Stop! In the Name of Love
In the late 1980s in a hall of my Detroit church, I was talking with 3 women. We must have been talking about Motown music or the oldies. As if on cue, the 3 broke out in the Supremes "Stop! In the Name of Love" complete with the now iconic hand gesture. If you're my age or older, you'll remember it. If younger, look it up on YouTube. I want this vivid 1965 image to rivet the proper understanding of our text in your mind.
Stop hearing this passage as the Third Use of the Law. The Third Use of the Law is a legitimate use of God's Law. It has a place in the Christian's life. The Third Use is God's Law as a set of "how to" instructions. Think of struggling to put something together. For a couple of hours you try and try only to fail. Then someone gives you the instructions. C. S. Lewis likened the Third Use to stepping on to firm ground after being bogged down in muddy fields (Psalms, 62).
What a relief to find how something goes together! What a relief to get to firm ground after slogging through mud! The Law can inform you how the world really works. The Law can give certainty in the quagmire of doubts and conflicting opinions that surround you. So you're tempted to hear our text as how to be able to be Jesus' disciple. First hate your family; then pick up your cross and follow Jesus. But before doing that sit down and calculate whether you have what it takes to complete the Christian life. And since Christian discipleship is spiritual warfare, sit down and estimate casualties. Do you have what it takes to win on the battlefield?
If you hear this as Third Use of the Law, you'll leave humming "Onward Christian Soldier" eager to read Bonheoffer's Cost of Discipleship. You'll leave here determined to put all other relationships second to your one with Jesus. You'll leave here resolved to build the tallest Christian life possible. You'll leave here eager to go to war against Sin, Death, and the Devil, and you'll leave here very much in danger.
For popular Christianity the Third Use is the prime way this text is heard. It's the prime reason they go to church. Church is pep rally to them. Church is getting fired up to get serious about the Christian life. Church is for finding out how to build the Christian life and how to engage in spiritual warfare, so this text is right in their wheelhouse. Stop! In the name of love, not as the song says "before you break my heart" but before you damage yours. Stop and like the song says and "think it over; think it over."
Hear this text as the Second Use of the Law. What's the Second Use? The Law showing you your sins by showing you what you must do, haven't done, and can't do. The Second Use of the Law is a mirror. When the child comes to the table with a dirty face, the mom asks, "Did you wash up?" The child, of course, says he did. She will say, "Are you sure?" And he will, of course, be very sure. Mom will then say, "Go look in the mirror." Looking in the mirror, the child will see that his dirty face needs washing. Two important things. One, for Lutherans this Second Use is the main use of the Law, and two, the mirror doesn't reach out and wash the child's face off. The Second Use is not the answer to the Law. It shows sins; it doesn't remove them.
Stop and hear this text as the Second Use of the Law. But the command to hate father, mother, sister, brother, wife, kids, for Jesus' sake reveals no dirty face to me. My dirt shows when it come to hating me. I hate everyone except myself. In fact, anyone I ever do hate is because of myself. I have this same problem with cross carrying. I always want someone else's cross rather than my own. That's because only my cross will crucify me. Only the cross the Lord has given me, not a self-chosen one or anyone else's will kill my old adam that must die if I'm to be saved.
My dirt shows up in tower building and on the battlefield too. I can't tell you how many times I've resolved to be different, promised to God that I wouldn't do that again, set out to build a Christian life that would reach all the way to heaven. But all I managed to build is halfway Christianity. And "all halfway Christianity becomes a [Tower of] Babel at last" (Bengel, I, 470). A monument to failure. How many unfinished towers I've left in my wake? How many things was I "going to do" for Jesus?
I've entered the field of spiritual warfare with no less zeal than I set out to build the Christian life. But I'm no king, and I have no army behind me to do battle with the prince of darkness, the god of this world. I entered this eternally serious war with the superciliousness that the British troops first entered World War I with. Some began a charge on German trenches kicking a soccer ball out front going into battle as if they were playing a game (The Great War and Modern Memory, 27). They even called out what they did when the theater opened early to let patrons find the best seats. "Early doors," they shouted to each other. So glad they were to be given an early chance to knock down the doors of evil (Chesterton, Collected Works, Vol. XX, 577).
I faired no better on the plains of spiritual warfare than the Brits did on the fields of Flanders. The Second Use of the Law shows me that I cannot be Jesus' disciple. I have not the strength to build a Christian life or the forces necessary to overcome Sin, Death, or the Devil. You can show me "how to" day and night and that will give me no strength to do so.
Stop! In the name of love; your hearts been broken enough. The only way for you to be Jesus' disciple is to give up. In our text's last verse, Jesus does not call us to give up possessions. Jesus doesn't use the noun for possessions but a verb meaning "that which belongs to yourself." Give up all that is you. Our closing hymn tells us what that is: "I am all unrighteousness," we sing. "False and full of sin I am," we sing. Give up all that in the name of love.
Not your love for God, but God's love for you. Our love for God is never full enough, fervent enough, or firm enough. Stop trying to build the Christian life and win the spiritual war with what you have. Stop in the name of God's love for you. That's Paul argument in Romans 8. "We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." That's Paul's argument in 2 Corinthians 5, "The love of God constrains us, compels us, controls us."
In the depths of eternity God sat down and counted the cost of saving damned humanity, the cost of forgiving us. God sat down and calculated what it would cost to save the unsaveable, to redeem the irredeemable. God sat down and calculated what it would cost in the words of Romans 5 to save the ungodly, to save His enemies.
The British generals of World War I are widely criticized for their conduct of the war. They sent wave after wave of soldiers into the maelstrom of machine gun fire they had never encountered before. 1.6 million died. These generals seemed unable or unwilling to count the cost. God could and did. It would cost Him sending His Son into flesh and blood permanently. God the Son who knows infinity would need to take up residence permanently in finite flesh and blood if any flesh and blood were ever to be redeemed, restored, saved.
But it cost more than just God the Son becoming incarnate forever through a Virgin's womb. It cost His obedience. Tempted in everyway you are, just as intensely, just as frequently, Jesus never sinned. He lived a perfect life in what He thought, said, and did. But there was still more to pay if God the Father was to rescue lost humanity. God's rightful wrath against all sins, big and small, had to be satisfied. What could quench the fires of God's wrath? Nothing less than the blood of God, the sweat of God, the tears of God. Stop setting your tired old excuses against God's wrath for your sins. Pick up the blood, sweat, and tears of God. Stop making that well worn promise to do better in an attempt to appease God's wrath. Pick up instead God's promise to forgive in Jesus' name.
Stop! In the name of love; give up all the things that belong to you: your ideas, opinions, plans, promises, sins, guilts, shames, fears, worries. You can never build the tower of the Christian life, but God in Christ built one for you. Proverbs 18:10 promises, "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous run into it and are safe." When you run into your Baptism, you're running into the name of the Lord which is a strong tower. When you run into Absolution where your sins are forever sent away from you in Jesus' name, you're running up the stairs of that strong tower. When you run to Holy Communion, you run into a strong tower made of Jesus' Body and Blood. No big bad wolf can blow this tower down.
Stop! In the name of God's love for you for Jesus' sake. Stop trying to overcome Sin, Death, and Devil with what you have. We can have no peace with these based on our efforts or promises. I take that back. They will give you peace if you stop fighting them, give in to them, accept them, defend them. That's no answer, but neither is continuing the warfare with the weapons of your flesh and blood. No, you need Jesus' flesh and blood.
Jesus' flesh makes the helmet of Salvation which no ugly accusation of the Devil can crush; Jesus' blood covers the shield of faith enabling it to quench the Devil's flaming darts of guilt. Jesus' flesh and blood won the right for you to use the Sword of God's Word. Death ceases to roar when the Word proclaims you'll live forever; Sin ceases to accuse when the Word says you're forgiven, and the Devil ceases to stand there when the Word says, "Get thee behind Me."
Next time you are tempted to take your salvation into your own hands, tempted to build the Christian life, or enter spiritual warfare using your resources, stop in the name of love. Think it over. Hasn't your Lord been good to you? Run then to His tower; return then to His victorious camp. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20130908); Luke 14: 25-33