April 21, 2014

The Homily

marc_chagall_moses_receiving_the_tablets_of_the_law“Oh, how I love your law. I meditate on it all day long.”— Psalm 119:97

“So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”—Galatians 3:24

These days, the “Law” is almost a dirty word among Christians, particularly those who’ve been around for a while and who’ve suffered the hurts perpetrated upon them by legalistic churches and legalistic people. For all we like to talk about God’s grace, we view it suspiciously and practice it begrudgingly. In many cases, we even hold it at arm’s length from ourselves, watching it dangle tantalizingly and painfully, just out of soul’s reach. Lord, I am not worthy, we beat ourselves up over and over. No … we are not.

When once we get a prison break from the Law and the whiff of freedom that comes from realization that our justification is not won in law keeping, but in Christ having fulfilled the Law, we tend to run from captivity like wild animals fleeing cages for the forest, never looking back and anxious to put great distance between us and what held us for so long. Understood.

Nevertheless, it begins to dawn on us that the Law is not a curse to flee, but a gift to treasure. Even though we have come to Christ and might be tempted to think the Law is no longer useful, the reality is that we are every day still coming to Christ and it is the Law that reminds us that we are always and forever in need of him.

Unfortunately, we view and communicate the Law as an enemy much of the time. In fact, it’s more like one of those friends comfortable enough to tell us the uncomfortable truth. I have one of those friends … direct and sometimes irritating, but always refreshingly honest. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (708), the Law, powerless to save us, goes right ahead and reminds us that we are “deprived of the divine likeness” and inflicts a “growing awareness of sin.”

Deprived of the divine likeness … an idea filled with import. Yes, we are formed in the image of God, but scarred, marred and disfigured by sin. Until we encounter the Law, we somehow believe we are normal, looking just as we should. In truth, we are only shadows and shells, empty of the glory of God. The Father desires to mature and complete us, to make us not just living creatures, but sons and daughters … children for his glory. “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:6,7). This is the divine intention, truly a height we can hardly imagine and even less, achieve. The Law hurts us with its revelation, but without it we would be forever doomed to our disfigurement.

When God knew us in his mind before he founded the earth, he imagined us as displays of his splendor. We become that in time and space by virtue of the indwelling Spirit recreating Christlife in our mortal flesh. We only have the indwelling Spirit as we call upon Christ to save us. And we only call upon Christ to save us when we see our disfigurement juxtaposed against the perfection of the Law. It is true the Law does fail to save us, but it does not fail to take us by the hand and lead us to the Savior. God forbid that we should run from it, but rather that we should get on our knees and thank him for his great and good gift of the Law. Without it, we would not know him.

Let us pray.

 

Comments

  1. What is the law from which grace frees us? Is it the Ten Commandments? The whole law of the Pentateuch, with all its details? Jesus’ law of love? The inner law that the gentiles had, about which Paul wrote?

    To put it another way, what was the law that Jesus Christ fulfilled?

    I’m never quite sure that we are all discussing the same thing when we talk about the Law, and so I’m never sure that we understand the freedom from the law that grace gives in the same way.

    • well, take a look at the Hebrew word for ‘the Law’ and you begin to understand why it was that the Jewish people so revered it and saw it as a great mark of God’s favor upon them as a chosen people:

      “The word “halakhah” is usually translated as “Jewish Law,” although a more literal (and more appropriate) translation might be “the path that one walks.” The word is derived from the Hebrew root Hei-Lamed-Kaf, meaning to go, to walk or to travel.”

      When we take a look at early Christianity, at the ‘Didache’, is mentioned in it ‘the two ways’ and that one leads to life. Is possible this refers to the Law that Christ fulfilled, because it turns out that HE Himself is ‘the Way’.

      And at the end of time, when He says ‘arise’, as LISA has quoted, He will call the sons and daughters of God’s Creation to Him.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > “The word “halakhah” is usually translated as “Jewish Law,” although a more
        > literal (and more appropriate) translation might be “the path that one walks.”
        > The word is derived from the Hebrew root Hei-Lamed-Kaf, meaning to go,
        > to walk or to travel.”

        Which is also simply a much more positive and assertive thing than a list of “THOU SHALT NOT (A) THOU SHALT NOT (B)” which the Protestant emphasis on the 10 commandments and obsession with personal [mostly sexual] sin has wrought. But that emphasis is not “the law” it is the fallacy of a diminished and [IMNSHO] somewhat deranged tradition. The reaction against that “law”, is then, not a reaction to the “law”, but a [just] reaction to that deranged emphasis.

        I encounter a verse like “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” .. and I think ***”That is law!”***. And I eagerly embrace it with open arms. Please Please, tell me what to do, as I am here, and I will do *something*, that is certain. A religion that does not inform my action is nothing but a notion and a fiction. I will fail in keeping that law, over and over, but I will always run back to it; it is the way forward.

    • Yeah, and what about the “God hates shrimp” thing? Is that superseded by the love of Christ, along with all that LGBTQ / MLP FiM stuff?

    • Robert F – well, there’s his answer to someone about the whole law being summed up in “Thou shalt love the lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and loving one’s neighbor as oneself.

      He did both.

      I sometimes wish we would take a good, long look at the positive Jewish views of the commandments… there are many, and I don’t think our assumptions about many things are necessarily accurate or correct. (but that’s a whole other story, one that’ goes way beyond the scope of this post and comments!)

      • Muff Potter says:

        So very true numo. Jewish theology has an altogether different take on sin and redemption than Western Christianity does.

  2. My own understanding is that Jesus fulfilled the law of love. I can imagine no law more difficult to fulfill, in both its clauses, and I’m aware that I never measure up to this law; at the same time, I recognize it as God’s will for humanity.

    And I’m very aware that it’s Jesus who has met the demands of the law of love for me, and for the whole human race.

  3. Human beings have a hard time holding truth in balance and tend to distort it by focusing on only one aspect of it. You do a great job here, Lisa, of preserving the complexity of the truth. This is a beautiful piece.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > tend to distort it by focusing on only one aspect of it

      Or deliberately NOT focusing on some aspect – as it is unpleasant, uncomfortable, or unpopular.

  4. @Robert…..what I understand, and what I hear in Lisa’s beautiful post, is that the law gives definition to the concept of living life in Christ, following God’s plan for us. Just as the notes on the score are the outline of the music, but the heart and skill of the orchestra and conductor flesh out the symphony; the Law is the outline for us as we place our selves in His Hands and give substance to the combination of Law and Grace in our lives.

    The Law is a scaffolding as we climb to heaven…..not the palace itself, just a support as we build what is really important.

    • Pattie, Paul referred to the law as our “guardian”. It was God giving mankind what we had asked for in the Garden, when mankind preferred the knowledge of Good and Evil in lieu of a trust relationship with our Creator.
      In my modern mind, I picture the law like a legal guardian, like how a flight attendant takes care of an unaccompanied minor; or perhaps like a boarding school. The guardian has rules, intended for the protection, guidance and to limit the damage of destructive behaviors. But the goal isn’t to stay in guardianship, the ultimate goal is to be reunited with the parent.
      I would hope that the guardians are good, kind and develop a great relationship with the minors in their care, and we can be glad and give honor to those guardians.
      But the worst outcome would be for the child to be reunited with their parent, then say, “no thanks, I want to go back to my guardian instead”. That would make the whole point of guardianship “weak and worthless” (Gal. 4:9).

      Paul seems to be OK with people who, in their transition to sonship, choose to observe the law in order to not to violate their conscience. However, he has harsh words for people who go backwards, from law, to sonship, then back to law again.

      • IMNSHO, the law does not get us to heaven. Even with the best intentions, we are as likely to be climbing down as up, and heaven isn’t up anyway, either metaphorically or actually. Jesus Christ descended to us, and he brought heaven down with him. It’s an upside down kingdom; the first shall be last, and those up shall be downed.

        I’m with Steve on this: better to keep both feet on the ground, maintain a low profile, and look for our Lord and Redeemer in the trenches, which shall be transformed, in the twinkling of an eye, into new heavens and earth.

  5. Brianthedad says:

    Now, that is some good stuff! Great thoughts to start Sunday morning with. Will definitely be sharing this at worship this morning. Thanks!

  6. We don’t “climb to heaven”.

    God has descended to us…all the way down to the bottom of a grave, in Christ Jesus, that we could be free from the religious ladder-climbing project.

    If He hasn’t don’t it ALL…then we all are in a heap of trouble.

    The law is any demand that life places upon our existence. The standard is perfection. Of course we just are not up to it.

    But He was. He is.

    Repent of what ‘you do’…or ‘don’t do’…and return to Christ Jesus. Again and again and again.

    Great post, Lisa.

    • @ Steve~

      Metaphor, my brother, metaphor….not theological writ.

    • Pattie, my dear sister in Christ.

      We want to avoid that language, lest anyone be persuaded that we are helped along in our righteousness in any way by what we do, or what we don’t do.

      You know, we Lutheran types are very sensitive to that sort of thing :D

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > You know, we Lutheran types are very sensitive to that sort of thing

        Yes, and some of us non-Lutheran types believe this sensitivity is pointless and distracting hair-splitting concerning a fiction.

        > Repent of what ‘you do’…or ‘don’t do’…and return to Christ Jesus. Again and again and again.

        Which is nearly the most unhelpful religion on the planet. The path to salvation is to lay down in traffic while repenting.

  7. Like many religious words, “Law” carries so much baggage that I have to do mental gymnastics to deal with it. And as pointed out, it means different things for different people. I dislike the Roman system of law we inherited and it helps to realize that this was not what the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures are referring to, in spite of some commonalities. Paul was educated in that Roman system of Rhetoric which lawyers and politicians used, not to seek truth and win justice but to win a debate, just like we do today. It helps me to remember that Luther and Calvin started out on Lawyer Road.

    Also helps to substitute the word “Torah” and to translate that as “teachings” or “tradition”. I see that Steve Martin Luther reminds us once again from the couch of Grace , that he ain’t climbing no stinkin’ ladder to heaven. Fair enough, if we remember that he speaks for himself and not all Lutherans. I see Jesus struggling for three years of intense hard work up until his last bodily breath and He says, “Follow Me!” I see Paul struggling thru ten times that long a haul, not to mention a huge cast of characters doing the same, then and right on thru until now. I watch Chaplain Mike and Jeff struggling, along with the other writers and most of the commenters. And it really does help as I struggle to overcome my egoistic limitations and get closer to Oneness with God to know I’m not alone.

    I didn’t notice that Jeff wasn’t doing today’s Homily until it was mentioned in the comments and I was thinking, “Wow, Jeff is really hitting his stride today!” Hats off, Lisa!!!

  8. The law, which Jesus fulfilled for us, is also a mirror that grace holds up to us so that we may see ourselves for what we really are. Furthermore, in seeing ourselves for what we really are, we are provided a compass (not a road map) to point the direction we should take, not to attain salvation, which grace has already bestowed, but toward greater intimacy with our Lord.

    That’s what I understand this post to be stating.