It’s still summer. The first day of fall is still about 4 weeks away. But Labor Day is next weekend and school’s back in session. Your summer activities are coming to a close. It’s about time to close up camp, say goodbye to the lake, and get ready for winter. Summer’s over.
Have you grown? The children have grown the last few months. Babies have been born; our kids are bigger now than they were a couple months ago. Have you grown spiritually? God always wants His children to be growing. That’s the message of this Trinity Season. Are you growing? The children will grow in knowledge during this new RLS school year. Are you growing in faith towards God and in love towards your neighbor? God wants to see such growth from us.
Today’s Gospel is about this growth. It’s about growth in faith towards God and in love towards the neighbor. Jesus tells the disciples they are blessed to see and hear Him. Then a lawyer asks for the exact formula to get Himself into heaven, a formula including specific good works for Him to do. Jesus’ responded that if he wanted to save himself he had to keep the whole Law all his days. He had to love God and his neighbor perfectly.
He thought he loved God. He truly did. If he didn’t think that, he would have asked Jesus how to love God. Instead he simply asks who his neighbor is. It’s a simple question. Everyone you see is your neighbor, right? But he was wondering if it really meant that. That seems too big, too broad. It’s hard enough for a student to treat all her classmates the same. How much harder then for us to love all people. It’s impossible. The heart that wants to be saved by keeping the Law thinks God would never command the impossible. Surely, it thinks, if God commands it, I can do it!
Jesus’ parable today says otherwise. Just because God commands something doesn’t mean you can do it. Quite the contrary. God commands things you cannot do, O sinner. The priest represented the first table of the Law. He did nothing for the man. The Levite represented the second table of the Law. He did nothing for the man too. The Samaritan, a hated Samaritan, helped the man.
The lawyer was supposed to put himself in the shoes of that guy attacked on the road down to Jericho from Jerusalem. He was half dead. He couldn’t help himself at all. The priest came along and did all he could to avoid him. The Levite did too. They didn’t want to help him. They couldn’t have helped him if they tried. The Samaritan was willing and able to help. That made the man mad to hear he better be like the Samaritan if he was going to work his way into eternal life.
Why is that? This story illustrates justification beautifully. The half dead man pictures Adam and all his descendants. He fell to a murdering robber, that father of robbery and murder and all sin, the devil himself. The devil stripped him of everything God gave him. He lost endless life. He lost communion with God. He lost paradise and all its riches. He lost it all. The devil didn’t care. He was all too happy to take it all from him. He couldn’t wait for Adam and all mankind, you too, to join him in his hellish misery.
God gave the Law on Sinai. He’d already written it on the hearts of mankind. It tells us how to please Him. It tells us to love Him. It tells us to love Him by loving all His creation, all people, even those you’d rather not love. You love Him by making Him the most important thing in your life all the time. You love your neighbor by always putting others’ needs before your wants. But there’s more: We want the students to do their homework because they want to, but do they sometimes do it because they don’t want to get punished? God says we only keep His commands when we are loving those commands and not just going through the motions so we won’t get punished.
You can’t do that. If you could, the church wouldn’t have us pray Him to increase our faith, hope, and love. He wants us to trust Him completely, thoroughly, utterly. Yet we sometimes doubt His care when things go wrong for us. We sometimes forget our hope of eternal life and replace it with whatever seems more important or fun at the moment. We sometimes love other things more, like our favorite pastime or recreation or escape from reality. Not even the best student is done learning or always gets perfect grades. In the same way we will never be perfect or sinless in this life. Our faith, hope, and love will never earn an A+ or be 100% grounded in God during this life. That just isn’t good enough for salvation. The Law demands straight A+’s all life long in every subject of life to earn salvation. No sinner can do that. You can’t do a thing to inherit or earn salvation.
So how can you inherit salvation? Jesus died. That’s how you inherit something. Somebody dies. That’s how I was able to buy a house. My grandpa died. Only after the estate was closed could I buy a house I didn’t have the money for. Jesus died and you inherit immediately something far better. You inherit eternal life. You inherit the mansions of paradise. He lived a perfect A+ life all for you. Then He bore all your sins in His Body on The Cross. Sin’s F’s are replaced with his A+’s. You are forgiven. You will be unable to sin when He raises you from the dead. You will be healed of death and sin. You will live forever with Jesus. No money can buy that. Nothing you do can buy that. God can’t be bought. He gives it to you for Jesus’ sake. He puts you up on His back and carries you all the way from the here and now to life eternal.
That’s where faith, hope, and love come in. St. Paul says love is the greatest because it will last through all eternity. Then your hope will be realized and your faith rewarded. So the question is: Do you love God? Love keeps His commands. The lawyer did not love. He hated that a Samaritan helped a Jew in the parable. Nor did He love God – if he did he never would have asked what to do to save himself; he would have realized salvation is God’s work completely, not man’s at all.
God’s love is the most important thing a Lutheran school can teach its students. The most important subjects aren’t Math, Reading, History, Social Studies, or Gym. Most important is that they learn of God. They will learn to confess their great sinfulness and to trust in Jesus Who died for them. They will learn to show their love for Him and what He has done for them in how they live and interact with their schoolmates. They will learn how they act reflects His love for them.
When you show love for others, O Christian, you are showing them the love Jesus shows you. If you don’t show them love, does it not look like you don’t love Jesus and what He did for you? So cry out to Him, the Lord God of your salvation, day and night. Pray Him to increase in you His gifts of faith, hope, and love. Pray Him to help you love what He commands. Pray Him to help you obtain what He promises. For only with His help can you love Him and believe in Him and hope in Him. Only with His help do you show His mercy and love to others in true faith. Only He can help you love your neighbor as yourself. Only He can help you love Him with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. Only He, for the sake of Jesus’ holy, precious Blood, gives you eternal life.