Sermon Notes – July 14, 2019 – Leviticus 19:18

The Gold Standard of Love

   135 years ago in the first of his lectures on the Law and Gospel, C. F. W. Walther (first President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and at the same time President of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis) told his students: “Try and realize this important distinction. All religions contain portions of the Law…But of the Gospel not a particle is found anywhere except in the Christian religion.”[1]

   The first part of Walther’s observation is easily proven and should be celebrated. For our purposes this morning we don’t have to look beyond our text, an Old Testament expression of what is almost universally acknowledged as the Golden Rule. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It has been restated in various ways by various teachers in various traditions, but they all reflect the Law that God has written into the human heart. (Rom 2:15) Confucius, in his Analects, stated it negatively, “Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” Early Hindu Sanskrit texts explained dharma (righteous living) with the saying, “Treat others as you treat yourself.” The Islamic Quran proposes, “Pay, oh children of Adam, as you would love to be paid, and be just as you would love to have justice.”

   Our Teacher, Jesus Christ, restates the Golden Rule in His Sermon on the Mount, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 7:12) This is a powerful assertion, echoed throughout religions and philosophies, providing common ground for discussing morality and ethics. How wonderful a world this would be if humanity followed this simple commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It is what God wants and it would produce, for everyone, the best environment in this fallen world. This is a portion of God’s Law universally acknowledged to be the Golden Rule and yet it is almost universally ignored, even in the universal Church.

   We heard in our Old Testament Reading, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Lev 19:18) We heard the lawyer (an expert on the Law of Moses) in our Gospel correctly answer Jesus’ question, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” We heard Jesus say, “Do this, and you will live [eternally].” (Luke 10:25-28) To our shame we (human beings in general and Christians specifically) don’t do it!

   We prayed to Jesus, “Teach us to love You above all things and to love our neighbors as ourselves.” (Collect of the Day) Yet we also confessed to God, “We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” (Confession of Sins) We fail the test of the Golden Rule. What do we do now to inherit eternal life? That brings us to the second point made by Walther, the unique positioning of the Christian faith—the Gospel!

   We prayed, “Lord Jesus Christ, in Your deep compassion You rescue us from whatever may hurt us.” We heard in the Epistle, “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:13-14) We have failed God in not loving Him and loving our neighbors, but He has not failed to love us! The Gold Standard of love is found in Him. (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10-11, 18-21; Hymn of the Day: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.) The Gospel does not free us from the Golden Rule, but it does free us from the curse of the Law and should be our true source of obeying it. [Galatians 5:13-14]

[1] The Proper Distinction Bewteen Law and Gospel, translated by W. H.T. Dau, Concordia Publishing House, 1928.

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