PENTECOST 13, A – September 3, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Psalm 37; Jer. 15:15-21; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Rom. 12 

 

On this Labor Day weekend, you will hear, if you pay attention, a familiar cry. You will hear it from the lips of workers, and also employers; from the unemployed, and the employed and those who are retired. It’s a familiar cry that is heard in every country, in every language, and in every place: schools; homes; hospitals; police departments; construction sites; churches; the halls of Congress; and the hallways of prisons. This cry has sounded throughout the ages, and will do so until the end of ages. We hear it this morning from the lips of the prophet Jeremiah and the apostle Peter. That cry is this: “It’s not fair!”

 Justice: the acknowledgement and rewarding of the right and the exposing and punishing of the wrong – this is what we want, isn’t it? We want what’s right! It’s only fair!! But, injustice and unfairness is what we often see and experience.

 How do you handle injustices done to you? How should you, as God’s child in Christ, handle them?

 First, don’t be surprised. Expect them. There will always be injustices, for we live in a world of sinners. What Jesus said of Peter – “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” – is true of us all. The things of man, and not the things of God, are in our hearts. We have our own ideas of justice, and what is best for oneself lies at the heart of them and causes us to cry out, “It’s not fair!”

Ø  Recently my brother Don and I were reminiscing about mom and dad. He remembered when he was 15 and was working as a dish washer at a local country club. One day he rode to work on the new 10-speed bike he had saved for months to buy, and a club member – Lewis Crosley, a multi-millionaire icon in Cincinnati – ran into it and mangled it. He told my brother to buy a new bike and he would pay for it. So, Don figured he could get a really nice bike! “Yea,” I said. “Mr. Crosley can afford it. He’s rich!” Well, dad would hear none of it. He made sure Don got the exact same bike. “But, Dad!” He even straightened the frame of the damaged one and rode it himself!

My brother and I were good Lutheran boys, and yet injustice – taking advantage and putting self above others – quickly rose up in us when the opportunity presented itself. It’s in all of our hearts. I thank God for parents who taught us God’s justice, and also that God is more than just. God gives, even when He knows that His gift will not be acknowledged or appreciated. God in His goodness and generosity “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,” Jesus says (Matt. 5:45). The things of God are giving and sacrificing for others. As you honor God by learning this and living this, God will be pleased! – and you will experience injustice. Expect this. It’s the way of our fallen world.

 But, as you do, never doubt that God sees, and knows, and cares, and acts. You are His beloved! But it’s easy to forget this. Consider Jeremiah. How he loved God’s words! “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” He followed them and let them direct how he lived his life – as we should all do! And because of this, he was persecuted. In his pain he cried out, “O Lord, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors!” He left justice in God’s hands, and that is good. But then, he doubted that God would act. “Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” Will you promise and not deliver? “It’s not fair!”

 Don’t doubt your God and His justice, even when you don’t see it. Remember: you are loved by God. He sees and knows all that happens in your life! – including the things you hide from others, and your sinful doubts and cries against Him. But His response is His Son. God sent His Son as the ultimate solution to injustice, and His cross is where God has dealt with injustice.

 Putting to death Jesus – not only a good and loving and holy man but God’s very Son! – on a cross seems utterly unjust. Peter certainly saw it that way. “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” What Peter failed to see was that the cross was all about justice. In some way beyond our understanding God laid upon His Son the sins and injustices of the world, of every person who has ever lived or ever will live, and made Him accountable for them. Bearing our sins, Jesus became the greatest sinner of all, the most selfish and unjust person who ever lived. And God then punished Him for that sin. God is not “a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.” His forgiveness is not ignoring sin and injustice, or forgetting about it. That would be unjust! Justice is punishing wrongdoing. When Jesus bore the sins of the world God therefore responded to the injustice He saw in Him by removing His loving presence from Him and putting Him to death. Jesus’ death in the place of sinners is the justice of God in punishing your sins while sparing you. But, because Jesus did not cry out, “It’s not fair!” but willingly offered Himself in our place, God raised Him from the dead and seated Him at the place of the highest honor, His right hand in heaven. God made Him the eternal Judge, and one day He will come “with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”

“He will repay each person according to what he has done” – this is not what we want to hear. Are we not saved by faith in Christ alone, and not by our works? Yes, we are; but faith is never alone. Faith receives Jesus: the verdict of “not guilty” because He bore your punishment, and also a new life in Him, for He fills His believers and renews their lives. Jesus now lives in and acts through you who believe in Him. You carry His justice in your body and life.

 What does this mean for you when injustice is done to you? You are God’s beloved in Christ! You are like Him, are as Him in this unjust world! And so, we, God’s beloved, do not just endure it and grumble and cry out, “It’s not fair!” We live as Christ’s to “overcome evil with good,” the good of Christ’s mercy and love and forgiveness. The apostle Paul points out what this means: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Repay no one evil for evil.” And, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” The hope is that your goodness and mercy, which is so contrary to the things of men, may burn in the minds and hearts of those who treat you unjustly and lead them to realize their sin, repent, and, hopefully, receive God’s ultimate justice and peace through faith in Christ.

 Pray for this, trust in your God and Savior, and commit your labors to the Lord – especially your labors against sin and injustice. “You shall be as my mouth,” declares the Lord. “And I will make you a fortified wall of bronze; [people] will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you.” This blessing is yours, through Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, the final justice of God. Amen.