Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Final Achievement of The Law: Transformative Life-Giving Grace

Sermon given by Dr Christopher Seitz at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Dallas from the Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5:17-37 and Deuteronomy 30:15-20

You may know the joke about God giving the commandments from Mt. Sinai. First he offers them to the Canaanites. They look them over and say, “actually, adultery is one of our favorite activities, no thanks.” So he goes next to the Hittites, and they say, “no thanks, you know stealing is one of our main occupations.” At last he comes to the children of Israel and says “I’ve got some commandments.” “Are they free?” they ask. “Yes,” God says. “Great, we’ll take ten.”

It’s a good joke but it also has some deeper truth inside it. God gave Israel the commandments freely and out of love. Israel received them as a gift, like a ring on a solemn wedding day. Binding Israel and God together. Indicating love and limit, compassion and constraint, both.

The ‘until death do us part’ character of the law Jesus underscores today. Michael thought we ought to hear it twice, this Sunday and last, and I agree. Not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, not one comma or dot over the ‘I’, will pass away. God gave the law. Jesus is its embodied guarantor, its best man, now standing before you and me who were not Israel but were always where God was headed through them, to us here this Sunday, February 16, at Good Shepherd, Dallas. Straight into that place inside of us where we decide, and choose, where we love and hate, where we envy and brood and plan and worry and hope.

God did not give Israel ten laws only but in fact more than 600. 613 to be specific. Jesus picks out 6 of them to make a point in the Sermon on the Mount, and four of the six he refers to today. Two are familiar from the top ten list Israel freely received. Thou shalt do no murder. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Two others are less so. A certificate of divorce you shall write (from Deuteronomy 24). And this is how vows are made (from Leviticus and Numbers).

Why does Jesus revisit these laws and insist our righteousness must exceed that of the legal experts of the day?....

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