23 August 2009

Homily for Trinity 11

Two men went to Church to pray. One a Missouri Synod Lutheran and the other an ELCA Lutheran. The Missouri Synod Lutheran stood and prayed thus with himself: “I thank you God that you made a Missouri Synod Lutheran and not one of those crazy ELCA Lutherans with their faithless rejection of Your Word; with their treatment of sin as virtue; with their ecumenical agreements with those who deny the real presence of Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper.” The ELCA Lutheran, however, standing far off, did not even dare to raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” This man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the last few days, you can't have missed the headlines about what “the Lutherans” are up to now. Yes, at the ELCA’s churchwide assembly that concluded yesterday in Minneapolis, our fellow Lutherans have announced that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered relationships are a-okay with them; that their pastors may be in such relationships without prejudice; that the church needs a liturgy for divorce; that they are in full communion fellowship now with those who say that the bread and wine in the Eucharist are most certainly NOT Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. Like one death knell after the next, the decisions boomed out this week, effectively setting aside God’s Word (which many faithful pastors and laity spoke with clarity on the floor of the assembly only to have that Word rejected).

And newspapers and TV reporters, being rather ill-informed about the Christian faith in general and the Lutheran Church in particular, plaster the name “Lutheran” across these changes in the ELCA. The Lutherans have done this, they announce! The Lutherans are getting with it and joining the Episcopal Church in being culturally relevant!

And here we sit. I confess that I WANTED to put up on our Church sign this week: “We’re not THOSE Lutherans!” But God in His grace has given us our Lord’s words about the Pharisee and the Tax-collector to keep us from the pride that would look down on our brothers and sisters in their suffering.

You see, it is a small step from condemning the ELCA’s condemnable actions to priding ourselves that we in the Missouri Synod, for all our problems, at least are not LIKE THEM. But that IS what the Pharisee did, isn’t it? He thanked God that HE took God’s Word seriously and let that Word shape his life: he wasn’t like other men. And there you see the problem, you see where his gaze was directed. He was busy comparing himself to others, and the result was that he ended up puffed up about himself. Compared to THEM, he was a rather decent chap. God was lucky to have such a one on His side, and he didn’t mind reminding God of that in prayer.

Whenever the standard is THEM – whoever them may be – we will way too often land ourselves in the folly of the Pharisee, pridefully exalting ourselves. But here the tax-collector is the man with the penetrating insight. For he does not fall into the easy trap of comparing himself to other people – where there’s always somebody at hand who makes you good. No, he will not lift his eyes because there is only One whose standard counts. And His standard is gold and never changes, never devalues, always the same: total and complete love, love without any self-interest in it, love that does the good not to win a reward or to curry favor, but simply because the good is what it desires to do.

Against that gold standard of the Law of the God of Israel – love your God with your all; love your neighbor as yourself – the tax-collector had to hang his head in shame. He was a failure at it. Down to the depths of his being. He knew that he had nothing good inside of him that was untouched by pride and evil. He knew that if he finally had any standing with God it depended entirely upon God not on himself. So his plea: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Jesus says that the one who utters such a prayer goes to his home justified, that is, with the prayer granted. Mercy given. Sins covered. Declared righteous in the eyes of the Only One who matters.

Jesus can say this because He is the answer to every prayer for mercy. He came and did in our flesh what we could never do. He lived that perfect gold standard of unfailing love that the Law demands. He loved His Father above all and His neighbor as Himself even to the point of carrying all His neighbor’s sin to death on His cross at the Father’s bidding, becoming that sin and its curse, letting the judgment against all our pride, our ridiculous self-delusion and self-interest come crashing down upon Him. He bore it all so that as the Crucified One who was raised from the dead, He might bring a whole new world into existence. A world that hangs solely on mercy, on God giving what we DON’T deserve and handing it out to sinners so that they might indeed, go to their home, their heavenly home, justified, mercied, forgiven, declared righteous because Christ’s perfect righteousness has been given to them. That's the gift borne in the water of Baptism; sealed in your ears by the words of Absolution; and put into your mouth by the Body and Blood that bore your sin and are your righteousness.

When we remember that, there can be no Pharisee prayer, thanking God we’re not ELCA Lutherans. Rather, as fellow sinners, we join the many ELCA Lutherans who will be praying this Sunday and for many days to come: O God, have mercy on us for we have failed You! Even as we condemn without hesitation what their Chuchwide Assembly has done, we let them know that we, too, are condemned sinners who live only from the mercy of God in Jesus Christ, and we’ll join them in pleading with God for the mercy that none of us deserve but from which all of us can live. And live forever! Amen.


Anonymous said...


Tom Fast

bajaye said...

This is a very good sermon!

Chris said...

Father Weedon,

This is a good sermon especially since you use probably my favorite parable of Christ. I'm sure you know this, but in the Eastern Churches, this Gospel lesson is prescribed for the first Sunday of the Triodion (the Lenten season), which is equivalent to your Septuagesima. We also are given a dispensation from fasting for the whole week to realize what true fasting is.

Yes, we're all sinners in the eyes of the Lord and though I have spoken with great ire myself towards the ELCA over the years, because I was thankful that I was never one of THOSE Lutherans, despite their leadership's irresponsible and heretical decisions, there are still many of them who are good and faithful servants of our Lord.

Indeed, our prayer, for all of us, whether Lutheran or not should simply be "LOrd, have mercy upon me, a sinner!"

Good words, father. Keep 'em coming!

Past Elder said...

It's good for us to remember that such faithfulness as we may have is from Christ and not ourselves.

And part of that may be, not so much to reflect on them per se, but to look to ourselves.

The vote on the UMC thing was 958 to 51. The vote on the gay clergy thing was 559 to 451.

The lesson for us being, even if one assumes all 51 of the votes against the RMC thing were also against the gay clergy thing, 400 of the 451 against the latter have no problem with the former.

Not to mention WO.

Point being, as we avoid finger pointing, which I agree is well to avoid, neither ought we moan and murmur Kyrie eleison, or Lord have mercy if you're a little Greek challenged or find the vernacular more compatible.

The fact is, the compromise making the news happened in the context of, and a history of, many such abandonments of both historical Christianity in general and our historical Lutheran stand for what Christianity is.

Most of the opposition to this particular abandonment comes from people quite at ease with other ones, the lesson for us being, once one begins to abandon the historic confession on any ground, it begins to be only a matter of opinion and time when abandoning other grounds comes too. WO, the UMC vote, and others past and present didn't just up and happen either.

In that regard, given the sorry state within our own synod, there is not only no basis for finger pointing, there is no basis for comfort either lest we be simply a few years behind them in getting to the same place.

Even if we -- be that "we" St Paul, Rome, the ELCA, or the LCMS -- deliver a gospel to you other than the one delivered, let him be anathema. We are all sinners; we cannot remain where sins are institutionalised.

That process of institutionalising of sin never starts there, it starts small.

I like Chris' pointing out that this Gospel happens for the East at their equivalent to the Western Septuagesima. Especially in that it reminds me that functionally the West does not have a Septuagesima any more, allowing having it for those holdouts who wish to on an equal basis with the majority who don't and at this point don't even know there was one or what it is.

Jeremy Loesch said...

Thank you Will. Excellent.


Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I don't know if this is the *best* application, but...

I mean, we're talking about repentance v. impenitence. The tax collector, unlike the simple majority in the ELCA, was repentant. He was well aware of his moral inadequacies, and probably wanted to do better.

Anonymous said...

Please don't confuse "the simple majority in the ELCA" with "the simple majority of voting members of the ELCA churchwide assembly." Those are two different things.

Lucian said...

The ELCA Lutheran, however, standing far off, did not even dare to raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

NO, he didn't! And do You know why? Because, in order for someone to recognize himself as sinful, he first has to agree that certain things are sins in the first place. But if someone calls evil good and darkness light, all chances of repentance are gone.

bajaye said...

Lucian - I'd like to think that repentance is always possible, and I suspect God holds the same opinion. Please don't write anyone off. It's not your job.


Past Elder said...

Rebuking the sin is not rebuking the sinner. And how will the sinner come to recognise his condition and repent of it if the sin is not identified and rebuked as such, not just as a barrier to relations etc?

While we're all running around saying Lord have mercy in Greek and all, maybe we should remember that this is not a penitential phrase liturgically, but a response to a petition, and that is it not the petition itself. We are trying to deal with a Law situation from Gospel. That's backwards.

jasonbradyut said...

This is just appalling. If Luther, the late German Christian protester, would still be here…where the denomination “Lutherans” derived from, he would be stunned and completely disappointed in this horrible abomination to the Word of God and the Gospel. I totally am against this election. When God created “man” he created Adam and Eve, NOT Adam and STEVE!!! Hello people. This is a direct form of disobedience to God. And this is happening in a Church, a denomination that professes to know the Word of God???? Please, God will have to deal with you guys…and it won’t be pretty.

Anonymous said...

God may not have created Adam and Steve, but He has redeemed Adam and Steve! Thanks be to God!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Past Elder and jasonbradut. If Herr Doktor Luther were here in the flesh, so zu sagen, I can just imagine what he would say.

I heard it said at the ELCA convention that Lutherans don't like to argue, they like to be "nice."

When the salvation of sinners is at stake, that could be deadly.


William Weedon said...

I hope it was clear from the sermon that the actions of the CWA are abominable and justly condemned by all Christians who take seriously the norming authority of the Sacred Scriptures and the witness of the Church's tradition. Nevertheless, within the ELCA there are many who are grieved to tears by this decision and who do not pride themselves on it, but rather plead for mercy. The sermon was an attempt to prevent pride on the part of any of us in Missouri and support for those who anguish in the ELCA over this enshrinement of disobedience and faithlessness to God's Word.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Pr. Weedon, if that was the case, then I think you should have made that more clear for your hearers. I read the first sentence and immediately knew where you were going, and I didn't like it from the very beginning. I realize that the LC-MS has its problems, but I don't think that casting the LC-MS as the Pharisee was such a hot idea.

William Weedon said...

Pr. Beisel,

I think my HEARERS got the message loud and clear. It seems not to have come across so well in cyberspace. But the sermon was written to be preached in this place, and here it seemed to do the job.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The point is not that the LCMS *is* Pharisaical - but rather we ought not let the open and obvious sin of others drive us into a Pharisaical attitude of contempt.

It is often hard to rightfully condemn false doctrine without falling into contempt. The actions of the ELCA simply illustrate a place where Satan could easily tempt us towards contempt.