Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sermon: Trinity 6

23 July 2006 at Salem L.C., Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 5:17-26 (Ex 20:1-17; Rom 6:1-11) (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Well, if you like controversy, you picked a good Sunday to come to church. Of course, every Sunday is a good Sunday to worship our blessed Lord and receive his gifts, but today we address the Ten Commandments – something that is the source of fierce debate in our body politic and public life as citizens of our republic.

And to put fuel on the fire, Jesus is going to make sure we know just how demanding the commandments are, and St. Paul is going to make sure we don’t abuse the gift of grace we enjoy by seeing that grace as a license to break the commandments.

There’s surely enough controversy here to upset and challenge everyone in the sanctuary. God’s Word is certainly not dull, and it commands our attention twenty centuries after its writing.

Of course, the Ten Commandments were written long before that time – some 17 centuries, in fact. They were written by the very finger of God on tablets of stone. They lay down a foundation for civilized society, the oldest formula of law and order – but there is so much more to them.

Both sides in the current debate about the public display of the Ten Commandments miss the point. On the one hand, there are those who treat the Ten Commandments as though they are pornographic, somehow unfit for public display, something shameful and dirty that ought to be wheeled behind closed doors. And then the other side, which sees their display as somehow necessary, that if they are not displayed, God is going to get even with America. Of course, the commandments against murder, theft, breaking the marriage contract, and perjury are basic laws that are common to all people – and the Ten Commandments should be recognized for their role in the history of jurisprudence. But on the other hand, laws against idolatry, abusing God’s name, Sabbath-breaking, and coveting are really not the business of the Federal and State governments – even if such things were enforceable.

So what do we make of these commandments? Do we join lawsuits and demonstrations for their display? Or do we join the anti-Christian forces who seek to remove them from public view? Must we do one or the other?

Jesus tells us Christians that the Ten Commandments are God’s Law. Nothing has made them obsolete – for Jesus did not come to abolish, but to fulfill the law. The Ten Commandments remain a basic staple of our catechism. We require children and adults to be able to recite them before being able to take communion. We encourage Christians to meditate on the Ten Commandments. Indeed, this law is written on our hearts.

The Law of God is more than words on a monument that people are fighting over. The Commandments convict all of us of our sins. When the Law reads: “You shall not murder,” we dare not breathe a sigh of relief since we have never carried out the physical act of slaying a person. Indeed, Jesus warns us that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees and scribes who used this kind of logic to pat themselves on the back. No, indeed, we must ask ourselves: have we called anyone a name, wished violence against anyone in our hearts, have we, in our anger, hurt another person’s feelings? We all know the answer. We are all murderers. And this kind of murder is so common to each of us, and we commit such murders many times a day with no remorse. Neither the State nor the Federal governments can truly enforce this law. There is a tribunal higher than the Supreme Court before which we will stand.

In fact, in our thoughts, words, and deeds, we have all broken every commandment, and do so often. Our adversary, the devil, accuses us. And on this count, Satan is right. He tells the truth when he accuses us of breaking the Law. And though he tells the truth, he does not tell the “whole truth and nothing but the truth.” For our Lord Jesus tells us to agree with our adversary quickly. We are to say the same thing, that is, to confess. The devil and the Law both point the accusing finger at us, and we are guilty. But we have an advocate who is also the judge. Though we deserve the guilty verdict, we are declared righteous. That, dear friends, is a truth the devil will not say to you. You can only hear this from Jesus, from his Word, as testified to you in the court of the sanctuary of the Church.

We can settle with our adversary because our advocate has done so. Jesus has outwitted the prosecution by defeating him. We have been vindicated and declared “not guilty” at the cross – and that declaration of innocence is read every time we poor miserable sinners darken the door of the Church, every time we hear the Good News of the verdict we don’t deserve read by the Judge’s servants.

And so we are free. The handcuffs are removed. The door of our cell is opened. We are set at liberty, as our debt has been paid in full. We are pardoned, with no restrictions.

And so, dear Christians, we are free from the law as Paul tells us. We are free from the prosecutorial finger of the devil. And so, we can do anything we want, right? Jesus has paid for all of our sins, so we ought to sin even more so we receive even more grace, doesn’t that make sense? Having been sprung from prison, we can now commit even greater sins, revel in their filth, and have no fear of punishment. What does Paul say in our epistle lesson?

“What shall we say then, shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you know that as many of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Paul goes on to point out that by baptism, we share in Christ’s death and his resurrection. We have been recreated, made anew, born again by water and the Spirit. Hence, we are different than we were before baptism.

And so, being freed from sin’s penalty isn’t license to commit more sins, rather it is the opposite. For as our blessed Lord preaches, not one dot of an “i” or cross of a “t” has been, or ever will be, removed from the Law. For Jesus fulfills it all, and he does so for us. Therefore, instead of being freed for evil, freed to explore the basest and most vile elements of our fallen flesh, we are freed from evil, freed in order to do good works. We have been freed to identify our own sins, freed to confess those sins, freed to be forgiven of them, and freed to struggle against sin as we live out the Christian life.

Freedom from the law isn’t freedom to be evil – for being evil has nothing to do with being free. In fact, our sinfulness is a form of bondage, we were enslaved in our sins until Jesus freed us from the shackles. We have been freed from sin, freed from trying to use good works to bribe God. Now that we realize that our sins have been paid for, that our good works don’t earn our salvation, we are freed to do good works out of love, without counting the cost, without the ulterior motive of trying to save ourselves from punishment.

You, dear children of God, are heirs of the Kingdom. God has given everything to you – not only his Son for the forgiveness of sins, but his own righteousness, his own victory over sin, death, and the devil, his own divine nature, his own perfection, his own eternal life. It’s all yours. Your works do not count – so you’re free to not count them, but rather to do them in thanksgiving and joy, flowing out of the New Adam, with no reason to ask “what’s in it for me.”

For if you could obey the Ten Commandments, you would need no savior. And if your eternal life depended on your keeping of the commandments, you would have no hope. Let us thank God for his commandments that show us our inability to keep them – which drives us to the cross. Let us praise God for sending his Son to keep the commandments for us and on our behalf, and let us honor God by offering him our good works – not only as a thank offering, but as a means by which He works though us to give this gift of life to others.

“Death no longer has dominion over him,” nor over you, brothers and sisters. “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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