Fulfilling the Law

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Sixth Sunday after Epiphany | February 16, 2020

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 • Psalm 119:1-8 • 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 • Matthew 5:21-37

21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

25 “When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.

27 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

31 “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ 32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.

33 “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ 34 But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. 35 And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. 36 Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.

Matthew 5:21-37 | New Living Translation

This morning’s gospel passage continues to have us in Matthew 5. Jesus is preaching the Sermon on the Mount. If you recall, last week we heard these words from Jesus, “I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.

Jesus continues his teaching – reminding them that our righteousness must be better than that of the Pharisees…That is a high standard. The Pharisees knew the letter of the law, but really missed it on the Spirit of the Law and Jesus goes on and gives us several examples.

Jesus reminds his followers that the Law tells us not to murder, but if we have anger toward someone, that is worse than murder. Jesus law is higher than the law. When it comes to “practicing” our religion…Jesus reminds us that when we come to worship – we need to come with a clean heart. We should not be holding grudges against another, but more importantly, if someone has something against us – before we worship – we should work on reconciliation.

Each one of these examples holds the believer to a higher law – God’s Law. For too many, we mistakenly believe that we are under grace and not under the law and that gives us license to do what ever we want.

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul writes:

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. 

Jesus is telling us to embrace the fullness of Him, much as Paul is encouraging the church to grow up. This morning let’s not just follow the letter of the Law, but the Spirit in which it was given.

Prayer for the Week

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Salt and Light

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany | February 9, 2020

Isaiah 58:1-9a • Psalm 112:1-9 • 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 • Matthew 5:13-20

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

Matthew 5:13-20 New Living Translation (NLT)

I missed last week’s devotional because of the Feast of the Presentation. Last week’s devotion begins several weeks of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The text last week was the Beatitudes, which I am working on a sermon for this Sunday, so I will share that sometime in the next week.

Jesus finishes speaking the Beatitudes – which really speak to a different way of thinking. God’s Kingdom values are different than ours. Jesus finishes the Beatitudes with these words:

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

Matthew 5:11-12 (NLT)

This is not the way most of us who call ourselves Christ-followers think. When people do the things described in these verses, our immediate reaction is to strike back. This is so hard because it is not the way we were taught. We are taught not to throw the first punch, but if you are attacked, it’s correct for you to defend. Yet, Jesus teaches us something different. We are reminded that the prophets were persecuted. We don’t have a record of prophets defending themselves on their own behalf. Jesus tells us to remember God’s blessing…remember God’s reward in the Kingdom of God.

As we continue into this week’s text, we are called to be salt and light. These thoughts are connected, more than we think at first glance. Jesus tells us that we must be salt and light. We are so tempted to curse the darkness and yet Jesus tells us that we must let our light shine. In this we must follow the example of Jesus.

There are those who like to stir up trouble and then claim they are being persecuted. This is not what Jesus is talking about. The Truth will always make people who don’t follow the Truth uncomfortable. I’ve seen it so many times that when people are under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, they are miserable and they strike-out at the messenger and the message. Jesus tells us to be true to the message. Don’t pollute the message. Be salt – not salty. There are too many “salty” Christians out there – don’t be one of them, but be salt – bring the unique flavor of Christ to those who don’t know Him. Be the light of the world – stop cursing the darkness. Cursing the darkness won’t make it go away and it will make us miserable, which is not the condition a Christ-follower should be in – unless they are not following the things of Christ. Shine the light of Christ to those who need it – Be the light – Be the church. Everything that we do should reflect the light of Christ.

At this point, Jesus reminds his followers that He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill the law. Many mistakenly believe that Christ-followers can do anything they please because they are under grace and not under the law. The commandments – especially the two Great Commandments:

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-40

Notice Jesus tells us that the Law and the prophets are completely contained in these two commandments. These are some huge shoes to fill. Jesus tells us that if we ignore the least commandment, we really aren’t much in the Kingdom of Heaven – but we must obey God’s laws. I’ve said this before, but what if every believer 1) Loved God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and 2) loved their neighbor as themselves. What would Christianity look like? I dare say it would look different than it does today.

Jesus had more than his share of run-ins with the Pharisees – the keepers of the Law – they were both judge and jury. Yet as Jesus finishes this section of his sermon, he said that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees if we want to reach the Kingdom of Heaven. Make no mistake about it, the Pharisee were about following the letter of the law but not its spirit. They followed the law to perfection. How many of us follow God’s law to perfection? Certainly not me. I am thankful for His grace if I slip and fall. Jesus is calling his followers to be salt and light and to love God with all of their heart and love their neighbor as themselves. Christ came to fulfill the law – perhaps that’s why He boiled it down to these to commandments. If we keep these two commandments, we will be salt and light and we will exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees.


Sunday Thoughts

Birthdays, Football, Groundhogs…Oh my!

As I write tonight, we are watching the Super Bowl. I really don’t have a dog in this fight, but if you pressed me, I’m cheering for the Chiefs. Even though I’ve never lived anywhere near Kansas City, I have quite a few acquaintances from area who are all cheering for the hometown team. Plus it’s been 50 years since the Chiefs have won their last Super Bowl.

Today was Groundhog Day. Good old Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, which legend has it means spring will arrive early. So far we have not had much of a winter, but we got quite the snow shower this morning right before Sunday School and church. I did quite a bit of shoveling before both Sunday School and church. At the moment the temp is a balmy 34 – which is warm for this time of the year at this time of day.

This week, has been a week of celebrating a birth, and three birthdays. All three of our grandbabies had birthdays this past week, and so does our son. We even had the chance to be with our grand kids on Friday and Saturday. It was so fun.

Today in worship we celebrated the Presentation of Jesus, which is when Jesus was presented in the Temple by his parents and was met by Simeon and Anna. We had a good service despite the snow – which did knock our numbers down a little.

This week we have several meetings – a prayer meeting with our community pastors, as well as a business meeting with the same pastors. Things start ramping up this month. We are looking forward.

In January I was able to run 65 miles. My best January since 2015. I’m hoping for another good month in February with at least 70 miles. If all goes well, I plan on running one if not two half-marathons this fall.

That about wraps it up. Have a great week!

Presentation of the Lord

Presentation of the Lord | February 2, 2020

Malachi 3:1-4 • Psalm 84 or Psalm 24:7-10 • Hebrews 2:14-18 • Luke 2:22-40

22 Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. 23 The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the Lord.” 24 So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
    as you have promised.
30 I have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared for all people.
32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
    and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

33 Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

36 Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. 37 Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. 38 She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

39 When Jesus’ parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee. 40 There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.

Luke 2:22-40 New Living Translation (NLT)

Think about what it means to wait – to really wait. We live in such an instant culture that sometimes its hard to think how long some things take. Since we are just home from seeing a brand new grandbaby, think about the amount of time it takes for a baby to be born – nine months. Richeldis came in a hurry. Last Sunday night we Facetimed Rebecca and Michael and they were going to the midwives on Tuesday. Early Monday morning (around 4:45) I heard a text message come in. It was too early for some of the usual weather delay texts, or a notification from the bank of our balance. I got up, went to the kitchen to look at the phone. Rebecca was at the hospital – after getting the family up at 4 am. At six, we got another text message, saying “Baby girl.” Wow! Two hours from start to finish. When Robert was born, it was a laborious 36 hours. I’ll never forget, we were there for the birth. Near 11:30 PM, Grant (Michael’s dad), James and I were told Robert should be born in a few minutes…Midnight rolled around and no baby…12:30…1:00…what was going on…we saw 2:00…2:30…3:00. I was starting to get concerned – more than a few minutes had passed since 11:30. Finally at 3:33 on January 29, Robert was born – talk about your anticipation.

This morning we want to look at two more people who waited – Simeon and Anna. They are not related – and they are almost a forgotten part of the Christmas story.  After celebrating the Nativity of our Lord, with its splendor in both the Church and the popular culture, it would be easy for one’s mind to drift and overlook the significance of the fortieth day after the Lord’s birth. But we should look beyond our hustling to banish the decorations to the attic, the obsession over the days remaining in this strenuous winter, and endless chatter about Super Bowl Sunday or even the fact that it is Groundhog Day. The events set in motion with the Annunciation and Nativity continue with the significant presentation of our Lord in the Temple.

February 2 marks forty days since Christmas. For most, the Christmas decorations are long gone – Christmas 2019 is a distant memory. It seems most people can’t wait to put up Christmas decorations and are quick to take them down and put them into storage almost as fast as they stop playing Christmas songs on December 26th.  I was pleasantly surprised this weekend to see that some people – including us – still have Christmas decorations up. In some Christian traditions, the Christmas decorations aren’t taken down until today. Our tree has stayed up on purpose. For most years since Robert has been born, Rebecca and Michael didn’t visit for Christmas until mid to late January. Then we learned about Candlemas and now the tradition is that we take down our tree in February, so you know what this week’s job is. 

Today we find the story of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple – forty days after his birth. Mary and Joseph were righteous people and dedicated to the law – so they brought Jesus – their first born to be dedicated to the Lord.  We know that they were supposed to bring a lamb but they were much too poor for that so they used the option of two turtledoves or pigeons. 

In the temple that day was a man named Simeon. He had been waiting and waiting and waiting for the promised Messiah. We learn that he was a righteous man – he was devoted to his faith. He was there that day at the temple when Mary and Joseph walked in with Jesus. Luke tells us that Simeon was full of the Holy Spirit.  I’m sure there were many first born sons being brought to the temple that day. We learn that the Holy Spirit led him to the Temple. I can only imagine his surprise as the Holy Spirit pointed out Mary and Joseph and Jesus.  Simeon is over joyed and asks Mary and Joseph to hold the boy.

He praises the Lord and says these words:

I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2:29-32)

He blesses the child and his parents. Mary and Joseph are a bit amazed and perplexed at the same time.  While Mary and Joseph know that Jesus has come to save his people from their sins, I don’t think they completely knew all that would transpire.

While we celebrate the coming of the Light of the World – a shadow also passes; a shadow foretelling the suffering that will precede the victory of the Light over darkness. Simeon not only proclaimed that he had seen his salvation, but also told the Mother of our Lord that her share would include a sorrow pierced heart. This announcement confirms the accomplishment of the divine promises of salvation, but it also reveals to her that she will have to live her obedience of faith in suffering, at the side of the suffering Savior, and that her motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful.”

As we think about Simeon – think about how he waited…would he really live to see the arrival of the Messiah? Now, here he was…but think about holding a baby. I thought about this as I held Richeldis. She is so tiny – even though she was bigger at birth than the other two – she is so helpless. It brought new meaning to the words, “The Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Here was the Son of God, wrapped in our human form. Not only was he confined by our adult limitations…but think about the limitations of a baby…they can’t do anything themselves…they are at the complete mercy of their parents. God the Son was at the complete mercy of his creation.  It gives new meaning to Paul’s words in Philippians:

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

The writer of Hebrews reminds us:

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. Hebrews 2:14-18

Jesus came – in flesh and blood – helpless – in every way He was like us – he came to help us – to make a way – to be our salvation. Jesus is the light of the world. 

As we began our service this morning we prayed:

Almighty and ever living God, we humbly pray that as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord! 

As we prepare our hearts to receive the host and the cup this morning, let us reflect on these words by Ellyn von Huben:

This is where it starts to get ‘real’, i.e. moving past the holly, tinsel, and jolly carols. The tiny child snuggled in the crèche a few weeks ago is now revealed to be a sign of contradiction. His gentle obedient mother faces a future of sorrow. Simeon asked to depart in peace. What shall we ask of the Lord as we celebrate his Presentation?