Sunday, July 15, 2012

Trinity 6 Sermon

Trinity 6 – Matthew 5:17-26 – July 15th, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          This morning we hear our Lord preaching once again in the Sermon on the Mount, and I fear that our familiarity with this passage makes us forget just how wild, how bizarre this preaching would have sounded when our Lord first spoke it.  Consider the start of the sermon – the beatitudes – blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Completely radical.  In that day, you didn’t think those who were poor in spirit, who were burdened by the troubles of life, who saw the impact of sin were blessed – in fact, we don’t really today.  But Christ comes in and says, “No, no, you who suffer, who see that this life is fallen and desolate and a waste land, you are blessed, because you aren’t going to cling to mammon when you hear Me preach; instead you will long for heaven.  Blessed are you.”  That’s what Christ is doing with the beatitudes – turning on its ear the idea of what it is to be blessed – but that is a sermon for another week.  This week we take up just after the beatitudes, and here Christ Jesus turns the idea of what it means to be righteous, what it means to be good, upon its head.

          Our Lord begins, “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. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”  Now, even as He turns things upon their head, Jesus makes a very good point.  He hasn’t come to destroy the law, He hasn’t come to destroy righteousness or morality… but He is going to do something different.  He is going to fulfill the law, fulfill it truly, unlike the false fulfillments that people were setting forth.  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, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Nothing will be soft sold – nothing with be lessened, nothing will be blown off.  We are to be righteous, and that is that.  Being Righteous was one of the main Jewish focuses of life.  I was listening to some lectures on my road trip, and they were about influences on Western Culture, and in talking about the impact of the Old Testament the professor noted the Jewish focus on righteousness, on doing what is good.  That was the heart of the Jewish approach to life – that’s what the Pharisees strove after.  When Paul says that he was a Pharisee’s Pharisee, he is saying that by the standards of the world, he was a good man.  But whereas the poor in spirit have the kingdom of heaven, unless your righteousness is beyond the Scribes and Pharisees, you don’t get the kingdom of heaven.  And why?  Because the Scribes and Pharisees relax the commandments, because they treat the commands of God as something that we accomplish rather than goals that we are to strive for, goals that we are to in humility confess that we do not accomplish.  Yes, the Law of God is to show us how to live, but it is also to show us that we are sinful, that we are in need of forgiveness and mercy from God – and if you relax the Law, make it more manageable, think that you no longer have room for improvement, well then you are lost.

          Jesus gives an example – actually several, but we are only going to look at the first.  Murder.  The fifth Commandment.  You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 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.”  A simple commandment.  You shall not murder.  Thou shalt not kill.  Simple enough.  But there is a depth here, there is rich teaching about life and how we ought to live, how we ought to treat our neighbor.  And if our focus is upon our neighbor, we will see that depth.  If our focus is only on trying to prove ourselves okay – we miss the depth.  We check it off.  Hey, look at me, I’m okay, I’ve not murdered anyone.  I’m not like that person that showed up on the news – I’ve never had my mugshot taken with blood on my hands, what I good boy am I.  Jesus turns that on its head.  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”  Jesus so quickly cuts to the heart of the matter.  Murder, when it boils down to it, is just the highest and most obvious expression of anger.  Why does one man kill another?  Anger.  Cain is angry with Abel, and he kills him.  David is angry with Uriah the Hittite for having such a beautiful wife, for letting scandal come upon David, and so he kills him.  Anger turns our relationship with our neighbors upside down.  To be righteous is to seek to serve the neighbor; to be righteous is to have compassion.  To be angry destroys the desire to serve, to have compassion, and rears up the desire to hurt, to harm, to put back in their place, to put into the grave.  When you are angry, you fall short of righteousness.  And don’t try to speak to me of Righteous Anger, don’t go about relaxing the law, trying to justify yourself.  When Christ showed righteous anger in the Temple, He did not kill or hate the money changers, but He Himself died for them less than a week later – in His righteous anger He still acts for their good.  No, to be angry for us fallen men is to be liable to judgment.

          Or there is, “whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”  Perhaps you think you have kept your anger hidden.  Or perhaps you think it is justified – of course you can be a bit angry with your brother – he’s a fool, and when you call him as such you are only speaking the truth.  If you insult, you are liable to the council – it’s a supreme court case, it’s a matter of high treason to righteousness.  You are not to insult your brother but to serve him!  And if you look callously upon your brother, if you cuss him out – read him the riot act… you are liable to damnation.  There is no way around it.  When the Lord said, “Thou shalt not kill” – He wasn’t giving you a simple hoop to jump through; He was teaching that you are to be righteous, that you are to be concerned about your neighbor’s life, about making it better – and your anger would have you do the opposite.  Harsh.  No relaxing of the Law here.

          So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25  Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”  Be reconciled!  Don’t worry about outward shows of piety, don’t worry about making sure that everyone knows what a “good little Christian” you are and how much you give to the Church – make amends with your brother.  If you have wronged someone, repent – and show them love and care and compassion.  In fact, this last verse is the verse that kicked off the reformation – Thesis number 1 of the 95 – When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” – He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance – and “repent here” is literally “pay the last penny”.  Because this is where the rubber hits the road.  If we look at ourselves and think, “Eh, I’m pretty good – it’s a shame more Christians weren’t like me” – we are lost.  We are lost in self-righteousness.  No, rather when we contemplate God’s Law, God’s commands, we are to consider how short we fall, and we are to repent, to turn away from our sin, our short comings and strive to do more and more – strive even knowing that I was sinful yesterday and thus I failed, that I am a sinner today and I will fail, and that unless the Lord returns even tomorrow I will be a sinner and I will fail.  Doesn’t matter – repent, strive after righteousness, full righteousness, and confess your sin, your lack, your failing.

          That’s what it means to be poor in Spirit.  To see when you look at your life not a tale of triumph where you crush all your foes, where you conquer over every difficulty.  No, it’s to see your life honestly, see your sin, your lack, your need, and to repent, to confess.  To you who repent, to you who are poor in Spirit – blessed are you, for yours is the Kingdom of God.  “But how, pastor – how – my righteousness has to exceed the Scribes and Pharisees, and I’m not going to play their game, I’m not going to relax the Law so I can say, ‘see, what a good boy am I!’”  Listen again to your Lord’s Words.   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.”  You do not fulfill the Law – but Christ Jesus does, and He does so for you.  The righteousness that God demands of mankind – our brother, Christ Jesus, true God and true Man performs.  Think of how often the Father’s voice booms from heaven – this is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.  Christ fulfills the Law.  And yet, the Law says that those who break the Law must die.  Eat of the tree – die.  Break the law – get stoned.  And we have broken it, and we are doomed to death – and so Christ says, “fear not, I have come to fulfill the Law – there will be a death, a death on account of sin – but I will take up your sin, I will bear it Myself, for I am the Lamb of God who takes upon His shoulders the sin of the world, and I will die for you.”  At your baptism, your sins were washed away – they were washed onto Christ, and He bore them to the Cross and there He died, there He fulfilled the Law for you.  This is why we look to the Last Day.  Even should we die before Christ returns, so be it – Christ will come and say, “Death, you don’t get them, you don’t get to keep them – I have died and thus they shall live.”

          Your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, not because of how hard you work, not because of how wonderful you are, but because your righteousness is actually Christ’s righteousness which He gives to you in His Word of forgiveness and life – which He poured upon you in Baptism so that you would rise to newness of life – which He gives to you as He gives you His own Body and Blood in His Supper.  Do not relax the law – no, strive and repent, but above all see your Lord who has fulfilled the Law for you.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

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