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Sunday, March 22, 2015

TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE

By Pr. Craig Donofrio 


We theological geeks like to sound more impressive by using Latin, Greek, Hebrew or even Pig Latin if need be. That said, there are a few terms worth knowing.  Simul Justus et Peccator - Simultaneously justified and sinner (saint and sinner), Cur alii, alii non – Why some and not others? Semper Ubi Sub Ubi – always wear underwear (okay, it kind of means that, but not really).  But for our consideration today, the phrase is Homo incurvatus in se – roughly translated, man is curved in on himself. 

The first commandment: You shall have no other gods before me.  The Hebrew can rightly be translated as no other gods in My face.  I like this because when we have other gods, we are actually cramming them in the face of the one true God. 

Adam and Eve lived openly, naked in every way possible, physically and spiritually before God.  But when they fell to the temptation to be like God, knowing good from evil, they took their eyes off of God’s loving kindness that gave them life and sustained them day by day and they looked to themselves… Incurvatus, they curved in on themselves and became gods to themselves, becoming the most important being in their lives. 

I contend that all sin and nearly every theological false teaching can be summed up in these words – “curved in on ourselves”.  To be curved in on ourselves means that we look to ourselves and look for our personal glory, benefit, recognition, fame and the like first and foremost. 

The Gospel of St. Matthew records the following conversation…  “And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  (Matthew 22:35-40 ESV)

The reality is that if we could actually Love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul and mind that we would by nature then love our neighbor as ourselves.  This is the whole of the two tables of the law in the Ten Commandments.  Furthermore, we understand that if we could keep that first commandment, we would not need the others for they would be fulfilled.  

When we curved in on ourselves, we stopped living before God, openly before His face.  We know that our first parents in the garden covered themselves inadequately with a covering of their own invention. 

Then God, who is merciful and loving by His very nature slaughtered an animal (I like to imagine it to have been a lamb) and provided garments for them.  These were more than clothing, but it was the first shedding of blood and a covering for their sinfulness. 

Those coverings are very symbolic and right down sacramental.  The man made sacraments providing a false covering, a false religion.  God providing the proper covering in a sacrifice is a God who gives freely.  This shows us from the beginning, that there are only two religions, the one that’s about me (or us) and the one that is about Him. 

We skip forward to God the Son taking on the flesh of man, becoming one of us, and yet not as a Master to be served, but as a Servant who serves others.  He serves His own rebellious people.  He is curved out to you and to me, even as we are curved in on ourselves.  He serves when we want to be served.  He sacrifices Himself for those who are busy throwing each other under the bus.  He gives His life for selfish bloodthirsty sinners. 

Through His perfect life, through His humiliation, through His compassionate mercy, through His suffering and death and through His resurrection, He does it all for “us men (mankind) and for our salvation.” 

He restores us to that place of being innocent before Him, blameless in His site and He has provided the ultimate covering, the covering of the blood of the Lamb who has taken away the sin of the world. 

In His Word and His Sacraments, He leaves none of our senses untouched by His mercy.  Our ears are filled with His Gospel Words. He feeds us body and soul as we taste and see that He is good in the Lord’s Supper. We splash and play in the waters of Holy Baptism as He covers us with Himself in the water and the Word.  As we read in Galatians 3:27, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” 

This is astonishing because God didn’t make us to be spiritual beings, able to see, hear and test the spiritual world, but He made us physical beings with a soul.  Because of this, He provides physical assurances and physical gifts so that we can know for certain that He has done his work of salvation in us.  In Baptism, we get wet, in absolution, our eardrums are engaged and we see Christ’s ambassador, the pastor before us, in the Lord’s Supper, we touch, taste, see, smell and hear.  These are physical elements attached to the life giving Word of God who brings us more and more and more forgiveness, mercy and grace.  He liberally pours Grace upon grace, blessing upon blessing, forgiveness more than we could ever imagine onto and into our sinful lives. 

In the waters of Holy Baptism, we are indelibly coated with the very righteousness of Christ.  Now when the judgment of God’s righteousness comes looking for the baptized, all He sees is Christ for us. It is nothing less than astonishing that God’s mercy is beyond all measure while our sin is beyond all recognition. 

When we honestly see ourselves for who we really are apart from Christ, we feel shame, naked before a perfect God who sees all of our sins, all of our failures and all of our indecency. 

When we honestly see God in the face of Christ Jesus for Who He really is, we find His grace, mercy, love, compassion forgiveness and kindness for sinners.  He who knew no sin became sin so that we might be the righteousness of God. 

How I love to consider over and over again that on the cross, Jesus declared “Tetelestai!”- It Is Finished and with that, He inhaled the sins of the world into Himself and exhaled His life onto and into us who were dead in our sins and trespasses. 

When this grace takes root in us and we realize that He gives us all of Himself every minute of everyday.  When we discover that His grace is greater than all of our sins, sins past, sins present, sins future, then we begin to turn away from our sinful, black, cesspools known as hearts and begin to once again, according to the new man, to look to our God more and more.  For He is the one who establishes our faith, justifying us freely and He is the one who sends the Holy Spirit to us who testifies constantly and turns us toward Christ in His sanctifying work.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
(Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

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