14 July 2013

The One Who Shows Mercy Is Your Neighbor

Eternal Life is not a destination, but a journey.  It is not something to accomplish or achieve, but a gift that is given by God, received by His grace, and lived by faith in His Word.  It is not a place to arrive at, but a path to follow, as the Lord lays it before you and provides all that is required.

If the prospect of such an ongoing, neverending journey seems daunting or exhausting to you, then you, like the lawyer who put Jesus to the test, are thinking of eternal life in the wrong way and approaching it in sin instead of faith.

That’s the fatal flaw in your desire and all of your attempts to justify yourself.  Not only can you not do it, but you’ll wear yourself out and kill yourself trying.  You cannot give yourself life; nor can you make life for yourself, nor keep it forever by any power, reason, wisdom, or strength of your own.  You did not decide to be conceived and born, and you would not have survived beyond your birth without others to feed and clothe and care for you.  It never ceases to be the case that your daily bread, and all that you need for this body and life, is provided by the Holy Triune God.  Every breath, and every bite, is from His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.

That much is true, even for temporal life in this fallen and perishing world, in which the Lord still causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good.  He gives seed to the sower, and bread to the eater, by His grace, whether with or without man’s petition and praise.  But He has taught you to pray, to look to Him, as a child to your dear Father, that you would realize and rely upon His grace and goodness toward you, and so live by faith in Him, and learn to love Him above all other gods.  It is not a matter of somehow getting life for yourself, but of learning to live the life that He is giving you.

So much more is it the case, that eternal life derives entirely and only from the Holy Triune God.  For He alone is the Author and Giver of Life, because He alone is the Living God, who not only has but is Life in Himself.  There is no eternal Life at all, except that of the Lord: the divine Life of the true and only God.  All attempts to manufacture or manipulate that Life for yourself are nothing else but futile forms of self-idolatry.  Your efforts to justify and save yourself, therefore, are not only selfish, but utterly sinful and self-defeating.

If you would have eternal life, and live it, then let God be God, and learn to know and love Him above all else with every part and aspect of yourself: with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Whatever part of you is not fully invested in Him, and found in Him, will not live forever, but will perish.  For you cannot live a life that you don’t have, and you have no life at all — not really, not now nor ever — except from God.

The good news is that He freely and richly gives you His own Life by grace, by His Word and Spirit, in and with and through the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  So, the question at hand, or, at least, the question Jesus actually answers, is not of how you get life or come to have it, but of how you now live it.  He does not give you directions to some far off, distant destination, but He defines and describes the journey, that is, the path of life, which is lived by faith in the grace of God.

To live the divine, eternal Life, which is from God, is to live with God and for God, and to live as God lives: It is to love Him as the Living and Life-giving One, and to love your neighbor, as the Lord your God loves both you and your neighbor, with divine grace.

To ask about limits, parameters, or boundaries on such love, is already to be off track and on a different path.  It is already to have turned your heart and mind away from God to yourself, and at the same time, in the same way and to the same extent, to withhold yourself from your neighbor: to love yourself instead of your neighbor.  It is to see him, and then to look away from him, to pass him by on the other side of the road, and to carry on with “your own life” and your own pursuits.

That’s what happens when you perceive eternal life as a destination you’re trying to reach, rather than a journey you’re already on by God’s grace.  Then everything has to be calculated, measured, weighed, and evaluated, as to whether it will help or hinder your progress, and whether or not you can “afford” the time, energy, or money it takes.

How, then, do you look at your neighbor and think about him and his need?  Is he a distraction, a nuisance, or a burden?  Or perhaps a means to some end?  A rung on the ladder, or a stepping stone, by which you will earn brownie points and justify yourself?  Or is he an object of mercy and compassion?  Do you perceive that your neighbor’s pain, his hurt, his poverty and hunger, are a blessed Cross for you to bear, which belongs to your living the divine, eternal life along the way?

The trouble is, that you’ve already set your goals and made your plans, right?  You’ve plotted out your day, scheduled your week, and figured out the month with its bills and appointments, its obligations and its fun times.  You’ve got your “New Year’s resolutions,” which, by now, you’ve forgotten, given up, reaffirmed, or revised.  But, the point is, you’re mapping out your path: both your short-term and long-term goals, your five-year plan, your bucket list.  And, you’ve set your sight on some destination.  So, you get up, and you set off down the road to make your way.

Except that, not even your own life is in your own hands, much less the whole wide world and all your neighbors in it.  “As God so wills,” you’ll do this or that, as St. James teaches you to think and say and pray.  Deo volente.  What, then, do you actually encounter on the way?

The bandits and robbers who beset you are numerous and varied.  They are legion, we might say.  Not only coming at you from all around, but also within, as your own addictions, bad habits, frailties, fears, and weaknesses trip you up and bring you down.

Or else, maybe you’re not attacked or hindered like that, but you happen upon someone else who has been.  Then what?  What do you do, or not do?  And what of the consequences, either way?  What will it mean for you, for your plans, for your life and your destination, if you stop and stay and stick around to help?  Or if you keep on going?

Over the centuries, all kinds of explanations and excuses have been offered, as to why the priest and Levite chose not to help the man who fell into the robbers’ hands.  But, make no mistake, they should have helped him.  What the Samaritan then did, with compassion for the man, was the good and right thing to do; the godly thing to do.  It wasn’t too much.  It wasn’t over the top, above and beyond the call of duty.  It was what duty called for.  It was to live the divine, eternal life, as it was laid out before him.  And so should you “go and do the same,” as you are met with the needs of others.

But in this way, you are set upon, as much by the burden and the cross of your neighbor and his needs, as you are by the burden and the cross of your own sin and death.  In helping your neighbor, your time, energy, and resources are spent and used up, as surely as the robbers would have taken them from you.  Or, if you decide not to help, your conscience besets you with guilt and shame for having turned away from your neighbor.  Then you are attacked and accused, not only by the devil and the world, but by the Law of God: For you are to love and serve Him, who is your Lord, with all that you are and have; and, because of who He is, because He is the Lord, you are to love and serve your neighbor in the same way that you cherish and care for yourself.

So, then, think of what that means: When you are the man who has fallen among robbers, and you’ve been stripped and beaten, and you are left behind, dying in the ditch by the side of the road, you do whatever you can, whatever is in your power, to save yourself.  So, too, for your neighbor, whether he be friend or foe, or a total stranger: You are to do whatever you can to save him.

And when you are finally forced to realize that you can’t: that you can't save your neighbor or yourself; that the need is too great, the hurt is too big, the situation too desperate and beyond your ability to rectify, then you must die altogether: die to yourself, to your sin, to your strength, to everything.

You cannot justify yourself.  Your inability is no excuse, but confirmation of the fact.  You cannot do anything to capture life and keep it for yourself.  You are half dead already, and the only reason — the only reason — that you are not all the way dead, is that God has given and preserved your life thus far.  There is no “destination” of your own devising, but only the path on which the Lord has put you, and the point to which He has brought you.  Each moment is your “Ebenezer,” in which you are given to live or die; not by your own reason or strength, but by the grace of God.

Stop thinking of your neighbor as a nuisance and a bother.  He is not an interruption on your way to finding life, but caring for his need is exactly the life that God has given you to live right now.  “Justify God,” therefore, by acknowledging His Wisdom and His Righteousness; and so receive eternal Life from His hand, and learn from Him how to live it.

From the beginning, Christians have recognized Christ Jesus in the Good Samaritan, and that is most certainly true.  For here is the New Man who has come down from heaven from God, the almighty and eternal Son of the Father, conceived and born of His Virgin Mother.  Here is the Love of God, Who is the Life and Light of all men.  He has seen you, in love, from before the foundation of the world, and has been moved in the depths of His being by compassion for you, to come and help you, to act heroically on your behalf, and to save you from sin, death, and hell.

He is the Man who has lived the divine, eternal Life in the flesh, for you and for all people, while one and all of you were still at enmity with Him.  He has given Himself for you, and poured Himself out in order to fill you up with His own Life and health and strength and every good thing.  In order to do so, He has taken your place under the Cross, under your burden of sin and death.  He has borne your grief and carried your sorrows.  He has been wounded by and with and for your transgressions, so that, by His stripes and scars, you are healed and made whole.

He comes, not only as the Good Samaritan, but to become the beaten, bruised, and bloodied Man, who has suffered the fullness of death at the hands of sinners.  For He has thus borne your sins in His own Body, even as He now bears you up in His arms, upon His back, and across His shoulders, in order to bring you home rejoicing to His God and Father in heaven.

The Lord is your divine, eternal “destination,” who has come to be with you, to abide with you in your misery and hurt, and so also to journey with you on the path of life laid out before you.

He has brought you here, to this Inn, where He cares for you and provides for all your needs; where He raises you from the dead and strengthens you in body and soul, unto the life everlasting.  He spares no expense in serving you.  Not with silver and gold, but with His holy and precious blood He has redeemed you, ransomed and won you for life with Himself in His Kingdom; and even now to minister the balm of His Gospel, in order to cleanse and heal you.

By all these ways and means, the Lord your God, your Savior Jesus Christ, has befriended you and has become your Neighbor.  That is the answer to the lawyer’s question, though he knew not what he was asking: “Who, then, is your neighbor?”  Jesus is: the One who has shown mercy to you.

As God has thus become your Neighbor in Christ Jesus, so are you now able to love God by loving your neighbor: Because God loves you with all His heart, soul, mind and strength; the Lord your God loves you, and He has rescued you and set you free; He has become true Man, and has bound Himself to your neighbor and his need, as also to you and yours.  It is one Lord Jesus Christ who has become all in all, who is at hand in your neighbor to help you in your hurt, and so also in your neighbor who needs help, so that you now love and serve the Lord in him.

Everything is provided for you.  The Lord Jesus has it covered.  Nothing is lacking for the journey.  Nothing can hurt you anymore forever; nor can anyone rob you of the life that is given to you freely by the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

See, here are the two denarii that He has placed into my hands, to care for you as your pastor: His Body given, and His Blood poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Where there is forgiveness of sins, there also is eternal life for you.  Whatever may yet seem to be lacking, He will fully restore and openly reveal when He returns in Glory at the last.  He is the Lord, and He is faithful: He will do it.

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

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