Dec 20, 2005

Sermon Title: Earthly Words

Nicolas Hopman
M.Div. Student, Luther Seminary
First Place December 2005 Round

Beloved Congregation, the Lord says, Deuteronomy 30:11-14

    11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

You know exactly what God wants you to do. He has given you his law. So love the Lord with all your heart. Love your neighbors as yourself. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Gladly learn and hear God’s word. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and do these things. God is not very patient when it comes to obedience to his law. He gives the law “today” and wants it obeyed today.”

We like to pretend that God’s word is up in heaven. So we invent false religion and try to figure out how to lift ourselves into heaven that we might have true communion with God. We go on pilgrimages in one way or another to “find ourselves,” because we think truth is beyond the sea. We have new-age spirituality to draw us away from the supposed distractions of the world and into higher truth. We think that it requires great wisdom to know what God wants from us and to know his will. But instead God has gone right past the wise and the hyper-spiritual and given his law to the masses. God has put his law right into our hearts and consciences. It is clearly revealed in scripture and in the natural law that surrounds us.

Amazingly, this law does not require that we find God. It merely requires that we love him for the free gifts he gives us without our searching or merit. It exposes our flight from creation into spirituality as betrayal. God wants us to be created creatures. He meets us in creation, not in heaven above. And he wants us to care for and love our fellow creatures. He wants us to love our neighbors instead of fleeing to a monastery like the young Martin Luther.

One of the most important aspects of the Reformation was its attack on monasticism. The Reformation was concerned with the word of God. And God’s word does not direct us to try to climb Jacob’s ladder to heaven, but instead gives us heaven for free. Luther realized that this meant the entire medieval system for achieving holiness in a monastery was mistaken. We do not make it to heaven by isolating ourselves from the sinful world, but instead right in the heart of sin Christ comes to bring us the gospel. He comes to save us and bring heaven down to us.

God also gives us his word of law. This directs us not to improve our own spirituality or standing before God, but instead to improve life for our neighbors. This meant that monasticism did not only destroy the gospel, but that it also was a blasphemy against God’s law. Instead of turning the faithful toward their neighbors, medieval piety explicitly turned them away from their neighbors. But how rarely do we believe either God’s word of gospel or his word of law? How rarely do we leave salvation to Christ alone and love our neighbors with all our works? These days we are very involved in the world and its business but this is usually for our own benefit. We are still monks at heart.

So Lord, we cry out like the Psalmist in the sixty-ninth Psalm and ask you to save us from our enemies. Lord, save us from ourselves. We reject your law. God said in today’s reading Deuteronomy 30:15-19

    See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you arecrossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.

But Lord we choose eath. We choose ourselves and our flight from creation and the love our neighbors need. The Psalmist knows that God hears from the needy. Lord we are needy. Save us. Add guilt to guilt for our old sinful Adam’s and Eve’s. Give them no acquittal (Psalm 69:27). Take them away in death that we may not disobey you any longer. Create us anew in Jesus Christ. Daily through our baptism put our old beings to death and raise up the new being to live with you in righteousness.

Dearly beloved, there is good news. God does not have one word. He has done more than give us the law. He became your neighbor; he became flesh and died for you. God has not only given you his law, but also his gospel. His gospel is Jesus Christ. In Christ Colossians 1:15 “is the image of the invisible God” Colossians 1:19-20

    in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

Jesus Christ has fulfilled the law on your behalf. He suffered its curse and its death on the cross for you.

This same Christ is the one who told the parable of the Good Samaritan. A lawyer asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Christ reminds him that he does not have to search or inquire about how one receives life instead of death, but that he already has been given the law and knows it. So when Christ affirms the law and tells the lawyer to follow it, the lawyer does what we always do. He tries to escape the law and make it seem unclear rather than clear. The lawyer knows that he must love his neighbor, but he asks, “who is my neighbor?”

But Christ refuses to let our sin gain the upper hand on him. The law does not allow us to ask, “who is my neighbor?” but instead says, “be a good neighbor.” So Christ refuses to answer the lawyer’s question, and instead applies the law to him. He tells the story of a man lying half dead on the side of the road and the Jewish priest and Levite leaving him to die. The Samaritan, the one who would have had a better excuse than any to look at the dying Jew and wonder “is he my neighbor?” this Samaritan instead only hears in his heart “love your neighbor as yourself.” And so he obeys and chooses life over death, not for himself, but for his dying neighbor.

And in the telling of this story Christ applies the law to the lawyer. He is forced to abandon his question “who is my neighbor,” and to confess what it truly means to be a neighbor. But what does this mean for you? Are you finally like the lawyer and left to confess that the Samaritan is just but that you and your attempt to ignore the law are condemned?

No, Christ did not merely leave the lawyer to ponder his own sin. Christ came to take the sin upon himself. He came not just to preach the law, but to fulfill it. He came so that the law might reach its goal and its end.

Christ fills the scriptures and fulfills all scripture. He is not only the preacher of this story, but the one who fulfilled it. On the cross he became the one beaten and left to die. No good Samaritan came to rescue him that day. So if we think that this story is merely driving us to improve our ethics, so that we might one day be acceptable to God and worthy of the praise that Christ gives the Samaritan, it is too late. Christ is your neighbor. He was abandoned on the cross and you did not save him. It was in fact our sin that put him there.

But Christ did not stop at dying on the cross. The Father raised him from the dead. He will never die again. He is now free from death. He is an unstoppable good Samaritan. Of course, Christ is not a Samaritan. He is a Jew. But the Jews and Samaritans were enemies. The Samaritan saved his enemy. And so it is with Christ. On the night in which he was betrayed he gave his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, to whom? To his enemies, to his betrayers. He gave himself to Judas the betrayer and Peter the denier. He gave himself to the other ten who abandoned him the next day to the cross. We are Christ’s enemies, and he comes in his word to save us. Finally, we must confess that we are not the lawyer in this story, who can sit back and listen to Christ tell the story and attempt to learn from it. We are the dying man. We are left dying on the side of the road, beaten by our sin, incapacitated by our choice of death over life. But like the Samaritan, Christ has chosen life on your behalf.

God does not have one word. He has a new word. Here it is: Jesus Christ died for you and is risen from the dead. For being bad Samaritans, your sin is forgiven. When Christ forgives
you your sin, you have eternal life.

This new word is the very word that Paul was preaching when he quoted Deuteronomy 30 and turned it on its head in tenth chapter of Romans. Paul says not to wonder if you will be saved or not, but believe that Christ is risen and you will be saved. He says not to worry about whether your neighbors will be saved or condemned, but instead to tell them the good news of Christ. This good news creates faith and saves them. We do not have to search for the law, but instead receive it as a clear word, as a gift from God. We receive the gospel the same way. God gives it to us for free as a word. You have no merit to earn this word, but God gives it away for free to you.

But there is one great difference between the law and the gospel. The law says, “choose life and live.” The gospel says, “here is life for free.” We hear the law and choose death, but Christ chooses life. He is the only chosen one of God, the only one God has raised from death never to die again. His choice will stand for all eternity but our choice of death will end soon. On the cross alone and in your faith alone, the law has already reached its goal and ended. Christ is coming in glory to reveal to the entire world that the law is done with and the gospel will last forever.

Now the law still remains, as Luther said, in the body. So believe the gospel and trust it. In the meantime love your neighbors as yourselves. Use your bodies to help them. We hope and confess that when Christ makes faith that good fruit flows from it. You will actually, though often in a hidden way that the world will not see, you will begin to be good Samaritans. Your faith will spill over to your neighbors benefit. But Christ has not forgiven your sin as a means to his true goal of good works. He desires good works so we should do them. When he gives us eternal life for free, it naturally spills over to our neighbors. We help them in all their needs and become instruments of eternal life when we tell them the good news of Christ. Just as the old Eve or Adam is bound to sin and cannot free itself, so the new Christian does good works. Indeed, she is bound to do them.

But ultimately, Christ final goal when he forgives you all your sin is that you have eternal life. Eternal life is after all the subject of Deuteronomy 30 and Romans 10. It is the reason for the parable of the Good Samaritan. The lawyer wants to know how to inherent eternal life and he has come to the right person. Christ explains the law to him, but he did not stop with the explanation we read today. He went to the cross and died for the lawyer and he died for you. Eternal life comes from Christ alone and faith apart from works of the law. On the cross Christ chose death. He stole your choice of death from you and took it upon himself. Your sins are forgiven. They do not belong to you anymore, but belong to Christ. He is risen from the dead. You shall not perish, but have eternal life. The Father chose life over death for you and raised your Christ from the dead as the first fruits of the coming resurrection.