Sermon for Epiphany 6A, preached on Sunday, February 16, 2020, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
Today we pray - O Lord, graciously hear the prayers of Your people that we who justly suffer the consequence of our sin may be mercifully delivered by Your goodness to the glory of Your name. Amen.
They’re famous questions that always get asked. Whenever something terrible happens; whether it be an earthquake, a tornado, a terrorist or mass shooting attack; whenever innocent people suffer through no fault of their own, we ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there so much suffering? And why aren’t those bad people who obviously deserve to suffer, why do they get an easy life? It’s not fair.” We wonder about these things, and we especially wonder about them when we’re the ones suffering. “Why me? Why is my family hurting? Why did I get this awful disease? It’s not fair. I don’t deserve it! … But yes, yes you actually do deserve it. We deserve everything we suffer, and much more, because of our sin. You and me, we’re not innocent. We’re guilty.
We justly suffer because of our sin. We confess this every time we gather together in worship. We confess our sins and admit our guilt saying we’ve sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we’ve done and by what we’ve left undone. We admit we justly deserve God’s present and eternal punishment. We admitted this again in the prayer of the day as we put our “Amen” to it, saying we justly suffer the consequence of our sin. We hear the accusing and convicting word of God’s Law and we have no defense against it. We must plead guilty. All of us, every single one, you, me, and everyone else walking this earth deserve to suffer.
This is a radical truth in today’s world where everyone claims to be a victim. Very rarely do we think that the pain and suffering we feel is a real result of our own doing. Instead, it’s always somebody else’s fault. They’re guilty. They’re the ones who’ve hurt us. It’s not my fault my friend is mad at me; never mind the fact that I didn’t fulfill my promise to them. It’s not my fault I didn’t get that job promotion; even though I regularly get to the office 15 minutes late. It’s not my fault I’m mean and bully others; my parents didn’t love me enough. It’s not my fault I don’t have a job or money; the colleges didn’t prepare me. It’s not my fault I ate the fruit of the tree, the serpent tempted me. It’s not my fault I ate the fruit, the woman you gave me told me to do it. It’s not my fault. This is the motto of the day. It’s been the motto of the day for us sinners from the very beginning. We want to play the role of the innocent. We want to be the victim. We want to pass the blame on so that we can’t be held accountable, even if that means passing it on to God. But that’s not the case. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount leaves no one a victim. All of us are guilty. All of us are to blame. We’re not innocent. It is our fault.
We confess every Sunday that we sin not only in our actions, but also our words and thoughts. But do we actually believe this? Do we actually believe the sinful things we say and think are on the same level as those big sinful deeds, like murder, adultery, and theft? Of course not. We comfort ourselves in our sin by comparing it to those biggies. Sure, I called that man a fool and directed some other four letter words his way, but I didn’t kill him. Sure, I watched that Netflix movie that I wouldn’t watch with anyone else around, but I didn’t actually cheat on my spouse. Sure, I told a little white lie and sold it by saying “God as my witness,” it’s not like I committed perjury in the Supreme Court. We want to divide our sin into bigs and littles, ones that obviously deserve suffering and the punishment of death, ones we tell ourselves we’d never commit, and then ones that we commit everyday but don’t think they have the same level of evilness. But it doesn’t matter what we think. What matters is what God thinks. What matters is what God says.
Jesus’ words leave no one innocent of those “big” sins. “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. … Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. … Everyone who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. … Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven... or by earth ... And do not take an oath by your head. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matt 5:21-37). None of us are innocent. We’re all guilty of murder. We’re all guilty of lust and adultery. We’re all guilty of taking our Lord’s name in vain. We’re guilty of all of it. And what we deserve is present suffering and eternal death.
God warns us of this. He tells us this is what we deserve. Because we’ve chosen to turn from Him and His commandments, because we’ve decided to give in and follow our sinful desires, because we’ve ultimately set ourselves up as our own gods, doing whatever we please, we deserve to suffer. We can’t say we don’t. We can’t say we’re good people, because we aren’t. No one is good by God’s standards. You aren’t good. I’m not good. And so we shouldn’t be surprised when we suffer. We need to see suffering for what it is, the just consequence of sin, and we need to repent. You need to repent. I need to repent. We need to turn from our sin and look to God because He is good. He is the only One who is good. He’s merciful and He freely gives what we don’t deserve.
There’s nothing we can do to make up for our sin. There’s no fine we can pay; no jail time that repays our debt to society and God. There’s no amount of good work that erase the evil of our sin. We’re guilty, and we’re always guilty. Just like a felon, who even though has served out his sentence, he’s still guilty of the crime. There’s no way for us to change that. So we must be declared innocent by another. God must proclaim your guilt removed. And He does this, because His Son became the only true victim.
Christ Jesus is the only man who can be called innocent. He’s the only one who has no guilt, but He died the death of a guilty man. Jesus took your guilt and bore it on the cross. He suffered your present and eternal punishment. All your murder; all your adultery; all your theft and slander and covetousness; all your blasphemous words and idolatry; all of it Jesus carried to the cross and He suffered for you what your sin justly deserved. He did this so that you could be forgiven. He did this so that you would be called innocent. He did this so that the punishment of hell’s fire wouldn’t be yours. Christ bore the weight of your guilt so that you wouldn’t receive the death sentence. He willingly gave His life so that you’d have life.
Being 100% honest with ourselves, we must admit we deserve to suffer. We always say we just want what we deserve, but in reality, we don’t, because that means hell and damnation. But by God’s grace and mercy, you don’t get what you deserve. Instead you receive your Savior. You receive His forgiveness. You receive His everlasting life. So admit your guilt. Lay it before the Lord. Don’t try to play the victim. Repent. Receive the life of Christ. And be declared innocent. In Jesus’ name...Amen.