Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
3 At this, some of the teachers of the Law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”
4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 But so that you might know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sin . . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.”
7 And the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe, and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.
One of the great treasures of Lutheran, and being a Lutheran is the notion that God deals in the world through estates – the church of which all people are a part by creation (even unbelievers), the family, and the political realm. One of the great difficulties of being a Lutheran is the understanding of the Law and the Gospel in these spheres. Preaching as exhortation doesn’t help in fulfilling some law or requirement, it works a kind of self satisfaction that needs to be understood as sin in itself. When we seek to do works of righteousness, the next step is to categorize them. Luther said in a sermon on Mathew 9:1-8 –
Our foolishness consists in laying too much stress upon the show of works and when these do not glitter as something extraordinary we regard them as of no value; and poor fools that we are, we do not see that God has attached and bound this precious treasure, namely his Word, to such common works as filial obedience, external, domestic, or civil affairs, so as to include them in his order and command, which he wishes us to accept, the same as though he himself had appeared from heaven. What would you do if Christ himself with all the angels were visibly to descend, and command you in your home to sweep your house and wash the pans and kettles? How happy you would feel, and would not know how to act for joy, not for the work’s sake, but that you knew that thereby you were serving him, who is greater than heaven and earth. . . .
In our dealing with one another in vocation and in the church the “law finds fulfillment in love and righteousness in mercy” as Oswald Bayer so beautifully writes. Luther goes on….
Therefore we are to regard the kingdom of Christ as a large, beautiful arch or vault which is everywhere over us, and covers and protects us against the wrath of God; yea, as a great, extended firmament which pure grace and forgiveness illuminate and so fill the world and all things, that all sin will hardly appear as a spark in comparison with the great, extended sea of light; and although sin may oppress, it cannot injure, but must disappear and vanish before grace.
That is why I said in a previous blog that the Keys are primarily about forgiveness. Matthew 18 is primarily about forgivenss. I have argued that Matthew 18 from the perspective of a Rabbi, which Jesus was, has nothing to do with excommuncation at all. Want an excommunication passage? – “if your right hand offends you cut it off and throw it into the fire….”. That passage uses the “body” language that tells what the church is, and offense language that makes the sin so reprehensible.
That is why preaching should be about Christ, promoting Christ, proclaiming Christ and His forgiveness. Matthew Harrison has said that preaching is a “fingerpointing business”. The finger point illuminates that fact that all sin is “my sin” and righteousness is God’s that is given to me as a gift. Luther again…..
Our piety before God consists entirely in the forgiveness of sins, must be rightly comprehended and firmly maintained. We must therefore get beyond ourselves and ascend higher than our reason, which keeps us in conflict with ourselves and which reminds us both of sin and good works; and we must soar so high as to see neither sin nor good works, but be rooted and grounded in this article and see and know nothing besides. Therefore let grace or forgiveness be pitted not only against sin, but also against good works, and let all human righteousness and holiness be excluded. Thus there are in man two conflicting powers: Externally in this life he is to be pious, do good works, and the like. But if he aims beyond this life and wishes to deal with God, he must know that here neither his sin nor his piety avails anything. And though he may feel his sins which disturb his conscience, and although the law demands good works, he will not listen nor give heed to them, but will boldly reply; If I have sin, Christ has forgiveness; yea, I am seated on a throne to which sin cannot attain.
Now seated on that throne, those in Christ are free to serve in love. Life Together, Vocation and the Office of the Keys bring together a marvelous “Lutheran” world view and it is that of service. “In Christ” in our life together I am free to serve you willingly and without compulsion from the Law (although the Law informs what I do). “In Christ”, I am free in my vocation to serve the whole created order. “In Christ”, we are free to speak each other free through forgiveness for “Christ’s sake”. The constat “trimming and pressing” (see Schwann’s Theses on Unevangelical Practice in Harrison – “At Home in the House of My Father’s) to create Christians in our own image is unimaginable in this new life.