Sunday, July 11, 2010

Today's Sermon - Trinity 6

6th Sunday after Trinity – July 11th, 2010 – Matthew 5:17-26

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
God gave the children of Israel the Law. He gave them the 10 Commandments, which we heard in our Old Testament lesson; He also gave them other specific instructions and rules for behavior. And somewhere along the line – actually, quite quickly, soon after Moses preached and even under his very nose, the understanding of the Law, God’s Law, became quite messed up, and it continued to be bungled and abused – so when Jesus preaches, as He does here in the sermon on the Mount, He often needs to instruct or teach about the Law, about how we are supposed to behave.

So what had gone wrong with how the Jewish people understood the Law? Well, they sort of ended up knowing the Law only as sort of a giant, divine checklist. Don’t do these things, make these right sacrifices, and then you are good to go. They found 613 of these, and they thought that if they just did these things, then they have done what the Law requires and that meant that they were good people. And, I guess you could say that they were partially right. We can speak of the Law working as a curb, or a barrier. What does a curb do? In theory it’s supposed to help keep cars in the street – you hit the curb and you know you are about to go off the path. Like the bumpers in bumper bowling – they keep you out of the gutter. Don’t kill – that’s a curb – if you want to just go and beat someone to death, well you now know that you should not do that. A curb keeping you from killing. Remember the Sabbath day – make time for gathering together with God’s Saints – if you aren’t doing that, you know that you are out of bounds. Just sort of keep you in line. God’s Law does that.

However, that’s sort of all they thought the Law did. Just that divine checklist to the good life – and people thought they did it. All. Perfectly. You have people tell Jesus, “All these I have done from my youth.” But they forgot some things. The Law wasn’t designed to simply limit what we do – it was also designed to teach how we should strive to behave. Think back to your catechism lessons – we always would ask what each of the Commandments means – and go home and re-read these if you don’t have them memorized anymore. Consider the 5th – Thou shall not kill, 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 physical need. If we aren’t to kill, if we aren’t to take his life, doesn’t it sort of follow that we ought not hurt him either? Or that we ought to help him with his life? The Law was to act as a guide towards how we should act – it’s not just a checklist where we do something and then forget about it – but it was to shape the habits and patterns of our life.

And of course, when we see the Law this fuller way, it does its final, major purpose. It shows us our sin. When we actually consider God’s Law in its fullness, see its demands clearly – we see that we have not done them fully. We see that we fall short of this standard – that we are not perfect in showing the love to our neighbor that we ought, that we fall flat. This is called the Law being used as a mirror – as the old hymn says – “The Law is but a mirror bright/ that brings the inbred sin to light/ that lurks within our nature”. Again, if you want to do some more reading, go sing the Hymn “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” this week – 555 in the LSB, 377 in the TLH. If we had communion today, it’d be the first communion hymn – but as y’all don’t generally like 10 verse hymns outside of communion – just go read it on your own time – and yes, I guess I am giving out homework now.

But anyway – when Christ begins to teach here in the Sermon on the Mount, He is preaching to folks who have forgotten that the Law is supposed to inform us and instruct us toward perfect goodness – and moreover, that the Law is supposed to show us our sin; that we fall short of perfection - thus our need for a savior. And so our Lord says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders shall 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.’” Do you see what Jesus does? He explains the 5th Commandment. See, people had thought that, eh, it’s okay if I yell, shout, storm about – at least I haven’t killed anyone. I’m a good person. Not the point. If you aren’t to kill someone, you should probably avoid the emotions and anger which might lead you to kill someone. You should avoid the insults that might lead your brother to anger and make him want to kill you. Do you see how Christ points to the fullness of the Law here – and just how utterly we fail in it?

What about it – any of you get angry this week? Get upset with anyone? Or speak out in anger – say a cross or coarse word? All of that is just a reminder that you are still a sinner, and that you need to repent in humility. And Jesus goes on – “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Don’t let anger rule your life, don’t let it dominate – be reconciled. In fact, in the early Church they were quite serious about this. Today we think of “offering” as money – really in Scripture the bringing of money would be alms. The “offering” is that which is used in worship – a sacrifice in the Old Testament, or the bread and wine that would be used for Communion in the New. And so, at the beginning of the Communion Liturgy, where we sing the Offertory – which was when the things for the Supper were brought forward – where I make sure everything is ready for Communion, everyone in the Church would exchange the “kiss of peace”. I guess the modern equivalent would be shaking hands – but everyone would exchange this kiss of peace, and if the bishop noticed that two people avoided each other, he would stop, walk up to them, and ask them why they are avoiding each other. And if he found a feud, two hating each other, the Bishop would kick them out. Until you two work this out – see ya. The Supper is a place of forgiveness, and if in your anger you aren’t forgiving each other – off you go.

Sometimes I think we don’t take Christ’s warning against anger so seriously today. We like to be angry. We like it when our leaders are angry and show passion. We like it when people get what is coming to them – and thus forget about God’s Law which tells us that we should support our neighbors in their body and life. We shouldn’t relax the Law this way, we shouldn’t overlook things like this. Christ even warns us, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.” We aren’t to slough off on the Law, on how we live our life. We are to strive to be perfect, to always be better. Christ Jesus even tells us, “For I tell you the truth, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Unless you have a righteousness that is beyond this lacksidasical pap you call being a good little Christian – you ain’t getting into heaven.

So, where does that leave us? Of ourselves, none of us have that righteousness. If any of you think you slide by on this whole anger issue, we could read on in Matthew 5 and 6 – hear about lust, retaliation, swearing, loving the enemy, giving to the poor, fasting, judging. . . so on and so forth. Of ourselves, our righteousness isn’t all that great. But note the key verse, the point on which this whole discussion hinges – “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” In addition to God’s Law which shows us our sin, there is another Word from God. In the Old Testament, He had told His people that He would send a Savior to rescue all people from sin – He told Adam and Eve that by this Messiah the Satan’s head would be crushed, He told Abraham that through this Messiah all nations would be blessed, He told over and over that the Messiah would come and rescue people from the power of sin and death and the devil. And here is Christ – and He is here to rescue you.

How does Jesus rescue you? He doesn’t abolish the Law – He doesn’t just say, “It’s all good, go do whatever you want.” No – rather this. He sees that you are trapped in sin, bound to a body of sin and death – and so He says, “I will become Man, and I will fulfill the Law in your place.” As Salvation Unto Us Has Come says – Yet as the Law must be fulfilled/ or we must die despairing/ Christ came and has God’s anger stilled/ our human nature sharing/ He has for us the Law obeyed/ and thus the Father’s vengeance stayed/ which over us impended.” Christ comes, and He is righteous, doing what we could not do, and evening going to the Cross and dying, taking up the punishment we could not bear to take. And then He rises again on the Third Day – He shows that He is indeed the Way and the Truth and the Life – and He gives to You His own Righteousness. When you were baptized, you were joined to Christ’s Righteousness – you were buried with Him, you rise with Him – that means you share in His righteousness. When the Gospel is proclaimed to you, when your sins are forgiven, that is Christ’s righteousness being applied to you. When we come to our Lord’s altar and receive His Body and Blood, we are receiving His righteousness. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees? Thanks be to God, your righteousness is Christ’s righteousness! That is what He has done, that is what He has given you.

And on the last day, at the resurrection of the dead, we will see this in full. Our own bodies will be made righteous and holy, even as He is risen and righteous and holy. That is what we have been promised. But in the meantime, in the days of our life, we do not shy away from the Law. We strive, we try to do it, and when we fail, we do not pretend that we are okay – rather this, we cling to Christ and His righteousness, and we know that for His sake we are forgiven, for His sake we are given new life, His life, and that for His sake we will rise to life everlasting with Him. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

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