Let Me Be a Big Sinner
Friday of Pentecost 17
6 October 2017
Perhaps you've seen one of those interesting optical illusions in which the artist creates a black-and-white figure, that depending on where you focus, on the black or the white, you will see one image or another. I have a recollection of one of these in which you might see either a chalice or the face of Jesus. One seems to be the mirror image of the other. Our sin and God's mercy seem to have that same relationship in holy Scripture. Sin is a black hole that God's forgiveness fills. There is no need for forgiveness unless sin has created an irreparable hole in humanity and human life. This is why trying to fix our own sin is ultimately quite silly. It is not merely that it's impossible because of our fallen nature and the perfection demanded by the law, but if we are capable of fixing our own sinfulness then there is no need for Christ, forgiveness, the sacraments, or the church. And perhaps for that reason every attack on the means of grace is an admission that we think we are capable of taking care of our own sin, thank you very much. This is certainly what Jesus has in mind when he says that "The well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mk 2:7).

Clarity about our own sinfulness and depravity gets us more than halfway to clarity about the overwhelmingly great mercy which God has won for us in Christ through his passion, death, and resurrection. While there may be much that is infelicitous about the phrase, I believe that the ancient church called the fall of Adam the felix culpa "the blessed sin" because the early church was quite clear about the power of God's mercy and the peace that it granted to broken hearts struggling with sin and human weakness. And as counter-intuitive as this phrase may be, we could only say this on our side of Adam's fall, with all its ill effects. We become truly blessed through an understanding of our own sin and depravity and that that sin and depravity has been met by the overwhelmingly gracious forgiveness of God. Some years ago, my wife required significant abdominal surgery; and as ready as she was for it, surgery is never a pleasant option representing any number of medical threats. Yet that surgery also gave to her wonderful medical benefits, improving her health and overall well-being. Surgery and its pain is the flip side of the health that follows; one without the other is impossible. Confession is like surgery. It is painful. It often results in something being pulled out of our guts. Only then can God's mercy bring the salve of healing into our lives. The empty becomes full. The hungry is filled up. Tears are dried.

This is why Luther will argue backward from the generosity of God's mercy in Christ to the depths of our sin and depravity. How big is the debt owed, if the price to be paid must be the blood of the eternal son of God? Pretty big! If he is granting the Holy Spirit to us, then we have no spirit within us. If he is granting life as a gift to us, then we must be among the dead. If he is forgiving sins to us, then we must be among the sinners. If this is the blessing of God to sinners, then let me be a sinner; a really big one.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther

"For the forgiveness of sins, therefore, this confession or knowledge is necessary, that we believe and confess that we are sinners and that the whole world is under the wrath of God. Thus, the first commandment denounces sin by its very promise. God promises: 'I am the Lord, your God (Ex 20:2); that is, I am He through whom salvation will come to you against death and sin.' This itself argues that our whole nature is punishable by death and sin. Why else should He promise that He will be God to us?

"Thus, the Word of God, that is, both the law and the gospel, or promise, proves with clear and certain arguments that we are sinners and are saved by grace alone. If God promises life, it follows that we are under death. If He promises forgiveness of sins, it follows that sins govern and possess us. Now, the wages of sin is death (Rm 6:23). Both the threats and the promises all show the same thing. They were not addressed to the beasts, which abide in death. The divine voice and the promise of salvation were addressed to us men, against death, sin, and hell."

Martin Luther, Exposition of the Fifty-first Psalm, 51.4
Psalm 51:1-12
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (ESV)
Almighty God, Your Word in both law and gospel shows us that we are sinners and are saved by grace alone. Help us to face our death with Your promise of life. Help us to confess our sin through Your promise of forgiveness. Keep us from despair because of our sin. Send us evermore that which fills up the emptiness of our lives, which you have worked in Christ our Lord; through whom we pray. Amen.

For clement weather in thanksgiving to God for his gracious care of the world

For the men's retreat of Memorial Lutheran Church and Dr. Adam Francisco, who will be leading the retreat, that they would grow in faith toward the God who reveals himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

For Pastor Scott Murray, on the twenty-first anniversary of his installation as pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston Texas, that God would grant evermore of his blessings through the word of God to both pastor and people

For all those conducting medical research, that their labors would be blessed with success so that therapies might be applied to those who are suffering and in pain and they would experience healing and well being
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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