Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

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.


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