+ 7th Sunday after the Epiphany – Feb. 23rd, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Lev. 19:1-2, 9-18; 1 Cor. 3:10-23; Mt. 5:38-48
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Command and Promise. That summarizes the entire Scriptures in two words. In the Old Testament it sounded like this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. For I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of slavery.”
In the New Testament it sounds like this: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Command and Promise. God’s Word to Israel. God’s Word to his disciples. God’s Word to us. Christ speaks to all of us in command and promise. And if we get that, Jesus’ Words about loving your enemies and giving sacrificially to your neighbor make a bit more sense. Command and Promise.
Same is true in Holy Baptism: “Repent and be baptized every one of you for the forgiveness of sins.”
In Holy absolution: “Whoever’s sins you forgive they are forgiven and whoever’s sins you retain are retained.”
In the Holy Supper: “Take and eat; this is My body; take and drink, this is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
And it’s true for the proclamation of Christ’s Holy Word: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be declared to the ends of the earth.”
Command and Promise. This is how our Lord speaks to us. This is how he exposes our unholiness of sin and death and gives us His holiness of life and salvation.
We heard it again today. You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
Command and Promise.
When it comes to holiness, the Lord has the corner on the market. Only the Lord is intrinsically holy, Like we confess in the Lord’s Prayer. Hallowed be Thy name. God’s name is certainly holy in and of himself but we pray that his name would be hallowed among us. And so we also sing our confession of the Lord’s holiness. We sang it just this morning in the Gloria. For You alone are the holy one. You alone are the Lord. You alone are the Most High Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.” Try counting how many places the word holy is in the liturgy…you’ll be busy!
What is holiness? Holy is separated, consecrated, set aside by the Lord. It also means perfect.
And so, Jesus’ command couldn’t be any clearer. Be perfect. No moral or spiritual deficiencies. No measuring your perfection against your neighbors’. There’s only one standard of holiness – not yours, not mine, but the Lord’s holiness. Be perfect…As your Father in heaven is perfect. We can’t hide behind the old excuse, “Well, no one’s perfect.” Be perfect, Jesus says. Not average. Not good enough. Not trying your hardest. When it comes to God’s commands there is only do or do not. There is no try.
The command is clear: Perfection. Completion. Holiness. And this makes our predicament all the more clear. Apart from Christ, we’re nowhere near perfection. In fact it’s quite the opposite: we’re broken. Imperfect. The Biblical word for this is Sin. Unholy.
Only Jesus is holy. And sinners are unholy. The two can’t mix, like people and electricity. We’re not safe in the presence of God’s holiness. At least not without a mediator, not without a proper means of receiving God’s holiness. Just like you have power lines and outlets to properly administer electricity.
This is what the Old Testament tabernacle and temple were all about: a place and means for God to give his holiness to his people and do away with their sin without doing away with the sinner. For though God’s holiness is not safe, He is good. He provided the sacrifices for his people. He provided atonement for their sins. He gave them his holiness.
And so he does for us.
What our Lord commands, He gives. The holiness His law requires He credits to your account. The perfection he demands, He supplies – and abundantly so.
Holiness in the Old and New Testament is not about human accomplishment. Holiness is never achieved; it is received. Holiness is a gift from the One who is holy to us who are not. Holiness is shared with us. Given to us. Declared of us. It is the complete opposite of what we expect and what we deserve, but this is how the Lord works.
Remember…Command and Promise. The same is true when Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel. His words are unexpected, outrageous even. But full of that same command and promise.
“You’ve heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor, hate your enemy.” “But I say to you love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Sons are called to reflect their father. So it is with our heavenly Father and His only Son, our Lord. Our Father loves His enemies and does good to those who hate Him. He causes His rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike. There are no little local showers over the good people. There are no local rains and bits of sunshine for the religious people. Everyone gets the same rain, the same sunshine. The same Jesus. The same command and promise.
Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us. That while we were yet enemies, sinners Christ died for us. Enemies. That’s what Sin made us – enemies of God. If God were to love His neighbor and hate His enemy, then it would simply be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and no one else. A closed community of Three. God loved the world. God loved His enemies. He sent His Son Jesus. He was slapped and offered the other cheek. He was forced to go one mile and went all the way to the cross. They stripped him of his cloak and his seamless robe. He gave to all who asked of Him. He prayed for His persecutors – “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” He did it as the only-begotten Son of the Father so that you might become sons of your Father who is in heaven.
Christ did it to completion, and when it was completed He said so. It is finished. Tetelesthai is the Greek word. It means complete; accomplished, fulfilled, finished. It’s the same word Jesus uses in Matthew: “You will be complete, whole. Teleios. As your Father in heaven is teleios, complete. So if you’re looking to yourself for holiness you’re looking in the wrong place. There on the cross is your holiness. There in Jesus’ death is your perfection. There, in the crimson streams flowing from his hands and side and head, is your completion. It is finished. Complete. Holy. Perfect. All for you.
Jesus, the Most Holy One comes right into our lives, interrupts our busy schedules, and takes all our rotten, stinking, unholiness – our sin – in His body. He carries it all to the cross. Dies for you. Becomes unholy and imperfect and broken for you.
And in exchange He bestows His holiness to us sinners in His Spirit-filled Word, Baptism, and Supper. That’s why water and blood gush from His side at Calvary. Water – Holy Baptism. Blood - Holy Supper. The means by which the Spirit bestows Christ’s holiness. Here you are covered with Christ’s perfection. Here the Lord shares his holiness with you.
Because if Jesus’ command is clear, His promise is even clearer. You will be perfect, complete, whole, entire as your Father in heaven is perfect, not because of something you’ve done, but because of everything that Jesus has done for you. Not by the holiness of your life for God, but by His perfect life lived in your place. Not by your perfect living out the Law, but by His becoming Sin for you, by His death on the cross, by His resurrection and ascension, and by the outpouring of His Spirit upon you in Baptism. You are holy. And more than that you are God’s temple, you have the Holy Spirit, Paul says. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
It’s all in Jesus’ words of command and promise.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.