15th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 18) LSB #’s 555:1-2, 4, 8-10; 579; 918
Text – James 2:10
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.
POINT BY POINT
Ingredients: 1 cup butter, softened. 3/4 cup sugar. 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed. 2 eggs, large. 2 teaspoons of vanilla. 2 1/4 cups flour, un-sifted. 1 teaspoon baking soda. 1/2 teaspoon salt. 1 cup hickory nuts, chopped. 2 cups bittersweet baking chips.
Directions: 1. Heat oven to 375ºF. 2. Stir flour with baking soda & salt; set aside. 3. In large mixing bowl, beat butter with sugar & brown sugar at medium speed until creamy & lightened in color. 4. Add eggs & vanilla, one at a time. Mix on low speed until incorporated. 5. Gradually blend dry mixture into creamed mixture. Stir in nuts & baking chips.
6. Drop by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheets. 7. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until chocolate chip cookies are golden brown.
When you’re making soup you can do a lot of adlibbing with the recipe. As they often say – season to taste. But when you’re baking something adlibbing doesn’t work quite as well. If you don’t follow the recipe point by point you will end up with cookies that are too big, or too small, or hard as a rock. They can even turn out like charcoal.
If you skip even one point, you might as well skip them all. When it comes to baking, have you found that out by experience? The same rule applies to keeping the commandments, or earning your way to heaven. If you skip even one point, you might as well skip them all, because you yourself are going to turn out like charcoal – ashes to ashes & dust to dust.
In many forms of religion, the value of your life depends completely upon the things you have chosen to do. Your value depends upon who you voted for & upon the causes you supported. What happens to you when you die is determined by the amount of good things you have done, & it is an ever changing culture which determines what is good & what is evil. Therefore, in many forms of religion the value of your life, & where you end up at death, are determined by other sinful beings who are using an ever changing set of values. In that system, if you skip even one point the powers that be can assign you to oblivion.
Right now, if you support the rights of a child who is still in the womb – you are being labeled as worse than the Taliban. Your beliefs are being called un-American. The cultural slogan in favor of abortion used to be, “My body, my choice,” but that only applies to abortion. When it comes to the Covid vaccine, the culture does not want you to have a choice.
If you don’t follow their recipe exactly, point by point, then your entire life has no value. Maybe you believe that God is causing climate change in order to warn human beings of the need to turn back to Him before they die. Or maybe you believe that the Covid pandemic is a similar warning. If you do, you are not following the culture’s recipe & you have no value.
Following the culture’s recipe, if you mess up even one point you might as well have skipped them all. The only way to find peace in that kind of system is to completely ignore the reality that all of us will eventually fail in one step or another.
In a recipe for baking cookies, if you forget to add the flour, you can’t make up for it by adding twice as much sugar. If you skip one step, the whole recipe is ruined. The cookies will have no value, but it doesn’t cost a lot to throw them away. However, if you treat human life in that manner, it does cost a tremendous amount to throw away a human life.
Trying to make our lives perfect is a dead end approach no matter what religion you follow. In Christianity, God gave us the Law not as a recipe for earning heaven. The Law is there to show us just how far we’ve fallen short of our Creator’s design for us. The Law is like an EKG showing us we’ve had a heart attack, & we need help. That’s all an EKG does for you. It cannot do one thing to actually bring you healing. All that it can do is to point out your failings. If we are failing to love our neighbor as ourselves, the Law is not going to help us overcome that failure. We need the Law, just like we need an EKG, but the Law is only one of the two great messages given to us in God’s Word. The other great message is the Gospel.
The Greek word used in the Bible, that English calls the Gospel, actually means good news. And the good news is actually good in more ways than one. Yes, it does tell us that forgiveness is available to erase our sins. If we skip one step in the recipe, Jesus makes sure that we don’t have to throw out the whole batch, or the entire human being.
However, the good news does not stop there. It also has the power to heal us. The Word of God reveals that all human beings are born with a condition it calls ‘hardness of heart.’ We are born not loving our neighbor as ourselves because we are not capable of it. Our hearts are hard & insensitive. They look out only for number 1.
A slogan like, “My body, my choice” is a symptom of that. I was born with a false religion, believing that life is all about me. You were born with that same religion. Regarding abortion, “My body, my choice,” is not concerned with loving the child in the womb. Slogans are never able to lovingly deal with complicated issues like an unwanted pregnancy.
In regards to vaccination, slogans like “My body, my choice,” are not concerned with loving with those who are susceptible to Covid 19. Again, slogans are never able to lovingly deal with complicated issues like who should & who should not be vaccinated. Our heavenly Father gave us an entire Bible to read & learn & believe. He did not give us just a slogan.
Yet, as Christians, we often turn our faith in Christ into nothing more than a slogan – “Believe in Jesus & you will be saved.” While that statement is true, there’s a lot more behind it when it comes to applying that to all the decisions you have to make in this life, such as wearing a mask, or getting vaccinated, or giving birth. How exactly God is calling you to love your neighbor can have a million different permutations. And each of us adults has probably a hundred different people who qualify at any moment as neighbors. Do you see how it’s impossible for you & me to love our neighbor without supernatural help?
That’s what the Law is meant to show us, & in light of that, the Gospel is meant to soften our heart & heal it. The good news is meant to give us hope in the vocation of loving our neighbor as ourselves. The Gospel is the power through which Jesus works whenever we skip a step in the recipe. The good news tells us that in Christ not one life needs to be thrown away.
In many forms of religion, the value of your life depends completely upon the things you have chosen to do. That sounds noble, but it’s a catch 22, because on that basis all of our lives are worthless – like filthy rags. To believe the good news about Jesus Christ sounds like a copout, but the voice telling us that is our pride. What comes before the fall? It’s that voice.
The consequences of our sins are used by God to soften the hearts of those He calls into His kingdom. He gave us the Law, point by point, so that we might diagnose the hopeless state of our natural condition. God the Father sends His Spirit to guide us in the diagnoses, for without the Holy Spirit we would not even know that we are lost.
Ultimately, if our Creator wanted to save us from the destruction that human beings have brought into the world, our Creator had to do the saving. That took a lot more than a few slogans. It took blood, sweat & tears, but Jesus endured hell so that we could escape it. The struggles we face in this life, as we seek to love our neighbor, are too much for us alone.
So Jesus has not left us alone. He calls us to struggle along with those who do not want to be pregnant. He calls us to struggle along with those who are afraid of Covid 19. He calls us to struggle along with those who choose not to be vaccinated, or not to wear masks. And Jesus is right there, with us & with all who are struggling & suffering. He did not bypass the suffering caused by sin, but went through it. Since we brought sin into the world, would it be right for us to bypass the suffering? Yet, God uses the very suffering caused by sin to humble us so that we look outside of ourselves for life & for salvation. Then, He gives us a new heart, a clean heart.
That clean heart does care for our neighbor & is willing to struggle & suffer along with them. As they see us suffering with them, God can give us opportunities to share His Law with them in ways that allow them to hear & to listen. Then, instead of rejecting the Law they may be able, finally, to see not just their sin, but their need for Jesus who is the Savior from sin.
Once they see that need there is hope because Jesus came to give life & He is powerful enough to work through any & all circumstances if we just believe. Recipes work fine for baking things like cookies, but there is no recipe of things you can do to earn your way to heaven. Life is found in Christ alone & He offers that to us at no cost. Amen.
The Law of God is good & wise & sets His will before our eyes, shows us the way of righteousness, & dooms to death when we transgress. Its light of holiness imparts the knowledge of our sinful hearts that we may see our lost estate & turn from sin before too late. The Law is good; but since the fall its holiness condemns us all; it dooms us for our sin to die & has no power to justify. To Jesus we for refuge flee, who from the curse has set us free, & humbly worship at His throne, saved by His grace through faith alone. Amen. LSB 579:1-2, 5-6.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet