Sunday, July 15, 2012

Homily for The Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 6)

H-60 Trinity 6 (Mt 5.17-26)


Matthew 5:17-26; Romans 6:1-11; Exodus 20:1-17

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

The fundamental error that you make concerning the Law of God is that you believe that God gave you His Law so that you would know what you must do to fulfill its demands. However, God’s Law does not state what you must do if you are to fulfill its demands. Instead it states what you must be if you are to be able to stand in the presence of God. For, the Law of God states what is right and good, and the good is always a part of the being of God. Thus, the Law of God, the Ten Commandments, do not tell you what you must do, but they tell you what you must be. Moreover, the Law of God, the Ten Commandments, tell you who God is and what He is like, and, therefore, they tell you what you must be, and what you will be, to live in Him – You must be holy, as He is holy.

Your God and LORD commands you to be holy, just as He is holy. And, this is the great curse of the Law, for you cannot make yourself to be holy through your obedience to the Law. You cannot work or earn your way into holiness, for holiness is a state, or a condition, of sinlessness and righteousness and goodness – in other words, to be holy is to be like God, for God alone is holy. And still, He commands you to be holy, just as He is holy.

Jesus’ teaching about the Law of God today follows directly after His teaching of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, chapter 5. Jesus said to His disciples, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, no an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” It is popular to think that Jesus came to give you a new law, a law that is somehow, easier for you to do. After all, you think, “God surely would not command me to do something that I couldn’t do.” But, you are wrong. He has done precisely that. And, that is the point. Jesus taught that God’s Law of perfect goodness, righteousness, and holiness, not only will not pass away, but Jesus has made it even harder for you to fulfill than the Law and the Prophets originally appeared to teach!

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Yes, you think that so long as you have not wrung anyone’s neck you have kept God’s commandment and Law. But, Jesus says that if you have been angry with someone, if you have insulted someone, you have broken the commandment. Moreover, Luther explains in the Catechism that, not only hurting or harming your neighbor in his body, but failing to help him and befriend him in his bodily needs is a transgression of God’s commandment and Law. And then, but a few verses later, Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” And, after that, He continues to remake and remodel the well-known commandments of God’s Law. Do you see, then, how Jesus expands, broadens, and adds to the commandments? He would crush your sinful, rebellious, self-righteousness and pride that you might turn to Him for forgiveness. For, He will not lighten the Law and the Commandments of God for you. He will not make them easier for you to do. But, He will fulfill them for you that you may be good, righteous, and holy in Him – that you may live in Him forever.

And you thought the Pharisees were bad, right? You have heard it said, again and again, that the Pharisees were bad guys. The Pharisees were bad because they were the teachers, the shepherds, the pastors of the children of Israel, and they did not preach the Gospel, the “Good News” of forgiveness in the Messiah, but instead they burdened the people with severe preaching of the Law. You have heard it said that the Pharisees loved the Law of God, but I say to you that the Pharisees hated the Law of God. They did not keep it themselves, and they did not teach the children of Israel to keep God’s Law and commandments either. Instead, they changed God’s Law; they softened it and rounded off its sharp edges, to make it more do-able. That’s what you thought Jesus came to do, right? WRONG! God’s Law can not, and will not, pass away. It is always in force, for it is good and holy, and it is part of God Himself. Again, you must remember, the purpose of the Law is not to teach you what you must do so that you can fulfill it, but the purpose of the Law is to teach you what you must be to stand in God’s presence – that you must be good, righteous, and holy, as God Himself is holy. And, that is to say that you must receive His righteousness and holiness as a gift – a gift that He has given in the Messiah, Jesus.

The Pharisees did not love God’s Law and commandments, but they hated them and they feared them. They did not teach them rightly to the children of Israel. Instead, they changed God’s Law; they softened it and rounded off its sharp edges, to make it more do-able. And then, they added to the Law laws, commandments, and rules of their own, cunningly designed to make them look and feel good. The Pharisees could fulfill the law of their own design. Everyone looked to them as the most good, righteous, and holy men on the planet! As for the people, well, they either became puffed up and full of self-righteous pride, believing that they too kept God’s Law well and good, or, if they were honest with themselves, they fell into hopeless despair, knowing that they did not keep the law and commandments set forth by the Pharisees, but hearing not Gospel forgiveness from their lips either. Do you see how the Law of God impacts sinful men? The Law of God is perfectly good, righteous, and holy, and it is eternal and unchanging – “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Thus, Jesus was not teaching His disciples, and He is not teaching you, that you must do better at fulfilling God’s Law and commandments, but, instead, He is teaching you that you must believe and trust in Him, that He has fulfilled God’s Law and commandments for you by His good, righteous, and holy death upon the cross. It was upon that cross, in His last breath, that He proclaimed “tetelestai,” “It is accomplished,” “It is finished.”

Jesus has fulfilled God’s Law and commandments for you. Believe and trust in Him, and you have the goodness, righteousness, and the holiness that is necessary to stand in the presence of God without fear. That is the Gospel truth, plain and simple. However, you must not conclude from this Gospel truth that you need not obey God’s Law and commands any longer, for, as Jesus teaches, they have not passed away, but they have been fulfilled. Do not then get the idea that you can do whatever your sinful flesh pleases, simply asking for forgiveness after the fact, and believe that you will enter God’s kingdom. In theological jargon, that is called antinomianism – it literally means “against the law”. Dietrich Bonheoffer called it “billige gnade,” or, “cheap grace”. And, this is what St. Paul warns against in our Epistle today saying, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

We Lutherans are sometimes criticized for being antinomian, for cheapening God’s grace, and often justifiably so. We have a rich doctrine of grace, centered in Christ, which glorifies God. But, let us not take that grace for granted and forget how costly it comes to us, for the price is the death of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, on your behalf. And so, God’s grace must have its way with you, raising you from the death of sin to new life in Jesus Christ. The Law has been fulfilled so that you are free to love your neighbor and to love God with Jesus’ love poured out for you. You must not attempt to relax God’s Law, as Jesus says, and as the Pharisees did, but you are called to a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees – that is, an alien righteousness, a righteousness that comes extra nos, from outside of you, Christ’s righteousness, given to you as a free gift of God’s grace. You must, as St. Paul says, “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

That life began in Holy Baptism, when you were buried with Jesus in His death, and were raised with Jesus to new life that can never die again. Thus, consider your obedience under God’s Law and commandments in this life to be preparation for the life that never ends. C. S. Lewis once wrote, “In the perfect and eternal world the Law will vanish. But the results of having lived faithfully under it will not.” But, perhaps St. Paul said it better still, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Blessed be the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has done all things well and has made all things new, in the most Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

No comments: