admin note: I’m not going to review this sermon at the moment. I’m just going to post it. I’d like to read whatever thoughts others may have. In my last sermon review, I advanced the thesis that a good sermon is synecdoche of the Faith. Eric (aureliusaugustine) helped me to modify this thesis somewhat, and I ended up saying that a good sermon will be a synecdoche of whatever idiom of the Faith one is speaking from. Pope Francis’s sermon, I said, was a good Roman Catholic sermon — it was Roman Catholicism writ small. I did not think, though, that this made it a truly good sermon, per se.
I wonder if someone else might like to take a stab at reviewing this sermon. Is it good? Is it a synecdoche of the Faith? Anyone. Lutheran or RC.
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Sermon Text: St. John 16:23-33
“In the world you will have tribulation.” Hardly surprising information to anyone who has lived a little while in this broken, fallen world. Yet there is comfort in acknowledging it: “In the world you will have tribulation.” If Jesus says this to His holy Apostles, should we expect things for us to be smooth sailing, success and perfection?
In the world you will have tribulation — and thus we find tribulation, trouble and turmoil, everywhere we turn. And wherever the Gospel of Jesus is preached, there especially will be tribulation.
The longer we follow Jesus as a disciple, the closer we draw near to Him, the greater the tribulation in our own heart, in our own mind, in our own flesh, in our own soul. For we hear, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only,” and we recognize our extraordinary capacity for self-deception. We accuse others of the sins we ourselves have committed. Our own actions we justify, the same actions of our neighbor we condemn.
Do you think you are religious? Why have you not bridled your tongue? Have you become impatient? Have you grumbled about what God has given you, and what He has withheld? Do you visit orphans and widows in their affliction? Do you keep yourself unstained from the world? Were St. James to address us directly on the topics of this morning’s epistle, would he not have every right to say, “Your religion is worthless”?
And so your prayers are worthless. For being a hearer of the word but no doer, what right do you have to pray? What right do you have to present any petition, any request to God Most High?
None. And this, my friends, you dear baptized children of God, is why we always pray in the name of Jesus. Not a formula or a magical incantation, praying in the name of Jesus is coming before God under the guise, under the disguise, behind the mask, and on the shoulders of the Son of God. He gives us His keys, He gives us His login, His username and password, so that we have access on account of His merit, His worthiness, His righteousness.
So in the Lord’s Prayer, we do not pray, “Forgive me my trespasses,” but Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses.” He prays the prayer first, and we after Him and along with Him. The words are His before they are ours.
Jesus, you see, stepped into all our troubles, embraced our tribulation, and He stands before the Father as a Man, with all us men behind Him, and says to the Father on behalf of all humanity, “Forgive us our trespasses.” This is the most wonderful thing Jesus ever said: “Forgive us our trespasses.” Having nothing in Himself to be forgiven, He identifies with Adam our first father’s sin, with the sins of Noah and Abraham and Moses and David, with the sins of Peter and Paul, James and John, with the sins of Mary and Martha; when Jesus stepped into our human flesh, He already envisioned and identified with Emily Claire, and said, “Father, forgive her; Our Father, forgive us our trespasses.”
This is why in the traditional liturgy, the pastor faces the altar for the prayers and the Words of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. I am not turning my back on you, but rather you and I are all facing the same direction. When I face you, I am speaking God’s Word to you. But when I turn the other way, I am not facing away from you; rather, we all are standing before God and I as pastor speak for us all.
I am not Jesus. I am not your Savior. I am not more holy than you, more righteous than you, more pure than you. I stand as you before the altar, a broken sinner, and repeat the words of Jesus,“Forgive us our trespasses.” It has been my great delight to see Kathy Smith become a teacher in our school, marry a fine Christian man like Phillip Kleinmann, and now this morning baptize their beautiful little girl. And as part of the rite, the pastor speaks directly into the ear of the one to be baptized the Our Father. It’s Baptism that makes us able to say that prayer, because it’s not our prayer but our Lord’s Prayer. The Words are His, and we just say them with Him. He stands before the Father for us, and we get to stand behind Him. He is nailed to the cross for us, He rises from the dead for us, He ascends into heaven for us, He will come again for us, He forever stands for us before the Father and says, “Forgive us our trespasses.”
And we have this guarantee from Jesus today: ”Whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.” And so we ask for the hardest thing of all: “As we forgive those who trespass against us.” That too is a prayer. In our pride and foolishness, easily do we rage against our neighbor, finding fault and bringing down judgment. As difficult as it is to repent, just as difficult if not more is releasing someone from their sins against us.
So we stand at the font, we stand at the altar, we stand with Jesus and pray with Him, “Forgive us our trespasses, and help me forgive those against whom I hold grudges, for I do not want to forgive them, and the bitterness and pride is destroying my soul. So lead me not into the difficult test, but deliver me from the evil one.”
Praying this way is the only way your relationships can become godly. Praying this way is the only way we can have truly successful church council meetings or voters meetings. Praying this way is the only way we can build a Spirit-filled school. Praying this way is how we die.
So run now from that Sacrament [pointing to the baptismal font] to this one [pointing to the altar], and pray with Jesus, “Forgive us our trespasses.”