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Mercy, not courtesy

Luke 18:9-14

Pastor David Ernst

11th Sunday after Trinity
Epiphany Lutheran Mission of La Caramuca  
Barinas, Venezuela

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Sun, Aug 11, 2013 

Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

What does pardon mean? Many times in our daily lives, we use phrases such as "pardon me", "excuse me" or "I'm sorry" in matters of courtesy. When a person sneezes, he says, "I beg your pardon!" When you ask where is the end of the line, you start with "Excuse me!" When a friend loses a family member's death, says "I'm so sorry! How sad for you. "

Often in these cases, we do not feel guilty at all. We just say "pardon me" or "exscuse me" or "Im sorry" out of habit or to avoid conflicts. In the case of the death of a friend's loved one, perhaps we sincerely feel sadness, but we recognize we are not responsible for the death.

Every Sunday we begin the liturgy with the confession of our sins:

God of mercy, we confess that we are enslaved by sin and can not free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and what we have left undone. We have not loved You with all our heart, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us through your Holy Spirit so that You will be our joy and walk in Your ways always, to the glory of Your name. Amen.

We must not ask God's forgiveness out of habit or to avoid the wrath of God with soft words. The mercy of God is not courtesy. God takes our sins completely seriously. By His divine nature, God can not tolerate evil and we are by nature evil-doers. Because of our sin, we deserve physical and eternal death. We can not avoid the wrath of God by soft words or by good works. We can only ask for forgiveness of our sins in the holy name of Jesus Christ, who suffered and died on the cross to satisfy God's justice. Without true confession, we can not worship God in a manner pleasing to Him

In our text for today, we have a model for confession. "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of everything I have. The publican, standing afar off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. "

The Pharisee is not our model. He stood with the intention of being the most prominent and as visible as possible, because he was convinced of his own importance and intended to convey to others the same impression. He prayed to himself, literally, his words were more in the nature of congratulation and praise of himself than communication with God. What he expressed was the firm conviction of his own heart. Proudly he listed his supposed virtues, giving thanks to God, by the way, that he was not like the others. The Pharisee is a type of all self-righteous people of all time, of all the people who are pleased with themselves, in their wonderful being and doing, who tell God of their facade of righteousness and unblemished reputation, some outward shining virtues, while despising others.

On the other hand, the publican had nothing of the arrogance and self-assertion of the Pharisee. He stood at a great distance, probably, in the shadow of a pillar, by which to be as unobtrusive as possible. He wass well aware of his unworthiness. He did not even dare to look up toward heaven or to the sanctuary of the visible presence of God among his people. He can only, pierced by grief because of his sin, hit himsef in the chest. His prayer was a shaky breath, God be merciful to me a sinner! In his eyes there was only one sinner worth mentioning, only one whose sins he could see, and that was himself.

The tax-collector is a type of the repentant sinner who knows and recognizes his sin, feels guilty in the heart and conscience, who confesses his guilt against God, but also addresses the Lord as his God merciful and gracious, accepts and claims God's grace which assures all sinners of forgiveness in Jesus, the Savior. Christ's judgment in the case is clear and complete. He states emphatically that this man, the tax collector, went home justified, forgiven and not the other, the Pharisee. He received the atonement of Jesus by faith in the Messiah. He was justified by grace, for the love of Christ by faith.

In the liturgy of our Lutheran Church, confession of sins is a congregational act. The practice of confessing together does not contradict our Gospel reading. What is important about the publican's attitude, the same attitude as expressed in the general confession. The focus is on the origin of our actual sins, our corrupt nature in thoughts, words and deeds. Before God, one must plead guilty of all sins, even those of which we are ignorant.

If there are specific sins that weigh on our hearts, we may confess them privately to our pastor, but no one should be compelled to confess their sins in private. If in private or in public, the pastor may pronounce the absolution, which is the second part of the confession. We receive absolution from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, firmly believing that our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

If we are truly repentant, we have the desire to be free from our sins, to cleanse our conscience and do the right thing by those we have done wrong. Receiving absolution and Christ's body and blood in the sacrament moves us to change our lives with the help of the Holy Spirit.

The peace that passes all understanding be with each of you. Amen.

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