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20240602 2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

You know that phrase “caught between a rock and a hard place”? I know you’ve heard this at least once in your life. But do you know the history of this phrase?? It comes from The Odyssey - an ancient Greek classic attributed to Homer (not Simpson). It goes way back, way back to the 7th or 8th Century BC and is still being read and studied by modern audiences. The story follows the Greek hero Odysseus the King of Ithaca on his way home from battle. And like most heroic, epic stories, our hero encounters lots of difficulties and struggles that always make for the best stories. One of those difficulties is where this phrase comes from. Odysseus must sail through Charybdis and Scylla - Greek names for a treacherous whirlpool and a horrible man-eating cliff monster! There is no choice, he must go through them. On one side the ship can be destroyed by a terrible swirling rip-tide and on the other, a heinously dangerous jagged rock outcropping! Both of these things are depicted as awful and scary monsters, with death and peril on every side! Literally Odysseus is caught between “a rock and a hard place.

In a round about way, this is also how it can be when it comes to God’s law. The Bible is chock full of God’s commandments. In fact I think there are 613 of them in the Old Testament alone! “Do this, don’t do that.” Rules. Regulations. They are essential for good order. They are meant to curb evil and wrongdoing and at the same time instruct and guide in the right way. The peril comes if you go too far to the right or the to the left when it comes to these laws. On the one hand is ‘legalism’, a strict, strict adherence to every law. Various Christian denominations have been guilty of this kind of theology over the years. This is the “I don’t smoke and I don’t chew and I don’t go with girls who do” crowd! If you don’t keep the commandments all the time, you risk losing salvation. Or put another way, you have to obey the commandments to gain God’s favour and get in His good books. Good works get you the brownie points, therefor you must do them or else! Legalism focuses on God’s laws and the strict adherence to them more than the relationship with God.

Luther fought long and hard against legalism at the time of the Reformation because it leads to this heavy, brow-beaten and guilt-ridden version of Christianity. It’s works-based salvation. God becomes this huge, galactic ogre just waiting for you to slip so he can damn you to hell and punishment for your sins and transgressions! Our Lord Jesus Himself in His ministry fought long and hard against the Pharisees for this exact same reason. They were incredibly judgmental of others, often burdening the common people with the law. We heard it this morning in the Gospel reading: “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (MK 2:24). Eating grain from the field and doing work on the Sabbath!? Terrible Jews they must be! And then right after this, there’s the withered hand man in the Synagogue. “And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him” (MK 3:2). Jesus might heal on the Sabbath. He might graciously end someone’s suffering! Let’s get Him! He ain’t followin’ the law!!! These legalistic “turn or burn” Pharisees just can’t see that the law was made for people and not the other way around. This is what Jesus meant when He said earlier “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (MK 2:27). Rest. Restoration. Relationship. That’s what the Sabbath was all about. Not legalistically following a long laundry list of rules and regulations.

We notice that these law-dawg Pharisees upon seeing Jesus “not following the law” go and plot “how to destroy Him!” (MK 3:6). With the help of the Herodians of all people. Herod and the Herodians supported the Roman overlords. The Pharisees did not! But for the Pharisees, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.” They were willing to work with a group that they were at odds with to get rid of Jesus! Obviously they missed the whole “Thou shall not kill” commandment! That man healed on the Sabbath! Off with his head! You can see how twisted and evil the legalistic Pharisees were. Hypocritical and judgmental to the max. This is where the path of legalism takes you. This is the rip-tide and whirlpool that will swallow your soul and tear it up into a thousand pieces, leaving nothing but the heavy burden of guilt and shame in its wake.

Now, what about the other side? If it’s legalism on the right, what’s on the left? It’s the opposite. It’s lawlessness. The fancy $5 theological word of the day is anti-nomianism. Anti - against, nomos - law. This is ignoring the law and commandments completely. This is willingly walking the path of the prodigal son from Luke 15. Squandering life in sin city. Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll! Sin is thus embraced because ‘God is just going to forgive me anyways.’ What’s the big deal?! Enjoy life. Don’t worry, be happy! Repentance-shmentance! Spiritual apathy takes over. Commandments-shmandments! No use for law-dawgs around here. This kind of thinking convinces people that God does not require us to turn from our wicked ways. There is no spiritual struggle. Jesus did it all for me, therefore sin all the more. This is the wide-road of the world. It becomes hedonism, if it feels good, do it! This weird idea sees the cross of Christ our Lord as our license to sin.

Luther wrote against this side of the coin as well in his “Against the Antinomians.” In fact it was Luther himself who actually coined the term anti-nomian. He wrote fiercely against these ideas because he saw how dangerous this was. It was without doubt the jagged rocky shore that would leave the Christian life in tatters! Christian values and morality and ethics are desperately important and the world desperately needs them more now than ever before. Definitive right and wrong. Order. Love - as defined by God Himself in the scriptures - put into action. This is the law as a curb. But it also exists to us as a mirror to show us our sin and our need for a Saviour. The law convicts us and tells us plainly we have sinned in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. This drives us to the cross to behold the sacrifice of Christ our Lord. All the guilt, all the inadequacies, all the transgressions - they are all dealt with right here and forgiveness, life and salvation are received freely by faith in Christ.

So what do we make of all this? Legalism is bad. Lawlessness is bad. Where does that leave us? Right in the middle. Caught between a rock and a hard place, as it were. It is here, dear friends, that we must invoke the ‘Johnny Cash Protocol’ and walk the line! Truly, St. Paul hammers away at this in his writings all the time. Against legalism he says “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10). And against anti-nomianism he says “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1-2). The scriptures steer the ship right down the middle of these two perils.

But even more key is Who is smack dab in the middle of the ship? It’s none other than Jesus Christ our Lord. He calms the storm and assures us of His real presence with us in life. And this is the key. Being in the presence of Christ our Lord. This is what makes us clean and holy, just as we heard last Sunday with Isaiah and the coal from the altar that cleansed his unclean lips. “The Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (MK 2:28) Jesus says. This is why we need Him. Our crucified and risen Messiah is truly our all in all. Being in His presence is what makes us holy, forgiven, and full of life. This is what makes us die to sin and live for Him, a life of confessing our sins and growing the fruit of the Spirit. Stay in the middle. Stay close to Jesus. In His Name, Amen!

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