Mercy for Sinners
A sermon on Romans 11:29-32
9th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15, Yr A) 14/08/11
by Ps Heath Pukallus Katanning-Narrogin Lutheran Parish
Mercy for Sinners
Text Romans 11:29–32 (ESV)
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
Can a person measure their faith? How do I know whether I've got great faith, or fragile or unstable faith? Really, should one seek to measure faith?
Last week we heard in Romans 10:17 that faith comes from hearing the gospel preached. And today we hear Jesus finds himself in two places and receives two very different responses as he, the Word made flesh, moves, teaches, and preaches amongst the people of his day.
In fact when confronted by Christ and his Word, the reality of God in my presence quickly reveals just who I am as well as what I think, do, and feel. Usually one of two things happen, sometimes both things happen at the same time. Either I become proud, arrogant, and conceited, or I become crushed and confused, and sometimes even both, somehow at the same time.
Indeed even in the bible readings we have heard this morning, my mind races and makes me feel certain things and makes me want to do certain things too.
The first thing that jumps to mind in the readings is from the second half of the Gospel reading. I see the way Jesus approaches a Gentile, a Canaanite woman who has heard the word and approaches Jesus with faith. I struggle with the fact that Jesus does three things before the woman that for me, seems a bit harsh. He ignores her, then refuses to speak to her, saying, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." And finally when he does speak to her he calls her a dog.
Two things happen in me as I hear God's word, I question and then doubt. Surely Jesus is a God of love; why does he do this? I am tempted into doubting God's word and seek to alter it to suit me; making it a little less offensive. And once this happens then the threat of either conceited arrogance or crushing confusion hangs over my head because it appears that his Word is not completely true as far as my thoughts and feelings are concerned. It seems if I were to evaluate my faith at this moment I might be in danger of not finding any! Or would I? Or perhaps, instead of faith, I see disobedience working in me!
Then I think about the first half of the Gospel reading. Those wretched Pharisees; what right have they got to be offended at my God. If I was there I wouldn't doubt Jesus for a minute; I am so much better than them. But just when I become proud of my pharisaic ways over the Pharisees, Jesus' Word rings in my ear, 'Are you so dull?' He tells me the things that come out of my mouth and heart are the things that make me unclean; evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander. Then depending on the day, I respond with pompous pride, "I don't do any of those things", or I justify myself with a big yeah-but and change God's word to suit me so I mightn't have to address the things I'm doing in my life. Or, on the other hand, at other times I see Jesus lift the bar of the law that much higher so there is no way I can jump over it, and utter shame fills my heart, "how can I go near God when I am such a bad sinner!"
And furthermore I hear the words of Isaiah, "foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant — these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer." (Isaiah 56:6-7a ESV) I hear these words and ask, "How can I bind myself to you Lord? I don't always love your name; in fact most of the time I really don't understand who you are! And worship seems so pointless and unconnected with the reality of my life! Oh no! I shouldn't think these things! But my feelings tell me I would rather be doing something useful that sitting here. Is Jesus really in the bread and wine, am I really saved, is baptism effective? I can't think these things; I've got to do better than this! Oh what's the point!
The point is: you and I are inherently sinful. Sin is not just what I do, it is who I am! When presented with a model of Jesus' life I see that there is no way possible for me to make it to heaven by my own efforts. In fact my efforts push me further and further away from God, every time. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:32 ESV)
In fact God hands us over to see our sinfulness so that the gift of Christ is recognized for what it is: the greatest gift anyone has every received. God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. Even in the midst of so much sin and selfish behaviour God continues to have mercy on us. My sinful nature, with all its doubt, worry, and pride, is continually being exposed by the light of God. The closer we are drawn to the light of God the brighter the stain of our disobedience stands out next to the brilliance of Jesus Christ. I am not able to wash the disobedience from my clothes; I need the Holy Spirit and the blood of the lamb to cleanse me once and for all. But I also need to be reminded of it, so I am reassured of my cleansing as more and more disobedience comes to light.
It is Jesus who has kept the Sabbath holy, so much so by the will of God the Father, he truly rested in death in the grave on that Sabbath Saturday, between Good Friday, when he died, and Easter Sunday, the day of his glorious resurrection.
It is Jesus' perfect model life in me, winning me, leading me, and forgiving me for my disobedience. It is Jesus blood which covers my sinful nature yesterday, today, and tomorrow. God does not go back on his Word; in baptism, in the bread and the wine, in his Word, his gifts are irrevocable, irreversible and universal. You are 100% sinner so God the Son can be 100% your Saviour.
Even in the midst of our disobedient natures his gift of faith will never be withdrawn. Faith comes from God and leads us to God. Faith comes from the Word and leads back to his Word. Faith comes from the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit comes from God the Father and God the Son, and faith leads us to Jesus Christ, God the Son, and through him to our loving Heavenly Father. Is there a need to measure faith? No! God gives us the measure of faith we need, and he never breaks his promise to us: that he will give us his gifts and continually call us!
When the Word offends us and we become conceited like the Pharisees in Jesus' day. When the Word of God increases the depth of your sin; shedding light on the disobedience of your heart. When the Word of God shows that you and I are foreigners in God's eyes with no way of being persuaded to follow God's Law by our own efforts. Marvel that Jesus himself graces our hearts with his blood that makes us righteous. Be overwhelmed that as sinners we can be confident in his glorious presence, when we really deserve nothing but death. That because of his victory and resurrection from death we can come to him with great faith, knowing that his gifts and his call are irrevocable, and cry out to Jesus, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Amen.