Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sermon: Trinity 6 – 2012

15 July 2012 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.

Can you just imagine what life would be like if our Lord came to abolish the law.  At first glance, this would be a wonderful thing.  Can you just imagine living a life free from worry about offending God, about breaking a law, regulation, or statute, a life of total freedom from punishment?  It sounds like heaven!

And yet there is a dark side as well.  If our Lord came to abolish the Law, that would mean it would be acceptable before God and man to “have… other gods,” to “take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” and to fail to “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”  We could worship whatever gods we chose – according to our own desires.  We could even worship ourselves and our own money.  We could make our own names holy and treat God’s name as a common ordinary word to express surprise or anger.  And we could also be free to avoid worship and focus on things we find more entertaining or convenient – all without fear of God’s anger or punishment.

But there is more to this world of abolished laws.

Children could choose to avoid honoring their parents and other authorities, we could murder people we didn’t like, there would be no constricting rules regarding sexual conduct, we could take anything from our neighbor that we want, we could lie to anyone anytime – even in court.  And coveting that which is not ours could be a proper way of life – all without guilt. 

Chaos would reign.  Might would make right.  And anyone without the wealth or the physical strength to resist those of greater strength would simply have to surrender spouse, children, money, home, and life itself to anyone with the means to take them.

This does not sound like heaven.

For as long as we are poor, miserable sinners, we need the law: to curb us from bad behavior, to show us that we are sinners in need of a redeemer, and to guide us to a way of life in accordance with the Christian Gospel.

For the good news is this, dear brothers and sisters, the Lord did not come to abolish the law of the prophets, “but to fulfill them.”

“But to fulfill them.”

In our sinfulness, we fulfill nothing but our own greed, lust, hatred, jealousy, covetousness, self-worship, slander, rebellion against authorities, and ingratitude for the God who made us, saves us, and comes to commune with us.

And God does not relax the law for us.  The Law is the Law.  Just as the speed of light and gravity are laws, even as a triangle has three sides and the angles of a rectangle add up to 360 degrees, just as matter exists in three states, and can be converted into energy – there are laws that govern God’s creation.  They are what they are.

And the Lord’s created moral order is no different.  The Law is not retooled so that enough people pass to meet a quota.  “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God,” He says, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to thousands of those who love me and keep My commandments.”

The Lord expects us to “keep” the commandments.  There are no loopholes or shortcuts.  And we are not graded on a curve.  Our Lord says, “I have not come to abolish the Law.”

And so we have a dilemma.  We praise the Law for protecting us from others.  But we look for ways out of the Law when it protects others from us.  We want the Law in its perfection and severity when applied to those who wrong us, but we want excuses and exceptions when applied to our own transgressions.  That is the legacy, dear brothers and sisters, of our sinful nature.

And this is why it is good news when our Lord finishes His sentence: “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

For God, in His perfect justice, cannot declare evil to be good.  But God, in His perfect mercy, can, and does, absorb evil and return good.  This is what He did at the cross.  He endured the blows and the hatred and returned blessings and love.  He suffered agony and reproach and returned forgiveness and life.  He surrendered to death and burial and returned justification and everlasting life.

For He did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.  “It is finished!” 

And so it is, dear friends.  He has rewritten the rules, not by throwing out the rules, but by turning those rules into reality.  To keep the fifth commandment is not merely to avoid killing someone, but rather to have loving and forgiving thoughts toward those whom we are tempted to hate.  We are to reconcile with them even as God reconciled with us.  For which of us deserves Christ’s mercy if we refuse to show mercy?  Our Lord teaches us that we are not free to insult others, rather freedom is not wanted to insult others.  And if we say “You fool!” we are liable to hell fire. 

The good news is that we are forgiven.  We are forgiven and we are bidden to forgive.  That is what it means to reconcile.  The Law has not been abolished.  But it has been fulfilled in Christ.  And that, dear friends, changes everything.

And so, “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” asks St. Paul.  Since Jesus has fulfilled the law, since Christ has paid for our sins at the cross, since we are baptized children of God – is this license to do whatever we please?  “By no means!” the apostle replies to his own question.  For “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

Part of that fulfillment of the Law accomplished by Christ is that He has rescued us from sin.  So why should we fall back into the very thing from which we were rescued?  Why should we pretend that Jesus has abolished the law?  Why should we think that the Lord died so that we could live in that lawless world of might makes right, of lie, cheat, and steal, of despising God and hating our brother? 

“By no means!”

For, dear brothers and sisters, we have been baptized.  We have been born again.  We have been made into new creatures through water and the Word, through the blood, through the cross, through the Lord’s fulfillment of the Law.

If baptism has the power that our Lord and His Scriptures teach, then it means that baptism has power over sin – not simply license to commit more.  It means that we are “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

And in this victory over sin, we have the ultimate promise – the ironclad Word of God that death itself cannot destroy us, that even the consequence of sin has been “fulfilled” by Christ, that death, the one thing that comes to all men and separates us from those we love – is for us redeemed by Christ – only a temporary thing. 

“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.”

Though the Lord did not abolish the Law that sinners must die – He fulfilled the Law by dying Himself, rising again, and inviting us to follow Him in new life, in receiving mercy, in showing mercy, in obeying the Lord’s commandments, in receiving forgiveness when we fail, in showing forgiveness when others fail us, and at the end of time, the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

And so in that context, Can you just imagine living a life free from worry about offending God, about breaking a law, regulation, or statute, a life of total freedom from punishment?  It sounds like heaven! 

For the good news is this, dear brothers and sisters, the Lord did not come to abolish the law of the prophets, “but to fulfill them.”

“But to fulfill them.”  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

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

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