[Picture: El Sermón del Monte (The Sermon on the Mount), 2016, by Jorge Cocco Santángelo (Arg.)]
Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Sixth Sunday After Trinity, 7/28/2019. The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Sixth Sunday After Trinity, click here.
Plenty of us would like some sort of a break from the summer heat, so I invite you to come with me now to a memorable night earlier this year.
It was a quiet weeknight in mid-January on the south shore, sometime around 11 p.m. Looking up, I could see a few stars peeking through the clouds, but beyond that there was nothing but a buzzing street lamp. No surprise to anyone here; it was pretty cold; maybe about 10 degrees. But despite the low temps, sweat was pouring down my back and my brow.
Over the course of the evening, a snowstorm had deposited far too many inches snow in my driveway and on the roads. Normally that would have looked beautiful while sipping hot chocolate inside, but when your wife is 8 ½ months pregnant, and you may have to go to the hospital any second, letting the snow sit there is not an option.
So there was lots of snow, and lots of work; and I would not be done, and we could not escape, until I had shoveled the last pile.
After a good, long while, I’d made some apparent progress. I looked out with pride over what I’d accomplished, even if I was sort of cheating. I figured that I really just needed to get the minivan out, and so, I left about eight feet of the driveway untouched because it was just too much. But what I did shovel was looking ok. So I took a deep, satisfying breath, and began to continue.
There’s something about deep, cold, dark and quiet nights. It is so still and fragile that you can hear a cat meow from down the street. Which means that the sound of your own shovel snapping in your hands is deafening.
One moment I thought I had made significant progress and was looking forward to my bed. And the next moment I stood there exhausted, drenched, cold, and alone, with nothing but frozen fingers and broken shovel.
I know that sounds bad, but just wait. It gets better. Those of you who were out there that night already know what happened next. It started to snow. Again. More. Heavier.
Now, you’re going to need to hold onto that as we meditate on Jesus’ words this morning. He continues the Sermon on the Mount by saying that God’s holy Law will not pass away.
It is eternal, and it isn’t going anywhere. The Law is eternal because it is part of who God is in His essence. Just as God walked with Adam in the Garden in the cool of the day, His Law was there, too, instructing Adam in how to live. It didn’t threaten him or accuse him. The Law simply instructed him in how to live according to God’s image. And like everything else, it was good.
Ever since the fall, however, the Law has also accused us. It has showed forth what life in God’s image demands, but now adds that we have fallen short of it. The Law names our sins and accuses us. The Law says, “Do this!” and it is never done. And so the Law condemns us.
But what if it could be done? Some folks imagined that to be a possibility.
They imagine that God’s Law stopped where the words stopped. They thought them to be tame words – ones that stayed in the bounds of a page, where they could interpret them like anything else, and so control them.
Teaching and understanding the Law that way was convenient. In the example before us, all you had to do to keep the fifth commandment was not kill a guy. Teaching God’s Law this way seems very practical; but more than that: it seems possible.
Most of you, I think, can live your lives in a way that outwardly keeps the Law much of the time. You go to church, you pray. You don’t lie, cheat, or steal, and you certainly don’t kill people. Outwardly speaking, you do pretty well, and people admire you for it.
You might be thinking: clean driveway. And then Jesus comes preaching and teaching as they and we would not prefer to hear. He says that your anger, which you have piously rebranded as “frustration”, makes you worthy of hellfire.
Jesus says that your insults and gossips, the proverbial “knives in the back” are no better than knives made of steel. In a way, they are worse. You can only take a man’s life once. But by murdering his reputation, you can kill him week after week, and day after day. He says that your refusal to be reconciled until you get your way will actually leave you unreconciled and unforgiven.
When Jesus speaks that way, then the Law is no longer so doable. Your shovel is broken. The skies are open. The snow pours down. And you will not get out until it is all clean.
And so we’re back to my driveway. I stood there sighing as the snow fell, with my best chance of getting out broken in my hands. And I looked in jealousy as a plow dug out the guy across the street.
A few minutes later, to my surprise. the plow came to me. He didn’t ask permission. And I didn’t invite him. Frankly, after all the effort I put forth, I was feeling stubborn enough to duct tape it and carry on. But he didn’t even give me a chance. He just came slamming into my driveway, uninvited, and unashamed. He did the job completely, not cutting the corners as I did. And I just looked on helplessly as he freed us from our snowy prison.
The point is this: God’s Law is so full and comprehensive and robust, that you cannot satisfy it. You best efforts, and your outwardly virtuous and good lives, are not enough. You need much more, and you need it to come from outside you.
For all the flack we give the scribes and pharisees, they were pious and upright men. But even their righteousness wasn’t enough. Your own righteousness isn’t enough either. You’ll never shovel your way out of this. And so Christ has come.
Without invitation, request, or even permission, He has come to you. He has come and given you a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and the pharisees. Namely, Jesus has given you His very own righteousness. His own beauty, His own perfection, His own keeping of the Law: it’s all yours.
It’s been poured out on you in your baptism. It’s been spoken onto you here this morning. It will be fed to you soon at His Holy Supper. And for all of that, you really should be thinking: clean driveway. You should be thinking: freedom and life, joy and rest.
Everything that traps you and shames you has been cleared away. Every penny has been paid. On the cross, Jesus has paid it. You owe nothing. It has all been accomplished – by Jesus, for you. And for His sake, you are called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.