The Sunday of Brotherly Love ’12 – Matthew 5:20-26

15. July 2012
The Sunday of Brotherly Love
Exodus 20:1-17; Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 5:20-26

You are tempted to believe that your many violations of God’s holy law are excusable because they were mostly harmless. Sin is not just between you and God. Sin affects your neighbor. There are those that sin and those that are sinned against. There is no excuse to sin, not in mind, by the tongue, or in deed. Sin corrupts you and corrupts your neighbor.

The Fifth Commandment is no exception. No one here is a murderer in deed, at least that I know of. Yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone of us holds some deep-seated anger, resentment, or hatred. Jesus says: I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. From Jesus’ perspective, we’re all murderers.

That doesn’t stop us from trying to get off the hook. We’re pretty good at excusing ourselves with every kind of rationalization. We’ve convinced ourselves that we can hold a grudge without sin. We think that secret hatred won’t affect anyone else. We tell ourselves that we were right and thus there’s no cause for repentance.

Perhaps you only were angry in your mind and thus think it affected no one. Perhaps this anger resulted in only a flippant word, a casual dig against the neighbor, or a bit of unpleasantness that could be glossed over later, smoothed out, or paid off. Surely, you never took the sword and sought to slay your neighbor, to murder him, right?

No, all have sinned, all have murdered. You sin because your flesh is sinner, just as natural in this fallen world as the eating and excreting. It is what your corrupted and wicked flesh does and has no choice but to do. You are captive to this flesh, utterly unable to overcome its every evil desire, intent, and action.

Holy Scripture refers to the life of the sinner as  self-made slavery. Life in this Egypt of our making ain’t bad? Bondage to Pharaoh has its perks. At least we sit by our fleshpots, engorging ourselves on the meat of idolatry, adultery, and greed; at least we are comfortable and secure in ourselves, right?

God’s Holy Word tells another story. He tells us how this life of the flesh, bound to sin and Satan, hurtling towards death, is not good. He tells how our flesh is truly captive to sin, to death, and to the evil one. Slaves do as slaves are told. There is no overcoming this bondage. The chains are too heavy, the shackles too tight. The evil taskmaster is to strong.

Not only that, our perverse flesh enjoys bondage. We actually like living in sin. We’re so twisted that we like hating, degrading, and enraging our neighbor. We like how it makes us feel. We like murdering their flesh by ignoring their physical need. We like how it makes us feel and in a warped way, how it ruins our neighbor.

Some part of us still knows such sin is wrong. Yet, our flesh is especially good at dealing with this problem. We’re all Pharisees at heart. We say to Jesus, “All these commands I have kept from my youth.” I have not murdered. I’ve never taken the sword. I’ve never killed unjustly. So, your internal scribe and Pharisee says to Jesus. Nothing to confess here, move along. Off the hook, no problems. Fifth Commandment, check!

Jesus says: Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribe and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The scribes and Pharisees are legalists. They have understood God’s holy Law in such a way that they think they have kept it. Their strict legal code is perfectly attainable, even by sinners. In other words, they understand the Law so that they keep it.

Pharisees and scribes like Egypt. They like bondage in sin. They delight in their wickedness. But as it is said: “Scratch a legalist and underneath you’ll find an antinomian.” Scratch the lover of the Law and underneath you’ll find they really hate it. It is true: Pharisees and scribes hate the Law while putting on pretense of keeping it. They can’t stand the truth and so have relaxed the Law so as to keep up appearances. In reality, they love themselves more than God. Their standard is better than God’s standard. They love the life of sin and will not allow the Law to ruin their unholy and profane party.

How is your keeping of the Law of God going? Have you kept it perfectly or relaxed it to think you have?Let’s examine ourselves according to the Fifth Commandment, LSB p. 321.

The Fifth Commandment. You shall not murder. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

So, how have you done? Surely, you have not murdered. Have you hurt or harmed your neighbor? The Pharisee (legalist) in you is probably saying “no.” Have you helped and supported your neighbor? Have you provided for the sick, the needy, the homeless in our community and world?

“Scratch the legalist and underneath you’ll find an antinomian.” You love the Law only until it convicts you of hating your neighbor. Make no mistake, you have not loved your neighbor as you ought. You love your own flesh and hate him. Worst yet, you are hopeless to overcome this hatred. No amount of me exhorting your flesh to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, or shelter the homeless is going to do a lick of good.

Your flesh will either relax the Law to keep it or hate the Law and ignore it. The truth is we’re all murderers. It begins with anger in the heart, that secret place where we let our hatred stew. Eventually it always comes to a boil and our anger spews forth its sickening signs. We’re skilled to do so while keeping up appearances, with smiling facade, all the while with knife prepped to stab the neighbor in the back. Our tongues lash out and we insult each other. While we may never take up the sword, it is true that such deep-seating anger and hatred, when allowed to fester, grows and can bring about ruin of life even amongst Christians.

There’s no hope for you within you. You need is a Divine smack-down. That’s what the holy Law does to the sinner, when it is preached and taught. It doesn’t just level the playing field, it obliterates it. There’s no playing the Law gamble. The odds are never in your favor. Pharisees and scribes alike will fail at the righteousness game. All are equally bound to trespasses and doomed to failure. All are in Egypt with no hope and no future apart from corruption, the grave, and eternal fires.

Horrible news, to be true, if that was the final word. Why does God destroy your false righteousness, your legalism, your hated of the Law, your hypocrisy? Why does He put the sinner to death? The Law is given to show you your sin and curb you from doing it. If you want it to be a list of moral precepts for the flesh to keep, you’re no better than the Pharisee or Scribe. The Law is the bright mirror that brings the inbred sin to light. By its threats, we fear judgment. This is good and God’s Holy Will. Why? Because it prepares us for the Gospel.

Knowing that we are murderers to the core is good and even loving. This knowledge is rightly given to us by our God to rebuke us and discipline us. This knowledge condemns the sinner to judgment, council, and the hell of fire. In other words, because we’re all murderers, we’re all dead according to the flesh. We’re dead in our trespasses. Dead people don’t keep the Law, not one jot or tittle.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? … We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For the one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:3ff)

Baptism is the daily drowning of the sinner in waters made holy by the Word. Baptism is the death of the sinner and the new life of the Christian. While the Holy Law crucifies the sinner, placing its just penalty for sin upon Jesus Christ. Our sin was granted to our Savior when we were baptized into Him. So also, our dead body, enslaved to sin and devil, was buried with Christ. Why? In order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life. 

The slavery is over. The self-justification is brought to end. All hatred, anger, and murder is crucified, died, and buried with Christ by your baptism. Baptism lifts the condemnation for our Fifth Commandment breaking and places it upon the perfect one, from whom no murderous thought, word, or deed was ever conceived. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Through daily contrition and repentance, the baptized saint of God has all anger, malice, and murder drowned to death. By the forgiveness of sins that is in Christ Jesus, baptized believers rise to new life again, a life dead to sin and alive to God. This is not your own doing. It is a gift of God, received in faith, and lived out in the life of the church.

This is why you ought to examine yourselves according to the Ten Commandments before the Divine Service. You will come to know by the Law schoolmaster the bondage of your flesh and your need for forgiveness. Then, as we prepare for worship through Confession and Absolution, the old flesh is crucified and by the Holy Absolution in the stead and by the command of Christ, the new man rises forth with love of God and love for neighbor.

If you there remember that your brother has something against you, that is, you have sinned against them, first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift, that is, offer your sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in the liturgy of the Word and Holy Sacrament. So also, if you have been sinned against, forgive the fellow brother in Christ, both in your heart and also with your tongue and in deed. Even if he will not hear or admit his fault, your forgiveness will be like burning coals upon his head.

We don’t need to relax the Commandments to think we have kept them. Nor should the new man in the Christian hate the Law of God because it is so severe. We now love the Law because it crucifies in us all evil passions and prepares us to receive the blessed Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. This is the love of God, to discipline and heal.

Love includes correction, sometimes in righteous anger such as with parents or government, and always with forgiveness. We forgive because He first forgave us at the cross, crucifying our flesh’s desires, and granted new life in Him. We love because Christ first loved us and gave His life as a ransom for many. We live because He lives. Create in us clean hearts, O God, hearts that forgive as we have been forgiven.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana