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Trinity 11 – Luke 18:9-14

by pastorjuhl ~ September 1st, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            The Lord God tells Samuel when he visits Jesse’s family to select a new King to replace Saul, Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature… for the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. This verse is the key not only to the Old Testament reading, where Cain kills his brother Abel, but also today’s Holy Gospel, the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican praying in the temple.

When contemplating both accounts, do not look at the appearances or statures of Cain, Abel, the Pharisee, or the Publican. This is not to say that you are not to ignore the fact that Cain commits murder or that the Pharisee is pious perhaps to the point of being overly devotional. These facts are important. What you should contemplate is where their hearts are, their deportments.

There’s not much to say about Cain and Abel’s deportments. All the Old Testament reading tells us is that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. Perhaps the key word here is “firstborn”. Abel brings the first of what is his. Nothing is mentioned about Cain bringing the first fruits from his garden. Cain brings an offering. Abel brings the firstborn for an offering. The Lord respects one offering and not another. The Lord respects one and not the other not because of personal preference or because of a better hairstyle. One brother brings the best, the other brother brings something. Remember our Lord’s words to Samuel: man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

You can be as pious and overly devotional as the Pharisee can, or you can be as humble as the Publican can. What matters most to our heavenly Father is the condition of your heart. Putting on a show of false humility is as bad, if not worse, than putting on a show of false piety.

Externals really don’t matter. You won’t have a better place in heaven whether or not you cross yourself or say “Amen” whether or not the Service Book tells you to say “Amen”. What matters is the condition of your heart when you practice these externals. The Pharisee makes quite a show of piety, but you never hear him say a word about repentance or forgiveness. He’s too busy running the verbs in his little performance in the temple. God’s Name is said once. The article “I” is said four times. You see where the Pharisee’s heart is right away. It’s all about him, what he is, and certainly what he is not…and he is certainly not like that Publican over yonder.

Sound familiar? It should, especially if you come to the House of the Lord expecting to get something out of it. Christians often say that about public worship. Corporate worship is not about receiving the forgiveness of sins and offering a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. I have to get something out of the experience. There must be a mountaintop that I can stand on and get a nice, warm fuzzy. What is wrong with forgiveness of your sins? Repent. Let the Word of Christ that dwells in your richly change your heart and mind away from Divine Service being a means to an end toward the reception of forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation of your soul.

The Publican over yonder should be the least likely candidate to show a repentant piety, let alone show up in the Temple in the first place. He is employed by the evil Roman Empire. He takes more money that he should collect. After all, he has to have a comfortable living. He’s right down there with “sinners” at the bottom of the Pharisee’s barrel of ne’er do wells. What business has he showing his face in the Temple except to fleece some more people from money?

Take a closer look at the Publican Jesus puts before you in His parable. He would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Is this another false show of piety like the Pharisee’s performance? Jesus pulls the wool from your eyes and gives you a nice surprise that you couldn’t see. This man went down to his house justified rather than the other. No, it can’t be! The cheater is justified and the teacher of the Law is not justified? They both put on a nice show of piety, although at two opposite extremes. Why the Publican and not the Pharisee?

Jesus looks at the condition of your heart, not at your vocation or any other external matter. Learn from the Publican. Learn from him that it is impossible to save yourself, no matter who you are. Learn from him there is grace beyond yourself for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Today’s collect says that God pour[s] down…the abundance of [His] mercy, forgiving those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things that we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Christ, our Lord. Believing this to be true because of what God says to you in His holy Word makes all the difference in the world when it comes to what you believe, why you come to the House of the Lord, and how God’s abundant mercy shows itself in your life.

No longer do you come to God’s House expecting to get something out of it. You come to God’s House believing there is hope for repentant and penitent sinners. Psalm 28 says in God my heart trusts, and I am helped. Only God takes away sin through the blood of His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ. Christ’s blood is the perfect offering for sin. Psalm 65 says O God, when you went out before Your people, in Your goodness, O God, You provided for the needy. Blessed be the Lord, Who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.

Those last four words from Psalm 65 are why you are here. To say you are a Christian but refuse to receive the Means of Grace and to live a new life in Jesus Christ is to renounce that God is your salvation. You are here as a beggar before a benevolent God. Instead of smiting you to eternal death and hell, God looks at you through the lens of His Son Jesus dying on the cross for your sins. To confess God is your salvation is also to confess Jesus is your salvation. Jesus is here in His preached Word. Jesus is here in His True Body and Blood. Jesus is here in His Absolution, wiping away your sins and giving you new life.

Saint Paul says concerning God’s saving mercy and grace, I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Paul’s humility is genuine. It’s hard to believe that God would choose the chief persecutor of the Way to serve as His apostle to Gentile Christians. You can tell Paul can hardly believe it too. The same may be said about you. Why would God save someone like you? God is your salvation because He is God Who is slow to anger and abounding in mercy.

Believing that, in spite of yourself, God saved you makes everything you say and do be seen in a different light. You can’t help but show forth the love of God in Christ Jesus in all you say and do. You aren’t earning eternity but are living out the Christ life wherever God puts you. This is Christ in you, the hope of glory. This is His mercy that saved a wretch like you radiating from your life into the lives of others. As you sang in Luther’s hymn of confession, “From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee”: “Though great our sins, yet greater still is God’s abundant favor; His hand of mercy never will abandon us or waver. Our shepherd good and true is he, Who will at last His Israel free from all their sin and sorrow.”

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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