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Sermon for Trinity VI

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ August 1st, 2011

Sermon on St. Matthew 5:20-26

Trinity VI

All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall – after TLH 369

What is the most unique claim to fame of the hymn, “All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall”? You can see that it is placed first in the “Faith and Justification” section of TLH, but that is not its most prominent trait. Rather, the enduring legacy of today’s Hymn of the Day is its unique honor of being one of only two hymns to be quoted in The Lutheran Confessions. In a document called The Formula of Concord, we read that, in an argument over original sin, “[One] party contended that because ‘through Adam’s fall the whole human nature and essence is corrupted’” (FC I.1; Kolb-Wengert, 531.1). This translation varies from the hymn, but you get the idea. This hymn is used in The Lutheran Confessions to proclaim the reality that we are born in sin and bound to die. This is a necessary prelude to the forgiveness of sins, what today’s Gospel Lesson calls “righteousness.” Full-strength Law and full-strength Gospel for us today as we receive the curse of Adam and the blessings of Christ.

All mankind fell  in Adam’s fall, One common sin infects us all;                               

From sire to son the bane descends, And over all the curse impends.

This stanza is stark and solemn Law, the Word of God that shows us our sin. Adam fell into sin when he tried to be like God, instead of remaining in the image of God. This sin has come to us all, not so much through our DNA, but through our theological lineage “from sire to son,” i.e., through all generations,” musically painted by a descending melodic line. C. S. Lewis once noted that most Church Fathers speak not of a passive inheritance of Adam’s sin (as per blonde hair or blue eyes), but of our active participation in his sin. We fell with Adam. We partook of the forbidden fruit. And we are as guilty as Adam by our fault, by our own fault, by our own most grievous fault. No wonder today’s Gospel Lesson expands on The Fifth Commandment to make sure we are all guilty before God. “Thou shalt not kill.” As with the sin of Adam, we might be tempted to think that we haven’t killed anyone, so let’s move on to The Sixth Commandment and maybe I’ll have a sin or two to confess. But Jesus, in a method continued by Luther’s explanations to the commandments, says, “[E]veryone who is being angry with his brother will be liable to the judgment.” And every “little Adam” like you and me has had unrighteous anger, has “killed” our brother through our anger, and must repent.

Thro’ all man’s pow’rs corruption creeps / And him in dreadful bondage keeps;   

In guilt he draws his infant breath / And reaps its fruits of woe and death.

If stanza 1 emphasizes the origins of original sin, then stanza 2 focuses on its consequences. For all the powers we have been given (abstract thinking, free will in non-spiritual matters, etc.) “corruption creeps” through “all man’s pow’rs,” leading us to use our powers for our own glory. At heart, sin brings “dreadful bondage,” a bondage to Satan and to the eternal prison of hell. And I especially like the following phrase: “In guilt [man] draws his infant breath” – yes, that cute little newborn who is passed from doctor to nurse to be placed in a towel and rubbed somewhat violently to trigger the first breath of life – this is actually the infant breath of death, for each birthday draws us one day closer to the grave. In the ESV translation of today’s Gospel, Jesus says that who ever says “fool” or “raca” will be liable to “the fires of hell.” The original language actually reads “the fiery Gehenna.” This was a valley on the south side of Jerusalem where human sacrifices, including infanticide, were made. Jesus’ original hearers in the Sermon on the Mount (from which today’s Gospel Lesson comes) might think of Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, an image of spiritual death to unrepentant Israel. You and I might think of the recent shooting of several innocent children in the Norway region – a “mass grave,” in effect, of holy innocents. Adam’s sin brings us, including little babies, fiery death in a forbidden valley of unmarked graves.

From hearts depraved to evil prone, Flow tho’ts and deeds of sin alone;            

God’s image lost, the darkened soul / Nor seeks nor finds its heav’nly goal.

From the origins of sin (st. 1) to its consequences (st. 2) to its fruits in stanza 3. As the common Cold leads to coughing and sneezing, so the disease of original sin leads to actual sins of thought, word, and deed. Our hearts are depraved. We are “to evil prone,” as we read in Genesis, just before the flood, that every inclination of man’s heart was only evil all the time (6:6). From sinful hearts “Flow tho’ts and deeds of sin alone.” Have you ever been told to pray not from a book (like the Psalms or the hymnal, for instance), but to pray from the heart? And, while you’re praying, to try to sound more sincere? You might be disappointed. When you look to your heart for sincere prayer, you will only find dry bones in the valley of death. “God’s image lost” – God created us to be His sons and daughters. We have gone astray and become our own, second-rate gods, who neither seek nor find our heavenly goal. The end of the road for us, Jesus says, involves a judge, an officer, and a prison. Are you angry with your brother, but unable to repent and seek reconciliation? Sin leads to unbelief, which in turn leads to eternal death. So the judge (Jesus) will hand the finally impenitent over to the officer (Satan) who will throw you into the prison of hell. Repent!

In sum, the curse of Adam’s fall is the bad news that we fell with Adam, that his sin is our sin, and that we bear the curse of eternal death. The Lutheran Confessions put it this way: “[S]in comes from that one human being, Adam, through whose disobedience all people became sinners and subject to death and the devil. This is called the original sin, or the chief sin” (SA I..1, Kolb-Wengert 310.1). To whom shall we flee?

But Christ, the second Adam, came / To bear our sin and woe and shame,             

To be our Life, our Light, our Way, Our only Hope, our only stay.

Stz. 1–3 condemn us and bring us to repentance. But see how stz. 4–6 lift the curse and bring richest blessings in Christ. Christ is “the second Adam.” We call this typology, a unique Biblical device where something in the OT foreshadows something in the New. Adam and Christ have something in common. Each did something that profoundly affected every human being who ever lived. But they also have something very uncommon. Adam’s sin brought death to all. But Christ’s life and work brought life and light to all. We read in Romans 5, for instance, “For if many died through [Adam’s] trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (v. 15). Adam was our death, our darkness, and our lost way. He took away our hope and the foundation of life itself. However, Jesus came to lift the curse and restore our life with God. Three key words in this stanza describe who Jesus is and what He does: Life, Light, and Way. He is our Life because He did it all for us in His incarnation and His perfect life before God. He is our Light, for His Word shows us the way to eternal life. And He is our Way or Road, for He leads us in the path of righteousness for His name’s sake (Ps. 23). No wonder some icons of the crucifixion show a skull beneath the cross. Christ has crushed Adam’s curse of death and brought the Life, Light, and Way to you and me.

As by one man al mankind fell / And, born in sin, was doomed to hell,                      

So by one Man, who took our place, We all received the gift of grace. 

This stanza combines Adam and Christ in a contrast. Through Adam we fell, were born in sin, and were doomed to hell. But enough Law for one Sunday! “So by one Man, who took our place, We all received the gift of grace.” Yes, Jesus took our place before God the Father. And He gives us a very special gift: righteousness. It’s a big word of faith, isn’t it? Righteousness. At the beginning of today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The unbelieving Scribes and Pharisees thought they were righteous in and of themselves. That was their perception. In truth, however, they were “little Adams” and still stuck in Adam’s sin. But the righteousness of Christ is something far different. It is a gift, not a right. It is given, not taken. And it is by grace, not by works. Yes, the righteousness of Christ is the good news that everything Jesus is and does counts for us. It’s quite the same thing as justification or forgiveness, isn’t it? The Lutheran Confessions put it this way: “[Our churches teach] that the righteousness of faith is the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, and that we are accepted as children of God for the sake of Christ’s obedience alone” (SD III.4; Kolb-Wengert 562-563.4). He baptizes us and counts us righteous before God. He absolves us so we stand justified before God. And He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink, “for the remission [forgiveness] of all [our] sins.” Through Christ, the Second Adam, we stand righteous before God.

We thank Thee, Christ;  new life is ours, New light, new hope, new strength, new powers; 

This grace our every way attend / Until we reach our journey’s end!

Here we thank God for His gifts and rejoice that the gifts He freely gives know no end. Several key words enumerate these gifts: life, light, hope, strength, and powers. They echo the Garden of Eden, where God gave all of these gifts to mankind before the fall into sin. But they are restored, in greater measure, through Christ. But they are not yet given in all their fullness. For now, they are given in the midst of sin and death. And so we pray, “This grace our every way attend / Until we reach our journey’s end!” Here we reach out toward the second coming, praying that we would live each day in repentance and faith, until God brings us by grace to the final resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

As we said at the outset, this hymn is worth quoting in The Lutheran Confessions because, on the one hand, it lays bare our sin and corruption to bring us to repentance. But don’t stop with just the first three stanzas! The entire hymn, a most excellent sung sermon, also preaches Jesus Christ and His righteousness. Saints and sinners like you and me need both words, don’t we? But the greater message for us is always the Gospel, the good news that Adam’s cursed has been reversed and the blessing of Christ’s righteousness is ours by faith. “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Epistle). + INJ + Amen.

Rev. Brian J. Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bayside, NY

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