Archive for August 2007
Twelfth Sunday after the Trinity, August 26th 2007
Isaiah 58:9b-14 Psalm 103:1-8 Hebrews 12:18-29 Luke 13:10-17
Love, the Law-Breaker
Once I saw a woman who was completely bent over, so much so, that she mostly looked at the ground. She had to strain her neck to get a quick glimpse at you, if you talked with her. Forget looking up at the sky! She was not a hunch-back, she was just completely bent over from the waist and bent over like that, she walked away, lifting her head intermittently to get a glimpse of where she was going.
I was shocked to see her in that condition. You notice that I am not Jesus. Jesus saw such a woman in the synagogue, called her over, and said, “Woman I am unbinding you, setting you loose from your ailment. Then he laid his hands on her and immediately she stood straight and began praising God.”
I can identify a great deal with this woman, because I used to always walk bent over when I was young. It would exasperate my father, who would grab me and press me against himself so that I would straighten out. But as soon as he would let me go, I bent over again. What he could not understand was that he was controlling my life and he was very oppressive to me, and it was only when I left home and got out from underneath him, that Christ straightened me out, so that I could walk uprightly. Now when I go and take communion, to praise God, I walk as straight and upright as I possibly can, knowing that Christ does not bind me, does not rob me of all my strength, hollow me out, and make me cave in. No, Christ gives me strength and fills me with gracious forgiveness, so that I am not an old ruin coming down but a new construction going up, a child of God; an eleventh child to be sure, but a first-born for Christ, (to use the expression from the Epistle lesson), before God’s Holy Hill, where God is not only dwelling up there on Mount Zion, but also filling me from there with God’s direction and giving me the marvelous light in which we see light, and then making all God’s promises for my life come true, as Christ can also do for you.
Not only did I walk bent over and not be able to bend my knees straight, but I had a horrible lisp. All my s’s came out of the side of my mouth. Then when I talked, I would have to make an embarrassing noisy swallow somewhere in the middle of a word, and I could not tell when it was coming. And you are getting my testimony: Christ healed me from all these infirmities, one by one, and thus this is no longer my life, but the life of Christ in me. Christ is the wholeness, the healing person in me, and the wholeness of Christ, the healing power of Christ, like a cup overflowing, can bring wholeness, healing, and life to you as well.
Perhaps you remember the popular song: “It is no secret, what God can do. What he’s done for others, he’ll do for you. With arms wide open, he’ll pardon you. It is no secret, what God can do.”
Now when people are self-righteous, then the whole business about being pardoned or being forgiven does not mean very much to them. Another verse in the same song goes: “The chimes of times ring out the news Another day is through. Someone slipped and fell. Was that someone you?”
Some of us are very conscious of our sin. We have slipped and fallen and we know very well that we are sinners. Others are very moral in their own eyes and with their moralism, they make many others slip and fall. They do not even realize that their self-righteousness drove many others into sin. Luther speaks of the monster of self-righteousness. What is moralism? It is when someone is self-righteous and judgmental of others, not placing themselves as sinners shoulder to shoulder with others, but acting as if their morality placed them above others.
Such persons can be completely critical of others and they often write other people off as idiots. Meanwhile they cannot be self-critical in the slightest. They have to be right. You had better not disagree with them, because they feel that they can be straight only when all other people bend over before them.
Just look at the leader of the synagogue, whom Jesus had to contend with. He was not at all concerned with the suffering of that bent-over woman and the evil spirits of her fellow neighbors that probably bent her over that way.
He became indignant that Jesus had cured her on the Sabbath day. He quotes scripture, because the devil also quotes scripture to his evil purposes: “Six days thou shalt work. Come on those days to be cured and not on the Sabbath.” he shouts. He is quoting Exodus 20: 9-10, where it says, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” And he kept repeating the following words from this scripture to the crowd, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord and you shall not do any work [therein].”
So when people quote scripture to you under the influence of an evil, hateful, and moralistic spirit, then know, they did the same thing to Jesus. But he names them for what they are: hypocrites! They have never attained the law of love of the Gospel, but they are stuck in the law of equity: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Like the Mahatamah Gandhi said, that just makes us all blind and toothless. The law of love breaks the law of equity, because without the Holy Spirit, the old Mosaic law kills. Many an evil spirit ambushes the unsuspecting person from a hiding place in the law. You see, the crucifixion of Jesus was completely legal. The Gospel bids us follow the law of love. Now the law of love comes out of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus explicitly contradicts Moses in it. “You have heard said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you, do not resist an evil doer. But if anyone strike you on the right cheek, turn the other also, etc.” (Mat. 5:38-39)
Of course, this is a strategy to shame the violent and bring them to their senses. But it takes the law and brings the spirit of love into it so that the law aligns with a loving spirit and is not used to rob, kill, and destroy. The law has to be brought into the heart and used for love.
Now the law of equity, Moses’ law, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, reformed the law of revenge found in Genesis 4: 23-24. Lamech says, “he killed a man for wounding him, a young man for striking him – and if Cain is avenged seven-fold, Lamech will be avenged seventy-times seven-fold.”
The law of love turns the law of revenge upside-down and says, “Do we forgive seven-fold? No, we forgive seventy-times seven-fold.” That’s the law of love, which transcends the law, really, and becomes the Gospel.
Thus love breaks the law of equity and certainly breaks the law of revenge. A law has to be legitimate. It is evil to obey an illegitimate law. When we break a law, we have to be willing to bear the punishment, if we follow Christ. We want to respect the law and be law-abiding.
Thus Jesus does not wait till the Sabbath is over before he cures the woman. She had the ailment for eighteen years; why didn’t he just cure her the next day? No, he breaks the Sabbath law, because it is being observed without love and concern and empathy and compassionate healing of the distressed. Jesus is introducing the Gospel. Sorry, but the old law is no longer the way of salvation, so as the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus refuses to let it stand.
Jesus also performed two other healings on the Sabbath, challenging the old law. Then in the three short days of the crucifixion and resurrection, he even healed us from aging and death, by being the way through them. Thus our hearts now come to rest in the Lord of the Sabbath, so that we need do nothing, because Christ does everything” curing us of all our infirmities, forgiving us our sins, stripping us of our self-righteousness, and healing the breach between us and God. “O Lord, we are not worthy that you should come under our roof, but just say the word, and we shall be healed.”
(The German Portion of this sermon translated:)
When we take the laws found in the Bible and want to introduce them into our society, then we will find that they disrupt our lives and will not work. It is necessary to think the laws through with reason and love, to prove whether or not they will be helpful to us. We have to be very cautious in their application.
Even if these laws are commanded for all generations, they may not be appropriate for our times. For example, we baptize our children even if circumcision is commanded. We celebrate our worship service on Sunday and not on the Sabbath, which is Saturday. The Levirate marriage law (Deut. 25:5-10) will not work in our society because polygamy is now illegal and any way, if my brothers were to die, I could not take their wives as commanded in the Old Testament. This law now does not make any sense, because my brothers’ wives earn far more than I do and they could provide for me more easily than I could provide for them. We also no longer offer animals for sacrifice.
In Lev. 19: 33-34 it says that “when an alien resides with you in your land, you should not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as a citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”From my point of view, that would be a good law for us to observe today, but other conditions may play a role different from those of that day and some more control might become necessary.
My father tried to live by the laws of the Old Testament, but he could not be consistent. He had to pick and choose among them. What sense does that make? He tried to live by the kosher laws and many of the others. When we worked or studied, we had to stop at six o’clock on Saturday evening and we could begin again only six o’clock Sunday night. My father was very strict about not working on Sundays, and woe to us if we were caught doing our homework! When he worked in the Ambridge steel mills, he was ordered to come in and work on Sundays and he refused, even though the foremen threatened to fire him.
But on one Sunday morning before worship, he went outside of the house and rushed back in shouting: “The ox fell into the well! The ox fell into the well!” (Luke 14:5) With that we all understood that an emergency was afoot and we had to work on the Sabbath day. Now we had built a large chicken coop on the railroad embankment which was right behind our house. My father always had us gather huge stones which we cemented into thick walls. I think my father always built walls with air-raid bunkers in mind. We had not yet put the roof on the walls and during the night we had had heavy rain. The water pressure against the inside walls pushed them out and they tumbled down the embankment and many heavy stones lay on the railroad tracks. The whole family worked feverishly up and down the embankment to get the stones off the tracks and believe it or not, when we had just rolled the last stone away, a train raced past us and it did not realize what kind of an accident had just been averted.
Luther interpreted the Sabbath law differently from the way it is done in the Old Testament. First, he did not call it the Sabbath, but the day of celebration. Our English translations miss that. (“Remember the Lord’s Day to keep it holy” might be a better translation than “Sabbath day.”)“What does this mean?” Luther asks. “We should fear and love God so that we do not neglect his word nor the preaching of it, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it.” Nothing is in this explanation about the Sabbath being a day of rest. With that we can see how free Luther is from the Old Testament law.
We celebrate the first day of the week, Sunday, because Jesus arose on Sunday. Our day of rest has become the spiritual rest we find in Jesus Christ. Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in the Lord of the Sabbath. Then we receive the rest and the peace that passes understanding. When we are in Christ Jesus then we can certainly also take a day of rest once a week, because it is through Christ and the Word of God that we receive genuine rest and strength for work. In Christ the law has gone over into the Gospel, so that love and reason can prove and give direction to all our laws. Amen.