It is interesting how from time to time things seem to focus your attention on a particular topic. You see, this very week, Pastor Craig had forgotten that he was going to be away on retreat this weekend when he made the schedule for teaching Cross Points. So he asked me if I would be able to fill in and gave me a list of potential topics to cover from the video series he is using.
The two main topics were Baptism or the Left and Right hand of God. My first thought was, “Hey, we talk about Baptism all the time. Let’s do something different this time. Let’s talk about the Left and Right hand of God. That’s something we don’t talk about very often” I thought it might be fun, so that is what I chose.
To be honest, we do talk about the Left and Right hand of God; they are Law and Grace. However, it is that terminology, “the Left and Right Hand of God” that we don’t use very often. I actually wondered in that moment how many people would know what I was talking about if I asked them what the Left and Right hands of God were.
So I decided to perform a little experiment, a test if you will… and, in fact, I decided I would perform this little test on my wife. The dangers of using my wife as a guinea pig were not lost on me, but I was counting on the God’s Grace to save me if Meg came down on me with the hammer and laid down the law. No pun intended… well, maybe a little pun. HAHA
My thought was that she went to Catholic school, she considered becoming a nun at one point in her life, she was very active in church for most of her life, and had been along with me on this journey through seminary for three years now. She has heard me talk about theology through all of this.
Now, a lot of the time, when I shift in to theology speech I can see in her eyes just how much she loves me. I see how much she loves me because her eyes have completely glazed over and I know she is not hearing a single word I am saying, but still instead of cutting me off, she lovingly feigns interest in whatever I am saying. I have to admit that occasionally will through in some random nonsense statement just to see if she catches it, such as talking about Jesus’ pet duck-billed-platypus named Darwin…. The proof of God’s grace is that she put’s up with me… that’s how I know she loves me, but anyway…
So I asked her, “If I say the Left and Right hand of God, what am I referring to.” Without missing a beat, she said, “I’m pretty sure God is ambidextrous.”
She had no idea what I was talking about; however, her answer, although she didn’t realize it, was almost gifted in its insight. God is ambidextrous; of course God is ambidextrous! If God’s left hand is the law, God’s right hand is Grace, and God is ambidextrous, then God equally uses both hands, both law and grace equally in our lives. Now, she was trying to be cute, but without knowing it she had said something rather profound.
It is law and grace both, God’s left hand and right hand that we see in our Gospel text this morning; although when you read it, admittedly, it feels rather heavy on the Law. For example:
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has lost its taste, how can it be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”
And then, of course, the coup de grâce…
“…whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven… For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will NEVER enter the kingdom of heaven.”
This Gospel reading just feels very heavy handed on the Law and the points of grace, that are in there, are lost in the shadows. But if God is ambidextrous, as my charming wife suggested, there must be more to this; there must be at least equal measure of grace somewhere in here.
Everyone has heard the saying, “if its too good to be true, it probably isn’t.” Likewise, if it is too bad to be true it probably isn’t either; there is a light in that darkness somewhere.
As one Biblical scholar from Luther Seminary said, “when you read or hear words such as ‘you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,’ you should probably pay attention and see just what’s going on here.”
“…whoever, breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven…” Least in the kingdom of heaven… in the kingdom of heaven… wait… they are “in” the kingdom of heaven. Not out, but in.
You know, there is another passage in Matthew that uses that same phrase, “least in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 11:11…
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
No one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. Whoever breaks the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same is considered least in the kingdom of Heaven. Yet, the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. What do we make of that?
It’s tricky… tricky, tricky, tricky, as the Beastie Boys said from my hay-day back in high school… Tricky, especially when you consider the passage that says, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisee, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Well, the reality is that it is not that complicated; it’s not that tricky. The Pharisees and scribes would have prided themselves on being considered righteous in the eyes of the Law.
John the Baptist, as great as he was, had not experienced the powerful grace of Christ’s actions on the cross. The righteousness of John was still based upon the Law.
However, our righteousness, in light of the cross, is very different. We have no righteousness of our own. Neither did they. That’s why your righteousness would have to be greater than the scribes and the Pharisees. Like us, they had no righteousness of their own.
You see, it is not our righteousness that grants us entry into the kingdom of heaven. It is Christ’s righteousness that raises us from our slumber to open our eyes and behold the kingdom of heaven.
So, if it is not our righteousness before the Law that grants us entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, what purpose could the Law possibly serve in our lives?
John Calvin said, “To be Christians under the law of grace does not mean to wander unbridled outside the law, but to be engrafted in Christ by whose grace we are free from the curse of the law, and by whose Spirit we have the law engraved upon our hearts.”
Engraved upon our hearts, because it is from our hearts that true relationships are forged. God is a relational God. God wants nothing more than to be in relationship with us and for us to be in proper relationship with each other. This is what the Law does. The Law is manual for relationships. The Law is the first self-help book, if you will.
Valentine’s day is coming up, and I wonder just how many millions of books have been purchased over the years by people looking to find some way to improve their relationships: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, the list could go on and on for days.
Sixteen years ago on the week before Valentines’s Day, I was tricked into going on my first date with Meegan. Over the last sixteen years since then, there have been times when I wished that my wife’s heart came with an instruction manual. As odd as it may sound, this is the purpose of he law. Not just romantic relationships, but all relationships.
Really, when it comes to relationships though, even 10 rules are too hard for us to follow. When it comes to relationship, we human beings are really pretty lousy at it. So lousy at it that Christ decided to make it even easier on us… he narrowed it down to 2.
1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and all your strength…
2. Love your neighbor as yourself… A little clue… everyone is your neighbor… love them all the same way you would love yourself regardless of who… or what… they are; regardless of race, sex, creed, nationality, etc… Love them all. Period… No what if they are a Patriots fan… no what about Falcons fans… or Heaven forbid, they are Cowboys fans. Love them all. Period…
So back to God’s loving hands… and yes… both hands… Law and Grace are really all about love…
The Law, God’s left hand, doesn’t get us into Heaven. No human being is capable of getting into the kingdom of Heaven based on their own righteousness in the Law. No, it’s Grace, God’s right, that opens the door to the Kingdom of Heaven for us and ushers us in.
God’s left hand, the Law, it points out the ways in which we should live together in relationship, and both of these are equally important to God. God not only grants us salvation through Christ, but wants us all to live together in relationship; loving each and every person with the same concern and compassion we have for ourselves. God’s left hand and right hand both working together in our each of our lives every day.
Meegan was right, God really is ambidextrous…
And for that I say thanks be to God and…