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Sermon For Ordinary 31 - Year B
Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Mark 10:46-52
"The Law and The Kingdom of God"


READING:  Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Mark 12:28-34 
SERMON :  "The Law and The Kingdom of God"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-or31se.y-b 390
 
   The following is an older sermon of mine for the Upcoming 
   Sunday.  The alert reader will see connections between it and
   some of our later works, though the thrust and the illustrations
   in this sermon differs from the others.


GBoth of today's scripture readings concern the law.

The first reading reminds us that God has given us his law that
it might do us good,
         and it exhorts us to remember that God is one,
          and to treasure God's law in our hearts,
             and to teach it to our children,
                 and to think about it when we work,
                    and when we are at home,
                        and when we lie down and when we rise up.

The second reading, from the gospel of Mark concerns a scribe, an
expert in the Law of God, who seeing how well Jesus answered
questions from his critics, approached Jesus and asked him -  
"Which commandment is first of all."

Jesus replies

         "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You
         shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with
         all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your
         strength".

Jesus then adds these words:  

         "And the second commandment is this: You shall love your
         neighbour as yourself.  There is no other commandment
         greater than these".

The scribe, as we heard, commends Jesus, for his answer,
saying with word's drawn from various scripture passages:

          "You are right teacher; you have truly said that
          'God is one and besides him is no other' and 'to
          love him with all the heart, and with all the
          understanding, and with all the strength and to
          'love one's neighbour as oneself.'  This is much
          more important than all whole burnt offerings and
          sacrifices."

Then, Jesus who is impressed with the wisdom of the scribe, says
"You are not far from the kingdom of God."

Today I want to address you as people who are not far from the
kingdom of God.

I want to address you as people whom God loves so much that
before you were even born, he made provision for your sin,
         sending his Son Jesus Christ to die for you, and to rise for
         you - so that you might be assured that nothing can separate
         you from his love.

And as such a people, a people near to the kingdom of God,
I want to talk to you about the importance of the law.

A lot of people are confused about the law,
         they do not understand its relevance to our faith,
          especially in light of the salvation won for us by Christ,
             a salvation which, as we have been taught, frees us
             from the dead letter of the law, and brings to us in
             its place the living spirit.

Just how, then, in a Christian life, does the law and the spirit
fit together, just how is the law relevant to us and our
salvation?

Well I believe the law and the spirit fit together 
         like the two sides of a coin.
             The law tells us what is right,
                 and the spirit enables us to do it.

It was never the intention of God for us to think that we could
do without the law simply because Jesus died for us.

Jesus himself said, just after giving us the beatitudes:

         Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the
         prophets; I have come not abolish but fulfil.  For truly I
         tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one
         letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law
         until all is accomplished."

That is in Matthew 5, verse 17-18.  
         I suggest you read the entire chapter when you go home,
         and chapters 6, 7, and 8 as well. They will really help you
         if you haven't read them for a while.

Jesus did not come to the abolish the law, but to fulfil it,
         to make it a spiritual matter,
          rather than just a matter of do's and don'ts.
         to make its letters come to life for us and give us life,
          rather than simply condemn us.

When we know the law well, when we know it in our hearts, then
it, like the Spirit, brings us close to the Kingdom of God.

Indeed the law focuses our attention on God,
         and reminds us of what it is that God's spirit
          is calling us to be and to do.

The law, like the spirit, exposes and reveals to us the things
that we need to work on.  It tells us when we are on base, and
when we are off.

A story:
         In the days of the circuit riders a minister was out
         riding one afternoon and came upon a man out working in
         his field.

         "Fine day isn't it?", the minister called out.

         "Its fine for you", the man replied, "All you have to do
         is ride around on that horse thinking about God all day
         long, while I have to sweat here in this field and then
         walk home afterward.  I don't think its right you should
         have things so easy while I have to work so hard."

         "On the contrary", the minister answered, "thinking about
         God is one of the most difficult things you can do.  And
         to prove it, I'll give you this horse if you can think
         about God and nothing else for one minute."

         "You're on.", said the man and immediately he sat down in
         silence.  Thirty seconds later he looked up at the
         minister.  "Does that include the saddle?", he asked.

The story is funny because we can imagine a person doing what the
farmer did.

But the story is also profound.

It is profound because it reminds us at almost an instinctual
level that it is not only hard to think about God in the way the
law tells us we should,
         but that it is all too easy to compound this forgivable flaw
         with even worse offenses against the law, and the spirit of
         the law, the spirit of God.

The man who talked to the minister broke several of the laws of
God, and we almost instinctively recognize this when we hear the
story.

Three of them that the farmer broke jump right out at you: 
  - The last of the ten commandments God gave Moses at Mt Sinai
  - one of the first commandments that Jesus gave, also on a
          mountain, the one that says "do not judge"
  - and for number three - the most important command Jesus gave
          his disciples "love each other as I have loved you."

I say we almost instinctually recognize this because in the end
instinct has little to do with the matter.

Rather it is the fact, that in the new covenant with Jesus, we
have the law written on our heart, by the Spirit; and the fact
that the law has been taught to us by others, that enables us to
recognize what is right and wrong.

Henry J. Heinz, best known for his "57 Varieties" of food,
was also known for his strong Christian faith,
and his activity in the life of his church.

         When his will was read following his death, those who were
         present heard this tribute to his mother:

         "Looking forward to the time when my earthly career will
         end, I desire to set forth at the beginning of this will,
         as the most important item in it, a confession of my faith
         in Jesus Christ as my saviour.  I also desire to bear
         witness to the fact that throughout my life, in which
         there were unusual joys and sorrows, I have been
         wonderfully sustained by my faith in God through Jesus
         Christ.  This legacy was left to me by my consecrated
         mother, a woman of strong faith, and to it I attribute any
         success I have attained."

Paul writes in Romans, chapter 10, verses 13 and following:

          Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be
          saved.  But how are they to call on one in whom
          they have not believed?  And how are they to
          believe in one of whom they have never heard?  And
          how are they to hear without someone to proclaim
          him?...  So faith comes from what is heard, and
          what is heard comes through the word about Christ.

We need the law,
         the law the spirit writes in our hearts,
          the law summarized by Jesus in the greatest commandments,
             the law which Deuteronomy says,
                 should not only be kept by us,
                    but treasured by us,
                        and taught by us to our children.

The law is good, not bad.
It shows us what is right.
It guides us, when we are open to it and the spirit's prodding,
into the path of salvation,
making sure that we are never far from the kingdom of God.

That kingdom my friends is based on law,
         our God is a God of law and order,
          and just as physical laws are designed so that the world
             does not fly apart and we with it,
                 so spiritual law is designed so that the world
                    may come to a time of peace, love, and justice.

A police officer told this story.  He was sent to a distant city
to return a young man who was charged with automobile theft for
trial.

         As I travelled with the young man, I learned from our
         conversation that he had almost no sense of right or
         wrong.  He had been raised by a criminal father with
         practically no discipline or rules by which to live.  He
         was allowed to do whatever "felt right" at the moment, was
         never given any religious instruction.  He had no
         knowledge of the Bible and had never attended either
         school or church.  He did not even have a conception of
         "stealing" and believed that he could take anything he
         wanted for his purpose.

         The judge, however, was not sympathetic to the young man's
         ignorance, nor to my pleas for leniency, and the 17 year
         old was sentenced to prison.  "Laws are created for the
         protection of all people", said the judge, "I will not
         have sympathy for those who fail to live by them,
         regardless of the reason."

God is not an earthly judge,
he will forgive the times of ignorance 
and he will forgive and does forgive 
         those people who truly repent and believe in Him and seek to
         do his will;
but like human judges, God is concerned for the welfare of all
         people, and he wants His law known and obeyed - regardless
         of the reasons we might have for not doing so.

The law is meant to guide us in our daily walk with Christ,
         it is meant to help us focus our minds on God,
          and what God wants us to do in our private life,
             and in our public life,
                 in our relationship with our neighbours.

         Now this is the commandment--the statutes and the
         ordinances--that the LORD your God charged me to teach you
         to observe in the land that you are about to cross into
         and occupy, 

         Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so
         that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply
         greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the
         LORD, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.  Hear,
         O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.  You shall
         love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all
         your soul, and with all your might.  Keep these words that
         I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to
         your children and talk about them when you are at home and
         when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 
         Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on
         your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your
         house and on your gates. 

         Love your God, love your neighbour as yourself.

This is the summation of the entire message of God to us.
         
The rest of the law, which is summarized by these two
commandments, tells us how to love God, it tells us how to love
our neighbours, and it tells us how to love ourselves.

It also tells us over and over again that God loves us, and will,
when we repent, forgive us for the times we have broken the law.

The law, in other words, tells us how to find salvation, and as
such, it is indispensable for the Christian life.

Law and spirit, two sides of the same coin,
         the coin of God's salvation,
          the coin that leads us to not only to heaven,
             but which will bring peace and happiness to the earth.

I want to end with a little commentary on the summary of the law
that Jesus gave us.  It is in the form of a poem:

It goes like this:
          I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see.
          I sought my God, but my God eluded me.
             I sought my brother and I found all three."
             
The law of God tells us to do what the spirit of God tells us to
do - to love one another and to love God, and it tells us how.

We can't bring up our children properly,
         unless we teach them the law of God, 
          and, as the law itself teaches,
             and as Jesus taught,
                 we can't claim to love God,
                    when we do not love our neighbours.

God is easily adored - but our neighbours on the other hand are
not always so loveable.  Indeed they are often detestable.

The law reminds us, over and over again, that we need to reach
past that barrier - to love everyone as we love ourselves, and
this means most especially our enemies.

The law given by Moses, and that given by Jesus most especially,
         says this over and over again,
          and it says it so often there can be only reason for it
             and that reason is this -

We do not want to love our neighbours - especially the ones who
are different than us.  We in fact often think it is OK to hate
our neighbours and to gossip about them and judge and condemn
them behind their backs.

If we would remain near to God, as was the scribe in today's
Gospel lesson, then we need to keep the law near to us,
         on our lips and in our hearts,
because only in that way are we likely to avoid making the most
human of mistakes,
         the mistake of thinking we are doing what is right when we
are really doing what is wrong.

             That love for one, 
             from which there doth not spring, 
             wide love for all, 
             is but a worthless thing.

LET US PRAY
         Lord God, thank you for saving us and giving us your law.
         Help us, Father, to treasure your law,
         and strengthen us by your spirit to both know it and obey it
         that we might remain close to your kingdom,
         and that our world might become a better place.  AMEN


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1997, 2003
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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