Taking Care
Monday of Pentecost 24
20 November 2017
Guilt is a powerful force in the world. Every person is motivated by it. It seems ironic that even those who would deny that there is a God who both identifies and forgives guilt can be driven by their guilt. Yet maybe it is only a seeming irony. Those who have no basis for expiation or forgiveness of guilt need to find other ways to assuage their guilt. Every person feels the burden. Much that humans do under the burden of guilt is to expiate guilt. Even Western economic policy is motivated by guilt. Large sums of money are profligately distributed to third world governments without any consideration of the question if it is the best thing for the people in the nation to which the money is distributed. Several recent books have pointed out that such guilt money has not helped, and often hurts the people it was intended to give a leg up to economic prosperity.
 
Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, points out that "In recent years [aid] has probably been overemphasized, partly because it is the easiest thing for the Western world to do and partly because it fits so comfortably into a moral universe organized around the principles of sin and expiation." The tragedy here is twofold. First, the harm done to third world nations by foolish and ill-considered aid packages has done great damage to the lives of the poor of the world. Second, these aid packages are motivated by un-expiated guilt in the Western psyche.
 
The Western mind is burdened by guilt that arises because of the affluence that has been experienced in the Western world over the last two hundred years. Once, Western intellectuals presumed that this was due to the cultural superiority of the West. This can no longer be thought because of the constraints of cultural relativism. Shakespeare and shamanism are thought to be culturally equal, Moses and Mohammed equally deluded, and Robert Mugabe and Margaret Thatcher equally effective national leaders. No one is permitted to think that one might be superior and the other inferior. Now intellectuals and cultural elites are caught in a universe where there is guilt for our economic superiority because there is no good reason why we should have that superiority. This results in a huge debt of un-assuaged guilt. What to do?
 
Payment of indulgences or financial penalties for guilt have been thought effective for attempting to deal with this economic guilt. Medieval indulgences, a kind of "pay to play" applied to guilt, succeeded because they were a simple and clear way for people to get rid of guilt, even if a misguided way. The huge sums of money handed over by the political elites to third world nations, often function like the medieval indulgences and with the same success. Our unremitted guilt blinds us to the best ways to help others. We spend so much time and effort to get rid of our guilty conscience, whether on the Freudian couch or by supporting the latest do-gooder politician that promises to punish the guilty rich, that we have no time left to consider the real needs of other people. What we really need is a God who covers guilt. If our guilt would be covered and our sin forgiven, think how free we could be to help. Our unhelpful help of the world would stop. Then we would be free, truly free, to help helpfully. God can take care of our guilt in Christ, so we can take care of our neighbor. Christ is the answer to our guilty conscience.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"When the devil or our conscience accuses us on account of our sins, we can freely confess that our sins are many and great, but not despair because of them. For though our sins are many and great, nevertheless we are taught here (Ps 51:1) that the mercies of God are also many and great. With this argument all the saints have defended themselves against Satan, that though they were sinners, yet they are made holy by this knowledge, according to Isaiah: 'The knowledge of Christ will justify many' (Is 53:11).
 
"When we have once heard this, we suppose that it is easy and can be learned quickly, but it takes effort and work to hold on to this in the midst of temptation. This is no quibble about trifles. The danger of eternal death is involved, and we are struggling over the salvation of our souls. We also experience not only our conscience crying out, but Satan inspiring thoughts of death because of the sins of which we are conscious. Therefore, it is completely a divine power to be able to say, 'I am a sinner' and yet not to despair. We do not come to it, as do our adversaries, by minimizing sin. Rather we should do it this way: Just as by its nature sin is very great and serious, so we believe that grace or mercy, is immense and inexhaustible. Therefore, David confesses here with a loud voice, 'According to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions' (Ps 51:1).
 
"This is also the significance of the word 'blot out,' which the prophet uses here. Paul speaks of Christ as 'Canceling the record of debt that stood against us'(Col 2:14); and Peter says: 'Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out' (Acts 3:19). The word 'blot out' means that sins are written in our conscience with the pen of the Law. The prophet wants the memory of sin to be abolished in his heart and in the eyes of God, the way writing is erased from a tablet. Yet this should not happen in such a way that grace or gratitude disappears because guilt is forgiven this way, or that we forget grace, as Peter says about those who forget the forgiveness of their old sins and by their unfaithfulness and ingratitude pile up new sins (2Pt 1:9). So also today we see that the world is full of contempt for the Gospel and all sorts of licentiousness. In such people sin is not forgiven, but buried even deeper. Therefore, David includes both, that sin be abolished and that the Holy Spirit be given, through whom he can resist sin. Because he asks only for the 'blotting out,' it is clear how we become righteous, namely, by the mere imputation of righteousness, when sins are blotted out by grace and we are accepted into grace for Christ's sake."

Martin Luther, Exposition of Psalm 51, 51.1
Galatians 5:1-26

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
 
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
 
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
 
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 
 
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (ESV)
Prayer
Lord Jesus, Your death has blotted out my transgressions and freed me from my guilt. Help me to live in the freedom for which You have set me free. Keep me from forcing my guilt payments on those who do not need them. Help me to serve those in need of my help with help that is helpful to them. Show me how I might freely serve others for Your sake, not mine. Amen.
 
For all those who travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, that they would be kept safe and their homecomings would be joyful
 
For all those who provide essential services, that they would feel appreciated for their sacrifice of family time for the good of the community
 
For President Matthew Harrison, that the Lord Christ would be with him in all his ways
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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