Piling On
Thursday of Easter 4
16 May 2019
"You think that is bad? Wait until I tell you what happened to me!" are the last words we want to hear when we are suffering some great calamity. It is a kind of "piling on." The comfort of "it could be so much worse" is no comfort at all while we are in midst of trouble. "One-upmanship" is generally annoying and not especially helpful, but rather causes us to be more down about our present suffering. Yet, this is exactly what God does to us when He condemns our sin, both original and actual.
Generally, humans have at least a sneaking suspicion that they have done things to merit the divine condemnation. Guilt sends us a wake-up call. Unfortunately, we also have the delusion that if we just tried harder we could take care of our sin and its guilt. This often gives rise to an impromptu game of "Let's Make a Deal" with God: "God if you will get me out of this hospital bed this time, I promise I will come to church every Sunday I am able." But our heavenly Father is not Bob Barker. No deals can be cut on the side of law. So just when you thought your sin was bad enough, the Apostle to Gentiles also piles on the fact of original sin. The one sin brought condemnation to all men. "So, you think you have it bad with your sin? Wait until I tell you how bad it is. You are also liable to condemnation for the sin of primeval Adam, whose guilt you bear." Oh, I feel so much better now. Not! Such knowledge, when it is fully felt, leads to despair. How bad is it? Really bad!
"Piling on" was a playground game played in the school yard a recess when I was growing up. It was a tough neighborhood. When the crowd had knocked down a playmate then someone would cry "Pile on!" and the deluge of bodies would flood in crushing the child on the bottom. You can see why a child might try to avoid being on the bottom of the pile at almost any cost. I recall being "piled on" with little fondness. I felt the crushing, almost suffocating weight of wriggling children. Salvation arrived when the recess bell sounded and my playmates had to unpile. The spiritual power of the law to attribute both actual and original sin is God piling on. The abundance of the law's power to bring guilt can crush.
This power drives us to find our rescue outside of ourselves. Those suffocating moments on the bottom of the pile make clear that we will never throw the weight off by our own power. Rescue must come from without. But here is where God responds so remarkably to our dilemma. Just when we feel hopelessly piled on by this crushing load of sin; actual and original, just then God our heavenly Father brings the rescue we need. What we have doubly destroyed in our sin, both original and actual, God doubly repairs in the person and work of Christ, His Son, our Lord. Our feeling of being piled on is absolutely dissipated by the work of Christ, for as bad as our situation is, the solution is doubly powerful in Christ. For while original sin is attributed to us and burdens us with the sin of another, the righteousness of Christ is attributed to us as the covering of both original and actual sin. Where sin is piling on, God doubly piles on His mercy.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Augustine of Hippo
"We can understand the apostle and see that judgment is predicated of one offense unto condemnation entirely on the ground that, even if there were in men nothing but original sin, it would be sufficient for their condemnation (Rm 5:15-16). For however much heavier will be their condemnation who have added their own sins to the original offense (and it will be the more severe in individual cases, in proportion to the sins of individuals); still, even that sin alone which was originally derived unto men not only excludes from the kingdom of God, which infants are unable to enter (as they [the Pelagians] themselves allow), unless they have received the grace of Christ before they die, but also alienates from salvation and everlasting life, which cannot be anything else than the kingdom of God, to which fellowship with Christ alone introduces us.
And from this we gather that we have derived from Adam, in whom we all have sinned, not our actual sins, but only original sin. Whereas from Christ, in whom we are all justified, we obtain the remission not merely of that original sin, but of the rest of our sins also, which we have added. Hence it runs: 'The free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin.' (Rm 5:16). For the judgment, certainly, from one sin, if it is not remitted--and that the original sin--is capable of drawing us into condemnation; while grace conducts us to justification through the remission of many sins, that is to say, not simply from original sin, but also from all other sins."

 Augustine, On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins and the Baptism of Infants, 1.15-16
Psalm 6

O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD-how long?

Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?
I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes.
Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer. 10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment. (ESV)
Lord Jesus Christ, You have done all to save us poor sinners from all sin, both original and actual. Give us the overwhelming joy of knowing that you have given us double blessing to cover all our iniquity. Free us from our guilt and help us to live in peace and joy all our days. Amen.
For all those who are administrating the churches, that they might always confess their weakness so that the Lord their God might be all their strength
For Herbert Mueller, that the Lord Jesus would grant him strength and every blessing as he convalesces from surgery
For Ileene Robinson, that the Lord Jesus would grant her strength and every blessing
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias,  Resurrection (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2019
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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