Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA February 5, 2017
Pastor Robert McCarty
Being right with the law is a good thing, but it will not save you. Being right with the law is not the same as being right with G-d.
And yet being right with the law is a good thing. Jesus reminds those who will listen today, Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets, I have not come to abolish, but fulfill.
Undoubtedly you hear the nuance, the law and the prophets, which includes all of the Hebrew Scriptures, all of the Old Testament, which includes the commandments and yet so much more.
The gospel lesson today, paired with the Isaiah reading, gives you a glimpse of what the righteousness of G-d looks like and what the righteousness of G-d does not look like.
Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount explains the righteousness of G-d in ways that many struggle with. This gospel passage today continues the sermon that began last week with the Beatitudes. Today, you hear that you can break aspects of the Holy law and even teach others to do the same and still be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. You get in; at least. The passage ends with the reality that you can dedicate your life to keeping the fine details of the Holy Law and still miss out on the Kingdom of Heaven. Good works that glorify G-d means something more than dedicating your life to the law. What righteousness is not.
Again, that nuance of Law and Prophets stands out. In the Hebrew Scriptures you will find the story of G-d acting with justice and mercy, faithfulness and grace. Even within his commands, you can find the gift of the Father’s compassion. You can find passages within the Old Testament that are both law and grace. That mixture makes up the righteousness of G-d.
I will show you two example of how to see G-d’s compassion and grace even within his commands and law. The first example comes from the book of Leviticus, a book largely associate with the Law. Leviticus is full of commands and instructions. Sadly, we hardly look at more than a few of them. Then I will show you a second example from one of the prophets. Actually, it comes from todays Isaiah reading.
You will find in the book of Leviticus this command regarding the harvest. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap the corners of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the L-rd your G-d.” (Lev 23:22). This is a command of G-d and you could ask the question how big of an area counts as the corner. How much area in the corner can I not harvest? Does that include the edges of the field? because that is actually another way of translating the word for corner. Can my reapers place their basket on the ground to catch some of the heads of grain that fall? That is being concerned with the details of law. But to ask those questions is to miss the point of this command, which the text states plainly, “you shall leave them for the poor and the alien.” G-d is compassionate toward the poor and the foreigner. The Pharisees seek to honor G-d by making sure they honor the edges and the corners. But they ask the wrong question. The question they ask is “How small can I make my corners and edges and still honor G-d?” Jesus and Isaiah seek to help all people see the poor and foreigner who glean and collect what is left. This verse of Law in Leviticus reveals not G-d’s love of the law, but his concern for the vulnerable, the poor and those without a land to call their own. The passage reveals divine grace and mercy, which seeks to change the question to “How much of my field can I leave so that the glory and grace of God can be seen in this field?” This difference begins to describe the righteousness described in the Sermon on the Mount.
You see this again in our Isaiah passage, most obviously when the prophet talks about fasting. To those who fast and feels like G-d does not notice (verse 3), the prophet responds for G-d, “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,”
And then on the top of the next page
Is this not the fast I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it onto to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked to cover them,
and not hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
(Isaiah 58: 6-8)
To fast just to deny yourself food and honor G-d misses the point. Fasting seeks to build awareness towards the poor and to build up hunger for justice and righteousness for all people. For the Israelites, the fast connects them to their past and reminds them that they were a foreigner in the land of Egypt and G-d lead them out with a mighty hand and an outstretched hand.
You can also see this on our Souper Bowl table. We have a table set up with the Patriots logo on one half and the Falcons logo on the other half. And we have invited you to bring cans of food and place them on the table of either your favorite team of the two, or the team you think is going to win the game tonight. I really do not care how you choose where to place your cans. You hate Matt Ryan so you place your cans on the Patriots, great. You walked in and placed your cans on the Falcons because they are closest to the door when you walked in. Not a problem. Your best friend is cheering for the Falcons, and you really do not care, so you placed your cans on the Patriots with a big grin on your face just to kid them, push their buttons a little. Good for you. This is only in part about the game, but what it is truly about, just like the Leviticus, is sharing in G-d’s concern for those who are hungry. What this is truly about is helping place food in the hands of the hungry and giving G-d the glory. And if we can do that with a smile on our face, all the more better. Righteousness is not about picking the winning team. Righteousness is about the table and the banquet. If you believe the Kingdom of Heaven has a banquet table, then you have to know that God wants those who will eat there to eat here on earth.
Returning to the Sermon on the Mount, the Kingdom of Heaven is now. Wherever Jesus is, there stands the Kingdom of Heaven. Our gospel today continues the lesson Jesus shared last week when you heard the Beatitudes. (You might want to go back and read the beginning of Chapter 5 this afternoon.) In the Beatitudes, Jesus lists those blessed by G-d, and the blessing of G-d had nothing to do with the Law. Jesus explained that the blessing of G-d comes to the persecuted, the peacemakers, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and even at the beginning the poor of spirit. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven happens now as well as in you future. Wherever you find Jesus, there stands the Kingdom of Heaven. And when the blessed gather and where the blessed gather and reveal both the glory of God and the compassion of God, in that moment righteousness happens. Salvation comes from Christ; His righteousness lives in you.