21 February 2018

The Fasting of Faith and Love in the Sabbath Rest of Christ

There has never been a better summary of the Law of God than the Ten Commandments, which God Himself inscribed in tablets of stone and gave to His people Israel by the hands of Moses.  Those Commandments also instruct you in the way that you are to go in love for God and man.

The natural Law, which God has written on your heart, also makes known that you should treat your neighbor in the way that you yourself want to be treated, and that you are responsible for your actions and accountable to a higher authority than yourself.  Even so, though God has written His Law on your heart, and He reveals His Law also in His creation, sin has blurred your knowledge and understanding of the Law.  It perverts your heart and mind, so that you do not recognize what is good and right, nor do you realize your own faults and failings, leastwise not to their full extent.  In order to know the good and acceptable Will of God, to know what is good and right and true, therefore, you must rely upon the revealed Word of the Lord and the work of the Holy Spirit.

So you have the Ten Commandments, which instruct you in what you are to do, and in what you are not to do.  They show you what it means to live by faith and love toward God, and they show you how to live in love toward your neighbor.  They also protect your neighbor from the harm that you would otherwise do him, and they protect you from your neighbor, by curbing the impulses of sin, and by informing and strengthening your conscience in the Truth.

The Law in general, and the Ten Commandments in particular, can be summarized broadly and simply in two words: Faith and Love.  For God would have you fear, love, and trust in Him, and in such faith look to Him for every good thing.  Everything else follows upon that faith and love for God, in words and works of love for your neighbor.

There are these two things, then, faith and love.  The entire Christian life is summarized that easily, that simply.  But the Law also reveals and makes plain that living by faith and living in love is no easy task for you, a sinner.  In fact, it is impossible for you to do so consistently and perfectly, as the Law requires.  So it is that, as the Lord commands you to live in faith and love, He drives you to repentance.  He turns you away from yourself to Him who is your Life and your Salvation.

God is always at work to do that very thing.  For His sole desire is to love you, and, in loving you, to give you life.  He is not seeking to get some work out of you for His own benefit.  Rather, He delights to work for your benefit.  In His love for you, He desire and delights to give you life.  And to that same end, what He commands is for your good.

If you would live according to His Commandments, your life would be better than it is.  You would be happier.  Your marriage would be more successful.  Your parenting would be more on the mark.  Your friendships would be richer and more fulfilling.  Your job would be more satisfying.  And you would experience that His Way is the Way of true Wisdom.  His Way is the Way of real Life.

To be sure, God’s Commandments are not intended as a way or means for you to gain life for yourself.  They simply set before you the way in which you are to live the life which God gives to you for His own sake, that is, by His grace, for the sake of His own divine and holy Love.

In all of this, in faith and love toward God, and in love for your neighbor, God’s Law — and His Ten Commandments, in particular — are really all about the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, as He describes Himself in the Gospel from St. Mark this evening.  If that is not intuitively obvious or easy to understand, then so much the more do you need God’s revealed Will to enlighten you.

His Law, from the beginning when it was written on man’s heart, and when it was given to Israel at Sinai, has always been concerning Christ Jesus, the Bridegroom who has come from heaven to call you to Himself as His holy Bride.  When God etched the Commandments in stone with His own finger, already He was anticipating the flesh and blood of the Man, Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, who writes the Law in His own flesh — who fulfills and satisfies the Law in His own flesh.  For it is the Bridegroom who lives perfectly, according to the Will of God.

It is the Bridegroom, the Son of God in His own flesh, who lives in perfect faith before His Father and in perfect love toward you, His neighbor.  In fact, not only has He made you His neighbor in becoming flesh and blood like you; He is not ashamed to call you His brother or sister, though you have fallen far from God’s glory and broken His Law.  His love for you has never depended on your performance, but rather upon His own heart, upon that Love which constitutes His Being.  It is with the Love of the Father for His Son, and of the Son for His Father, in the Holy Spirit, that the one true God, the Holy Trinity, loves you in the Person of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.

So the Bridegroom has come.  It is and always has been to Him that the Law points.  To the Man, Jesus, the Son of God from all eternity, the Son of Mary, conceived and born in time to bear your sins and be your Savior.  The Law directs you to Him.  And in directing you to Him, it directs you in the way that you are to go.  It reveals true Wisdom, which begins with the fear of God.  It shows you the path of life, the path of perfect life, which is life with God.  For there finally is no other life, and there is no other living, than that which is by faith and love in God.

The Law points you to Christ, and, in pointing you to Christ, it shows you what divine life and what faith and love look like in human flesh and blood.  For He is the One who has fed the hungry with good things.  He is the One who shelters the homeless.  He is the One who does not turn away from His own flesh but covers the naked and shelters the homeless in righteousness.  He covers you, not with fig leaves, nor with brick and mortar, but with Himself, and with His holy and precious blood, by His innocent suffering and death.  He does all of these things for you.  Your life depends entirely upon Him.  And so does the Law of God find its meaning and purpose in Him.

When you thus understand the Law in Christ Jesus, then you know what true fasting is, and you know the point and purpose of fasting.  It is not to appease God’s wrath or earn His favor.  That is not fasting but pagan unbelief.  Nor is fasting intended to impress your neighbor or win the admiration of men.  That is simply to gorge yourself on the idolatry of your own ego.

True fasting is rather a matter of faith and love.  You let go of those delicacies of life that your flesh craves, in order to affirm and exercise your trust in God.  You do not eat everything that lies at hand, because you trust that your Father will feed you at the proper time.  You do not horde to yourself everything that you want, but you maintain an ability to serve your neighbor in love, giving sacrificially and not simply from your abundance; contributing to charity and to the Church at your own expense, and not only from your castoffs and leftovers.  That is true fasting.  It is to love your neighbor as God loves you in Christ, who gives Himself for you and to you in peace.

So, then, from Sunday to Sunday you fast, and you live on the strength that comes from the Food that God gives to you.  Not only the food for your body, which He daily and richly provides more abundantly than you could ever deserve, but especially that Food which is God Himself, His Body for your body, and His Blood to cleanse you, to forgive you, to strengthen and keep you in Him.

From Sunday to Sunday you fast, that you might live by faith, and that your neighbor might live by your love.  You are to carry no debt except the duty you have to love your neighbor.  So, if there is some obligation that you owe to your neighbor, fulfill it.  Do not wait until tomorrow.  Do not put it off.  Nothing that you have, not even time, belongs to you.  Everything is God’s gift.  And He puts it into your hands, that you might use it to love, to serve, and to care for your neighbor.

It is when you know and practice this true fasting of faith and love that you also understand and rejoice in the true feasting with which God delights to serve you.

You feast upon Christ.  And as you feast upon Christ, the God who has become flesh, then you also learn how to feast on the good things of God’s creation.  You neither despise what God has given nor turn His creation into an idol, but you receive His gifts with thanksgiving, you enjoy them in faith and use them in love, and they are sanctified in your life by the Word of God and prayer.

Everything hinges on the Bridegroom.  You are able to fast in faith and love because you are fed by Christ and feast on Him.  You are filled by Him.  He does call you to discipline and repentance, to fasting, and to faith, not to deprive you of anything, but rather to fill you with Himself and with every good thing in Him.  What does He ask of you that He does not give to you many times over?

Even by way of His Commandments, He calls you to find your Sabbath Rest in Him.  But it is one of the greatest and saddest ironies and paradoxes in the history of fallen man, that men should take God’s Sabbath Commandment and turn it into a burdensome and onerous work.  That is the way it is with sinful man, and with your own sinful heart.  Where God would give you rest, you take work and burdens on yourself.  Where God would forgive you freely and give you life, you decline His gifts and strive to make a life for yourself, though that is nothing but a living death.

Repent, therefore, and live by faith in the Word and promises of God.  For when He commands you to rest, He calls you to rest in Christ Jesus.  And there you find that your sins are forgiven.  There you find that you have real and abundant life.  There you find that God is with you and for you.  For Christ Himself is the true Sabbath, who is given for the salvation of all the children of man.

The purpose of the Sabbath never was to make men work harder, but that man should cease from his own working in order to delight in the Word and works of God and rest in Him by faith.

And the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.  Not only because, for this Commandment also, He has satisfied the Law.  And not only because He has sacrificed Himself in order to atone for your sins against the Sabbath.  And not only because He has lived by faith and found His perfect Rest in the Word and works of His Father.  But Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath because He has become your Sabbath Rest in love for you.  He has taken all of your burdens upon Himself.  All of your faults and failings, He has borne.  For all that you should not have done, He has paid the penalty.  And all that you have failed to do, He has done for you and on your behalf.

And the Sabbath Rest of Christ remains forever.  He ever lives to love and serve His neighbor — to love and serve you, and to give you peace and rest in Himself.  This He does without ceasing, eight days a week, by and with His Gospel, in and with and from His crucified and risen Body.

So, if you would understand the Ten Commandments, if you would understand faith and love, if you would understand true fasting and true Sabbath rest, then look to Christ Jesus, your Savior.  He does for you now, as He did for His disciples then, what He has always done for His people.  That is, He feeds you with good things.  For He is your Good Shepherd, and He is your true King, and He is your merciful and faithful High Priest in all things pertaining to God.

So He takes the Bread of the real Presence, and He feeds both your body and your soul, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.  He places into your mouth and into your body the very best Gifts, His Body and His Blood.  And with these Gifts, by His Word, He forgives all of your sins.

The Law of God apart from Christ could only ever accuse and condemn you, and kill you forever.  In Christ Jesus, His fulfillment of the Law on your behalf gives you life with God instead of death, and peace and rest in Him, because with Him there is forgiveness and the righteousness of God.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

No comments: