Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Have you ever tried to hold a rubber band in tension? It’s not as easy as you might think. Especially not if you try to do it for any length of time. You have to keep focused on both sides, or else it will slip…and you’ve lost it. There are parts of our faith that are a lot like this—tensions that we need to hold. We can’t overemphasize one side to the point where we forget about the other, or else it will slip…and you’ve lost it. This morning I want to discuss one of these tensions in our faith—a tension within the character of God. God is a God of love AND justice. We don’t get to pick and choose between these attributes. It’s not one or the other. It’s a both/and situation. God is a God of love AND justice. This is the tension we live in as the people of God and we must try to faithfully hold it, kind of like a rubber band. I’d like to consider this truth this morning—God is a God of love AND justice. And as we do so, my hope, prayer, and goal is that you would be encouraged to live faithfully in this tension.
2. But the thing with tensions is, sometimes we are tempted to overemphasize—Sometimes we are tempted to overemphasize the love of God to the point where we forget about his justice. But I’ll be honest, the lectionary committee didn’t do us any favors with our Old Testament reading today. It almost encourages us to overemphasize God’s love and forget about his justice. But if we’re being honest, we love texts like this, don’t we? I know, this was a text originally spoken by Moses to the people of Israel, not to us directly… But you can see how this text applies to us too. You and I are holy people. We have been set apart by God—chosen by him in our baptism. Peter says almost exactly the same thing in 1 Peter 2:9: You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession. We love texts like this because they reminds us of God’s great love for us. They make us comfortable, accepted, non-judgmental. God is a God of love. There’s no risk of offending someone with that. Texts like this help us feel justified in saying to our friends and family members, “God loves you just the way you are. You don’t need to change anything about yourself to come to him. You’re complete, you’re whole, you’re precious, you’re worthy, you’re enough just the way you are.” …When we speak and act in this way, we leave no room for Jesus. We might be filled with love alright. But it’s not the love of God we’re filled with… we’ve forgotten all about God’s justice. In our earnest desire to be loving, to make ourselves more comfortable, to not offend others, we’ve made God in our own image. We’ve violated the first, most fundamental commandment: You shall have no other gods. See, God’s love is never divorced from his justice. And his justice is never divorced from his love. We see this quite clearly if we take a closer look at our Old Testament reading and its context. If you have a Bible or if you look in a Bible App on your phone at Deuteronomy 7:9, you’ll notice something peculiar about the way the verse end, and consequently, the way our reading ends. It doesn’t end with a period—it ends with a comma. In other words, the thought goes on. Let me read Deuteronomy 7 verses 9 & 10 together, so we can get the fuller context: Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. This fuller text makes it quite clear that God’s love and his justice are always to be held together in tension.
3. Now, I said that sometimes we are tempted to overemphasize the love of God to the point where we forget about his justice. But the opposite is true too. Other times we are tempted to overemphasize the justice of God to the point where we forget about his love. I’ve been guilty of this more times than I’d like to admit. I can remember times where I have been so frustrated and angry at a person who hurt someone I care about. I wanted nothing more than to tell them off in the name of the Lord. Have you ever felt that way? See, telling people off in the name of the Lord is great. We love to do it because it allows us to mask our own anger as righteous zeal. Maybe you’ve been there before—maybe recently. Maybe, for example, you’re so angered by the direction that our nation is heading that you want nothing more than to tell off our Divorce-loving, Christian-hating, homosexual-harboring, baby-killing nation in the name of the Lord. You want to lay into them with the Word of the Lord: “God repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. So, you better get your act together, you unbelieving world because God is a God of justice, and he will not let your blatant disregard for his ways stand forever.” …But, again, in our earnest desire to uphold God’s justice, We’ve forgotten about his love. We’ve made God in our own image. We’ve violated that first, most fundamental commandment: You shall have no other gods. See, God’s justice and his love are always held together in tension. And, the thing is, when you hold in tension the love AND the justice of God, you find yourself at the very heart of God.
4. Now, the reason why we find ourselves at the very heart of God when we hold these two in tension is because Jesus Christ is the tension between God’s love and his justice. See, God knows that you and I are prone to caving in. He knows that we cannot faithfully live in the tension of his love and justice on our own. We’re prone to resolving this tension and making God in our own image. But that’s exactly why Jesus Christ came to this earth. He came to demonstrate the love of God, just as he said, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). But Jesus also came to demonstrate the justice of God, as he hung on the cross and cried out, I thirst (John 19:28), and he proceeded to drink the cup of God’s justice and wrath on your behalf. This is why we find ourselves at the heart of God when we hold in tension his love AND his justice—because when we hold them in tension, we find ourselves at the foot of the cross. We find ourselves and the feet of our Savior who loves you so much that he would go to the cross to suffer the full justice and wrath of God so that his unending love might be extended to you and so that you might be strengthened to live in the tension of his love and justice as a redeemed, renewed, and beloved child of God. And his promise is that his Spirit will be with you as you strive to live in this tension.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.