Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A)

February 23, 2014
Text: Matthew 5:38-48

            Do not resist the one who is evil.  Turn the other cheek.  Give the one who sues you more than he’s asking of the court.  Give to beggars.  Lend generously.  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  It’s a tall order Jesus gives us this morning.  “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48; ESV).  We’ve learned a thing or two about holiness and righteousness in the past couple of weeks, though, as we’ve heard and meditated upon our Lord’s sermon on the mount.  And we know that our holiness and righteousness does not come as a result of our doing God’s commandments.  Our holiness and righteousness come in Jesus.  He is holy.  He is righteous.  And He gives this holiness and righteousness to us freely, as a gift, in His Word and in His Sacraments, to be received by the empty hands of faith.  So also our perfection.  We are to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.  Well, that’s impossible for us in and of ourselves.  But Christ Jesus is perfect, as His heavenly Father is perfect.  He is sinless.  He loves God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength.  He loves His neighbor as Himself, in fact, more than Himself.  And He imparts His perfection to us poor sinners just as He imparts His holiness and righteousness, by grace, through faith, by means of His holy Word and Sacraments.  That’s a joyful and freeing thing to know.  You don’t become holy, righteous, or perfect by doing, but simply by being in Christ who died for your sins and who is risen from the dead to give you new life. 
            But you have not been freed to become a slave again to sin and death.  Things change now that you are in Christ.  There are things that Christians do and don’t do because you are a Christian; not to be saved, but because you have been saved; not to become holy, righteous, and perfect, but because in Christ God has declared you to be holy, righteous, and perfect.  You’re a new person.  And as such you are no longer enslaved to the desire for vengeance against your enemies.  You are no longer enslaved to the desire to protect your life and property at all costs.  You are no longer enslaved to living for yourself.  For you have been made a son of God in THE Son of God, Christ Jesus (v. 45).  You are a son of God in your Baptism into Christ.  And the son is not a slave.  The son is free.  You are free to sacrifice yourself for your neighbor.  You are free to give yourself up for your neighbor, as Christ gave Himself up for you.  For after all, as a son of God, what can possibly be taken from you that will not be repaid in overflowing abundance?  What can you possibly lack?  As St. Paul says, all things are yours in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 3:21-23).  And what do you have that you did not receive (4:7)?  God has given you your life and breath and all that you have that it may be given to and for your neighbor in love.  And you will never be expended.  For God is an unfailing fountain of good who continuously fills you with Himself and with all that you need, so that the more you give, the more you receive, here in this life, perhaps, but if not, most certainly in heaven.
            So you are free NOT to exact an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth (Matt. 5:38).  You are free to suffer at the hands of one who is evil (v. 39), to rejoice and be glad when you are persecuted and slandered for righteousness’ sake, for your reward is great in heaven (vv. 10-12).  You are free to turn the other cheek toward one who has slapped you on the right (v. 39).  You are free to give the shirt off your back to one who sues you (v. 40), to labor diligently for one who forces you, doing more than is expected, to give, to lend liberally with no expectation of repayment (v. 41).  For all things are yours in Christ Jesus, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Cor. 3:23).  You do not do the things you do to gain an advantage.  That is what the pagans do.  Unbelievers understand that they must treat others as they wish to be treated if society is to work and if they are to gain the goodwill and favor of their neighbors.  But you do what you do as an emissary of the King, as a son of the Father.  After all, if all things are yours in Christ, what possible advantage can you gain that you do not already have?  You do the things you do out of love, because Christ has loved you unto His death on the cross.  You do the things you do because the love of Christ flows through you to your neighbor.  “We love because he first loved us,” as St. John writes (1 John 4:19).  Beloved, you are the hands and feet of Christ in the world as you love and serve and sacrifice in your daily vocations, your relationships, your place in life.  And like your Lord, you are crucified, you die for the sake of the other.  You are free to do this very thing.  For Christ has died, and He is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever, and you are baptized into Christ, and so His reality is your reality.  He will raise you, too.  Death has no power over you when you are in Christ.
            Remember, His righteousness is your righteousness.  His fulfilling of the Law is your fulfilling of the Law.  For what He has done counts for you.  And so where you have not loved your enemies and prayed for those who persecuted you, where you have not forgiven as God has forgiven you, where you have not turned the other cheek, given the shirt off your back, served, given, loved with everything in you and with everything that is you… He has.  For you.  He did not resist the one who was evil, but gave Himself into the hands of the Jewish guards, though at any moment He could have appealed to His Father, who would have at once sent twelve legions of angels to defend Him (Matt. 26:53).  He gave Himself into the hands of the Sanhedrin, King Herod, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.  As the Prophet Isaiah writes, He gave His back to those who strike, His cheeks to those who pull out the beard; He hid not His face from disgrace and spitting (Is. 50:6).  The soldiers forced Him to walk and bear their load, His own cross, to Golgotha, where they stripped Him naked, nailed Him to the cross, and cast lots for His clothing.  Freely He gave His all, His everything, for you who could not repay.  So greatly did He love you, His enemies, that He gave Himself into death on the cross, praying for His persecutors, praying for you, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  So all of these things Jesus commands you today in the Holy Gospel He did for you, in your place, to your credit, and for your benefit, “that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:45). 
            When, in our Old Testament reading (Lev. 19:1-2, 9-18), God commands His people: “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (v. 2), this is not an admonition to do the things that He commands and thus become holy by your own effort.  We know that would never work.  No, this is a promise grounded in the very identity of your God.  You shall be holy.  Really, you will.  And you are.  How?  Because I, the LORD your God, am holy, and I have placed my Name upon you and made you my own by the blood of Jesus Christ, God in human flesh.  So I give you my holiness.  It is a gift in Christ.  And now here is how you are to act, now that you’ve received my Name and my own holiness.  You are to love your neighbor.  You are to leave the gleanings for the poor.  You are not to steal or deal falsely or lie.  You are not to oppress or rob your neighbor, withhold wages, curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind.  You are not to do injustice in court, nor are you to hate your neighbor in your heart, take vengeance or bear a grudge against him.  Why?  Again and again in our Old Testament, God gives you the reason.  “I am the LORD” (vv. 10, 12, 14, 16, 18).  You belong to me.  I have given you my holiness.  So do not do those things.  Instead, love, serve, give, sacrifice.  Have mercy, for you have been shown mercy.

            And what about those times that you haven’t lived according to the holiness the Lord has given you?  What about all those grudges you’ve harbored, goods you’ve hoarded, lies you’ve told, and vengeances you’ve taken?  Repent.  And rejoice in the gracious Good News that Jesus has done it for you, and He’s taken all your not doing it and paid the penalty for your sin on the cross.  You are forgiven.  You are free.  You are God’s dear child.  All things are yours in Christ Jesus.  And so you are perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  For Christ is your perfection.  You are Christ’s.  And Christ is God’s.  Which means you belong to God.  Do not fear.  Rejoice.  You are baptized into Christ.  Therefore yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       


Anonymous Derrick said...

Very clear exposition of law and gospel from the text as it applies to us as individual Christians. Thank you for such careful preaching.

Thinking on the sermon, though, led me to a question I can't answer - how is this text to be applied to communities (meaning, say, small businesses, corporations, governments and militaries)? In my experience in these contexts, we Christians tend to set aside the sorts of calls our Lord makes on us in St. Matthew's gospel and deal with one another according to the values of the institution. These values (in my experience) are unwaveringly built around gaining advantage, protecting property or interests at all costs and exercising vengeance. Are we to submit to the authorities God has placed over us and act upon their behalf according to their values or are we called to conform to Christ's teaching in this text regardless of our professional callings?

6:21 AM  
Blogger Pastor Krenz said...

Thanks Derrick.

Luther is helpful on this. His commentary on the Sermon on the Mount is available online, I'm not necessarily recommending this website other than for reading Luther on this topic (I found this via Google search). There Luther makes the point that governments and Christians who go to war have the right and responsibility to exact vengeance. They are placed in a God-ordained office to do so. The reason would be that they do this not for themselves, but for the welfare of their neighbor whom they are charged to protect (Romans 13). Christians do (or at least should) order their conduct according to what they know in Scripture, so they are not personally to avenge themselves. They should not be cutthroats in business, even if that is the expectation of their company, etc.

You make a good point, though. Life in this fallen world is never easy or clean for the Christian who seeks to live faithfully. God have mercy on us all. He does, praise be to Christ.

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Derrick said...

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I will search out the resource you recommend.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Derrick said...

Thank you for the thoughtful response. I will seek out the resource you recommend.

4:23 PM  

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