Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sermon: Trinity 6

11 July 2010 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.

The Ten Commandments continue to be controversial nearly 4,000 years after they were carved into stone by the finger of God. Non-Christians criticize Christians who want the Law displayed in courthouses. Non-Lutherans criticize Lutherans who memorize the commandments as part of our Catechism. And Lutherans fought against other Lutherans in the 1500s about whether or not the Law belonged in the pulpit.

All this fuss is because we really don’t like the Law. Our Old Adam kicks and screams. If one were to take our Lord’s sermon that serves as our Gospel for today, and mark all the Law in red and all the Gospel in blue, well, let’s just say that you would not want to wave the result in front of a bull.

Of course, we like the Law when it is applied to others, but not to us. When it comes to our own sins, we want mercy. When it comes to the sins of others, we want justice. And to make matters more confusing, God is both perfectly just and perfectly merciful – a mystery of faith that taxes our reason.

And yet, here we are once again, by God’s providence, pondering the Ten Commandments and their place in our faith and life. Our Lord in His infinite wisdom is calling us to repentance, right here and right now, by yet again reminding us of His Law. And who can sit perfectly still and comfortable as these accusatory commands remind us of our failures, our disappointments, the people we have hurt, and our indifference toward our Creator?

And if that weren’t enough, our Lord shuts off the last bit of comfort we can take from the commandment “You shall not murder.” For most of us can safely say that we have not maliciously taken a human life. And even that little bit of satisfaction that we have in believing that we have actually kept a commandment is taken away from us by our Blessed Lord who preaches that “Everyone who is angry with His brother” breaks the commandment, and is “liable to judgment,” and “whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire.”

And immediately following this fire-and-brimstone sermon from Jesus, the hymnal calls for this ironic response: “This is the Gospel of the Lord.”

But thanks be to God for this airtight and no-nonesense Law! It breaks us of any illusion that we can save ourselves. It strips us of any delusion that we are anything but “poor miserable sinners.” The Law, which Jesus did not abolish, “not an iota, not a dot,” cuts off every avenue of escape and slams every door in our faces.

All, that is, except one.

The only door through which we can pass to safety is Christ. And the only way to that door is confession and repentance in response to God’s Law. We have no choice but to surrender unconditionally and to fall down upon the ground before God. We must hit rock bottom. And this, dear Christians, makes the blood of our Old Adam boil.

But this is the Gospel of the Lord! For this one way out is the only begotten Son, whose death on the cross redeems us and atones for us. He is the only lifeline we get, but the good news is that He is the only lifeline we need: the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. When we finally tire of running away from the reality that we need to repent, that we cannot save ourselves, there is our merciful Savior to pick up our weary bodies, lifting us up onto His scarred and bloodied shoulders, carrying us safely between the equally frightening lies of the devil and the truth of our unworthiness. And rather than grumble about the way the Law makes us feel, let us rejoice, dear brothers and sisters, in the Savior to whom the Law draw us! For our merciful Redeemer does for us what we realize that we can’t do.

The wages of sin is death. And part of our Lord’s fulfillment of the Law was His very own undeserved death. “Do you not know,” asks St. Paul, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

In baptism, our sinful, dead selves are buried with Christ. The waterborne Word is a death sentence for our Old Adam, and is a regenerating life-giving bath for the New Man. And this is no mere symbol, dear brothers and sisters. Listen to the holy apostle: “For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”

Just as Jesus was dead and rose physically, literally, and bodily from the grave, so too shall we. And if the Law merely wounded us or annoyed us, if we could weasel out of it or push it away through our protestations, we would have been on our own. No, dear friends, the Law leaves us with no way out – except Christ alone! The Law that so repulses us, pushes us right into the loving arms of our Savior, stretched out on the cross, offering us His eternal and life-giving embrace.

What a merciful Lord we have, for He leaves us with nowhere to go except to Him! What a great and merciful thing this Law is, that exposes as useless and futile, any and all attempts by us to reach up to God by our own efforts! What a loving God we have that makes it clear in His Word that He and He alone is our hope and our salvation, our light and our life.

Our Lord refuses to soften the Law. For to do so would be to cave in to our Old Adam that always wants credit, seeks praise, and claims to be worthy. The Law shows us that we are only fooling ourselves, and prepares us for the truth, the glorious truth, the Gospel truth, that Jesus is our Savior, our loving Redeemer, and that in Him and in Him alone, all our sins are forgiven. And what’s more, this forgiveness is all a free and unmitigated gift.

For without the Law in its severity, we would never know the Gospel in its sweetness. And worst of all, without the Law, we would die in the very sins that we thought were no big deal, clinging to a faith in ourselves. Thanks be to God that He breaks us free from these chains of death and self-delusion!

“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. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you have been set free by Christ and have been made “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Thanks be to God, now and forever. Amen.

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

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