Two Kinds of Religious People (Pentecost 15, 2011) – Matthew 21:23-27

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is the Gospel just read from St. Matthew chapter twenty one, with focus on the words of the religious leaders to Jesus, “by what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

There are two kinds of religious people in the world. There are the religious advice givers, and there are the mercy givers.

You know the religious advice givers. There is a Law for everything. And their job is to make sure that YOU know what the laws are. If we could only have the rules clearer, THEN everything would be right in the world. If I can cross the tees and dot the eyes in just the right way and in just the right place, then I will truly be a Christian.

All too often this is what the world sees as Christianity. Christianity is about following the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Christianity is about putting on this mask of righteousness, so it would appear. Christianity is about making sure that we wear the right clothes to church, that our children are behaved just right, and that nobody knows that we hurt, suffer and are broken. Nobody knows that, ever. Christianity in the eyes of the religious advice givers is really about the Law, “do this, and you will live.” I remember years ago watching those words acted out on the 70s TV show, Little House on the Prairie. Some of you remember the quotation, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”

The problem, of course, is that we cannot keep the Law. We cannot make this fit and work, and so by nature we want to blame someone for how everything is so screwed up. In Ezekiel’s day from our Old Testament, the people wanted to sit in judgment of God, and blame Him for their troubles. When the religious advice givers fair in their works, then they must turn to placing the blame. But they, and we, have no one else to blame but ourselves.

But that living and dying by the Law is not the Christian faith. God is, perhaps more than anything else, a God of love and mercy. Mercy means that God does not give us what we deserve. Mercy means that rather than giving you advice and waiting for you to fail, it means that God knows your need and brokenness. Mercy means that God does not tsk tsk tsk at your problems. It means that God acts. He goes. He sends His Son down into your flesh and blood. We pray in Psalm 147 that the Lord builds up, gathers, heals, binds up the wounds, and that he lifts up the humber. God even counts the very numbers of the stars, and names each one of them!

If God is going to number the stars of the heavens and the sands on the seashore, how much more, O redeemed ones, will He care for you? Today (in the second service) we are blessed to watch God at work in baptising Casey Trester. God has drawn Him in by His Word and Sprit, and is at work even now at forgiving Casey’s sins and making Him a part of this family of faith.

You see, that’s what Jesus does. He sits with sinners and eats with them. He goes from town to town, teaching a message of repentance to the forgiveness of sins. He calls sin a sin, make no mistake about it. But He does this in order to draw us into His loving embrace forever.

This is what made the religious advice givers of Jesus’ day absolutely crazy. Who does He think He is, forgiving sins? Who does He think He is, healing the sick? Who does He think He is? Who gives Him the rigth to do such things? That is what is behind their question, by what authority do you do such things?

Jesus doesn’t tell them the answer. They won’t get it. They reject Him and they reject the forgiveness of sins. They reject Him to the point of having Him crucified to death.

But that is the miracle of our Lord. He is still merciful to you. He still forgives. He still creates life in His name. He is still at work, drawing us into Himself by the power of His Spirit.

This is what it means to be a mercy-giver. I said at the beginning of the sermon that there are two types of religious people. Advice-givers and mercy-givers. The mercy giver doesn’t count the cost. The mercy-giver doesn’t keep track of how much they have cared for their neighbor. St. Paul says in Philippians 2:4 that we are to not only look out for our own interest, but the interests fo others. The mercy-giver does all things without grumbling or questioning. I hate that part. The mercy giver does all things for the sake of His neighbor.

Now I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time finding myself in that description of the mercy-giver. But you are there. Because you are in Christ, you are there. God is at work in you and through you, delivering His gifts to a world broken and lost and in need. It’s not about your performance. It’s about Christ and everything that He gives to you this day.

So let go of all the stress of trying to be the perfect advice-giver. Repent of your sins, trust Christ and live. He is the mercy-giver, for He is the very Mercy of God in flesh for you. You will never measure up in yourself. But you don’t have to, for you are in Christ, and in Christ you have done all things well. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

And now the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.

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