You have to know mercy to show mercy

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Sermon for Trinity 13

2 Chronicles 28:8-15  +  Galatians 3:15-22  +  Luke 10:23-37

Seventy-two men had been hand-picked and sent out by Jesus to go ahead of Him into the towns and villages of Israel as He made His way to Jerusalem. He sent them out with a simple message, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  How so?  Because Jesus the Savior had come near to them and was right at the door.  Then, just before our Gospel today begins, the 72 returned rejoicing because many people had believed their message and received them.  Even the demons fled before them.  Jesus rejoiced, too, and prayed to His Father, thanking Him—for what?  For revealing the Gospel of Christ to little children, and for hiding it from the smart people.  The message of Christ doesn’t require a law degree or a theological degree to understand it.  It requires the Spirit of God to reveal it, and He likes to do that for children, for the simple-minded, for the average person, for those who know that they cannot do a single thing to inherit eternal life, because you don’t receive an inheritance by doing things.  You receive an inheritance by being a child in the family.  And Jesus has earned for everyone a place in God’s family.  As John says in his Gospel, “To all who received him (Jesus), to all who believed on his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

But that sweet Gospel is foolishness to the wise and the learned, to the smart people of the world who think highly of themselves and of their ability to earn a place in God’s family.  That’s what we see in the Gospel today—a smart person, a lawyer, who was none too happy that Jesus was praising the simple faith of children and bashing the hard work of the wise.

So this smart man asks a very dumb question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Again, you don’t receive an inheritance by doing.  You simply receive it as a child in the family.  But Jesus plays along.  OK, what does your Law say?  Oh, that’s easy.  Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor.  Right, Jesus says.  Do that, and you will live.

And the lawyer grows uncomfortable.  God’s Law, “Do this!”, was making him squirm, because for as good as his life may have been, the Law always pricks the conscience and always accuses, “You have not done that.  You will surely die.”

But his response to the condemnation of the Law was utterly wrong.  The Law reveals transgressions in us in order to lead us to Christ where we’re sure to find mercy, where it is God who justifies.  But the lawyer didn’t want to beg for mercy, certainly not from Jesus.  Instead, he wanted to “justify himself.” “Who is my neighbor?”  How can I know that I’ve done enough to inherit eternal life?  Whom do I have to love?

So Jesus tells that parable of the Good Samaritan to show the lawyer, to show us, just what you have to do, if you want to live eternally and escape condemnation.  You must show mercy to your neighbor, to everyone who has need of your help, to everyone whom God places in your path.  And you must do it with the utter devotion and concern that the Good Samaritan showed to the man who had been left for dead on the side of the road.  Do this, and you will live.

Remember the story.  The poor Jew had been robbed and beaten and wounded.  And two of the smart people, the decent people, the “godly” people from Jerusalem saw the wounded man lying there and walked right on by.  It was the Samaritan who stopped, who showed him mercy, who poured oil and wine on his wounds to clean them and to soothe them, who bound him up, put him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, cared for him through the night and then left money and instructions with the innkeeper, and even promised to return to check up on him and pay for any additional costs.  That kind of mercy, that kind of devotion, that kind of love for your neighbor—that’s what God’s Law demands and no less.  Do this, Jesus says to the lawyer. Show mercy like that, and you will live.

And at once we’re amazed and inspired by how good God’s Law is.  Really?  This is what the Ten Commandments are all about?  That kind of mercy?  That kind of love and devotion to your fellow man?  This is what mercy looks like?  That’s great!  God is truly good and His Law is truly perfect, beautiful, and just.  Let’s all be like the Good Samaritan!

But at the same time, if you’re one of those who want to get to heaven by doing the Law, then your heart has to sink, because the kind of mercy shown by the Good Samaritan is beyond your reach.  You know how hard it is to show that kind of selfless devotion in your own home, in your own church, to your spouse, to your children, to your parents, to your fellow members here or to your pastor.  To show that kind of mercy to a stranger?  And not just once or twice, but every single time, throughout your entire life, when God places someone with a need next to you.  Do this, and you will live.  And if that’s the case, then none of you nor I will live.  You have not done it.  You cannot justify yourself. You must die.

This is where, again, the purpose of God’s holy and righteous Law comes in.  The Law was never given by God to justify people or to save people.  As Paul said in the Epistle today, the Law was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made. The Law of God, including the parable of the Good Samaritan was added because of transgressions, in order to show you and me how completely we have transgressed, sinned against, God’s requirement to show mercy to our neighbor.

But!  The Law of God is not supposed to be our final destination.  It’s supposed to kill you, because it’s only when you’re dead that Christ can bring you to life.

The offspring Paul was referring to in Galatians 3 is Jesus Himself, the offspring of the woman—Eve, the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, of David, and of Mary.  He is the end of the Law for everyone who believes, as Paul says in Romans, or as he says in Galatians, the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. What promise by faith?  The promise of inheriting eternal life.  That it might be given to whom? Not to those who “do,” you see, but to those who “believe.”

Who believe what?  Who believe that Jesus is our Good Samaritan who “did this,” that is, kept God’s perfect law of love, showed mercy to His neighbor, not so that He might live, but so that we might live.  He found us wounded and bleeding and dying, helpless and alone and abandoned, and he stooped down to help by shedding His own blood on the cross—dying our death! — and by a righteous life of obedience, love, devotion and mercy, a life He lived in our place.  Not only that, but He has found us, wounded and dying, and has now brought to us the balm of healing, the Gospel of peace, the wine of the forgiveness of sins in His blood and the soothing oil of His Word, “Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven.  Your fellowship with God has been restored.”  He has brought us to the inn of His holy Church, where He takes care of us, where He has left money, that is, the Word and Sacraments, and has left us in the care of the innkeeper, of your pastor, with instructions to keep taking care of the sick—that’s you and me—every day until He returns.

Those who wish to inherit eternal life by doing will never be justified.  But God freely by His grace justifies the one who dies to the Law and, instead of doing, believes in Christ, the Doer, Christ the crucified, Christ, our Good Samaritan.

Did you wonder why I put a baptismal hymn at the beginning of the service?  It’s because Holy Baptism is where you died with Christ and were raised to new life by Him.  That’s where your Good Samaritan found you and first applied the healing balm of His forgiveness to you.  The next verses after today’s Epistle from Galatians 3 say it explicitly, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  You yourselves haven’t done the Law well enough to receive anything from God but condemnation.  But you were condemned with Christ when you were baptized into His death and you have now been raised to the status of a son in God’s house who doesn’t have to “do” a thing to inherit eternal life, because you’re a son in God’s family—even you ladies and little girls, because it’s the status of Jesus, the Son of God, that has now been pronounced on you.

Since you have now died to sin and been raised to life with Christ, the parable of the Good Samaritan has new meaning for you.  Now that you are done trying to do things to inherit eternal life, you have a new reason to observe and imitate the Good Samaritan in your life.  Christ is the Good Samaritan.  And you have put on Christ.  You wear Him like a costume.  And each day you drown your Old Adam and take off that costume and wear Christ instead.  So Christ now goes around showing mercy to people through you.  When you see your neighbor in need, at home, here in church, at work, at school, wherever—there is Christ who lives in you, going out to your neighbor and showing mercy through you.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is only bad news to the one who wants to do things to get to heaven.  The mercy we see in the Good Samaritan is beyond our reach. You have to know mercy to show mercy.  In Christ, God has revealed His mercy to you, and now you have received it.  Now you know it and have been saved by it.  And now you, too, must show it, but not to fulfill the Law, not to inherit eternal life.  You know mercy and must show mercy, as a child of your heavenly Father, as a believer in Christ Jesus, who has done everything for you and has made you an heir of eternal life.  Amen.

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