Monday, September 12, 2011
Twelfth Sunday after Trinity 9/11/11 2 Corinthians 3:4-11 Bror Erickson  Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,  who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end,  will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?  For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.  Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.  For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. 2 Cor. 3:4-11 (ESV) “For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what one had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.” “Because of the glory that surpasses it.” The ministry of condemnation and the ministry of righteousness. The ministry of condemnation, the ministry of the law, the old covenant, a ministry of death. That is where the law leads, death. The ministry carved in letters on stone. Paul is talking about the Ten Commandments. It’s so strange for us. Today there is this bit circling about in different theological networks about the “New Perspective on Paul.” It is nothing but a direct attack on Justification by faith alone, the article upon which the church stands or falls. It is a direct attack on the gospel. It says that Paul was only talking about the ceremonial law when he attacks the law as the way to life and salvation, that really all Paul was getting at is that you didn’t have to get circumcised anymore and you could continue to eat lobster, but you still have to live by the law if you want to be saved. That is a ministry of death. No one lives by the law. No one lives according to the law. You die by the law. That is what the law does. It kills. The letter kills. But Paul isn’t attacking Jewish ceremonial law, or even civil case law, but the law, the law carved in stone. I find it amazing. There is but one section of scripture written in stone. Job cried that he wanted the gospel written in stone, that we would see our savior in the flesh, but that was recorded on paper. The Ten Commandments was the only section of scripture written on stone, the only part which God himself wrote with his own hands. He seems to find them kind of important. They were of course copied on to paper soon thereafter. But it remains, this God wrote on stone, the ministry of death carved in letters on stone, hard, cold, indifferent stone. That is the law. Paul is not attacking just the ceremonial law, but the very law itself. He is saying there is no life in it, only death. There is still death in it. It is hard for us, it is hard for me to completely wrap my mind around all of it. On the one hand you can’t live by it. On the other hand you can’t ignore it either. You can’t just deliberately break them, the Ten Commandments. There are people who do. Experience says it normally does not go well with them. The law still kills. Paul doesn’t say ignore it, he says there is no life in it. Do not worship the law. That is what so many want to do. They want to worship the law. It is a self love. This is the perversion of sin. Sin, our old Adam, tries to worship the law. But it most often forgets the very First Commandment in favor of others. Most often his worship of the law is an attempt to preserve his own god complex. When we do wrong, we try to make restitution. We try to atone for our sin with good works, self described. That is the law, with it we try to retain our own personal integrity, to justify ourselves. And this is what Paul will not have. This is the ministry of death that looks to the law for life. And in it there was once glory, but the glory has been surpassed by the ministry of righteousness, the ministry of a new covenant, a new testament written not in stone but in the blood of God, the blood of Jesus Christ, who with his blood shed on the cross shares his righteousness with us, forgiving our sins. Now as long as we try to find life in the law, we sin against his blood. Now whenever we try to atone ourselves for our own wrong doing, we add insult to injury and blaspheme against his blood. It is a new ministry, the glory of which surpasses that of the old glory. And it reshapes our relationship to the law completely. It reshapes it in such a way that we no longer look to it for life, but neither do we ignore it. We live by Christ and him alone. We live in forgiveness. We live because he lived for us. He alone managed the law on our behalf. And yet the law still killed him, but his innocence had him raised from the dead. He rose, to give us life. Now we know that the law can kill us too, but when we die in him we rise to new life. Now we live in hopeful expectation, and not an empty hope, but a hope founded in fact, founded in history. Jesus Christ has broken the bonds of the law and death, and he did so for us. For this reason we no longer fear the law or worship it. But listening to it best we can we share the love of Christ with our neighbors. We love because he first loved us. That is the Christian life. We are made righteous, so we live righteously and love our neighbors. Righteousness gives birth to love, and the Ten Commandments embody love, true love. And it is the only way we can live, not by the letter but by the Spirit. For we know that He rose on the third day to give us life. He atoned for our sins so that we don’t have to, in fact in such a way that makes it impossible for us to atone for our own sins without insulting the gift of life he has given us. So we no longer follow the law for self love, in such a way as if our life depended on it. But only out of love for him who first loved us with his life, life he laid down for us that we might be forgiven. Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.