Sermon: Falling in Love with the Lord – Again.
And he said to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” [Luke 7:50]
Today, we have the hallmark lessons that set Christianity apart from all religions. And today, we have contained that great lesson which sets the Reformation apart from the Roman Catholic faith. It is a powerful lesson; but not one that all understand or fully appreciate. Therefore, it is extremely important that we approach these lessons with an open mind AND an open heart.
These passages all deal with sin and with redemption, but also embedded in these passages is a revelation as to how God reasons, how He deals with mankind, and what He expects from us.
In our Old Testament lesson, we have the conviction of David for his greatest sin. David, in order to hide his sin with Bathsheba, commits an even greater sin; he kills Bathsheba’s husband. In the end, David admits his great sin and God absolves him. Yet, there is still a punishment imposed:
And David said unto Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said unto David, “The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.”
This is an aspect of sin that many of us do not want to face. Although God is merciful, loving and forgiving, there is often a price to sin. In this case, although David was forgiven, his sin resulted in two things. The first is that the child conceived would die. The second was that, from that day forward, a “sword” would never depart from his house. And this is precisely what happened. His eldest son warred against David to take the throne, and violence became the norm for David’s family.
Sin has consequences, some unforeseen; others clearly visible. But there is something also quite telling as to why God punished David in this manner. Look at God’s reasoning:
Because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme.
In other words, the enemies of God will point to this action and say, “Look, here is God’s anointed, and look what he does. What a hypocrite!” “He is no better than anyone else. Obviously his God is just like every other god.”
This is totally understandable. Look what happens when a pastor of a church is caught in a lie or in a scandal. It is ALWAYS used to deride the faith and to “prove” that there is no God. All one has to do is look at the scandals currently rocking the Roman Catholic Church to see how it is used to besmirched the Pope, the Church, and even God Himself. In this sense, those who are representatives of God are held to a higher standard, as unfair as that may seem. And for this reason, God had to make an example of David, not for the sin of adultery, but for the sin of murder and the covering up of one sin with a greater sin.
But then we have our New Testament lesson. Nothing in it counteracts or negates the Old Testament lesson, but the emphasis is different. This New Testament lesson emphasizes God’s great ability to forgive – in other words, His great mercy:
“Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”
Jesus forgave the woman’s sins, readily. All she needed to do was believe in Him, and she did. Not only did she believe, but because her sins were many, this forgiveness made her love of Christ deeper and more powerful. What Christ is trying to make clear is that the determining factor as to whether and how much of our sins are forgiven is our faith in HIM, and NOT by how many of the commandments we keep or how precisely we follow the Mosaic Law. In fact, this is what separates those churches that consider themselves “Reformed” and the Roman Catholic Church:
And he said to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”
We believe that we are saved by faith alone. If we believe in Christ, we are saved and all our sins are forgiven. As our love of Christ deepens and our faith grows, being forgiven and redeemed becomes more and more apparent in our lives. But, it is our faith that saves us.
This reminds me of the old joke about a group of people about to stone a woman caught in adultery. (And, by the way, isn’t it interesting that, even though the law demands that both the man and woman be stoned, in the Gospel only the woman is going to be stoned.) Anyway, Jesus steps in the midst of the crowd and says, “Let he who has never sinned cast the first stone.” One by one, the people start to drop their rocks. All of a sudden, a rock came flying through the air and strikes the adulteress. Jesus then turns to the crowd and says, “MOM?!”
In our Epistle lesson for today, the Christian belief that we are saved by faith alone and that the Mosaic law is incapable of saving us is stated most clearly:
We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
The mercy of God is absolute. There is no sin that is unforgivable, no transgression that God cannot cover with the great sacrifice of Jesus. The only requirement is that we have faith in Christ. We either believe that all sins are forgivable or we do not. If we do, then the Mosaic law takes on a different perspective. If we do not, then we will constantly be trying to do good works that are good enough for God. And I will let you on to a little secret: Nothing we do IS good enough. It all falls short!
For us Christians who are no longer subject to the law, we still study the law to see how we fall short. It is clear that we all sin; we all break the laws. As Saint Paul tells us, by the Law, all of us are condemned. However, by Jesus Christ we are all saved! We cannot bring about our own salvation, save in choosing to believe that Jesus is the Christ, God Incarnate, our Saviour, and our Lord. But, after this, after we have fallen in love with God, all our sins, past, present, and future are forgiven. All we need do is believe.
Now, that being said, if we TRULY do believe, we will try to change. The reason is not to earn “salvation points” up in heaven, but because we want to please God. If we love someone, we will change certain things we do to please our mate. Just ask anyone with a long-lasting marriage, and they will confirm that they all had to make “compromises.” They all had to change.
It is the same for us if we love God. That love results in changes, not out of fear, not out of an obligation, not even out of an indebtedness which demands payment. No. We change because we love and want to please Him Whom we love! It should NOT be a chore; it should be a delight.
But here is where I am going to shock you all. I do NOT want you to look to the Mosaic Law in order to decide how to change. We are not subject to the Law; we look only to it to help us understand, but not to follow. Rather, we look to what Christ tells us we should do. This is the Word of God; if we follow what Christ tells us then we cannot go wrong. So, what does He tell us?
One of the most beautiful parts of our prayer book is where we must look for the answer to this question. We recite it at EVERY Holy Communion. It is what we call the “summary of the Law:”
THOU shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
“Love,” isn’t this what Christ tells us? Didn’t He say, “Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much?” We are to love, deeply, passionately, and absolutely. We are to love God with our whole being; and we are to love one another as deeply as we love ourselves. If we do this, then we will be following God’s commandments.
So this is what I ask of all of us. Forget the minutia of the Law; forget the letter of the Law. Instead, let us fall in love again. Let us fall in love with Christ and with each other. If we do this, then a multitude of sins will disappear, for they are forgiven. And we will feel the sins melt away as they are forgiven by God. And in their place will be something much more precious. What will be left is the peace of God which truly does pass all human understanding.