Sunday, September 30, 2018

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

                                                                                    Trinity 18
                                                                                    Mt 22:34-46

            It took me longer than it should have, but eventually I learned the lesson that you should not attempt to discuss anything of substance on social media.  Facebook, Twitter – it’s all the same.  The impersonal interaction that lacks clues of intonation and non-verbal communication; the limitations inherent in writing a response; the fact that multiple people are all trying to talk at the same time – all of these things contribute to the outcome that not much good is going to come out of it.
            In particular something I have noticed is that in discussions on social media, you feel the need to have the last word.  Even when it is obvious that you and another person simply have antithetical worldviews, it is hard to let the last statement in a thread be that of the other person; the other side. I guess this is because the conversation remains there for everyone to see, and we don’t want to give the impression that we didn’t have a reply.  We don’t want to give the impression that we just gave up because the other side won.
            In our Gospel lesson this morning we see that the Lord Jesus does get the last word.  Recorded in the Gospel, this conversation now remains for everyone to see. We find that Jesus silences the opponents by asking a question about the Christ.  It’s a question they can’t answer.  Today, we know the answer to his question.  Because we do, we have forgiveness and peace.  And we also have the means by which we begin to do what our Lord speaks about at the beginning of our text.
            Our Gospel lesson this morning takes place during Holy Week.  During this time, the Jewish religious leaders engaged in an ongoing series of attacks against Jesus.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees may have been rivals, but in Jesus they found a common opponent. They both challenged Jesus with questions that they hoped would harm his reputation … or worse. In this chapter, the Pharisees had asked Jesus about whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, but the Lord answered it in a way that left everyone marveling.  Next the Sadducees had asked a question about the resurrection and marriage, but Jesus answered in a way that astonished the crowed at his teaching.
            We hear in our text: “But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.”  Jesus had shut down the Sadducees. So the Pharisees decided to take another run at him.
            The Pharisee asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  In the semitic idiom, he was asking, “What is the greatest commandment?”  This was the kind of question that Jewish scholars debated for centuries. And so now the Pharisee addressed it to Jesus, apparently in hopes that he would provide an answer that could be attacked.
            Jesus said to him, “‘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.”
            Our Lord made short work of the question.  It was easy.  Love God with all that you are. That is the great and first commandment – a summary of the first table of the law.  And the second that follows from this is, love your neighbor as yourself – a summary of the second table of the law.  Jesus said that on these two commandments hangs – or depends – all the Law and the Prophets.  Everything in the Old Testament comes down to these two things: Love God with all that you are.  Love your neighbor as yourself.
            It would be so simple … if it just wasn’t so hard.  Love God with all that you are.  But that means God must come first, and I must come second. As fallen people, that’s not the way we want to run things.  If I fear, love and trust in God above all things, I won’t get to do some of things I want to do.  I won’t get to have some of the things I want to have.  I won’t have some of the time for me, that I want to have.
            And love your neighbor as yourself?  Are you kidding me?!? Do you have any idea how much I love myself?  There can’t possibly be enough love to go around by the time I get done with me. To love others in that way would mean sacrificing something for me, and I’m not about to do that.
            This is the sin that is present in our life. There’s no denying it. There’s no excusing it. And if our text ended there we wouldn’t have any Gospel. We would have only law. We would find only a word of God that shows us what we are not. We would have a word of God that only shows us our sin.
            But that’s not where our Gospel lesson ends.  Instead we hear: “Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’”
            It was, of course, a widely held belief in Judaism that the Christ – the Messiah sent by God – would be a descendant of King David. But Jesus then followed up by asking them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
            Our Lord quoted Psalm 110:1, a psalm attributed to King David and understood to be about the Messiah.  Jesus explicitly says that David wrote the Psalm under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And then he calls attention to a puzzling feature. David, writing about his son – his descendant, the Messiah – calls him “Lord.”  In the ancient world the father was always superior to his son. And the farther removed in time the patriarch was, the more superior he was as well.  So humanly speaking, there was no way David should ever call his descendant “Lord.” What was going on here? The Pharisees had no answer.  We are told, “And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.”
            However, we know the answer to the question. Jesus was David’s son – his descendant.  He was a human being, born of Mary.  Joseph, who was from the line of David, had taken him to be his own son when he accepted the pregnant Mary as his wife. Through Joseph’s action, Jesus was a son of David.
            Yet Jesus was not conceived through the union of Joseph and Mary.  Instead he was conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit.  He was born of the virgin Mary. And he was David’s Lord because he is the Son of God.  He is God – the second person of the Trinity – now incarnate as true God and true man.
            This individual – the son of David and the Son of God; David’s son and David’s Lord – was unique. He was uniquely suited to carry out a completely unique mission. And for this reason he was in Jerusalem during Holy Week. He was there to give his life as a ransom for you because you are a sinner.  He was there to redeem you from sin and the devil by dying on the cross.  And having accomplished this on Good Friday, he then defeated death by rising from the dead on the third day.
            Jesus did this for you.  His Spirit brought you to faith through his word.  He baptized you for the forgiveness of sins.  Now, God the Father sees you not as what you are, but as what Jesus Christ has done for you.  He sees you as forgiven – as a saint.  In Christ, he does not see you as a person who loves yourself more than him.  He does not see you as a person how loves yourself more than your neighbor. Rather he sees you as a person who loves him with all that you are.  He sees you as a person who loves his neighbor as himself.
            But this is not all that Christ has done.  Through his Spirit he has made you a new creation.  When Martin Luther preached on this text he said: “Then he also promises to give you the Holy Spirit, so that our hearts begin to love God and to keep his commandment.  God is not gracious and merciful to sinners so that they will not keep the Law nor so that they would remain as they were. Rather, he gives and forgives both sin and death for Christ’s sake, who has fulfilled the whole Law, in order in this way to make the heart fresh and through the Holy Spirit to kindle and move the heart to begin again to love him from day to day more and more.”
            Until you die or Christ returns you will always be plagued by sin. You will not perfectly love God with all that you are.  You will not perfectly love your neighbor as yourself.  Yet because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that means nothing before God.  Through the work of the Spirit you are forgiven. You are a saint.
            And instead of worrying about what you can’t do perfectly, you are free to seek to do all you can.  Christ’ Spirit provides the inclination, the motivation, the power to put God first in ever greater ways.  The Spirit provides the inclination, the motivation, the power to love your neighbor as yourself.
            So because of Jesus, trust in God’s care and love, even though as far as you are concerned things are not going well.  Make time for prayer and give thanks to God. Read God’s Word during the week and come to Bible class on Sunday. Obey your parents … the first time they tell you to do something.  Help you neighbor who needs assistance with something. Tell your spouse about how much he or she means to you, and then show them by what you do in the the living room and the bedroom. Speak in ways that help a person’s reputation.
            Jesus Christ makes this possible through his Spirit, just as he makes your forgiveness and salvation certain.  His death and resurrection is the source for both.  Your life will never be perfect, but because of Christ God views you that way. Nourished and strengthened by the Means of Grace, the faith that receives this status, is the faith that seeks to love God with all that you are and to love your neighbor as yourself.



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