The Sixth Sunday after Trinity
8 July 2018
by the Rev. Mr. Shannon L. Clark
The gospel lesson this morning comes to us from what has come to be known as Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7. Our Lord ascends a hill and begins to teach men how he has come to fulfill the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets. He teaches the true meaning of these sacred writings and calls men to a higher righteousness, a stricter obedience. It falls upon the ears of the first disciples and the crowds gathered there, in a way that made them wonder and marvel at his authority. But, if we are honest, it hardly sounds like Good News. Jesus is always doing things like this in the gospel. Always contradicting our normal ways of thinking and challenging our simplistic, prideful ways of living in this world. Take the opening verse of today’s gospel lesson, for instance:
“Jesus said unto his disciples, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:20
How could this sound like good news to the people of the First Century? In their minds, there was no one more holy, no one more devout than the religious scribes and Pharisees. And yet Jesus tells them that unless they become more righteous than these religious teachers then the kingdom of Heaven is locked and bolted against them. It must have made their heads swim . . . and yet it also compelled them to want to know more about this new way — which was really the only way — to understand the religious life. The Lord does not let up one bit, for he is not after men’s outward conformity to a moral standard. He is not looking to improve their conduct. He does not want more of their time. More of their money. Or more of their work. For instance, he doesn’t want us merely to abstain from murdering someone. He wants you and me not even to be spitefully angry. He wants our entire person, body, and soul wholly devoted to Himself. Nothing more, and nothing less. That is what he came to do, and he will stop at nothing to create for himself a people who will, in the end, love God with all their heart and their neighbors as themselves.
Massey Shepherd sheds light on the lesson in these words:
In this lesson our Lord interprets the Sixth Commandment, [Thou shalt do no murder]. As always His concern was not like that of the scribes and Pharisees. For they were concerned about applying specific punishments that would fit the outward crime. Instead of the evil attitudes and motive from which the outward acts of wrongdoing spring. Anger, hatred, malice, an unforgiving and unreconciling spirit — these sins are just as deadly in the sight of God as murder and slander, and will receive from Him as severe a judgment. Righteousness must come from the heart; it is not merely an outward compliance with the law.
It is this righteousness that comes from the heart that we all need. And yet we all lack it. So how are we to become a people who live such truly righteous lives?
First, men must repent and be baptized into Christ. This is what the epistle this morning is teaching us. Men, women, and children must give up on their own efforts and throw all their life and hope upon Jesus. This is what the act of baptism does in a very radical way. St. Paul is teaching the Church, all of the members of the Body of Christ, what baptism means. In a sense, he is saying, we have all tried to live our lives under our own authority and we have royally failed. We deserve nothing but hell for our thoughts, words, and deeds — nothing but God’s judgment. We must die, for the wages of sin is death. But through the gospel, the life, the death, the resurrection of Jesus, God has made a way for us to live. And it comes to us through baptism.
Listen once again to Massey Shepherd:
Paul sums up the meaning of the Easter experience when Christian believers have through Baptism been incorporated into the body of Christ and with him have won the victory over sin and death, and newness of life in their fellowship with their risen Lord. That which had been lost by the sin of the first Adam has been regained for them through the work of the second Adam who is the Lord from heaven. This experience of death unto sin and new life unto righteousness is dramatically and vividly shown through the rite of baptism.
During the time of St. Paul, baptism was by immersion — plunging the person under the water three times, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. This act of immersion was a very clear picture of what was happening to the christian. The minister stands as Christ in the waters holding the new christian in his arms. The christian has ceased to fight. The christian allows himself to be buried under the water, symbolizing the death which all his sins deserve. The life of the old man is at an end. It is gone. It is dead. It is buried with Christ in baptism. The minster then pulls the man up from the water, out of sin and death, and he is given new life in Christ. You could say that the man went into the water a Son of Adam and came up as a Son of God. And just as surely as the Holy Ghost descended upon Christ like a dove at his baptism, so also the new christian receives the Holy Ghost who is the Lord and Giver of Life. This is what happened at our baptism. Through faith in the gospel, our old natural life ended, with all its sins and wickedness, with all of its violations of God’s law in thought, word, and deed, and a new one, the very life of Christ himself, began in us. From this time forth, this is the way in which we must understand our life. We are no longer wretched sinners at war with God. We are his beloved children, and we relate to him in the way that Christ our brother relates to our Father in Heaven.
The catechism in our prayer-book teaches us that in our baptism, three glorious things happened to us. First, we were made members of Christ. We were joined so closely to Him that we are said to be his Body. Where Christ is, there we are also. Where we are, by God’s grace, so is Christ. Second, we are made children of God. No longer Sons of Adam who are characterized by pride, sin, and death, but true children of our Father. Third, we are made inheritors of the kingdom of Heaven. By sheer, unmerited favor, God has prepared for those who love him such good things as pass all our understanding and exceed all that we desire. Our life has been taken from us in baptism and given back to us in a way that will take eternity to understand.
In light of this, let your heart be glad. Let your glory rejoice. Let your flesh rest in hope, because Christ has not left our souls in hell but has shown unto us the path of life. He has shown us that in his presence is fullness of joy and at his right hand there is pleasure forevermore. Devote yourself to one who is so devoted to you. Love the one who loved you first. And in the end, your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, and we together with all the faithful will be with God, world without end. Amen.