Sermon: Lent 3 RCL B – “Laws”

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Most are aware that the Law of the Old Testament prohibits eating pork, however, there was a fella who had been a rabbi for many years and, all his life, he’d tried to be a good Jew. He obeyed the ten commandments, he read the Torah frequently and he kept kosher, but secretly, he’d always wanted to try pork.

Everybody made so much fuss about pork and bacon and ham and he always wanted to taste it, to see if it lived up to the hype.

So, one day, he said to himself, “I’m getting on in years, I’ve always done my best to be good, so if I do this one thing, I’m sure it won’t really matter.” And he went to a restaurant to try some pork.

Since it would be the first and last time he ever tried it, he thinks, “Might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb” and orders the fanciest pig dish on the menu. A few minutes later, the waiter comes in with a tray carrying a whole roasted suckling pig with a big red apple lodged in its mouth.

He places it on the table and the rabbi picks up his fork and is about to tuck in when he hears a voice behind him, “Rabbi? Is that you?” He turns around to see one of the people from his synagogue. They both look at each other and then at the pig and then back at each other. The man says “Rabbi? What’s going on?” The rabbi says, “I know, disgusting isn’t it. I only ordered an apple and look how they’ve served it!”

All I can add to that is… bacon!

Keeping the Law. When we speak of law, we think courts and judges, physics, science, and speeding tickets. When we consider our Christian faith, there is also the Law of Moses—the one we hear about throughout both the Old and New Testament, but there is also more, and one that C. S. Lewis talks about in Mere Christianity is the Law of Nature. He states that within every society, there may be moral variances, but there is also—perhaps with the exception of the most extreme—a law of moral decency in that we have an innate ability to know right from wrong, and that we do in fact know when we are doing wrong. Continuing from there, he says there are two points he wants to make regarding the Natural Law. “First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it—that is the Law of Nature—Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.”

Some might say, we are no longer under the Mosaic Law, the one the Rabbi was called to follow. That is true, we are under grace, but I would suggest to you that parts of the Mosaic Law, especially the top ten, are also a part of the Laws of Nature. They divulge our innate understanding of God and they show to us the way of right living that is applicable to all humanity.

For example, there may be some who do not understand God as we do, but who can’t look to the heavens and the world around them and not know that there is a God—“The invisible things of God are seen in his creation.” Whether you’ve been taught of God or not, you know that there is one who created and therefore you know that you should give honor. You also know by nature that you should not kill, or steal, etc. Even an atheist knows these things. No one has to tell you that these things are wrong. Yet, as Lewis pointed out, we break these natural laws.

So, if we have the Natural Law, that innate ability to know right from wrong, then why was the Mosaic Law given? Because even though the people had the Natural Law, they weren’t following it. God didn’t just randomly make up laws and say, “Do this and don’t do that.” He gave the Law because the people were violating the Natural Law they already knew, but in giving the Law, the people would no longer have an excuse. They couldn’t say, “We didn’t know it was wrong,” because God had now plainly told them that it was. However, with the Mosaic Law, the people ran into the same problem as they had with the Natural Law, the problem that Lewis pointed out: you know the Law, but you just keep breaking it. Our Rabbi knew the prohibition about eating pork, but at some point—regardless of that knowledge—he chose to place the order.

Now, rewind to last week, we talked about how the will of God is clear to us all: love God, love your neighbor, love yourself. That is the will of God for our lives and we also know that it is the new commandment that Jesus gave us. Unfortunately, we are really no better at keeping it than we are at keeping the Law of Nature or the Mosaic Law. As Lewis said about the Law of Nature, we know the commandment Jesus gave us, but we break it. It is the will of God, but we struggle to fulfill it.

Natural Law – failures. Mosaic Law – failures. Greatest Commandments of Jesus – failures.

St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,  but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:21-24) Who will deliver me, indeed! Who will deliver us? You know the answer: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a)

In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “It is Jesus himself who comes between the disciples and the law, not the law which comes between Jesus and the disciples.” (p.123) We are failures in fulfilling God’s will and His commandments, but if we will humble ourselves “under the mighty hand of God” and receive the Good News of Jesus Christ, then the Cross of Christ is placed between us and our failures, and through it we are saved. As St. Paul said to us this morning in our Epistle lesson, “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The message of the cross may sound like foolishness, but it is in fact the greatest expression of God’s radical love for his children that they may be with Him.

The Lord said through the Prophet Isaiah:

“Turn to me and be saved,
    all the ends of the earth!
    For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn;
    from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
    a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
    every tongue shall swear allegiance.’”
(Isaiah 45:22-23)

Humble yourself, bend your knee to the Lord, confess him as Savior, and have the cross of Christ as your guide and defense.

Let us pray:
Holy Cross of Jesus, have pity on me.
Holy Cross of Jesus, be my protector.
Holy Cross of Jesus, take away all bitter pains.
Holy Cross of Jesus, take away all evil.
Holy Cross of Jesus, let me walk in the way of salvation.

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