Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sermon -- 18th Sunday after Trinity (October 19, 2014)

MATTHEW 22:34-46

In the name + of Jesus.

     Rabbis who have studied the Torah, that is, the books of Moses, have claimed that there are 613 specific commandments that God has given.  There are 365 negative commandments declaring what God forbids, and there are 248 positive commandments declaring what God desires.  So there is one “Thou shalt not” for each day of the year, and one “Thou shat” for each bone and major organ in the human body.  I would imagine that it is next to impossible to keep track of them all, and yet scribes and rabbis would debate about which of these commandments was the most important one.
     A group of Pharisees surrounded Jesus to ask him his opinion.  One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:35-36)  This was far from genuine curiosity.  The Pharisees were ready to pounce on Jesus for choosing any one commandment over another.  Jesus did not flinch, but answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
     Before we consider the order of the commandments Jesus gave, we must consider a proper definition of love.  Just as sinful mankind perverts the gifts God has given us, so also sinful mankind perverts the definition of love.  Sinful mankind seems to think that a permissive attitude is the very spirit of love.  But a permissive attitude is the very path to destruction.  Permissive parents don’t care what their children eat, where their children go, or what their children do when they are out too late.  Such children are often told by their friends how lucky they are that their parents don’t care what they do.  They assume that such parents must really love their children to let them do anything.  Children often recognize that it is a curse: Their parents don’t care.  Such children who are given neither guidance nor discipline are destined for a hard life and probably a jail term.  Likewise, love is not a permissive attitude which celebrates every perversion or defends them as rights.  Americans might call these rights; God still calls them evil.  While no one should have to lose his job or housing for perverting God’s good gifts—for, everyone does that—everyone should repent for his sins.  It is not love to let people become hardened or persistent in their sins.  God has given his commandments so that we will recognize sins and flee from them.  So, just as it is love to rescue someone from a burning house or to prevent them from eating poison, so it is love to stand firm on God’s word, to expose evil for what it is, and to call sinners to repent.
     Love is properly defined as seeking the good of the other person.  That is what God seeks in the commandments he gives.  God gives his “Thou shalt’s” to bless us and guide us and give us what is good.  The marriage of one man and one woman is good because through it, God acts through a man and woman to conceive, raise, and discipline children.  Obedience to authority is good because godly citizens make for a peaceful society.  God gives his “Thou shalt not’s” for our good too, to protect us and to keep good order.  Lying is evil because it destroys reputations.  Vandalism is evil because it steals money from someone who has to pay for repairs he should have never had to make.  Selfishness is evil because it causes us to look at our fellowman as a rival or worse, as an enemy.  God sets these standards so that we can know what is truly good and what is truly evil.  God gives us these commandments so that we can know how we truly love and serve him as well as truly loving and serving our neighbor. 
     How can you pick which of God’s commandments is the most beneficial or important?  The Son of David answers the great commandment.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)  In this way, all of God’s word is honored, observed, and obeyed.  In this way, God is honored as the highest good and the source of all that is good. 
     Now, I can’t see if you truly love the Lord your God above all, and you cannot see it in me either.  Only God can see who truly loves him, for only God can see the heart.  Yet, love is not mere theory.  Love demands an object to love.  So, what does this love look like in our lives?  How do we love God above all?  By loving and serving our fellowman as ourselves.  Jesus said, “On these two commandments [hang (literal)] all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:40)
     But not everyone does them.  In fact, not anyone does them.  That is why everything falls apart.  We incur the wrath of our fellowman because we do not love him as ourselves and seek his good as God defines what is the good to be done and what is the evil to be shunned.  We incur the wrath of God because we do not honor, observe, or obey what he commands or what he prohibits.  This is not God’s fault that you are guilty.  It is not your neighbor’s fault that you have sinned.  These are not your enemy.  Your enemy is the devil who tempts and accuses you.  Your enemy is your own sinful flesh which clings to you and condemns you.  Your enemy is death which desires to have you forever.
     Jesus Christ came to deliver you from your enemy.  The Son of David came to take your enemies and crush them as dust under his feet.  Jesus does this not by destroying the great commandment.  God’s commands are good, and Jesus does not destroy what is good.  Instead, the Son of David answers the great commandment by doing it.  How did Jesus love the Lord God with all his heart, soul, and mind?  By doing exactly what his Father had given him to do.  After a life of perfect obedience, Jesus suffered and died for our disobedience.  Jesus loved his fellowman—whether friend or foe—as himself.  Jesus loved you, not by granting you permission to engage in perversion, but by seeking your good.  And what is good for you is to be pardoned for any and every way you have perverted, corrupted, or abandoned God’s commandments for your own selfish gain. 
     The Son of David answers the great commandment by fulfilling it.  Jesus has done the will of the Father, which is to save you from your enemies.  Jesus has taken your sins and let them inflict their deadly wounds on his body.  Jesus has let death deliver its lethal blow on him as he laid down his life for you.  Jesus has endured the assault of the devil and let him pin every infraction of God’s commands upon him.  So your enemies have turned away from you to take Jesus in your place.  But Jesus, since he was obedient to his Father, has destroyed your enemies.  Sin can no longer condemn you; it has been paid for.  Satan can no longer assault you; for Jesus is your refuge against every assault.  Death has no claim; for Jesus has claimed you from death.  The Son of David who laid down his life to deliver you has risen from death to assure you that you have truly been delivered.  He has conquered.  Your enemies are defeated.  Jesus has ascended into heaven where he lives and reigns forever, and where your enemies are a footstool, lying crushed and powerless under Jesus’ feet.
     The Son of David answers the great commandment.  He has loved his Father above all.  He has loved you as he loves himself.  And by these, he has fulfilled the commandments and saved you.  What is more, he has made you followers who recognize that his commandments are good.  Therefore, you love the Lord your God.  You cherish his words.  You conform your heart, soul, mind, and life to them.  For, the God who gave his life for your salvation also lives in you to will and to act so that you love your fellowman and seek his good, just as Jesus Christ has sought yours.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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