Sunday, June 29, 2008

Trinity 6 Sermon

Trinity 6 – June 29th, 2008 – Matthew 5:17-26

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit +
I suppose that if I wanted to upset someone here, to get them fired up, I might call them lazy. Call someone lazy, and well, those are fighting words. We here at Zion value hard work, sincere effort – and to call someone lazy is a slap in the face. I know it has even upset me the times where people have suggested that I am lazy. We like to think of ourselves as hard workers, and to suggest otherwise is something we don’t like.

Yet, in our Gospel lesson, did you hear what our Lord Jesus said about us? Did you hear Him call us out, did you hear Him call us lazy? Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches other to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. Relaxes the commandments. Doesn’t take them seriously. Is lazy as regarding the Law of God. But surely, oh, surely, that doesn’t apply to us at all. Jesus must be speaking these words of warning to some other folks, not us. And then Christ explains, Christ gives an example for us to understand. You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool” will be liable to the hell of fire.

So, let us ask ourselves a harsh, unpleasant question. When it comes to doing what God commands, when it comes to following His law, to listening to His commandments – do we do it fully, or really are we a bit. . . lazy? We have a commandment here – the 5th Commandment. You shall not murder. Thou Shall Not Kill. How have we been keeping that lately? Now, I’m going to go out on a limb and simply assume that none of you have killed anyone this past week – that I don’t have to worry about the town cops kicking down the doors of the church, weapons out, yelling for one of you to get down on the floor. But, let’s look at the commandment through Christ’s standards. Have you been angry with someone this past week? Simple as that. This past week – have you been upset with, been angry with someone? Well, then according to Jesus, you’ve broken the commandment. According to Jesus, you’ve relaxed the commandment – you’ve been lazy as regards the commandment. Do we dare go on? Have you spoken an insult about anyone this week? Told one person how horrible another person was? If so, Christ says you are liable to the council, liable to getting your walking papers and sent on your way. Dare we go on? Have you insulted a person to their face, chewed them out, called them a fool, or some other name? If you did, you probably thought it felt good – might have even thought, “Boy, I’m glad I got that out of my system.” Christ Jesus says you are liable to the fires of hell. Fire of hell – hellfire, brimstone, all that. How have you been this week?

I don’t imagine there’s a one of us who is sitting all that comfortable and complacent right now, not a one of us who can’t think of something, probably many things from this past week where we have fallen flat on our faces with what our Lord speaks here. And what’s scary – this is just the beginning of this part of the Sermon on the Mount. This is just the 5th Commandment – and probably a bit of the 8th as well. He goes on to talk about the 6th, and the 3rd, and the 7th, and the 9th and 10th, and well, basically all of them – all the commandments to this high standard.

And the thing is – this shouldn’t surprise any of us. We are Lutheran – we pride ourselves on knowing the Commandments and what they mean. What is the 5th Commandment? You shall not murder. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every bodily need. What is the 8th Commandment? You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor? What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. We memorized this stuff – we used to be able to say it forwards and backwards – of all people we should know better. And yet – just looking back on this past week – how often was this forgotten? How often did we breeze on by this? How often were we lax in keeping God’s commandments, how often were we. . . lazy? How often, in spite of the pride we might have in all the hard work we do, when it came down to it, when it came down to the important things, the things that God commands – were we lazy?

And we could go on – how many of us can be lazy when it comes to reconciling with others – do we seek to smooth things over or are we content to just let the grudges go on and on – even pass them on to our kids? There is a lot here that we could chew on – and to be honest there is a lot that we ought to chew on – and that is something which I will encourage you to do this coming week. Examine yourself, examine your lives – hold yourself up to a high standard when it comes to your behavior, your thoughts, your words.

But Pastor – how in the world are we supposed to be able to examine ourselves? If we look at things with Christ’s standard, we aren’t going to like what we are going to see! And that’s true – if you look at yourself according to Christ’s standard, you won’t like what you see. And the danger that lies there for us is that if there is something we don’t like – we ignore it, sweep it under the rug. And our problems, our weaknesses simply grow and grow – until they can consume us, until we become worse and worse, until we become hard and cold and brittle people, and our faith gets shattered. We cannot ignore our sin, we cannot simply slide on by with being lazy in terms of God’s law – otherwise sin will consume us and our faith will die.

Listen again to the first words our Lord speaks in today’s Gospel lesson. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Christ Jesus coming into the world doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want. Christ Jesus doesn’t mean that we are free to sin. The Law is not abolished, it still exists – there are still things which we are to do. But hear what Christ has done – He has come to fulfill the Law and the prophets. Every jot, every tittle, every part of every Word of God’s Law, Christ Jesus has fulfilled. The very places where you fail, the places where you fall short – look to the life of Christ and see how He succeeds there, how He conquers. Whereas you have anger, does not Christ show complete and perfect love to you? Whereas our hatred and anger are tied into murder – is not Christ’s love for you tied to the Cross, tied to His death and resurrection? Every place that we fall short, Christ succeeds, Christ excels in.

And here is the wonder – Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Yours does. Your righteousness does exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees – because Christ Jesus gives you His own righteousness. In the waters of Baptism He brought you into Himself – covered you with Himself. The waters which were poured upon you covered you with Christ – so that when God sees you, He sees only His Son, His righteous and Holy Son – and so you lack nothing. Salvation and life and the joys of heaven are yours because Christ has given them to you, because Christ has said – you are forgiven.

We understand that, we know that – we get the idea that someday we get to go to heaven. But let’s look at how this truth, that we are covered in Christ’s righteousness, impacts us here and now. Let me ask the question. Can it be scary to look in the mirror, to examine yourself, to see where you are lacking, what you need to improve on? It can be – but it doesn’t need to be. Why? Because you are covered in Christ – and there is no condemnation left for you – your sins are forgiven – and because of this – you are free to struggle against them, free to take them on, free to look your sinful nature square in the eye and pop it on the jaw, to beat it down. You can examine yourself, you can face down your sin – for you know that it is forgiven – and indeed, Christ Jesus gives you strength to beat it down. And that is the key – when you examine yourself, you are simply letting God work upon you in your life.

I found an interesting quote from St. Augustine this past week, on this very Gospel text, which I would like to read. Concerning the taming of the tongue, Augustine writes: “Let us understand, my dearly beloved, that if no human being can tame the tongue, we must take refuge in God, who will tame it. Does your own human nature prevent you from taming your tongue? ‘No human being can tame the tongue.’ Consider this analogy from the animals that we tame. A horse does not tame itself; a camel does not tame itself; an elephant does not tame itself; a snake does not tame itself; a lion does not tame itself. So too a man does not tame himself. In order to tame a horse, an ox, a camel, an elephant, a lion and a snake, a human being is required. Therefore God should be required in order for a human being to be tamed.”

This is what God is at work in you doing – taming you, beating down your sinful nature, and making you more and more to be who you ought to be in Him. By forgiving you, by strengthening you, by giving you strength to beat down your sin – God is shaping you into whom He wants you to be. And here is why I love that Augustine quote. To tame a horse, you have to put a bit and bridle on it. We are getting ready to receive the Supper of our Lord. We too are being tamed, we are being made to show love more and more – but it will be no mere piece of leather placed upon our tongues to tame them – rather it will be the very Body of Christ given for us, the true Blood of Christ shed for us. This Supper is given not just to forgive what we have done, but to strengthen us, to prepare us for the week to come. God shapes us by His Word, by His love, by His forgiveness, and makes us to be whom He wants us to be.

Know this, dear friends. You sin, and as long as you live, you always will. But as a Christian, you struggle against this sin – not in doubt or fear, but confident in Christ’s forgiveness and strengthened by Him. He will be with you in your struggles, indeed, He will by His Word guide your struggles and see you through them. Therefore, do not fear to face down your sins, for Christ has faced them all already. Do not fear to daily drown your old Adam, for Christ has drowned it already in the waters of Holy Baptism. Do not fear to fight the good fight of faith, for Christ has strengthened you and will continue to strengthen you through His Word and His precious Body and Blood. Amen.

1 comment:

Thursday's Child said...

Wonderful! I needed that. (Especially after my attitude with this one rude woman who kept honking at me on the way to church because I didn't let her cut me off. ;) )