Jesus speaks to us today, saying,
Just when you think that the Son has come to set you free indeed, Jesus turns on us and tells us that there are two important laws that the Law, the Prophets, everything depends on. And, as we all know, laws are a limiter of freedom, not a proponent, and when the laws get too heavy, we throw in the towel and shout, “I can’t!”
However, in the hands of sinners, freedom becomes a problem; it becomes a weapon. The great example of this is the Reformation. As wonderful and necessary to the preaching of the Gospel as freedom is, once it was given, people ran wild starting so many new denominations, smashing churches, and beating priests.
Freedom is given by Jesus, but it is ruined by us sinners. Thus, the giving of the Law tempers the sinner and the saved. The virtue of temperance is concerned with overcoming the overriding condition of our fallen human nature. Practicing temperance means that you know you have freedom, but you also know that you’re horrible at it.
Temperance is a difficult thing which is why we first figure out how to act rightly (prudence), then we give each man his due (justice), then we stand strong in those things (fortitude), and finally we find our own place, not in exercising absolute freedom, but in restricting our freedom. As Jesus commands us to love God and love neighbor today, temperance reminds us that there is no room for loving self in those commands.
Thus the Law tempers life, even though for the sinner and our sinful self it still means guilt and death, Jesus does not remove one iota of the Law. Though His suffering and death has removed the punishment and guilt of the Law, you remain in your flesh until Christ returns for you.
For the Christian then, the Law holds no sting or power to condemn to hell, but it still points out the way to live that is God-pleasing, because Jesus does not simply redeem you and then place you down in the midst of wolves and say, “Good luck.”
We are still in the world. We are still in our sinful flesh. The sacraments permanently tattoo God’s promises to us, but He leaves us in this world so we are in a constant struggle with our sinful desires.
You don’t think you have a problem with violence, until someone convinces you its God’s will. You don’t think you have a problem with chastity or fidelity, until that one person persuades you that its ok just this once. We never think we have problems handling anything our bodies desire, until it becomes a problem.
In regards to what Jesus is telling us today, we are free to love God and love our neighbor, but we are horrible at it. We never knew we had a problem with loving God or our neighbor until we heard it in black and white. In other words, until we heard it from the Law of God.
This sinful handling of Temperance is called concupiscence. Remember that word well. It means natural tendency and lustful leaning. That is us in our sinfulness. There is nothing more dangerous in this world than a temperate man. There is nothing more dangerous to the faith, than a concupiscent man that thinks he’s temperate.
So what does all this have to do with the Reformation, the LWML, and starting a church?
From the Genesis reading heard at the beginning of Service, we hear that the Lord is working in this world. He does not leave us to fend for ourselves, but instead works out all things for our good, including placing His Church on earth and placing us in it.
The Lord does all this while being intemperate. He showers His wedding feast with an overabundance of wine and food. He sows seed in excess, tossing them upon road, rock and thorn and weed alike.
He gives grace to the undeserving. He enriches in speech and all knowledge those who despise it. He does not spare any expense at revealing His true Son to any and all sinners, calling from every corner of the earth, and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins.
This intemperance climaxes at the cross. There we see the excess of life poured out into the ground. Feeding no one, nourishing no one, and benefiting no one as one would pour out milk into the ground. All of Jesus’ hard work: His words, His miracles, and His very person, seemingly wasted in grim death.
This is the price Jesus pays. His words fall on deaf ears. His miracles are undone. His body dies.
Yet through this abundance of waste comes an abundance of righteousness. As it turns out, this was the Father’s will; that the Son obey Him unto death on a cross in order that He would glorify Him by raising Him from the dead, permanently.
Thus it is not intemperance the Lord practices, but mercy and love. Though His words fall on deaf ears, those ears hear and, regardless, His promise remains true. Though His miracles only last for awhile (people get sick again and die again), Those people find eternal, permanent healing in Christ’s death and resurrection.
Though His body died, it is alive. Jesus has raised the lowly body to immortality, to imperishability, to glory, to power; to life. In three days, Jesus’ body has been torn down and rebuilt again. He has become the building built without hands.
Through this, whenever we ponder the Church, why its here, why we’re here, and what the good of it all is, we must always remember Christ Crucified and that intemperance. And, desiring to be Christ-like ourselves, then we must participate and commune with that intemperance, when it comes to the House of God.
Do we want Gospel preached in its purity and the Sacraments administered according to it in this place for only 70 years or 70 times 7? The Spirit that has been given to us is not a spirit of wekness, but of power. Power to invest ourselves completely in the Church. Power to overcome our sinfulness and hatred for the apparent waste of time that is the Church on earth and see it for its eternal glory that it is.
is the one unique
place on earth where all of Scripture comes true because this is the Body of
Christ. This is the place where we invest in eternity. This is the place where
heaven opens its gates for us. This is the place where the Lord comes to set a
table for us. This is none other than the House of God and this is the gate of heaven,
as Jacob declared oh so long ago. Church
To our comfort and peace, the Lord is intemperate with His Church. He continues to sustain it wherever the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments administered. He continues to invest His entire being into those “successful” churches and those “unsuccessful” churches.
He continues to lavish this house with an overabundance of eternal gifts, though the walls remain brick and mortar. He constantly comes to His Supper, though it remains crusty bread and passable wine.
But that is the real Good News. That though these things are the lowest of the low; though we be the lowest of the irredeemable, Christ comes to us. He sets Himself as the Chief of sinners. He is the chief cornerstone that the builders rejected, because He was not virtuous enough.
Thanks be to God that is so. Thanks be to God that the Lord of all can be numbered with the sinners below me, descend to death and hell in front of me, and be there when I must go there. Thanks be to God for His Church on earth, for there would otherwise be nowhere to go to find Him.
The Lord sets up an oasis of life, in this desert of death, in no other place than His Church and this is where we find His full glory, His full power, His full kingdom, and His full righteousness and no where else. Period.
Earthly churches comes and go, but the true Church of the Lord endures forever. It is the Body of Christ and, like a passing rain shower, will be found here for a time and then to another place, but it never dries up and will never leave the earth.