Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Sixth Sunday of Trinity (Trinity 6)


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 past three Sundays we have listened to the Holy Scriptures, we have prayed the prayers, we have sung hymns, and we have heard the Word of God proclaim to us the grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness of God our Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, in His most Holy Spirit. Today we turn, necessarily, to how then we shall live. Thus, we have listened to the Holy Scriptures this day recount to us the Law of God, the Ten Commandments. We have listened to St. Paul exhort us, baptized and forgiven, to “Go, and sin no more.” And we have heard the Word of our Lord Himself say to us that “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Does it seem to you that, after having the Gospel lavished upon you so richly, you are now thrown under the condemnation of the Law once again? That is the result of your bad conscience. For, the Law of God is good and it is wise, and our Lord Jesus teaches that it will not pass away until He returns and this world is no more. That means, of course, that our lives in this world are lived under the Law and they are normed by the Law, from our first breath until our last. “You shall have no other gods before me.” “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” “Honor your father and your mother.” “You shall not murder.” “You shall not commit adultery.” “You shall not steal.” “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet you neighbor’s wife, […], or anything that is your neighbor’s.” This is the Law of God, and it is not given to you that you may know how to please God and earn His blessing; the Law is given to you that you may know what your Lord commands and demands of you and that you may know that you do not and cannot do it, that you may despair of pleasing your Lord and receiving His blessing. The Law of God always shows our sins: it makes demands of us and commands us in things we are simply incapable of doing always, perfectly, in thought, word, and deed.

Rightly do you despair of being righteous by obedience to the Law, but, do not give yourself over to bitterness, resentment, and anger, thinking the Lord a strict master who asks the impossible and has neither grace nor mercy, for He does not desire your obedience out of fear, but because of love. He will not take away His Law from you, but He has fulfilled it for you in His Son and has given Him and His merit to you as a free and perfect gift of His grace that you may obey His commandments freely, in love, without coercion or fear.

And, neither should you puff yourself up with pride, thinking that you have kept His Law well, at least better than most, you Pharisee! Then you have your reward! For the Pharisees indeed did keep the Law of God well, better than most any others. Their prayers were devout and punctual. Their tithes were public and of the first of their fruits. Their Sabbaths were kept with great reverence and intentionality. But, in these their works did they place their trust, and by them they judged themselves righteous, so they could not receive the gift of grace that you have received in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But, when the Law has done its holy work and achieved its divine purpose, then there is hope for the hopeless and comfort for the distraught in the soothing balm of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. For, the Gospel makes no demands of you nor issues commands upon you but always shows our Savior. The Gospel proclaims to you “It is finished, complete, fulfilled. You are free from your bondage to the Law by God’s love showered upon you in Christ Jesus. Love is the fulfillment of the Law, and the perfect love of God has been revealed in the gift of His Son for you.”

How then shall we live? Do we continue to live as though we have not known such love, as if we were not forgiven? By no means! Now that you have been loved and forgiven, you must learn to love again. St. Paul compares this change in us to death and resurrection to new life 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? […] For one who has died has been set free from sin. […] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Love is the fulfilling of the Law. This is to say that “The new life in the Kingdom has a new motive. The old was an obedience driven by fear, the new motive is love inspired by grace.” It is the love of God in Christ Jesus that is the fulfilling of the Law for you, and it is the love of God in Christ Jesus that is the new life you live. For, the Law has not passed away, but it has been fulfilled and it has been changed into a new commandment: Love. “Love one another, as I have loved you,” Jesus says, “so you must love one another.” “Love does no harm to a neighbor, thus love is the fulfilling of the Law.”

The Law is not to be relaxed in any way, but no longer is it a heavy burden and harsh master. Those set free from the Law by love are set free to love without coercion or fear. This is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees: The love of Christ Jesus for you, with which you love one another. The scribes and the Pharisees obeyed the Law exceedingly well, but they did not love. They knew God only as a harsh master to be obeyed out of fear and coercion. They did not know the love of God or their need for grace; likewise, they did not love or show grace and mercy to others. Jesus teaches, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” If you look to yourself for this righteousness, then you will surely despair, be filled with anger, or be puffed up with pride. But if you look to Jesus for this righteousness, then you will have it, and you will be free to love with His love with which He has so lavishly and richly loved and forgiven you.

The Law of God commands, “You shall not murder?” Jesus interprets this Law to mean that you must not be angry with your brother or speak harsh words against him in addition to harming him bodily. The Law of God commands, “You shall not commit adultery?” Jesus interprets this Law to mean that you must not look at a woman with lust in your heart in addition to approaching her physically. The Law of God commands, “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy?” Jesus interprets this Law, not that you should not do work on the Sabbath, but that you should remember God’s love for you and love one another in the same way. Love is the fulfilling of all the commandments; love is the fulfilling of the Law, for love does no harm to a neighbor, but helps and befriends all to the glory of God.

In Christ, your righteousness does indeed exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. It is into Christ you have been baptized, and in Christ you have died to sin and have been raised in His new life. The Law does not pass away, but it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. You are now raised with Christ to walk in newness of life and to share in His resurrection on the Last Day. And, for now, He sustains your new life in His own by absolving your sins and by communing with you, flesh and blood, by means of this sacred feast of His love, which is a foretaste of the feast to come.

In the precious and holy + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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