PENTECOST 8, C – July 14, 2013

SCRIPTURES – Leviticus 19:9-18; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37; Psalm 136

A lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “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.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10)

Fifteen times this morning we heard God say, “You shall not…” Three times He said, “You shall.” There’s no question that God expects us to live holy lives that are guided by His Word. He also spoke to a number of issues, and so there are many different sins we could consider today! But, there’s one we need to be concerned about above all others, one sin which afflicts us from our earliest days and clings to us all. That sin is denial, seeking to justify your actions and excuse them so as not to be seen as sinful. This sin is also known as self-righteousness.

How quick we are to justify ourselves! We seek to explain away and excuse our sins, and when we can’t, we seek to redirect, to get the focus off of ourselves and onto others, as did the lawyer by asking: “And who is my neighbor?” But, can we justify ourselves?
 Not too long ago there was a commercial on TV which began with a guy angrily responding to an email. His buddy next to him then says, “Hey, did you know you hit, ‘Reply All’?” We then see the guy yelling and running from person to person and office to office, smashing computers and knocking smart phones out of peoples’ hands.
You can’t take back words you have said or change things you have done. And, God cannot be distracted. He sees your actions. He knows your thoughts and desires. Nothing is hidden from the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. We cannot justify ourselves before Him.

Why, then, do we seek to do so? None of us wants to be seen as wrong. We want to be considered good and not bad. But, know this: there is nothing more sinful than seeking to deny your sins or dodging accountability for them, for you are then holding onto your sins and not letting them be redeemed and forgiven by Christ. And, to others you are saying that Christ is no different than the people of this world, who so often hold onto your wrongs and try to make you pay for them.

Above everything else you must know this and hang onto this: God the Father did not send His Son to be a legislator who would make new laws for us to follow. He did not send Him to be a cop or a judge who would enforce His laws. No, God sent His Son to be our Savior. Today’s reading from Colossians tells us that through Jesus God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” The forgiveness of sins: that is what Christ’s kingdom is all about. Confess your sins, then, and don’t deny them. Stop trying to justify yourself by making excuses and dodging responsibility. When you do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing – even if you didn’t mean to do so or didn’t intend any hurt – then take responsibility. Admit your sin and claim God’s forgiveness in Christ. Let Jesus be your Savior! This is what being a Christian is all about.

In this world in people fear being seen as wrong and, like the lawyer who tested Jesus, constantly try to dodge accountability. We all see this. Many people turn away from religion because they think that religious people are self-righteous people whose main concern is to point out sins and show themselves better than others. They think that religion is all about guilt, and want no part of that.

That is not our faith! Our God and Savior does not stand above others or pass by sinners but turns to them. Sin and guilt are His concern, but only because He wishes to forgive them. His kingdom is a kingdom “of redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Christ’s kingdom of light means bringing your sin into the light, admitting to it and seeking justification (forgiveness) from Christ. The domain of darkness is seeking to justify yourself by denying sin and dodging guilt.

Consider the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is often looked upon as a story which Jesus told to teach us that we are to help anyone who is in need. And, it is of course true that we are to do that. With this parable, however, Jesus is teaching us first about Himself, and only after that about ourselves. We need to first see that He is the Good Samaritan, the Savior of the dying. The lawyer who came to Jesus did not look upon Him this way but with suspicion and distrust and dislike – just as he would look upon a Samaritan. The Samaritans, you see, were kind of half-breed Jews who had a faulty understanding of God’s Word. For this reason the Jews despised the Samaritans, and the most religious Jews would not even set foot on their land. In Jesus’ parable the Samaritan man, then, would have absolutely no obligation to the injured Jewish man. After all, the Jewish man would despise him! And yet it was the lowly and despised Samaritan who came in compassion and saved the severely injured Jewish man by tending his wounds and paying the price, no matter what the cost, for his healing. Jesus was speaking of Himself. Although He had no obligation to do so, He came to us in humility and compassion and paid the ultimate price to save us. He gave His life for us on the cross.

Having been “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred into His kingdom,” a kingdom of redemption and forgiveness, we go forth into this world, then, as Jesus went forth. We, too, are Samaritans: and that’s the other point of the parable. The lawyer wanted to know who his neighbor was whom he had to love. Jesus taught him to be a neighbor and show love. We are to do so even when we are Samaritans, are despised and hated and rejected.
 We agree that we are Samaritans, for we are lowly and despised sinners.
 And yet, we are Samaritans who have the healing of forgiveness and life in Christ to bring to broken and injured sinners.
By acknowledging that we are Samaritans, we proclaim that we are no different from others. We, too, are sinful. We know God, however, know that “He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) We seek His forgiveness; we rejoice in His forgiveness; and we share His forgiveness.

This is what it means to be a Christian. We are Samaritans in this world, but God calls us His saints, forgiven in Christ and “qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” (Col. 1) All thanks and praise to the Triune God for the blessing of His forgiveness in Christ!