July 3, 2016 A+D (Reworked from 2006)
St. Matthew 5:17-26
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The Law of God is relentless toward sinners. It is impossible for fallen men. It is summarized in two commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. The second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself. “Whoever breaks the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
This relentless Law pegs us again. According to your old man, you indeed are least, no matter how much you try to look away. You are not better than most nor even better than a few. I think you can admit that you are better at glossing over your sins and magnifying the sins of your neighbor—this is the root of most broken relationships among family members and parishioners. I’ll admit that you are better at teaching your children, your family, and your friends to do the same. You’re even good at pretending that Law is important when someone offends your sensitivities. But in keeping the Law of God, in teaching the Law of God, or even being mindful of the Law of God, you are by all means the least. You stand convicted by the very words that you use to judge one another.
Therefore, in the collect, when we pray for God to graft in our hearts the love of His name, an increase in true religion, nourishment, and mercy, we are not praying for the Law. True religion for you, O sinner, is never found in the Law. This fact contradicts every other religion in the world. It even contradicts most other Christian denominations—at least in practice. True religion is found only in Christ. It is Jesus who did not destroy, but fulfilled all that the Law and Prophets have recorded. It was Jesus who preserved every jot and tittle of the Law for Himself.
The Law has been satisfied, fulfilled, and completed – for you. But it has not been abolished. It is still binding. It is still how God desires us to live and describes the best, healthiest, and happiest way to live. When we break it, there are consequences. People get hurt. Our lives are made more complicated and disappointing. Despite the promise of your temptations to make you happy, they leave you empty and lonely. Faith is weakened. Sin is dangerous and deadly. But, that being said, it is just sin. And we sinners who have been born from above by water and the Spirit are not slaves to sin. We are anointed by God. Christ, our Lord, died to sin and has been raised again. You have been joined to that death, buried in the waters of Holy Baptism with Him, and raised up again to life with Him. You have been made His, alive, living, and pure. Thus you live, day-in and day-out, in the forgiveness of sins—in true religion—in the daily rhythm of drowning the old Adam in you, and the daily emergence of the new man, by daily sorrow over your sin, by confession and absolution, contrition and confidence, hearing God’s Word and eating His Supper. You are not above the Law, rather you are freed from its condemnation. There is nothing left to pay back. The treasuries of heaven which we inherit in Christ have filled us with the hope of the glory to come, and eager expectations for the Day of His return.
Thus, you can rejoice in the words of today’s Psalmody. The Introit and the Gradual give us the words of faith, the words of true religion. “The Lord is our strength, and He is the saving refuge of His anointed.” O, anointed, redeemed sinner, you are loved by the Lord your strength. You are invited to cry out to the Lord your Rock, for He is not silent concerning the certainty of your salvation. You are invited to make supplication to your Lord, for He hears and answers the prayer of the faithful. Be afraid no longer. The Lord is your strength and your shield; your heart has trusted in Him and you are helped. The fears over your past sins you still feel are your old man telling you lies. If you feel that you are not worthy of Christ’s love, you are right, but His love for you is not based upon your worthiness. It’s based upon His pure love for you. If you feel sorrow over your past sins, then rejoice. This is a gift from God to keep you from falling into those sins again.
The Law still stands, for heaven and earth have not yet passed away. On this side of glory, it still, and always, accuses you. It cannot deliver you, but does instruct; it also guides, but it always kills and convicts. There is only one solution, one escape, one righteousness that is enough: the Blood of Jesus—the only one whose righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees. Hell’s demands have been met in Christ’s flesh and blood. And now you are constantly refreshed in the participation in this flesh and blood. You have been united together in the likeness of His death. You are also united in the likeness of His resurrection. As baptized Christians, you daily participate in His death and resurrection. By communing weekly upon His Body and Blood in the Sacrament, you are intimately connected with Him and your fellow believers. Any loneliness you feel is again your old man telling you lies.
Death has been destroyed, even though it still rears its nasty head for a while. It can ask no more. Jesus has won. He rose from the dead. You are covered in Christ’s, divine righteousness. The angel of death passes over. You are free and safe in Christ. The Law is fulfilled. Every last penny has been paid. And the gift from the Altar is freely bestowed upon you, as a dear brother or sister of Christ, for He has answered the judge, and reconciled you to Himself. Even your burdened conscience cannot truly accuse you (they try, but that’s why we come to hear the word of promise over and over). Soon your Good Fridays will turn only to Easter. Your suffering in this sinful world is almost over. You have only the eternal Easter to look forward to. Blessed be the Name of the Lord. Within true religion, we cry out with David, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.
The Rev’d Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana