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How You Live Matters | A Sermon on Law and Gospel from the CORE Series

This sermon continues the CORE Worship Series. It looks at Law and Gospel. This is a core teaching of Lutheran theology.

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I’m curious. How many of you have ever had a traffic ticket, speeding or parking?

Wow! Easter Lutheran Church, runnin’ with the rebels.

I’m right there with you. In fact I even had a warrant out for my arrest once. I discovered that’s what happens when you don’t pay your ticket. Yep, I’m a hard core criminal.

We have a funny relationship with the Law in our country, don’t we? Some people feel that, because of their power and position are somehow above the law. Other people feel that, no matter what they do, they are oppressed by the law.

It is a difficult time to be a law enforcement officer in this climate.

I want to talk about the Law today because we are continuing our worship series called Core. This month we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and what Martin Luther started. Each week we’ve looked at one core element of our faith.

This week is titled “How You Live Matters.”

The core element of our faith is something that Luther talked about a lot as he wrestled with relationship between the Law and the Gospel.

Let me ask you this. Have you ever known someone who is a follower of Jesus who’s idea of spirituality is following a list of do’s and don’ts?

I grew up in this kind of culture. The church we attended in Detroit had a rule about movies. If you wanted to be a member of this church, you had to sign a covenant that promised you would not go to the movie theater.

When I was in third grade we moved away from Detroit for one year, and we were able to go to movies. It was the summer of 1977. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

I saw Star Wars in the theater, and it changed my life forever.

Then, in fourth grade, we moved back to that church in Detroit. Since my Dad was on staff, we had to follow the rules. That meant when the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi came out…I didn’t see them.

Somehow I don’t think that made me closer to God.

So, there are people on one side that think that How we live must be by following a list of rules.

Have you ever met someone who lives on the other side? These are the ones who do whatever they want to do. They party hearty. Why? Because they play the Grace card. “Hey, I can live however I want because God has to forgive me. God is love, right?”

Do either of these seem right to you?

The rule followers seem self-righteous and the partiers seem self-indulgent.

This is one of the brilliant pieces of Luther’s theology. He broke down this dichotomy between Law or Gospel.

He said it is Law AND Gospel. We need both.

This morning I want to tell you three things about the Law and one thing about the Gospel that might help us know how to live.

The first thing is that the Law frames society. We need law in order for society to function.

We see this in the story of Israel. God gave a Law to Moses. The heart of the law was to love God and to love the neighbor. Jesus told us that and the Jewish teachers agreed with him.

At the end of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses stands before the people of Israel. He is about to die and he’s giving them God’s law again. Then he says, “Look, here’s the law. If you follow God’s law and strive to love God and love your neighbor, you will have a good society. It will be a good life and full of blessings. If you don’t, and seek after your own selfish desires, then things will fall apart.”

Choose life.

We know this to be true in our own society.

Look at this sign. Does this seem oppressive and a killjoy?

Watch this intersection in a country where there are no traffic laws.

This sign seems pretty life-giving now, doesn’t it?

When Jesus came, he reminded us of the heart of the law. It was about helping the poor, releasing the captives, giving sight to the blind, and liberating the oppressed.

This is how we are supposed to live life.

Here’s the problem. Even this can become a holy check-list where people who are doing these things can become self-righteous.

That leads us to the second thing about the Law.

The Law exposes humility.

That’s a nice way of saying that the law condemns us.

Look what Paul said in Romans 7

What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

Then, in Hebrews 4 it says,

Indeed, the word of God is living and active…And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

All this lead Paul to say, in Romans 3 that

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

The Law is good and necessary, but it can’t save us.

Before we get to the Gospel, there is one more important thing to say about the Law.

The Law Changes.

Law is not static or black and white.

The writers of our own Constitution knew this. The Constitution frames society in the United States, but, from the very beginning they allowed for ammendments to be added to the constitution, because they knew that society changes over time.

And, they created the judicial system because they knew that Law must be interpreted on a case by case basis, and every circumstance must be taken into consideration.

The reason I’m emphasizing this is because I think a lot of Christians think that we are still under the rule of Moses’ law. We are not.

The Law of Moses was God’s good gift to the people of that day, for that time.

The heart of the Law, to love God and love neighbor carries over, and today we live under the law of the United States of America.

If we still followed Moses’ law, then slavery would be OK. The oppression of women would be OK. When we discuss current cultural issues, we have only one biblical criteria. How do we best love our neighbor?

That leads me to the one thing I want to say about the Gospel.

Love remains.

Here’s the difference between the Law and the Gospel.

The Law is conditional. If you follow the law, then things will go well.

The Gospel is unconditional. It is a free gift from God and there is nothing you can do to earn it.

And Both are good gifts from God.

And here is the Gospel. Here is the Good News. You are loved by God. God created and is creating you in God’s own image. When God looks at you, God says, “There is my beloved child.” You didn’t earn this. It is not because of your good looks, your success, or your ability to follow a bunch of rules. It is because God loves you, period.

When we actually realize this, do know what happens? We are set free. We are set free from the need to be self-righteous and make ourselves feel better than others. We are free from self-indulgence, which puts our own pleasure ahead of the needs of others.

So, it’s both/and. How should we live? We should work with the law to make a good society, and that is our work. But, we should also rest completely in the freedom that we are beloved child of God.

This week, I hope you will live your life as a loved child of God, free to grow in faith and carry on the work of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

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