Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Because, “I Am the Lord” - February 19, 2017 - Seventh Sunday after Epiphany - Text: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Although a Law motivation works more quickly and efficiently than a Gospel motivation, God’s desire is to motivate us through the Gospel. We all know it is easier to get people to do something when we threaten them. This Law motivation is especially true when we think about how we get our children to do their chores. Either do it or you do not get your reward or you get punished. However, God’s desire is that we are motivated by the Gospel, by the fact that He loves us, rather than by His threats of the Law. What parent among us would not like for our children to voluntarily do what they are supposed to do without our asking, because we love them and because they love us? This morning we are reminded of the Laws of God and at the same time we are also reminded that the heart of the Law of God is love.
As we get to our text we hear Moses speak God’s command and demand of His people Israel, that they shall be holy. The word “holy” means sacred, separate, set apart and without sin. Indeed, quite a demand from the Lord. And in case they did not understand what God’s words meant, Moses continues laying out what God means by being holy.
Being holy means caring for the poor. More specifically, being holy means leaving some of the harvest in the fields so that the poor might gather what is left and have something to eat. Interestingly enough, notice that it is very much implied that the poor are not simply given something to eat, but they too must actually go out and gather in order to eat.
Being holy means not stealing nor dealing falsely with others, in other words it means having honest weights and measures in your trade. It means an honest days work for an honest days wages. And as we learn in the explanation to the seventh commandment it also means helping our neighbor to improve and protect his property and business. It means being holy both in what is done as well as in what is not done.
Being holy means not lying, nor swearing falsely. Today we might add that it means telling the whole truth. As we might imagine, telling the truth, yet not telling the whole truth can be a way of lying, for sometimes just some of the truth, while true paints quite a different picture than the whole truth.
Being holy means not profaning God’s name. As we are reminded in confirmation class, profaning God’s name includes despising preaching and God’s Word, which also includes any teaching and living contrary to God’s Word. In other words, profaning God’s name means refusing and rejecting the gifts God has to give by absenting ourselves from where those gifts are given out, Divine Service and Bible Class, and living a life contrary to His Word, putting something before God.
Being holy means not robbing, nor keeping from the one who is owed. Here again, as with stealing and dealing falsely, we are reminded that an honest days work means an honest days wage and one should not be remiss in honoring one’s debts. Indeed, as Paul reminds us we should owe now one except to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Being holy means not cursing the deaf, nor tripping the blind, in other words it means not being cruel to those who are handicapped. It means not taking advantage of those, as we would say today, that are less fortunate than we are. It means caring for those who need care.
Being holy means not doing injustice in court by being partial. In other words it means being impartial and fair and treating everyone the same. Indeed, when we look at others perhaps we might remind ourselves that God loves them so much that He gave His life for them, who are we to love them any less.
Being holy means not slandering others. As we are reminded in the eight commandment, so we are reminded here that one’s reputation is a gift from God and God’s desire is that we do not hurt nor harm anyone’s reputation. Here also we are reminded of the words of gossip that so often flow from our lips, as we tear others down in order to make ourselves look better.
Being holy means letting vengeance be the Lord’s. Ours is not a life of vengeance nor revenge. The Lord will take care of carrying out the threats of the Law, that is not for us to do.
In summary however, we are told that the way we keep the Law is not so much the fact that we do or do not do what has been commanded, but that we love our neighbor as our self. Indeed, if we could love our neighbor as our self then we would not break all those commandments which God commands concerning our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now, we might be thinking that our text from Leviticus has to do with the Children of Israel and that is true. However, God’s command and demand of us, His people, is the same that is that we are to be holy. As we heard last week and as we have heard before, by faith in Jesus we are children of Abraham, indeed we are the true Israel. With that fact in mind, then we might recognize that God’s commands and demands for us are the same as that of Israel, to keep the commandments.
Again, as we heard last week, just as Israel was unable to be God’s people, just like Israel continually disobeyed, went after other gods and were chastened by the Lord, so we too are unable to keep God’s commandments. We too go running after other gods and idols, those things that are not God. Indeed, every Sunday morning we see too many people go running after another god as they put something other than the one true God in first place by absenting themselves from Divine Service. But even more, as we heard God’s demand for holiness from Israel, so His demand on us is the same and yet how often do we find ourselves not caring for those in need, not being honest in our dealings with others, profaning God’s name by cursing and swearing, speaking ill of others and the like.
God’s Word to us through Moses is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” God’s desire is that we live lives of faith, not from threats of the Law but from the Gospel of His love for us, a Gospel seen most clearly in Jesus. Because Israel was unable to be holy and because we are unable to be holy, God sent Jesus to be holy for us. Jesus is God in flesh. Jesus had to be God in order to be holy. Jesus is God in flesh and He had to be human in order to be our substitute.
Jesus is true Israel. Jesus was born from the line of King David, from the line of Judah as promised of the Messiah. And Jesus lived as the true Israel. All that was commanded of Israel and all they could not do, Jesus did, perfectly so that He could trade Himself, His perfection for all of Israel.
Jesus is true us. All that Jesus did He did perfectly for us in our place so that He could trade His perfection for our imperfection. And as we were reminded earlier, that by faith in Jesus we are children of Abraham, indeed as we are the true Israel, so Jesus lived perfectly for us in our place. Having done all things perfectly, and next week as we will see Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration meeting with Moses and Elijah, confirming His fulfilling of all the law and prophets, so He took our sins and paid the price for our sins and gives to us His perfection so that when we stand before God we stand in His presence in the perfection and holiness that He demands of us.
What does this mean? Even though God knows we cannot accomplish His demands, yet they remain the same. Just as we have the civil laws of our land, laws meant for the sake of good order in our country, city and neighborhoods, so our Lord gives us His Law to keep us safe as His children. Without laws there would be anarchy and chaos, but with the laws, as with all governments which are gifts from God, even pagan governments, for the purpose of government is for order, peace and harmony. And so the law continues not simply as a threat, but is for the sake of good order.
Because we cannot keep the law perfectly, which is God’s demand on us as His children, He sent Jesus. Jesus fulfilled God’s demands for us in our place, for us, for Israel, for all. But, just because the demands of the law have been fulfilled in Jesus, that did not do away with the law for the law continues in its purpose, to bring order, peace and harmony.
And so the law continues and we continue to fail in keeping the law. Thanks be to God that when we fail, God forgives. God forgives and stirs in us and moves in us so that we might try again. However, our attempt at keeping the law is not an attempt from fear of punishment, indeed our attempts at keeping the law flow not for the sake of thinking we might offer our perfection to God and say “See, I am perfect as you commanded.” Rather our attempts to keep the law flow from love, from God’s love for us and our reflection of the love back to Him and others.
So, when we do right, when we keep the law, even if only a little, it is because God stirs in us to do right. Indeed, when we do what the law demands it is not we who are acting, but it is God acting in and through us.
So, we are reminded as we usually are, that we get it right when we point to Jesus. Jesus loves me. Jesus helps me to love others. Jesus helps me to do what is mete, right and salutary. Jesus helps me to be the person He would have me to be. Jesus does it through me, for me, in my place. Thanks be to Jesus for His grace and righteousness.
As you have read, hopefully in my newsletter articles and as you have heard me say, hopefully, one of the reasons I am a Lutheran is because we get it right when it comes to a proper understanding of justification and sanctification. Indeed, as we Lutherans say, the church stands or falls on the article of justification and getting it right. As you have heard time and again, justification is all done for us by Jesus. We stand before God just and holy, righteous and without sin only by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Anytime we add or attempt to add anything to what Christ has done as if we need to add anything, then we lose everything. Jesus has done it all.
Sanctification on the other hand is all worked in and through us by Jesus. Here again, we get it right when we point to Jesus. As St. Paul reminds us the good that we would do we do not do, but the evil that is before us that is what we do. Thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit works in and through us to do the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do.
Love is a summary of the commandments. We love because He first loves us. We do because He first loves us and shines His love in and through us. We do, not because of some threat, not because we have to, but we do because we cannot help but do those things He moves and stirs in us to do.
God’s demand is perfection. Because we cannot meet His demand He sends Jesus to be perfect for us. Jesus lives for us. Jesus takes our sins and gives us His perfection. Jesus suffers and dies and pays the price for our sins. Jesus rises from the dead defeating sin, death and the Devil. Jesus gives us His Holy Spirit who works in us to do the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do. Jesus love us. He loves you. And so we live our lives reflecting His love back to Him and to others so that our lives do say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.