A myHT Fortress

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Your Righteousness in Christ: A Homily on Matthew 5:21-37

Matthew 5:21-37

6th Sunday after Epiphany

13 February 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

"For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." More tough words from Jesus. We heard them last week as the Gospel reading wrapped up. This morning's Gospel is what follows. That righteousness that is required is more fully explained.

It is not enough to not kill anyone. Sure, the majority of us don't actually take a weapon or even beat someone to death. But Jesus ups the ante. If you are angry, or even insult another, you are liable for judgment. Hmm...no physical murders are accounted for here, but how many of you have ever been angry with your sister? Or who has been ticked off at his brother? Or how many of you have told someone what a jerk, or a fool, or an idiot he was? Jesus says you have broken the fifth commandment.

It is not enough to avoid suggestive media, or steer clear of the beautiful woman or the handsome hunk that is tempting you to infidelity. It does not matter if you have avoided acting on your impulses. You are no better than those who give in. You are guilty of adultery every bit as much. Don't congratulate yourself for being so pure, when your mind has had numerous, steamy affairs. Jesus says you have broken the sixth commandment.

He says you have broken them all. You deserve only punishment. You and I are lousy at keeping His commandments. As St. James reminds us, he who is guilty of breaking one point of the Law is guilty of it all! So what now? You can never hope to be good enough, perfect, righteous. And Jesus has just finished saying that you righteousness has to exceed the scribes and Pharisees, who were extremely conscientious of it.

But you see, the Pharisees saw the Law as a list of "do's and don'ts." They viewed it as God's requirement check list. But that is not accurate. The Law describes your relationships, with the Lord, and with you neighbor -- your fellow man. The Lord God has given His Law to show the way of love. However, even when understood as love, you still cannot keep it. Your righteousness still cannot exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.

You don't have that righteousness that is pure enough and strong enough to choose life, that will perfectly walk in the ways of the Lord. Neither did the Pharisees. When Moses spoke of the ways set before Israel, he knew that they could not keep this Law, and would fall, many times over.

But thanks be to God, He has provided the answer. There is only One whose righteousness is that perfect, that righteous -- only One who can stand before the Father and truly choose life -- Jesus Christ. Jesus has kept that Law absolutely perfectly. He actively kept the Law for you, by keeping every single moral and ethical point. And He passively kept the Law for you as He humbly submitted to the punishment the Law demands for us. Yes, Jesus, the very One who did not deserve to die, gave Himself up for you to save you and purchase and win you from sin, death, and hell.

Jesus fulfilled the Law with love, the way that God designed. He continues to love everyone -- every neighbor, every person on this earth -- with a pure, unconditional, self-less love. And He gives that love to you, and that is just one of His gifts.

At Baptism, Jesus has given you forgiveness, rescue, and eternal salvation. How does He do this? In the blessed exchange of Baptism, our loving Lord takes to Himself all your sin and guilt. And He gives you His righteousness. Yes, the righteousness of Christ. And guess what?! THAT righteousness DOES exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees!

Yes, through Jesus Christ perfectly keeping the Law, you receive credit for keeping it. As He has kept and treasured God's Word, so have you. As the Lord Jesus has perfectly kept the 5th, 6th, and 8th commandments in today's reading, He has credited you for the same. He is your Substitute. Your Proxy. The Lord is our righteousness.

The Sermon on the Mount appears to be a lot of Law. It sounds at first like a whole string of issues that you and I must keep. But look more closely and you will see His Gospel all over the place -- the Gospel that Jesus has done this perfectly, and now He gives it to you as a gift!

What a relief! What a joy! Jesus is our Substitute. Jesus is our righteousness. We live, not under the condemnation of a Law we cannot keep, but under the joy of the Gospel, that declares the righteousness of our Savior to us! We live as His rejoicing family, freed from sin, and loving with His love.

The Lord continues to set before you today life and good, death and evil. Only you are not abandoned to your own decision. Our blessed Savior stands with you. He has paid the price and suffered the death and evil. He gives His Spirit to bring you the life and good.

What peace and joy are yours, dear friends in Christ! You are given the righteousness of Jesus, that exceeds the scribes and Pharisees, and by the righteousness, He has given you His life and good! Amen.

Loving Enemies:A Homily on Matthew 5:38-48

Matthew 5:38-48

7th Sunday after Epiphany

20 February 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

"Love your enemies." Jesus' words are no easy task. In fact, this is most difficult. What about the Christian church in Egypt that was bombed at New Year's? The police portray the situation as trying to keep the people of the church from rioting, and the media reports their supposed anger. But these Christians have actually been models of forgiving their enemies and loving them.

"Love your enemies." You know, the girl who ignored you in high school. The bully who picked on you in gym class. The neighbor who gossips about you. The kid who stole your Halloween candy. All those people who have scared you or hurt you or intimidated you. Do you think you can really love them?

Truth be told, you like the Old Testament idea of "an eye for an eye." You are like everyone else, preferring what is "fair." Bullies and thieves should get what's coming to them, right? For all their cruelty you don't dare love them; you want them to be punished! Face it, you cheered when the Wicked Witch of the West was melted by Dorothy. In Star Wars, you were thrilled when the Emperor was thrown down the shaft of the Death Star. In real life, you had a personal sense of justice when Saddam Hussein was hung, and in 1990, you smiled as you saw young people chisel away at the Berlin Wall, until it came toppling down.

But are you so sure you want to live by "an eye for an eye?" Stop and think for a moment about yourself. Are you perfect? Do you treat absolutely everyone with pure kindness and love, constantly? Or have you ever, even if only for the slightest second, sinned? Have you fallen short of expectations? Have you even accidentally hurt someone's feelings? My friends, you are sinners.

And there is some very bad news. "an eye for an eye" gives a green light to responding in kind when you transgress against someone. At least to the human mind, trying to justify actions and retaliations, the victim of sin can respond with sin.

It quickly becomes a nasty, never-ending spiral into the depths of sin. One responds to his treatment from another. Then he responds because he was treated poorly. Then the other. It never stops.

But take a step back and look. "The wages of sin is death." The Lord is firm and direct here. Sin deserves death. Sin makes you His enemy. "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." King David reminds you that even from your very first moment as a single cell inside your mother, you have been flawed and filled with sin. Before you could even think, or choose any of it, you were an enemy of God.

That is actually a terrifying thought. Think about it; the Lord is the only One who is absolutely perfect, while you are filled with sin. He could be constantly punishing you with this "eye for an eye" mentality. And yet, He does not. You see, the Lord "loves [His] enemies." He does not desire your punishment; He longs to lavish His love on you.

The Lord God rejoices to take His enemies and transform them into His children. "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Yes! You were an enemy of God, but Jesus came and gave Himself up for you. He suffered and died the "eye for an eye" death of the cross, so that you can be spared of punishing death. He wrestled death and burst from the tomb triumphant, conquering our true enemies of sin, death, and hell. As He worked this victory, you were rescued from the camp of God's enemies, and restored as His child.

None of us are getting what we deserve. That's Good News! Jesus has saved you from being His enemy, and loves you! He has rescued you in Holy Baptism, and shown His love by transforming you into God's own child.

Our dear Lord does indeed love His enemies. But is that all it is, an example? Not at all. By loving you,His enemies, He opened the kingdom of heaven to you. Christ won forgiveness, life,and salvation on the cross. Now through His holy gifts of Baptism, Absolution,and His Holy Supper, He delivers these amazing treasures. He is loving you, who were His enemies.

So rejoice, dear friends in Christ. You once were His enemies. But Jesus loves His enemies, and reached out and saved you. He has restored your relationship with His Father, so that He is your Father too!

And now our gracious Lord "prepares a table before [you] in the presence of His [former] enemies, [and His] cup overflows." Come, your dear, sweet Jesus who loves and saves His enemies has forgiven and renewed you, so you are no longer His enemy. He bids you to come to His Table where His cup overflows, and where you will dine on His Body and Blood, as He fills you with the Feast of His Love. Amen.

Do Not Be Anxious: A Homily on Matthew 6:24-34

Matthew 6:24-34

8th Sunday after Epiphany

27 February 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

"Do not be anxious." Do not worry. Don't worry about how soon you can fulfill all the requirements to be an Eagle Scout. Don't worry about selling the most Girl Scout cookies. Do not worry what you will drink or eat or wear. Do not worry about earthly concerns.

"Do not be anxious.". Do not worry. No, not because you are following the motto, "Do your best," or "Be prepared." The reality is your best is not good enough, and you can never be prepared for absolutely everything to a perfect level.

"Do not be anxious." "Do not worry." "Let go and let God" -- that is what the expression says. But you know what? You can't! You can't let go. And nothing in you wants to hand anything over to God. You desire to handle it yourself. Most boys cannot wait to cross over from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, because you get to have more fun, doing more for yourself. And people are like that in general. Even two year olds quickly learn, "I do it MYSELF!"

"Do not be anxious.". Do not worry. But you want to worry. It's even comfortable to worry. It is familiar. How sad that you and I are that mixed up, that worrying tries to soothe your sinful self.

But our dear Savior takes your anxiety and worry. He took these burdens from you and laid them on His own shoulders, carrying these burdens to His cross. Jesus removes these cares from you, lifting their weight from your shoulders.

"Do not be anxious.". Do not worry. Jesus gives you some true and lasting peace and comfort here. He cares for you. He provides your real needs of body and soul. He sustains you, and uses you as a living witness to His care and provision for His Church.

You do not deserve to be clothed so well, but your Father in heaven lavishes you with clothing. The flowers of the field are more beautiful than King Solomon in all his glory, and you are finer than the lilies of the field.

Not only does the Lord provide you with earthly clothing, but He graciously covers you in Holy Baptism with the robe of Christ's righteousness, which covers all your sin. Far better than Solomon's glory -- far better than the glory of flowers -- you are covered with Christ's glory. Your are clothed with Christ!

And do not worry about what you will eat. Don't worry if your fellow scouts can't cook that well, and your food on the campout will not be great. Don't worry if the pantry is not as full as it used to be. Your Father in heaven feeds even the birds. If He takes care of such little "unimportant" creatures, how much more will He provide for you and feed you! And not just with the food of this world. He gives you the Bread of life. He provides the Body and Blood of Jesus. He feeds you Jesus!

Jesus gives you comfort and assurance today. You do not need to worry and stress and doubt like unbelievers. Your Father in heaven has got your back. He clothes you and feeds you. He baptizes you and feeds you His Holy Supper.

"Do not be anxious." Do not worry. It is not a command that you are failing. It is soothing comfort from Jesus that the Lord is taking complete care of you. He is nurturing and providing for you so well, that there is no need to worry!

Thanks be to God, who clothes you with Christ and feeds you with Christ. Yes, you are clothed finer than Solomon and fed better than any creature. You are blessed as He frees you from anxiety and worry! Amen.