the fifth sunday after pentecost …

Deuteronomy 30. 9-14
The Word-of-God’s not a roleModel; but a gift!

The Word of God! That’s what popular opinion, here in the U.S. – what popular opinion, especially, here on the bibleBelt – calls theBook! Every dotted ‘i’, every crossed ‘t’, of it! Inerrant! Infallible! Inspired! Used to be, you’d only hear those words spoken with a southernAccent. Not so much, anymore. Nowadays, fundamentalism – that so-called conservative Christianity – is everywhere. It’s not just the Holy Bible. It’s the Word of God!

And it’d be tempting, this morning, to preach as if this passage from Deuteronomy really, truly was exactly that … the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God. It’d be tempting and it’d be easy. Because, truth be told, that’s what we already believe. About god. About ourselves. About the book. “God will make us abundantly prosperous,” we’re told, “WHEN we obey.” IF we obey. Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God. Tempting. Easy. Expected. Unfortunately, that isn’t the Word of God. At least, not for us!

In the constitution of this denomination, we – as ELCA Lutherans – define the Word of God as most Lutherans in the U.S. have been doing since Baltimore, 1938. The Word of God, above all else, is Jesus! Let me repeat that. The Word of God, above all else, is Jesus Christ! Secondarily, the Word of God is the gospel, that is, the proclamation about Jesus Christ! And then – then and only then – does the Word of God become the bible. Recording and announcing Christ! For us, the bible isn’t the Word of God; JESUS is! The bible’s the Word of God only because it’s about Jesus! And this passage from Deuteronomy? The one that proclaims so clearly that god blesses when we obey? Well, bottomLine, it’s not gospel! It’s not goodNews! And Jesus – Christ and him crucified – has nothing to do with it! At least, not all of it!

You see, not all scripture’s created equal. Some parts are more inerrant, more infallible, more inspired, than others! And some parts picture a graceFull, loving god more than others. Basically, back in the day, when Luke wrote his gospel, there were two groups, two tribes, two denominations in Judaism that survived the destruction of Jerusalem. There was the church. And there were the Pharisees. And of the two, only one needed Jesus.

For the Pharisees, the operative word was obey. Do as you’re told! God says, “Jump!” You jump! No questions asked! For them, verses – like number eleven – WERE the Word of God. “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.” God would never ask you to do anything you couldn’t do!

For the church, the word is trust! Trust! Not because it’s what god commands, but because that’s the only response there is to being loved! Pick up a baby and hold her close, she’ll lay her head on your shoulder! That’s trust! Bend down to a toddler and reach out your arms and he’ll jump into them! That’s faith! Suffer under Pilate, be crucified, die, be buried … and they’ll say, “Amen! This is most certainly true!” That’s believing!

To the Pharisee, it’s we who act and god who reacts. Cursing the evil. Rewarding the good. So, to the Pharisee, Jesus – if Jesus is anything – is an echo and a reflection of Moses. To the church, it’s all inside-out and upside-down. Jesus is sacrifice! Jesus is savior! Jesus acts, we believe.

As church, it’s not god who sits back and waits. It’s us! We can do nothing else! “We confess we are captive to sin,” we say, Sunday after Sunday! “Captive to sin and cannot free ourselves!” (Can’t free ourselves, let alone free anyone else!) Captive even to the nearest and dearest commandments. Truth is, We don’t and can’t and won’t. But god – god-in-Jesus – will and can and does! That’s gospel! GoodNews! And that’s the conflict, the contradiction, between the Pharisees and Jesus.

One’s all about us; the other all about god. One’s about obedience; the other about believing. One’s about rules and regulations; the other about love. GoodNews isn’t trying harder or doing better! It’s trusting … it’s believing in … it’s staking our life on … god’s amazing grace! God’s astonishing charity! God’s astounding love! Pressed down! Shaken together! Running over! And the passage, this morning, from Deuteronomy, has both. The first half’s gospel; the second half? Well, it has no redeeming value.

“… and the LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors ….” Period! Full stop! End of sentence! For the church, that’s what gives faith its power! It’s promise, not command! There is no ‘when’ in the gospel! No unless! No until! No if! No and! No but! And there’s no punishment in it! No reward, either!

That’s the reason for the brief order at the beginning of most worship services. We don’t do it in order to feel guilt or shame. We don’t do it to feel little or less. We do it so we understand what’s coming! So we can understand the grace and the mercy, the charity and the forgiveness, that’s about to be proclaimed and administered! No threats! No ultimate! No coercion or fear!

“In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us!” For his sake, God forgives us all! Nothing about confessing our sins. Felling bad. Saying we’re sorry. Promising never to do it, again. Nothing about believing in Jesus. About dying and going to heaven … or to hell. It’s all about Jesus! “By grace! For Christ’s sake! Though faith!” Half the passage is goodNews. And the other half? Anything but! In fact, it only leads us astray … even though it’s bible. It’s not the Word of God! It’s not the gospel! It’s not Christ and him crucified!

So, my friends, by now, we should know. It’s grace – not our obedience – that has brought us here. And like the song says, it’s grace – not our obedience – that will take us the rest of the way as well!

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Midland Lutheran Church