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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

The Law

In our reading from Romans this morning we hear Paul say that the promise that Abraham would inherit the world did not come through the law, but through faith. Often people have pitted the law against the gospel. Or sometimes extended this idea of law vs gospel to say, following the things of the NT rather than the things of the OT.

I don’t think Paul is trying to pit the law against the gospel, nor, certainly is he trying to say we should follow the NT scriptures but not the Old (in fact, the NT Scriptures wouldn't have existed during his time). I don’t think this is what Paul is doing because of something that Jesus himself says about the law: I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law. And when asked what’s meant by the law, he summarizes it as loving God first, and then loving both one’s friends and one’s enemies.

And of course this is exactly what we see Jesus do when he goes about his mission of teaching and healing in the midst of those who mock him, berate and threaten him, all the way to his arrest and execution on the Cross. Jesus persists in faith and so in his belief that God’s promises will be realized through the ministry he’s presented with. And sure enough people are healed. The light switch goes on for many and in him - his words and his actions, in other words, in relationship with them - they see God at work in their own lives and so too then, in the world. And many are anxious to go off and share this.

So what I think Paul is actually doing is reframing how people understand the law. The law is itself the very life of Jesus Christ. So the law then, is actually a relationship. The law is a relationship both with God and with other human beings. And the law, in Jesus, is of course perfect. But if you look at Jesus’s life, you can’t follow his life by following static rules. That’s really not how any relationships work. We have some guidelines: we have the 10 commandments, which I’d say are guideposts or benchmarks that outline important things for living together: don’t kill people … this one seems pretty obvious. Don’t commit adultery. Doing so really screws up relationships, it hurts everyone involved and undermines trust between people and maybe your own sense of value and worth for hurting others. Children obey your parents. Generally a good idea because parents usually help to guide and form kids who don’t have the brain matter to control their emotions and to understand broad implications of their actions. But of course if we make this a very rigid rule, we can see how this could lead to children being forced to accept abusive situations they should never accept.

If the law - whether we’re talking about the 10 commandments or the broader laws we see throughout the OT - is Jesus’s life, then what we’re really being asked to do is to have the faith to follow Jesus. Following him as he’s given us his Spirit inevitably means that we’re going to be forced to reckon with how we respond to our neighbours and our enemies when we, like Jesus, are going about our daily lives. And we’ve got these touchstones or guideposts of the law for relationships that are of course related to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. If we obey the first commandment to love and so follow Jesus, then we ask, well, does killing someone, or having an affair, or disobeying our parents, or making an idol out of our own wishes or desires, or fears, or stealing, or working ourselves into the ground without a sabbath rest, involve compassion, courage, gentleness, kindness, charity or self-control? The law and the fruits of the Spirit are perfectly connected: they are in fact one and the same and they are perfectly summarized in Jesus’s loving God and all those with whom he is in relationship, even those who find him an enemy.

So when Paul tells us about the life of Abraham - who walked at first not by seeing God but simply by following him in faith as did Matthew in our Gospel lesson this morning - we’re given evidence of the fruit of faith: although we might not be able to see why God asks us to make sacrifices - to walk by faith rather than sight -

(as Abraham did in leaving his home, or as he was prepared to do in sacrificing his own Son), God has and will continue to provide for us in ways that are far greater than anything we could imagine or conjure. And along the way, as we persist in our faith, learning to exercise the fruits of God’s Spirit that lead us into Christ like ways, we will find evidence of God’s work in us, like little bread crumbs of his presence with us, in the relationships we are in, the situations we are in, even when these seem like we’re walking through the shadows of a valley. AMEN

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