Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany

Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
February 27, 2011
Text: Matt. 6:24-34

Beloved in the Lord, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24; ESV). You see, it’s a question of priorities, and more importantly, it’s a question of who or what you fear, love, and trust above all things. What master do you serve? It is certainly not a sin to have money or do business. But on the other hand, no matter how much we have, how quickly money and possessions become our gods. The rich trust in their money and are anxious to keep it and make more. The poor despair because they have no money. Either way it is idolatry. You are serving mammon as your master. And as Jesus makes clear this morning, you can’t serve both God and mammon. We must ever keep in mind St. Paul’s warning that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:10). We must ever be on our guard against this misdirected love, and pray that by His grace the Holy Spirit would keep us in the one true faith of Jesus Christ. For this misdirected love is a love and worship of God’s gift rather than the God who has given it. It is idolatry, beloved. Repent.

How much of our anxiety in this present earthly life is due to our false worship and misdirected love of mammon? Notice the anxieties that Jesus singles out in the Gospel lesson. What will you eat? What will you drink? What will you wear? And of course, the question behind them all is this: How will you pay for the necessities of life? When we become anxious about our earthly life, our possessions, our money, we betray that we worship the false-god Mammon. This is why anxiety and worry is sinful. Because it is idolatrous. It is a faith issue. Do you believe and trust that the God who, without any help from you or anyone or anything else, graciously created you, the God who, without any help from you or anyone or anything else, redeemed you, the God who, without any help from you or anyone or anything else, continues to sanctify you and keep you and preserve you in body and soul… Do you believe and trust that this God will provide for your bodily needs? Or do you need to supplement Him with your own works and with another god (or other gods)? When you spend this life seeking and pursuing earthly riches and comfort first and foremost, when you work all your life only for the security of this earthly life, when you store up for yourself treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, you have answered the question. You have shown that you believe God needs your help. You have shown that you fear, love, and trust in mammon above all things. You’re not alone. It comes to us fallen humans naturally. But that doesn’t change the severity of this sin. Repent, and trust in God alone. He has promised to provide for you, and He cannot lie. Furthermore, He has staked the blood of His own dear Son on it. You were bought with a price, the death of God, Jesus. Never think for a moment that God doesn’t mean what He says when He promises that He loves you and He will take care of you.

This sure and certain promise makes for a priority shift in the life of the Christian. More than that, it defines Who alone we are to worship and serve. Jesus makes a glorious promise to which we should cling in faith with all our might: “(S)eek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). God comes first. He’s the priority. He alone is the object of our worship. God is not unaware of your earthly needs. After all, He feeds the birds of the air. They have neither care nor worry. They receive their daily bread from God. And are you not of more value to God than they? Jesus didn’t die for the birds of the air. He died for you. So also God clothes the lilies of the field, beautiful flowers endowed by their Creator with more splendor than King Solomon in all his majesty. Yet the flowers are here today and tomorrow are cast into the fire. Jesus didn’t die for the lilies. He died for you. He loves you and has given birds and flowers for your benefit and enjoyment. He has redeemed you to enjoy the gifts of His creation, to love your neighbor, and to worship Him alone. Your heavenly Father knows that you need to eat and to drink and to be clothed. But while the unbelievers run after all these things, working hard to earn them and serving them as their gods, you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and let God worry about the rest. He will add all these things to you, because He loves you, and He has only your good in mind. And He alone is wise enough to know what you really need, what is really good for you. He loves you more than you love yourself. Trust in Him. Place yourself in His hands. Do not be anxious. You don’t have to be. You belong to the Maker of heaven and earth.

The kingdom of God, by the way… that’s Jesus. And His righteousness… that’s justification. Righteousness and justification are the same word in Greek. So what Jesus is saying here is that instead of being so concerned with the cares of this earthly life, concentrate instead on Him. Trust Him. Receive His gifts in His Word and His Sacraments. Believe in Him. And guess what you have when you have faith in Him. You have His righteousness. You are justified. And if you are justified, what else do you really need? You know the end of the story. You’re forgiven of all your sins. You’re saved. You get to go to heaven. You will be raised from the dead on the Last Day. You have eternal life. “Only those who live in the certainty that their lives are ultimately provided for, that is, those who live by faith, can tolerate the finiteness of the world and time.”[1] But when you live in this faith, though all things around you are perishing, including your earthly mammon, you continue in the joy and confidence of the risen and reigning Christ and the God who loves you and will never forsake you. His kingdom and His righteousness are in no way dependent on mammon. For this life, it is enough simply to commend each day to God, asking each day for our daily bread, and letting tomorrow be anxious about itself. After all, tomorrow may never come. But if it does, God will be with you on that day as well, providing all that you need.

These are anxious times, no doubt. No one knows what the economy will do. The recent events in the Middle East make one wonder if we’ll be able to afford fuel for our vehicles tomorrow. And our politicians don’t seem to have any answers. What a great time to be a Christian. Because a Christian knows (though he needs to be reminded every day) that we put not our trust in princes or presidents (Ps. 146:3). There is no salvation in them. We trust in God. He alone can provide for our daily needs. The president certainly can’t. The Republicans can’t. The Democrats can’t. The unions can’t and the TEA Party can’t. Nor can we really provide for ourselves, even though we think otherwise. Only God can provide for our daily needs. And the Christian knows, too (though he needs to be reminded also of this every day), that there is a profound difference between what we need for the sustenance of this life and what we want and desire for our comfort and amusement. What do we really need for our bodies? Jesus says: Food, drink, clothing. You see, everything else, all the other blessings, our great abundance, God gives us in addition to our actual bodily needs. When in our fleshly blindness we run after all of these other things, we need to repent and turn again to the God who so generously provides for us. Finally, the Christian knows (though once again, he needs to reminded of this every day), that his earthly goods are not for him to store up selfishly for himself. He is to use all that he has in love and service of the neighbor. He is to give to the one who lacks. God would provide for your neighbor through your hands. Therefore He blesses you with more than you need, so that you can bless your neighbor through your abundance. Because in seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, the stuff of this earthly life really doesn’t matter all that much. It can’t make you happy and it can’t save you. Only Jesus can. And Jesus does.

What a freeing word this is that our Savior speaks today. Do not be anxious. Be free from anxiety. You are free from your slavery to mammon. You are free from the chains that bind you to this life of death. You are free from sin. In Christ, you have died to your former slavery. In Christ, you are risen to a new life of freedom in His kingdom and His righteousness. What a relief. What great comfort. Come what may: economic depression, war and violence, riots and revolution, great personal loss, even death itself, you are Christ’s. You are in the hands of God. Your heavenly Father knows what you need. And He delivers. Rest in His gracious providence. Live in His gracious care. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Oswald Bayer, Freedom in Response (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) p. 58. Thanks to the Rev. Christopher L. Raffa for this quote.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
February 20, 2011
Text: Matt. 5:38-48

One thing for which there is no room in the Christian life is the holding of a grudge. There is no room for revenge. There is no room for harboring hatred and evil thoughts against your neighbor, even if that neighbor has wronged you. The Christian life is your vocation in Baptism, all the relationships to which God has called you. He gave you your vocation when He placed His Name upon you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the water and the Word. And that vocation is to be salt and light to the world, to confess Christ, to love and serve your neighbor, that your neighbor may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16). It is never your vocation to hate. It is never your vocation to harbor evil thoughts. It is never your vocation to bear a grudge. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you,” says Jesus, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (vv. 38-41; ESV). Far from retaliation and revenge, far from hatred and evil thoughts, the Christian’s vocation is to take up his cross and follow Jesus, to die to self, to suffer evil, to offer yourself up as a sacrifice, a sacrifice even and especially for the sake of the one who is perpetrating evil against you. Your vocation in Christ is not to hurt or harm your neighbor in his body, nor to embitter his life, but to help and support him in every physical need. Give to the needy. Give to the one who asks, the one who begs. Do not refuse the one who would borrow from you (v. 42). Give generously. Die to self. Die for the sake of the other. It’s a tall order. It’s the Law. Once again, you and I stand condemned. We say with St. Paul, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).

Thanks be to God, Jesus is not first and foremost preaching about us, but about Himself. As we’ve seen again and again in our walk through the Sermon on the Mount over the past several weeks, the sermon is not first and foremost about us, and it’s not at all about any supposed righteousness we bring to the table in our dealings with God. It’s about Jesus. It’s about His righteousness. It’s about His fulfilling of the Law of God for us, in our place, for our salvation. He does not resist those who do evil to Him. He gives Himself willingly into their hands. He is beaten, and mocked, and spat upon. He gives His back to those who strike, and His cheeks to those who pull out the beard. He hides not His face from disgrace and spitting (Is. 50:6). Like and lamb that is led to the slaughter, like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opens not His mouth (53:7). He does not revile. He does not curse. They force Him to carry His cross to the hill of execution, to the place of a skull. Willingly, He trod the path to Golgotha. They divide His garments among them and cast lots for His clothing. Naked, He hangs upon the cross for their salvation, for your salvation, for my salvation, for the salvation of His enemies. You see, He loves His enemies. He loves the Roman soldiers who drive the nails into His flesh. He loves you, He loves me, even as we pierce Him with our disobedience and rebellion. He prays for those who persecute Him, for the soldiers, for you, for me: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Thus He, Jesus, is the perfect, obedient Son of our Father in heaven. He sees His Father make His sun to rise on the evil and the good together, send rain on the just and the unjust (v. 45). As the Father has mercy, so the Son has mercy. He has mercy unto death. The mercy of the Father begets the mercy of the Son. And the mercy of the Son begets mercy in you.

Because this text is first and foremost about Jesus, it is now also about you. Because you are in Christ, and Christ is in you. Your vocation in Christ is to love your neighbor as yourself. Your vocation in Christ is to love even and especially your enemy. Your vocation in Christ is to pray for your neighbor. Your vocation in Christ is to pray even and especially for those who persecute you. Your sinful flesh wants revenge, to give your enemy what’s coming to him. Your vocation in Christ is to crucify that sinful flesh. Your vocation in Christ is to walk daily in your Baptism into Christ, which means daily drowning the Old Adam in you with all sins and evil desires, so that the new creation in Christ Jesus emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. St. Paul writes, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh… if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:16-19).

Reconciliation with a neighbor who has wronged you is hard. Forgiveness is hard. Loving your neighbor is hard enough, much less your enemy. It’s hard to get into the habit of praying for those you love, much less praying for those who persecute you. Submitting to one who wants to do you evil is hard. Because you still have the old sinful nature to contend with. Outside of Christ this would be impossible, but in Christ you are a new creation. So how do you do it? Where do you get the power to forgive, to turn the other cheek, to love your enemies, to bless those who persecute you? Beloved in the Lord, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, including the sins of holding grudges, seeking revenge, making enemies, refusing to love your enemies, refusing to bless those who persecute you, refusing to forgive. As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. You’re released from sin’s tyranny. You’re free. Go give that freedom to those whom you’ve bound in their sin against you. You can’t keep this freedom to yourself. If you do, you’ll be enslaved again. Believe the Good News. Go tell others about it. Spread it. It starts with loving your enemies as Christ loves you, forgiving their trespasses against you, and praying for them. It’s such a struggle, and it will be throughout this earthly life, until the life to come when you’re completely delivered from the sinful nature. It takes practice. But you’re forgiven when you fail. So keep on loving. Keep on praying. Keep on walking in the Gospel of freedom. Only the Gospel can give you the power to love your enemies and forgive them. The commandment can give no such power. Only the reality of what God has done in Christ in reconciling you to Himself can give you the power to go and be reconciled with others, and to love them even when they refuse that reconciliation.

The reconciliation you have with God in Christ is your healing from death. That reconciliation with God makes you whole, complete. That’s what it means to be a new creation in Christ Jesus. There is this glaring weak translation in the last verse of our Gospel lesson this morning that could really trip you up. The ESV says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). First of all, Jesus doesn’t say you “must be,” but you “will be.” In other words, this is not a commandment, but a promise. And the word that is translated here as “perfect,” while it can certainly mean that, is the same word Jesus speaks from the cross when He says, “It is finished” (John 19:30). It is accomplished. It is completed. Your salvation is complete. Jesus has reached His goal. So perhaps this verse would read better this way: “You therefore will be complete, as (or maybe better, because) your heavenly Father is complete.” You are complete, whole, in Christ, because in Him all your sins that have torn you apart and sentenced you to death are forgiven. And you are a new creation in Christ Jesus. And part of that wholeness, that completeness, is that you no longer allow the sins of others to tear you apart. You forgive them. You love them. You pray for them. You suffer all, even death for them. Because in Christ, you live. It is finished. Complete. Whole, with the wholeness of the Father.

Beloved in the Lord, knowing this wholeness that is yours in Christ Jesus, rejoice. You are poor in spirit, but yours is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3). That is to say, yours is the very righteousness of Christ, and the forgiveness of sins is yours to enjoy and yours to give. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
February 13, 2011
Text: Matthew 5:21-37

You see, what Jesus has done here is cast every last one of us into hell. That is what the Law does. The Law of God is good and wise. It sets God’s will before our eyes. In the Law, God shows us how we should live as His people, what it means to live the Christian life. God would not have us think or speak evil of our neighbors, much less murder them. Rather, He would have us help and support our neighbor in every physical need, and love our neighbors as ourselves. God would not have us look lustfully at another, especially one who is not our spouse, much less fornicate or commit adultery or dissolve a marriage. Rather, God would have us lead sexually pure and decent lives in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other. God would not have us give false testimony, go against our word even if it simply be yes and no, much less swear falsely, whether by His Name, or by heaven and earth, or even by our own life. Rather, the Christian’s yes should be yes, his no, no. But you see, we have not kept his Law of God, so good and wise. In our sinful flesh, we cannot. Jesus makes clear to us here that there is no getting around His righteous and holy Law. There are no loopholes. The Law always accuses. The Law kills. The Law damns. “The Law is good; but since the fall Its holiness condemns us all; It dooms us for our sins to die And has no pow’r to justify” (LSB 579:5).

You may say in all truthfulness that you have never murdered anyone, as in actually, physically, and wrongfully taking the life of another human being. But Jesus does not let you off the hook here. For God is not interested only in your outward behavior. He is interested in your heart. And your heart has murdered many times over. For you have harbored unrighteous anger against your brother. You have insulted him. You have called him a fool, treated him as of no account, dismissed him as a non-person. Do you deny it? Have you not cursed the fool who cut you off in traffic? Have you not directed your piercing stare upon the cashier who has so inconvenienced you by scanning the groceries of the person in front of you too slowly? But of course, it strikes closer to home than that. You have said things in anger to your spouse that no human being should ever have to hear from another. You have humiliated your children by taking your frustrations with yourself out on them. You have dishonored your parents and other authorities. You have spoken evil of your fellow Christians behind their backs. In your heart, you have murdered those closest to you. Repent.

As far as looking at others with lustful intent, this seems to be the main agenda of our culture, or at least its main distraction. And we all get sucked into it. Someone said that the eyes are the windows of the soul, and that is true in this sense… Whatever you allow to flow in through the eyes affects your soul for the good or the bad. You seek images that fill you with lustful intent in television and movies, on the internet, and in gaudy romance novels. You cast lustful glances at your co-workers or your peers at school. Your eyes immodestly scan the crowd at the shopping mall or at the beach to settle upon someone who looks desirable. We should all be walking around without any eyes. But of course, our eyes don’t cause us to sin. Our heart does. If we gouged out our eyes, we would find that we are still just as corrupt as we were before. If we lopped off our hands every time we used them for sin, not only would every last one of us be without hands, we would find that we were just as sinful as when we had our hands. Finally we would run out of body parts to mutilate, because the problem ultimately is not our eyes or our hands, but our hearts. For from within, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19; ESV). What we need to cut out is our heart. We need a heart transplant. Our hearts are no good. Our hearts need to be cut out of us and nailed to the cross. The Spirit of God must create in us a new heart. This is what happens in Baptism, and in our daily return to Baptism in repentance. Repent, beloved. Confess your sins. Put off the old sinful flesh. Turn to God in Christ for forgiveness. His blood covers you. In Him you are forgiven of your murder and adultery and false witness and every other sin. He paid the penalty for your sins on the cross. He gives you His heart.

For He has fulfilled the Law for you. He did not murder. Not even with His lips. Not even in His heart. When He was beaten, He did not strike back, though at any moment He could have appealed to His Father and twelve legions of angels would have been at His disposal (Matt. 26:53). He did not commit adultery. He did not fornicate. He did not cast His eyes impurely on anyone. He did not lust. Though He loved all, He loved with a pure and chaste love, a love that sacrifices all selfish pleasure for the sake of its object, for those who are loved. This is a love that led Jesus not into impure relationships, but to the cross, for you, for me. He did not divorce His unfaithful wife, the Church, you and me. Instead He died for her, and lives for her, to present her holy and blameless to His Father, washed clean by His blood. And Jesus has never borne false testimony. In His trial before the Sanhedrin, and again before Pontius Pilate, He only told the truth. And in His Word, He speaks the absolute truth to you and me. You and I cannot even trust our own word. Thus we should not swear in untrue or unimportant matters, but only when the good of our neighbor demands it. And when we do swear in such situations, we must be very careful to keep our word. But Jesus, who is the Truth, does not lie. He cannot. His Word is absolutely trustworthy. We can believe it, trust it, and steak our very eternal lives on it. Our Lord Jesus has fulfilled the whole Law of God for us, in our place, for our salvation.

And this morning, He speaks the Law to us for our good. He kills us, that He may make us alive. Jesus does not preach us all into hell this morning because He is mean. He does so because He loves us. He preaches us into hell, because that is where we must be if He is to lead us out of hell and into heaven by His Gospel. We must realize our utter depravity, our sheer inability to keep the Law, the absolute futility of seeking to please God by our works. We must realize that outside of Christ we are in slavery to sin and to death, to the very devil and to hell. It isn’t pretty. But we can go on deceiving ourselves, thinking that we’re pretty good people, that we have good hearts, and so we can perish eternally in hell, or we can realize the dire predicament we are in thanks to our sin, tear out our hearts, and cast ourselves in faith on the merits of Jesus Christ alone for salvation. The chief function of the Law is to show us our sin, to hold up the mirror so that we see ourselves in all the ugly truth. Thus knowing our great need for salvation, the Savior appears. We will not cling to Him unless we know the bitter truth about ourselves. And so in Jesus’ preaching this morning, there is no escaping the condemnation of the Law outside of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only escape. Jesus is the only Savior. There is no other Name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

And you are saved in Him, by Him, by His fulfilling the Law for you, by His suffering and death on the cross, by His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven. And He delivers the goods to you now in the Word and the Sacrament of His body and blood. You receive the goods by faith. And faith delights in the Torah of God. You want to live according to His Torah, the good life that He has set out for you in His instruction. God has graciously set before you today life and good, death and evil (Deut. 30:15). To walk according to the flesh is death and evil. To walk according to God’s will, His commandments, forgiven of your sins, being covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, baptized into Christ… This is life and good. The Law of God is good and wise. Since the fall of our first parents, however, you cannot keep the Law. Nonetheless, you rejoice, for Christ is the whole Law’s fulfillment, and He is the sacrifice of atonement for your transgressions. So now you walk in Him, repenting of your sins, and by His Spirit increasing in faith toward God and fervent love toward one another. This is the Christian life. It is God’s good gift. The Lord has heard your prayers and mercifully delivered you by His goodness, to be His servants, the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. The Lord has snatched you out of hell, and brought you into His life, eternal and abundant. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
February 6, 2011
Text: Matt. 5:13-20

The question is, what are you going to do with the Word of God? What are you going to do with His Torah (Greek: νομος), His instruction, often translated as “Law” in English? The Torah includes Law, but it also includes the Gospel. It is the Hebrew name for the first five books of the Old Testament, the books of Moses. When combined with the Prophets, this means the whole Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus says 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” (Matt. 5:17; ESV). We all too often act as though Jesus has abolished the Torah, the instruction of God. Well, at least the parts we don’t like. We feel free to re-write the Torah, the Word of God, according to our own preferences and scruples. We define God’s Torah however we want, as if Jesus has given us authority to do so. For example, with the commandments in particular, this is how it works: There is a transgression of God’s holy Law that either we ourselves or someone we love has committed, and we want to excuse it. Enter the pious-sounding satanic self-deception: Jesus abolished the Law! It’s all good now! I can do whatever I want, and Jesus will forgive me… Well, actually, the word “forgive” is too negative. Better, Jesus will accept me for who I am and what I want to do. And so Christians fornicate and live together outside of marriage and see nothing wrong with it. Christians hedge around the abortion issue as if it weren’t the monstrous slaughter of the unborn, claiming that it’s just a political issue, and we shouldn’t legislate our morality. Christians excuse homosexuality, because after all, “God made them that way.” It’s the old Adam’s favorite trick, “Lord, the woman You gave me made me do it. It’s really all Your fault.” Pick your sin, make your excuse, blame God. You all do it, and I do it too. I’m predisposed toward gluttony, therefore it must be okay. As a heterosexual, I’m genetically predisposed to lusting after women, therefore clearly “God made me that way,” and He must accept me for who I am. But that’s not what Jesus says here. Our Lord did not come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. He did not abolish the commandments, either. The Gospel is not that God now winks at our iniquity. The Gospel is that Jesus has fulfilled the Law. Jesus has fulfilled the commandments in your place. And Jesus has fulfilled the whole Old Testament, the Torah and the Prophets.

The question is, what are you going to do with the Word of God? Do you deny it and change it? Or do you believe it and confess it? What is the disciple of Jesus Christ to do? Of course, by nature you deny the Torah and change it to your own liking. Because the natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14). The Word of God just doesn’t make sense to you in your old sinful flesh. That is why even as a Christian it is so tempting to act as though Jesus has abolished the parts of the Torah you don’t like. That is why so many Christian churches abolish the parts of the Torah they don’t like. That is why the ELCA and many other churches ordain women into the office of the holy ministry, and now also ordain homosexuals and create liturgical rites for same-sex marriage. Because they don’t like the parts of God’s Word that condemn these practices. They’ve given in to their sinful flesh. And this is always dangerous. Because if you deny one part of God’s Word, you might as well have denied it all. If one part of God’s Word is unsure, the whole thing is unsure. If one part could be wrong, the whole thing could be wrong. Now, this is not to say that our brothers and sisters in these erring churches won’t go to heaven. But Jesus says, “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19). This is serious business. It is no light thing to change the Word of God according to our own whims, or to make friends with the world, or to keep peace in the family or the congregation. When a Christian fails to confess the Word of God as it is written, he becomes like salt that has lost its saltiness. He is no longer good for anything. He has ceased to be what he was created in Christ Jesus to be. He becomes a walking absurdity. He is like a lamp that is lit, and then immediately hidden under a basket. What would the point of that be? By hiding the light of God’s Word, His Torah, by denying it or changing it or keeping it a secret all to yourself, you reject the purpose for which you have been created anew in Christ Jesus. Beloved in the Lord, repent.

You are created anew in Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and the Word. You are strengthened in the new life by preaching and the Holy Supper. You are created anew for a purpose. It is not to walk in the old ways, in the darkness of the world. It is to confess the Word of God and walk according to His Torah, His instruction. The Gospel in our text today is that Jesus fulfilled the Torah. He did all the commandments that you don’t and can’t. He fulfilled them in your place. And He is the sacrifice of atonement for your sins. His death on the cross is the payment for your transgressions. He has paid your debt in full. You are forgiven and set free. And He is risen to give you new life now as an obedient child of God. He’s freed you, not to sin, not to believe whatever you want, not to change God’s Word, but to trust in God, believe God’s Word, live for God. And by your confession and your Christian life you are the salt of the earth. You season and preserve the world with your confession of Christ. You season and preserve the world as you speak the Word of God in the world and live according to His Torah. You shine the light of Christ into this dark world, and we know that the darkness can never overcome that light. Like Jerusalem, as the new Jerusalem, the holy Church of God, you are a city on a hill that can be seen by all. Let your light, the light of your faithful confession of Christ and His Word, the light of your Christian life, so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven (v. 16).

Of course, you’re not saved by works, but by Christ. You’re not saved by works, but by grace alone, through faith alone. “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20). The scribes and Pharisees were the meticulous keepers of the Law, at least outwardly. There is no way your righteousness can be greater than theirs by works of the Law. The righteousness that is greater than all the works of the scribes and Pharisees is faith in Jesus Christ. And here is 200 proof Gospel for you to cling to for dear life, life everlasting: Jesus is your righteousness. By faith, you are united to Jesus Christ. All of His righteousness is your righteousness. In Christ, yours is the kingdom of heaven! Not only is Jesus the fulfillment of all the prophecies. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, the Torah, for you. When Jesus is your righteousness, O sinner, you are perfectly righteous.

What are you going to do with the Word of God? Believe it! Cling to it! Confess it! Abide in it! It is sure and certain. It is inspired by God Himself, without error, absolutely trustworthy. It is recorded in the Holy Scriptures for our learning, for our life. For “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). The Word is inscripturated. But even more, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The inscripturated Word brings before us the Word that is God, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who became man, your righteousness, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Father, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. It is He who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, for you. And He is risen, and lives, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, ruling all things by His powerful Word, leading and guiding His Church with His Torah, present bodily with His Church to forgive sins and feed you with His true body and blood. He makes you salty again. He shines His light in you and through you. He gives you His righteousness, and bids you enter the kingdom of heaven here and now at the altar, and on the day you breathe your last. We pray with the Psalmist: “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Psalm 119:15-16). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.