in the stinking ditch. The only work you can do now is cling to your filthy rags. All you can do is desperately call out “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
We might be tempted though to call out to the righteous person who passes, “You can help me be better! You can help me be a better person. You can give me practical and realistic life lessons. You can teach me how to live that I can inherit eternal life.”
But these people won’t help you. They love their own life more than yours. They want nothing to do with a rotten, low life like you. You’re no pious person. You’re an outsider. Their lessons are only good for them. Their piety and righteous living is done for completely selfish gain. Nose thrust in the air, they look the other way and pass on by.
But you are not without hope. You know and trust that there is one who has not forgotten. There is one whom no one would expect that has your salvation in mind. There is one perfect Samaritan who cannot ignore your plight or plea. There is one whose inward parts yearn with heartache for you. There is one whose compassion is never-ending.
This one is Jesus the Christ. He journeys to see you every Lord’s Day. He binds up your wounds with Holy Absolution. He anoints you with the oil of Holy Baptism, pouring it over your head, naming you as a child of God and rightful heir to the heavenly thrones. He pours wine on your parched lips to quench your thirst for righteousness, forgiving your sins with his own sweet blood.
From there, our Lord Jesus carries you on his own beast of burden, from your cross to the holy sanctuary of the Christian inn, the church. He cares for you, even entrusting a wonderful gift of two denarii to the innkeeper of this church, your pastor, to benefit those now under his care.
We might feel like we are beyond saving but that is only Satan speaking. No sin is too great to be forgiven. No wound is too deep that it cannot be healed. No weak will cannot be strengthened. No burden is too heavy to carry. And no one, not one is beyond the saving that our Lord’s death and resurrection accomplished.
We are never to far from the path that Jesus cannot find us and restore us. We may think that we’re next to dead because of our wickedness and Christ still seeks us. His mercy endures forever. Even when we forsake our neighbor, instead preferring to walk on the other side, only later to find ourselves in the same ditch, our Lord finds us and forgives us.
Even when we fail to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, thereby falling into darkness, even then, the light no darkness can overcome finds us out and brings us back. Jesus does this great work as the Perfect and Great Samaritan, the outsider who restores us to be insiders. Our natural man hates what our Lord has commanded. Thanks be to God that through our Samaritan’s binding our wounds, anointing with healing oil, refreshing with sacrificial wine, and deliverance into His holy presence, the aim of our natural man and his engineer, the Devil, are completely undone.
That’s the key. There is no love of the Law for those outside Christ. Without Christ giving us his perfect righteousness, the law kills. Without Christ binding our wounds, those wounds are fatal. Without Christ refreshing our parched lips with righteousness, we die of thirst. Without Christ anointing us with oil, we remain outsiders and cursed. Without Christ carrying us home, we are left to die, exposed by our own wickedness.
There is no doubt that one of the best ways our Lord cares for his creation is through the holy Christian church. Just as the Lord has lifted you up, so also we are little Samaritans. Each of us, undeserving of any act of forgiveness, mercy, and kindness, yet, blessed recipients of our Lord’s care, are each transformed into Samaritans. You might recall the collect of the day asked for one more thing: “Almighty and everlasting God, give us an increase of faith, hope, and charity.” Charity, caritas, is not simply giving alms to the poor. Charity is agape, the love that God has for us. We ask that our Lord give us not only faith and then hope but finally love. Love cares for all, first for God and then for neighbor.
One of the ways we are such a blessing to others is to let that love shine forth in Christian charity. The holy Christian church is the Inn where Christ cares for us. The innkeeper is the pastor called and ordained as representative of Christ, to care for the souls entrusted to him. As dutiful Samaritans, we entrust this inn with two denarii or even more if it is needed to care for those in need. When it comes to Christian virtues of charity and generosity, it is as the Samaritan said: “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”
That doesn’t make it any easier, for it takes faith. Despite even our Lord’s example to be dutiful servants, the discipline of charity is hard. Yet, it is true and good. Charity keeps one’s heart upon the Lord for it requires trust that He will provide in the end.
Thus, we ought to spend of what our Lord has clearly promised to give us. He has promised that will be repaid on the last day for every denarii required to care for his church and the sojourners within. We are to spend for Him and His kingdom in the church, not worried about tomorrow, for He has promised to repay us.
Our Lord reminds us that we are to do as he commanded. We are to give freely, from a cheerful heart. Even when we are poor stewards, poor innkeepers and tenants, Christ has forgiven us. Christ has paid the full price. Even when we are greedy and miserly, His death and resurrection forgives us all our sin. We can return to this work of charity with a clean heart, ready to be a blessing again.
Thanks be to God our Lord Jesus has done this, still does this, and will do this for us unto our dying breaths. Even then, he will take the death we deserve and transform it into a blessed rest until we are resurrected into the joys of heaven.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church