SERMON FOR THE 6TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 7-8-2018
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
While the number of believers in Christ has declined sharply in recent years (in the West), the percentage of folks who believe in some sort of afterlife has actually increased. The vast majority of people believe in life after death. They also agree that there is at least some sort of righteousness required to enter into heaven. The thinking goes, generally if people are decent and nice, and not terrorists, or child molesters, or murderers, they automatically go somewhere wonderful when this life expires.
If I am successful in the eyes of the world, If I stay out of jail, or public sin. If I can send children to college and remain on the church register, then surely God would be impressed with that. He has to. I did my best!
The Gospel this morning comes down on us, like flashing lightning and roaring thunder. Like what was commanded on Mt. Sinai, Jesus words sound forth like a trumpet blast. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. With those words the earth quakes and blasts all human righteousness to sand before him. With these words, Christ hurls to the ground all of our deluded thoughts that we can stand before God by our own power, our strength and merit. And there is only one alternative to the kingdom of heaven – the kingdom of hell.
Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called the least (that is, nothing) in the kingdom of heaven. Shutout. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
You have heard that is 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.” Our Lord warns us that if we insult someone or think evil of them we liable to the hell of fire.
There is this ridiculous caricature of Jesus in our culture, in which God is mean in the Old Testament and then Jesus comes along, pats you on the back, and just loosens all those old strict standards up.
No. Read the Gospels. Jesus outdoes Moses! Jesus preaches the law in a devastating way. He’s saying don’t think you can measure your Christianity, your standing before God because you say you love your family. You say you haven’t murdered anyone or you’ve given the appearance you’ve been faithful to your wife or tolerated your parents.
God’s law is a spiritual matter. It’s not about your outward show. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve fooled the world. It’s about the heart. The law demands your heart. It demands your thoughts, and words, and deeds. It goes much deeper, to the inside. And that sort of preaching is convicting.
So you don’t measure things up by how decent you’ve been to your family. Things are measured by how you’ve extended yourself in love to the black sheep. It’s doesn’t matter that you’re nice to people who like you. Evil and ungodly people, well, they do that too. Things are measured and meted out by how you treat your enemies. So how have your prayers been for Islamic terrorists and your political opponents? What about your difficult coworkers or demanding boss who drives you crazy? How are your thoughts, and prayers, and love for them?
No Jesus does not relax any of the commandments. Just later in Matthew’s Gospel he’ll rip the pharisees up and down for giving the appearance of a godly life and neglecting the fourth commandment in the care of elderly parents. So what will we do when parents age and need help, lest they become an unwanted burden on our lifestyle? Why not wait upon them, and return the love we received when we were fed, had diapers changed, and ministered to with hymns, and prayers, and love?
In the realm of the sixth commandment and adultery. How easy to condemn Harvey Weinstein: a married man who took advantage of his power and wealth and used the casting couch for sexual exploit. He’ll get years, maybe even life in prison. But that’s easy time compared with the threat and judgment of Christ: who warns us, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has committee adultery already in his heart.”
No. Jesus does not relax any of those commandments. He will not abolish them. He will not smile, and wink and look the other way. Jesus said “On the day of judgment, people will give account for every careless word they speak.” Jesus doesn’t say, “hey just do you best, you’re only human.” Rather, He says “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect… For I tell you, unless your righteousness and exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees, you will never the kingdom of heaven.”
Should we despair? Yes! Despair of yourself. But by no means despair of Christ! Article 4 of the Augsburg Confession, the founding document of our Lutheran churches, lays this out clearly. Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works.
This is the central truth that the pharisees, and Roman catholic doctrine in our day gets so wrong. They misdiagnose the fatal illness of original sin and the severity of sin in our lives. They imagine that one can cooperate with God and earn his salvation through incremental moral improvements and somehow appease God’s wrath by his own striving.
Now to be sure, the law is good. It reveals the righteousness that God demands, but Holy Scripture and our own conscience bears witness that we cannot accomplish it. The blessed St. Paul has instructed us in this when he writes in Galatians “If the law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.” But rather it shows us our death and does not make us alive!
Rather people are freely justified (that is declared righteous) for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight.
So while this unbelieving world, through conscience knows something of God’s existence, and something about righteousness – it knows nothing about who and what that righteousness is. Therefore, Christ lays this righteousness before us this morning. This Gospel is filled with devastating law – enough to shatter any self-righteous pharisee, but it is eclipsed by comforting promises of God in Christ Jesus. Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. Not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.
There is a saying that if you want a job done right well then you better do it yourself. So God did for us what none of us could do for ourselves. He perfectly fulfilled the law. He trusted in His Father above all things. He honored his parents, even being Lord, he submitted to their authority, and saw that his mother was cared for in the hour of his death. He never hurt or harmed his neighbor, but loved them to the end, giving his life sacrificially for the life of the world. His heart was pure and forgiving toward his bride the church.
He was obedient to God and fulfilled the commandments – he lived in perfect conformity with God’s will. Loved and trusted God because you didn’t. Loved and cherished earthly parents perfectly because you didn’t. Loved his neighbor in body and soul, because you walked on by and couldn’t stomach the inconvenience. Faithful and pure to his bride, the church, because your heart was nearly destroyed by lust and unchastity. Not an iota, not a dot, until all is accomplished means that Jesus crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s to win for you salvation.
And he didn’t just fulfill the law, but the paid the penalty for lawbreakers like us. “Thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness” He said, when He was baptized. “It is finished, it is fulfilled,” he cried, in his agonizing death upon the cross. On the evening of his resurrection he explained to the Emmaus disciples that Moses and the Prophets and all the scriptures must all be “fulfilled.” And their hearts burned within them as they realized all things truly were “fulfilled,” when they recognized the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread – his real presence in his holy supper – a meal that forgives and strengthens.
Dear Christians, in Jesus, you have a righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and pharisees! You have the very righteousness of Christ given to you as a gift, in baptism, in which you were robed in the innocence and blessedness and beauty of Christ. You have been baptized into his death. You have been raised in his resurrection. Therefore, consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God. Even now you walk in newness of life through that word of absolution and forgiveness – and where there is forgiveness you know what that all entails – it’s resurrection and newness of life – it’s eternity with God – and holy love toward one another.
Paul is reminding us in the epistle this morning to not be ignorant of what took place in our baptisms. Should we sin, that grace may abound? How foolish, how stupid, he says! You’re not a slave to sin anymore! You’re royal heirs of the kingdom of God – you’ve been claimed as holy sons and holy daughters by your father in heaven. Live accordingly as one’s who are free – free to bask in the love of God and live before Him in righteousness and purity forever.
Repent and believe in the Gospel. Believe that Jesus has paid your ransom price to the last penny and then some. And not just that. But he’s filled and credited to your account his obedience, his holiness, and his righteousness. Believe that in his supper he strengthens you with life giving body. He tips to you a chalice filled with his forgiving blood – that refreshes and purifies you. All so that you can stand up in the resurrection of all flesh on the day of judgment and be called great in the kingdom of heaven. In the name of Jesus. Amen. May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Prayer of the Church
Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
Heavenly Father, hear the voice of our pleas for mercy. Your Law is good and wise, but we confess that we have not kept it. Forgive us our sins, help us to do better and keep us united to Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, that we might remain clothed in His righteousness, which exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Gracious Father, send forth laborers into Your harvest, and sustain those whom You have sent, that the Word of reconciliation may be proclaimed to all people and the Gospel preached in all the world. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Loving Father, it is out of Your love and wisdom that You provide us vocations in which to work and serve. Give us joy in our vocations, whatever they may be, and fill us with Your Spirit, that we would strive to be faithful and diligent in our work and service, for the benefit and blessing of our neighbors. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Almighty Father, You resist the proud and give grace to the humble. Grant us true humility after the likeness of Your only Son, that we may never be arrogant and prideful and thus provoke Your wrath, but in all lowliness be made partakers of the gifts of Your grace. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Merciful Father, hear those who cry out to You for help in their time of need, especially our homebound members, Carol, Dorothea, Betty, Doris, Cliff and Carol, Teresa, Ethel, Paul, and Lou. According to Your gracious will, heal their infirmities or give them strength to bear all their crosses in Christian patience. Above all, sustain them in the faith, that they would be comforted in the forgiveness, life and salvation they have in Jesus Christ. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Holy Father, bless those who come to the holy altar this day to receive the gift of Your Son’s very body and blood for the forgiveness of their sins. Through this Holy Sacrament, strengthen and preserve them in body and soul unto life everlasting. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Heavenly Father, we give You thanks for all the faithful who have gone before us in the hope of eternal life through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, and now rest from their labors, especially for Maude Payne. Sustain us in that same hope of eternal life through Christ, that we would join them in the feast that never ends when Jesus returns in great glory on the Last Day. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.