In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
What is the Law’s job? If you remember your confirmation classes you might remember that the easy answer for what the Law and Gospel do is SOS. The Law “Shows Our Sin” and the Gospel “Shows our Savior.” This is an easier explanation of the Latin phrase, lex semper accusat, “the Law always accuses.” The function of the Law is not to save but to condemn. No matter how it’s applied, the Law only condemns us, showing us that we cannot possibly live up to the perfection God’s holy Law demands.
As the Law does its work of condemnation, showing us our sin and our desperate need for a Savior, it does its work in three ways. First it functions as a curb, showing us within what bounds we must live to maintain a peaceable life in this world, just like the curb on the road keeps us from driving onto the sidewalk and injuring innocent pedestrians. The Law as a curb shows us that behaviors like stealing, coveting, adultery, et cetera are wrong; they lie beyond the curb, therefore doing those things is against the Law. Secondly the Law serves as a mirror, showing us our sin, as Paul said to the Romans: “I would not have known sin except through the Law” (Rom. 7:7). It holds our actions before our eyes and shows us where they have fallen short of what God demands. The Law’s third use is as a guide. In this use the Law tells us what things are pleasing to God, and only applies to those who have saving faith, because only good works done from faith are counted as good in God’s eyes (Rom. 14:23). In this Third Use the Law tells us that we are pleasing to God when He is our only God, we obey the authorities placed over us, we speak kindly of and defend our neighbor, and the like. Even though this use sounds positive, it still condemns. As hard as we may try to live lives pleasing to God, we can never keep the Law in its entirety.
And that is what Jesus explains to His disciples in today’s Gospel Reading. We may think we’re doing a good job at keeping the Law, but it’s not as simple as we think it is. You may not be a thief or a murderer or actively dishonoring your parents, but Jesus tells us that we must look beyond the letter of the Law. We can’t look at the Law simplistically and say something like “Well, I haven’t stolen anything today, so I can check off number seven!” We have to look beyond that letter and examine the spirit of the Commandments. As Jesus reveals, obeying the Law isn’t just about actions, but about what lies in the heart. It doesn’t do you any good to keep from stealing your neighbor’s boat while all you do is wish you had their boat, lament how much they don’t deserve it, and fantasize about putting a hole in it so he sinks next time he takes it out.
In today’s Gospel Jesus shows us that, besides the First Commandment—you shall have no other gods before Me—the Fifth Commandment—you shall not murder—is the easiest to break. Jesus shows us that under this broad umbrella are all kinds of thoughts like “love your neighbor as yourself,” “judge not, lest you be judged,” and many others. Murderers aren’t just people who take another person’s physical life. Murderers are also people who hate without a cause, heap insults, hold grudges, and the like. Jesus has just taken our pretend righteousness which came from the Law, or what we thought was the Law, and destroyed it! None of us walked in here today thinking we’re murderers, but Jesus looked us square in the eye and told us all otherwise. None of us love everyone perfectly. We all have someone whose very name makes us bristle. Maybe it’s because she told a lie about you in second grade and you never lived it down or he got the promotion you thought you deserved. Either way, there’s probably someone whose appearance would set you on edge if they magically appeared next to you in the pew. What Jesus has done is show us that there are really four different ways we can kill our neighbor. The first is outright murder, taking their life. But it also extends to how we treat them when we see them or have to interact with them: refusing to look at them, not thanking them, not even being able to say hello back to them, or not doing anything to protect them when harm comes their way. The third way we murder is with the tongue, when we speak ill of others or curse them with insults. Lastly, we murder in our hearts when we are envious of our neighbor and happy when things go wrong for him.
Why is this so bad? Why does Jesus equate hatred with murder? It’s because we cannot pretend that our horizontal relationships with one another are independent of our relationship with God. Our vertical relationship with Him must affect our horizontal relationships with our neighbors. When our relationships with our neighbors suffer, it damages our relationship with God. We cannot claim to love Him while hating our brother. Trying to hate neighbor but love God is to go against your Baptism. Remember what Paul told the Romans in today’s Epistle: “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” As a Baptized child of God we are supposed to leave behind old ways and live in ways that are pleasing to God. What part of hating your neighbor is God-pleasing?
So, what hope do you have? Now that the Ten Commandments are not as easy as a check off list as you thought they were and you know that it’s impossible to measure up, how can you possibly stand? It’s simple. Live the Baptismal life! That is, hate your sin, confess it to God, receive forgiveness for it, and beg the power and work of the Holy Spirit to keep you from sin. And then rest assured that this request is always met with the answer of “Yes.” There is no “no,” no “maybe; in My good timing.” There is only “yes.” Because Jesus Christ has died for you, and you are Baptized into that death and also His resurrection, you are assured forgiveness and eternal salvation! The sin which you confess was forgiven on Calvary’s cross, and that forgiveness was made yours when water and the Word made you a child of God. In that Sacrament, you were given Christ’s righteousness, the righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees. And because you have His righteousness, the kingdom of heaven is yours!
God has answered your prayer to graft into your heart the love of His Name. When He recreated you at the Font He gave you a heart of flesh for your heart of stone, a heart which loves what He commands and wants to do it. And even when your old flesh tries to take over, He has given you the Holy Spirit who helps you do what you should, and the same Spirit who gives you the strength to escape temptation. He points you back to that Baptism where you died to sin; points you to the wounds of Jesus where you can find rest, healing, and forgiveness; and points you to the Altar, to the Body and Blood of Jesus which forgive your sins and strengthen your faith against the crafts and assaults of the evil one.
Yes, the Law always accuses. But it is never without the Gospel which shows you your Savior Jesus Christ who has perfectly fulfilled the Law for you, and, more importantly, has satisfied its demands for death for breaking it. You are alive to God by the righteousness of Christ Jesus made yours in Holy Baptism, and one day you will live in that righteousness eternally when the resurrection like His is given to you on the Last Day.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).