July 15, 2007

Sermon for Trinity VI (St. Matthew 5.17-26)


[Note: There was a Baptism to begin this morning's service.]


It is not prescribed in the liturgy for Baptism that the minister should lay his hands on the candidate and say the Ten Commandments. That is not the gift of Baptism. Instead, we say the Creed and the Our Father.

Why don’t we say the Ten Commandments? Because the Commandments bring death. And the one being baptized is already in death. As a little child—such as Chloe—or as a fully-grown adult, the one being baptized comes as a dead person.

What the Commandments do is highlight, draw out the death. They show us that we are not what God created us to be. That is also what the Lord Jesus does with the Commandments in today’s reading from Matthew. A common misconception is that the Old Testament is Law, and the New Testament is Gospel; but you see from today’s reading that in some ways, the Law of God given in the New Testament is far more strict than what is in the Old Testament.

The OT says, “You shall not murder,” but Jesus says, “Whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother … ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” The OT says, “You shall not commit adultery,” but Jesus says, “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery in his heart.”

Jesus does not come to do away with the Law. When He speaks to us, it is like pouring alcohol on an open wound; it is fingernails scraping a chalkboard; it is a knife plunged into our belly. Jesus takes the Commandments and shows us their full meaning:

· You have been manipulative and controlling;

· You have been discontent with the spouse, family, job, house God has given you;

· You have not explained everything in the kindest possible way;

· You have been selfish, stingy, and greedy;

· You have injured others by what you have done and what you have failed to do;

· You have been abusive and overbearing to others in your household;

· You have not been humble;

· You have neglected the Word of God;

· You have not been diligent and sincere in your prayers;

· Your love, trust, and fear have not been in God but in other things and people.

But the beautiful thing about Baptism, just like private confession and absolution, and just like Holy Communion, is that the Pastor does not speak the commandments and say, “Try harder.” Instead, we get a different medicine: the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed.

We begin the Lord’s Prayer, Our Father.” Who is the “our”? It’s not simply, “Your Father and My Father,” but it is Jesus who is inviting us to pray, “Our Father.” God the Father is His Father, and we tag along. We pray the prayer in Him, and so we pray in His righteousness, and not our own.

That is what you were given in your Baptism: a righteousness not your own. To enter the kingdom of heaven, you need a righteousness higher than that of the Scribes and Pharisees. They appeared, outwardly, to be perfect. They fasted. They tithed. They did charitable works. They prayed. They read the Bible. But still, the Lord Jesus Christ called them whitewashed sepulchers – perfect and clean on the outside, but inside, a ruinous corpse – filled with the stench of death that sin has wrought. That is what you are too: filled with death and plummeting headlong towards it.

But what you get in Baptism, that is, in Christ, is an alien righteousness, a righteousness from outside yourself: the righteousness of Jesus. This is why we prayed, just before hearing the Gospel today, “Deliver me in Your righteousness.” Jesus is righteous where Chloe is not. Jesus is righteous where you are not.

That is the righteousness that settles with the adversary on the way to court. When Jesus advises us to get an out-of-court settlement, he is not giving advice on navigating the Jewish or Roman legal system. The court is the day of judgment, and the Law is your adversary, the prosecuting attorney who will bring to light all of your lies, selfishness, tantrums, perversions, and arrogance. But the righteousness given to Chloe in her Baptism, the righteousness reaffirmed to you in Absolution, poured into you in the Blood of Christ – that righteousness settles with the adversary so that you are not handed over to the officer—Satan—and thrown into the prison of hell. You would never get out of that prison, but Christ Jesus has paid the last penny.

So that is why we say the Our Father and the Creed at a Baptism, and not the Commandments. But that doesn’t mean the Commandments have nothing to do with Baptism, i.e., nothing to do with the Christian life. For the baptized person is given the commandments to do, not as rules to follow in order to be saved, but as the description of the one who is already saved. The Small Catechism teaches us that when we get up in the morning, first thing, we should make the sign of the cross and say the words from our Baptism: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And then, say the Creed and the Our Father, just like at Baptism. “Then go joyfully to your work, singing a hymn, like that of the Ten Commandments.”

When Chloe was baptized, she was baptized into Christ’s death. When you were baptized, you were baptized into Christ’s death. How can you who died to sin live any longer in it? How can you be a slave to sin if Christ has freed you? How can you treat others as your adversary if Christ has dismissed the charges against you? These things no longer describe you. You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. The righteousness that is yours alone is never enough, and by it, you can never enter the kingdom of heaven. So pray to God now, and each morning, and when you are dying: “Deliver me in Your righteousness.” He who promises is faithful, and He will do it.

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