Thanks be to God

Text: Luke 7:36—8:3
Date: Pentecost IV (Proper 6) + 6/16/13

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord, for He comes bearing gifts and especially the gift of the forgiveness of sins. You can tell if someone has received that gift of forgiveness (or at least you should be able to). Once the great King David proved he wasn’t so great. The prophet Nathan delivered the smack down of the Law uncovering David’s great sin, saying, “You are the man!” David repented and received forgiveness. And even with this huge blot on his record, God does not keep a record and David proceeded to be “the Great King” by God’s grace. As Psalm 130 says, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities” or keep a record of sins, “O Lord, who could stand?” The answer is no one. “But with you there is forgiveness” (Ps 130:3-4). That forgiveness comes only at the cost of the death of Jesus Christ and by faith in Him alone.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says there are spiritual indicators that reveal whether a person has received forgiveness or not. One of those indicators is love. He says of the sinful woman, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” The Pharisee who invited Jesus to his house because he thought Jesus just possibly could be a prophet now decided otherwise and, as the graphic on your ordo shows him, back turned and walking away, unbelieving, unforgiven, unloving.

Forgiveness and love. They go together. But it starts the other way around: Love first, then forgiveness and love. That’s because the God who created everything in the first place and declared it all very good, after deadly sin tried to destroy His creation, this same “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). It was God’s love that caused Him to redeem His creation, to save it from destruction. And the sign of this great love? The cross of Christ. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Therefore the first thing we must say is, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Forgiveness begins with God’s love for us. Then when that forgiveness is received, in turn the sinner loves God for His great grace, mercy and love.

The woman in our text worshiped Jesus in great love with quite an emotional display. Our emotions can run the gamut from quiet joy to the tears and grief or sorrow, contrition and repentance for our greater sins. David confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Psalm 51 has the title, “When Nathan the prophet went to [David], after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” And there we have the deepest prayer of repentance, the fourth of the seven penitential psalms:

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….

      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.
(Ps 51:1-4, 10-11)

      We confess with Martin Luther in his Smalcald Articles:

When holy people—still having and feeling original sin and daily repenting and striving against it—happen to fall into manifest sins as David did into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, then faith and the Holy Spirit have left them. The Holy Spirit does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so it can be carried out, but represses and restrains it from doing what it wants. If sin does what it wants, the Holy Spirit and faith are not present. (SA III 43-44).

So our struggle against sin is not a light thing but a battle between nothing less than saving faith and damning unbelief! But how do we return? How do we regain faith and the Holy Spirit? It is not our contrition or repentance that causes the Holy Spirit and faith to be present, just as it was not the sinful woman’s love that caused her forgiveness, but contrition and repentance are already the product of the Holy Spirit through the power of the Word—“You are the man!”—waging war in our bodies. We all identify with the apostle Paul, for instance, when he wrote:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

So what to do about this war? David confessed and repented. The sinful woman repented and worshiped her Savior and deliverer, Jesus. St. Paul ends these words of his confession with this word of hope: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The answer? “Thanks be to God.” “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21-25).

David said, “Thanks be to God.” The sinful woman said, “Thanks be to God.” St. Paul says, “Thanks be to God.” We say “thanks be to God” every time we hear the Word of the Lord read in our presence, and one more time before we receive the Lord’s blessing, grace and peace in the Divine Service, “Bless we the Lord,” “Thanks be God.” Thanksgiving to God for His mercy is the evidence of faith and the Holy Spirit. Love is the evidence of the forgiveness of our sins.

 

Fred Pratt Green gives us the words to say and sing:

For the fruits of His creation, Thanks be to God.
For His gifts to ev’ry nation, Thanks be to God….

For the harvests of the Spirit, Thanks be to God.
For the good we all inherit, Thanks be to God.
For the wonders that astound us,
For the truths that still confound us,
Most of all, THAT LOVE HAS FOUND US,
Thanks be to God. (LSB 894)