Saturday, July 22, 2017

Trinity 6 Sermon

Trinity 6 – July 22nd and 23rd, 2017 – Matthew 5:17-26

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Sin is pervasive. Sin creeps throughout this creation, creeps throughout our own sinful flesh and spreads its tentacles throughout the entirety of our lives. As fallen, human beings, we are sinful and wretched to the core. Period. Every action we take – tainted and sinful. How does that strike you? A little harsh? Were you thinking, “Oh Pastor Brown, you're too young to be such a grouchy old curmudgeon. Sure there's some sin around, but it's not that bad. Relax. Lighten up a bit”? What Christ Jesus our Lord is doing in our Gospel text, what He is doing in this part of the Sermon on the Mount, is showing and demonstrating just how far the disease of sin has spread in us; He is warning us how tricky and slippery sin is. Listen to Him again: “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.” Do you see the temptation Jesus is warning against – the temptation we have as human beings to limit God's commandments, to cut them short, to excuse ourselves from them, to water them down. To relax them, to shave off a bit. To justify our own breaking of them.

Jesus gives an example. “You have heard that it was said 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; that 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 how this works? What's the fifth commandment, folks? You shall not murder – Thou shalt not kill. This is where our prideful sinful flesh wants to pipe up - “Well, Jesus, I guess you can stop talking now, cause I haven't murdered anyone. Got that 5th commandment down pat – now let's move on.” But do you see what Jesus does? He makes us consider what this commandment to not murder actually means. What was God teaching when He instructed that we are not to kill, not to end our neighbor's life? As God has given life to your neighbor, you're not supposed to take away that gift that God has given, but more than that. You aren't supposed to mess with, denigrate, or insult the gift of life that God has given to your neighbor. Therefore, Jesus points out the depth of that commandment.

If you are angry with your brother, you're liable to judgment. Well, on the one hand, this does tell us about how murder happens. Pretty much every time there's a murder or killing, you see a bit of anger first. Cain gets angry with Able and then offs him. But it's a bit deeper than that. [E]veryone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. The first time we see anger in the Scriptures, my friends, is in the garden, right after the fall. Adam's words – the woman you gave me, she gave me the fruit and I ate. You get the anger, the disdain there? And Adam right there is liable to judgment, isn't he? Or whoever insults his brother, that's liable to the council. That's basically saying if you insult someone, talk about about them to their neighbors, it's not just a local offense, it is a federal case with the Supreme Court ready to throw the book at you. That's how serious it is. And then, if you call someone something to their face, call them a moron – just someone who cuts you off in traffic, or someone at a store and you flippantly denigrate them – well, on account of that, in reality, you deserve the hell of fire. Did you get that, did you hear that? The hell of fire. Jesus ain't playing around here – He is saying this is serious. Because sin is pervasive and spreads and it roams around and leads us into all sorts of trouble – and we are to be on guard against it. We aren't to be busy trying to excuse our actions, we aren't supposed to be going about trying to justify ourselves. That's a dead end game.

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” If you are going to try to muscle your way into God's presence, if you are going to try to say “I deserve heaven, I deserve eternal life, God” - you're going to be in for a world of hurt. Think of the best, the nicest folks you know of – unless your righteousness surpasses them – it ain't going to work. Because God's standards are high – His standards are perfection... and you of yourself are not perfect. And this is something that grates us – we think it is utterly unfair that God would demand perfection when it's not my fault that I wasn't born perfect so shouldn't I at least get some brownie point for being better than that guy over there? We get caught up in the comparison game – I'm better than them. And we see this play out today – a never ending cycle of self-justification, of saying “I'm better than this person.” This group is worse than that group. That's politics. Republicans are worse than Democrats, no the Democrats are worse than Republicans. You did more bad stuff with the Russians, no, you did more bad stuff with the Russians. You messed up the budget, no you messed up the budget. And all that hate and anger flows and it's always their fault – isn't that nice and convenient?

That's not how the law of God works. There is no proper “stick” use of the Law where it is the stick that you use to beat your neighbor – but we do hear of the Law being used as a mirror. Do you note how Jesus isn't calling us to evaluate our neighbor but ourselves? You! If you! Take this “everyone who does X” and apply it to yourself. And the point that we should see, that we would ponder is that... yes, for our own advantage we will relax, and skirt, and just flat out avoid the law when it suits our purposes and wants. Now, our text just deals with anger and murder – but in Matthew Jesus moves on to deal with lust and adultery, then pride and oaths, and retaliation and fighting with enemies, and hypocrisy in charity – it's a tour de force of showing sin. Our sin. Actually, closer than that – showing my sin.

How many of you, when you get into trouble try to talk your way out of it? I'd do that all the time growing up, and my mom would just stare at me and say, “Just keep digging, Eric, that hole's just getting deeper and deeper.” The fast-talking trying to explain away sin didn't work with my Mom, and it certainly won't work with God. “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” And it's not just a matter of skill in talking – even the scribes, the most well educated people around – they can't fast talk their way out of sin. Even the Pharisees, the most virtuous folks around, they can't do it either. Your righteousness needs to surpass, be beyond the sort of righteousness that sinful man can muster. Period.

Which is the point. I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength... I can't, I can't produce the righteousness that God demands. Now, Christ Jesus, the Righteous One – well, He has this righteousness – of course Jesus is going to have the Righteousness of the Kingdom of Heaven – it's His kingdom after all. And here is the wondrous thing, what theologians often would call the blessed exchange or the great exchange. Simply out of His dumbfounding love for you, Jesus decides to take up your sin, your lack of righteousness and take up its punishment upon the cross, and instead of death, He gives you His righteousness so that you will be with Him eternally, so that you will possess the kingdom of heaven. That's the thing that is publicly demonstrated and sealed at your baptism – His righteousness was poured upon you, applied to you. And not in a “well, now you can work your way up to heaven” sort of way. You dig enough pits in your sin – when Jesus saves you He doesn't just give you a bigger shovel, He actually saves you. It's all about what He has done for you, not what you do to impress Him.

Which is why we hear Jesus say, “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.” The important thing isn't what you give to God – okay, it's important in so far as that's how I get paid and how we fix up the church, which is all good. But of even greater importance is the fact that God has given you forgiveness and mercy and righteousness – and that forgiveness should flow even between you and your brother. We are washed in Christ's righteousness, we are forgiven and made into forgiveness people. It's not about what we give to God, it's rather that God has given us forgiveness, and this forgiveness ought to permeate our lives.

And to be honest. There are times it doesn't. There are times where our old sinful flesh rears its ugly head, and we default back into those old sinful patterns – it's his fault, they're worse than me, she's an idiot – and when we catch ourselves – or more accurately when the Holy Spirit brings the Law to remembrance in our lives and uses it as a mirror to show us our sin – that's when once again we see the need for forgiveness. That's when once again our efforts are cast aside and instead we receive Christ's own righteousness and mercy and forgiveness again – and we go, and confess and repent and forgive what has been done to us. And it keeps on – this is the cycle of our lives. Every time you come into this Church for a service until you come here for your funeral, you're going to need forgiveness. But Christ's righteousness far exceeds anything we could imagine – and He keeps on pouring it upon you – so much so that you will rise to new and everlasting life in Him, perfect and holy and reflecting His righteousness forever. Not even death can stop that. In His love for you, He always will offer you His righteousness in His house, all your days. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

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