Friday, July 30, 2021

Mark's thoughts: The Preface and Proper Preface of the Service of the Sacrament - Why are we saying this?


The second half of the Divine Service, the Service of the Sacrament, begins with the Preface.  This is a series of three exchanges between the pastor and the congregation.  In the first, the pastor chants “The Lord be with you” and the congregation responds, “And also with you” (historically, the response has been, “And with your spirit,” just as we say in Setting Three in the hymnal). This language reflects 2 Timothy 4:22 where Paul writes, “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”

This first exchange is known as the Salutation and occurs at several different points in the Divine Service.  On the one hand, the Salutation carries out a practical function.  It serves to introduce new parts of the service and renew the attention of the congregation as the Divine Service moves along.  However, it also plays a much more important theological function.  The statement by the pastor “The Lord be with you” is a blessing.  It is a proclamation of the Lord’s gracious presence in the Word and Sacrament of the Divine Service.  The Salutation also indicates the special relationship between the pastor and the congregation.  It is sometimes called the “Little Ordination,” since here the congregation acknowledges the pastor as the one called by Christ through the Church to carry out His ministry in the midst of His people.  The congregation acknowledges that God has placed the pastor there in the Office of the Holy Ministry to carry out the next portion in the Divine Service.

Next, the pastor says, “Lift up your hearts” and the congregation responds, “We lift them up unto the Lord.” These words reflect Paul’s statement in Colossians 3:1 “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”  In the words “Lift up your hearts” the pastor invites the congregation to rejoice in welcoming our Lord Jesus who will come into our presence in His body and blood.  These words encourage us to turn to our Lord for forgiveness as He comes into our presence in the Sacrament and remind us to focus on Christ and the miracle He is about to carry out in our midst rather than being distracted by worldly things.  In the response, the congregation members state that as they prepare to receive the Sacrament, they are doing just this.

Finally, the pastor changes, “Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God,” and the congregation responds, “It is meet and right so to do.” When our Lord instituted the Sacrament of the Altar He gave thanks over bread and wine (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).  Another name for the Sacrament that comes from the early Church is “Eucharist.”  The term “Eucharist” is based on the Greek verb that means “to give thanks.”  The pastor invites the congregation to give thanks to God for the salvation that Jesus Christ has won for us, and for Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament through which Jesus delivers the benefits of His cross to us.  In the reply to the pastor, the congregation agrees that giving thanks to the Lord our God is the only right and fitting thing to do since Christ comes among us in his body and blood in order to deliver forgiveness to us.

 After announcing that thanks should be given, the pastor proceeds to do this using the Proper Preface.  Each Proper Preface begins with the words, “It is truly good, right and salutary that we should at all times and all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God ….” In the Proper Preface we give thanks to God for the salvation He was won for us through Jesus Christ.  This portion of the liturgy is called the Proper Preface because there is a prayer for each season of the Church year and for some individual feasts.  Each of these prayers focuses on a particular part of God’s saving action that we meet in that season.  All of the Proper Prefaces end with the words, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying….”  These words introduce the Sanctus and remind us that in the liturgy of the Divine Service we join in the heavenly liturgy as we are united with the angels and the saints who have gone before us in praising God. We will consider this in more depth in the next post as we focus on the meaning of the Sanctus.





Commemoration of Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr


Today we remember and give thanks for Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr.  Remembered as a devoted disciple of Martin Luther, Robert Barnes is considered to be among the first Lutheran martyrs.  Born in 1495, Barnes became the prior of the Augustinian monastery at Cambridge, England.  Converted to Lutheran teaching, he shared his insights with many English scholars through writings and personal contacts.  During a time of exile to Germany, he became friends with Luther and later wrote a Latin summary of the main doctrines of the Augsburg Confession titled Sententiae.  Upon his return to England, Barnes shared his Lutheran doctrines and views in person with King Henry VIII.  The changing political and ecclesiastical climate in his native country, however, claimed him as a victim; he was burned at the stake in Smithfield in 1540.  His final confession of faith was published by Luther, who called his friend Barnes, “our good, pious dinner guest and houseguest … this holy martyr, St. Robert Barnes.”

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, heavenly Father, You gave courage to Your servant Robert Barnes to give up his life for confessing the true faith during the Reformation.  May we continue steadfast in our confession of the apostolic faith and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from I; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Sunday, July 25, 2021

Sermon for the Feast of St. James the Elder - Mk 10:35-45


                                                                        St. James, the Elder

                                                                        Mark 10:35-45



          You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to recognize that Peter, James, and John held a unique status within the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.   When Jesus raised the little girl from the dead, he only took these three with him into the room where the girl’s body was. 

          When Jesus went up on the mountain and was transfigured revealing his divine glory, and Moses and Elijah appeared with him, he only took along Peter, James, and John as witnesses. And of course, on the night before his death, when Jesus prayed so earnestly in the Garden of Gethsemane, only Peter, James, and John were there.

          We learn that Peter, James, and John, along with Peter’s brother Andrew, were the first apostles called by Jesus. They were partners in a fishing business at the Sea of Galilee. We aren’t told why Andrew was not accorded this unique treatment.  James and John were brothers, just like Peter and Andrew.  But for some reason, Andrew was not included as part of this inner group.

          The name “James” in the New Testament can easily produce some confusion because there are three of them.  There is the James that we remember today, who along with John were the sons of Zebedee. There is a second James, the son of Alphaeus, who was also an apostle.  Because we hear more about James the son of Zebedee, he is usually called “the elder” or “the greater,” while James the son of Alphaeus is called “the lesser.” Then there is James, the brother of our Lord who became a believer after Jesus’ resurrection and very quickly became a leader in the Jerusalem church.

          We call James, “St. James,” but an examination of what Scripture tells us about him reveals the fact that he certainly did not earn that title by his behavior.  Instead, he was a sinner like we are, and we see our own sins in his behavior.  Mark tells us that Jesus gave the name Boanerges to James and John, which means “Sons of Thunder.”  We are very familiar with the impetuous nature of Peter, but from this name we learn that James was no different. And Luke tells us about one event that illustrates this.

          As Jesus was making his final trip to Jerusalem he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. However, the Samaritan villagers did not receive him, because he and the disciples were Jews making their way to Jerusalem. When James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”  Our Lord responded by turning and rebuking them, and then they went on to another village. Like James, at times we respond with anger as we seek revenge against others.  We let our emotions take control and seek payback instead of forgiving.

          We hear about another instance in our Gospel lesson.  There Mark tells us about how James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Jesus with a rather preposterous request. They said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  Imagine your son or daughter approaching you in this way!  Jesus ignored this fact and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Then James and John said, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 

          James and John were selfishly looking out for themselves.  They were seeking the prime positions, and they were making sure that they asked for them before anyone else could.  Like James, selfish motives that seek to put our desires ahead of others infect our actions all the time.  We look out for ourselves first, and if that means stepping over other people or mistreating them – so be it.

          In our Gospel lesson we learn that our Lord responded to James and John by saying: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  Impetuously ambitious, the brothers had the audacity to reply, “We are able.”  Since we know about Peter’s threefold denial of Christ, and the fact that James fled from Jesus along with the other apostles at the Garden of Gethsemane, their answer is almost humorous.

          But then Jesus told them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”  It is important to recognize that immediately before our text, Jesus had said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

          Jesus describes his suffering and death as a cup he must drink, and a baptism he must undergo. He tells Peter and John, that they will indeed experience suffering and even death, but that the positions they request are not something that can just be given to them.

          We learn that when the other ten apostles heard about the request made by James and John, they began to be indignant.  No doubt they were angry that the brothers had asked to be placed over them.  Most likely, they were upset that they had not though of this themselves!

          Yet for Jesus, this was a moment to teach about his mission, and what it means to be his disciple.  Our Lord said, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

          James sinned.  We sin.  Because this is so, Jesus Christ the Son of God gave his life on the cross as the ransom for us all.  He drank the cup of God’s wrath against our sin.  He received the baptism of suffering and death on the cross.  He did this to win forgiveness for us – forgiveness for our every sin of anger, revenge and selfishness.  Yet death was not the end of his saving mission.  As he had told the disciples, on the third day he rose from the dead.  He defeated death and began the new life that will be ours.

          James was among those who fled the Lord Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane.  He was with the apostles in the locked room on the evening of Easter.  He was there when the risen Lord appeared in their midst and said, “Peace to you!”  He was there when Jesus said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

          James learned that the crucified Christ had risen from the dead. He learned why this had taken place when Jesus said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

          James learned that he was forgiven.  He was now a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.  He knew that sin was forgiven and death had been defeated.  And James had been charged to proclaim this good news to others. 

          We live as those who have received this message.  We know that like James, we are saints – we are holy in God’s eyes because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Our sins are forgiven, and we are prepared to stand before God on the Last Day. What is more, we know that because of Jesus’ resurrection, death cannot separate us from God. Death is a defeated enemy because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. When our Lord returns in glory, he will raise us with bodies transformed to be like his resurrected body.

          James became a witness to the crucified and risen Lord.  Our Lord had told him that he would drink the cup that Christ drank, and that he would be baptized with the baptism with which Jesus was baptized.  Our Lord told James that he would experience suffering, and even death.  But even the threat of death could not stop James from speaking the Gospel – the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus.

          James was a witness to the risen Lord all the way to death.  In our first reading from Acts we learn, “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.”  In 41 A.D. the Roman emperor Claudius had granted Herod Agrippa I rule over all the lands in Palestine – even those that formerly had been a Roman province.  He lived in Jerusalem, and seeking to please influential Jewish leaders he had James killed.

          James became the first martyr among the apostles of Jesus Christ. He was willing to suffer and die – to share in the suffering and death with Jesus – because he knew that Christ has risen from the dead. He knew that his sins were forgiven.  He knew that the risen Lord had defeated death, and so there was no reason to fear it.  He gave the ultimate witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus by dying – by being a martyr, for the word martyr means “witness.”

          In St. James we see that we too are saints – forgiven sinners because of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross in our place.  We find that we too can take up the cross as we share in Christ’s sufferings, because Jesus has risen from the dead.  Like James we must be willing to drink from the cup that Jesus’ drank, and to be baptized with the baptism with which he was baptized.  We must be ready to accept reproach, mockery and suffering int his world on account of Christ.  We can receive this “cup” and “baptism,” because we drink the cup of the Lord as we receive the Sacrament of the Altar.  There we eat and drink the true body and blood of the risen Lord, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.  We can endure these things because we have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection in the water of Holy Baptism.

          The assurance of forgiveness and resurrection provided by these Means of Grace carries over as it shapes the way we treat others.  In the Gospel lesson, our Lord says in response to the request by James and John: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

          Because our Lord Jesus has served us in his death and resurrection, we now seek to serve others.  We put their needs ahead of our own.  We are given strength to do this by the Holy Spirit as he works through our reception of the Sacrament and as we return in faith to our baptism.  We receive strength to do this through the Spirit’s inspired Scriptures, for there we receive the witness of St. James about Jesus Christ.  He died as a martyr – a witness to Christ - because Jesus has risen from the dead.















Monday, July 19, 2021

Mark's thoughts: The life of faith on the road between two ditches - Paul on Justification and Living as Christians


Christian theology and life is lived on a road between two ditches.  On the one side is the ditch that says we must do something in order to receive salvation. This was, of course, the heart of the Reformation struggle to return the Gospel in its truth and purity to the center of the Church’s life.


It’s not surprising that this is a continual temptation for the Church.  After all, we have the law written on our heart – we are “hard wired” to perceive God’s law.  And we know how the Law works – you must do something to get something. There is no such thing as a free lunch.


At the same time, the idea of doing something plays to the vanity of the old man in us. He doesn’t believe that he is blind, dead, and an enemy of God.  Instead led by him – the continuing presence of the sinful nature within us – we want to believe that we can do something in relation to God. We want to believe this good about ourselves.  And on top of this we also can then be proud that we get some credit for the role that we are able to play.


This is accomplished in different ways. In the medieval Church, and continuing in Roman Catholic theology of today, the grace given to us by God makes possible our doing that is part of the reason we receive full salvation.  Many of the forms of Protestantism around us firmly reject this view.  But instead, they place our doing in the work of conversion.  Here, I have the role of deciding by my own powers to believe in Jesus.  In various ways – such as “giving one’s testimony” – this action by the individual becomes a focal point of the Christian life.


The ditch on the other side of the road exists because a person knows with absolute certainty that they are forgiven and saved by God’s grace, on account of Christ, through faith. We know that we are forgiven, and since that is the case there is no real need to worry about how we live. Sure we may sin, but that’s why Jesus died for us – so that sin is forgiven! Here, any talk about how Christians are to live is labeled as “works righteousness” and is considered a threat to the Gospel.  Unfortunately, this is an outlook that has been common in modern Lutheranism.


In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul shows us the that the Christian faith is lived by staying on the road between those two ditches.  So in chapter three he has explained why the doing of the law can never be the means by which are justified before God.  He has shown that “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin” (3:9). They are under sin’s power.  For this reason he says, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (3:19-20).


Instead of the law and doing, forgiveness and justification are God’s gift. And so Paul goes on to say, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (3:21-25).


Jesus Christ, the second Adam, has freed us from the sin and damnation brought by the first Adam’s sin.  Paul says in chapter five: “For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous” (5:19).  God’s grace has abounded in Christ to overcome every sin.


But in chapter six, the apostle declares that the certainty of justification by grace through faith does not mean that we cease to struggle against sin.  He says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (6:1-2).


Paul says the reason for this is because of our baptism into the death of the risen Lord. He goes on to say, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (6:3-4).  The apostle ties together the resurrection of Jesus and the life we now live as Christians.  He does this because the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is the One who is now at work in us. He has given us regeneration.  He has made us a new creation in Christ.  The Spirit leads us and gives us the strength we need to live according to God’s will.


Salvation in Christ is purely God’s gift.  Faith in Christ is purely God’s gift.  We have nothing to do with either. But when it comes to living as Christians, Paul is clear that this does involve us – our decisions, our effort, our choices.  It is the Spirit who makes this possible, and the Spirit who leads, but we must also follow. That is why Paul writes in 6:12-13: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”


The apostle wants us to know that we are never free. We are either slaves to sin, or slaves to God and his righteousness.  These lead to very different outcomes. The apostle asks, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (6:16).


In the very next verse Paul defines this obedience as he says, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (6:17).  In an interesting turn of phrase the apostle does not say that they become obedient to the standard of teaching that was handed over to them.  Instead, he says that the believers have been handed over or committed to the teaching.


That describes what has been happening during our live in the faith. We have been handed over to the teaching of the Scriptures which are centered in the Gospel.  We have been handed over to the teaching about our Lord’s death and resurrection for us – we have been handed over to the teaching of the Creed.  We have been handed over to the teaching about our Lord’s Means of Grace: the Word, Baptism, Confession and the Sacrament of the Altar.  We have been handed over to the teaching of the Ten Commandments that describe what a God pleasing life looks like.


This is all true. And Paul lets us know that because this is true we cannot allow ourselves to fall into the ditch of thinking that forgiveness means we are free to live as we like.   He says: “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (6:19).  We are to present our bodies and lives as slaves to God’s righteousness – his right way of doing things. 


It is the Spirit who makes this possible – the Spirit who gave us new life in baptism.  Presenting ourselves to righteousness means resisting the old man and all that he wants us to do.  As Paul says in chapter eight: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (8:13).


In the latter portion of chapter six, the apostle uses the language of “slavery.”  He says, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (6:21-22).


Slaves of sin or slaves of God - those are the only two options that are available. The one leads to death. The other produces fruit because it is God’s Spirit – the Spirit of Christ – who is at work in us.  This fruit results in sanctification – a life lived according to God’s will.  And Paul says that this has as its end, eternal life.


You were buried with Jesus by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, you too might walk in newness of life.  Those who have received the Gospel follow the Spirit’s leading.  By the Spirit’s power they present themselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and their members to God as instruments for righteousness.  This produces the fruit of sanctification and has as its end, eternal life.


Seeking to live according to God’s will is a simply part of the life of faith – the life in Christ.  It is part of the life that the results in eternal life.  It cannot be otherwise, because this is the life of the Spirit who has called us to faith and sustains us as the children of God.


Yet after emphasizing this truth throughout this portion of chapter six, the apostle ends the chapter in a way that makes it absolutely clear that this life is not the reason we are saved.  Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (6:23).  The wages of sin is death.  Paul uses the word “wages” here because sin earns its “reward.” Sin brings death, and people have been “earning” those wages by sin ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve.


But the apostle tells us that eternal life in Christ Jesus is completely different.  This is a free gift.  It is completely unmerited and undeserved.  It has been won by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is received by the faith the Holy Spirit has created.  Our doing has nothing to do with why we are saved.  It is God’s grace given us in Christ.  It is God’s grace given us through the Spirit.  And because this is so, we who live in Christ by the Spirit do not present our members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and our members to God as instruments for righteousness.  









Sunday, July 11, 2021

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity - Mt 5:20-26


        Trinity 6

                                                                                    Mt 5:20-26



            “You have heard that it was said .... But I say you to you….” We hear Jesus make this statement in our Gospel lesson. And actually this is only the first, of six times in a row, when our Lord speaks in this way.  Now in our world, people assert their own opinion all the time, and openly contradict commonly held beliefs or those in positions of authority. They may do so based on facts and expertise. They may do so on the basis of emotion.  But we are not surprised when people do it.

            Things were quite different in the Judaism of the first century world.  There, statements from authorities in the past were handed down in chains of tradition that delivered them to the present day.  This way of tradition is what had authority.  It was especially true among the Pharisees who spoke about “the tradition of the elders.”  Later in the Gospel of Matthew they ask Jesus, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”

            In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus hammers home the fact that he doesn’t do things in this way.  He speaks with his own authority as he reveals what the will of God really entails.  And unlike our modern versions of self-assertion that often contradict God’s will, Jesus’ statements are the revelation of God’s true will, because he is the Son of God.

            Jesus begins our text by saying, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Now we think of the Pharisees as being very strict and zealous in keeping the Law – the Torah. And this is true – but only true in a particular way.

            The Torah – the Law that God delivered to Moses is very large.  However, much of it sets forth general principles about how a person is to conduct life. It certainly does also contain specific directions. Yet many of these are illustrative of how those principles are to be enacted. And even where it does provide detailed directions, we need to recognize that with the variety and unpredictability of life, there is no way that any law code can address every situation there will arise.

            Thus, there will always be a need to interpret the law and apply those principles to situations that aren’t explicitly addressed by the law.  The Pharisees had done this in their body of oral teaching – the tradition of the elders.  But the tradition of the elders did more than this. First, it added demands that weren’t in the law as it applied rules meant for the priests to people in every day life.  It also interpreted parts of the Torah in ways that made the law easier to keep.  Yes the Pharisees were very strict about keeping the law. But they were very strict about keeping their own interpretation of the law. And many times, that interpretation helped a person get around the strict requirements of the law.

            Six times Jesus states: “You have heard that it was said .... But I say you to you….”  In each case, Jesus takes up a false interpretation of the Torah that was present in Judaism of his day.  So in our text he says: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’”  This statement quotes the Fifth Commandment, and then adds that whoever murders will be liable to divine judgment. This is certainly true. In Jesus’ words that follow we learn that the problem is that the interpretation stops there. 

            In this view, “You shall not murder” means “You shall not murder.” So, if you don’t kill someone, you have kept he commandment and are not liable to judgment.  I presume that a similar kind of approach to the law allowed the rich young man to tell Jesus that he had kept this commandment.

            Yet as the divine source of the Ten Commandments, Jesus now gives the full meaning of this statement when he adds: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.” 

Our Lord says that it is not merely the physical act of murder that breaks the Fifth Commandment.  Anger in the heart is the source of all physical harm. Anger breeds hatred and contempt, and hatred does not express itself only in physical ways.  Our translation has “whoever insults his brother.”  The Greek text actually has an Aramaic word here, raka, which means “fool,” quite like the Greek word in the next statement translated as “You fool!”  The word used here in Greek is the one that gives us “moron.” So to put it in more colloquial English, Jesus is saying, “And whoever says, 'Moron!' will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Think about that. Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment – and Jesus clearly means eternal judgment. Whoever says, ‘Moron!” will be liable to the hell of fire.  What does life in your family, or with your spouse, or with your friends or co-workers look like when measured against that standard – against God’s standard? Do you get angry with others? Do you speak dismissive and insulting words to others? When you do – and notice I am not even going to entertain the idea about whether we do – this is sin that damns to hell.

Jesus’ words condemn us all. They reveal us to be sinners who must stand before the holy God. They leave no about the outcome.  Left to ourselves, we're on an express elevator to hell, going down.

Jesus’ words certainly reveal the sin in our life. But their presence in the Sermon on the Mount do not cause us to despair. They cause us to confess our sin. They cause us to repent. And they cause us to turn to Jesus in faith.

In Matthew’s Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount is found just after Jesus has begun his public ministry.  Matthew tells us, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”  Jesus was announcing that in his person the kingdom of heaven – which is just a Jewish way of saying kingdom of God” was at hand.  Now this is important because Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The poor in spirit are those who know their sin and confess it.  They don’t defend their sin. They try to ignore their sin. They confess that they have sinned, and that this sin is against God. As David confessed in the Psalms, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” 

Our Lord says that such people – the poor in spirit – are blessed.  They have the end time blessing now because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They have received the reign of God.

            Jesus’ words are true of you.  You are poor in spirit.  You know your sin.  You know that you get angry with others.  You know that you speak words that are motivated by hatred.  However, you are blessed because the kingdom of heaven – the reign of God – belongs to you.

            It does because Jesus brought the reign of God by dying on the cross for your sins.  Just before Holy Week, Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus Christ suffered and died because you and I are sinners. By that death, he won the forgiveness of sins for us.  Raised from the dead by the Father he has defeated death.  Until Christ returns, sin still brings death. But in God’s eyes we are freed from sin, and death can never hold on to our bodies.  In the resurrected body of Jesus we see what awaits us.

            Because of our crucified and risen Lord, we have forgiveness and salvation.  Through baptism we have shared in Jesus’ saving death.  In baptism the Spirit has caused to be born again – we are a new creation in Christ.  Because the Spirit has done this, he now enables us to live in ways that are true to God’s will.  St. Paul says in our epistle lesson today, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

            In our text, Jesus describes what this life looks like for those who have received the kingdom of God. He says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  Our Lord speaks about his first century setting when the temple in Jerusalem was still standing.  His point is that we do not let anger fester.  We do not live in anger.  Instead, we seek reconciliation. We forgive one another.  We do this because God has forgiven us in Christ.

            This is true of everyone with whom we interact.  But it is especially true of the people gathered here this morning – those with whom we are about the receive the Sacrament of the Altar. We come to the Sacrament confessing our sins in order to receive forgiveness.  But if we want to receive forgiveness, we must also be willing to forgive others.

            St. Paul told the Corinthians about the Sacrament: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”  We learn that the Sacrament joins us together as the body of Christ.  It is the Sacrament of unity, and as the apostle goes on to teach in chapter eleven, because the body and blood of Christ join us together as one body, we are not to bring any division to the Sacrament. There is no place for anger and failure to forgive among those who commune together.

            This fact is announced in liturgy of the Sacrament by the Pax Domini – the moment when I hold up the body and blood of Christ before you and sing, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”  On the one hand, this is a declaration that the body of blood of Christ you are about the receive delivers peace with God through the forgiveness of sins.  On the other hand, it is a reminder that we need to be at peace with one another – reconciled – if we are to come forward and receive the Sacrament.

            In our Gospel lesson, Jesus teaches us that the Fifth Commandment is broken not simply by the physical murder of another person.  We sin against God and break the Fifth Commandment when there is anger in our heart and abusive words directed toward others. Because Christ died and rose again to make us sharers in the kingdom of heaven, we confess this sin and cling to the forgiveness won by Christ – forgiveness given to us in Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  As the forgiven people of God, we forgive others as we seek reconciliation.