Wednesday, March 2, 2016

We can neither obey nor save ourselves from death; we WILL die, yet we NEED to be saved from it.

SOMEBODY'S GOT TO DO IT

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Whoever asked Jesus what the Great Commandment was had to be surprised by His short answer.  He would be tempted to ask, "Is that all?"  We are to love God and our neighbors, and this works for everybody?  If we are to benefit this morning from what our Lord is telling us, we had better listen to Him closely, and as an aid, look at hymn # 295, written by our fellow-Ohioan, Matthias Loy, who lived in Columbus about a hundred years ago. He begins with:
The Law of God is good and wise, and sets His will before our eyes,
Shows us the way of righteousness and dooms to death when we transgress.
Especially, now, see how he gets to the point in verse 5:

The Law is good, but since the Fall
Its holiness condemns us all.
 
In other words, the Law leaves us in an impossible situation.  It's like being locked out of your car when you leave your key in the ignition. Suddenly, that key becomes the most important thing in the world.  You can push on the glass, and pound on the door, all in vain.  But it's so simple if you have another key. Pastor Loy goes on to verse 6 where he tells us:
  To Jesus we for refuge flee, who from the curse has set us free.
Jesus gave two commandments here, and neither is negative.  To hear some people talk about the Christian faith you would think it was all about prohibitions, but there is no negative in these commandments, so Jesus answers in the affirmative.  We must not deceive ourselves into thinking we are righteous because we avoid the prohibitions given in the Ten Commandments.  The Great Commandment interprets the Ten, and in fact makes them Christian.  Originally they were not.  The way you learned them with Luther's meanings they are Christian.  Neither was Luther the first.  Moses and the Prophets interpreted the Commandments, the Holy Apostles made them more spiritual, and Christ in His own preaching interpreted them again and again.  Jesus was not bringing a New Law.  He was fulfilling the Old Law.  Even Moses wasn't writing anything completely new.  He was putting into words the understood commandment that went with the tree of knowledge in Eden.  Our parents broke it when they chose to see their own good instead of faithfully obeying God's.  That prohibition was given in love.

What does the Great Commandment say?   "Love God at least a little bit?"  That doesn't do it.  "Take time out for God?"  That doesn't work.  "Love your neighbor as long as he stays out of your way?"   Don't we wish!  "Love the Lord when you get a new job?"  I agree that a new job is a season for rejoicing, but our love for God is not to be seasonal.  We are guests on this planet.  If God ever withdrew His presence from us, we would be left in utter chaos.  Never forget that all that we have is borrowed from God.  We can't keep pretending that He isn't here.  Neither should we plan only to come to Him in the last extremity.  What kind of love is that?  Not that He wouldn't forgive you, but why put off so long what you could do now?  If you were God, and knew that some of your most beloved creatures couldn't care less about you, but gave you grudging service because that was better than hell, how would you feel?

And what about loving your neighbor?  Here again Jesus is searching out the attitude of our hearts.  Jesus does not say, "Occasionally send money to people while remaining at a safe distance."  Rather, we are to love the people we encounter, and seek their interests as actively as we seek our own.  To love means to be involved, heart, soul, and mind, as we are with ourselves.  We do not love ourselves because we find some merit within ourselves.  We love ourselves whether we are good or bad.  We cannot compromise that love when the object is our neighbor.  Selfishness and apathy are sin indeed.

Then we are back to the locked car, aren't we?  Is righteousness out of reach for creatures like us?  The Great Commandment condemns us.  Moses and the Prophets condemn us.  Jesus and the Apostles condemn us.  The only honest thing to do is condemn ourselves.  Then we can stop pretending.  We can approach the Holy One honestly, for He will not despise a broken and contrite heart.  Then we hear the liberating words of forgiveness, words the Holy Spirit has been trying to tell us if only we would stop accusing others and excusing ourselves long enough to listen.  God has given us a key.  There is a Righteous One.  God says, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.  The Law tells us, Somebody's got to do it.  The Gospel tells us, Somebody did.  Jesus truly loved His Father with all of His heart, soul, and strength.  Jesus loved His neighbors enough to die for them.  The Better Adam left the Better Eden to get involved with us in the chaos of the fallen world.  What we were locked out of was God's favor and fellowship.  In Jesus, God has given us the key.  Neither has He stopped loving us.  After the cross came Easter.  The love was not exhausted.  It was flowing freely again after resting on the Sabbath.

The Great Commandment is no longer a threat to us.  We have been forgiven for not keeping it.  Somebody had to do it, Somebody did, for us.  We can be confident of that.  The vital link here is faith.   Jesus is the key.  Faith is having the sense to use it.  Such faith is complete confidence.  We don't know exactly how God begins faith, but we know it is His gift, that He grants it through the Word and Sacraments.  The Holy Spirit casts down our pride from its mighty seat, and makes us like children, trusting in the Savior.  On that Foundation He builds the desire to do good, to keep the Great Commandment.  Somebody's got to do it. Somebody did.  And through Him, so can we.    AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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