The Law of Life

+ A sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on February 16, 2020 +

Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-31:3a; Matthew 5:21-37

Audio: LINK

It had taken them forty years to arrive.
Forty years since they had crossed the Red Sea into freedom.
Forty years since Moses came down from the Mount Sinai bringing those stone tablets inscribed with God’s law.
Forty years of wilderness wandering and learning what it meant to follow that law.
Forty years of learning how to be the people God had called them to be, how to live together in community.
Now they stood on another mountain overlooking the Jordan River; the land long promised to them was finally in sight.

Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afar, by James Tissot

Moses had led the people this far, but he knew he would not lead them any farther.
He had taken them out of Egypt and into the wilderness, out of slavery and into freedom.
He had taught them what God had taught him; he had given them the gift of God’s law.
A law that was given to them in love.
A law that was meant to show them how to live in community.
A law that invited them to live into the abundant life that God had prepared for them.
Now Moses was using his last opportunity to encourage his people to live into God’s teachings.
‘You have a choice to make,’ he said to them, ‘You are about to enter the land God promised to you. You are about to establish a new community and build a nation for our people. So will you follow God’s law and model your new community on those teachings? Will you design your new nation as God would have you design it so you and all peoples can experience the abundant life God has prepared for you? Will you choose life? Choose the bounty God wants for you? Or will you ignore those teachings?’

Now I know it’s easy for us to look at the law as a burden.
Especially we as Lutherans have a heritage that teaches a dichotomy of law and gospel, of bad news and good news.
We have inherited a theological tradition that has taught us that the law was a checklist that was seen as a way to prove our righteousness and earn God’s love, a weight that was lifted away with the gospel of grace.
But if you were to ask our Jewish siblings, that is not what they would say about the law.
If you were to talk to these Israelites standing overlooking the Jordan, I don’t think they would have seen the law as a burden.

These were a people who had spent centuries enslaved in Egypt; for generations, they were under the oppression of tyranny.
Even before Egypt, they didn’t have a nation of their own, they were little more than a band of families.
Now their God had brought them out of slavery and into freedom and was leading them into the promised land where they would build a new nation.
But these newly freed slaves didn’t know how to build a nation—what would they model it on?
The tyranny they had just experienced in Egypt?
The oppression that had bound generations of their ancestors?
So the God that liberated the people led them to a mountain and established a covenant with them.
God declared these people as God’s chosen ones.
God promised that God would protect them and give them a law to help them, their new nation.
God would use the law to show them how to live as God intends them to live, to establish the community God had designed for them.
A law whose heart is love. The love of God, the love of self, and especially the love of neighbor.
A law that helps the people see the world through God’s eyes and see every person as worthy, every person as honored, every person as beloved and shaping a community that reflects those values.
It’s a gift from a loving and caring God who wants the people to love and care for each other.
A gift of life and love for the sake of the wellbeing of the people.

Moses stands on that mountaintop, on the cusp of his people’s destiny and implores them to “Choose life.”
To choose to embrace God’s teachings so they may experience the full and abundant life that God had prepared for them.
And even though Moses would not continue on into that promised land with them, even though Moses would not be there to teach them as he had in the wilderness, the Lord their God would go before them. Just as God had lead them from slavery into freedom, just as God had led them through the Red Sea, just as God had lead them through the wilderness teaching them God’s ways, God would continue to lead them into the promised land as they established their new nation and help build their new community.

img_0114Well more than a thousand years later, the people hear yet another invitation to live into the law God had given them.
After another exodus from Egypt, after his baptism in the Jordan River, after his own sojourn in the wilderness, a new leader and teacher brought his people to another mountain so he could show them how to embrace the way of life that God had prepared for them.
As we have heard in this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the people, tells us, that we are blessed, that we are God’s precious salt and light, and that our God cares so much about us that God wants us to experience the fullness of life God intends for us.
Jesus invites the people to choose the life God has prepared for them.
It’s a life that is rooted in respecting people and building a community that allows all people to experience their God-given identity as a beloved child of God.
So Jesus brings the people back to that law that Moses proclaimed so long ago and challenges us to look beyond the letter of the law, to realize that we cannot see the law as a check-list, but to look deeper and see its intentions.
To see its heart of love and respect.

To make his point, Jesus amplifies the law, he raises the stakes to hyperbolic examples so we can see how important the law really is.
It’s not enough to not murder someone, Jesus tells us, but we have to examine how we disregard and disrespect people in our daily lives and realize how that too goes against God’s intentions.
It’s not enough to say, ‘Well, I didn’t cheat on my spouse today—check!’ because the law should inspire us to view each person as beautiful and worthy, not as objects of sexual gratification that can be easily discarded when we are finished with them.
And our words and actions should be so honorable, so trustworthy, that we shouldn’t have to swear by anything to prove we are being honest, but simply by saying “yes, yes” or “no, no” should be enough to convey the fullness of truth.
It’s a tough word for us to hear, I know.
It grates on our modern ears and I’m sure it grated on those ancient ears as well.
But Jesus is inviting us to look at the law and not see restrictions, but to see its heart of love, its desire to build a beautiful and life-giving society where all people can thrive.

Jesus is inviting his followers, inviting each of us, to live in an alternative community that is set apart from the rest of the world—a new community where God’s law reigns, a new way of life where the Kingdom of God can be experienced.
Jesus invites us to use the law as a lens with which we can view the world—a lens where the marginalized are blessed, a lens of being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, a lens of God’s love—a lens with which we can see the world as it truly is and see the world as it should be.
And Jesus has named us as God’s chosen messengers of this coming Kingdom who can use the lens of the law to see everything that stands in opposition to God’s intentions for us and for our planet.
To see the systems of oppression that are holding us back—the institutional racism and sexism, the patriarchal and heteronormative ideologies rooted in false binaries, the obsession with getting even through revenge, the blithe acceptance of alternate facts and the pervasiveness of lies—and to use our roles as God’s partners, God’s salt and light, to dismantle all of those systems and ideologies and barriers until God’s law finally and fully reigns on earth as it does in heaven.

“Sermon on Mount Sinai 02” by Miki De Goodaboom

Now, nearly two millennia after Jesus sat on that mountain side and nearly double that time since Moses came down from the mountaintop, it’s pretty clear that we still struggle to live into these teachings.
I mean, even just listening to Jesus’ words today reminds me how far short I fall, how far our community has to go.
Because if I’m honest, I break Jesus’ instructions all the time.
I call people fools or worse whenever I log onto Twitter or listen to the news or before I reach the first stoplight in my car.
And that’s just the start.
I’m sure we can all think of ways that our lives don’t reflect what we hear from Jesus today—and I admit, it would be nearly impossible for us to fully live into the letter of the law that Jesus has laid before us this morning.
Because if we again fall into the trap of viewing Jesus’ words as a checklist that we must accomplish in order to merit God’s love, the law again starts to weigh on us as a burden.

But trusting securely in our God of life, we are invited to see these words as what they are: the gift of a law of life.
Boldly following Jesus, we are invited to a discipleship that is more than beating ourselves up over impossible standards but tries to look through God’s eyes.
We are invited to see ourselves, see our neighbors, see our world through the lens of this law and ask ourselves “what would bring the abundant life God intends? What would make our lives, our community, our planet look more like the Kingdom of God?”
We are invited to live into the teachings God has given us as a free gift like a loving parent who deeply cares for the wellbeing of her children and only wants what is best for them.
We are invited to imagine together what it would look like if our world looked even a little bit more like the reign of God.
What would the world look like if anger and vengeance were banished so peace and reconciliation could reign?
What would the world look like if women were no longer exploited and viewed as mere sexual objects so all people could finally be seen as equal and beloved children of God and vulnerable people are fully valued and protected?
What would the world look like if lies were no more and leaders who peddled in falsehoods were rejected so we could take each other at our words and people’s honesty could be trusted?
bb0c498bba809dda40e0929eda789096What would it look like if we chose the life God wants for us?
What would it look like if we chose life?

Jesus is inviting us to examine ourselves, my friends, to examine our world and take stock.
To use the lens of God’s gift of the law of life and look around ourselves and within ourselves.
To see how we have fallen short of God’s intentions for us but to also see how much God loves us and wants us to experience the fullness of life.
To see our neighbors as equally beloved children of God, worthy of abundant life and love.
To see our world as it is, broken and weary as it may be, but also as it could be and as God intends it to be.
As we heard last week, we have been proclaimed as salt and light, as blessings for the whole world, and co-workers with Christ to proclaim God’s coming reign.
So Jesus invites us, as he invited our ancestors in faith before us, to cling to the life God has prepared for us and to proclaim the gift of life that is for the whole world.
Jesus invites us to get to work in ourselves, in our community, in our world, to make God’s intentions a reality, to make our common dreams come true.
And when that day finally comes, as surely it will, all peoples, all creation, can experience the fullness of life God has prepared for us, the community that God intends for us.

Choose life, my friends.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s