St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union Grove, WI
September 2nd, 2012
Grace, mercy and peace.... greetings to the people of St. Paul, etc.
Our liturgical calendar tells us it is the 14th Sunday after Pentecost. But our unofficial secular American calendar of seemingly endless days of honor named yesterday “international bacon day”. I, myself, observed it and partook. Fittingly ironic, perhaps, since our Gospel reading today touches on foods that weren't always permitted in the diet of God's people.
Some people, back then, were very concerned with what goes into the body – that by eating certain foods they were made unclean. And while there were the Old Testament dietary laws, these were part of a liturgical system which meant to proclaim the coming Savior. The clean and unclean laws were shadows of the deeper realities of our own uncleanness, and of the one who comes to make us all clean.
But sinners twist stuff like this, and what was meant to be a blessing to them, because another point of confusion. Now, some thought that they were just fine and dandy with God as long as they followed the cleanliness rituals. Avoid certain foods, and you're fine. The unclean food will make you unclean, so just don't eat that food.
Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us a great deal this morning about sin. We sinners have some funny ideas about sin. You'd think we know it well, but we don't. We have a twisted view of how twisted we are. Jesus sets us straight.
Some today would simply use a different cookbook for their own self-righteousness. As long as I do A, B, and C, I am good with God. And if I avoid X, Y and Z, then I am clean and pure. It's the self-deception of a sinner who thinks that what he does or doesn't do, or avoid doing, can make himself right with God.
Jesus knocks down this flimsy house of self-justifying cards, and cuts to the heart of uncleanness. It is the heart of man that is the cradle of filth and wickedness. What comes out of you defiles you, not what goes in. The food isn't what makes you hateful and lustful and immoral. It's your heart, corrupted by sin.
And who can avoid his own heart? Who can tame his own sinful thoughts? Here, as he often does, Jesus demonstrates how hard, even impossible it is for us to behave ourselves or save ourselves. Because in our very thoughts we are defiled, unclean. And these thoughts lead to unclean words, and unclean actions. We are, quite frankly, a mess. The problem is on the inside, and it runs through and through.
So from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord. It comes from the outside of us, from Jesus.
We need a Savior. We need someone outside of ourselves. We need external assistance. We need someone who isn't corrupted like we are. We need somewhere to look besides our own fallen flesh. We need Jesus.
Jesus comes from outside of us – from heaven's high throne – and he comes down to be one of us, incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. He is made man. He breaks into our broken world and brings with him all the righteousness and holiness of God, for that's who he is.
And he does what we cannot do, in and of ourselves. First, he lives a holy, perfect, sinless, obedient life – following the law of God down to the last little letter. He loves God perfectly. He loves his neighbor as himself. He never has a sinful thought, word or deed. He doesn't do anything forbidden, and he leaves no good work undone. He actively fulfills the law – not for his own sake, but for ours. So that we can have a righteousness that comes from outside of us, as a pure and free gift.
And he receives what we should receive – the punishment of God. In his passive obedience, Christ humbles himself to be arrested, tried, tortured and condemned for crimes he never committed. He bears the beam of the cross, loaded with the burden of the world's sins. He marches it outside of the Holy City, so that those in his Holy Jerusalem are spared. He is made an outsider to the Father, so that we are always welcomed before God's face. And he suffers the ultimate humiliation of death, the great leveler of all men, to turn death itself inside out.
It's not what comes from within a man that saves him, but it is he, Jesus, who comes from without. Who comes from the throne of heaven. Who lives perfectly and dies perfectly, and lives eternally.
You have heard his word, and believed it. That word, which came from without. You couldn't have done it yourself. Don't we confess, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength, believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel..”?
It is his word of promise, that goes into your ears, and into your heart, renewing and restoring you, by the Spirit working in that word.
It is, now, what goes into a man, a Christian, that makes him clean. It is the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you, that goes into your mouth, that forgives the mess of sin within. It is his promise, attached to external things, that goes into you, and cleanses and restores. It is Jesus, always Jesus, only Jesus from outside of you, for you, forever. In his holy name, Amen.