5th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 10) LSB #’s 852, 696, 894
Text – Luke 10:28
And [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, & you will live.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LIVE?
It seems like a simple question to answer – until you sit down to write a sermon about it. Ultimately, “What Does It Mean To Live?” revolves around how you answer the question, “What is life?” The Pro Life vs. Pro Choice debate revolves around answers to that question. Is there life at conception or not until birth?
In the last six months there has been a flurry of states passing bills that are either Pro Life or Pro Choice & one of the huge issues of contention is, “When does life begin?” But ultimately that boils down to the earlier question, “What is life?” If you can figure that one out, another question arises, “Where does life come from?”
How you answer will be based upon the world view that you hold. The Evolution vs. Creation debate is all about that answer, “Does life come by random chance, or does it come from God?” What, or Whom, is responsible for life? All those thoughts & ideas are going on behind the scenes when Jesus replies to the lawyer, “…do this, & you will live.”
Lawyers are good at asking complicated questions in order to trap the witness on the stand. And that’s what is happening in the Gospel reading, “Behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test…” In the customs of the day standing up was an outward show of respect, yet behind that façade the lawyer was showing disrespect by publicly putting Jesus to the test.
Jesus is ready & He asks a question that is very appropriate for a lawyer: “What is written in the Law?” You’re a lawyer! You tell me! The lawyer thought he was testing Jesus, but the Son of God turned it right back on the lawyer. The law he cited is very clear, so God’s Son tells him, “…do this & you will live.” It’s that simple. The lawyer felt uncomfortable with Jesus’ answer. Apparently, it made him feel guilty, because St. Luke wrote that the lawyer desired to justify himself, so he asked Jesus another question, “And who is my neighbor?” You see, Jesus was skillfully maneuvering the lawyer & the lawyer’s guilt was closing in on him. It’s like Jesus had him walking the plank, & the lawyer could feel it begin to sag under the weight of his sin.
I’m pretty sure all of us have been there, where the lawyer is, feeling the guilt of our sins closing in upon us. In that feeling of desperation, maybe you’ve said words like these, “He did it first!” or “But everyone else is doing it!” It’s the feeling that you need to justify yourself in any way possible. Do you know what that is?
It’s feeling the wages of sin suffocating the life out of you. It’s the feeling of death – a feeling that’s totally the opposite of life. Death is the feeling that the possibilities are narrowing around you. Life on the other hand is the feeling that the possibilities around you are endless. Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate life with endless possibilities.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the Gospel reading. Luke says the lawyer is testing Jesus, but the Lord doesn’t take offense & write the man off by calling him a loser. Jesus leaves open the possibility that the lawyer really is wondering what he must do to inherit eternal life. From the standpoint of faith it’s the wrong question, so Jesus deals patiently with the man.
You should already know there is nothing you or I can do to inherit eternal life. It’s a gift that our heavenly Father gives to us out of love, not out of obligation or as payment. Even if the lawyer is not a believer, he might still actually be concerned about what happens after his death. If that’s true, he clearly has a wrong understanding about how people end up in heaven.
Rather than saying, “You loser! You’ve got it all wrong.” Jesus comes at the possible concern of the lawyer, about where he’ll end up after death, from a different direction. Jesus tells a parable to describe what it looks like when someone already has eternal life. The lawyer correctly recognizes that it’s the one who showed mercy. Then, because the lawyer doesn’t yet feel the need for a Savior, Jesus preaches the law to the lawyer, “You go, & do likewise.”
The lawyer’s pride & self-righteousness needs to be killed, to be put to death, before he can find joy in the Savior who Himself will do what needs to be done so that the lawyer may inherit eternal life. If we do have faith in Jesus as Savior then we have life. The Gospel reading gives the answer to the sermon title, “What does it mean to live?”
The answer is to have mercy, to love your neighbor as yourself. If you are doing that, then you are alive. Jesus tells the parable to illustrate what it is to have eternal life. It is to love God & to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus knows we cannot begin to do that unless He 1st loves us, which He has done through His life, suffering, death & resurrection.
God looked at us in our sin & helplessness, & He refused to walk on by. He paid a price – a steep price – to restore us to life. That is why we love our neighbor – because we have been in the ditch as well. In a very real sense, we are still there. As Paul wrote in the reading from Colossians, we love our neighbor “…because of the hope laid up for [us] in heaven.”
Those who follow Jesus have been delivered from the domain of darkness & transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son… the forgiveness of sins. Here’s a modern day story that relates the same kind of message as the parable of the Good Samaritan. A pastor’s wife wrote it after she accompanied him on a home visit to an elderly widower.
There is a hole where his wife should be. If he had not put words to it, I might not have noticed anyone missing from his living room that day. But once he says it, it’s impossible to miss. “I wish you could have known her,” he says with a quiet smile. On the coffee table, by the bread & wine, sits a vintage portrait, taken when she was 14, & a sample of her poetry.
Silent photographs from their younger, fuller life together rest on the shelves next to his
prescriptions. How he loved her! And how he loves her still! He is in his 90’s, & he is not done loving her. How does someone keep a heart open for so long in this broken place? I look at my dear husband as he prays with this old saint, & I try to imagine going on with a husband-shaped hole in my life. How does someone withstand such a loss, such a gaping hole, & keep on living?
She is gone, & he is here. Yet her absence does not oppress him. There is no bitterness in his remembrances. “I don’t want her back here with me,” he says. “I miss her. She made my life richer in so many ways from the day I met her. But I don’t want her back. She’s with the Lord now, & she’s happy.”
With these simple words, the hole becomes a window. She is where he wants her to be: with the Lord. He keeps on loving her because he has always loved her, but he knows she is with her Savior, at rest in peace & joy, & he loves her too much to wish that away from her. So he loves her from a distance. And he waits.
Surely their marriage was imperfect. Surely they had seasons of selfish score-keeping & trial, when their flailing sinful natures struck & wounded each other. But now I see the quiet peace of a Christ-formed love, a with its eyes on eternity, its hands open & its steadfast trust in the Giver of all good things.
We gather around the body & blood of Christ, & he bows his gray head low. We, too, are with the Lord. The window widens as we hear the words of Christ, more familiar to this man than even his wife’s hand or the sound of her voice.
With angels & archangels & all the company of heaven, we take & eat, & the distance between husband & wife shrinks for one holy moment. The Spirit who calls & enlightens also strengthens those whom He has gathered. “The body & blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen & preserve you in body & soul to life everlasting.” Light & life pour through the
open window, a foretaste of the feast to come. We depart in peace.
That is another way of describing what it means to live in Christ. Amen.
O God, my faithful God, true fountain ever flowing, without whom nothing is, all perfect gifts bestowing: Give me a healthy frame, & may I have within a conscience free from blame, a soul unstained by sin. Grant me the strength to do with ready heart & willing whatever You command, my calling here fulfilling; that I do what I should while trusting You to bless the outcome for my good, for You must give success. Amen. LSB 696:1-2.
 Cook, Emily, An Open Window, The Lutheran Witness, May 2019, p. 28.