October 7, 2007

Trinity 18 Sermon (Matthew 22.34-46)

Trinity 18
St. Matthew 22.34-46
October 7, 2007

Today's Gospel reading is divided into two parts: Jesus' response to the lawyer's question, and then Jesus' question to the Pharisees about who the Christ is. In the first part, Jesus is asked a question about the Law - what does it all boil down to? "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind"; and, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Everything hangs on that. Everything. It all boils down to love. What is God's will for you? That you love.

What Jesus says is true; and, What Jesus says cannot help. Why? Because you don't love. Not really.

To love God is to love Him for His own sake. But if you love God at all, you love Him not because of who He is, but because of what you expect Him to do for you. And when He does not seem to be doing for you whatever you think is best, then you are angry with Him. Or ignore Him (which might be worse).

So because you do not love Him, God is not really your god.

Your god is not God, but whatever you look to for joy and comfort, whatever you trust. Whatever your heart clings and entrusts itself to, that is really your god.

You don’t love your neighbor as yourself. You put yourself first. You are quick to spend the money of others, to take what you have not earned, to speak in a way that flatters yourself. And these two commandments--love God, love your neighbor--hang together. Luther said, "God looks on all the good and bad we do to the neighbor as being done to Him." If you ignore your neighbor, you ignore God. If you look down on your neighbor, you look down on God. To love God is to love your neighbor, but we cannot manage to do either. Listen to the Word of God: "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also."

Certainly there are good things you have done. But the standard that God has given to us is not to have done some good things, or to have done enough to balance out the bad things. What the lawyer asks Jesus is a question about the Law. That's what lawyers do - they deal with laws. Skilled lawyers find loopholes and escape clauses, but there are none when it comes to the Law of God. God's Law always accuses. There is no escape, there is no plea bargain. St. James sums up the demand of God's Law that you be perfect, sinless, without error: "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all."

So what Jesus says--"You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind," and, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself"--what Jesus says is true; but what Jesus says cannot help you.

Good thing, then, that in the second part of today's Gospel, Jesus asks an altogether different kind of question! "What do you think about the Christ?" That’s the question! What does Christ mean? "Anointed one." Christ was a term referring to the coming Savior, the One who would help God's suffering people. Well, "What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?" "David's," they answer. But how is that possible? Because the Scriptures say that David calls his own son the Lord?

Now let's back up a moment. Who is David? David is the second king of Israel, after Saul. Holy Scripture calls him a man after God's own heart. David's line is the royal line of the house of Israel. Now no father calls his son his Lord. The son comes after the father, not before. Sons are commanded to honor fathers, not the other way around. So how is it, Jesus asks, that David in the Psalms refers to his son, his descendant, as his Lord? "The LORD (i.e., God) said to my Lord (i.e., my son who is my Lord), sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool."

What we have here is the mystery of the incarnation; i.e., the Lord took on human flesh and came as the Son of David. The Christ is at the same time David's Son and David's Lord.

David's Son according to the flesh, born of the virgin Mary, but David's Lord, according to His divine nature, begotten of God the Father and conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Everyone here should have the Small Catechism memorized, including these words from the Second Article: "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord." These are the two natures of Christ: He is true God, begotten of the Father, and true man, born of the virgin Mary. Jesus is God, from the substance of His Father, and man, from the substance of His mother.

Now that might seem a lot more boring or heady than a nice moralistic sermon, "Love God, love your neighbor," but it's really this second part, the part about who the Christ is, that we need.
Why is it important? Don't let preachers deceive you into thinking doctrine isn't important. Everything hangs on it. Your life depends upon it. Your eternal life depends upon it.

So why is this doctrine important - the doctrine that the Christ is both God and man at the same time?
Because the Christ had to be God, since only God could offer a fitting atonement for man's sin.
And, the Christ had to be man, because only a man could make atonement for mankind.
No man could do it, no man could rescue mankind, and yet a man had to do it.
And so, God Himself became a man, became one of us, took on your flesh, in order to rescue you.

Rescue you from what? Your enemies. "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool."
What enemies?
The devil is your enemy, Scripture says.
Your own wicked flesh is your enemy - the flesh that teaches you to make yourself your god, to make the things of this world your idols, to not love your neighbor as yourself; the flesh with which you guzzle alcohol, ogle women, or treat as some kind of god through excessive pampering, primping, and preening.
But in the end, your enemy is death. It is written, "The last enemy that will be destroyed is death."

And what is the Father going to do? God the Father says to the Christ, "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool."
What does that mean, "footstool"? That's the Bible's way of describing a victor in a battle putting his boot on the throat of the defeated king or general, showing to everyone the great victory he has won. That is what is going to happen on the last day. It will be shown, revealed, manifested that death is undone. Christ's boot will be on the throat of our last enemy, death, and we will rejoice. All tears will be wiped away, all selfishness gone, all sins removed, and we will be gathered with joy around the banqueting table of our Lord, great David's greater Son, the One who has redeemed us by His blood.

That is your hope, you Christians! The Jews each day would recite the Shema, including those words, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." But we New Testament sons of Abraham by faith ought every day to recite the Creed, tells us who Jesus is - true God, born of the virgin Mary to redeem us. And when we recite that Creed, we conclude with our hope – the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

So every day, dear Christians, recite the Creed, and remember that the last enemy, death, will be made Christ's footstool. Pray the Our Father, for the forgiveness of our trespasses. And say the Morning and Evening Prayer, commending all things into the Father's hands. Do this every morning, preparing for your work in this world; and do this every evening, preparing for the life of the world to come. That life, David's Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, has won for you. +INJ+

1 comment:

Mason said...

Thank you for the fine sermon. The "footstool" image is a comforting one-