1 Corinthians 1:1-9
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
And that First Table seems so easy. Who wouldn’t love God? Who doesn’t? But before you get all cramped up from patting yourself on the back first take a look at the Second table. For to love God is to love your neighbour. If you don’t love your brother your religion is worthless. So let’s consider how well we love the neighbours God puts in our lives.
We are to love them as we love ourselves. That is a tall order. We don’t even have to look at the details of how we are supposed to love them to know we do not do it. For in my sinfulness I love myself above all things. I place myself above all things. This wonderful “Golden Rule” that everyone everywhere loves to celebrate when you actually consider it becomes polished so smooth that its golden surface becomes a mirror that shows me just how hideous and unloving I am. I can not love myself above all else and also love my neighbour at the same time, in the same way. For there is a problem with my “love”. My “love” is selfish, flawed. It is an “either/or” kind of “love”. True love has no limits, no ranking system, no competitions. Human “love” is limited, ranks first second and third loves, and is always competing to be loved most.
You have all found yourself in those conundrums. Either you’ve put yourself in them or someone else has put the limits on you. And you realize that you I can’t love this person and that person equally, or one of them will be offended. One of them will feel betrayed. One of them will force you to choose between them. Why does this happen? Because our “love” isn’t actually love. It is self-love. It is selfish. It is sin. We are either/or, one or the other in our “love”. We are piecemeal. We are selfish and self-serving in our “love” rather than sacrificial and truly loving.
For the purpose of God’s Law is not to make you a better person. Though the Law tells us and guides us in what we should do, it has no power to make you do it. So a life lived and motivated by the Law is always a life lived in guilt and frustration. Think of the man who loves his wife and realizes that his wandering eye is dishonouring to her, to those women he ogles, and a bad example to any who see him doing it. So he makes an attempt not to do so. Good. He should for the sake of His wife. But has he become any more righteous? Has he succeeded in not sinning? For even as he averts his eyes from the beautiful woman in his view, and as he struggles in himself not to look that way, what is his heart doing? He’s sinning. He’s lusting after her. He’s desiring to look.
The Law gives you no strength to do what is right, only the knowledge of what is right. And then it convicts you of your sin. And in your guilt you want to argue with God’s Law. You quibble over various points, looking for loopholes to justify our actions. You become a lawyer, testing God.
But the Lawgiver, God our Lord, will not give you loopholes. He will prosecute to the full extent of the Law. In fact, He will intensify the Law for you would justify yourselves. Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but I say to you if a man even looks at a woman with lustful intent he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’” Jesus did not come to lessen the Law but to make the Law fully known. He came to reveal sin in you for what it is: death at work. He came to came to collect the wages your sin earned with His own death on the cross. And He came to fulfill that Law for you so that in Holy Baptism you receive a righteousness not your own, but His.
Our natural default is to be lawyers, testing our God, litigious to the end. But in Holy Baptism our Lord ends you. He kills the lawyer in you by pinning you to His cross, bringing an end to your sin, crushing you in repentance and turning you in faith to your God. Giving you strength to do what is right, to delight in it and not even ponder the wrong.
The point of this morning’s Gospel reading is the sinner in His heart tests Jesus. He asks Him, who are you to do such things, to teach such things, to make claims on my life? And Jesus answers, “I am God almighty. I am His Son. He is the Ancient of Days and I am His eternally begotten One. One like a Son of Man come in man’s flesh. Yet I am the one who gave the Law. I am the One who fulfills the Law. What right have to make claim to you? Every right, for I created you, I will judge you, and have come to redeem you. I am great King David’s greater Son. You stand in the presence of your God. Do you think it is wise to test me?”
The Pharisees could answer not a word. They did not have the power. And on this side of heaven unbelief gets away with a lot. But when you stand in presence of the Almighty unbelief is stopped up. It is silenced, muzzled in the presence of that which it denies.
But to those who give up the attempt to justify themselves, who repent of their natural instinct to be a lawyer before God and everyone else, they are confirmed in the Lord. The Word for forgiveness spoken over them has its way with them. It brings forth a harvest of righteousness. It enriches your knowledge and your speaking. It opens your mouth in faith making you gracious and kind toward others in thought word and deed. It makes you aware of your own sin and makes you joyful in the Lord whose righteousness is yours. It gives you gifts that flow from the Spirit, abilities not your own to strengthen you in that which is right while you wait for our Lord’s coming, His revealing at the end of time when all mouths will either be stopped up in unbelief or opened wide in praise. It gives you fellowship, participation in all things that belong to the Son, while we wait for that great and glorious day, when God our Faithful God sends His Son whom He has put at His right hand to judge the living and the dead; which is really just a public confirming of what He already knows: that you are either one who trusts in His blood bought redemption or you are one who continues to want a loophole to get out from underneath the grace He has bought on the cross for them.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON