Sermon: Commandments and Grace.
You shall, you shall not, remember to, honor --- these are the commandments of the Old Testament. Shall or shall not, that is the question.
The 10 C was handed to Moses on two tablets. God’s word was written in stones. It is the dramatic story about the people of Israel being in slavery in Egypt and finally freed and sent into the wilderness and many years of wandering. Moses was handed the tablets to provide some order, safety, and security to their lives. To try to make some order out of chaos. But most of all God established a relationship with his people through these commandments: how to respect and fear God and to live peacefully and respectfully with your fellow men. God and the 10-c provided both boundaries and blessings.
If we read further in the story of the Bible, and even more in our common human history, through wars, murders, deceits, conflicts, from King Herod to Emperor Nero, from Hitler to Stalin, to the threat of terror, - e will have to acknowledge that the 10 C did not make the Israelite’s or us as Christians and Lutheran’s, more just, more moral, or more pious and peaceful. The 10 C never changed our human hearts, at best the 10 C told people and reminded us what we should do, but they did not hinder that things were still done. The 10 C is like a mirror reflecting who we are as humans. Then and now. As a Jewish people wandering in the desert and as Lutheran Congregation of 2017: they were and we still are not capable to justify ourselves or to live 100% as we should.
We are as Luther said, “Simul Justus et peccator” simultaneously saint and sinner, good and bad. And thus, we are desperate in need of Grace; that amazing Grace that came into the world through Jesus Christ. To Luther and to us as Lutherans today, it is important and vital to our journey of faith to realize that and understand that we have these two sides in us, constantly struggling. Saint and Sinner.
Therefore, Luther talked about Fear and Love when he explained every commandment. You must fear and love God.
As modern, independent, enlightened people we reject and say: how can we both fear and love at the same time? That is not Love! If I fear my spouse, it is not real love, is it? If I am afraid to speak my mind in my relationship, it is certainly not my kind of love. Well, this is the concept of human love, not a religious kind of love of God.
Fear and Love. Commandment and promises. Law and Gospel.
In the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus makes it very very clear, when he destroys every illusion or dream that we might have had about human ability to perform and live 100% like a Saint. The words of the sermon of the mount points at our lives on the plains, on our deeds, acts and thoughts and tells us that we cannot save ourselves. Jesus pushes the old 10 C to their fullest and he shares a very radical understanding of the 10 C:
Do not murder – no do not even get angry
Do not commit adultery – no do not even look at another woman or man with lust
And eye for an eye – no turn the other cheek
Love your neighbor’s - no love your enemies too.
With this radical Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes it very difficult for any of us even to imagine to ever to able to live perfectly, so we could gain God’s blessing. Jesus responds as also St. Paul and Later Martin Luther repeated: No one can – except God.
Martin Luther and St. Paul and even Jesus himself had no problem with us as Christians doing good works and striving to keep the 10 C. Of course not.
The 10 C was and still is good fundamental basic boundaries that we should abide to as we live in a community and a society based on these true tenets. But, - Luther pointed out that we can never live a blameless life – and thus should be drawn to Christ as the only source of true grace.
Many North American Christians, born again, prosperity non- denomination churches, seem to reject that vital understanding of Grace alone.
“I have decided for Jesus, I have found Jesus, I have committed my life to Jesus….” Is exactly what Luther turned against and would turn in his grave if he heard these phrases today. With faith expressions like that it is all about me: my choice, my decision, my effort, and my deeds. Such a definition of Faith is strictly LAW and FEAR: “You must believe or else….!” And it seems that the believer trusts their own faith and choices over God.
I recently read a very good explanation of FAITH.
Faith is like ‘falling in love’. That is like falling, isn’t it? And it is not something you choose to do, but simply what comes to you, isn’t it? But nevertheless, wonderful and life changing? Just like Elvis sang: I cant help falling in love…..
When we hear that wonderful Gospel, we fall in love, not as a decision we undertake but as a work of the Holy spirit in our hearts. Just as we don’t imagine “falling in love to be a decision we make (then it would not be falling in love), so faith is a relationship into which we are swept up through the love of Christ.
Just as we must occasionally remember how and why we fell in love when we met our spouse or first love, - then we need to be remember how and why we fell in love with Christ. How we were swept away by his grace and mercy, his love and presence.
As one of the most famous quotes of Martin Luther tells us: “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ.”