Sunday, February 9, 2014

Salt and Light

Sermon on Matthew 5:13-20
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
February 9, 2014 (Fifth Sunday after Epiphany)

The Law isn’t arbitrary.  It’s not a list of things God just made up on the spot in order for human beings to follow because it happened to amuse Him to tell us a bunch of random stuff to do or else He’d sadistically watch us burn in hell.  Instead, He created the world to function in certain ways, and when we deviate from the way the world is supposed to work (and we do that all the time), it creates very real problems.  That’s part of the reason that the Law is written, not only, and not even primarily, on stone tablets, but on men’s hearts.  Since we’re all descended from Adam and Eve, of course, we tend to come up with all sorts of reasons and excuses as to why we don’t have to follow the law in this or that instance.  But when someone does something against us, and the law written on our own hearts comes out full-force in wrath toward that other guy, usually resulting in our breaking the Law against him as well.  And so the vicious cycle continues.

The fact is, the Law is God’s design.  Jesus’ death on the cross frees us from its accusations and condemnations, but this does not change the fact that it is an inherent part of this world’s creation.  In fact, if anything, it enhances it.  It’s not merely just some “boo-boos” or some minor bumps in an otherwise pretty decent record of upright living that Jesus came to die for.  It’s the fact that we are such poor, miserable sinners that even our outward good works are damnable sins (in fact, they’re some of the worst sins of all, in the sense that they lead to pride, which is nothing less than idolatry of self).  It’s the fact that our sins have even defaced and vandalized creation itself to the point that now it will need to be torn down and replaced eventually.  Anything which lessens or compromises that message simply washes away the saltiness of Christian preaching and Christian confession.

The Roman Church accused Luther of diminishing the severity of the Law because of his emphasis on the complete and total forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ death on the cross, which completely removes any possibility that good works have anything to do with salvation.  What they said was that such preaching will lead to people sinning more and doing fewer good works, because the carrot of heaven and the stick of hell can’t be used to persuade them to do good rather than evil.  In a sense, they accused Luther of making the salt of the Law less salty.

But in fact, the complete opposite is true.  Whenever the Law is preached as if it’s a matter of individual sins rather than our helpless and lost condition as enemies of God slated for destruction, the Law is made easier to follow.  And making the Law easier to follow is to diminish what the Law actually says about us.  And it’s not just the Roman Catholics who make this mistake, either.  Many if not most Christian preachers today, including  many of those popular “evangelical” preachers who would be horrified to think that they resembled Rome in any way at all, in fact agree with Rome on this point.  What such preachers claim is that following the Law is actually possible.  They may give all sorts of advice, guidelines, “biblical principles,” and whatever to help people not break the law outwardly, and they may even promise that God will bless their lives here if we follow their principles, but it is those who preach manageable, allegedly “doable” law, who reduce the force of the Law’s impact.  It is they who dilute the salt to the point that it’s good for nothing anymore except for keeping the owners of car washes in business during the winter.  In fact, it was the Pharisees who taught people that it was possible to follow the Law and thereby have your “best life now” by following their complicated set of “biblical principles.”  It was they who were guilty of relaxing the Law, not Jesus and not Luther.

You see, the reason the Law is to be preached so severely that nobody can hope to meet its demands, is precisely because of the One who has met its demands in our place.  Any preaching of the Law which makes it sound like we can actually do it, robs Christ of His glory and hides His light.  It is precisely Christ’s death in fulfillment of the Law and His resurrection free from all our sins that is the light of the world.  It is precisely the true doctrine that God accomplished everything for our salvation that we dare not hide under a bushel.  It is precisely the freedom that comes from being one who has been made dead to sin and alive to Christ Jesus through the waters of Holy Baptism that allows our light to shine before men.  Works done in the attempt to fulfill the Law by ourselves are not light, they are us casting a shadow in front of that light.  Works done by Christ through us for the sake of His body and blood coursing through our veins and illuminating us as merely lamps in which He shines, are works that shine before men.  Works done to try to make ourselves look good, make God look bad, because our own works, even when allegedly done in His name, are at best a pale imitation.  Works done as those who already possess eternity and whose hearts are illumined by the resurrected and ascended Head of whom we are the body, these cause men to glorify God the Father.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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