Epiphany 6 A 2023 Law and Grace
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning, as I read our Gospel text for today, I feel like I am walking on a tightrope. Why? Because when we hear Christ’s teachings on anger, adultery, divorce, and making oaths, we can either take them seriously or we can dismiss them.
It is easy, on one hand, to hear Christ’s teachings as hard, fast rules that we need to keep. And then think that if we do not keep them perfectly, we will be judged, and then things will not end well.
This legalistic understanding of Christ’s teachings can fill us with guilt or (even worse) cause people to think that they are better than the folks who do not keep the rules. But that’s not how Christ wants us to live.
Another way to read this text is to fall into thinking that Christ’s teachings do not apply to us. That because we are “covered with grace,” we do not need to listen to the way Christ wants us to live.
This is often called “cheap grace,” and it is really no grace at all.
Or we can reason that because Jesus gave humanity these teachings a long time ago, we do not need to listen to them because our world has changed since Jesus spoke these Words.
But we would be wrong. Jesus Himself has warned us that “If you ignore the least of these commandments and teach others to do the same, you will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:19a
So, the question becomes, “How do we listen to Christ’s teachings and take them seriously while we walk the fine line between legalism and cheap grace?
Well, to begin with, we need to listen to what Christ is saying and realize that we need God’s grace. Think about it. Jesus is setting a new ethical and moral standard for us to keep. And He is teaching us that the righteousness that God is looking for goes much deeper than our behaviors.
God is looking for pure hearts, as Jesus put it in the Beatitudes.
God is looking deep down inside each one of us to see our true intentions. And that is why, when we read this text, we may feel at times that God is pointing His finger directly at each one of us accusing each one of us individually of unholy intentions.
But that is not how we should read this text. God is not pointing His finger solely on one person, but on all of humanity. As the Apostle Paul put it “We all have sinned, and we all have fallen short of God’s glory.” Romans 3:23
Jesus uses the law as a mirror to show us the state of our hearts so He can then highlight God’s grace and God’s mercy. As Paul states in Galatians “The law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.” Galatians 3:24
We are justified because Christ makes us justified. We are justified through faith in the One who makes us righteous. It is only when we see the reality of our flawed existence before God that we are willing to look beyond ourselves and begin to rely on “God’s Grace.” And when we do, God gives us the righteousness of Christ.
Freed from our sin, we now can hear Christ’s teachings in a new way and extend God’s grace to the people around us.
For example: It is now impossible for us to be angry with other people when we trust that God wants us to show them forgiveness.
It is impossible for us to call someone an idiot when we know that God calls that person His child whom He loves. It is impossible for us to take advantage of others when we realize how much Christ has done for us all.
When we view each other as baptized children of God, it is now impossible for us to look at each other with desire and lust. When we see each other as people whom God has created and for whom Christ has given His life, we will do everything we can to fulfill the promises we make to each other.
When we trust in God’s Word, we no longer need to make oaths to try to get people to believe what we have to say. We will be able to simply say yes or no and people will believe us.
Yes, Christ’s teachings today on anger, adultery, divorce, and making oaths, is difficult. And it goes against what the world would have us believe is true.
And we are not perfect. We are Saints and Sinners at the same time. Daily we fail to live up to the expectations God has for us. But thankfully daily God forgives us. And daily God shows us His grace and His mercy.
Therefore, we can return to Christ’s teachings each day with a new heart and hear them as instructions on how to live out the righteousness He gives to us in our relationships with others. When we experience God’s love, we do want to share His love with other people.
When we listen to Jesus and take His instruction seriously, we can now see each other through His eyes and begin to live by a new set of instructions in the grace that Jesus gives to us.
And suddenly His instruction on anger, adultery, divorce, and making oaths is not so difficult and makes sense in our life together here at Calvary Lutheran Church. Amen.
Let us pray: Almighty God, you gave the law to guide our lives. May we never shrink from your commandments, but, as we are taught by your Son, fulfil the law in perfect love; In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.