Feb 19, 2017 “impartial passion”
Jesus continues His catechism lessons from the Sermon on the Mount this week by turning to some popular and well-known sayings of His day. This first one, an eye for eye and a tooth for tooth has something in the culture of Jesus’ day that’d helpful for us to understand. This saying carried with it not simply the idea that if someone harms you, you get to do the same thing back to them.
(Though when you read this in the Old Testament it sounds that way). This saying, by Jesus day, was not about revenge. Rather it was meant as a limitation on retribution. It was meant to limit payback and so prevent an escalation of hostilities between people. It carried with it the idea of no more than eye for eye and do no more harm than tooth for tooth.
That little bit of insight for me revealed something about me when I thought about it. How often on a freeway when you get cut off or someone does something outrageously stupid have I wanted to get back at them by thinking of what I could do to ‘teach them a lesson’? And that ‘lesson’ was often not limited to only what they’d done to me. But this saying, eye for eye and tooth for tooth, reveals that I wanted to see it as giving me permission to strike out in anger. That’s what I wanted to see in it; whereas it really means to keep me and my pride in check.
I’m to limit any retribution I may seek to no more than the supposed harm done to me. So, having this ugly part of me revealed shows me just how much I think I’m the center of the universe. But in this epiphany season, it also helps me to see that, in fact, Jesus is the One who is revealed as universe’s true center. Having seen how ugly I can be only points out how much I need the beauty of God’s gospel and grace revealed in His only son, Jesus Christ.
The revelation of Jesus Christ as God’s Son also reveals that God wants us to behave toward one another as He has behaved toward us. In mercy, not vengeance or anger. He sent His Son to this very world where people reject the passionate love of God, they even hate God in fact. He sent Him so that we could have revealed to us what love really is. The actions of Jesus, His coming to earth and to live the perfect life and then die on the cross and rise again, show us that the love of God is the content of the gospel.
Today, to live the gospel, is revealed in how we act toward those who act badly toward us. God’s impartiality is what we have as our guide. God shows His mercy impartially. Impartiality not indifference is the key here. God treats all people the same. Today Jesus tells us of God: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God gives rain and sun to those who love Him and to those who hate Him, equally. Equally is the key.
We show the wisdom of God when we do not act like those of this world act. St Paul today speaks of God’s wisdom as ‘foolishness’ to those who think they are wise in this world. So why do we try to be like them? Why are we willing to sacrifice what we believe, teach, and confess of God to try and fit into a model of life based on this world’s wisdom? Again, God is impartial and He judge’s impartially.
His judgment is based on the blood of Jesus Christ alone. And His blood is impartial, in that anyone, a n y one who calls on Jesus’ name finds in that name the salvation they need. They find equal protection from the wrath of God on sin. God cares not for skin color, language, clothing, or possessions of any kind.
No matter how hard we try to pretend otherwise, we still judge people by their appearance, clothes, skin color, and even by height. Some time back a University of Pittsburgh survey showed that its graduates who were six feet two and over had a starting salary $125 per week higher than those below six feet. Just because of how we judge others.
Such conditions matter not to God. It matters not to Him the condition we compare ourselves to with others because He knows that everyone’s condition is one of desperation and lost-ness. Everyone needs the passionate love of God. Equally. Because all have hated God and His ways.
You think you’re the exception, you think that you’re not one who hates God? Think of how you live life? Is it by the standards of what this world sees as good and wise? Or is how you live based on God’s ways. If you’ve turned from God’s way in even the slightest, if you’ve demonstrated even the merest indifference to being what God has said, to be righteous and perfect, then you have hated God. That’s not my judgment but His.
In the Old Testament lesson God through Moses says “to be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.” To turn from God’s holy ways is to reject God. A former missionary to India told this story. One day when she was visiting some villagers, she came across a man who was critically ill and desperately needed to get to the medical station nearby. She needed help carrying the man there. Two “holy men” were sitting nearby, performing their prayers and meditation. She asked for their help. She said she’d never forget the fire of resentment and anger that blazed in the eyes of one of the men as he said: “We are holy men! Don’t bother us with such things!” What a strange concept of holiness! Can you honestly say that there’s never been a time when you’ve not ignored what you know you should do according to God’s holiness?
Of course not, you and I equally, like those ‘holy men’ have turned away from God. And yet in spite of that, we still experience God’s goodness; the same goodness He shows to all sinners.
He still gives rain and sun equally to the just and the unjust. He still gives what’s needed to all in spite of all the spite everyone has shown to Him. And He goes beyond even that to give what this world truly needs; restoration. Wholeness. And redemption. He, of His mercy, redeems us from our wicked ways because He loves His creation so passionately. And as He shows His great mercy, He demonstrates how we are to treat each other.
In spite of the spite we show each other we’re to go beyond that and, instead, demonstrate love. Remember we said at the start, our retribution is to have limits. We do not harm someone who’s harmed us, beyond that harm, no more than an eye for an eye. That’s the point of Jesus coming and dying on the cross, to show that God’ seeks not wrath on His creation but demonstrates mercy. We have no need to seek our own retribution. We leave that to God and His impartial judgment. We are to love each other as we have been loved by God. God, Who, rather than throw the weight of His judgment at we who deserve it, instead has turned His perfect wrath on His own perfect and beloved Son.
A century ago those who lived in the wide-open spaces of the West had to worry about prairie fires. When a prairie fire would sweep across the fields, there wasn’t much you could do to protect yourself. You usually couldn’t outrun the fire because it moved too fast. Obviously, it wouldn’t help to hide from the fire in your house. One option though was to set a fire and burn out all the grass around you. Even though the flames would roar nearby, you would be safe in that burned-out space because there would be nothing around you to burn.
The fire of God’s wrath against sin has burned itself out in Jesus Christ our Savior. He willingly endured agony of body and soul in the furnace of God’s wrath against sin, so that we might be saved on the coming Day of Judgment and wrath. And His protection, that ‘burned out’ area of safety is what God – through the cross of Jesus – gives equally to all who ask. And that protection comes from Jesus who fulfilled perfectly the entire demands of God’s law.
Remember again the Old Testament lesson “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy”. And we heard it in the gospel lesson also when Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Anyone who’s ever played a musical instrument knows the challenge of trying to play a piece of music perfectly. Children are encouraged, of course, to practice and practice. At one time or another, a parent or teacher likely tells them the old adage “practice makes perfect.” And so, they practice and practice. Occasionally a piece might be learned so well that sometimes it is played perfectly. But as soon as that song is mastered, then it’s on to another, more difficult, piece.
For those few performers who make it in the ‘big leagues’ of music, the pressure for perfection can, at times, overwhelm even the best. No matter how much effort is expended, there always seems to be someone else who’s better, someone else who’s gone just a little further in that quest for perfection. While that person may enjoy considerable satisfaction in making music, it can’t give any real lasting peace and contentment.
We’ll never find peace in our own efforts to be perfect before God – however hard we practice. But Jesus was perfect for us – in his life and in his death. And as we are in Him through Baptism, God declares us to be what Jesus is… Perfect in His eyes. We live life, not on a quest for revenge against those who don’t measure up for us, nor as an exercise in the futility of trying to be perfect ourselves.
Rather we live under the protection of God’s impartial, yet passionate grace, that grants all things needed to His whole creation. His grace covers all our sin and makes us His own through Christ. His grace sets us free to do the best we can and in so doing, show to others just how true it is that God loves each person equally and, again in the cross of Christ, demonstrates His mercy personally.
As we close hear again the words of St Paul. “All things are yours, whether… the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ.” In His name as He protects and preserves us, Amen.
Sermon #870 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
Old Testament Reading Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
19 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
9 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.
11 “‘Do not steal.
“‘Do not lie.
“‘Do not deceive one another.
12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.
13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.
“‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.
14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.
15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.
17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
Epistle 1 Corinthians 3:10-23
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
Holy Gospel Matthew 5:38-48
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.