What Can I Do?

Sermon on Luke 10:25-37 for Pentecost 8C at Trinity Lutheran Church in Toledo, Ohio

Luke 10:25-37 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

We are always seeking to do something to save ourselves. Satan works overtime convincing you that you need to do more. That you haven’t done enough. More than – that even more baser than the “not reaching the goal with your actions,” Satan tempts you to believe that you can do anything, something, towards your salvation. It is an easy victory for him. We are quite capable after all, God has made us with the ability to think and do – beyond all the other creatures in the world. We can do many things, but we can do nothing for our souls. We can do many things, even things for our neighbor, but when it comes to your soul and its standing before God, there is nothing you can do. Satan doesn’t want you to realize that, he doesn’t want you to dwell on it. Right now, some of his attacks are entering your minds right now. Don’t give him any ground. You are Christ and as Christ’s chosen selected, perfected – He does and has done it all for you.

We get a glimpse today of a man who had lost this inner struggle and had given up the idea that he could do nothing. He thought he could do something. Perhaps he had never been told that he was justified by faith. Perhaps he did not realize the sacrifice of one, made the sacrifices of many effective, not the other way around. The lawyer stood to put Jesus to a test, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” What can I do, Jesus, to make sure I have life everlasting? What can I do?

Jesus answers him the way wise people answer questions, he answers with a question: “What does the Law say? How do you read it?” By law, talking to the lawyer, he didn’t mean statutes and codes, he was talking about the law, the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, the book of Moses. The law, as opposed to the prophets and the writings of the Old Testament scriptures that they were all familiar with.

The lawyer was a smart man, he quickly indexed through to the meaning and referencing all of the laws with one answer he says: “Love God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He nailed it. And Jesus let him know. “You have answered correctly,” Jesus says and continues, “do this and you will live.” The unspoken flipside of the coin goes like this, “don’t do this and you’re dead.”

And the flipside of the coin is what kerplunked in the recesses of the mans mind. Something nagged at him. The cripple he passed without a second glance earlier in the day. The former friend or family member he was at odds with that he couldn’t forgive. The person he worked with but couldn’t stand. That time he was distracted during prayers and wasn’t fully loving God with every ounce of his heart, soul, strength and mind. That flipside of the coin rattled to a stop in his brain and stared accusingly at him. Death for not loving god and not loving neighbor as self. The law spoke in the mans mind and so the man sought to defend himself against this law. The law spoke and so did the lawyer.

“Who is my neighbor?” the man asks the loaded question. The question loaded with the expectation that he could do anything, that he could do something for his soul. The loaded question he hope would get him a pass for his failed attempts.

Romans 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Just like the lawyer, We are always seeking to justify ourselves. Seeking to find a way around loving the unlovable; seeking to find a way around the discomfort we feel when facing God’s desire, His laws. When God’s demands, requirements, his law, his design when these things make us uncomfortable, they are doing something good for us. Saint Paul tells us some truth in Romans 3:20  – “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

And so Jesus takes the loaded question and responds with a timeless parable. This story transcends belief systems and is known throughout the world. The good Samaritan – not just a parable these days, it now anyone who goes out of their way to help someone else.

The story goes something like this… You are walking through life, doing your thing, minding your business and suddenly things take a turn for the worse. Your friend betrays you, your financial situation takes a turn for the worse, you can’t find the person to spend your life with, your parents hurt you, you find yourself hurting others, you sin repeatedly doing the wrong things, hurting those around you making terrible decisions you can’t make right. Suddenly on your walk through life you find yourself stuck on the side of the road, in the ditch, broken, half way to dead.

And there you are as the thoughts enter your mind that, hey, I just need to try harder. I can pick myself up and dust myself off and make it back on this journey of life. And before you can even get started on this solution your mind has enlightened you to, you fall flat on your face and are back in the ditch, broken, half way to dead.

Once again another thought enters your mind, hey I wasn’t ready to try harder earlier. I wasn’t really ready to do what I needed to do to successfully pull myself up. I can make it this time with the right rituals and steps and so you start to rise from the side of the road, reaching out after this thought that enters your mind and before you can even get to your knees, you crash again to your pit of despair, broken again, failing, halfway to dead.

And then something despised and rejected, a painful thought associated with suffering enters your path. The only thing that’s moved enough to reach out to you and provide that which you need. Jesus comes along and binds up your wounds, your imperfections are made perfect, he pours oil on your head, your filth is cleansed. He pours wine on your wounds washing out the disses and lashes and dents life has thrown at you. He picks you up and puts you on his donkey and brings you to a place with many rooms and tells the one in charge, take care of him. Whatever it costs I have it covered.

Forgive my allegorizing Jesus parable, but I hope it helps you see what Jesus is doing here. He finishes the parable by asking the Lawyer, “which of these three men (the priest, the levite or the samaritan) was a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

And the man answered again rightly, saying, “the one who showed him mercy” and so Jesus charges him, the same charge he gives to you, “Go and do likewise.” He tells the man something impossible but he doesn’t stop there. God’s law tells you to do something impossible for you to do, but he doesn’t stop there.

Every time Jesus tells you to do something that seems impossible, He proceeds to do it all for you.

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.
Paul tells us some more truth in 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” The Law will not save those who cannot keep the law. Those who cannot by their own reason or strength keep the law perfectly are saved only by the one who can.

We will do well to not forget this. We do well to hear this and hear it often, because Satan and the world around you magnifying Satan’s work will seek to tell you otherwise. You can do it. You can do it on your own and if you’re not doing it on your own, you’re not gonna make it and you’re not worth it. Don’t surround yourself with lies. Listen to the truth.

When we look to find the solution within ourselves we are turning from God’s solution on the cross. I really meant it during the worship service. I really believed God’s promises. I really prayed really hard. I sang really loud. I was extremely nice to that person I can’t stand. I, I, I, I, all these I’s threaten to get in our way of seeing Jesus.

Beat up on the side of the road we don’t look very beautiful or worth saving, but His saving love is beautiful.

As we are transformed by Christ from wretches slumped in a ditch next to the road into saints relaxing in a luxurious suite in our Father’s gracious home, our questions change. Our question changes from, “what can I do to inherit eternal life?” much the same question as the lawyer at the beginning of the gospel lesson, we are wrenched away from this selfish question to the selfless question that we are led to continually ask in our redeemed life, the question becomes, not “what can I do to inherit eternal life,” but “what can I do as an heir of eternal life?”

And so restored, as God’s redeemed, we do go and do likewise. We go out and seek to serve those in need. As the good Samaritan points us to the perfect neighbor, we are strengthened to live like that neighbor, to live like Jesus.

In His name.