Preached July 10, 2011
1 St. Peter 5:5–11
St. Luke 15:1–10
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
This morning we begin the teaching cycle of the Trinity season in earnest, addressing the process of our sanctification in three stages: (1) putting an end to sin in our lives, (2) living with Christ constantly in our lives, and (3) true unification of our lives with Jesus Christ. In the first stage, we address particularly putting aside the elements of sin from our lives, removing those things that lead us into opportunities for sin.
Let us assume for the moment that each of you have just recently achieved some major life goal. Perhaps you have received a college degree or an advanced degree, perhaps you have passed a major professional licencing certification such as the bar exam, the CPA exam, the professional engineering exam, the state medical licensing exam, or perhaps you have lost 30 pounds of weight, run a marathon, ridden the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa, or whatever your goal may have been. You know that you are not the only person to achieve this goal, but you still feel that it is a worthwhile accomplishment. You feel proud of yourself. Pride. Is this sort of pride evil?
Before attempting to answer that, let us consider a reading from Psalm 73 wherein the psalmist is angry over the pride and arrogance of the rich, Psalm 73: 3–11 3 And why? I was grieved at the wicked: I do also see the ungodly in such prosperity. 4 F0r they are in no peril of death; but are lusty and strong. 5 They come in no misfortune like other folk; neither are they plagued like other men. 6 And this is the cause that they are so holden with pride, and cruelty covereth them as a garment. 7 Their eyes swell fatness, and they do even what they lust. 8 They corrupt other, and speak of wicked blasphemy; their talking is against the Most High. 9 For they stretch forth their mouth unto the heaven, and their tongue goeth through the world. 10 Therefore fall the people unto them, and thereout suck they no small advantage. 11 Tush, say they, how should God perceive it? is there knowledge in the Most High? The Psalmist paints a very unattractive picture of the rich, arrogant, proud, haughty, flaunting their presumed superiority before both man and God. Notice that they even say, is there knowledge in the Most High? What monstrous pride!! This is clearly intolerable to the Lord God, Creator of Heaven and earth, Lord of all creation, and the remainder of the Psalm speaks of how the Psalmist comes to realize that these people will all be harshly dealt with by God.
To return to the previous question regarding your feeling of pride in your recent accomplishment, in the light of the Psalm passage, it seems clear that whether it is sin or not depends on how it affects our relationship to God and our fellow men. If we allow our achievement to cause us to become puffed up, so that we begin to lord it over others, thinking ourselves in some way now superior to them because of this achievement, then it becomes a source of sin. If we think that God does not see this behavior, we simply deceive ourselves because God is fully aware of our inmost thoughts. This does not make the achievement a bad thing in itself, but it does require that we put it in proper perspective, seeing it for what it is and not more. We remain sinful people, just like all those around us.
When we were baptized, we were given the grace of pardon. We were baptized into the death of Jesus Christ, and made a part of the body of Christ. We were started on the road to eternal life by God’s call to us as His adopted children. But we were not made perfect at that time; we were not made ready to come into the presence of Almighty God because we remain sinful creatures. We lack sanctification. We are justified, but we are not yet sanctified. The gift of justification through baptism is the promise of further grace to come, moving toward our eventual sanctification.
The process of sanctification is long, enduring at least throughout this earthly life and usually beyond. It does not come naturally to men, and it definitely requires work, vigilance, and constant attention to resisting the devil, as St. Peter says, 1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. This comes right after Peter has given a strong warning against pride, both reflected against other men and against God, 1 Peter 5:5b-7 5b All of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; 7 casting all your anxiety upon him, because he careth for you. Thus we see that pride is offensive to God, and that it is only by humility before both God and man that we will have God’s most necessary support in resisting the devil. The proud are completely exposed to the wiles of the devil, who shows no mercy ever. We need to remember that the temptations that come upon us are the same as those that come upon other Christians everywhere, and that they resist them by exactly the same support that God our Father offers to us through the Holy Ghost because He cares for us. Let us also remember that these trials do not last forever, but are only as long as are required for the perfecting of our souls, to prepare us to come before the face of God Himself. This must give us both a sense of strength in enduring the trials and a sense of peace in the knowledge that we are moving toward our goal of eventual unification with God in Heaven.
Turning our attention to the Gospel lesson for today, we find Jesus being accused by the Pharisees, this time for associating and eating with sinners. Luke 15:1-2 1 Now all the publicans and sinners were drawing near unto him to hear him. 2 And both the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. Jesus spoke to ordinary people, to the publicans and sinners, who were drawn to Him while they turned away from the teachers of the Pharisees. Jesus spoke to them lovingly of the love of God for them, offering them pardon, restoration, and a call to holiness, the very things their spirits needed but never heard from the Pharisees. In accepting their invitations, He gave them a renewed sense of self–respect and at the same time a sense of penitence. As God is love, so Christ is grace, or love made manifest in men. We may understand grace as that in God which causes Him to receive sinners, that is, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
When thus charged by the Pharisees, he replied with two closely related parables, one regarding the rejoicing over the finding of the one lost sheep while the 99 safely grazed, and the second regarding the finding of one missing silver coin that a woman lost from a collection of 10, and her subsequent rejoicing on finding the missing coin. The two parables have essentially the same meanings, and they teach us four points:
1. Grace Individualizes
That is to say, grace does not look at simply the whole mass of the flock of sheep or the bag of coins, but rather, grace is concerned with each individual sheep or each individual coin. More to the point, grace is concerned with each individual person on earth. Even though there are billions of people, grace is concerned about each person individually. We will not be saved because we are a part of this group or that, because our name is on this Church roll or that one, but because of the grace we receive individually.
2. Grace is Unconditional
Grace that comes with strings attached is not grace at all. Grace is a response to human need, not to human merit; we do not, cannot, earn grace. The lost sheep wanders in complete ignorance and the lost coin lies hidden in insensibility, but neither can do anything at all to help its situation. The sheep will continue to wander, straying further. The coin is incapable of effort, hidden in the dust. Like them, man is lost and cannot return on his own; he must be found by grace.
3. Grace Perseveres
And how long does Christ search for man? Luke 15:4b and go after that which is lost, until he find it, that is, He searches for us without limit through this life. He searches by His word read and preached, by His truth presented in various ways throughout the world. By trials such as sickness, disappointments, warnings of evil, threatenings of disease and decay, He sweeps away the dust of worldliness in which man is hidden, so as to restore the defaced image of Himself. God’s image is still there, because man is a spiritual creature having a will with a sense of right and wrong. He is still precious in God’s eyes because of what he once was and may yet be, so for this grace perseveres.
4. Grace is Personal
It is easy to think of grace as a thing, something given and received, but in fact it is an attribute of a person, and its object must be a person. In both parables, we see the strong element of personhood the ownership. It is “My sheep” and “the piece which I had lost.” It is not the sheep that experiences loss, but rather the Shepherd Who has lost the sheep. God seeks after us because He owns us and values us. We do not rejoice with the sheep, but with the Shepherd. Thus the grace of the sacraments is personal, and it is the grace of Christ imparted through them.
The pride of the Pharisees blinded them to most of the message of Jesus, to their great loss. They were blinded because they did not listen to Jesus when He was there with them in the flesh. Many of us today fail to hear Jesus for other reasons than those of the Pharisees, but the net result is the same. In our pride and foolishness, we close the door on our own eternal salvation. Few people would do that consciously, but many do it unconsciously. They don’t intend to live an evil life, but they are pretty sure that they can get by nicely on their own. Most of us know some of those people. There is no salvation at all except through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Let us humble ourselves and prepare to meet Him at the end of time.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.