Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sermon -- 6th Sunday after Pentecost (June 30, 2013)

LUKE 9:51-62

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Lord Jesus Christ is not fond of excuses.  No, that’s not saying it clearly enough.  How about this?  The Lord Jesus Christ despises excuses.  He will not accept them.  He will not believe them.  Anyone who thinks that he can excuse himself for doing what is evil or failing to do what is good should not deceive himself.  If you try to excuse your sins, you will not be forgiven for them.  For, this is what the Lord says: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13) 
     And yet, we all persist in giving God our excuses.  “Lord, I meant to do your will, but it just didn’t work with my schedule, with my girlfriend, with my buddies, with what my job demands, with my hobbies, with my habits,” etc….  “Lord, your words are a bit hard to take.  My friends really hate what you have to say about this or that issue.  I think that we would get a lot more people interested in church if we just stopped talking about it.  Isn’t the main thing that people hear about Jesus and love?  Jesus didn’t turn anyone away, so why set up barriers or turn people away by harping on sins?” 
     They all sound like good excuses, don’t they?  We find just enough reason to convince ourselves that God’s word can be ignored or defied.  And we convince ourselves that God should be pleased with it because our motives are good and our hearts are in the right place.  Lies!  A heart that deviates from God’s word is never in the right place.  Pleading an excuse to sin against God is a demand to sin against God.  He will not excuse you.  And if you persist, he will not forgive you.  Repent.
     Now, when we think of people who make excuses for their sins, it is easy to imagine people who want to get away with some heinous or dastardly sin.  But consider the people in our gospel lesson.  These were not felons.  In fact, they seem quite religious.  We would probably consider them good-hearted, well-intentioned people.  These are the kinds of folks you would like as your neighbor and to have your kids on the same little league team as theirs.  But they revealed divided hearts.  They were willing to follow Jesus—but on their terms, as long as it fit their schedules, as long as it wasn’t inconvenient.
     As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57-58)  Perhaps the reason Jesus answered this man so tersely is because he wanted him to understand that being Jesus’ disciple is not going to be easy.  This man may have hoped to bask in the glory as one of Jesus’ entourage.  Jesus assured him that following him meant hardship and rejection from the world.  Bearing his name means being treated like him.  Being Jesus’ disciple is not about being popular.  It is about being faithful, especially when it is not popular.  Jesus did not want hardship to become an excuse for this man to forsake Jesus later.
      To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.  But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-60)  Jewish custom demanded that the dead be buried by sundown.  If this man’s father had died, he should have been tending to it.  In other words, this man pledged, “I will follow you…later, when it is convenient.”  Family obligations sound like a good and reasonable excuse, but such excuses exalt man over God, even if that man is one’s family. 
     Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”  Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62)  No employer wants workers who would rather be somewhere else.  No farmer plows his field by looking backward.  And no disciple pledges, “I will follow you, but….” 
     The Lord is not interested in excuses; for sins are never excused.  When you confess your sins to the Lord, he does not say, “Oh, it’s alright.”  Because it is not.  Sins are never alright.  The Son of Man did not come to grant you excuses.  He did not come to give you license to do more evil.  Therefore, do not seek ways to excuse yourself.  A faithful disciple does not look for excuses, but for mercy.
     The Son of Man came to make atonement for all of your sins.  He came to earn you a pardon for all of your transgressions.  He did not give you a free pass; he gave you mercy.  As our gospel declares twice: [Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51,53)  He was committed to his course to go to Jerusalem, the place of sacrifice.  He was determined to go to suffer and die, to make atonement for your sins, and to be a sin offering for you.  Jesus did not give his heavenly Father any excuses.  He did not say that his task was too hard, too gruesome, inconvenient, thankless, or unfair.  Jesus sought no excuses, even though he was making a payment he did not owe.  He set his face toward Jerusalem and did not look back.  He sought to have mercy upon you.  The Son of Man did not have a place to lay his head, but rather had a crown of thorns placed upon his head.  He had charges nailed above his head.  And finally, his lifeless head and body found rest in a borrowed grave.
     Jesus set his face toward the cross.  That cross shows you two things.  First, it shows you what God thinks of sin.  He despises and damns every infraction against his commands.  He did not withhold any wrath or punishment from his only begotten Son.  Sin has brought about the bloody death even of God the Son.  That is how bad it is.  Secondly, the cross shows you what God thinks of you—how dearly God loves you; how much he desires your salvation.  Jesus did not offer up excuses why he could not be bothered with your problems.  He took your guilt.  He put an end to your excuses.  He silences every accusation.  His death has made atonement for you.
     A faithful disciple looks not for excuses, but mercy.  So, when you come before the Lord in your prayers or when you come before your pastor in private confession and absolution, do not make excuses for your sins.  Confess your sins boldly.  You are not here to impress your God by down-playing your sins or by making false claims of faithfulness.  Acknowledge your sin.  Do not hide your guilt.  You are here to seek mercy.  You are here to obtain forgiveness.  You are here to hold the Lord to his promises.  And what does he promise?  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)  
     A faithful disciple looks not for excuses, but for mercy.  And the Lord is most merciful to you.  He is eager to forgive your sins.  He does not tell you your sins are okay; he declares that they are forgiven.  He bled and died because of them.  He bled and died for you!  But he did this willingly.  He set his face toward Jerusalem where he acquitted you of all guilt and delivered you from all punishment.  So set your face toward Jesus, and you will find mercy.  Come to this altar, and here you will receive it.

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

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