Home > Trinity 6-15 > Making the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal Clean. Trinity 6 Sermon, 2013.

Making the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal Clean. Trinity 6 Sermon, 2013.

mostaert ManofSorrows6th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 5:20-26

July 7, 2013

“Making the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal Clean”

Jesu juva!



In the Name of Jesus


Jesus is so hard on the Pharisees and scribes, the priests, and other devout people in Israel.  He’s always calling them on their hypocrisy. 


On the other hand He seems to go easy on sinners and outcasts.  He sits down and has parties with them, and you don’t have any examples of Him preaching fire and brimstone to openly immoral people.


Well, I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem quite fair.  The Pharisees and scribes studied the Bible and the writings of the teachers of the word of God.  They at least tried to keep it.  Then Jesus tells them that there is more rejoicing over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need to repent, and goes on having dinner parties with people who probably never bothered to go to synagogue.


We take it for granted that Jesus criticized the Pharisees and the chief priests and the devout people and was found in the company of prostitutes and other ne’er-do-wells.  But Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to take this as easily as we do.  Later Jesus offended the Pharisees by saying, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth.”  (Matthew 15: 11)  Then His disciples came and said, “Did you know the Pharisees were offended by this saying?”  Jesus had to tell them, “Every plant that My heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.  Let them alone; they are blind guides.”  (Matthew 15:13-14)  The disciples were worried about the Pharisees being offended because, after all, they were devout Jews. 

The disciples still cared what the Pharisees thought; they didn’t think it was a good idea for Jesus to offend the upstanding “church people” of their time.

 Jesus is hard on the Pharisees.  They are the examples of righteousness as far as the people of Israel are concerned, but Jesus says “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”  As impressive as the “church people’s” righteousness was among men, it was useless in God’s sight.  And it still is.  Unless you have a greater righteousness than the scribes had, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the most zealous so-called “born-again Christian” who finds a way to work Jesus into the conversation with every stranger he meets, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. 


The most zealous Christians and the most zealous Pharisees may do a lot of works.  But they do not fulfill the requirements of God’s law.  It doesn’t matter how good you are at quoting Scripture, how much money you give to the Church or how much work you do in the church.  You aren’t righteous if you don’t keep God’s law.  You may be better than another guy; you may look better, but you are still unrighteous, still under God’s righteous wrath.


The problem is that we believe that our outward efforts to keep God’s law actually count for something.  I go to church every Sunday.  That must count for something!  It does count for something on earth.  If you come to church every Sunday you show yourself to be someone who at least outwardly wants to be counted a Christian.  By coming to church regularly you show that  you at least don’t despise God’s Word and break the third commandment (Remember the Sabbath day, by keeping it holy) in a flagrant, open way.  But does the act of showing up on Sunday in any way help make you righteous before God?  No!  Keeping the third commandment is not simply a matter of showing up at the place where God’s Word is preached.  You keep the third commandment when you fear and love God so that you do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.  Whenever you treat worship or the reading of the bible or the preaching and teaching of God’s Word as though it were just human words instead of the word of the living God, you break the Sabbath, despise God’s Word, and provoke His wrath.


Even though this is true, we still think that it counts for something—that we are somehow less sinful than those who never come and are flagrant despisers of the Word of God.  We know it isn’t true.  Yet our hearts want to rely on the fact that even though we despise the word of God, we do it less than most people, and we at least try not to despise it.


But to be worthy of God’s praise requires more.  It is not righteousness in God’s eyes when a person doesn’t kill and yet harbors hatred and contempt in his heart, or when he doesn’t take vengeance with a gun or a knife but pours out insults, slander, and vengeful words. 


You have heard that it was said to the people of old, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…


Jesus makes anger equal to murder.  “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know no murderer has eternal life” John the apostle writes.  Murder is the work of the devil, who was a liar and a murderer from the beginning.  The devil delights in destruction and death.  But God is the author of life.  He loves everything He has made and does not desire the death even of the wicked, but rather that the sinner turn from his evil ways and live.  That means that the Lord delights in forgiving sinners.  A sinner who turns from his evil way has not made amends for his sin.  When a sinner turns from sin to the Lord, that doesn’t make reparation or repayment for the evil he did before.  God has to take away his sin.


With a few brief words Jesus wipes out all of our righteousness and sets it aside.  You may not have murdered anyone with your hands, but that is not righteousness in God’s sight.  You still have not kept the fifth commandment, “You shall not murder.”  It counts for something before human beings if you refrain from killing your enemy.  But murder with the hands and slander with the mouth and resentment in the heart all flow from the same source—the corrupt sinful nature all human beings have as descendants of Adam. 


Just behind where we sit today, a little walk down the bluff, flows the Des Plaines river.  When I was a kid I remember looking at maps my dad had in his car and seeing a red line that ran down from Chicago toward the area where I lived in the southwest suburbs; the line said, “Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.”  From what I understand at one time the sewage that ran out of Chicago flowed down to us in Joliet in such a pronounced way that you could smell it.  That river doesn’t smell like sewage now.  Maybe less flows in there now, or now they have a way to remove the odor?  I don’t know.  But the point is, you would never say that the river down the bluff from St. Peter is “clean”, just because it’s not as filthy as it used to be, would you?  And if you were piloting a motorboat down the river and came through a patch where the water was full of used syringes and dumped garbage, and then passed through that a mile or so and came to water that had no toxic waste that was visible to the eye, you wouldn’t call that water “clean”, would you?  It’s true that it’s better if the Des Plaines doesn’t smell like raw sewage or have hypodermic needles lining the riverbanks, but in no sense does that make the water clean, or good.


That’s what human righteousness is like.  If you don’t murder but you get angry, you are pure in God’s sight the same way that the Des Plaines is pure.


Who can avoid being angry?  When someone wrongs us we want restitution.  And even if we make an effort to suppress our anger and forgive people who do us injury, it’s only because we are forced to by fear, because we know that Jesus commands us to forgive if we want to be forgiven.  Otherwise we’d gladly harbor anger, or exchange words with them, or speak evil of them, or in some other way get revenge.


But even when we make an effort to forgive those who do wrong to us, it still is not righteousness in God’s sight.  Jesus doesn’t say, “Everyone who is angry with his brother and doesn’t try to fight against his anger is liable to judgment.”  The anger comes whether you want it to or not when someone wrongs you, or even when you think they have done you wrong.  And more often than not people around us pick up on the anger that arises in our hearts even when we try to suppress it.


Think of it.  Someone angers you.  You don’t want to go to them to talk about it, because you feel like it’s your own problem maybe and you’re not sure it’s worth bringing up.  But although you don’t say anything to the person or about the person who angered you, isn’t it true that you begin to withhold kindness from them without meaning to?  You no longer smile at them like you used to.  You involuntarily close up emotionally when they are around.  Oftentimes they may pick up on your involuntary anger and the conflict escalates.


Righteousness according to the law means that you have no anger toward anyone.  From that follows that you will not do anything to harm them but will seek to do them good. 


Jesus requires that we love our neighbor in our hearts and thoughts, our words, our demeanor, and our actions.  The Pharisees thought it was enough if they didn’t reach out their hand and kill anyone.  Meanwhile their hearts were full of anger and resentment.  Bitter words overflowed from their mouths.  This kind of righteousness cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, just as taking medical waste and the stench of sewage away from the Des Plaines river does not make it clean enough to drink.


Jesus not only commands that we must be free from anger if we want to be righteous in God’s sight.  He also commands that we actively do the opposite—love our neighbor.  The small catechism explains the fifth commandment: We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need. 

And in the 8th commandment: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor,” it’s not simply that you aren’t to tell lies and slander other people, but We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. 


In explaining this commandment, Jesus shows what kind of reward the religious people of his day will have for their righteousness.


Whoever says to his brother, Raca! [which means, “empty-head,” something like “idiot” or “dummy”] will be liable to the Sanhedrin.  But whoever says, “You fool” will be liable to the hell of fire.


It may be that “fool” is something worse than “empty-head” as an insult, but Jesus is not saying that if you say “fool” you’ll go to hell, but if you just say “dummy” you’ll be all right.  He’s saying that all three are murder.  Murder begins in the heart with anger.  It passes from the heart to the mouth as we begin venting our frustration either on or about the person we’re angry with. 


But Jesus says that the anger in the heart is worthy of the same punishment as killing someone.  Calling your brother “empty-head” is worthy of being called to trial in front of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court.  And calling your brother “fool,” which may be the same as saying, “God damn you” in Jesus’ day—or it may just be another insult—wins us the hell of fire.


If there is a person here today who has never said a harsh or insulting word to enemies or friends, that would be an exceedingly impressive person.  Yet even that person would be unrighteous in God’s judgment.  Our righteousness would have to exceed that person’s if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.


Reconciling…but merely outward reconciliation is not sufficient, because the heart is still angry and struggling with vengefulness.


In short, Jesus condemns everyone to hell with these words.  Church people, Pharisees, tax collectors and sinners, young and old, moral and immoral.


This is why it is so unfitting for Christians to spend our time judging and condemning the world for its gross moral violations.  It is necessary for us to proclaim the law as a witness to our society.  But as it was for the Jews in Jesus’ day, so it is for us in our day.  Proclaiming the law as we do does not make an impression on our society.  They see quite clearly that we are strident about condemning other people’s sins, but quick to excuse our own.  


It is certain that people who flout God’s law in a spectacular way will face judgment.  But then again, so will we.  It’s not enough simply to say, “Homosexuality is wrong; living together before marriage is wrong, abortion is wrong, not going to church is wrong.”  All those things are true, and their reward is the hell of fire.


But the reward of angry hearts is the hell of fire.  The reward of harsh words is the hell of fire. 


And what can we do about it?  Can we make our anger disappear?


No.  If we are to be held accountable just for our anger and our words, we are certainly lost.


The hymn of the day today is probably not a favorite of most people here.  I can’t say it’s one of mine, either.  I remember when I first was called here and started choosing the hymns for Sunday morning squirming about using this hymn in the service for fear of how the congregation would react to it.  There’s no way around it—it’s not a happy song, at least not at the beginning.  It’s frankly depressing. 


All mankind fell in Adam’s fall; one common sin infects us all.  From one to all the curse descends, and over all God’s wrath impends.


Through all our pow’rs corruption creeps, and us in dreadful bondage keeps; in guilt we draw our infant breath, and reap its fruits of woe and death.


That song will probably never make it onto Christian radio.  It would be unsurprising if it didn’t make it into the next generation of Lutherans’ repertoire. 


However, the hymn is quoted in the Lutheran Confessions, which our congregation confesses as a faithful explanation of Scripture.


These depressing words are the truth about us.  We are not capable of choosing to do God’s will.  We are born completely corrupt and under God’s wrath.


But the hymn continues:


As by one man all mankind fell,

And, born in sin, was doomed to hell,

So by one Man, who took our place,

We all were justified by grace.


We are justified by Jesus’ death on the cross alone. 


That is why Paul calls the message of the cross “the power of God” and “the wisdom of God.”  Because it is only Jesus’ death on the cross that is able to cover our impure, angry hearts, and to begin to make them loving instead of vengeful.


Not our love justifies us, but the love of God.  Not our righteousness, but the righteousness of God, which is not a righteousness that shines in the eyes of the world.  The world is impressed by what we put into our mouths (or don’t).  The world is impressed by putting on robes or not wearing them, by fasting or refusing to fast, by observing certain holidays or not observing them.  Those works shine in the eyes of men.  But the righteousness of God looks like this: the torn and humiliated body of Jesus dead on the cross for us.  That is the righteousness of God because nothing less severe than that would be sufficient for us who continue to have lawless and angry hearts until we die.  Jesus crucified—that is the righteousness of God—the fulfillment of the law.


When we are angry we turn to the Lord, who alone is able to make our dead, hard, vengeful hearts gentle and forgiving.


He does this as He shows and declares to us the forgiveness of sins through the cross of Jesus.


The Father is reconciled to us even though we are still sinners.  Jesus ate with the notorious sinners, and He will have fellowship also with us who are still plagued by anger.  He does not wait until we stop being sinners.  The joy of the feast of the kingdom of heaven begins now, while we are yet sinners.  Jesus has fellowship with us and rejoices over us with singing.  Reconciliation with God is for us now, while we are still sinners, because though we are still sinners, God’s punishment and judgment on our sin has already been fully doled out—to Jesus. 


He reconciled the Father to us and turned away His wrath.  Now the Father is not angry with you but loves you, even though you have a heart that is prone to wrath.


In His supper he “teaches you to love” and to believe that He has forgiven you your sins, as Luther puts it in the Christian Questions and Answers in the catechism; He puts His reconciling body and blood in Your mouth.  Peace with God is found in Jesus’ flesh and blood.  He Himself is our peace.


Come then with hearts that grieve your lack of love when You have been so loved by God.  But come with the assurance that He will not throw you out but cover your sin and teach you to love.  And then go, and let your knowledge of the Gospel show itself in the gracious way you deal with one another. 



The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 



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