Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Trinity 17 Sermon by Fr. Joshua Hayes

[Ed note: Gottesdienst (the print journal) readers were treated to four top-notch sermons in the current issue, including one by Fr. Joshua J. Hayes of St. John Lutheran Church in Kramer, Nebraska.  He had actually sent me two sermons, and I went with his Trinity 18 offering.  But I also really liked his Trinity 17 sermon as well, and so I asked his permission to publish it here at GO.  If you're not a subscriber, you missed three other sermons by Frs. William Weedon, Dave Juhl, and Jay Watson - along with columns by Frs. Burnell Eckardt, David Petersen, Mark Braden, and Karl Fabrizius; essays by Fr. Peter Berg and myself, as well as a hymn by Fr. Eckardt and Mrs. Kathryn Hill. +LB]

Trinity 17, October 16, 2011

Joshua J. Hayes, St. John Lutheran Church, Kramer, NE

St. Luke 19.41-48

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

X In the name of Jesus. X

It was a setup from the beginning. Jesus was invited to a dinner party at the house of a leading Pharisee, but not to be their guest, but to be framed. What better way to get rid of a nuisance than to have him framed? And what better way to get rid of a religious nuisance than to trap him in his own religion. The trap was set, the bait carefully positioned, and our Lord walked right into it. The Pharisees were watching Jesus carefully, just waiting for him to spring their trap.

And what was this trap? In their cleverness and religiosity the Pharisees thought they had a good plan: Seat Jesus right in front of a poor guy suffering from dropsy—a nasty disease where your body holds too much water. Jesus, so they thought, would be stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either Jesus would heal the man and have compassion on him and thus do work on the Sabbath, or Jesus would keep the Sabbath but appear to be unmerciful and weak.

The Pharisees here are doubly despicable. It is as if they knew that Jesus would have compassion. They had come to know that that’s who Jesus is; that’s how he behaves. He is full of mercy and compassion. Knowing this, the Pharisees preyed upon Jesus’ mercy. Unlike the parable of the unjust steward who risks everything on his master’s mercy to improve not only his own situation, but also that of his neighbors and the reputation of his master, these Pharisees only seek to use our Lord’s mercy to trap and destroy him.

But not so fast. Before you start condemning these despicable Pharisees for the way they use Christ’s mercy against him, point your Pharisaic finger at yourself. You do the same thing. These Pharisees were always in the habit of setting Jesus up for failure. But we do the same thing. Only how much more despicable are we who bear the name not Pharisee but Christian!

We pit Christ against his word and seek to use his mercy as the excuse for our sin. “Since Christ is all merciful,” we think, “there’s no real harm in lusting after women on the internet or TV.” “Since Christ will always forgive me, there’s no real problem in neglecting his word. Going to church isn’t a good work that earns my salvation, so why worry about making it there every Sunday? My Jesus is loving and forgiving; I don’t need to actually try to amend my life and love my neighbor, spouse, and children more than myself.”

Repent. Pharisees don’t care about what Christ says or does. They only want to catch him so as to have an excuse not to listen to him; to get rid of him.

But Jesus will not be gotten rid of; not by you, and not by these Pharisees. He loves you too much to let your brush him off. He walks straight into the Pharisees’ pathetic trap and springs it on purpose. He says, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” The Pharisees are silent. Now Christ has put them in their own trap and they know not what to say. They cannot but condemn themselves. We cannot but condiment ourselves. But though it will cost him his life, Christ will not leave you sick in the dropsy of your sins, but will heal you even if it means letting the devil have his way with him.

This is what Jesus does. He does not run from danger, but meets it head on. He does not run from the cross, but goes willingly to his death. The cross was the trap which the death and the devil had laid, and Christ sprung it to set you free. He lays down his life when he wants, and he goes free when he wants. On Calvary Christ laid down his life to save yours. Here at this Pharisaic dinner party, Christ walks straight into their trap and right out on the other side. At the cross, Christ walked into the devil’s trap and let him win, but came out on the other side that first Easter morning. 

Beloved, we have not been called to bear the name Pharisee, but rather Christian. And Christians you are, for you have been put into Christ. He, the one whom heaven and earth cannot contain was willing to be contained in the Virgin’s womb for you. He, the one who knows all things and sees all things was willing to grow and be taught the word of his Father for you. He, the one who humbled himself to death, even the death of a cross to raise you back up to the Father. Jesus has humbled himself and exalted you.

And see how high, dear Christian, your Jesus has exalted you! Your status is higher than any celebrity, any movie star, president, prince, or politician. For you have been called be a regular diner at the table of the King of kings.

There was once a man who had a funny name. His name was Mephibosheth. But worse than the awkwardness of his name was its meaning: “disgrace comes from my mouth.” He was disgraced because he was the only survivor from the family of a deposed king named Saul. And worse, yet, he was lame in both feet.

Mephibosheth should have been killed on the spot. That’s what you do with pesky relatives of former kings. You don’t want them coming after your crown, so you dispose of them. But it just so happens that Mephibosheth, disgraced as he was, lived under the rule of a gracious king: king David. David wanted to have compassion and mercy on his enemy, and so he exalted lowly Mephibosheth and restored all Saul’s lands to him. And more than that—David invited Mephibosheth to eat always at his table. And when you eat at the king’s table, your status is secure.

And so we read in 2 Sam. 9 that Mephibosheth ate at the king’s table, just like one of the king’s sons.

Beloved, today the Son of David, Jesus Christ, king of all creation, invites you to eat as his table, like one of the king’s sons. For this is what you are: Sons and daughters of the king.

Don’t you see? It was a setup from the beginning. All that Christ has done he has done to bring you’re here—to be a guest at his table; that you may dine with the everlasting king and know that your status with him is secure.

In the Name of the Father, and of the X Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


  1. “Only how much more despicable are we who bear the name not Pharisee but Christian!” It seems that the approved Lutheran sermon today requires that the Pastor first heap all manner of verbal abuse on his listeners, before concluding that it’s OK, Christ loves you anyway. To compare Pharisees and Christians is to compare things from entirely different worlds, and reveals ignorance of a fundamental teaching of our Lord: the Gospel of the Kingdom. Luke 4: 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the Gospel of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” Luke 16: 16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the Gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.” And finally, “Luke 7: 28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he."

    No person to whom our Lord spoke before His resurrection was a member of the Kingdom of God. As the ancient Te Deum proclaims, “having overcome the sharpness of death, He opened the Kingdom to all believers.” Certainly the Pharisees were not. Of them our Lord says, Matthew 23:33, “You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?” Has He ever said that to any of us, members of the Kingdom of God, who are “more despicable” than the Pharisees?

    Well, there is that matter of our sinning when we “We pit Christ against his word and seek to use his mercy as the excuse for our sin.” This makes St. Paul more despicable than the Pharisees, when he writes, Romans 7:15, “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate,” and 7:19, “For I do not do the good I want, but he evil I do not want is what I do.” But when he does the very thing he hates, why does he do it? Because he wants to, and it is the same with us, regardless of the excuse we make! It is same with why he does not do the good; he does not want to. It is the same with us; it is the universal problem of sin. We had better realize that it is not going to go away until we see our Lord face to face.

    Sorry, the website does not allow me to post the entire comment in one piece, so I have to divide it in two.

    George A. Marquart

  2. Continued from previous post:

    The late Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his diary, asks the question, “How, when and why, instead of setting free the tortured, did the Church begin to sadistically frighten and to terrorize them?” Just before that he wrote, “The first, the most important, the source of everything is, ‘Let my soul rejoice in the Lord’ … The fear of sin does not prevent one from sinning. Joy in the Lord does.”

    So maybe, instead of telling our people that they are more despicable than the Pharisees, whom our Lord consigned to hell, we should tell our people what our Lord has done for us to help us deal with the problem of sin in this life. 2 Corinthians 5:4, “For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

    He has made us new creatures in the waters of Baptism. The Lord, the Holy Spirit, has come to dwell in us in order to preserve our faith, to strengthen it, and to join our prayers to the Father. He gives us assurance of our salvation and works in us those qualities which promote sanctification, Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

    This is not a diatribe against preaching the Law. The Law has its place, as we all know. But it should never be preached to the members of God’s Kingdom as if they were still unconverted.

    Finally, there is that “Repent”. Peter proclaimed it on Pentecost, when he said, Acts 2:38, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Is that what we are called to do? Did my Baptism 76 years ago not “take”, and I have to do it all over again? We have to be careful with that word. Walther writes about it in Thesis XII, “One of the principal reasons why many at this point mingle Law and Gospel is that they fall to distinguish the daily repentance of Christians from the repentance which precedes faith.” When our Lord used the word “Repent!” he always used it in the sense of “repentance which precedes faith”, because as yet there was no Kingdom, there was no faith, because, John 7:39, “Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  3. Finally, there is that “Repent”. Peter proclaimed it on Pentecost, when he said, Acts 2:38, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Is that what we are called to do? Did my Baptism 76 years ago not “take”, and I have to do it all over again? We have to be careful with that word.

    Dr. Luther certainly did not pound it into a door, or medieval minds, that one had to do one's Baptism "all over again." But he did indicate that:

    "Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance."

    The whole life, note. Of believers. That was the prime point, the opening salvo, of a whole set of zingers. But perhaps the professor was inflicting verbal abuse on the believers, yet again; or at least inflicting it on the sophomores of Wittenberg college.

    I'm looking forward to the Wedding Party and its Banquet, of which we obtain that delightful foretaste every Sunday and festival day. But for now, when I pinch myself, I still feel the nociceptive impulses rushing to my flesh-brain. Be averse to calling me a Pharisee, dear clerics; but be aware that I certainly can think and act like one, even as a baptized child of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That's the problem St. Paul struggled with, as well as us. Indeed, the fellow from Tarsus, himself, was not shy about calling himself the chief of sinners. Ouch.

    Did the Apostle come to be baptized before he started hurling such terrible epithets at himself? Absolutely (Acts 22:16). He was a member of the Kingdom, quite before his penned confession to Pastor Timothy.

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

  4. Thanks, Doctor Anderson, for your surgical riposte. As to Fr Schmemann's remarks, there is room for response there, too. "Joy in the Lord" may perhaps prevent one from sinning...but if indeed so, the prevention doesn't last for long.

    But what first caught my eye on this post was the scripture citation at the sermon's heading. Shouldn't the text be cited as Luke 14:1-11? Puzzled me for a moment.


    1. Rev. Rinas, I will appreciate your thoughts on what prevents us from sinning longer than joy?

      By the way, if we are indeed “simul iustus et peccator”, then we will continue to sin while we are on this earth. Even when we are not sinning, we are still “peccator.”

      Rinas? A Baltic heritage?

      Peace and Joy!
      George A. Marquart

    2. Mr. Marquart-

      I really have no truck in these matters here. But I suppose that I can make a comment.

      First, to answer your question, I'd simply say that God prevents us from sinning longer than joy prevents us. That is, I would not split the hairs and separate the gift from the Giver. Rather than isolating the "gnostic" qualities of joy, grace, faith, love, hope, etc., I'd prefer to say that Father, Son, and Spirit themselves accomplish this sin-prevention (Lord's Prayer, 6th & 7th petitions). One is perhaps wise not to venture a guess as to the time factor. I would, however, offer this: fear of going to one's father confessor inspires some good prevention against sinning. To each his own measures of prevention.

      Second, I'd be willing to let the duly-authorized Fr Hayes compose the homiletic remarks necessary for his hearers, since he is the one on-site there. Some hearers need more severe words addressed to them, since many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled in the assembly (AC VIII). Further, the unmanageable and recalcitrant Old Man needs to feel the club (FC SD VI). Also, in your comments you quoted the beginning and end of that paragraph from Walther's Thesis XII, but you left out the middle portion where he adds: "While they are with Christ, their former self-righteousness may make its appearance again, spite of the fact that it has been shattered for them many a time. God must smite these poor Christians again and again to keep them humble."

      Third, to my ears your assertion sounded strange:
      >>>Never since did Luther insist that "the whole life of believers should be repentance." Nor does Scripture do so anywhere.<<<

      In response to this I would enter into evidence the later-Luther's remarks in the last half-dozen paragraphs of SA III.iii. Immediately after your citation from Walther's Thesis XII, Walther in fact quotes extensively from this SA on repentance, but Walther quotes the front end, not the back end.
      Next, on top of that I would stack Luther's last 22 paragraphs in LC IV on baptism.
      And last is a simple observation on the Small Catechism: the here-applicable fourth Q&A on baptism is also followed immediately by the Short Order for Confession, which was intended as regular and not extraordinary pastoral care.
      One may consult all the Scripture employed by Luther in these sections.

      Your unworthy servant (Luke 17.10)-

      (No Baltic heritage as far as I've found so far)

    3. Dear Rev. Rinas:

      “I really have no truck in these matters here. But I suppose that I can make a comment.” I don’t think that political or denominational borders matter when it comes to defending the Gospel. So park your truck and join us.

      About what prevents us from sinning. God does it directly? Without His Word? Careful, or your colleagues will enroll you in the Order of Schwärmer. No, it has nothing to do with any “Gnostic” values; it has to do with the clear Word of God, Gal. 5:22 “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” And if there is no law, there is no sin.

      “Second, I'd be willing to let the duly-authorized Fr Hayes compose the homiletic remarks necessary for his hearers, since he is the one on-site there.” Please remember, the sentence I objected to was, “Only how much more despicable are we who bear the name not Pharisee but Christian!” This sentence can only be true if every member of Fr. Hayes’ congregation has committed apostasy, including himself. That “we” does all of that. If not, it is a denial of the Gospel, which proclaims that in Baptism we become new creatures, the Holy Spirit dwells in God’s people, all of God’s people have gifts from the Holy Spirit. But Fr. Hayes is simply not aware of that, together with the majority of Lutheran pastors. It comes down to what I said in the beginning, “It seems that the approved Lutheran sermon today requires that the Pastor first heap all manner of verbal abuse on his listeners, before concluding that it’s OK, Christ loves you anyway.” This verbal abuse knows no limits, because we dare not say to the pastor, or to anyone, “we are not really that bad.” “But for us fights the valiant One, Whom God Himself elected!” 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

      The size limitation has struck again. To be continued ….
      George A. Marquart

    4. Continued from previous post:

      About Repentance in the SA, LC and SC. The Smalcald Articles
      Part III, Article III. Of Repentance. Of the False Repentance of the Papists.
      “40] And in Christians this repentance continues until death, because, through the entire life it contends with sin remaining in the flesh, as Paul, Rom. 7:14-25, [shows] testifies that he wars with the law in his members, etc.; and that, not by his own powers, but by the gift of the Holy Ghost that follows the remission of sins. This gift daily cleanses and sweeps out the remaining sins, and works so as to render man truly pure and holy.” In the previous paragraph Luther writes,“39] Of this repentance John preaches, and afterwards Christ in the Gospel, and we also.” Both John and Christ preached the repentance of conversion, not the repentance of daily contrition. We can be sure of that, because there was no Kingdom, and therefore no converts who could practice contrition. And, as Luther writes, this repentance indeed continues until death. Repentance her is the subject that does the acting; not the believer. The meaning is better understood in German, “40] Und diese Busse währt bei den Christen bis in den Tod;“ „Währt“ does not mean simply „continues“. It has the same root as the word “Währung”, “currency”. In other words, “this repentance keeps its value until death …” It is a one time experience, and it, and the gifts we receive in Baptism are what “through the entire life contends with sin remaining in the flesh, …” The references to repentance in the LC (actually the segment on Infant Baptism) are of the same order. Only the SC deals with contrition, “What does such baptizing with water signify?--Answer.
      It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
      Where is this written?--Answer.
      St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” I would argue that “daily contrition and repentance” is a far cry from “the whole life being repentance.” Most likely Luther is referring to the Morning and Evening Prayers. But I have real problems with this last passage, because Romans 6 says nothing of what Luther claims it says. If we are “simul iustus et peccator”, then the Old Adam is never drowned and a new man comes forth only once in Baptism.

      You are not anybody’s unworthy servant. John 15:15, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 8: 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Free to follow our Lord in becoming a servant, but not an unworthy one, because you have been bought with a price.

      Luke 17:10 is for those who want to be saved by the works of their own hands.

      Peace and Joy!
      George A. Marquart

  5. Sehr geehrter Herr Doktor: Thank you for your response.

    The first of the 95 is often quoted by Lutherans with all best intentions, not realizing that the Reformation was not about penitence, but about the Gospel. When Luther wrote the 95 Theses he did not yet understand the Gospel. It took another 2 years after the Theses were posted, when Luther had what is called “The Tower Experience.” It was then that suddenly God made him understand what was meant by, Romans 3:21, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—“ Only then was Luther fully overcome by the joy and freedom of the Gospel. That is what the Reformation was all about, and continues to be all about.

    Never since did Luther insist that “the whole life of believers should be repentance." Nor does Scripture do so anywhere.

    I assume you do not disagree with Walther that there are two kinds of repentance, and confusing one with the other is to mix Law and Gospel. My point was precisely that, and that by comparing the Pharisees, who clearly were not members of the Kingdom of God, with us, who clearly are, the author was guilty of that.

    Walther makes it clear that the Penitence that people experience when they are converted is the result of the preaching of the Law. But he goes on, in the same lecture, to say, “By the Gospel the love of God enters a person’s heart, and when contrition proceeds from love of God, it is indeed a truly sweet sorrow, acceptable to God. God is pleased with it; for we cannot accord Him greater honor than by casting ourselves in the dust before Him and confessing: ‘Thou art righteous, Oh Lord, but I am a poor sinner. Have mercy upon me for the sake of Jesus Christ.’”

    Yes, St. Paul called himself the greatest of sinners, unfit to be an Apostle, “because he persecuted the Church,” and not only to Timothy, to the Corinthians, the Galatians and the Philippians as well. But his reference was always to the time before Christ called him on the road to Damascus. Having become an Apostle chosen by Christ, he could say, Philippians 3:17, “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.” He was not boasting, he acknowledged the gift he had received from Christ. By the way, I do not lay claim to being such an example.

    You are not an unworthy servant. Christ has elevated servanthood to the highest vocation one may achieve. In all of the challenges facing a child of God, probably the most difficult is that our heavenly Father gives us everything for the sake of His Son, and He demands no payment in return. We can only accept our worthiness, and give Him thanks.

    Frieden und Freude wünsch ich Ihnen,
    George A. Marquart


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