Fulfilling the Law

+ A sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on August 16, 2020 +

Text: Romans 10:4-15


Sometimes that night feels like it happened so long ago, but really it’s only been a few months.
It was December 31 and as I was getting ready to celebrate the year that had past and the new year that would begin in just a few hours, I took some time to reflect on what had been and what could be.
I had that sense of optimism I always seem to get as we flip the calendar over.
2020 was going to be an amazing year, I told myself, one full of travel and adventures, reconnecting with friends and family, of accomplishment and new experiences.

Looking back now, the world seemed so much simpler then, didn’t it?
Back before we knew what 2020 had in store for us—massive fires in Australia, a near war in the Middle East, multiple murders of unarmed Black persons, months of protests, deepening political and societal divisions, and, of course, a deadly pandemic that would quickly alter nearly every aspect of our lives.

Now that we’re well more than halfway through the year, I’ve heard many friends eagerly awaiting the coming of 2021, as if the date on the calendar will somehow heal the brokenness that this year has wrought.
And while I will be the first to admit that 2020 has turned out very differently from what I had hoped it would be, I sometimes have to remind myself that the year itself actually has very little to do with what’s happening in the world.
That the calendar hasn’t made the problems we’re facing and that they won’t be magically fixed on January 1.

For five weeks now, we’ve been working through this sermon series entitled “Broken: Good News for Tough Times.”
And at the beginning of this series I mentioned how well suited it seemed for the times we are living in, how well it seemed to fit the brokenness of 2020.
But I had to remind myself the other day that this series was not crafted with this particular year in mind—the book I’m using as a resource for this series was published four years ago.
And it goes without saying that the scriptures we’re working through were not written to address the times we’re living in because nearly two millennia ago, it would have been impossible for the Apostle Paul to even fathom what is happening in our world today.
And yet, they seem to fit these times, these experiences, so well because they address something deeper.
They speak to something more innate than the specific circumstances of this year and remind us that we as humans have experienced brokenness in our individual and collective lives for as long as we have existed.

Scripture tells us that since the earliest days, humans have experienced brokenness, that we strayed from God’s intentions for humanity and fooled ourselves into thinking that we are enough on our own.
From our first parents on down throughout the eons, we humans always seem to do a pretty good job at walking away from God and each other.
Whether it was eating the forbidden fruit or worshiping false idols or building up rivalries or relying on ourselves, we’ve done pretty much all that we can to separate ourselves from our Creator and our fellow humans.
But Scripture also tells us how God has always relentlessly pursued the people—sending messengers and prophets to guide them, anointing judges and rulers to lead them, and, in perhaps the pinnacle of the Hebrew Bible, liberating the people from slavery and giving them Torah—what we call the Law of Moses—on Mount Sinai.
That no matter the previous wanderings and mistakes, when the people were preparing to build a new nation, a new society, God instructed them on how to shape it, how to institute divine justice and enact God’s vision for the people.

Now, for far too long, we Christians have viewed the Mosaic Law with skepticism—especially us Lutheran Christians owing in no small part to our namesake Martin’s personal issues on the matter.
As a monk, our dear Martin Luther was obsessed with his own fulfillment of the law, which he saw as an oppressive list of rules and obligations that he, as an individual, must achieve to earn God’s love.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1606-1669. Moses with the Ten Commandments, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55126. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_-_Moses_with_the_Ten_Commandments_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg.

But that was never the purpose of the law in the first place.
The giving of the law is one of the defining moments in Biblical history, and one still celebrated each year by our Jewish siblings in the festival of Shavuot.
It’s an instance of pure grace when God intervened in the life of God’s people and came to Moses to teach the people how to live together in right relationship with each other and with the God who loves them.
The law was never intended to be an individual person’s checklist on how to earn God’s love, it’s an expression of God’s steadfast love meant for the full and abundant life of the community.
It’s God giving a solution to heal the brokenness of God’s people and lead them into wholeness.
It’s an instance of God guiding and saving the people from themselves as God had done so many times before and would do so many times after.
And, in our reading today as Paul is exploring the depths of God’s love for all people, he names God’s sending of Jesus as yet another example of God’s enduring love for the people.
In fact, Paul tells the Romans that Christ is the telos of the law that God gave Moses on Mt. Sinai.

Now, that Greek word Paul uses, telos, is sometimes translated as the “end” of the law, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the termination, it could also the culmination or the fulfillment.
And, remember what Jesus told the crowds during the Sermon on the Mount in the fifth chapter of Matthew: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets,” he said, “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)
So I don’t think Paul is trying to tell us that Christ ended or abolished the law, but that in him, in his life and ministry, we see its fulfillment, its purist essence.
That God sent Jesus among us to teach us again the meaning of the law—that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:36-40)
That Jesus has shown us what it looks like for us to live as God intends, lives full of love and healing and generosity, resisting tyranny and building up God’s own commonwealth.
Paul is telling this Roman community made up of both Jews and Gentiles that in Christ, we see the law’s intention, God coming into human time to teach us how we should live in right relationship with God and with each other.
That Christ is the culmination and the literal incarnation of this work that God has been doing throughout all of history.
And through Christ, this teaching has gone out to all the earth and is for all people, it has come so near to us that it has been placed on our lips so we can proclaim its goodness, it has been written on our hearts so it can guide our every action.

Christ Mosaic, from Sacred Heart Cathedral, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KotaKinabalu_Sabah_Sacred-Heart-Cathedral-06.jpg -CEphoto, Uwe Aranas.

Now, admittedly, human history has shown us that our own accomplishment of the law and our communal implementation of its intentions is fleeting at best.
We know that we fail to follow God’s teachings in our own lives and have yet to realize God’s perfect reign in our collective lives.
We know that we are still mired in the brokenness and yearn for its healing.

But as we were reminded last week, Paul is less interested in what we as individuals are doing and much more interested in what God is doing and how God is bringing us into community.
It is God who caused Jesus to be born among us, bringing Christ down among us.
It is God who has done the impossible and raised Christ from the dead.
It is God who has graciously given us this teaching.
It is God who has lovingly brought it so near to us.
It is God who has lavishly made it available to all people.
It is God who is working within and among us to bring all people into God’s vision for us, together.
And Paul assures us that we can put our faith, put our trust, in this God who is still doing impossible things in the world and will remain faithful to God’s word and promises.
That we pledge our allegiance to our crucified and risen Lord who has defied death and inaugurated a new kingdom, a new resurrection life, a new world order rooted in the fullness of God’s perfect teachings.
And Paul tells us that no one who puts their trust in Christ and in the fullness of God’s law shall ever be put to shame, because God has and is and will continue to do the impossible among us to make that perfect world a reality.

We as Christ-followers have been given this good news, this assurance that amid all the brokenness in our lives, all the brokenness in our world, God is working to mend it all, to bring us into the fullness and completion of the law.
And if we feel the power of this word, the potency of this promise, the liberative and healing message that it is intended to be, why would we not proclaim it in the loudest voice possible?
If we experience the fullness of God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord, why would we not share this good news with everyone we meet using our words and our actions to help all people experience that same liberation, wholeness, and healing that God intends for all people?
Why would we ever stop proclaiming that God has come so near to us bringing the fullness of God’s love and nothing can ever separate us from that love or stop its assured realization throughout the earth?

My friends, we know that the brokenness we are experiencing is nothing new.
That as easy as it can be to blame it all on a particular year or set of circumstances or even governments, the systems of oppression, our fractured relationships, the pervasive violence and injustice in our world point to something deeper in our human condition.
And deep within ourselves, we know that they cannot be fixed by simply changing our calendar or casting a ballot, but instead the remedy requires a fundamental reordering of ourselves and our society in accordance with God’s intentions for our world.

And we know that we cannot do this on our own, that left to our own devices we will surely fail as we have failed throughout history.
But Paul’s message to us today is that God is near to us, that God is at work, that God is continuing to reshape and reform us, bringing us closer to God’s perfect vision just as God has done from generation to generation.
This is as a message of pure good news.
It doesn’t require anything of the receiver—it doesn’t call for forced conversions or threaten damnation.
It’s simply a pure and gracious proclamation of what God has already done, what God is still doing—the assurance of God’s love and vision for our world, the promise that God will continue to work within and among us to shape us and the whole cosmos until we finally match that vision.
This is an opportunity to celebrate the good news of God’s love made known to us in Christ Jesus and that the fullness of that same love and grace are available to all who are in need.

What good news this is, my friends.
How worthy of the adoration Paul lavishes upon those who bear it into the world.
“How beautiful are the feet,” he says, “of those who bring [this] good news!”

Liberation is near.
Wholeness is at hand.
God is in our hearts.
God is on our lips.
The cure to heal our brokenness, the very love of God, is freely given for all.

This is the fifth part of a seven-part sermon series entitled “Broken: Good News for Tough Times.”
The other sermons in the series can be found here:

  1. Broken Bodies, Healing Spirit” – July 12, 2020
  2. Groaning in Labor Pains” – July 19, 2020
  3. Nothing” – August 2, 2020
  4. All-Inclusive Love” – August 9, 2020
  5. Fulfilling the Law” – August 16, 2020
  6. Ever Faithful, Ever Merciful” – August 23, 2020
  7. Not Waiting on the World to Change” – August 30, 2020

6 thoughts on “Fulfilling the Law

  1. Pingback: Broken Bodies, Healing Spirit | Paul On Grace

  2. Pingback: Groaning in Labor Pains | Paul On Grace

  3. Pingback: Nothing | Paul On Grace

  4. Pingback: Ever Faithful, Ever Merciful | Paul On Grace

  5. Pingback: All-Inclusive Love | Paul On Grace

  6. Pingback: Not Waiting on the World to Change | Paul On Grace

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