Law and Gospel is a beloved Lutheran theological slogan. For my money though it has moved from being something that is life changing to being a doctrinal formulation that is barely understood. And part of the problem is how it has been preached and used for the past 50 years or so. It has been used not as law AND gospel, but law and gospel have been set contrary to each other. That is both an abuse of the law, expecting from it what it can’t do, and a misreading of the gospel.
This sermon is my attempt to move law and gospel from a dead doctrine to a life changing reality.
This text is one that I think has had much harm done to it over the years by overly pious preachers and translators. They promise things that Jesus himself is contradicting. And their promises often make God out to be a monster and a liar. I don’t know if I manage to do it, but I hoped to set it straight. The persistent widow is not a tale about how we should pester God. That oddly feeds into a prosperity gospel trope of “asking consistently and believing”. Instead it is much more specific. What is she asking for? Justice? When does Justice for the Christian happen? At the return of Jesus. Until then we live in the now and not yet. The Kingdom is now ours; it has not yet been fully revealed. Hence we persevere is asking “deliver us from evil”. And we do that because we have faith in the one who promised. Because the Character of God is not one that needs pestering, but one slow to anger and abounding is steadfast love. Persistence in prayer is just outward proof of persistence in faith.
The right use of God’s name always ends in thanksgiving.
That I believe is the message contained in the story of the 10 healed lepers. It is not just a miracle, although it is that. Neither is it an overly simple, “aw shucks, we should give thanks” lesson, although giving thanks is a good habit. It is really a lesson on who has used the name of God rightly. There are three groups named at the start: Jerusalem, Galilee and Samaria. All three think they know how to use the name. The 10 lepers use the name in seeking mercy. But only one receives the grace. Only one receives the kingdom. This sermon contemplates the 2nd commandment from Luther’s catechism, which is a spiritual classic. And it ponders our lives, our prayer, praise and thanks, in light of the command and the text. What does it mean to use the name of God rightly? Think about it.
Biblical Text: Luke 17:1-10 (Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4)
If Christianity is reduced to one word, that word would be forgiveness. And Jesus doesn’t mess around in this text. I think there are two parts here. There is a warning to folks like me – preachers – not to mess up that message. Natural man does not like, cannot hear that message. Forgiveness is foreign to natural man. He can accept sin, he can demand justice, but forgiveness requires faith. Preaching acceptance or justice always goes over better. But should the preacher grind out that bad bread, it would be better that he had that millstone that ground it out around his neck. The second part is that with that faith the people of God must live out that forgiveness. And Jesus’ words about this are just as harsh. If we do this, we are merely doing our duty. The people of God are to be known by their grace. Just like their Lord. And we should not be dumb about this, this is hard. It requires a supernatural faith.