Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A – Proper 25)

October 23, 2011
Text: Matt. 22:34-46

Beloved in the Lord, in theology we talk about two tables of the Law. The first table deals with our relationship to God, and includes the first three commandments: You shall have no other gods, you shall not misuse the Name of the Lord Your God, and Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. The second table deals with our relationship to our neighbor, to all other people, protecting the honor of our parents and other authorities, protecting our neighbor’s life, spouse, property, and reputation. Jesus sums up the two tables of the Law this morning in answering the lawyer’s question. The first and greatest commandment is this, the first table of the Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37; ESV). The second table of the Law is like unto it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 39). Furthermore, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (v. 40), the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The Scriptures command us to love… to love God and to love all other people. So St. Paul declares, “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10).

The problem is, of course, that we don’t love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, nor do we love our neighbors as ourselves. Instead, we love ourselves as gods, with all our heart, soul, and mind, at the expense of our neighbors who should love and serve us. That’s what the sinful flesh demands. It is a self-idolatry that is inherent in the disease of original sin. After all, the original sin is nothing less than Adam and Eve desiring to “be like God,” or in other words, be their own gods. And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as far as we’re concerned. Because we believe that God is holding out on us, and that our neighbor should bend over backwards to do what makes us happy. We believe we deserve better than we have, which is why we’re never content. And we grab at any piece of forbidden fruit that holds the specter of happiness, only to be disappointed again and again as with every bite we fall under the sentence of death. Love, agape, self-sacrifice for the sake of the other, is anything but natural to us. If this is what God demands of us toward Himself and toward our neighbors, we are in trouble. We’re condemned… to death and to hell.

Except that out of love for His fallen creation, out of love for you and me, love for the loveless, God does not leave us in death and hell. He sends His Son. He sends His Son to do what we cannot do, and to do it in our place. This is why the eternal Son of God, the Word of the Father who was in the beginning with God, became man in time, taking His flesh from the womb of the Virgin Mary. He became flesh, became one of us, made His dwelling among us, so that in our place, as our substitute, He might love God with all His heart and soul and mind, and love His neighbor, you and me, as Himself. In fact, He puts His neighbor, you and me, above Himself. Because also in our place, as our substitute, He suffers the punishment of hell and death for our failure to love, our absolute lack of love for anyone other than ourselves. He is crucified. Love incarnate, love in the flesh, the love eternally begotten by the Father, is crucified for our forgiveness.

That is what it means that the Christ is both David’s Lord and David’s Son. According to His divine nature, He is David’s Lord from all eternity. He is the God who declared David to be a man after His own heart. He is the God in whom David trusted when he battled Goliath and the Philistines, when he fled before King Saul and before his own son Absalom. He is the God who put away David’s sin and forgave His iniquities. Yet according to His human nature, our Lord Jesus is David’s Son. He is the rightful King of the Jews, from the house and lineage of David, as we know from the Christmas story. That is why He is born in Bethlehem, the city of David, because Joseph has to take his family there for the census (Luke 2:4). Yet just as Jesus is not recognized as David’s Lord, neither is He recognized as His Son. He is not born in a palace and laid in a gold-leafed cradle, but in a stable and laid in a feeding trough for animals, because there is no room for Him in the inn. He is not visited by dignitaries. King Herod and the chief priests do not pay Him homage. He is visited by dirty shepherds who hear the glad tidings trumpeted by angels while tending their flocks by night. This little baby, this man who would grow up to die a criminal’s death, forsaken by God and man on a cross, is David’s Son. He reigns from that cross, crowned with thorns, exalted and lifted up. This man, David’s Son, is God, David’s Lord.

Behold, what He did for you on the cross. Behold, what He does for you in His gifts of the Word and the Sacraments, not to mention every other good gift you enjoy. What love He bestows! Yet we do not love Him as we ought. We do not love others as we ought. We want to love God. We want to love others. Because in Christ, having been baptized into Christ and in to His death and resurrection, we are a new creation, we walk in newness of life. But in this earthly life we are burdened by the old Adam, the sinful flesh. As St. Paul writes of himself in Romans 7, we do not understand our own actions (v. 15), for we do not do the good we want, but the evil we do not want is what we keep on doing (v. 19). We want to live lives of love and thanksgiving according to our new creation, but we are encumbered by this body of death. Who will deliver us? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25). So it is a daily battle to crucify the sinful flesh, to drown the old Adam in us by daily contrition and repentance so that the new man in Christ can daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity. In spite of our weakness and failures and sins, of course we should seek to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves. We will never do it perfectly in this earthly life, as long as we have this sinful sack of flesh hanging about us. But with the Holy Spirit’s strengthening in His Word and Sacraments, we can make a beginning. Love flows in rivers of blood and water from the holy cross and to us in Baptism, preaching, absolution, and the Supper, through us in acts of love to our neighbors. And by serving our neighbors in love, we love and serve God Himself.

How? How do we love and serve God and our neighbors? What does all of this mean, practically speaking? It first of all means faith receiving the gifts of God here in His holy Church. Because of the old sinful flesh, you have no love in yourself to bestow upon your neighbor. So you come here to be filled with God’s love. That is what the Word and the Supper fill you with, the love of God in Jesus Christ that forgives all your sins. Here your cup is filled to overflowing, and there is no end to the supply. So now going out into the world and into your daily vocations with an overflowing cup, you spill that love onto your neighbors by serving them. This means living in your vocations faithfully, being faithful spouses, parents, children, friends, citizens, and church members. This means doing your daily work as for Christ Himself. This means showing mercy, forgiving those who sin against you, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and praying for all. This means confessing Christ in your daily conversation, and supporting the work of the Church with your prayers, your time, your talents, and your financial gifts. This means examining your life according to the Ten Commandments, repenting of your sins and clinging to Jesus Christ for forgiveness, which is to say, returning again and again here to the holy Church for the gifts of Jesus Christ. The river that flows into your cup never stops, so you are always full and always overflowing. It is a living, busy, and active thing, this faith, always abounding in good works, because it is always full of Christ and His forgiveness and life.

But of course, faith never trusts in these works. Faith trusts Jesus’ fulfillment of the two tables of the Law in our place, His love for God with all His heart, soul, and mind, His love for His neighbors as Himself. And faith trusts Jesus’ innocent suffering and death on our behalf, and His victorious resurrection from the dead. Faith trusts Jesus, David’s Lord and David’s Son, our Lord and Savior. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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