February 19, 2012

Sermon, Quinquagesima Sunday

God's Law Is Love
Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 18:31-43
Quinquagesima Sunday
February 19, 2012

"Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Quinquagesima Sunday is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and marks the passing of the fiftieth day before Easter. The Collect is fairly new by Anglican standards. Less than 500 years old, it was composed for the 1549 Prayer Book by Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, who was so influential in bringing Biblical Christianity back to Britannia. The Epistle for the day is that great and inspiring passage which defines Christian love, and the Gospel foretells God's supreme act of love in the suffering of Christ. The Psalm for this morning shows us that the love of God is revealed in creation and in the Law of God. These Passages remind me of the words of Christ in two other passages of Scripture; "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son," and, "Greater love hath no man than this."

We are accustomed to hearing that creation reveals the existence of God. "The firmament showeth His handy-work," according to Psalm 19:1 and, Romans 1 tells us God is clearly "seen" in the things He has made. But how does creation show the love of God? Think of something you have made. Why did you create it? Did not some part of you create it for the sheer love of creating? And doesn't some part of you enjoy what you make just because you made it? If we can experience such love for our creations, surely God can too, for we are created in His image. But we don't have to rely on speculation to learn this. In Genesis we see God lovingly engaged in the work of creation, bringing the world to its crowning glory, which is the man and woman who were created in His image, given dominion over the earth, and given the ability to know and love Him. Yes, God also had other reasons for creating us, but among all His reasons, love was one of the most primary among them. Recognising this, we thank God daily for all His "goodness and loving kindness," and "for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life."

God's love is also revealed in the Law. Love is the meaning of the Law, and giving the Law was an act of love. God's Law is love because it shows what we have to do if we want to live in a world of peace and good will. Most people, even in today's self-worshiping and materialistic culture, still agree that the world would be a far better place if everyone obeyed the Ten Commandments. Many of these people have never read 1 Corinthians 13, but if it were shown to them, I think they would agree that a world in which people live by that kind of love would be a wonderful place. But what is the foundation of 1 Corinthians 13? It is Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments, which our Lord Himself summarised saying, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," and, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." God's Law shows us the way to love one another. Psalm 19 makes a statement some people will find surprising because they consider the Bible outdated and its rules oppressive. But Psalm 19 says of the Laws of God, "In keeping of them there is great reward." There are benefits to knowing and/or living by the Law of God. I know many people who are miserable because they are reaping what they have sown. They have lived in sin. They have wasted their lives in wantonness and selfishness. They have given themselves to things that destroy people, and they have found that they have destroyed themselves. Truly there is "a way that seemeth right unto man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." By contrast, living by the Law of God gives joy. It rejoices the heart. God's Law shows us the way of peace and unity and harmony. People often want to know the secret to good relationships or a happy marriage. There is no secret. It is all right here in the Bible. The more closely we follow its teachings the better and happier life is. The further we go from it the more misery we pile upon our own heads. Our problem is not that we don't know what to do; it's that we don't do what we know.

God's Law is love because it points us to the Saviour. We are so used to hearing Law and Grace used as antonyms that we sometimes forget they are both part of the same love of God freely given to us in Christ. They are only opposites when used to describe the way we are made acceptable, unto God. Law then becomes our attempt to cancel out our sins by being "good" while grace means being made acceptable by the free gift of God. In this sense, the two are completely opposite. But, in every other way Law and grace are both expressions of God's unfailing love for us. In fact, Law is an essential part of Grace, for God's Law shows our need of forgiveness as a gift from God. The Law is our "schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" as we read in Galatians 3 last Monday night. Seeing ourselves in the light of God's Law makes us realise we can never atone for our failure to live according to the moral and spiritual way of life it reveals. We realise, then, that we are entirely out of fellowship with God, and that our only hope of regaining that fellowship is Him. He must do something to forgive our sins and restore us to Himself. Learning that He has done this in the life, sacrifice, resurrection and ascension of Christ, we run to Him in faith.

No wonder the Psalm says God's Law is more valuable than gold and sweeter than honey. Apart from God Himself, there is only one thing more valuable than the Law of God, and that is the forgiveness of our trespasses against it through Jesus Christ.

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