"Baltimore Ceasefire and Law & Gospel" by Pastor A.J. Houseman
In my college town there was a couple, Jane and Basil, that owned a bunch of rental houses and apartments. Lots of college towns work like that right? Like there are basically two people that own most of the available places you can live. We had them as landlords at one point in time. When we went to sign a lease, it was pretty standard: you pay us rent each month and you get to live here, don’t damage anything, but let us know if there are any repairs… you know, basic rental agreement stuff. But attached to this lease was 138 of what became known as “Basil’s rules”.
Some of them were pretty close to being the same thing. But they were all pretty random. Rules like, “you cannot walk out of the apartment barefoot then walk back into the apartment barefoot.” or “you cannot bike with tires on it.” or “you cannot exit the apartment through a window.” NO stretch of the imagination how they probably came up with that one. They got weirder the further down the list.
It was clear that every time something happened, Basil added it to the list of something you can’t do in their rentals anymore. Much of our laws come into being this way too.
For instance, in Lexington, Kentucky, it is illegal to walk across a bridge with an ice cream cone in your back pocket. … … I have several questions. First, who thinks that your back pocket is a logical storage place for an ice cream cone? Why a bridge?
Now, I’m sure for all of Basil’s rules and all these weird laws, they made perfect sense at the time. But far removed, they are a little weird.
In the Bible there are a lot of laws that seem weird being this far removed from them. Like if you have ever spent time reading the book of Leviticus, for instance. There are some pretty weird ones in there and you’d probably be like, “I wonder how they came up with that!” See the Israelites people wandered around in the desert for 40 years… I can only imagine the rules that Basil would have made in that kind of scenario. I mean, God made some weird ones and it was basically Moses’s job to go up and down the mountain and tell everyone about what are God’s newest rules for them. They wander for most of Exodus through Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They don’t reach the promise land until the book of Joshua and after Moses’ death.
40 years in the desert…. Yeah I imagine things got weird.
But of the weird laws that we get from this time, there are just a few that stick out that we actually talk about quite frequently. You may know them as the 10 commandments or the Decalogue, if you want to feel fancy.
When you hear the phrase “Law and Gospel”, the law part is the Decalogue. God’s law. We say that, “the law convicts us and the gospel sets us free.” The gospel being the good news in the promise of Jesus Christ.
Now in a catechumenate class (or confirmation class) you may learn that we profess 2 uses of the law. The first is for civil use for an orderly society. The second use of the law is to drive us to Christ. To recognize that we cannot do it all ourselves and that we need the Gospel to set us free.
The first use is really what God was getting at as the Israelites are wandering through the desert. There are two parts to the decalogue, the first is about our relationship with God: only this God, no false images, or take God’s name in vain, and keep God’s day holy. And then the rules for our relationship with one another, this is the other six. Note: what God asks in our relationship with God is very simple, it's our relationship with each other that requires some more rules, explanations, and way more effort on our part. Like honor your father and mother? Yeah that can be a challenge sometimes. The not being jealous or lying about people.
See the Israelites just need some guidance of how to live with one another. Some “what not to dos”. Like in Minnesota, it’s illegal to walk across the state border into Wisconsin with a duck or chicken on your head.
Walking into Iowa with a duck or chicken on your head, fine. Walking into North Dakota, fine. Walking into Wisconsin, not fine.
Today as we talk about reconciliation with our community, the laws we have in place are very important in how we conduct ourselves in our relationship with one another. Baltimore Ceasefire, the organization we are partnering with for Lent, is an organization that campaigns and advocates for our 5th commandment, Thou shall not kill.
In Martin Luther’s large catechism, he says this in his explanation of the 5th commandment: “But here now we go forth from our house among our neighbors to learn how we should live with one another, every one himself toward his neighbor.” To learn how we should live with one another.
See the thing that Luther gets at quite frequently is that we are to interpret the law in light of the Gospel. It’s not just law… it is always law and gospel. That God’s gift of Jesus Christ gives us a new life in Christ and a new way of being. It’s not just to NOT do something, but to DO something good.
You guys have all heard of the golden rule that Jesus said, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” right? This is a Jesus twist of an older rule from Leviticus, “do not do unto others what you do not want them to do to you.”
Do you hear the difference that Jesus adds?
Luther says it's not just that you shouldn't kill, but rather he says, “Secondly, under this commandment not only he is guilty who does evil to his neighbor, but he also who can do him good, prevent, resist evil, defend and save him, so that no bodily harm or hurt happen to him, and yet does not do it. If, therefore, you send away one that is naked when you could clothe him, you have caused him to freeze to death; if you see one suffer hunger and do not give him food, you have caused him to starve.”
Jesus says don’t just don’t hurt people, but do good things for them. This is our mission in the world, that we are called into God’s reconciling works not just to not be a jerk, but to do good. To promote God’s love and grace, to defend our neighbors, to clothe the sick, to enhance the lives of our neighbors.
Baltimore Ceasefire does way more than just promote the “what not to do”. Baltimore Ceasefire does this enhancing mission of Christ’s reconciling love. Through their racial justice concert series, through getting a food truck to feed the hungry, hosting women’s empowerment events, and partnering with other organizations to promote this life enhancing work to our neighbor.
The law convicts us and the gospel sets us free.
The good news of Jesus Christ sets us free to be a good neighbor. To love more and enhance the lives of our neighbors in our community. For us here at Salem (Redemption) that is our local neighborhood of Riverside and Federal Hill (Locust Point) and our wider community in Baltimore.
Our lenten partnership with Baltimore Ceasefire is more than just a “do-gooder donation” event, it's a missional calling to promote God’s reconciling works of love. It’s the Golden rule thing. It’s the law in light of the gospel.
I’ll leave you with another quote from Martin Luther’s explanation of the 5th commandment, “Therefore it is God’s ultimate purpose that we suffer harm to befall no man, but show him all good and love; and, as we have said, it is specially directed toward those who are our enemies. For to do good to our friends is but an ordinary heathen virtue, as Christ says. This we ought to practice and inspire, and we will have our hands full doing good works.” Amen.
Learn more about Baltimore Ceasefire Here: https://baltimoreceasefire.com/
Donate to our fundraise for Baltimore Ceasefire on Redemption's Giving Page to general donation and in the notes write Baltimore Ceasefire.
Or through Salem's giving page, select Baltimore Ceasefire in the drop down menu.