Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Go for the Bronze – Luke 6:36-42
Did you know there’s an eleventh commandment? I’m not sure where to find it, maybe in 2nd Hezekiah. But, apparently, given Jesus’ words to us today, at some point, He gave one more law: Thou shalt have no pieces of wood in the eye. God apparently hates wood in the eye. He wants our eyes to be cellulose fiber free.
So, then, you just happen to notice your neighbor has a speck of sawdust in his eye. That may not seem like much, but God has spoken: Thou shalt have no pieces of wood in the eye. And so, to obey God, because He hates to see wood in our eyes, to obey God, and of course to also love your neighbor, you offer to take the speck of sawdust out of your neighbor’s eye, because you want to help. How loving of you!
Very well, says Jesus, but first, maybe you should do something about that telephone pole sticking out of your own eye. Before you can be of any use to another person who has a speck of sawdust in their eye, God says you must first confess and address the log that is in your own eye. In this word, Jesus teaches us the priorities of Christian living, and Christian relations. God comes first, the real needs of my neighbors come second, and I come third. Or, to put in terms of Olympic medals, the life of Christian love means no gold for me, that belongs to Jesus, nor even silver, that’s for my brothers and sisters. I’m aiming for the bronze.
Go for the bronze, and watch out for that demon, hypocrisy. We like to pretend that when we try to fix the sins we think we have observed in our neighbors, we do this from the generosity of our heart. But Jesus warns us, and our consciences agree, that all too often we start correcting others in order to puff ourselves up, to make ourselves look better than those other sinners. We may feel a need to puff ourselves up, because we doubt our standing with God, because of our sins. We doubt our standing with God, and we think we can win some points with Him, relatively painless points for us, by doing what we assume is His work: going around, fixing people. Our motives and our self-awareness are both pretty shaky in these matters. “I only meant to help.” We may not easily recognize when we do this to others, but we certainly recognize it when it’s happening to us. Lord willing, the Spirit will help us better recognize our hypocrisy before we stick our thumb into our brother’s eye.
Go for the bronze, because it’s more than you deserve. We are right that sin is the problem, but we are starting in the wrong place. Just before his death, perhaps driven to look inside himself by the failure of his mortal body, Luther summed up our worthiness with these words: “We are beggars still.” Now, this was not some down-in-the-mouth whining, “please God, oh, poor me.” No, Luther was simply speaking truthfully about his own sinful unworthiness before God. Luther, like all of us sinners, could claim no personal worthiness before God. None. Now, in Christ, we have all things, and no one could rejoice more eloquently than Luther when the topic was the riches of our inheritance in Jesus. But, in this life, we also need to remember that being on God’s team is entirely an undeserved gift, the Lord’s selection of an unworthy teammate, forgiven and restored by grace. When we forget this truth about ourselves, it is never long before we are prowling around, looking for a neighbor’s eye to purge of sawdust.
Go for the bronze. Actively seek to exalt Christ as champion, and your neighbor as better than you. Go for the bronze, because it’s right; Christ is certainly the champion. Jesus, the crucified and resurrected Son of God is the once for all Savior, our champion who fought sin, death and the devil, and won. Christ is the gold-medal winner, and so we should honor Him. And your neighbors come into the silver medal, because Jesus says so. Christ has told us to honor and serve Him, by honoring and serving our neighbors. Think about it. God doesn’t need our help and service for Himself; He’s God. But our neighbor does need our love and service, and God is pleased to have us serve them, in His Name. This is, in the end, simply being who you are. For God made you, re-created you even, in His own image, which means He created you to love and serve your neighbors, because God is love, always loving and serving His neighbors. This loving work He seeks to do through you. Go for the bronze.
Go for the bronze, and, (spoiler alert), you will discover that seeking gold for Christ and silver for your neighbors ends up being the best thing for you, including in this life. Our fearful, sinful hearts think we need to protect and hoard and serve only ourselves. But it truly is better to give than to receive. The fulfilled and joyful life is the life lived not in fear and selfishness, but rather in freedom and generosity. Go for the bronze.
Going for the bronze is certainly good advice for me, and for Shelee, as we head off to Spain. Sidney and Fairview were fairly easy fits for us, both of us being from the West, me growing up just a ways upstream on the Yellowstone in Forsyth. We knew the lay of the land, the local way of speaking, and how people interact here. We were not dealing with any significant culture shock, and so were not prone to overstepping hidden lines. And besides, Trinity and St. John had been vacant long enough, you were willing to put up with a lot. Good thing, too.
But now, we will be dealing with LCMS Inc., a bunch of largely Midwestern people, who think and talk funny. Even more, we’ll be relating to them from a distance, over the phone and in e-mails, with no ability to shake hands and smile and read body language for clues that we are trampling on a neighbor. We’ll also be working with supporting congregations and individuals, from all over the place, people who are concerned and excited to support our mission, but also who may feel they are taking a risk, supporting us. Most especially, in Spain, we will be interacting with Spaniards, Lutheran Spaniards, and others to whom we hope to tell about the joy of being Lutheran. With all of these new Spanish neighbors, we especially need to demonstrate humility and courtesy. Because we will not be serving Christ and His Gospel if we come across as high and mighty.
Everything Lutheran in Spain is new. It would be easy to come across as know-it-alls, as if we thought we were better than the Spanish Lutherans. In reality, we will learn much from them. They have, by becoming Lutherans, lived through a significant leap of faith from their own culture, a leap of faith Shelee and I know nothing about. We also might hear things that seem flat out wrong and sinful to us, but which we simply don’t understand, because we don’t yet fully have a handle on the Spanish language. Certainly, in relation to the typical Spaniard we will meet, if we want the privilege of actually talking with them about the pure Gospel of free and full forgiveness, we need to avoid thinking of them as lowly, and ourselves as holy. We are going to help as we are able, but also to learn and grow, to love our new Spanish neighbors, and in all things to put Christ and His Gospel first. Pray for us, that we will be daily checking our own eyeballs for logs, and not taking a magnifying glass to our Spanish neighbors.
Going for the bronze is good advice for me, and Shelee, and also for you, as you head into a vacancy. There will be a vacancy pastor and a circuit counselor to relate to, neighbors who are taking on extra work for your sake and the sake of the Gospel. There will be a secretary and organists, directors and elders and ushers taking on decisions that for the last ten years they could discuss with me. Sometimes they will be able to get their questions answered by the circuit counselor or the vacancy pastor. Sometimes they will just need to do what seems best to them. There will be bumps in the road, and great opportunities for people to be upset about those bumps. You can allow yourselves to get frustrated. You can decide to take things into your own hands, even if nobody asked you. Or you can complain, but do nothing , or even quit attending. None of these options are good. There will be great temptation to forget Christ and His Word, and trample your neighbor. Don’t do that. Go for the bronze. Hear and ponder on Christ and His Gospel, and think of the needs and struggles of your brothers and sisters, and remember your own sins, the planks in your eye that keep you from seeing clearly, the planks that keep you from truly serving your neighbor.
If we forget, here or in Spain, to go for the bronze, it will become like the blind leading the blind, no one knowing exactly where we’re going, unable to see the path, a rising sense of fear welling up in our throats, until everyone falls into a pit. If we decide to go for the silver, (forget my neighbor, it’s just me and Jesus), or if we even dare go for the gold for ourselves, we will quickly leave God’s Word behind, and lose its grace and power. If we seek for our neighbors at best the bronze, or maybe a participation ribbon, we will blindly wander off into who-knows-what mischief.
But it’s not really a question of ‘if,’ is it? Rather we should say “When we forget," when we forget to go for the bronze, when we fail to put Christ and His Gospel first, when we fail to serve and love our neighbors. When we find ourselves with our fat fingers gouging into our poor neighbor’s eye, while the reputation of the our Savior Jesus is dragged through the mud, we must repent. Stop. Apologize. Confess our sins.
Repent, and remember, Jesus is the champion who has never forgotten you. He knows all about the kinds of wood that fill and blind your eyes, so He hung on the wood of Calvary, to open your eyes to His love. He is your Gold Medal Champion, who put himself not second, not third, but rather put Himself dead last, in order to save you. Jesus willingly stepped off into the pit of hell, eyes wide open, so that he could rescue us from all the pits we stumble into, the pits of pride and conflict in this life, and the ultimate pit of sorrow, separated from God forever, suffering with Satan in the pit of Hell. Jesus has destroyed the power of Satan, and torn down the doors of Hell. Jesus is the perfect loving servant who has loved you to death, and to new life, through your Baptism. In Him, you and I are champions, forgiven, restored, guaranteed a place with God in eternity, and blessed to receive a foretaste of the feast to come, in His Supper of forgiveness.
In Christ we are free to put Him and our neighbor before ourselves, free to go for the bronze, because our crown of gold is already laid up for us, in heaven.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.