God's Love Adds Great Length to his Law

Can we talk about holiness? Everything that relates to our holiness in Jesus and holy living that comes from him it's all through the powerful Word of God. "God's Love Adds Great Length to his Law." February 12, 2017.

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            Finances, politics, religion ... these are all topics to avoid in casual conversation or on one of your first dates. We get it, it’s too personal to go there. And it makes me think of the conversations we have when surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ. And it struck me in thinking about our theme for this Sunday, “be holy.” I don’t think I’ve ever said that to somebody. Now, it’s essential to connect about the weather on a weekly basis, but not necessarily “and how’s your growth in holiness lately?” Guys don’t go up to each other and say, “How have you been dealing with the barrage of images of partially clothed women in commercials and the sidebar of the webpage and the ads in the newspaper and video games? What do you do when you have a classmate at school or a coworker who always wears that kind of suggestive outfit?” Ladies don’t go up to each other and say, “Hey, have you gotten over that grudge yet or are you still not talking to her? What was the last thing you said?”

            Perhaps it’s because we know our answers would all be similar. We could all plead, “Jesus is my holiness” and “Amen!” we’re done with it! We could also give the pat answer, “Still struggling, right...work in progress...who isn’t?” I get that. Who wants to talk about your weaknesses? Who wants personal talk about what you’re not good at? How you struggle with sin is not something you want out in the open day of regular conversation. In a big way, this is a personal issue. But it is an issue. We may not talk about it conversationally, but does that mean we don’t think about it either?

            One of the huge patterns to recognize today is how less and less talk about holiness is a bad thing...more and more is a good thing. Our sinful natures are like a silent assassin; they operate best and gain more ground in the darkness, not when you point your finger at him and say, ‘I see you, assassin! Stop right there!” It wants to go unnoticed. It doesn’t want self-control. It wants to keep on sinning.

            By nature, we are totally in the dark about holiness and there’s a part of us that couldn’t be happier. We don’t know how much God really demands, we don’t know a thing about real love for our neighbor. We don’t know about God’s love and how much he’s done for us. The less talk, the more freedom and permission for sin, the more your excuses make sense and can be defended.

            Everything that relates to our holiness in Jesus and holy living that comes from him – it’s all through the powerful Word of God. It is all learned, taught by the Spirit. It’s not a less and less, but a more and more from God. So, we have this beautiful prayer in our psalm, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your commandments!”

            And here’s God, teaching us through the terrifying example of David what happens when less talk lets the assassin play. He was once described as a man after God’s own heart, but didn’t your heart just sink and crumble when you heard paragraph after paragraph of the stumbling of King David and the hatred he had for Uriah, the whole disregard for his life? And a complete disregard for women and marriage…the lust and the disrespect run rampant as the little assassin goes and takes whatever he wants.

            Here’s Jesus, the great Teacher in the Sermon on the Mount, with more and more talk ready for us to teach the great lengths of God’s law, the great lengths of God’s attention and care for people in the commandments. You look at what Jesus says today and these commands all have to do with relationships. The assassin only thinks of himself and treats others like trash, but God’s commands are God’s way of dressing up your neighbor. He puts a robe around your neighbor and a sparkling ring on their finger and jewels on their head through these commands. The more he says the more we see the treasure that all people are to God. “Jesus, you really love people!” Through his holiness talk, we learn the great lengths of love Jesus gave us in his perfect life and the great calling we have we have to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

            Here’s Paul, the apostle, to the Thessalonians, saying, “remember the instruction we gave in Jesus...let’s not talk about this less and less, let us do this more and more and more.”

            So, this is the pattern Jesus reveals. In our ugly sinful nature, we want as little talk as possible. Jesus exposes the shortcuts people take as they approach God’s law. The sinful nature says, “I don’t want to do any more for you than I have to.” So, when they had their Q&A time with the Pharisees about your duty to your neighbor’s life, the response was, “Well, Moses says “do not murder.” And everyone was content and happy that “as long as my thinking or my words or my behavior can be called “murder” before a court, I won’t be punished and God is happy. I’m free. More freedom for me, more fun.” It’s like we draw this circle of responsibility to others real small around their feet and say, “That’s all I owe you” and give ourselves room and freedom to do anything else we want.

            When you call someone a name like “fool” or say “she’s worthless” in your heart, those names and jabs are the only way you think about them. In your heart, you don’t mix “you’re an idiot” with “and I love you” The idiot part is the only one you’re really hanging on to.  And it’s the only thing you’ve left your neighbor to hang on to. How dreadful! Is there any doubt that hatred is tied to the hand that murders?

            Think about how we offend someone and hurt them but our response is to defend it. “Oh, toughen up; it wasn’t that bad. You should hear what I’ve been called.” “Don’t start whining about that... you’ve done much worse.” These poor people you left suffering at home while you go off to worship. These poor people you have abused that they have to accuse you before court because of your wrong...and you go there kicking and screaming, defending yourself and excusing my right to behave as I did and only the prison gates can shut you up.

            Studies tell us how many positive things we need to say for every negative comment. Aren’t they on to something? Shouldn’t we leave a good taste in people’s mouths? But instead we leave them to drink our heavy, poisonous doses of hate.

            And your hatred stands in between Jesus and the person he loves, the person he wants in heaven, like coming between a momma bear and her cub. And here his big paw pushes this murderer against the dangerous heat of hell.

            God calls unbelievers “fools.” Jesus told the Pharisees they were hypocrites. But never out of hatred. It came from heart filled with such love he sought to warn them away from eternal disaster. Can you believe Jesus has seen every part of your lives and has never called you “worthless”? With amazing length to his love not even death and the pain of your hell could stop him from being reconciled to you. Listen to him talk! Such great lengths to his law…but such great lengths to his love too!

            Jesus has another example. It’s no secret that God has given people something of a sex drive. By nature, we’d prefer to keep the conversation short and say, “as long as it’s not technically adultery I can give that drive freedom without doing any harm.” But in God’s command there is so much more love at work. Such a sexual relationship is so intimate and personal. It’s an expression of oneness that is only fitting when two people are married and have promised themselves to a lifelong, permanent relationship just between the two of them. Everything else, beginning with the eye’s lust, is pure selfishness, stealing satisfaction for yourself without any promise, no responsibility, support, or committed love.

            We can talk about how impossible it is to avoid all the suggestive images, or control the way others dress, but the problem isn’t how many traps there are. The problem is you. Kids joke: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.” First comes lust...then the smooth talk and suggestive texts and then a sinful physical intimacy. All of it, outside the bond of marriage, is a sinful mess that begins long before two people who aren’t married sleep together.  Lust isn’t the key to happiness. It’s a stumbling worthy of hell. It’s a wrecking ball to a proper relationship with someone.

            So, if your eye causes you to sin, Jesus says, gouge it out and throw it away. This is not a lip-service to pursuing the holy life. It is an intense struggle – not with an actual body part, but with the sinful desires inside. We think this sounds extreme, but it should sound normal to turn from sin this way. More talk about holiness, not less, will help you think about sin as an extreme thing. So often we settle for far less and get used to it, thinking Jesus to be crazy to talk this way. “Jesus, thank you for going where I often refuse to go myself.”

            Jesus’ day was much like ours in the way people selfishly terminated marriage in divorce. The men would write this certificate of divorce and as long as they could come up with some cause and did the proper paperwork, they were allowed the divorce. That was the only requirement. Do the paperwork, slide it across the table, and you can be done with your promise to your spouse. They treated the marriage vow with no real respect and would bail on their spouse and move on. They weren’t think of proper vs. improper causes for divorce. Does that sound like a healthy foundation for society?

            Jesus says anyone who divorces, when there is no unfaithfulness or desertion, makes their ex look like garbage. Think of the rumor mill. Think of the public view and treatment received by someone who is widely considered “guilty” by being divorced. And trample their spouse and if that spouse later marries another, they harm that person’s reputation too.  Today we might think of the shame put on someone when you learn they have been married and divorced. They have to deal with it the rest of their lives.

            Jesus says, ‘That’s not holy. You’re not innocent when you divorce that way.  Your trashing the idea of a promised relationship and what counts as commitment. My holy love demands more.”

            Remember how Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors? Remember how he was the only one to show perfect love and respect for the prostitute dragged in front of him. Never did he violate anyone with his eyes. Can you see the great length of his perfection? And to think that to every man and woman and child he promises himself, he gave himself up for his church and proves himself faithful to her permanently and forever?

            Can we talk about holiness? Such a humbling thing to sit here at Jesus’ feet and be overwhelmed by the sinful way inside of us. And yet every last letter Jesus demands here is a part of his perfect way for us each and every day.

            Jesus says repeatedly even small angry thoughts and quick but lustful glances are worthy of the severest punishment in hell. Every single reference to hell is a reminder that Jesus suffered punishment on his cross for a lot more than just murders and adulteries. He suffered for all of it for you.

            See how much God loves you! I want to say that to my neighbor too.  See how much God loves you that his command concerning people goes this far. See how much God loves you to bring about a people who are salt and light, a people you can trust, who seek peace, whose eyes don’t look at you for their own selfish pleasure.

            “Jesus, I’m so glad you talked! Keep talking, and help me to thank you for your love by listening and putting your love into practice...more and more and more!”  Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org) on February 12, 2017

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