Third Sunday after Trinity 2010
Jer. 31:1-14; Ps. 145; 1 Peter 5:5-11; Luke 15:1-10. 20 June a.d. 2010
THE MIRROR OF GOD
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer. AMEN.
We have spent two Sundays laying the foundation in love for the Christian warfare, the Christian life, that we are setting out on. All of us must look at our own strength versus the demands the Christian life puts on us and despair. We don’t have it in us. Yet this Sunday is the Sunday of grace. The message of all these readings is, although God calls you to do what is impossible in your own power, he will surely give you the grace to perform it.
Hateful. Some people are just hateful. They have no redeeming social value. They are ignorant white trash. “Nutzlose Fresser”, the Nazis called them, Useless eaters. Oxygen wasters. Fornicators. Adulterers. Drunkards. Pill heads. Pot heads. Meth heads. Junk food eaters. Scabby. Tatooed. No judgment at all. That’s the thing about the lost. They’re so – lost. They are all so hateful.
Their sin is easy to see. It only takes one look. Our sin, on the other hand, is not so easy to see. Like Count Dracula, we look into the mirror and see nothing. What blinds us? Our pride.
Yet there is one mirror that shows with perfect clarity & faithfulness exactly what we look like, one mirror that shatters all the blindness of our pride: the grace of God.
THE MIRROR OF GOD
Luke 15 is the chapter of the Lost and Found. Lost sheep, lost coins, lost sinners in today’s reading, and even the lost prodigal son immediately after today’s reading. This chapter makes utterly plain one fact: the grace of God, and only the grace of God saves sinners.
Two kinds of people come to hear Jesus: Pharisees and Scribes (the religious people) on one side and tax collectors & sinners on the other. In the nose of the religious people, the sinners smell bad. They look bad, too. The religious people don’t want to touch the dirty sinners, much less eat with them. They’re losers.
Now there is nothing wrong with being religious, if your religion is Christianity. But there is something very wrong pretending to religion outwardly while you are dead inwardly. That’s one of the dangers of religion.
Pride has so blinded the nice religious people that Jesus holds up the grace of God as a mirror so they can see what they really look like, i.e., how God sees them.
How has their pride blinded them? Pride makes them raisethemselves above God. Pride makes them set themselves up as judges over Jesus Christ himself.
But wait! Weren’t these Pharisees already on God’s side? How were they exalting themselves above God? Didn’t they keep all of God’s rules meticulously? If that isn’t submission to God, what is?
That’s not submission at all. They had dragged God and his holiness down to their own level so they avoid seeing what they really were. They were so proud of how well they kept all their imagined rules, which weren’t God’s in the first place, that they had turned a blind eye to their own real sins. They could not see themselves as God saw them: as hateful sinners.
Pride had blinded them to the perfect holiness of God. They had forgotten that God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity.” (Habbakuk 1:13. As every man does, as you and I also most certainly do, the Pharisees worked hard at deceiving themselves to make themselves holy in their own eyes, like covering up all the mirrors in the house so they couldn’t be forced to see their true faces. If they could just keep their elaborate rules and stay away from God’s mirror, they could stand tall and stay proud.
But whose rules did they follow, theirs or God’s? Not God’s. No, they had imagined and invented all sorts of rules. Outwardly they promised to keep God’s law, but inwardly they only gave them an excuse to break it. Jesus had already indicted them as hypocrites. “You teach your own commandments and traditions only so you can lay aside God’s commandments, so you don’t have to obey. You make up all sorts of rules about washing your hands, and pots and cups, but you reject God’s commandment. You say you are obeying God, but the rules are only an excuse to cheat your parents, to commit adultery, or to defraud the widow and the poor while salving your own conscience.” (Mark 7:1-23)
It’s not too surprising then, that when the sinners and tax collectors show up to hear Jesus, the Pharisees and scribes grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners, and even eats with them!” What they didn’t say, but were thinking, was, “We are the nice people! How could he be a nice person? Nice people don’t have anything to do with sinners. We are too good to lower ourselves to the level of sinners.”
Pride had blinded them. They had substituted their own cheap cardboard righteousness for the fierce, burning, perfect righteousness of God, and worse, they dared to call it holy. Pride persuaded them that they were earning their own righteousness, and therefore could not be sinners.
Pride blinded them, so they could not see God’s standard of perfect holiness. They forgot that God says, “There is none righteous, no not one. They have all gone astray.”
And having raised themselves up higher than God, it was easy, it was essential, that they forget that they came out of their mother’s womb exactly like those other sinners, just one more naked sinner.
And pride would not let them see that no works or merit on the sinners’ part moves God to love them. Only the grace of God saves sinners. Pride had blinded them to the hideousness of their own sin. Pride had persuaded them that sin was a scratch, a pin prick, and not a soul-killing mortal wound.
So Jesus holds before their eyes the mirror of grace, because only the depth of our sin teaches us the height of God’s grace. Once we look into the mirror of God’s grace, we see ourselves as we truly are, covered not with stars & glory but with shame and sin. Hopelessly separated from God.
WHY SEARCH FOR THE LOST?
Every one of Jesus’ three examples has one thing in common: the owner of the lost item didn’t need it. He had no real reason to recover the lost thing except that he loved it, and it was his own.
As anyone can tell you who has ever owned sheep, the man with 99 sheep didn’t need one more sheep. Still, he leaves the others behind in order to go find the one that was lost. And when he found it he rejoiced, so much that when he gets home he calls in all this friends and neighbours to rejoice with him.
And the woman with ten pieces of silver – can one lost piece really make that much difference? Yes, so she sweeps the whole house and searches diligently until she finds it. And just like the shepherd, when she finds the lost coin she calls all her friends and neighbours together to rejoice with her.
This, Jesus says, is what lost sheep and lost coins have in common with lost sinners: their recovery brings greater joy than owning the whole mob. “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”
Why rejoice? Because, as the prodigal Father says to his other son who complains about forgiving the prodigal and rejoicing over his return: “It was meet [fitting & right] that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”
Rejoice, because the lost was found, and restored. Rejoice, the hopeless found hope. Rejoice, the goodness of God has conquered. Rejoice, the relentless, longsuffering love of God has been vindicated, with glory.
The Fall is undone. The love of God has restored the world to what he created it to be. And God says to all the angels and all his saints, “Rejoice with me! For I have found my sheep which was lost.”
WHAT ABOUT US?
Maybe you are thinking, ‘Well, if I had been there among all those Pharisees I wouldn’t have been blinded by pride.”
Yet that very thought is identically the same sin. “Well, I may be bad, but I’m not as bad as so-and-so. There’s nothing wrong with a little of my sin – I don’t think God really cares about little things like that. It’s just a little thing.”
You are too proud too look into the mirror.
Beloved, only one thing can cure pride, and that is to look full into the mirror of God’s grace and see yourself as you truly are, as far from the holiness of God, as hideously covered with the scabs and sores of sin as all those terrible sinners you hate so much. The longer you stare into the grace of God, the clearer you will see you own sin, and the faster your pride will die, for the grace of God kills all pride.
CHRISTIAN LIFE BEGINS WITH HUMILITY
The Christian life begins with humility, with the confession of powerlessness and helplessness and sin. That confession claims nothing by right, but only bows before God and says, “I submit. I submit.”
In today’s Epistle St. Peter tells us that we must cloth ourselves with humility, and humility means submitting to human authorities, and submitting to God.
Submitting to God? That doesn’t mean merely to stop shoplifting and abstain from axe murders and adultery. No, it means to accept humbly all events that come from his Providence, all trials, all persecutions, all betrayals, and all sickness. Submitting to God means to receive and embrace the trial, knowing that God has cut and measured the trial for you by his perfect wisdom and grace.
And lest you lightly throw away St. Peter’s admonition, he also delivers a warning and a promise.
“Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion walks about, seeking whom he may devour.” And of course Satan, who himself was destroyed by pride, knows how to use your pride to destroy you.
Finally, St Peter promises that if you do submit yourself to the God of grace that after suffering only a little while, he will make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, and settle you, and then at the very thought of God’s goodness, he bursts out with praise.
IMPROVING THE GIFT
Beloved, if I leave you thinking that you can kill your fierce pride in the power of your own strength, I would be just like those Pharisees Christ rebuked. No. Humility is a grace, a gift from God who opens our eyes so we can see ourselves.
But like every grace, it begins as a gift but must be cultivated like a habit. It is painful to look into the mirror and see ourselves, perhaps the most painful act in the world, but humility is the gift of God that cleanses us, and after that painful suffering the God of grace will make you perfect.
The alternative to that painful suffering is to cling to your pride, and wait until the devil comes for you. Perish the thought! ?
Glory be to the Father,
And to the Son,
And to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning,
Is now and ever shall be,
World without end, Amen.
Third Sunday after Trinity
O LORD, We beseech thee mercifully to hear us;
and grant that we,
to whom thou hast given
an hearty desire to pray,
may, by thy mighty aid,
be defended and comforted
in all dangers & adversities;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen