There’s a reason why tonight’s Old Testament Reading didn’t have all Ten Commandments. We only heard the Second Table, those Commandments that deal with our earthly relationships, because the Second Table is where we get into the most trouble. It’s where we put all of our stock, thinking that if we can convince people we’re righteous in Commandments 4-10, then we must be just as good with Commandments 1-3. It’s why the Pharisees in the Gospel were more concerned with hand washing and tradition than their interactions with God. The reality is we’re all in the same boat as the Pharisees. It’s why we sang “Let not self your thoughts control.” We think that as long as we maintain an outward righteousness, a façade, all is well.
But as pretty as we think our façade may be, the cracks are more apparent than we think. We’ve all had to apologize for a misspoken word. Or, more embarrassingly, we’ve all had to apologize when we actually said what we meant instead of the trite words we meant to use. We’ve all had to apologize for taking something that wasn’t ours, be it material or otherwise—things like time, attention, admiration, and the like. We’ve all had to apologize for giving voice to the dirty thoughts that have rolled around our minds. We’ve all been caught in lies, petty and otherwise. “What comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” What has come out of us is not good or pretty. We have each revealed in thoughts, words, and actions what our inner state is. We can have pharisaic beauty, the luster of near-perfection, but our inner status is far different.
“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” So says Our Lord. And we have to admit, He has it right. We have been outwardly righteous and inwardly evil. We make it look like we’re keeping the Commandments to love and serve our neighbor, but the attitude of the heart is directed against them, against God, and in favor of ourselves.
So we all need to turn to the Lord and one another in repentance. We have not guarded our lives and conduct. We have sinned against God and against one another. We have shown our deep defilement by what has come out of us in words and actions, and we cannot free ourselves from this.
Thanks be to God, Christ has done what is right in our place. The actions that He performed, the Words He spoke, were all perfect, from a pure and holy heart. He loved God perfectly. He loved His neighbor as Himself. He honored father and mother perfectly. And even though He did all perfectly, He was still put to death as the greatest sinner with the most impure heart that ever lived. And in His death, He bore your iniquities. He stood before the Father covered in sins you committed. He suffered and died for you. In Christ, all your sins are forgiven.
He has given you that forgiveness because of the Baptism you received. There He made all His righteousness yours. That means there He gave you a new heart. Now it is no longer the source of defilement, but the seat of faith, where Christ is imprinted upon you. And the faith that resides there because of the gracious action of God conforms itself to the will of God. That faith trusts His Word. That faith does what is good for neighbor. That faith wells up in words that praise and honor God, that thank Him for His gifts given to you so freely.
To sustain that faith, He puts Food in your mouth that is more than mere satisfaction for hunger. He puts a Food into your mouth that sanctifies you, that continues to cleanse you from sin and strengthen your faith. As Christ gives you His Body to eat and His Blood to drink, He continues to carry out the good work that He began in you when faith was first created. By Him, by His Holy Spirit you are enabled to do those things that are pleasing to God and beneficial to your neighbor. Because of Him, your actions towards others aren’t just a self-serving façade, but are true good works, even if you don’t realize that you’re doing them. Because you are in Christ and because He is in you, you are forgiven, strengthened, and kept through all your days.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.