September 1 – 2, 2012In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Law knows that we know how to love ourselves. That is why it says: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Every sin we commit is based on inwardly-turned self-love. Like Eve before us we think we know what is good for food and capable of making us wise. We can see with our own eyes what pleases us. Every sin is rebellion. Every sin is based upon the presupposition that God is holding out on us, that He is keeping something good, something fun, from us.
Eve knew the threat of the Law: eat of this and you will die. She knew it was true, that God was faithful to His Word. But she wanted that fruit. Her desire blinded her to reason, rendered her insane so that she made one of these crazy bargains. Maybe the momentary pleasure that fruit would give would make Hell itself tolerable. Or maybe she could have the best of both worlds, steal the fruit and hope God didn't notice. Or even that she could enjoy it now but repent later, that God wouldn't really mind and wanted her to indulge herself in wickedness.
Repent. You know these bargains well. You know how to love yourself. These bargains are not made with God, but with the devil. And the devil doesn't care. He'll give you great deals, incredible bargains, no interest and no payments until after you've die. He just wants you to take the forbidden fruit and however you want to justify it is fine with him. He'll tell you need it. He'll tell you it is a small thing, no one will mind. He will tell you anything it takes to ease your conscience. And he is always impressed by how pious and sincere you are. He always soothes with sympathy for your struggle. But the bottom line is that you want an evil thing for selfish use - the flesh of another, honor and praise from men, possessions and leisure, fruit from a tree that God said do not eat. You and the devil are good at clever excuses. He is glad to help with the philosophical questions and to help you spin it if you should get caught. Repent.
The jealous God of Abraham is not like the devil. Nothing escapes His notice. If you have loved anything else, if you have loved yourself, more than Him you have broken the Law, you have sinned. Do you love your children more than you love God? Would you kill them for Him? It is not as hypothetical as it sounds. This is what Abraham was called upon to do. He was to take his only son, his laughing little boy, the delight of his old age, up to the mountain, bind him to an altar full of kindling, slit his throat and set him on fire as a sacrifice to the Lord. “Abraham,” says the Almighty. “Love Me above all else. Love Me more than your son.” Was there ever a Law so harsh? A demand so extreme? God spare us from such tests!
But here is the strange thing: Abraham had faith. What God demanded seemed most evil, but God is good. So Abraham proceeded. He strove to do what God demanded even though it seemed contrary to everything he knew to be good, to everything that God had given, to everything that God is. God's clear Word defied the reason and experience of Abraham. His faith was stripped bare to nothing more than the bold assertion that God is good and that God's Law is always best, always right, that God does not hold out on His children, that God would provide and it would be good. There are no bargains to be struck with God. He is good. He will do the right, the best thing. We wait to see it in the land of the living while we abide in the shadow of death by faith. We cling to the promise of God and forsake all else.
And thus was Isaac spared. He did not die for his sins. An innocent ram was caught by its horns in the thicket. God provided the lamb. It died instead. Isaac, his face wet with the tears of Abraham, went back to his mother in his father's arms alive. God is good. He provided. And He blessed Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac with faith. Despite the fears and uncertainties of Abraham, God remains faithful to His Word. He loves Abraham. He keeps His promises.
In this way God fulfills His own Law. Unlike Isaac, His Son was not spared. He loved His neighbor, you and me, to the point of sacrificing Jesus Christ on the cross. There was no ram in the thicket for Him. His love is perfect, all-encompassing. It does not fail. He loves you above all else. He loves you with His whole heart, mind, strength, and soul. God loves you as Himself. The Father loves you as He loves Jesus and the Spirit. Jesus loves you as He loves the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit loves you as He loves the Father and the Son. Thus the laws demands of the Law are silenced by compassion and by mercy. Jesus died. Isaac lives. God loves perfectly and fully and always. God loves Isaac. God loves you.
Now we can certainly see an exhortation in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It shows us how to live, that our lives in Christ are to be merciful and full of good works. The Good Samaritan is a perfect example of how to keep the Law. Thus if we ask the Lawyer's question: “Who is my neighbor?” The answer is obvious: “everyone.” Everyone is my neighbor. I am to help all of them, at my own expense, at my own loss, even at my own death. I am to sell everything that I have and give it to the poor. That is the standard. That is the Law. It is good. It is true. But it always accuses because we are not perfect, we are not without sin. We have not loved perfectly. According to our fallen flesh, we can't. We don't even know how. Sell everything? Then how do we feed our children? How do we remain healthy? How do we get to work? It is an impossible standard for fallen men. Still it is the standard, and if we are judged by it, by “everyone is my neighbor,” we are condemned. We deserve damnation. There are no loopholes. Everyone is your neighbor. Repent.
Hope is not found in the Lawyer's question: “Who is my neighbor?” Hope is found in Our Lord's question: “Which of these proved neighbor to the man?” The answer to the lawyer's question is everyone. We are to love everyone. No exceptions, no prejudices, no excuses, no limits. But the answer to Jesus' question is not everyone. For everyone did not prove neighbor to the man in the ditch. Only One did, the One who had mercy. Jesus is an example for us. He shows us how the Law is lived. He shows us what love is. But before that, both sequentially and in significance, Jesus is our merciful Savior from the Samaritan village of Nazareth. He has compassion on us. He intervenes. He comes to earth to bear our burdens, to love us, to fulfill the Law for us and give His life as a ransom for our bodies and souls. The Law passes by on the other side. It cannot help. It can only accuse and advise. It cannot heal or forgive. Jesus washes our wounds, takes us to an inn for recovery, pays for everything, and promises to come back. He loves His neighbor. He loves everyone without exception, prejudice, excuse, or limit. He welcomes all men to Himself by perfect accepting grace, in holy, Divine love.
Come to the Table. Have the Blood of Jesus poured on your wounds. Be joined to mercy in the eating of His Body. He is your neighbor and you are His beloved.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.