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Trinity 18 – Matthew 22:34-46

by pastorjuhl ~ September 22nd, 2008

The Adult Confirmation of Anna Michelle Landrie

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Blessed Martin Luther once said, let any one who knows well how to distinguish the Law from the Gospel thank our Lord God; for he can easily pass for a theologian. In my tribulations I did not, alas, understand this as well as I should have. An ordinary preacher may be an excellent theologian, and another may have studied all the Biblical languages and many other subjects. But if he cannot distinguish Law from Gospel, he may not be worthy of the name of theologian. God, not man, makes theologians (paraphrased from Walther’s Law and Gospel).

If God alone makes theologians, who made the Pharisees? They were experts on God’s Law. They forgot more Scripture than you and I will ever remember. Yet most of them were not worthy of the name of theologian. The Pharisees could not rightly divide God’s Law from God’s Gospel. Worse yet, they refused to acknowledge the fulfillment of God’s prophecies standing before their eyes. The heavenly Father sends His only-begotten Son into their midst to teach them repentance toward the forgiveness of sins Instead of receiving Him with great joy, their hearts grew obdurate and their eyes refused to see the Word made flesh. The Pharisees thought they knew how to love God and neighbor, but in the end knew only love of self.

All of us excel in loving ourselves. We bristle when we hear the Lord God speaking through Moses: what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandment of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good. Sure, we might nod our heads and think we do just as God commands. But Saint James catches us in our own web of deceit when he writes be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

When we look long and hard into the mirror of the Law we see that it is good and wise, as we sang earlier, and we are not. Our love has grown cold. Love of God is lip service. There are weeks when we walk into church, make an effort to sing the hymns and the liturgy, listen to the sermon, receive Holy Communion, and walk out of church with no idea of what was said and done in the previous hour. Love of neighbor is almost impossible when love of self comes first. We are raised to be self-sufficient. Yet we often turn self-sufficiency into a dictatorship of one. We think what pleases me must please God. When we hear Moses tell the Israelites love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt, we wonder who is a stranger just as a certain lawyer wondered aloud to Jesus who was his neighbor before Jesus set him straight with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Perhaps the greater sin of the Pharisees is more than not loving God and neighbor. Perhaps it is the refusal to recognize Jesus as both David’s son and David’s Lord. When we, by our thoughts, words, and actions, refuse to love God and our neighbor, we refuse to recognize Jesus as both David’s son and David’s Lord. We cannot answer Jesus’ question put to the Pharisees. If Jesus doesn’t have two natures, Divine and human, then He is either merely a man whose example should be followed in order to earn eternal life, or He is the God Who sets the bar of life so high through His doctrine and life that we could never jump over it to join Him in heaven.

One round of confirmation instruction has begun and another has just ended. Tomorrow/Today, Anna Landrie will confess the faith taught to her from Holy Scripture and Luther’s Small Catechism. She will declare herself to be in dependence not to herself but to Jesus Christ, the Love of God with skin, David’s son, David’s Lord, and Anna’s Lord too. By virtue of her baptism, and our baptisms too, we are enriched in everything by Jesus Christ in all utterance and all knowledge…so that we come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ…that we may be blameless in the day of Jesus Christ.

Left alone, we will always come short in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit could not even begin to gift us because we neither know nor believe in the God Who saves us by His grace and merciful favor. We are not alone. The Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His Gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith, just as He does for His Church on earth when He keeps her with Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit shows us the Gospel way; the way our heavenly Father made for us when Adam and Eve first sinned, the way Abraham walked by faith, the way Moses and the Israelites walked through the Red Sea to the Promised Land, the way King David walked in repentance and forgiveness, the way we walk by grace.

Rightly distinguishing Law and Gospel is not as easy as it seems. What looks like sweet words of Gospel may be stinging words of Law. The Law always accuses; the Law preaches repentance. The Law cannot save us. The Gospel does save us. The Gospel never accuses, it forgives. The Gospel preaches Jesus Christ crucified, resurrected, ascended on high, and coming again soon to judge the living and the dead. The Gospel proclaims dependence on Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness, life, and salvation. The Gospel is not just a one-time thing won for us on Calvary that remains static and stuck in time. The Gospel lives.

The Gospel lives when children young and old approach the font to receive Holy Baptism. The Word with water cleanses all sin and unites that person with Jesus Christ forever. The Gospel lives with pastors preach Christ crucified for us. The Gospel lives when ministers of Christ absolve sins in God’s stead and by His command. The Gospel lives when Anna and others confess they want more of what the Lord offers when they enter our fellowship through instruction in Holy Scripture. The Gospel lives when Christ’s True Body and Blood are poured down our throats for the forgiveness of sins. The Gospel lives when service books are opened, liturgy and hymns are sung, prayers are offered, and Christ’s Church is gathered to receive good things from Him and return praise for His enduring mercy.

Moses declares your fathers went down to Egypt with seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as the stars of heaven in multitude. Christ’s Church shall never perish, even as steeples crumble and pulpits rot. Somewhere a faithful minister preaches the Law’s repentance toward the Gospel’s forgiveness of sins. Somewhere a faithless Pharisee becomes a faithful Christian. Somewhere the Holy Spirit is giving the Gifts Christ freely gives His holy Church. Somewhere Christians love God and neighbor through works of mercy. Thanks be to God that somewhere for us, and for Anna, is the corner of Second and Pine in Momence, Illinois.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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