Beloved. We see a wonderful similarity between the beginning of last week’s Gospel account and today’s Gospel account. Last week began: When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him; and today’s: When [Jesus] got into a boat, his disciples followed him. See the similarity? –in both cases Jesus was being followed—a wonderful picture/ description of His Church/ His dear Christians.
And then in both cases something marvelous happened. Last week we read that the crowd saw Jesus heal a man with leprosy; and today we read that the disciples experienced the fact that Jesus calmed the storm. So what is the take away in both of these? One certainly is: when we are with Jesus, great and mighty things happen. Let us open our eyes to see them. Great and mighty things happen because Jesus is with us in His grace and mercy. That’s why He came that first Christmas—to be with us in grace and mercy. Do you ever wonder what God is like? What His attitude toward you is? Look at the manger and see there God’s love for us sinners—He Himself came from the glories and holiness of heaven to this world of sin to become also one of us in order to save us from our sin, from death, from the devil and hell. That’s His love for us and His grace toward us! He did not come that first time in His role as holy and righteous Judge but as Savior.
What we are seeing now in this season of Epiphany is the outward expression of that divine love and mercy shown in Bethlehem that first Christmas. Jesus shows it as in His compassion He heals the sick or as He calms the storm for His frightened disciples. Here is proof positive that Jesus has come in grace and mercy toward us sinners; that He has compassion on us and wants to save us. And notice as well that the way He shows compassion, shows/ demonstrates beyond any shadow of a doubt that He is the very God Himself, doing the things that only God can do—healing the sick, or to put it differently, undoing the results of sin and Satan’s corrupting work. And in today’s account, we see that Jesus is Lord over creation; the creation must obey him because He is the Lord of nature, in other words: because He is the true God.
But today’s Gospel account is a wonderful corrective, lest we think that when we follow Jesus everything will be well with us and go our way; or what’s just as bad: since things are going terribly for me, I must not be/ or am a poor Christian. When he got into a boat, his disciples followed him. Suddenly a terrible storm came up on the sea, so that their boat was covered by the waves. Even as/ precisely because the disciples followed Jesus and got into the boat with Him, that’s when they experienced that terrible storm. We should expect the same. That’s why we prayed in our collect today: that we are set in the midst of so many and great dangers [and] by reason of the frailty of our fallen nature we cannot at any time stand upright and so we pray God to grant us such strength and protection [to] support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations. Even as we live out our lives as Christians, we will suffer various trials. But remember today’s Gospel—let us go to Jesus for help. He will help in His compassion; He will help in the right time and right way. And maybe our gracious Lord is using that trial to keep us close to Him by reminding us just how much we need Him and He is driving us to exercise our faith by going to Him in prayer.
Our text is today’s epistle. While today’s Gospel deals with the more extraordinary times in our lives—times of struggle and trial—our epistle deals with the more common, everyday life of the Christian. –How do we live out our faith where our Lord has placed us/ called us to live out our lives as His Christians? What does our life of Christian virtue look like? In a word, it is a life of love: Do not owe anyone anything except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments—do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet (and if there is any other commandment)—are summed up in this statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor, so love is the fulfillment of the law. The Christian life is very simple—it is a life of love.
This life of love flows from a spirit of humility. Notice what the Apostle says: Do not owe anyone anything except to love one another. We are to give to each person what they are due. Right before our text, in talking about the government, St. Paul writes: Render therefore to all their due; taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Although it may not seem like it at times, taxes are finite; we only must pay a certain amount and once we’ve paid it, that obligation is gone. But what does St. Paul say here? Do not owe anyone anything except to love one another. And the thing is, that debt is never paid off. We never come to the point where we don’t owe the other person—no matter who it may be be—love. Yes, we give our government taxes and customs, fear and honor but our main debt we owe the other person is the debt of love. So, yes, this is a very humbling thing—to be in debt, to have an unpayable debt that will never be paid off in our lifetime. Even if we were to make double payments, that debt would not be lowered one bit.
And on top of that, the love that we show our neighbor, the debt of love we owe them that is total, constant, never finished is also part of our worship of God. Remember what we heard a few weeks ago: Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice—holy and pleasing to God—which is your appropriate worship. As we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, that is, as we, in love of the Lord who saved us, put to death in us our own desires and service to self and use our bodies to serve the Lord by doing His will by living a life of faith and good works, we are doing that precisely when we love our neighbor, for we love and serve God as we love and serve our neighbor.
But as we take this seriously, we see how impossible it is to pay this debt of love. Do not owe anyone anything except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Who of us has fulfilled the law of God perfectly? None of us. We are all sinners, and each sin is a lack of love toward God and also a lack of love of neighbor. The one who loves another has fulfilled the law None of us can say that. We have all today just confessed our sin, confessed that we have not loved perfectly. Each time we take the holy law of God into our hands and examine heart and life in light of it, we will see just how full of self-love, sin, we are and just how much we do not love God and neighbor as we ought—perfectly. Earlier St. Paul confesses in general [Rm 3.20]: by the deeds of the Law no person will be justified in [God’s] sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin; and of himself personally [Rm. 7.19]: For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Certainly each one of us, if honest, will have to say the same thing—our obedience/ love is seriously lacking. Because we are sinners, dear Christian, the doing the commandments/ the loving/ paying that debt of love always lags far behind our wanting to do it. If we want to pay our debt of love, if we want to fill the law by loving our neighbor perfectly, then let us learn to know our faults, to recognize our sin, to humble ourselves and fear God lest we regard ourselves to be holy while in reality being loveless. Recognizing this, we are humbled and in that spirit of Christian humility flows the simplicity of Christian virtue, of striving all the harder to love.
The wonderful thing for us, dear Christian, is that as we strive to love and perfectly pay that debt of love—even though we are far from it and fail miserably every day—what does our desire/ striving to love perfectly show? It shows that we have willingly taken on that debt. As Christians, we take on that debt to love because we want to. Why? –Because we ourselves have experienced that great love of God for us in Jesus. We have experienced that great rescue from sin, death, devil and hell as Jesus fully and freely gives us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life—that forgiveness, peace and reconciliation He has brought about for us by His life, suffering and death; which is gloriously confirmed by His resurrection and ascension. We love Him for His saving work and in that love we want to and strive to do His will—to love Him and our neighbor; to love Him in our neighbor. Just as God’s love for us moved Him to take on human flesh and blood and to come into this world to suffer and die for us that we may have life and salvation—as St. Paul writes [2 Cor8.9]: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich—so also now, we willingly take on this debt of love; and this love moves us to deny ourselves and to regard God and our neighbor/ to love him.
Do you notice something here? It’s this—love of neighbor flows from faith in the Lord and His love for us, His saving work for us. There is an indissoluble union between saving faith and love of God and the neighbor. Or to put it differently, where there is no love of the neighbor, it is a fictitious faith and God’s commands are not kept; but where there is love of neighbor, God’s will is done without force or compulsion. So, yes, we pay our debt of love willingly and freely.
How and why can we do this, dear Christian? –Because we have the Holy Spirit in us. He is leading us; He is motivating us. For the commandments—do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet (and if there is any other commandment)—are summed up in this statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When we are led by the Holy Spirit and motivated by His love our neighbor’s marriage, life and goods are as precious in our eyes as in his own. We ponder the commandment to love and led by the Holy Spirit and strengthened by Him, we ask ourselves: What do I want my neighbor to do for me? How would I want him to treat me? and then we act in that way toward our neighbor. That’s loving your neighbor as yourself. We love the other person as our second self. We see them as a fellow human being, a fellow sinner, but one who, too, has been redeemed by Christ; as one loved by Him. Seeing the other person as our second self also means that we find our true self in loving the neighbor. Love does no harm to a neighbor, so love is the fulfillment of the law. If we are filled with love in accord with God’s will, we will do nothing to cause harm to our neighbor, for loving means placing the other before self.
Love, that debt of love that we willingly assume/ take on flows from faith and in connected with it. There you see that loving the neighbor and doing good works has nothing to do with earning heaven, salvation, the forgiveness of sins. Jesus has already done all that for us. Living a life of good works is, for the Christian, not some legalistic obligation but something we willingly do. And why? Because we have the Holy Spirit in us; we have Jesus in us. And what is Epiphany all about? It’s about Jesus revealing Himself—and by and through the debt of love we gladly take on to pay, He is showing/ revealing that He is in us; and that we are His dear Christians. He claimed us in the waters of Holy Baptism. He comes to us physically in His body and blood in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar uniting with us, entering us and by us in spirit worked faith willingly and freely taking on the debt of love, Jesus is showing us and others He is in us. We strive to do the holy Ten Commandments not because of the “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not” but because Jesus is in us. We gladly and freely take on the debt of love because God loved us first. INJ Amen.