Sunday, July 08, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 6 - 2018

8 July 2018

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

If you decide to play a game, the first thing you have to do is learn the rules.  Without the rules, the game is meaningless.  Without the rules, the winner of the game is the one with the biggest muscles or the loudest mouth.  Without the rules, a game isn’t even really a game.

When it comes to the Ten Commandments, the Law as handed down by God to Moses, it’s a tragedy that we need to be taught the rules.  For we were created not only knowing them, but also with an innate desire and ability to keep them.  But after we fell into sin, we became so pathetic that we actually had to be told such things as killing people is not allowed.  What should be obvious to us requires an instruction book with rules on how to live.

For us fallen humanity, we now have to read the rulebook.  And Doctor Luther, in compiling his sort-of Frequently Asked Questions about the Christian faith and life, designated the Ten Commandments to be the First Chief Part of the Christian Faith.

So we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Ten Commandments.  We memorize them from Scripture and we memorize their explanations from the Catechism.  Jesus Himself explains, teaches, and preaches on the commandments in a way that nobody else does, a way that closes loopholes and takes away every opportunity to boast or brag.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” He says, “but to fulfill them.”  He says that we are not to even take away a stroke of the pen from the Law.  In fact, we are expected to teach them, and to do them.  Our righteousness is to exceed that of “the scribes and Pharisees,” that is, the most religious people in Jerusalem.  And by way of example, Jesus says regarding the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder,” it isn’t enough to refrain from actually slaying someone.  In fact, you are not to think violent thoughts or even verbally insult someone – lest you break the commandment.  He will go on to explain the Sixth Commandment similarly, “You shall not commit adultery” doesn’t refer to the technical narrow definition of the word, but rather any kind of sexuality in thought, word, or deed, outside of the marriage covenant between one man and one woman, violates the commandment.

Doctor Luther applies this same technique in giving us our explanations of all of the commandments.  And God expects us to keep them.  But of course, we don’t.  We fail miserably.  And that’s our great dilemma, dear friends.

Since we can’t keep them, should we assume that God grades on a curve?  Should we see God as our indulgent uncle who winks and looks the other way when we fail to live up to His standard of perfection?  Or should we go the other direction, and claim that we are in fact keeping the Law, but do so by means of loopholes, hypocrisy, and outright lying to ourselves and others?

Our Book of Concord confesses that Scripture teaches three uses of the Law.  The first use is to keep order in society.  The law against murder is intended to deter violence among us through various legal definitions and punishments.  This use isn’t the church’s use, but that of secular authority.  The second use is the main one that we Christians partake of: the commandments being a mirror that show how sinful that I am.  I may not actually take lives, but my attitude is ungodly, and cannot stand the scrutiny of the mirror of the second use.  The third use is a guide to the Christian life as it is to be led, for example, when Dr. Luther explains that “we should help and support [our neighbor] in every physical need.”  This guides me to a godly relationship with my neighbor, and though we are far from perfect, we know that we are to strive after these ideals, and by the grace of God, grow in sanctification and a desire to lead a godly life.

For what does St. Paul say?  That we should just give up on trying to keep the Law, chuck the whole thing, and since I’m forgiven, just “continue in sin that grace may about?”  The apostle answers his own question: “By no means!” 

St. Paul reminds us of our baptism.  We are baptized into Christ, into His death – His death upon the cross that atones for our sins, His death by which death is destroyed, His death that reconciles us to the Father, the Father who with the Son sends the Spirit to us, to draw us to lives of holiness, so that “we too might walk in newness of life.”

Does newness mean perfection?  By no means!  Does newness mean continuing to surrender to sin, death, and the devil?  By no means!  We are saved by grace, and by grace we are given Christ’s holiness.  We struggle to keep the Law, we fight, we fail, we stumble, we grow, we have our ups and downs, and by God’s grace and mercy, we are forgiven and, day by day, we are given a new heart that is eager to do what is right.  This Christian life requires both discipline and patience.  You will fall, and your Father will pick you up.  You will disappoint your Father, and He will discipline you.  You will struggle, and will sometimes be victorious, thanks to Christ, by whom you are alive to God and dead to sin.

And when you fall, you cannot blame God.  For our failure is our fault.  When you manage to be obedient even in an imperfect and halting way, you cannot take credit, for it is God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit to inch you toward godliness through the means that God has given us: the preaching of the Word and the participation in the sacraments.

Our Lord Jesus, like St. Paul, also preaches this third use of the Law, teaching us how to live our lives as poor miserable sinners bound by the Law, and struggling as Christians in a fallen world.  He teaches us – as an extension to the fifth commandment against murder, to strive toward reconciliation with our brother who might have “something against [us].”  Before we participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice at the altar, let us examine ourselves and our lives to see if we have “murdered” our brother, so to speak, perhaps with thoughts or words.  And let us seek reconciliation if we have sinned.  Our Lord compared this reconciliation to an out-of-court settlement.  For if we can settle with our brother, we don’t need to get the judge involved.  In reconciliation, the case against us is thrown out, as opposed to putting us on a path that leads to prison.

The ultimate judgment is death.  We have been under the sentence of temporal death since the fall in Eden.  But thanks be to God that our Lord has kept the Law even as we have proven ourselves unable.  Just as David was the champion of the people of Israel, slaying Goliath, beating back the oppression of the Philistines and becoming the King of Israel, so too is the Son of David our champion, who slays Satan, beating back the oppression of sin, ruling over us as the King of the Universe, a King who has come not to be served, but to serve; a King who doesn’t just command others to obey the Law, but who keeps the Law Himself, even dying for us when He was not required to do so.

“We know,” says St. Paul, “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 “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Doctor Luther gave us the Ten Commandments as the first chief part because Jesus taught us that He has not abolished the Law.  The Lord revealed the Law to Moses, even as the Law is written on our hearts, though we need to be reminded of the “rules of the game” so to speak, as well as where we have broken them.  But thanks be to God that we are not disqualified, but rather forgiven, and in being forgiven, we are given to “walk in newness of life.”  

Let us continue to honestly apply the Law to ourselves as our Lord does.  Let us sincerely repent and be reconciled to our neighbor and to the Lord.  Let us be both disciplined and patient as we live out the Christian life, having died with our Lord in Holy Baptism, even as “we believe that we will also live with Him,” now and even unto eternity.  Amen.

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

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