Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and
from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The text for this morning comes from
the Holy Gospel.
A friend of mine wrote me a letter earlier this week, which
was very appropriate for this Sunday. I asked him permission to share it, and
he agreed. This is what he wrote:
"When she said those words to me, it felt as if my
heart had been crushed. I could not erase the pain of her face, the tone of her
voice, or the unbearable ache of my gut. Though the intensity of these
revelations of my sin may dim with time, they nevertheless will stay with me
until death. God has revealed me for who I am through her words. How I despise
this nakedness before God, this inability to cover any part of my wretchedness,
this humiliating writhing of my soul before the holy gaze of my Creator. I am
emptied of myself. My pride and the value of my person have been burned to the
ground. I am nothing without Christ. How can I cry out to God? It is He who
crushed me. It is He who has smitten me. As a pastor, the feeling
of hypocrisy burns through my veins for even calling upon Him for my much-needed
forgiveness, but that is what He has commanded me to do. How frustrating it is
in this life that God's child never escapes being a sinner, for that is what I
God had used his wife, speaking the Word of God to him to
crush him, just as God used John to preach such words on the banks of the
Jordan to crush those who would hear and believe…except for the Pharisees. The
Word of God fell among the hardened soil, and the birds came and ate it up.
John is the last great prophet of the Old Testament, the transition man,
between all of the promises of old and their fulfillment in the One who would
follow whose sandals he was unworthy to untie. And in this transition did John
point to the One who has hope for this pastor who had been crushed, who had
hope for the crowds, the tax collectors, and the soldiers here at this
preaching of John, and for you, brothers and sisters, and for you.
"Bear fruits in keeping with repentance," were
John's words. The Pharisees scratched their heads and thought, I am a
Pharisee. I give my money. I tithe the things that I'm supposed to tithe.
I pray at the appointed hours. I visit the sick, and the hungry I feed. I take
care of the widow and the childless, the fatherless and those who are like
them. What good fruits am I supposed to produce now? That is why Jesus spoke
through John in speaking these words, "You brood of vipers," because
they would not see what they really are.
The Word of God came to them, and they brushed it aside as
if it had no application to them. How sad! But not you. No, that's why you are
here. But you and I wrestle with what this pastor wrestles, with what these
people wrestle, because always accompanying us, at every step of the way, at
every juncture, at every triumph and every failure, there stands wringing around
our neck our sinfulness like an albatross weighing us down, never leaving us.
Interesting statement…How frustrating it is in this
life that God's child never escapes being a sinner, but that is what I am. The
crowds that came to hear such words struck them to the heart and broke them,
and they knew and believed. For what flowed from their faith were words that
said, "What can we do now that we have received this great gift? What is
it that we can do?" Jesus told those crowds to be faithful in the things
that God had given their hands to do.
That was the response of many thousands of people when Peter
preached the great sermon on Pentecost, and they asked him, "What shall we
do?" And he said, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the
forgiveness of your sins." John gives them a baptism of repentance to free
them of that which binds all people, which continually hangs around our
neck, which never leaves us.
It's interesting, this pastor visited people, married
people, baptized babies, communed his people, preached his people, but he is
still a sinner, isn't he? What should he do? Those were the thoughts running
through this man's head…how should he respond? Create a whole bunch of new things
to do that he wasn't doing before? The tax collectors thought that. That's why
they asked what they asked. The soldiers asked that because they knew God's
John did not give them a whole litany or list of things to
do but remain faithful to the things they had been given to do. Especially for
the soldiers, we don't have an idea of tax collectors too much; although, we
can liken them to the IRS, but soldiers are different in that they are God's
vocation that He has given to the state to preserve it from chaos and to ensure
the safety of the inhabitants of that state, who deal with death, having killed
and seen death. If ever there is someone who is struggling with guilt, it would
be some of these men and women. And Jesus tells them through John, "Be
faithful in those things that I have given you to do." He did not make a
litany or list of things to do now that they have turned.
What shall we do? That's our temptation, isn't it? Having
tasted that the Lord is good, having seen that the Lord is good, we wish to
create a brand new list of things we have not yet done before. The Pharisees
got that right in one way except their hope was in their own righteousness, not
in Christ's righteousness and what He Did for them. Like water off a duck's
back did those words flow in one ear and out the other, but that is the
difference, isn't it?
It is a difficult thing, this Christian faith in this life.
Two of our beloved fellow redeemed…Ernie and Elaine have had that albatross
lifted from their neck finally…finally they are freed of all the
things that this life drags us down and they no more have to wrestle with the
things that you and I will daily until we are called home, until that is lifted
from our neck. And in the meantime, we wrestle with strength and peace. For
Christ did come and fulfilled all.
That is why you're here. You, like this pastor, know this is
where you have to be. This is where dirty sinners are found and hypocrites
abound. God be praised that He has brought you here to nurse you back to health
with the fruit of immortality, to bind up your wounds like the Samaritan, to
send you on your way, the path that He has chosen, to be faithful in those
things He has given your hands with which to be faithful.
Finally, he said, "Yet in these most fragile
moments of my person, when I can truly feel my sin pressing hard upon my heart,
burdened with overwhelming guilt…at that moment is my loving Father the most
gracious and the most merciful to me." He did not come to save righteous
pastors, but sinful pastors. He did not come to heal healthy pastors but dead
and dying pastors.
God would have me as a sinful pastor and only on His terms,
and this means that I cannot escape who I am without Christ, but this
means that I cannot escape who I am in Christ, and you are no different
for that is who you are, and you and I will wrestle until the day we die with
who we are without Christ and who we are with Christ, and that's why you come
and feed regularly here…to be nourished, to be bound up, to be healed, and to
be sent out again in the name of a loving Jesus who came for you, Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your
hearts and your minds on Christ Jesus to life everlasting, Amen.