Saturday, September 24, 2016

Trinity 18 Sermon

Trinity 18 - September 24th and 25th - Matthew 22:34-46
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

One of the things that any sermon is supposed to do is to make each and every one of us in here take a good hard look at ourselves. Part of each sermon deals with looking long and hard at sin – and not just sin out there, not what other people do, but sin in here, my sin. That’s part of preaching. And it is important that we look at our sin so we don't become prideful, and in our pride and self-righteousness learn to hate Christ, as the Pharisees so often do. This is what we see this day in our Gospel lesson.
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees they gathered together. The Pharisees are worried. Jesus has just silenced some of His critics – the Sadducees – and now the Pharisees are fearful that our Lord will show them to be sinners in need of repentance and destroy their self-righteous delusions. So they will try to trap Him, discredit him – a pre-emptive strike!

And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Which is the greatest? Seems simple enough. But it’s a set up question. Depending on what Jesus chooses, people can complain. Whatever Jesus says, whatever He picks, people can complain and say that He doesn’t think some other commandment is important. We see this same tactic in politics – oh, you want to support good thing A, then you must hate good thing B!
But Jesus doesn’t play the game. Rather, hear His answer. And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. Jesus doesn’t just answer with a commandment – He also explains the commandment. What is the most important commandment – the First Commandment – and here is what it means. You are to love God – but with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. But then Jesus says another thing – oh yes, there is another command that is tied into this, tied into the first – you are to love your neighbor as yourself. That sums it all up. And so, Jesus leaves these Pharisees with nothing to complain about in His answer. There is nothing that this answer lacks.

Instead, the answer ought to make us think. All too often people can look at God’s Law, at His Commandments, and feel self-satisfied, as though they have done what God wishes them to do. Me, I’ve never killed anyone. I haven’t had an affair. Never been in court either to bear testimony. My entire life I’ve been Lutheran – so no false gods either. Right? Jesus says wrong. With all your heart. My heart is often torn. There are times when my heart isn’t in it – when I frankly don’t feel like singing the hymns – when I have to drag myself out of bed [from my afternoon nap/on Sunday morning]. And of course, there are times when my heart would like to do things that I definitely shouldn’t. With all your soul. There are times when I sit, and when I look, and I see that my soul can be rather black and bleak and mean. With all your mind. I’ve broken every commandment in my mind many-a-time; already this day we all have.

And then of course, Jesus keeps piling it on. Love your neighbor as yourself. So what does that mean? Who is more important in your life, you or the person next to you? Actually, not the person next to you, that might be family, a spouse, a child, where we with arrogant pride might say, “Oh yes, I love them so.” Who is more important in your life, you or the person three pews away – the one who never really talk to? Do you love them as you have loved yourself? Or let’s turn the screws even more. The person you don’t like – how have you loved them? What have you sacrificed of yourself for them? Because that’s the standard God sets. That’s what the Law demands – that you love, that you serve, that you give all that you are for the sake of your neighbor. Even the ones you don’t like.

Not a one of us here does that – and neither did any of those Pharisees. And so, they were left speechless. That’s what the Law does to us when we don't water it down. The Law is not our friend – it’s not our buddy that pats us on the back and tells us how wonderful we are. The Law kills. The Law looks at what we’ve done and shreds it – because it is harsh and strict and demanding. These Pharisees thought that they could live by the Law – and Jesus shows them that they can’t – that it is beyond their doing. And that's the Law's job. Whenever we become self-righteous or proud, whenever we look down on our neighbor instead of looking at them to serve them, God's Law smacks us with a clue-by-four. Listen to what God in His Law demands, and repent O sinner, for you too have fallen short of the Glory which God’s Law calls for.

Well, this would be a really depressing sermon if it ended here. Life under the Law is either delusional or depressing. But Jesus doesn’t simply leave things here. Now, think about this. For how long have the Pharisees been giving Jesus a hard time? Years. And at this very moment, they are testing Jesus, trying to toy with Him. How easy would it be for Jesus who has just demolished the Pharisees to just leave them – let them sit and stew for a while? But Jesus doesn’t. Here is what He does.

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls Him LORD saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet’?” If David calls Him Lord, how is He His Son? Now. Now while the Pharisees were gathered. Jesus doesn’t leave them stewing on the Law. What does He do? Jesus changes the focus of the discussion. The Law has done it’s work, now let’s get to the good stuff. Let’s talk about the Christ. And the Pharisees had a slight misunderstanding – or maybe not the full picture when it came to the Christ. They knew that the Christ would be the Son of David. In fact, they were looking for someone like David, who would rise up and be King, who would lead Israel to glory here on Earth. But the Christ would be more than some mere mortal. Even David knew that – see, David calls the Christ “my Lord”. If the Christ is just a man, David wouldn’t call the Christ my Lord.

Do you see what Jesus does? He is changing the way that these Pharisees are to think – He is redirecting, repenting their thoughts. You missed the point– not only about the Law, but about the Christ. You thought you would just get a man – but you will get One who is Man and Lord. You will get one who is both Man, son of David, and also True God, Emmanuel, God with us. And this leaves the Pharisees speechless. And it isn’t that they don’t know what He is saying, what Jesus is claiming. When Scripture says, And no one was able to answer Him a word it means they couldn’t talk back anymore. That they had no snappy, smart-alec answer. They couldn’t twist His words – rather they were forced to sit and think and ponder the Word of God.

Christ showed them Himself. This is who I am, oh Pharisees. I am true God and true Man – and do you know what? That Law that you love but that you can’t fulfill, I do. Christ fulfills the Law. Does Jesus love God with His whole heart and mind and soul? Yes! And does Jesus love His neighbor as Himself? What do we say in the Creed? Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. How’s that for loving your neighbor? How much does Jesus love His neighbor – He leaves heaven and becomes one of us. Look at these poor humans – I love them, in fact, I will take human flesh to Myself and become Man Myself. And when Jesus becomes Man, it is to go to the Cross – to suffer and die, to give all that He has for your sake – to literally value your life above His own. What we fail to do for our neighbor is precisely what Christ does for us. What we lack, Christ gives to us. You’ve heard the adage of someone jumping on a grenade – Jesus jumps on the Cross. When you see Christ on the Cross you see Jesus jumping in front of Satan, His arms out wide shouting, “You shall not have them, Satan.” That’s what Christ on the Cross means. That’s His love for you. That’s Him taking your punishment for your breaking the Law, and pleading to the Father to give you forgiveness and eternal life. That is His love for you.

And that is what Jesus’ focus is on – making people know and recognize His love for them. And He still does this for you today. As your sinful flesh loves to stray – He speaks His Word of Law to bring you humility. But He will not let your sinful attitudes get in the way of your knowing His love. Having spoken His Law, He speaks His Word of Life. Jesus turns our attention to Him; He makes us to repent, for Christ Jesus Himself comes here to us to show us His love. He is here in His Word – Jesus has seen to it that you hear His Word NOW, at this very Hour. And Jesus comes to you today in His own Body and Blood. Come, see the miracle that Christ indeed did come down from heaven to take on flesh, to suffer and die. Take and eat, take and drink, taste and see that the Lord is good. This is why Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” Here it is, and in His Supper nothing in lacking, and receiving the forgiveness and life He gives in His own Body and Blood you lack nothing. You are covered completely. This is what Christ does for you, this is His focus.

Just as our Lord went to these Pharisees, He comes to us today in His Church. And just like the Pharisees, when we fall into tomfoolery, when we shift our eyes off of Him and rather onto how “good” we think we are, He speaks His Law. And having spoken His Law, He speaks His Word of life to us; He in fact gives us His own life – and we are forgiven, we are redeemed. All praise to Christ for His steadfast love and mercy for us! In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

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