Living in a Moment He Died For
A couple of years ago there was a country song where the singer sang of living in a moment you would die for. I suppose everyone who has ever been in love knows such a moment. A moment where it all comes together, where there is no worry, no fear, just love and contentment. A moment where time seems to freeze. Rather than calling us to live in a moment we would die for though, Christ calls us to live in a moment He died for. Christ calls us to see our lives under the cross, in the cross. He calls us to live in the "fairytale" world I spoke of last week where love isn't just for the loveable and mercy isn't just for those who "deserve" it.
However, if you hear what Christ says in this text as only Law, as only a moral code to live by, then Christ is saying nothing more than what Dear Abby is saying. But Jesus isn't addressing people in general. He is speaking to those in Him, those under His cross, those living in that moment He died for. Christ is calling us who have experienced that moment where sins have been washed away in Baptism or sent away in Absolution to live as loved sinners with sinners. It is a fairytale existence in this moment that Christ died for. For in this moment as enemies increase their ill behavior toward us, as they move from hating, to cursing, to actually abusing, we move from doing good, to blessing, to praying for them. In this moment that Christ died for, where our enemies would strike us, we are to turn the other cheek. Where they would take from us, we are to give.
This just makes no sense outside of Christ. Dear Abby could tell you to do good, bless, and pray for your enemies, but her human wisdom could never conclude that a struck face should be turned and that he who would take should be given to. And you and I can't conclude that either, it makes no sense. It violates every rule of survival like "You have to take care of yourself." "You need to defend yourself." What would we have left if we allowed everyone to take all they wanted? How many times could our cheeks be slapped?
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I'm going to say that Jesus doesn't really mean turn the other cheek or give what your enemies would take. But He does. Christ died for moments such as these redeeming them from our wisdom, our standards. Christ did this by dying for us. You see we hated, cursed, and abused Him. When we go through Passion History again this Lent, do not see the Pharisees hating Jesus, see that it is you. Don't see the thief on the cross cursing Jesus, see that it is you. Don't see the Roman soldiers whipping, beating, and crucifying Jesus, see that it is you.
You and I hated, cursed, and abused the precious Lord Jesus, and what did He do to us in return? He did good to us, blessed us and prayed "Father, forgive them." Do you see then how Jesus redeemed these moments with our enemies? Rather than moments of self-defense and repayment, they are moments where the grace Christ has shown us can overflow into someone else's life. St. Paul would say that what Christ has done for us makes us a debtor not to Christ but to everyone else, even our enemies.
What? Our enemies don't deserve the Gospel or Gospel-like things such as doing good, blessing and praying for them. This is true, and neither did we. But, as Paul tells us in Romans 5, "While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son." In this moment that Christ died for, in this fairytale existence that Christianity is, enemies are forgiven and loved. And not only that, but the ungrateful and outright wicked are mercied.
The world knows that you ought to love those who love you; you ought to do good to those who do good to you, and you ought to lend to those who will repay. You don't even need a Dear Abby to tell you that, do you? These things are just plain good manners. But in these moments that Christ died for, in the fairytale world He has placed us in by our Baptisms, keeps us in through Absolution, and feeds us in through Holy Communion, things are above and beyond what earthly wisdom could ever conclude. Christ breaks the law of reciprocity which says people should get what they deserve. He breaks the common sense, un-fairytale fact that you should do good or bad to someone based on what they do.
This is how our God deals with us. He is kind, loving, and benevolent to the hardest kind of people to be these things toward: the ungrateful and the outright wicked. Put this in the animal kingdom and you will see how radical it really is. Everyone knows you should be kind to the hurt, whining dog, but to the snapping, snarling, mean one? Everyone will feed the dog who jumps all over them, wagging its tail and gratefully licking their face, but what about the dog who bites your hand when you try to feed it?
Our Lord, however, has had mercy on us though we did not deserve it. Our ingratitude should be punished, but instead He forgave it and gave us even more. Our wickedness should be judged as worthy of hell, but He gave His own Son hell and us heaven instead. This makes no earthly sense. This is the stuff off fairytales; it's even beyond fairytales! God would give Cinderella's mean stepsisters handsome princes too. God would have mercy on the witch who gave Snow White the poisoned apple. God would be kind and loving not just to Jack but to the giant at the top of the beanstalk.
Such mercy, such grace, such kindness, Christ has brought into the moments of our life by dying for each and everyone of them. He has sanctified everyone of them. Daily we stand in His grace. Hourly we are showered by His forgiveness. Moment by moment the note of mercy sounds in our lives. This redeems, this transforms them. Christian living is not a matter of following a list of do's and don'ts; it's a matter of living in a moment that Christ has died for. However, we fail miserably and often at doing this. That is why we pray what we do in the Collect for today.
We pray in the Collect for the Lord to "keep your family and Church continually in the true faith." Actually, the original prayer which dates to the 500's asked that the Lord keep us in the true religion. This is not a prayer for the Lord to keep us believing but to keep us IN something. That something, true religion, is the moment that Christ died for. Left to ourselves we stray from the love and mercy of God. We step outside the moment and act like it is up to us to make ourselves lovable and worthy of God's mercy.
Dear friend, when you are not sure of God's love and mercy toward you, you can't be loving and merciful to anyone let alone the unlovable and the wicked. When your relationship to God is up in the air, not safe and sealed in Christ, your relationship to others can't help but be up in the air too. So we pray, "Keep us in the true religion. Don't let us stray. Keep us in the moment Christ died for, in the place of fairytales where the wicked are mercied, where the unlovable are loved and sinners are different because they are forgiven, loved and mercied." Only the Lord can do this. We cannot keep ourselves in this moment. No amount of being determined, no amount of believing, no amount of trying on our part can keep us in the true religion. God Himself must do it for us; that is why we pray for Him to do it.
But we pray for more than being kept. We pray on the basis of the Lord's heavenly grace. We pray as those who can lean on the hope of God's heavenly grace. Do you hope on God's grace as you hear these words from Christ about loving the unlovable and mercying the unmerciful? Do you not instead recall how poorly you do such things? Do not your sins in this regard rise up to haunt you? Do you not find yourselves hoping you will do better next time, hoping you will be given another chance? Dear friends rather than hoping on what you will do or not do next time, hope on God's heavenly grace right now.
Friends, doing good, blessing and praying for enemies is not something sinners like us are capable of. God must graciously do these works in us, and He calls us to lean on the hope of that happening. But when we think about turning the other cheek, forgiving our enemies or being merciful to someone who clearly doesn't deserve it, we conclude, "I can never do that." But that is as silly as Moses standing before the Red Sea and thinking, "I can never cross this." Thinking that you are suppose to dredge up the love and mercy for sinners in your heart is like the disciples thinking they must somehow buy enough bread to feed the 5,000. You are not suppose to hear this text and be thinking how you will go about doing it. You are to hear this text and say, "I can't do it, but I know Someone who can."
That is hoping on God's grace. That is leaning on this hope. We do err big time when we look into our heart and proclaim, "There is not enough love and mercy there to show to my enemies and the wicked." What did you expect? Did you think that the heart which Scripture declares is desperately wicked would be overflowing with love and mercy? The error is in looking there at all. Grace, mercy and love are not in our sinful, fallen hearts, they are in God's heart. We look to God's heart, not ours. We hope on God's heart of grace not ours. We lean on God not ourselves.
Our Lord God can keep us in the moment that Christ died for, and His grace can be hoped on endlessly even when we feel hopeless because of our sinfulness. But the main thrust of our prayer is that we "may ever be defended by Your mighty power." What do you think we are asking to be defended from? In a prayer that talks about being kept in true religion and leaning on the hope of God's grace, the problem in view is not outside physical danger. No, we are asking God in this prayer to defend us from consciences that will make us flee true religion and the grace of God.
Someone has said, "Conscience makes cowards of us all." An evil conscience, one that is always accusing us of our very real shortcomings and sins, can make us forsake true religion and the grace of God. An evil conscience can make us stand outside of the moment Christ died for saying that it doesn't apply to me. An evil conscience can't lean on the grace of God because it doesn't think His grace applies to it. The evil conscience accuses and accuses driving you farther and farther away from the grace of God.
What's the answer? "If our hearts condemn us, God is greater," says I John 3. He has the mighty power to defend us even against our own evil consciences. Don't let your conscience determine whether you have God's grace. Let His Word do that. And God's Word assures you that in your Baptism is more than enough grace to cover your sins, in your absolution there is not one sin of yours that is not sent away, in the Holy Communion the blood of Christ is thick and rich enough to cleanse even you.
In these things God's mighty power is present to defend you and so keep you safe and secure in that moment that Christ died for. In this moment flooded as it is with God's love and mercy, life looks different; sinners look different, enemies look different; love and mercy don't seem just possible, but natural. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany VII (2-18-01) Luke 6:27-38