Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity - Mt 22:34-46

                                                                                                   Trinity 18
                                                                                                   Mt 22:34-46

Last Sunday a member made my day. It wasn’t because of a comment made about the sermon or Bible class. Instead, it was because she said to me: “Pastor, you look like you’ve lost weight.”

When I turned forty, it was like a switch flipped. Formerly I could eat whatever I wanted and as much as I wanted, and it was never a problem. But once I turned forty the weight gained over the holidays didn’t disappear. And over the course of about five years my weight gradually continued to rise.

Finally in August, I decided that it was time to do something about it. I went on a diet and since then have continued to modify what I eat. I’ve lost about twenty pounds, and want to lost five more. What’s made it easier has been the fact that Amy and I have done it together.

Now, not everyone in the Surburg house has been thrilled with the changes. In particular, there have been complaints that we don’t have bratwurst as often as we used to in the past. This is certainly true. And it pains me as well. I love bratwurst and what can be easier for dinner in grilling season than to fire up the grill and throw some bratwurst on it?

We’ve stopped eating as much bratwurst. But that doesn’t mean we no longer eat it at all. We just eat it in moderation. Yet the fact we eat it at all is rather remarkable. For we have the Book of Leviticus in our Bible that explicitly tells God’s people Israel that they are not to eat pork because it is unclean.

In our Gospel lesson today Jesus talks about the Law as he answers a question. The question deals with the Torah that God gave to Israel at Mt. Sinai. Yet in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ answer about the Law points us to our Lord and what he means for our life.

Our text this morning takes place during Holy Week. In a series of questions the Jewish religious leaders attack Jesus in the hopes of tripping him up. They are trying to get something that they can use against our Lord.

The Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, had just been silenced by Jesus when their question about the resurrection failed to trap him. So now, the Pharisees take a shot. As a whole the Pharisees were devout laymen who voluntarily chose to live according to a particular interpretation of the Torah. They had elevated this interpretation to the point where they basically saw it as being on par with the Torah itself. The “tradition of the elders” as they called it could not be violated.

The Pharisees also had their scribal experts, and so one of them asked Jesus the question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” We know that Jews at the time of Jesus debated this sort of thing. Our Lord answered the question with a simple reply. Yet the reader of Matthew’s Gospel knows this answer points us to Jesus himself. Jesus replied, “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.”

Jesus’ answer provides a summary of the two tables of the law. The first three commandments all deal with God, while the next seven all deal with the neighbor. The law is first about God – about loving God with all that we are. And whenever we hear the world “love” in the Bible we need to remember that biblical love is not limited to an emotion. It certainly may include this, but far more importantly it is an action.

Next the law is about how we treat others – a point that Jesus summarizes as: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Consider how often you think about what you want; about how you want to be treated. Now imagine what it would be like if you directed the same attention toward others and their well being.

Of course we don’t. We don’t do either of these. Both God and our neighbor lose out to the great “Me” that guides our actions. We do what is best for me. We do what pleases me. We do what is easiest for me. You see it at home, at work and at school. In fact, you see it in every setting where we find ourselves.

After summarizing God’s law in this fashion, Jesus goes on to say in our text, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Our Lord says that all of the Old Testament depends or “hangs” on these statements. Now that is rather remarkable because the Old Testament is very extensive in what it prescribes. It covers what sacrifices are to be offered, what people can eat, what days they worship and how they are to deal with disagreements. Yet Jesus says that all of this depends on these two truths: love God with all that you are, and love your neighbor as yourself.

It’s not the first time in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus has said something like this. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Here again, our Lord summarizes the law and says that this is the Law and the Prophets. He says that the Old Testament can be boiled down to this basic truth: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Now that seems to leave out a great deal - all of that stuff about sacrifices and food, for example. At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” 

Jesus was quite clear that he had not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. In fact, he said that until all was accomplished not the smallest letter in the writing of the law would pass away. And sure enough, we see that Jesus is living as a faithful Jew who has come to the temple at Passover.

But Jesus said that he had come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets so that all would be accomplished. The nation of Israel and its covenant with God was not an end in itself. Instead, it was the means by which God was keeping his promise to send the descendant of Eve who would crush the head of the serpent. It was the means by which God kept his promise to Abraham that in his offspring all nations would be blessed.

Jesus same to be fulfillment of all the Law commanded about sacrifices. He came to be the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s words: “But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament because he loved God the Father with all that he is. He fulfilled it because he loved his neighbor – he loved you – more than himself. That is why Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He did this for you as he received God’s judgment against your sins on the cross. 

And then on the third day he rose from the dead. On Easter Jesus began something new. He began the resurrection of the Last Day. In his death he accomplished all that God had commanded and promised in the Law and the Prophets. And in his resurrection he began the task of including all people in God’s saving work. Before Easter Jesus told the disciples, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” After Easter Jesus commanded them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. And because they have been fulfilled; because Jesus has fulfilled Israel’s role of being a light to the nations, that Torah no longer is binding on God’s people. If you like bratwurst this is great news! We, the nations, have now been grafted into God’s people which is Jew and Gentile. The Torah’s goal and purpose was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and so the requirements of the Torah are no longer binding on us.

We have received forgiveness because Jesus Christ loved God the Father with all that he is. We have received forgiveness because Jesus Christ loved us more than himself. We have been freed from sin. But our Lord teaches that this has not been done so that we are free to do what we want. Instead we are now led by the Holy Spirit to walk in the way of our Lord.

That way is what Jesus describes in our text today as he says, “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.” 

Loving God in this way will mean sacrifice. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Most likely you are not going to face the decision between your life and confessing Christ. But you will face the decision of speaking about Christ to others, or playing it safe and remaining silent. You will face the decision of the sports event on Sunday morning, or Jesus gifts in the Divine Service. You will face the question of doing what you want to do with your time on a Wednesday night, or coming to an Advent or Lent service.

Loving others as you love yourself also means sacrifice. It means putting others and their needs before yourself. It means helping others – even other people who treat us poorly. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

This is not something you can do on your own. It is only Jesus Christ who has included you in the reign of God who can make this possible. It is his Sprit who has given you rebirth through the washing of water and the Word in Holy Baptism. It is his Spirit who continues to strengthen you in faith and form you to walk in the way of Jesus as you hear God’s Word and receive Christ’s true body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. It is his Spirit who enables you to cling to your Lord in faith for forgiveness and salvation.

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