Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 30, 2009

“And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Now listen Sam,” said his father, “you can borrow the car, but I want you to go straight to the game and then come home again.”

“Yea, that’s just what I’ll do… go straight to the game, and then come home again.” Sam had already worked it out in his mind. He thought it over again to himself. “Straight to the game” meant exactly that. He would do that. But there was some latitude in the phrase “and then come home again.” He didn’t have time to stop anywhere before the game anyway. But the way home was full of options. There were lots of routes that he could take. He could be plenty creative in that respect. After all one of his friends was bound to need a ride somewhere, they might even leave before the game was over.

Dad reluctantly dropped the keys in Sam’s hand, while he looked over his son’s face and expression. “You heard what I said.”

“Yea, I heard, straight to the game. And then I’ll come home afterward.”

“Ok, as long as we understand each other.” But Dad was skeptical, as Sam turned on his heel out the door.

Sam’s Dad was skeptical for good reason. He’s like any father, remembers what it was like when he was in his son’s shoes. He remembers how he took advantage and tried to create a loophole in the rules. In fact, it’s perfectly natural to look over the rules and try to find a loophole. We do it all the time. After baseball, looking for the loophole is the national pastime. Actually it’s been the pastime of all people for all time. Including the people of God who received the law of God from Moses.

“2You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it.” Said Moses (speaking for God) to the people. It’s a little like Dad making sure that Sam understood what he meant. Moses wanted the people to be sure to know that the law was to be followed perfectly. There were no exceptions. There are never exceptions to God’s law. Don’t add to them, and don’t take anything away. Do them as they are that you may live. Because by breaking them you will surely die. That’s really the crux of the issue.

First of all we should understand that the law itself is very good. It comes from God, and He is perfect in His will and action. The law He gives us is perfect as well. St. Paul talked about it in his letter to the Romans. 12So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Romans 7:12 (ESV) It is necessarily so because it comes from God. God gives His perfect law “that we may live.”

But there is a problem here. And the problem isn’t with God’s law. The problem is with you and me. Instead of looking at God’s law the way God would have us look at it, we see a problem. We see it as if God is trying to control us and take away our freedom. Just like Sam trying to get around the intention of what his father said to him. We always want exceptions to the law. We want to modify it.

We do it every day. 60 mph isn’t really speeding, is it? After all if I drive slower than everyone else I’m in danger of being in an accident. It isn’t a crime unless you get caught. What God really wants is for me to be happy. And I’m happy just the way I’m living. I don’t need to change anything. I can keep on lying… I can live with my boyfriend… cheating on my taxes… drinking too much… using pornography… looking for a divorce as the final solution to the pain in my marriage. You can insert your favorite sin your favorite exception right here. We try to live our lives as exceptions to God’s law. We’ve added to, or taken away from the clear words. Don’t think to your self, “Well, I know I’m not perfect. But I’m better than some other people I know. Why don’t you concentrate on the guy who really needs it instead of me.” You’ve said it, I’ve said it… we are carving out yet another exception for ourselves.

You see, it’s all the same adding to or taking away from God’s perfect law. The real problem is that we don’t like that finger of accusation pointing to us, and for very good reason. When the law points out that we have sinned, it’s not asking us to change, it’s not giving us hints for better living, it’s not making suggestions to get along with our neighbors… When the law of God points out our sins it condemns us to death. “Ouch!” That’s hardly fair is it? Can God really be that upset at my little faults that He wants me dead? Surely there are exceptions to the law; surely I fall into the exceptions! But, I’m afraid not. “The soul who sins shall die.” Ezekiel clearly tells us for God. “The wages of sin is death.” It gives no exception. Keep God’s perfect law perfectly and live. Break any part of God’s law and you will die.

That’s a heavy burden to bear… it’s easier to overlook it and modify that law so that it doesn’t apply to me. It’s easier to re-interpret the law so that what we do isn’t wrong. Like Sam not coming straight home. But it doesn’t change our guilt. It doesn’t change the fact that we deserve punishment for breaking the law.

God gives us the law so that we can live. In fact, if we could keep it perfectly we would live. It’s not an idle promise it’s a real one. Keep it perfectly and live. God promises. Of course no human being since Adam sunk his teeth in the apple is able to do it. Sin is alive and well in us, and more often then not we are controlled by it. And unfortunately the curse of the law is just as real. Again in St. Paul’s words “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.” Romans 7:10 (ESV)

But there is a solution. It’s hinted at in the second half of the words Moses speaks to the people. “7For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” Here Moses is saying that because the laws are so right and good people from surrounding nations will marvel at God’s presence among them. “Wretched man that I am,” St. Paul calls out to God, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The answer is: Jesus Christ, who saves us from the condemnation of the law. God gives the law for life, but it condemns us because we can’t keep it. God gives the Gospel for life, and that is exactly what it brings. That is where God draws near to us. He comes to us in Jesus Christ. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, He is God himself born as a living and breathing human being. He draws near to us to bring us life. 17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17 (ESV) You see, when the law doesn’t suit us we seek to have it changed. But that’s not possible with God’s perfect law. It must be kept. Jesus didn’t come to change the law. He came to do it right. He came to keep it perfectly and fully, to the very letter of it, without exception or loophole.

And that’s exactly what He did. He did every “do.” He didn’t do any “don’t.” It’s impossible for us to really come to grips with that. I mean we can’t imagine life without sin. It’s so much a part of us that it seems perfectly normal instead of perfectly horrible. But it has no part in Jesus. God’s law starts and ends really with the first commandment. “You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love and trust God above all things.” That describes Jesus perfectly. Nothing stood between Him and God the Father. There was perfect fear, love and trust. He knew that since God is perfect, human beings who break God’s law must be punished. He knew that sin requires death. And He loved God perfectly and He trusted God perfectly. So much so, in fact that His love for God spilled over to us and in perfect trust, He allowed Himself to be crucified and punished for the sins of the whole world. Even though He was perfect and sinless, He died the death sinful human beings deserve. And His perfect life, and perfect sacrifice is confirmed by God in Jesus resurrection from the dead.

And here’s the point I really want you to pay attention to today. I want you to know that it’s not just that Jesus came to keep the law perfectly. The important thing to remember is that He came to keep the law perfectly for you. He did what you can’t do every letter of it without exception or loophole. Not just for Himself, but for you. And even more importantly when He had fulfilled the law, instead of flying away back to where He came from, He paid the penalty for the broken law. He paid the penalty for you breaking the law. He paid the price you deserve for adding to and subtracting from God’s perfect law. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 (ESV) It is Christ Jesus our Lord who paid what you earned… who died the death you earned, for the broken laws of God. He draws near to you to save you. You have a God that is indeed that near to you and loves you so much that He died on the cross to take your punishment away from you.

But don’t think that His nearness to you ended with His death on the cross. He promises to be with you always, to be near you always. His love for you didn’t end when He breathed out His last time on the cross. He didn’t stay dead, but rose again a living and breathing person. God and Man together in Jesus Christ, dead and buried, and raised again to life. And that’s the risen Lord Jesus that makes promises to you. It’s one thing to trust the promises of someone who has died. It’s quite another thing to trust the One who has risen from death to life. It’s the risen Lord that you can trust. Just think, not only did He die to pay the penalty of sin; but He rose again from the dead. If He can do that He can keep all His promises to you. And He does.

He is near to you. Look at what He promises you, turn to p.199 in your hymnal. “Our Lord commanded Baptism… Baptism now saves you.” There it is. Water and Word. Promise and fulfillment. Not in a generic way to a faceless name in a crowd but specifically to you. God reaching out and touching you saying, “I am with you ____” “I am with you ____” “I am with you ____”

And there’s more. That Word that was spoken over you there with water is spoke over you every Sunday right here. And the Risen Lord promises to be in it, to you also. “24Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24 (ESV) It’s a promise that the Risen Lord will keep for you. Even as you sit right there in the pew listening. Opening your mind and heart to Him.

And what stronger way is there to remember Jesus presence, that is Jesus being near to you, than to celebrate His Supper. You approach the very presence of the Risen Lord right here at this altar. You take into your mouth the very body and blood that hung on the cross, the very body and blood that rose again from the tomb. And when you do, He comes near to you to make His promise true for you again.

“Surely this is a great place.” To paraphrase Moses. “For what other place is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him!” Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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