Proper 25 – Series A
(Many observe the Festival of the Reformation this day – please note additional attachment which treats those readings. I provide these because some of you may have a special Reformation service either this afternoon or on that day and want to observe the Sunday after Pentecost.)
Jesus is still contending with these Pharisees and teachers of the law today? When will this tension break? It will break when Christ wears a crown. Two thousand years ago that was a crown of thorns, but this tension between what we believe and see, between the sinner and the saint, between law and gospel, will be broken once and for all when Jesus wears a the crown of glory, is surrounded not by jeering Jews and coarse Roman soldiers, but when his train is ten thousand angels and every knee bows before him.
Many of those who bow to his authority on that last day will do so only in fear, owning for the first time that he is master of all and rightful Lord of this universe. But some, how many only he knows, some will bow their heads and knees in solemn love and joyful worship. They will know this Jesus, this glorious Lord, for they will recognize the marks in his hands and feet, the scars he bears from that day he gave himself for our sins and for the reconciliation of the whole world.
How we wait for that last day has everything to do with that earlier day when Jesus died. Not only does it give us hope for that day when God reveals himself, but it also gives us direction, energy, and vision for the living of this day. Here, in the middle of Holy Week in the Gospel, but in the middle of this tumultuous time in our own history when it sometimes seems that the center cannot hold and the whole world is about to be upended, here Jesus comes with the heart of the moral teaching of the Bible: Love God wholly and the neighbor as yourself. The Old Testament lesson articulates some ways in which that can happen and Paul speaks of his own dealings with the Thessalonians and compares them to parental love, both fatherly concern and a nursing mother’s care for the child in her arms.
In a day when the love of many grows cold and the zeal of Christians is sometimes most strongly expressed felt in the preservation of a building or the retention of some cherished practice of their youth, these words cannot but be a harsh word of Law to us. The physical, emotional, spiritual and other needs of people around us are so great and yet our voter’s meetings can argue about which songs we sing or which color to paint the narthex.
But as messed up as we are, there is another truth which needs to be told. We are the ones whom God has sent to this benighted world through an outpouring of the Holy Spirit which began on the first Pentecost and which continues in every baptism, every absolution, every Christian life lived in Jesus’ kingdom come. The alleviation of suffering, the calming of fear, the feeding of the hungry, and the cup of clean cold water given to the thirsty child are all things precious to Jesus. He loves to see these things done and his cross has not only become the removal of our guilt but also the imposition of his righteousness, a righteousness which starts to define our life, 2
the decisions we make, the deeds we do, the love which we express with our lips and our hands. This is not the first time Christians have looked out over a broken world and wondered what to do. Nor is it the first time that Christians will start with one broken life, apply the love of Christ to that life and something great will start thanks to the Spirit of God who dwells richly in us.
The scary part of this is that we cannot control it. The Spirit blows where he wants and our own human nature and the institutions we establish hate that sort of uncertainty. Things that were initially begun to be exciting and innovative can themselves become institutions which stifle the very thing they were intended to do. One of the roots of the modern Sunday School movement was a literacy effort developed by 19th century Christian women who wanted to do something for the many poor children of urban London who had no chance to go to school. They had to work to help sustain their families. What began as an effort to teach children to read has become in many of our congregations an institution of the sacred cow sort which is perceived to serve the needs of member families and often doesn’t do that very well. I am sure that there were institutional types in the 19th century who were not happy about the unruly lower class children these women were bringing into the quiet confines of their sacred spaces.
If we are really to hear Jesus injunction to us today that we love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves, we have to be prepared for Him to do some things which make us uncomfortable. If we are really open to the blowing of the Spirit in our midst, we should be prepared to follow that wind where it blows. We will give up some control and what we thought was essential to our church and our faith might not prove to be so. Furthermore, we might just discover that something which we had never paid much attention to is in fact quite essential.
O God, You have commanded us to love You above all things and our neighbors as ourselves. Grant us the Spirit to think and do what is pleasing in Your sight, that our faith in You may never waver and our love for one another may not falter; through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
God has indeed commanded us; but, when you think about it, he commanded light to come into being that first day, and a firmament the second. I really don’t think that the light and firmament groused about the command. When God commands things happen. The command to love is really oxymoronic if you think much about it. Love which loves because it is commanded to love is not really love, at least not genuinely love, is it? I am not satisfied is someone tells me they love me because it is their duty to love me. I would question the validity of that as love. It doesn’t sound like the sort of love I want from my children or my wife. I want them to love me because they simply do. It is in their heart, a relationship which is not a thing I command but a thing which simply is. 3
But the commandment takes on a different sense when you realize that love is a relationship, a relationship which is created by God. The command is not so much a burden laid upon us as a creative act of God. Yes, we are responsible to all the commands of God, including this one. If we walk away from this relationship and do not love God or neighbor, we are breaking a commandment. But in keeping this command, in the life of love which he commands, we are not so much keeping it as we are simply being what he has created us to be.
This being is not something that I can gin up by squinting my eyes and clenching my teeth and trying hard. It is not the product of my will or my strength, but it is a state of being which God has created in baptism and which God has sustained in every day of my life. The image which he uses to describe this is perfect for this point. I am a child of God not because I attained to that status, but because he has adopted me, he has established the relationship.
We cannot claim then the love which we have for God. It is impossible for the old sinner to do this. But for the new man/woman, this love is really the creation of the Holy Spirit. He has put this love inside us. He has called it forth with his creative Word. I cannot take credit for that love. It is a strange interplay of commandment and relationship today which really defies hard and fast definition.
But now that I have it, now that I am a temple in which the Spirit of God dwells by God’s gracious gift, I am also transformed by that gift. God’s love has no pre-conditions. He does not love me because I qualified for it. But his love certainly does have post-conditions. The one loved and in the loving relationship does indeed love, genuinely love God. This is not some robotic love programmed into us, but it does indeed now involve the will, the strength, the mind, the heart. Those things all are now able to love God. In the words of the prayer, the Spirit indwelling guides thoughts and deeds, and I would say even empowers them. For those thoughts and deeds are the expression of the relationship, the faith, which is the love expressed to God. The love for neighbor is the faith lived out, naturally, normally, beautifully.
Three years ago, we had a great conversation about the role of the Spirit in all this. He presents to us Jesus, that is his job, much like an extension cord brings the power from the outlet, he crosses the centuries and the distance to bring the crucified and resurrected Christ to my life. That Jesus presented by the Spirit is now the renewal of my mind and life, so that I may think and do the things that please God. I am able to do those things in that Jesus has now taken up residence in my life, really present here, by the action, the power of that Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not the one who died on the cross for us, but he is the one brings that crucified to me.
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 I have printed the whole chapter for us today. The fact that we pick and choose out of these injunctions might give us pause before we preach this. What about the parts 4
we almost never read? Do we call the old navy man in the congregation a sinner for his tattoo (vs 28)? Or what about all of us who shaved this morning?
1And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. 3 Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God. 4 Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the LORD your God.
5 “When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted. 6It shall be eaten the same day you offer it or on the day after, and anything left over until the third day shall be burned up with fire.7If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is tainted; it will not be accepted, 8and everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned what is holy to the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from his people.
9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.
13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
19 “You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.
20“If a man lies sexually with a woman who is a slave, assigned to another man and not yet ransomed or given her freedom, a distinction shall be made. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free; 21but he shall bring his compensation to the LORD, to the entrance of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. 22And the priest shall make atonement for him with 5
the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven for the sin that he has committed.
23“When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten. 24And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD. 25But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you: I am the LORD your God.
26 “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. 27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. 28You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.
29 “Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity. 30 You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.
31 “Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.
32 “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
33 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
35 “You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. 36 You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. 37And you shall observe all my statutes and all my rules, and do them: I am the LORD.”
These verses speak of a spirit of generosity – notice they are descriptions as much as they are prescriptions here. “You shall…” is not only a command but it is also a description of what they will be now that they are connected to the Holy One who is YHWH.
“You shall be holy because I the LORD am holy…” Sounds rather simple, but what is holiness? A number of denominations in the in the US fall under the designation of “holiness bodies.” You most likely have some of them in your town and they include groups like the Church of God, the Nazarenes, and Missionary Alliance. The Pentecostals are an offshoot of them and often include this feature in their particularly Pentecostal theology, so the Assembly of God, the Four Square, and the Church of God of Prophecy to name a few. 6
The definition of holiness within these bodies is a holiness of life. No smoking, drinking, playing cards and the like. Too often Lutherans have snorted at this crass Pelagianism and to prove the point have merely gone our way sinning boldly and frequently. They do have something of a point, even if they don’t make it very well and do tend to mix up the subjects of their verbs with what should be the objects. The fact of the matter is that the holiness of God should be reflected in the way we live. The truth that we Lutherans are too often indistinguishable from the larger society in terms of the way we live our lives is to our shame and should be an occasion for holy terror on our part. The Lord is indeed a holy God and like Isaiah we are each a person of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips.
But what pietists of every stripe, and in truth, the holiness bodies are another form of pietism, have in common is that they do tend to get the subjects of their verbs mixed up. And we should note that this is easy to do. What is more, their piety in the first generation seems to be genuinely on track and a sincere and necessary reaction to the appalling lack of piety on the part of the rest of us. It is in the second, third and subsequent generations where pietism often runs into some serious theological trouble. Then it begins to become a rule, an institution of life, not a way of life. Then one’s rightness before God is not the source of the piety, but the object of the piety, the marker of one’s salvation.
God is addressing his Old Testament people and giving them a definition of who they are, not so much a set of rules for the living of life. They are a people who are different from the rest of the world, but that difference cannot be reduced to the keeping of rules. A simple look at the words of this text get you there as fast as any other method. Look at the repeated use of “I am the LORD.” Remember that when you see the word LORD in all cap’s like that it is actually the tetragrammaton, the holy name YHWH, usually pronounced Yahweh. This is the personal name of God, not a statement of his lordship, but of his person. That means it is a statement of his relationship with these people as their savior and the one who establishes this relationship of covenantal love. So, we are defined by our relationship to that person. The descriptors which come between these statements are first and foremost descriptions of God, and then because also bear that name, they become descriptions of us. Jesus is the one who is described best by these words, and because they describe him, he who took up our infirmities and who gave us his right-ness, we start to look more and more like him. This is what to expect when we are in that relationship, not what we must do to obtain or retain that relationship.
And of course, the descriptions are really descriptions of the summary which Jesus makes in the Gospels lesson. We are to love the Lord wholly, and the neighbor as self. Remember the collect here. This is not a commandment alone, it is the creative word of God. This is what he makes us to be.
Psalm 1 7
1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
3He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. 4The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
This is a marvelous psalm. If you want a fun exercise, just look at how the parallels are made throughout the text of this psalm. Especially notice the last couplet, the two lines at the end of the psalm. Notice that it is not the wicked and good man who are compared, but their way. It is not the wicked man who perishes, but his way. To the extent that the way of wickedness defines us we are destroyed with it, but it is the destruction of the way of wickedness and the LORD’s knowledge of the way of the righteous that is being contrasted here.
I Thessalonians 2:1-13
1For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
9For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10You are witnesses, 8
and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11For you know how, like a father with his children, 12we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
13And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!
17But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?20For you are our glory and joy.
This text is a precious picture of what the Gospel is talking about, isn’t it. Just look at the imagery which Paul uses to describe himself in the midst of the Thessalonians. He is a nursing mother with her children; he is a father exhorting his children. Paul here and in chapter 1 is almost effusive in his descriptions of his readers and his time among them. Acts tells us that Paul was driven out by a Jewish reaction after only three short weeks. Not exactly an auspicious start and one gets the impression that Paul thought that this ministry would wither and die after he left. Timothy’s report that they are well has brought Paul great joy as he considers them and their faith. But his need to write the letter is a need to correct a misconception they have and it comes out already in this text. Notice how he points to the fact that he worked while among them, presumably as a tent maker for that was his trade. This will be important later in this book and especially II Thessalonians when it comes out that some folks thing the end of the world is so near that they might as well not show up for work in the morning.
I think the reduction of the text to the first 13 verses is unfortunate. Look at Paul’s words at the end of the chapter for the real motive for their listening to what Paul says. They will be his boast on the last day. He is so proud of them that when he appears before the judgment seat of God he will point to them and say, “Look, these are my pride and joy!”
They now are imitators of Paul just as in their suffering they are imitators of the Christians in Judea. Imprinted with a pattern, that pattern now is taking hold in their lives. Paul is convinced and looks forward to the day when he will turn the attention of angels and principalities, 9
cherubim and seraphim to the folks of Thessalonica who first believed the words he preached there.
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, 44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’?
45If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
I really like the question and answer in the preceding story. Let me recap for you: The Sadducees try to trap Jesus with a really stupid trick question. This guy gets married and dies, his six brothers also, according to the laws of levirate marriage, also marry the woman. None of them has any children, whose wife will she be in the resurrection. It is one of those ‘what if…” questions you expect from a confirmation student. Jesus essentially informs them of the truth: The Sadducees are idiots of a sort. But Jesus’ answer is even more revealing. The whole thing rests on the tense of the verb. When Moses was at the burning bush, God said “I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” He did not say “I WAS…” God is the God of the living and since he refers to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the present tense, they must still be alive when Moses encountered that burning bush. That really ought to give us reason to read these texts very carefully. It is the proof-text for literal reading of the Bible.
This story which follows is also interesting. Here the Pharisees put their heads together. They really liked what he said to their competitors among the Sadducees. So they pose to him what looks like a more legitimate question, a question which had exercised their rabbis for some time. Which is the greatest commandment? Jesus actually takes a side here. His answer is not unique to Jesus, but had been proposed by one group of Pharisees just prior to Jesus ministry. So this is not an answer without a precedent, as some of them have been from Jesus. This is actually one of the options they were considering. Sometimes, you see, there are right answers. Sometimes there are right ways to read God’s word and there are wrong ways. I have to say that more to myself 10
once in a while than to anyone else because the world of academia can often fall into a relativistic trap. It is true that words never can express God fully and so we have to always be suspect of them. But there sometimes when God has revealed a right answer, and even if it is not an answer which I want to hear, it is still the right one.
Then Jesus stumps them with a question about the messiah, obviously something they had not thought about before. In the Jewish world was one in which being older than someone made them greater than the younger person. The idea of greater and older are all tied up here. Herb Hoefer tells me that this is true among the people of India where there are specific forms of respect which one ought to pay to someone who is older than yourself, even if that distinction is measured in a months not years. So you could easily see a 45 year old man referring to a colleague with an unreturned term of respect, somewhat like “Sir” just because the other guy is two months older than he is. The current disrespect and indifference to age which western culture evidences is relatively new and limited to our culture. (As I grow older myself I come to regret this crazy innovation more and more!)
What to make of this text though? I have often thought that we all mis-number the Ten Commandments. We have been in a dispute with the Reformed about what is the numbering since the days of Luther. The problem is that there are only nine commandments. You have to split one. We, along with the Roman Catholics split the last one to make two coveting commandments at the end. The Reformed split the first one to make two commandments which revolve around idolatry. That is why Romans Catholics and Lutherans can be very guilty about feelings, and Reformed frequently have no statues or pictures of God in Church.
I think we both got it wrong. The Bible doesn’t talk about Ten Commandments, it talks about ten ‘words” or things. The Hebrew word is actually “dabarim.” That term means simply idea or thing or even sentence. I think the first word is actually the first verse of Exodus 20 – I am the Lord your God who brought out of Egypt. I believe that is the first commandment. The second commandment is “you shall have no other Gods.” That makes much more sense when we think that the God who makes the exclusive claim has just saved them from slavery and genocide in Egypt.
The commandment is not easy to make into Gospel for our people. But the real gospel is found in the Commander, not the commandment. He has rescued us from sin and death, he desires the relationship with his broken creation and sent his Son to re-establish that relationship, that love, which the commandment would demand of us, but which we cannot fulfill. He has poured out the Holy Spirit in our Baptism and on Pentecost.
Jesus stumps them at the end of this. They don’t know what to do with his question. How can the father, David, who must be older, call this son of David, “Lord?” This is a logical conundrum and they don’t have the answer. So, in the face of his superior knowledge and rabbinic questioning, they retreat, afraid to ask him any more questions. Of course, they won’t be afraid 11
to kill him on Friday. Their fear is not of him but that he will make fools of them. They fear the opinion of the crowds, not Whom they ought to fear.
You might preach the sermon we suggested recently – Jesus is the master off the situation. But it also might be fun to run with this in terms of Jesus breaking down the old boundaries, the rules say that we are sinners, it is true. But Jesus ignores those rules and dies for us anyway.
1. I have not measured up to God’s holiness. My sins of thought, word, and deed bear a terrible witness against me.
2. God is indeed holy. Terrible for the sinner to behold. The Pharisees begin to see that in their attempts to ensnare Jesus. They have just begun to scratch the surface of who he is and they retreat from before him.
3. And so God’s commandment becomes doubly terrible to me. First it is a command, then it is a command I have broken, now I hear again the command to love him and all I can naturally feel toward God is fear and loathing. He is my judge and the one who lays such burdens on me.
4. The sin which infects my life has also become a scandal to my non-Christian neighbor who has another reason now not to believe.
5. And when they do come, do I really want new converts to “become imitators” of the folks who are already here, of even of me? There were times in my ministry where I almost said to new members and adult converts, “Stay away, lest you become like them.”
6. I don’t have any answers. I must admit I don’t have the answers for my own life, let alone the problems of the world. I fall victim to the silly and petty sins which I should be able to conquer, but I cannot. How can I look upon a broken and dying world and not despair? Shall I close the doors of my home and my church and keep the evil out? It seeps under the door with every funeral. Shall I pretend it is not really there? The face which stares back from the mirror, a little older and a little grayer every year keeps reminding me of its hold on me. I don’t have answers for my own problems.
7. The world around us is profoundly broken and in need of the healing which God works on his creation. But when I turn around and beseech him for help, he bids me to turn myself and go and help them, to model his holiness, his perfection, and see what happens. Like disciples with five loaves of bread and two small fish I face a multitude of need and don’t have what it will take. Telling five thousand hungry people in that situation that it is time to eat takes a great deal of courage.
1. The cross is the place in which my life really starts, not where it ends. Rome thought of it as an ending point for criminals, but for me it is beginning of life. From it flows the waters through which Christ claimed me in my baptism, there were broken the body and blood which sustain me for my journey. This all starts with the cross where my guilt and my sins were expunged from my life.
2. The holiness of God now does not terrify me. I respect it, I am in awe of it, but I am no longer rendered stupid in my fear of it. It is not only still a little frightening, but is also the source of strength and power for the life to which he calls me.
3. With the psalmist now I can proclaim my love of the Law. Like a father who buys a gift for his children or a lover for his beloved, I love my Savior. His command has created the thing which he commanded me to have. Because he commanded this in his own self-sacrificial act of love.
4. And now, in ways that may halt and stumble, but which do indeed make some progress, my life does become a witness to my neighbor. When I am weakest is often when my neighbor sees God’s strength. How often haven’t we seen a Christian face cancerous death or hardship and in their courage and grace haven’t we been strengthened and edified?
5. The collection of sinners which is the congregation of which I am a member whom I serve is not called holy because its people are perfect. It is called holy first because God has made each of them so in the blood of Jesus and because it is a fellowship in which sins are forgiven and new beginnings in Jesus are made every day.
6. Jesus stumps the Pharisees. He has answers to questions which we have not even considered. He has resources and solutions which can boggle our minds.
7. And so, we can turn our eyes outside ourselves and see a world of broken and sinful humanity. The needs are enormous and my resources look so thin. But the eyes of faith look also to what Jesus has already done in my life, the love he has shown me in my own forgiveness and I look upon that world very differently. I can love that neighbor just as he loved me, for though I once loathed myself, now he has declared me exceptionally valuable. I once loathed them too, but now, with his redemptive voice echoing in my ear, I can have my loathing turned to love, the same love I have for him.
1. The Apple (or Acorn) doesn’t fall that far from the tree. (OT and Epistle – That the Spirit of God would create/nourish within the hearts of the hearers a genuine desire to be and act like God, holy in word and deed, moved by his great and fatherly love for us.)
When I was a child people used to use this proverb about someone when they resembled their parents, and most of the time the comparison was not to the better traits of the 13
parents. God’s children, however, as children always are, and as Paul notes in the Epistle lesson for today, are always imitators of their parents. If you have children you might have been embarrassed to hear your less than ideal words spoken by your children at inopportune moments. Our God has done marvelous things. Just as a toddler cannot hope to lift the heavy load his father carries, I cannot lift all the loads which my heavenly father has born, especially the load of my sin. But that does not preclude my imitation. I may not be able to bear the sins of the world, but I can forgive a neighbor. I may not be able to feed the multitudes, but I can feed the hungry man I see today. I may not be able to call into being things that are not, but I can come to a problem hopeful and expectant, knowing that the one can do these things has promised to work through me. We do not look like God because of our hair color or our height or any other physical attribute, but we do look like God in his love, his graciousness, his mercy, his compassion when we live out the transformation which he works in us through His Son’s death for my sins, and His Spirit’s indwelling love. In the middle of a contest in which he will give his life for the world, Jesus calls each of us to lives which live with his sort of love. He has been doing this in one form or another for a very long time, from the days of Moses in Leviticus, up through the preaching of Paul, right up to this very moment in which you hear these words. How will that look in your life?
2. True Holiness (OT Lesson – That the Spirit of God would move the hearer to lives of true holiness.)
God’s command and call to be His people today is to be holy. It is scary thing to be holy. You would think that it would be a sweet and a good thing, and it is, but it is also frightening. For the holiness of God is not found primarily in moral rectitude and the piety of living right. It does result in such a life, but that is more fruit than it is the essence of holiness. God’s holiness is expressed in his mercy and his love in a powerful way to us and through us. By his Son’s death, applied to us in Baptism and Word, in Sacrament and the fellowship which that Sacrament creates, God has rendered us holy. And now that holiness has taken up residence in our lives. That’s why we call him the Holy Spirit, after all. And that Spirit confronts the same sin in this world that he has confronted in our lives with the same potent mix of the holy, mercy, and grace. He won’t let us ignore or run from the evil, anymore than he ran from the evil of my heart. God’s holiness deals with evil. In this time, as we wait for that last day, he deals in forgiveness and love. You would think being holy would make me judgmental and smug, quite the opposite, genuine holiness reflects God’s gracious forgiveness of sins and the true humbleness of heart which let Jesus hold the child on his lap and did not keep him from the lowliest of people. I might find myself touching the leper, rubbing elbows with the prostitute, sharing a meal with today’s equivalent of a tax collector. It is the greatest commandment, the operating principle of the Kingdom of God – Love. It is written all over the injunctions of Leviticus and all over Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah for us. He 14
desires mercy, not sacrifice, love, not obedience. Frightening and beautiful at the same time.
3. In Jesus’ Hands (Gospel lesson – That the Spirit of God would relieve the fears of the hearer, we are incompetent but Jesus is smart and capable beyond anything we can imagine. We can trust him.)
This Sermon really doesn’t so much look to the answer or question of Jesus for information, but to the fact that he was simply overwhelmingly more capable than the religious leaders of his day. Jesus is just good at what he does.
And we want to remember today what he does. He spoke those words just before Good Friday. When he goes to that cross it is not as some victim, some loser whom the Romans stomped on, but he goes as the chosen One of God, the Logos, the Son, whom the Father sent to contend with death and sin for a broken world which was enslaved to sin. Jesus bested his enemies the Pharisees today, but his victory was really also part of his grand plan to defeat our implacable foes of sin and death and Devil.
These Pharisees would soon have him killed, but that was not because they beat Jesus, but because he was about the Fatherly ordained task of dealing with sin.
Jesus is good at what he does, he is good at what he dies, He is good at what he rises to be as well.
4. Jesus the Master and Commander (Gospel – That the Spirit of God would create in the hearer the relationship of Love which defines the Christian as God’s man or woman.)
Similar to the second sermon above, this sermon will first lay the command on folks and then find the Gospel in this impossible situation not in the keeping of the commandment but in the Commander himself. His lordship over the Christian is established in the great salvation event which is his passion, death, and resurrection.
We thought that the “easy button” commercials might be of help here, but one has to avoid the old cheap grace trap. Forgiveness without repentance and contrition is not really in the end much comfort or much motivation to be a better human being. It ends up being simply a crutch to maintain the status quo and not a very good one at that. God will upend that status quo. That is what Jesus is doing to the Pharisees of his day and he will come and upend our world as well if we would think that we can put God into a box of our making. He is not safe, he has rather sharp claws and the Christian who forgets that can find himself in some rather frightening situations.
But at the same time, we don’t posit that keeping the rules, even these highest of commandments is really the answer either. We simply cannot. God’s love is far too pure and high for us to attain. We are hopelessly mired in the uglies of our sin. 15
The real hope is found in the one who issues the command to us. He first gave those commandments from Sinai’s mount immediately after he rescued his people from Pharaoh’s Egypt, from slavery, genocide, and misery. Likewise Jesus issues this command in the midst of Holy Week, when he goes to a cross to rescue all of humanity from sin, death, and devil. The command to love God wholly, and to love neighbor as self, is issued by the One who wholly gives himself to his creation. This Jesus does not expect us to get this right before he loves us, rather he loves us so empowered by His gift and Spirit we can get this right.
I grieve over my sins and failures to love. I want to do better, and my failures mark me as one who has a real problem. My hope, prayer, and joy is that Jesus is not a failure, but a great success. He has loved me.