Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on June 12, 2016
[sermon begins after 2 Bible readings; the King David story and the Psalm are at the end of sermon]
Galatians 2:15-21 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 17 But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
Luke 7:36-8:3 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
8:1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
My mother has given each of us kids many things over the years. There is one gift that is relevant today. It’s a Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. I and my siblings each have one. Included with the gift is a metal or wooden book stand to put it on. People walk into my living room, see the huge book on its wrought iron stand and assume it’s an old family Bible. Easy mistake when you walk into a pastor’s home. It’s not a Bible. But the dictionary came in at a close second to the Bible in my family.
When we’d hear a word and didn’t know what it meant, Mom would send us to the dictionary, always opened on the book stand, with a quick, “Go look it up.” The equivalent of an old school web search except with legs and paper. Off we’d go and come back to report our findings. Words are a memorable part of my childhood. Now words are the tools of my trade in the pulpit and beyond.
In the Galatians reading, we find Paul emphasizing certain words through repetition. Paul redirects the church in Galatia using words like justification, law, works, and faith over-and-over. Much as they were for Paul, these four words are tools of the trade for Lutheran preachers, too. Justification. Law. Works. Faith. Four words that make sense when, off we go, to look up and find Christ on the heavy wood of the cross. To paraphrase Martin Luther in the introductory words of his Galatians lectures, we begin at the end.
We begin at the end and the end is our justification – being made right with God through what God did in Christ. This is passive on our parts. Simply receiving by faith what God has already done for us.
Luther argues this about Paul’s purpose in the letter to the Galatians: “Paul wants to establish the doctrine of faith, grace, the forgiveness of sins or Christian righteousness, so that we may have a perfect knowledge and know the difference between Christian righteousness and all other kinds of righteousness.”
Then Luther goes on to list various kinds of righteousness including:
Political righteousness that politicians, philosophers, and lawyers consider in regards to guilt, innocence, and justice.
Ceremonial righteousness that Christians consider in regards to preaching, worship, and sacraments.
Lastly, Luther emphasizes the righteousness of the Law, the commandments – righteous, indeed, but only after the passiveness of faith is given.
I care so much about this passive gift of justification we receive by faith. I care about it personally for myself and for people like me who were raised in different faith traditions in which you never knew if you were good with God. A lot of how God and I were doing had to do with how well I could keep up with my own active righteousness in the Law. I care a lot about it for people who have grown up in with the message of passive justification by grace through faith and leave the tradition without understanding the magnitude of this promise.
Here’s Luther again on this topic:
“Thus human reason cannot refrain from looking at active righteousness, that is, its own righteousness…” We’re an active people, after all. Passive is a word used in the world that is often given a negative meaning. But passive in terms of justification is something to revel in – floating in that baptismal promise until we get all pruny.
If there one thing I know, it’s people and their sin. I’m difficult to surprise with the ways people hurt themselves, each other, and the planet. If there’s one thing I know better, it’s me and my own sin. I also know what Luther is talking about as he warns about how easily we fall into trusting our own works, our own active righteousness by which we try to justify ourselves.
In the snippet of the story from Second Samuel, King David stands accused by Nathan. David wants the woman who is married to Uriah. He sends Uriah to battle in the front lines with the knowledge that he would die. Then he marries Uriah’s wife. Nathan is sent to challenge David with the truth. Nathan tells him a story about a man who has acted unjustly. So unjustly has the man acted that David’s “anger was greatly kindled against the man.” Nathan turns to him and says, “YOU are the man.”
“YOU are the man.” It’s crushing to stand accused and have the accusation be true. It’s easy to try to explain it away even when our own culpability is so obvious. Last week Pastor Ann preached about compassion. She used the example of the mother whose child ended up in the gorilla enclosure and how quickly the critique and defense began – self-righteousness pouring in from all sides in the news and social media storm. Pastor Ann encouraged us to remove ourselves from the bandwagon of accusing, pointing fingers. Slow down our rush to judgment and consider ourselves – our reactions, our own moments of culpability.
This week many of us can’t look away from a rape trial that happened on the prestigious Stanford campus. The accused is obviously guilty and his father’s justification for a lenient sentence is splattered across the media. The hue and cry is so great that Congress plans to read the woman’s letter to the rapist into the congressional record.
The thing that gets me about this case is it’s irrefutable. The crime was public, witnessed. The heroes caught the perpetrator and stayed with the woman while awaiting emergency personnel. There is no he-said-she-said confusion on this one. If Nathan were standing with the accused, he might say to him, “YOU are the man.”
The last few weeks, much has been discussed in public about rape on college campuses that includes the sexual assault scandal at Baylor University along with the separate incident at Stanford. As recently as yesterday, a missing 18 year old woman was found dead in Larimer County – her ex-boyfriend the suspect. The sense of entitlement that wounds and kills women is appalling. The temptation to be Nathan and the Pharisee with accusing, pointing fingers is great. I’ve certainly indulged in my own finger pointing along this line.
There is a challenge here from the scripture. Jesus says to Simon the Pharisee, “Do you see this woman?” It’s a convicting question. “Do you see this woman?” Simon, so quick to point out the woman’s sin and shame, overlooks his own. There are many ways we do this pointing and shaming similarly. Actively justifying our goodness in the world. “Active righteousness” as Luther would call it. Stacking up the good-wins in a column. What would happen if we put our efforts to name ourselves righteous to the side? Put our fingers away for a moment. Specifically, confessing the ways that we as both men and women participate in a culture and a world that preys on women.
What would happen if our starting place is passive righteousness? As Paul says it in verse from Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” What would happen? Would Christ in us free us to confess our culpability in this culture that preys on women? Would we become part of a culture shift? Would we find the relief that the psalmist describes so well? The Psalmist writes, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin… You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.”
Passive righteousness is the end that serves as our beginning. From there we begin living lives of courage. We begin at the end – no longer content to let our own sin go unspoken. This kind of courage is a bit thin in the culture at the moment and is an oh-so-desperately-needed gift. This is a gift Christ offers through us for the sake of the world. Claim the promise as you move through your week. Say to yourself, “It is not I, but Christ who lives in me.” This is most certainly true.
 Martin Luther. Introductory paragraph to Lectures on Galatians in Luther’s Works Volume 26, 1535. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963), .
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 2 Samuel 12:5
 2 Samuel 12:7
 Psalm 32:5, 7
Psalm 32 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. (Selah) 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Selah) 6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. 7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. (Selah) 8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. 10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. 11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord,
12:1 and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” 5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” 7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8 I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.” 15 Then Nathan went to his house. The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill.