The Forth Sunday after Holy Trinity Sunday | 17 July 2011
When Isaiah sees the glory of God filling the temple and the seraphim singing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” he is overwhelmed and cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5) What a confession. Isaiah confesses that he himself is a sinner, and he also confesses that everyone around him is a sinner. (“I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”)
Sin is the problem, but look at this: We have our own sin, and we have our neighbor’s sin. This is what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel text; He is teaching us how to handle our neighbor’s sin.
We know, generally, what to do about our own sin. We go to the person that we sinned against, we confess our sin, and we ask for forgiveness. We come here to the Lord’s name, we confess our sin, and we hear the absolution, we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus with His promise, “Shed for you for the remission of sins.” If we have persistent guilt you come to your pastor, you confess your sin and you get the absolution privately, for you.
But then there’s our neighbors sin. Jesus makes a joke about it in the text. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:41-42) We are meddlesome. We try to root out other people’s sins under the guise of helping them, but we miss our own glaring sinfulness.
If we are going to help our neighbor with their sin we must first know that our sin is worse. We must repent of our own sinfulness. It is only from the posture of repentance that we can be of any help spiritually to our neighbor.
But then there is the question of our neighbor’s sin that falls on us. What do you do when you are sinned against? When someone else is the sinner and you are the victim of that sin? What do you do when you are the one that’s been violated, hurt, or slandered? Can you confess someone else’s sin? You see the trouble. It’s sin of a different sort. And we are particularly bad at dealing with it, and the devil loves it.
We are all sinners. You know that, right? You know that I am a sinner, that you are a sinner, that the person sitting next to you is a sinner, but then, when that sinner sins, and especially when the sin against you, you are shocked. “What!? A sin, from a sinner? I’m so surprised.” What did you expect?
And then what do we do? We get angry at the person who sinned against us.
To be angry when someone sins against us is not the problem. That just happens. But we let that anger settle in. You know what I’m talking about. That anger is like a warm bath and we ease right in. That anger is like a pile of pancakes put in front of us, and we reach for the syrup.
And remember, anger is a self-justified lack of love. Anger, and here I’m talking about persistent anger toward you neighbor, anger that’s walking down the path toward hatred, this anger is the verdict, passed in your own mind, that this neighbor does not deserve your love. Think about this for a bit. Are there people, because of what they’ve done to you, or because of what they’ve done to someone you love, that you have excused from your love. “I don’t have to love that person because of whatever…?”
A few weeks back in Bible Class I asked people to think about their families, and if there were people in their families that we not talking to each other, people who refuse to talk to each other, and I think about a dozen of you talk to me after wards and said, “So, Pastor, there are other families like mine?” I think if I were to have you raise your hand if there were people in your family who are not talking to one another, that almost each one of you would raise your hand.
Not I’m going to be very clear here. If you are the person that is refusing to talk to the family member, stop it. It is impossible to love someone if you are refusing to talk to them. The person doesn’t even have a chance to apologize, to make amends, whatever. If you refuse to communicate with a person you are cutting them off from the possibility of love, and you are insuring that you remain always angry with them.
Can you start to see what anger does? I have the command for God to love my neighbor, but anger comes along and makes an exception. I’ve got to love everyone but so-and-so. And now I’ve put myself in a place where I can sin against a person, and I don’t even feel guilt about it. I feel good about it. They deserved it. Anger is to your conscience what a tall shot of Vodka it to your balance, it knocks it out of whack. I sin and now, because I’m angry, it doesn’t even both my conscience. And we wonder why the devil is always tempting us to anger? Anger is the foundation of the sturdiest un-repentance that there is. An un-repentance built on pride and self-defense and a numbed conscience.
Anger is dangerous. The devil is using anger like a crowbar to pry the cross of Jesus out of your heart. What this: when someone sins against us we don’t want that sin forgiven. We don’t want to forgive it, and (and this is the most damning accusation of anger that there is) we don’t want Jesus to forgive it. We would rather that Jesus wouldn’t have died at all.
Think of that sin that has you so righteously angry. A lot of times these are old sins, ten, twenty fifty years ago, sins that have been festering like a splinter for that long. Think of that terrible thing that someone did to you, or to your loved one. Got it? Now tell me what you think about this: Jesus died to forgive that sin. It hurts, doesn’t it? You don’t want that, do you? Every sin committed against you is a sin died for by Jesus, forgiven by Jesus.
And we would rather be mad. We would rather the sin stand as unforgiven, because then I could stand as judge, I could keep standing as judge. We would rather have Jesus down off the cross and the person who sinned against us hanging there. Do you see how anger is there, working to dislodge Jesus?
But Jesus will not give up His place. He will suffer and die, in your place, and in your neighbor’s place. He will forgive sin, all sin, the sin of the world.
And those who are marked with the name of Jesus, whose who are called Christians, we will do the same.
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:36-38)
We, the Lord’s people, Christians, are marked not by anger, but by mercy, by patience, by forgiveness.
This is one of those sermons that I want to talk to you about, especially if you’ve got this long, old anger that’s been driving you and destroying you for years. You’ve lived with anger for so long that you don’t know any other way to live, to think. There is, in some cases, the fear of the sin committed against you, the shame that results when someone hurts us. You do not need to defend yourself; you have a defender, Jesus. You do not need to cover your own shame, there is one who covers you with His perfect righteousness, Jesus.
We are merciful and forgiving because Jesus died on the cross. This is the only reason, but it is enough. Jesus forgives sins. Jesus takes away your guilt. He does not get angry when we sin against Him. He loves you. You, in fact, are lovely to Him, for He calls you holy; He calls you His. Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller
Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO