Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church – Dyer, Indiana
10. October 2010
Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
Matthew 9:1-8; Ephesians 4:22-28
“Rise! Your sins are forgiven!”
Do you sometimes get bored with the Divine Service as we Lutherans practice it? We do pretty much the same thing week in and week out. There’s so little variation that we get lulled into boredom, distraction, or slumber. Sure, the appointed readings change each week. A different Psalm is assigned for us to sing or say responsively. We sing together old favorites and new not-so-favorite hymns. But the prayers are stodgy old English and said by wrote. The pastor always dresses the same way and is stuck in the pulpit. His sermon is always about Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It can get pretty dull after a while, right?
Even more so, it seems all we hear about is the “forgiveness of sins.” Every week, we begin with the baptismal blessing of forgiveness in the holy name: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I declare to you from the office of Christ that your sins are forgiven in personal and public Holy Absolution. When you hear the Gospel read and preached, your sins are forgiven. When you sing a sacred song of God’s saving grace, your sins are forgiven. When you receive the Holy Supper of the Lord, the body and blood are placed in your mouth, forgiving your sins. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, you sins are forgiven. When you receive the Aaronic benediction at the close of the service, your sins are forgiven.
With all this talk of forgiveness, it starts to sound redundant, right? C’mon, Jesus, give me a break. I’m not that sinful. I don’t doubt that you have forgiven me. Just give it a rest already. You sound like a broken record. Step down from the soap box and give me the stuff I really need, the how-to’s, the ground-level-day-to-day-lessons. Jesus, teach me how to be practical, to live a good live, and to be wise steward.
This kind of preaching is all too popular in our world. We hear it at the churches around the corner, from the magazines on the newsstand, from Dr. Phil and Oprah. Buddha and Mohammed gave some great lessons for how to live a virtuous life. Therapists and trainers can get your mind and body into shape. Even our civil leaders will tell you how to take care of the poor and needy, with government sponsored medicine, welfare, and other social programs.
Is your marriage on the rocks? Go to marriage counseling. Are you addicted to drugs, alcohol, or pornography? There’s rehab, therapy, and counseling for those, too. Do you steal, hate, or covet? The state can fix you up with programs in our prisons, rehabilitating you for life in society. There’s a solution for all our problems.
So, why does the church always harp on and on about Jesus’ forgiveness? Why do our liturgies, our hymns, and my preaching always bemoan the state of life, man, and all creation? Why do we ceaselessly talk about how rotten we are and how much we need Jesus’ forgiveness?
Simply put, because it is the truth. God’s Word says: you are a dirty, rotten, miserable, low-life sinner. You disobey your Lord at every opportunity. You can’t even sit through a Divine Service without having an evil thought about your neighbor, your pastor, or even your eternal Father. We lie paralyzed in our trespasses, unable to come to God or love Him. Through the Word, God hacks away incessantly at our hard exterior of righteous deeds and thoughts to reveal the inner demons, the stinking flesh of sin, and our hidden rejection of God and His Law.
Last week, even after prayer and meditation to prepare to serve the Lord on Sunday morning, this wicked nature of mine burst forth from my mouth. I made a rude and inappropriate comment about one of our dear sisters in Christ. I offended her and her family. This may come as a shock to hear. How could our new and lovely pastor do such a thing? How could he say something to hurt one of Christ’s little ones?
I’ll tell you how: my old Adam rose up from the grave and came back to life. In an instant, I gave myself over to Satan and his temptation and inflicted pain and hurt on one of our brethren. I’ll tell you this also: It’s not the first time and I’m ashamed to say, it won’t be the last time. I am a sinner and I daily sin much. Being a pastor does not give me special grace to avoid sin. Quite the contrary, being a pastor is like wearing a bulls-eye. The evil one throws his fiery darts right at me. Satan knows that if he causes me to sin, he can destroy the whole flock here at Grace. Kill the shepherd and the flock is scattered. Undermine the pastor and the holy office with shame and disgrace and the church will lose hope and faith.
As your pastor, I must hear God’s Word too, confessing and being absolved just like you. Immediately after singing our hymn of invocation, our Lord said to me in the Confession of Sins: “you are a poor, miserable sinner. You have sinned against me in thought, word, and deed. You justly deserve nothing but punishment now in your flesh and punishment forever in eternity.” Our Lord utterly destroyed in me any thought that my actions before our dear sister was justified. When I prayed silently, I said: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner. I have offended one of the flock. I am not worthy to come into your tent.”
The life of the Christian is one of repentance. The life of a pastor is also one of repentance. Repentance is saying back to our Lord what He has said from His Word, namely, that we are no-good sinners and deserve nothing but punishment. Repentance is confession of guilt and the Spirit-borne desire to do better.
We repent in the Divine Service. We repent daily. We repent to our friends. We repent to our children. We repent to our parents. We repent to our spouses. We repent to our neighbors. We repent to our civil authorities. We say to them all, I have wronged you and I desire to do better. The blessed Dr. Luther said: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance” (95 Theses, Thesis One).
This is far from easy to do. Our flesh is completely opposed to repenting. Our old self is corrupt with deceitful desires. It desires falsehood, boldly saying that we are righteous in sin. It says we can be angry without sin. Thus, when we sin against our friends, neighbors, and family, it is hard for us to say: “I am sorry. I have sinned against you. I do not wish to do it again.” Indeed, it is impossible for our flesh to repent. That dirty bugger of a heart squirms and writhes against the thought of saying “I’m sorry.” Our flesh is utterly paralyzed, laying dead on the bed in fear.
But this is our “old self,” the body of flesh, sin, and death. Even your pastor has such an “old self” and it likes to speak out-of-turn, rude, and even hateful words against others. For your pastor, for all Christians, and for you, this “old self” must daily be drowned by our baptismal waters. A stake must be driven into its still beating heart with the holy name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No one other than the Holy Spirit acting through the Word of God can kill this “old self” and rise up in us the “new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23).
It is this Word of God, the promise of forgiveness of our Lord’s shed blood, that is used by the Holy Spirit to create faith. Faith trusts in this Word of God to deliver us from our bondage to sin. That’s right, we are enslaved to sin, like a servant is bound to his master. Sin is the paralysis that keeps us from coming to our Lord. We are stuck, lying on the bed, like that paralytic. Our flesh is incapable of choosing to follow God, choosing to do good, or choosing to be healed.
God’s Word compels to come to Jesus, seeking freedom from our bondage to sin. When it is too hard for us to see our sin, our Lord sends friends to call us to repentance. It is God’s Word that compels us to bring our friends who yet like in the dark paralysis of sin, not having received the gift of faith in the forgiveness promise of our Lord. Faith in God’s promise is worked in us by His Holy Spirit. This faith trusts that when we come to our Lord on our knees, in utter repentance, He will forgive us and put on us the “new self,” his very likeness.
“And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven’” (Matthew 9:2). Our Lord has seen our faith in His promise of forgiveness. He has heard our pleas of repentance. He heard you pastor as I knelt at the rail last Sunday, begging to be forgiven and to preserve the faith of all our little ones, despite the vile words of my mouth. God put to death the “old self” and rose up in me a “new self” of repentance and forgiveness.
Our Lord hears you when you beg for His mercy, pleading to be spared for all you have said and done against His will. He has heard you and has forgiven you. His shed blood once-and-for-all has freed you from bondage to sin. Our Lord’s death slayed your stinking heart of flesh, crushed the serpent’s head, and destroyed death forever for all who believe. Our Lord’s resurrection proves death’s defeat. Its stranglehold on humanity is no more. We poor sinners are forgiven and renewed to life. Jesus says to you: “Rise, child, your sins are forgiven!”
It is this life of repentance leading to forgiveness that begins in us a new life and eternal salvation. Christ’s good work has begun in us, where faith and repentance are found. It creates in us a clean heart, a new self, that loves the neighbor as much or more than the self. Your pastor could not sit on his forgiven laurels. No, Christ’s work of forgiveness is bigger than that. Because Christ forgave me, I was compelled to seek the forgiveness of my dear sister in the faith and all those whom my wicked word offended.
Yes, it is true, that your pastor has a special burden to keep all of Christ’s little ones from sin. God has appointed a special millstone just for me in the event that I lead any of His little ones to sin. Even so, simply as a Christian, my clean heart could not abide with the thought of a fellow believer holding anger or bitterness over my words. As a Christian, faith tells me that my entire life is one of repentance. So, it is my faithful duty to repent before our dear sister, to beg for the same forgiveness Christ has given me.
This is true for every one of us. We pray daily in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In our marriages, we daily repent of the hurt, the abuse, the negligence, and the betrayal we caused or inflicted on our spouse. We boldly ask for forgiveness knowing that our spouse will declare Christ’s forgiveness to us. When we cause our children to be angry with us, we beg them to forgive us, thus restoring our family in repentance.
When we anger our neighbors, we plead for mercy and they absolve us just as Christ has absolved us. This is what no therapist, no self-help manual, nor any program can give us. Those things help to be sure but it is only our Lord that can say to us, “Take heart, my child, your sins are forgiven.” The Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins. Hear the Word of the Lord and be forgiven! Amen.