Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 6

19 July 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 5:17-26 (Ex 20: 1-17, Rom 6:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“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. Truly I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

After proclaiming this Gospel to you, I announced, according to our liturgy, “This is the Gospel of the Lord.”

The Gospel is not the threat that you will remain in hell until you have paid for your sins (which means that you would never get out). For that is not good news at all, dear brothers and sisters. In fact, that is a horrific and terrifying thought. What is the gospel is that this dreadful fate can be avoided. For now is the time to repent. Now is the day of salvation. Now is the time to receive God’s grace and live forever.

The Gospel is not in the threat of punishment, but rather in the promise of deliverance. Our Lord tells us exactly how to avoid the recompense for our sins which we so richly deserve: “the hell of fire.”

Our Blessed Lord, our Advocate, advises us to settle out of court. Don’t let your sins be brought to the bar of justice. No indeed! Confess your sins! Plead with the judge for mercy, even as we pray: “Lord, have mercy!” For our Lord has not come into the world to condemn, but to save. He is truly the “Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” He most certainly hears us when we pray: “Forgive us our trespasses” and indeed He responds with: “I forgive you all your sins.” And what’s more, He forgives our sins “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – in His own holy name, sealed by His own Word, backed by His own divine authority, and given to us by the promissory waters of Holy Baptism. “Do you not know,” dear friends, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”

We settle out of court when we come to the sanctuary instead of the courtroom, to the pew instead of the prison. We come to this place of freedom to be liberated from our sins rather than go to a place of confinement to be bound to them.

That is how we Christians “come to terms quickly.” Instead of being dragged into a court of judgment, we joyfully take refuge in the courts of the Lord’s House. Instead of being forced to our knees in a dungeon and being placed on a subsistence diet of bread and water, rather we kneel in adoration and in praise in this place where the Lord dwells, participating in a glorious banquet of bread and wine, body and blood, quickened by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, born again by the waters of Holy Baptism. And instead of a terrifying sentence of condemnation, we hear consoling words of absolution, pardon, and release.

“Come to terms quickly with your accuser.”

God is not our accuser, dear brothers and sisters. The name “Satan” means accuser, and our Blessed Lord Jesus has indeed “come to terms quickly” with the serpent, dealing him a mortal blow even as He died on the cross. We came to terms quickly with Satan when we were baptized into the Lord’s death, even as we sing to the Lord: “Baptized into Your name most holy.”

We settle out of court when we plead our watery rebirth before the Judge, remembering our baptism, marking ourselves with the sign of the cross, that ancient emblem of victory over our accuser, the sign by which we are sealed and delivered. For “we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”

And it is in this freedom, secured by the death of our Lord on the cross, given to us in Holy Baptism, laid hold of in Holy Absolution, proclaimed to us in the Word, and physically placed into our mouths in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, that we sinners settle out of court, are pardoned by the King of the Universe and are paroled by the power of the Lord’s Word, promise, and command.

That, dear friends, is the Gospel. That is the Good News. For indeed, the last penny has been paid for us – “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

This is the true joy of the Christian faith: we have been liberated. Though we still live in the valley of tears, and though we still struggle in this body of death, we are no more prisoners to our Old Adam, to our flesh, to sin, to death, nor to the devil. We have settled out of court. We have been pardoned. Our debt has been paid. Our freedom has been given by order of the King. We have cheated the hangman, the doors of our cell have been opened by a turn of the key, and we are free to put all of that behind us, to walk away and never look back.

We have not been freed to return to our cell, to repeat the crimes for which justice would demand our blood, to fall again into the folly of the Old Adam. For that kind of “freedom” is truly slavery – as St. Paul proclaims, we have been crucified with Him “so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”

We have been emancipated not so that we can transgress the law, but rather that the law might be fulfilled by Christ Jesus through us, through His body, the Church. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” asks the Apostle. And he answers His own question: “By no means!” For we are baptized Christians. We are liberated captives. We are pardoned prisoners.

For does our Lord not say: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but fulfill them”? For truly he has proclaimed to us anew: “Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

The Law is powerless to condemn the one who repents not because the Law has been changed, but rather because the man who repents has been. We are a new creation at baptism, and we are being conformed into the Lord’s image.

This, dear brothers and sisters, is why our Lord implores us to seek an out of court settlement. This is why we are all here today. We have come to petition the King for pardon, for clemency, and for mercy. We have come to throw ourselves on the mercy of the court – for we have the Lord’s promise that our judge is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” We have the Word of Jesus that He has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.

Heed our Blessed Lord’s counsel, dear friends! “Come to terms quickly.”

The fact that we are forgiven empowers us to forgive. The reality that we have been reconciled to our Father makes us able to be reconciled to our brother. The truth that our Lord’s “righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” is what enables us to “enter the kingdom of heaven.”

For this is what it means to “Come to terms quickly with [our] accuser.” This is what it means to settle out of court. This is what it means to repent, to forgive, to live a life of service in the kingdom as pardoned sinners with a new lease on life. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ.”

“Alive to Christ,” dear friends. This is the state of those who “come to terms quickly,” who settle out of court. This is why we are here. This is why we pray: “Lord, have mercy.” This is the Gospel of the Lord! Praise be to Thee O Christ! Amen.

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

No comments: