Eric R. Andræ. 1 Corinthians 3:11-23, St. Mark 10:35-45. Commemoration of Olavus and Laurentius Petri, Reformers of the Church, 19 April 2012 (Thursday of Easter II). Annual Conference of Lutheran Services in America (LSA), closing worship. Sheraton Square Hotel, Pittsburgh, Penn.

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

Christ is risen!
[He is risen indeed! Alleluia!]

“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Wrong request, wrong question. Or as Jesus put it, “You do not know what you are asking.”

Who and where is Jesus Christ in all this? Right question, “for no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Who and where is Jesus Christ? Right question, and with the right question, the right answer should follow.

Let’s see…. How can we put this? Well, it’s like this: James and John have poor vision.
And so, dear sinner, do you.

Your vision is poor. You are not seeing things very well.

And I don’t mean just those of you who are blessed with “four eyes,” or those who might be members of a Lutheran Center for the Blind, such as we have at First Trinity, where I serve here in Pittsburgh. No, all of you have poor vision.

And I don’t mean just the poor spiritual vision mentioned in Holy Scripture and of which most of us are very familiar. I don’t just mean the “spiritually blind” – that is, the blindness sung of in “Amazing Grace” –“I once…was blind, but now I see” – I didn’t believe, but now I do: No, that’s not exactly what I’m getting at either.

So, lest I confuse further, let me restate: Your vision is misplaced; your vision lacks proper focus; or, if you will, you’re looking for love in all the wrong places, so to speak.

Your vision, like the Zebedeean brothers, is lousy. Like James and John, you all too often look inwardly. You focus on self, and your perceived needs, your desires, your power, your reputation, your feelings, your future, your glory, even – like the famed Pharisee praying in the temple – on the good you do: “I am not like other people; I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess; I go to church every Sunday; I pray every morning; I volunteer; I work really hard; I help the poor and disadvantaged; I go to the LSA conferences; I keep the commandments, well, mostly, as best as I can; I am a nice person; I am a good driver; I am humble; I am smart; I am not like most others; I, I, I, I….”

This type of focus on one’s own person and one’s works reveals a worship of none other than the false god of self, the idolatry of the hyper-individualism and arrogant self-righteousness which is so prevalent. It diminishes and distorts the vision of the eyes…and of the heart and of the mind. It puffs itself up at the cost of others who are then invariably judged to be less: less intelligent, less religious, less good, less worthy, less useful, even, simply, less Lutheran, less Christian…, less.

This inward curvature of the eyes, and the heart and the mind and the will, upon themselves is at the heart of sin, at the heart of pride.

This pride – or its opposite twin, despair – is the logical result when, while looking inward at self, you also look outward at others. – Because, let’s be frank, even this gaze at others is usually one of comparison, and comparison is the way of the law, which for sinners is the way of certain death. This comparing is the judgment which leads either to despair – “I wish I could be as cool, funny, nice, loving, helpful, faithful, service-oriented, selfless, as good a preacher as he is, but I can’t” – or to pride – “Well, at least I am better than she is: she only goes to church once a month, or, he drinks too much beer (or not enough beer), or, she’s not really as pious as I, or, he never comes to Bible Study, or, she doesn’t volunteer as much as I do….” Despair or pride – that is the consequence of even your outward-aimed vision. And we must be honest: like James and John, it’s usually the latter: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you…give us GLORY.”

This pride is false worship for, as I said, it worships self. It also does claim to worship God, but its worship is false. Our Lutheran confessions tell us: “The service and worship of the Gospel is to receive good things from God, while the worship of the law is to offer and present our goods to God.” You all have some, or even a lot, of the sons of Zebedee in you: As such, in the way of the law, you like to present your abilities, your devotion, your fasting, your tithes, your offerings, your attendance, your promotions, your sacrifices, your smiles to God and say, “Lookee here, ain’t I been pretty good!” Well, “No. Filthy rags,” says Holy Writ; even your supposedly righteous acts are but filthy rags – not pure enough, not enough of them, far from the 100% perfection that the Law demands.

So, then, what are the good things you are to receive from God in the worship of the Gospel?! Well, our Lord tells us what the worship of the Gospel is: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This is worship; this is divine service. This is Christ’s life given in service to you – again, our Book of Concord states, “The highest worship in the Gospel is the desire to receive forgiveness of sins, grace, and righteousness from Christ, acknowledging him as the Messiah.” Christ’s life given to you – the gifts of God for the people of God in Preaching and the Sacraments. Christ’s life given to you – thus corrected vision, that you may truly see. Christ’s life given to you – for with this revised re-vision, as Bonhoeffer writes, “Everything about other people that repels me falls away. Then I see them in all their need, hardship, and distress…, granting other Christians the same right [I] have received, namely, the right to stand before Christ and to share in Christ’s mercy.”_

Christ’s life given in service to you – indeed your vision of others and self is given its proper place and focus only because through his means the Holy Spirit has fixed your eyes toward…Jesus: always, you thus “look unto him, the author and finisher of our faith….” As the Augustana says, “The highest form of divine service is to seek and call upon Jesus Christ.” It is only when your vision is cruciform and Christocentric, cross-focused and Christ-centered – it is only when you see self and others in the shadow of the cross and through the person and work of Jesus – it is only then that you lay aside your legalistic and selfish goggles, glasses, and lenses, “lay aside every weight, and lay aside the sin which so easily ensnares us….”

It is only then that you understand the correct place for the law in your lives today, which Bo Giertz points out. Previously it stood between you and God, an obstacle blocking the way. As a mirror of sin and a curb of evil, it frightens and threatens the fallen sinner in demanding utter holiness.
But now Christ has fulfilled the law, kept it, and suffered under its punishment, for you – thus he has opened the way for you to the Father, for his sake. And now, then, the law does not stand in front of you as an obstacle in the path to God, but rather it is behind you, so that it meets you when you turn around to go out among your neighbors. And you know that the law is right and good; it is the voice of God, of his LOVE; and so you listen to it as you make your decisions, order your day, and serve your neighbor. It now describes you, because it describes the life of Christ in and through you, my dear saints. The law shows you not the way to God – that’s only through the gospel – but rather the law shows you the way to your neighbors, and into those works that God has already prepared beforehand that you might walk in them._

The beloved disciple writes, “Beloved, let us…love one another” – not only ourselves – “and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. … In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this we have from God: he who loves God loves his brother also.” As Luther said, a “Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor. … He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love” (AE 31:371). And you do love! – not by your own efforts or striving, for then, indeed, it would be impossible – the love would not be pure enough, or frequent enough. But with God all things are possible, and so with his divine love, his superabundant love poured out onto you in Baptism and into you in the Lord’s Supper, his love overflowing through you and thus onto others – with this love, you see; with THIS love you love and you serve your neighbors.

But that’s not all. – It’s not over. There’s always more with Gospel – more gifts than your hands can hold or your lives can share, more wonders than your mind can imagine, more forgiveness than you’ve got sins! For, ultimately and especially and uniquely and wonderfully and amazingly, mercy for the sinner means this: God’s vision is messed up. God himself is the one who has poor vision!

He, above all and only, would be justified in looking outwardly upon others, upon you, with self-importance, with smugness, with pride. For he is almighty, he is perfect, he is sinless; as a matter of fact, he goes to church every day, he volunteers, he works really hard, he goes to every LSA conference, he keeps the commandments, he is nice, he is smart, he is not like others. God would be just in looking upon you with utter disappointment, derision, scorn, rejection, pride, even hatred. But, but he does not. Rather, God has a vision problem, for when he looks upon you he sees…Christ; that’s right, Christ! When he looks upon you, he sees one who has been joined to Christ, one who has died and risen with Christ, one who has been baptized with Christ, one who is a participant of the divine nature, one who has been clothed with Christ, one who has the sacred body and blood of Christ coursing through the veins and clinging to the bones, he sees one who is “of Christ,” that is, a Christian, a Christ-ian!

God remembers and sees your sins…no more. “The eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death, and keep them alive in famine.” The eye of the Lord…. – And what God sees he declares. And what he declares, is: be it light or parted waters or virgin pregnancy. And he looks upon Christ and says of him: Behold, this is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased. And thus God looks upon you and says of you: Behold, this is my beloved son, my beloved daughter, with whom I am well pleased.
And so it is.
Christ in you, that’s the hope of glory.
That’s some blessed “poor vision.”

One more thing! We need to get back to James and John. Don’t forget that they were restored. James was part of the inner circle of disciples closest to Jesus, he witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus, was with him during his agony in Gethsemane, and James was ultimately martyred in 43 A.D. by Herod Agrippa I for confessing Christ. John, well John helped with preparations for the last supper – where he sat next to Jesus, stood by Jesus’ mother at the crucifixion, after Pentecost he became a missionary with Peter, and he wrote the fourth gospel, three epistles, and Revelation! This is to say that Jesus had mercy on James and John, and that mercy, and the power of the resurrection, transformed them to be pillars of the ancient church, and pillars of the church today. Jesus had use for them. He has use even for you…now in the present, and even as he uses you and LSA “to shape the future.”

Christ is risen!
[He is risen indeed! Alleluia!]