Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus, who is the Christ, Amen.
I want to begin this morning by taking a selfie. With all of you. It occurred to me the other day, that I’ve been at this preaching thing for seven years, almost a decade if you include internship and seminary and I don’t have a single Sunday morning selfie in my social media feeds. And since this is my first opportunity to preach as one of your newly appointed co-senior pastors, today seemed like the perfect day to document.
I can’t see…..
Better smiles out of you all in the back row.
I should at least get five likes out of that one, maybe even ten.
This morning/evening we’re continuing our sermon series called True or False. Over the past few weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to look at a few different phrases, maxims, or in today’s case song lyrics that hold before us statements that can be true or false depending on the context or your point of view.
I Fought the Law and the Law Won. Beyond being a catchy little ditty first made famous by the Bobby Fuller Four in the early sixties and then revisited by the Clash in the late 70’s, this lyric offers us a profound theological truth. Don’t believe me? Quick church history lesson.
For Martin Luther, the law was a powerful thing. It wasn’t just something that you learned, a concept to be understood. Instead, the law functions powerfully in the lives of God’s people. The law has two uses, that is through the law God does two things. The first thing that God does through the law is to order creation. Luther referred to this as the Civil use of the law. This is the mundane stuff of life. Stop lights, parking tickets, rules to protect people and keep them safe. The law in this sense is a gift, a beautiful gift in order to ensure the well-being of all of creation.
Put another way, the first use of the law is to protect you from your neighbor infringing on your well-being. And it protects your neighbor from you. David Lose said it this way,
In short, the first use of the law restrains the basic urge to “look out for number one” at the expense of all others and in this way provides the modicum of civility necessary for productive human relations.
But for Luther, if the Law orders creation and sets up boundaries to keep us safe then the law also accuses us, shows us the ways in which we fall short of the way we’re intended to live. The second use of the law holds up a mirror so that we can see who we truly are. The law tells us the truth about ourselves. It reveals to us in stark fashion the ways in which as individuals and as a society we fail to care for our neighbors, and by extension fall short of the life God intends for us.
The second use of the law, the theological use of the law, reveals to us in no uncertain terms that no matter how hard we try we are people who stand in need of God’s forgiveness.
The other day I was driving down 50th and I was stopped at what seemed like a ridiculously long red light. I started looking around and I noticed a young man who was very artfully posing at the bus stop and taking a series of selfies. In the 45 seconds that I was at the light, he probably took more than 15 or different pictures. Only one of which, the best one, that will ever make its way to his social media feeds. The whole time he was entirely oblivious to the world around him.
We spend so much time presenting the best version of ourselves, the most polished put together presentation possible, with the hopes that no one will notice our faults, our shortcomings, and our sins. We think we can filter out and crop out all the things we wish we can hide. But God’s law shows us who we really are. We can fight the law, but the law always wins.
In our reading today from Exodus, we jump forward again in the Moses cycle. Now in chapter 34, God is in conversation with Moses again, this time following the golden calf episode. Here God is talking with Moses about the way forward with these disobedient people. How does God stay in relationship with people who have broken God’s law and disobeyed God’s commands?
And God responds with self-disclosure. In response to the people’s infidelity, God says to Moses and through Moses, look here’s who you’re dealing with. I’m a God who is a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love to the thousandth generation. Even though you are a stick necked people, even though you have failed to recognize who I am and serve me rightly, I will…
…make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform marvels, such as have not been performed in all the earth or in any nation; all the people among whom you live shall see the work of the Lord; for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can try our hardest to prove our value, to earn our merit, to demonstrate our worthiness but we will fail. The law always wins. The law shows us time and again that we are a broken people.
But daily God comes to us in Jesus Christ and says, “I am a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin..”
This picture that we’ve taken today/tonight, it’s not a picture of a perfect congregation. It’s not a picture of a community that gets everything right. But when I look at it, I see a group of people who are loved by God in spite of their foibles and their faults. I see a people who’ve been given a new lease on life, a new opportunity to love this world as God does. And that’s good news. Amen.