Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A)

February 16, 2014
Text: Matt. 5:21-37

            “You have heard… But I say to you…”  We sinners are very good at hearing God’s Law differently than He speaks it.  The Pharisees and the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day heard the Law as something that could be kept, with great effort to be sure, but it was possible for those of superior character and religiosity… you know, like they were.  But for them the Law was strictly an outward matter, as we heard last week.  They were only concerned with outward behavior.  They were not concerned with the disposition of the heart.  The Pharisees were also very good at changing God’s Law.  Jesus illustrates this point with regard to the 4th Commandment: “Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and ‘whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’  But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God) – then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down” (Mark 7:10-13; ESV).  So you see there is a difference between what the Pharisees heard and what God actually said.  The Word of God is changed as a matter of interpretation.  If giving money to provide for older parents is good, giving it to God is even better, or so the thinking goes.  So we’ve improved upon God’s Commandment.  And while it is easy for us to sit here in the pew and condemn the Pharisees, the truth of the matter is that we do the same thing.  God said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24), but who are we to judge the actions of two (or nowadays, more) consenting adults, be they men and women, or men and men, or women and women?  Who are we to judge the way another treats his or her own body?  Who are we to judge a husband and wife for whom the flame of love has died if they tear asunder what God has joined together?  It is more loving to live and let live, to be, not just tolerant, but affirming.  After all, God is love (1 John 8).  Which He is, but of course, what that really means is that in love God has given us His Commandments for our good.  But we interpret our way out of them.  We rationalize or emotionalize God’s Commandments in such a way that any and all outward behavior is excused and even justified.  And so there are two ways that we hear God’s Law wrong.  There is the way of the Pharisees, legalism, which is concerned only with outward behavior and cares not about the disposition of the heart.  Or there is the way which is much more prevalent in our culture, moral relativism, the way that says anything goes in terms of outward behavior, because all that matters is warm fuzzies in the heart, all that matters is that you are fulfilled, happy, and true to yourself.  At the end of the day, both approaches are the same.  Pharisees and libertines, legalists and moral relativists, both attempt to manage the Law in such a way as to declare themselves righteous.  Both seek self-justification, either by moralism, or by lawlessness.
            But that’s not Christianity.  That is why Jesus ups the ante in our Holy Gospel.  You have heard the Law preached in many and various ways, but Jesus preaches it in all its unyielding truth.  Jesus gives it to you straight.  The Ten Commandments leave no breathing room.  God expects you not to murder.  There are no exceptions here for unwanted pregnancies, vigilante justice, or excruciating terminal illnesses.  But even if you have kept this Commandment outwardly, you haven’t yet kept it.  For when you have been filled with unrighteous anger toward your neighbor, when you have insulted him or called him names, when you’ve refused to forgive his trespasses against you, you have broken the 5th Commandment.  St. John writes that “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15).  If you do not love your brother as yourself, you have murdered him in your heart.  If you can help your brother in physical need but don’t, if you embitter your neighbor’s life by your words and actions, if you injure your neighbor physically or emotionally, you have murdered him.  No one walks away free from this Commandment.  And the Sixth Commandment is the same.  God expects you not to commit adultery.  To be sure, this means that you shall not physically cheat on your spouse.  He also expects husbands and wives to remain faithful to their marriage vows until death parts them, and so He forbids divorce, with only very narrow exceptions to that rule.  But here God also expects sexual purity in thought, word, desire, and deed.  This prohibits all forms of unchastity, fornication, sex before marriage, living together outside of marriage, prostitution, pornography, homosexuality.  It should go without saying, and yet it cannot go without saying: Christians do not engage in such behaviors.  If you do, repent.  Confess and be absolved.  Let’s talk, you and I, about how to make the situation right.  But even if you have not offended against this Commandment outwardly, you still aren’t free.  For Jesus says that even to look at another person with lust is to commit adultery with him or her in your heart (v. 28).  And we’re all nailed to the wall.  We’ve all broken this Commandment, too.  Jesus also gives instruction on the 8th Commandment, that a Christian’s yes ought to be yes, and your no, no.  There are times when you must take an oath before God, such as in court or when you get married, whenever your neighbor’s welfare demands it, but this should only be in very serious circumstances.  A Christian’s words should always be truthful even without an oath.  How many empty promises do we make?  Sure, I’ll do this or that.  Sure, I’ll be there at this time.  And we have no intention of following through, or we lose that intention somewhere along the way.  And so you see, once again we’re all nailed.  We’ve all sinned.  Repent. 
            But dealing with this sin is going to take a whole lot more than a simple outward reformation of life.  For your outward behavior is symptomatic of the condition of your heart.  Jesus is interested in your heart.  That’s where the disease is.  Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, etc. (Matt. 15:19).  Defeating sin is not as simple as gouging out your eye or cutting off your hand.  Amputate all your limbs and appendages and you’ll still be a sinner.  Because what you really need is a new heart.  “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps. 51:10).  What you really need is a heart transplant, a bona fide death and resurrection.  And that is what you get with Jesus, His death and His resurrection for you, and your death and resurrection in His.  A great exchange takes place for you in Christ.  Jesus takes your murderous, unforgiving, adulterous, dishonest, and unfaithful heart into Himself.  And He gives you His sacrificial life, His faithfulness, His truthfulness, His love, so that these are credited to your account.  He takes all your sins to the cross to be crucified and die with Him.  And now they can never count against you.   He gives all of His sinless body parts to redeem all of your sinful body parts.  He gives His eye, His hand, His whole Body into death and hell for you, that you might have life and heaven.  He who knew no sin became sin for you, that you might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). 
            And though you have been unfaithful, your Bridegroom, Jesus, does not divorce you.  He gives Himself up for you to make you holy, cleansing you by the washing of water and the Word, to present you to Himself in splendor, as a Bride adorned for her Husband, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27).  The risen Lord Jesus bestows His righteousness and His resurrection life upon His Bride, the Church, you.  And so in spite of what you have heard from the world, from society, from the culture, even from false Christian teachers, you listen only to the voice of your Beloved Savior.  You do not try to justify yourself.  You do not try to earn your righteousness by your outward keeping of the Law.  You do not excuse your sinful behavior, or seek Jesus’ tolerance and acceptance of your sin.  Instead, you confess it.  You confess the hidden wickedness of your heart to the One who alone can make you clean and new.  You confess it into His tomb where it is buried forever, forgiven, never to be resurrected.  You say “Amen” to your Lord’s killing and condemning Law, because you know that He slays you only to raise you to new life, that you may say “Amen” to His life-giving Gospel.  You have heard many and various things from many and various voices in the world.  But you also know the one and only voice of truth, the voice of Jesus Christ.  Let all that is not of Him be put to silence.  For He is your God.  His Word is your life.  His Word bespeaks you righteous.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             


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