Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sinner, Come Up Higher


Sermon on Luke 14:1-14

For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI

September 1, 2013 (Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

The Pharisee didn’t invite Jesus to dinner to honor Him, they invited Him in order to watch Him and find some sort of fault in Him, to use as an excuse to dishonor Him. They wanted to catch Him breaking one of their many little rules and regulations and therefore prove that He wasn’t who He said He was. They only gave Him a high place at the table, in other words, so that they could watch Him closely and find an excuse to send Him down lower. Of course, Jesus knows this. You don’t have to be the all-knowing God (which He is, of course) to be savvy to the political realities here. Anyone with an awareness of who his friends and enemies are would have known that He was walking into a dangerous situation.

And so Jesus decides to face the matter head-on. Instead of waiting for the Pharisees to criticize them, He takes the battle to them. He goes right ahead, asks them whether they thought it was right to heal on the Sabbath or not, heals a man, and criticizes their foolish law against healing on the Sabbath. He chooses the battleground, namely the question of healing. He does this for a good reason. It wasn’t just any overly-detailed little regulation in which they might find fault with him; it was a clear-cut case of the Fifth Commandment itself over against their legalistic interpretation of the Third Commandment. Remember that, like all of the Commandments, the Fifth Commandment has two sides. “You shall not murder. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” In other words, it’s not just killing that this commandment is about. It’s also about helping our neighbor. It’s also about the vocations of doctors and nurses. It’s also about the vocation of anybody who sees someone in immediate physical danger. Murder is not just a matter of actively killing someone. Murder is also the failure to help someone who has a bodily need. Jesus points this out by asking them whether they would help their own son or donkey who had fallen into a well on the Sabbath. If they would help their own, why is it a sin to help someone else, including one whose disease and social status made him distasteful to these Pharisees, these believers in having “your best life now” by following their interpretation of allegedly Biblical principles?

It is Jesus whom they tried to dishonor, but the great Creator of all feasts, the One who is ultimately the giver of all food and all feasting, the One who gives us clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, land, animals and all we have, is the one who ends up sending them down lower by pointing out what ungracious hosts they are. These men wanted to show themselves better than Jesus, and yet they found themselves in the presence of the Son of God, and wound up unwillingly giving place to Him. Not only that, but they found that this God/Man who had shown them all up was willing to be associated with a man whose illness disfigured him and made him anything but the picture of health and wealth that they wanted to portray.

Jesus drives it home by telling them that it is the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind with whom they should be associating, not those who can do them favors in return. These men didn’t want the sick around them, because their image among the people was one of success just by following supposedly Biblical rules and principles. If they had lived today, they would be preaching in the largest stadiums, with the biggest TV audiences, and competing to outdo each other with how “relevant” and “practical” their teachings were for this life. About the life to come, however, they and their modern counterparts are strangely silent.

Nobody who has his heart set on being admired and adored, on having the biggest audiences and the best seats in the house, on being as successful as he can in this life, is prepared to face the life to come. You can’t take it with you, the saying goes. And so the idea that this life is temporary is a disturbing thought. Everyone is the same when it comes to death. Everyone dies penniless, no matter how fancy his coffin or how well-attended his funeral. Everything he has becomes someone else’s property at that point. Surrounding oneself with other rich and successful people is one way of distracting oneself from that harsh reality. It’s also a common tactic for distracting everyone else from the fact that, deep down, you’re no better than they. All are sinners, and all must die at some point, for the wages of sin is death.

And that’s why the Son of God came into the world in the first place. He came down from His place at the head of the table, and became poor, crippled, lame, and blind and, yes, dead for us. He who is richer by definition than any mere mortal could be, since He’s the Word who spoke it all into existence, became poor for our sakes, so that we might become rich. He dishonored Himself, taking the lowest place at the table, so that those who recognize their poverty before Him might be asked to come up higher to feast with Him in the kingdom of God.

And so, when He tells the Pharisees to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, He’s not telling them or us to earn our way into heaven by good works of charity. Charity done for your own salvation isn’t charity. It’s still selfishness. It’s still trying to honor yourself. It’s still trying to make yourself look good in God’s eyes.

Rather, inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind is simply a way of recognizing that it was in becoming poor, crippled, lame, and blind Himself that He made it possible for us to come up higher. It is precisely because He became poor that by His poverty we become rich in Him. But it’s not riches that you can see in this life. The bread of heaven looks like an ordinary meal rather than a great banquet. In our congregation, we can literally see those who fit into the descriptions of the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind right here among us as we participate in this meal. We’re not exactly a picture of health and wealth here at Holy Cross. But that’s who Jesus invites to His feast. We who know we are nothing, and can’t really fool ourselves into thinking otherwise. That’s who He died for. That’s who He invites to come up higher and feast with Him in the heavenly kingdom. That’s who He repays in the resurrection. Those who know themselves to be unworthy of the honor of being invited, come up to the highest place of all, feasting at table with the Holy Trinity, in the kingdom of God which has no end. Amen.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Honor of Teachers


September Newsletter Article

What is the Fourth Commandment?
Honor your father and your mother.

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.

It’s that time of the year again. School is starting. At my other job, we’re selling lots and lots of things that students need for their classes. Since I’m in the electronics department now, I’ve noticed that many schools are requiring USB flash drives for their students to turn in homework, and even ear-buds for using various learning resources without disturbing other students. I never realized before how technological going to school is these days compared to when I was a student at Holy Cross Lutheran School and Concordia Lutheran High School in Fort Wayne. Our own school, Concordia, has several classrooms equipped with smart boards, and we are working towards equipping all of them as funding permits. College students are getting their dorms equipped, some even with large TV’s, and many with brand-new laptops as well as other electronic gadgets both for study and for entertainment. Of course, the old supplies of paper, pens, pencils, rulers, crayons, and glue are still there as well. It’s made for several busy weeks at Walmart, but since our own congregation shares in the ownership and operation of a Lutheran school, it’s also a time that merits some reflection in our church newsletter as well, especially since Concordia’s opening service is being held at Faith Lutheran Church on the same Sunday as this newsletter is being released.

As I pointed out in my sermon for last year’s opening service, which was held here at Holy Cross, owning and operating a private school such as Concordia isn’t easy. We’re in competition with schools that are perceived as being “free” (even though the reality is that there is no such thing as “free” in this life, and those things that are supposedly free are really being paid for by someone else in some way). Everyone is forced to pay the bill for the public schools, even those who have no children, and those who willingly pay tuition to a religious or other private school. While I could get on my libertarian soap-box here about the problem of forcing people who have no use for government schools to pay for them, I’ll try to restrain myself. The reality is what it is. It’s hard to compete with the public schools, which is why when we hear the phrase “private school” we usually think of some exclusive academy that caters only to the richest of the rich. That’s not what most Lutheran schools (nor most Roman Catholic or other Christian schools) are. They usually operate on a shoestring budget (having sat in on a couple of school board meetings for Concordia where the primary item of business was the budget, I can safely say that ours is no exception). They don’t always have the latest technology or the best sports equipment, and with very few exceptions multiple grades share one teacher and one classroom. There are many disadvantages to operating a private school, especially one whose target market is the average middle or working class young family (i.e., the membership of most of our churches when it comes to the school-age demographic). And yet, we do it.

There are many reasons for this, some of which have to do with the fact that, in religious schools especially (but also in private schools in general due to the heavy investment parents have in the form of tuition), the parents are generally more involved than they often are in public schools, and parent involvement is one key area that is vital to the success of their children’s education (and there are God-given reasons for this, related to the Fourth Commandment – more on that later in this article). The main reason many congregations of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod operate schools is, while related to this, something that is even more important: the Gospel, the good news that Christ died for our sins and rose again for our justification. Related to that, of course, is a biblical view of God’s Law, because before anyone can appreciate the forgiveness of sins he must first understand that he is a sinner (this is one area where secular schools in general, and public schools in particular, have followed our whole society into the ditch over the last several decades, with devastating results throughout our society). And there are many other areas, including science (especially biology!), literature, the social sciences, etc. in which the Biblical worldview forms a better background to teaching those subjects than does the rigidly secular background that is the official position of the public schools. But the most important point in a Lutheran school is, knowing about Christ and Him crucified, and integrating faith in Him into whatever vocations those children will have as they go on through their lives. That includes not just working vocations, but also those of father, mother, husband, wife, citizen, etc.

Now, ultimately the job of teaching children about the world and their place in it belongs to the parents. Neither the Church nor the government has any right to determine for parents what is the best for their own children’s welfare. Many parents choose to send their kids to Lutheran schools. That was my own parents’ choice, and I believe I am the better for it. Some parents choose, if they have the education, time, and resources, to do it themselves. And that is a perfectly legitimate (and, indeed, praiseworthy) alternative, which many Christians, and even many Lutherans, have utilized with excellent results, especially in communities where there is no Lutheran school. Other parents choose to send their children to the public schools or to another private school. This also is a legitimate alternative, because as I said it is the parents alone who have the right to determine for themselves the best way to raise their own children. Even when it comes to teaching the faith, Luther’s catechism subtitles each of the Six Chief Parts (Ten Commandments, Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Office of the Keys, Sacrament of the Altar) thus: “As the Head of the Family Should Teach Them in a Simple Way to His Household.” Notice that it doesn’t say “as the pastor should teach,” let alone “as the day-school teacher should teach,” but “as the head of the family should teach.” What this means is that, when it comes to teaching children, whether teaching the Faith or teaching about the created world, both the pastor and the day-school teacher are in an assisting role. The primary role is held by the parents. This is true even when it comes to teaching the Catechism. Now, I and the elders have the responsibility of examining children to make sure their understanding of the faith is in line with our Church’s doctrinal position before admitting them to the Sacrament of the Altar, and in the vast majority of cases the parents do ask the pastor to do the actual teaching. However, I will perform that examination and (if passed successfully) admit children to communion, even if it was the parents (or, for that matter, a Lutheran day-school teacher) rather than myself who did the actual teaching.

It is precisely, then, the parents whom our teachers are assisting. It’s not my responsibility as pastor to teach about math, physics, biology, literature, the social sciences, and so on, and so when our teachers do that they’re not assisting me (though if I were in a tiny community where I was the only person educated enough to teach these things, as was often the case when our old German Lutheran churches were planted on the frontier, I would also gladly teach those subjects as I had time and opportunity). Even when it comes to teaching the Faith, it is the parents, not me, who have the ultimate responsibility, and so even in that subject they’re assisting the parents themselves first and foremost.

It should be noted that assisting the parents is actually a higher calling than assisting the pastor. The office of parent is actually a more basic office in society, even in Christian society, than that of the Holy Ministry. The family is a more basic unit of society even than the Christian congregation. We dare not underestimate this honor bestowed on teachers. We dishonor them when we refer to them as assisting any other office than that of parent. Teachers assist in that very office which is to depict for us the First Person of the Holy Trinity Himself, the Father. Each family is a created image of the Godhead, and teachers have the honor of assisting those who are created in the image of God the Father Himself. That’s the honor bestowed on Lutheran educators, and that’s why it’s worth it to do the hard work of owning and operating Lutheran schools. - Pastor Schellenbach

The Few, the Humble, the Forgiven

Sermon on Luke 13:22-30
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
August 25, 2013 (Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

“Strive to enter the narrow door.  For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”  Not exactly comforting words.  Only a few will make it to eternity.  Only a few will come in to God’s heavenly banquet.  Only a few will come in.  Normally, when we hear that only a select few will make it, we think of those few as being especially great or impressive in some way.  The few, the proud, the Marines.  When there are hundreds of applicants for only a few jobs (a familiar experience in today’s economy), it is only those who impress the interviewer the most who get in.  In sports, only a few make it to the professional leagues, out of the thousands and thousands who show promise at the high school or even college level.  What is the common thread here?  Works.  Something in the particular individual that is unusual or extraordinary.  Or, some extra amount of effort and elbow grease by which a person climbs up the ladder and comes to the attention of the coach, the reporters, the bosses, the public.  It’s all about those who, by effort or by natural talent, have something in themselves which causes them to be placed among the few.

And that’s how most Christians read this text.  The few who are the most impressive, who give the most to charity, who spend the most time in service to the church or to the neighbor, are the ones who gain entrance into eternity.  The rest Jesus doesn’t know, because they weren’t good enough to get His attention.  But that’s not what is going on here.  In fact, it is those who worked the hardest to attract God’s attention, who did the most to please Him and to try to claw their own way into a seat at the feast, who will be cast out.  He calls them workers of lawlessness.  The ESV translates this as “evil,” but literally the Greek word here means something along the lines of “un-justification.”  Those who try to justify themselves, to show themselves as worthy of God’s attention, are the ones who won’t measure up.  It’s those whose words and actions cannot be justified, who have no excuse for what they have done, and who can only admit that they are poor, miserable sinners, whose justification comes from outside themselves, that will sit with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end.

By the way, the word justification is one of those words that we Lutherans tend to use all the time, and often it becomes almost a theological buzzword, something that us pastors use with the assumption that our congregations know what we’re saying, but which actually can result in blank stares from Christians, either because they haven’t really been taught, or because they learned it when they were in eighth grade, with their hormones surging and their bodies not completely under their own control, an incredibly awkward and stressful phase of life, and, really, who can remember all that stuff we were supposed to memorize then, since all sorts of other things were going on at that point in our lives.  But actually justification is a word we use more often than we think.  Think about it.  Some public figure has done something that is controversial or seen as politically or morally incorrect.  He may admit he made a mistake, or he may try to justify himself.  Someone is accused of wasting his employer’s money, and is asked to show proof, or justification, for each line item on his expense report.  The word actually has a meaning in secular society, and its meaning is actually pretty close to the theological meaning of the word.  It’s just that in the theological context, especially in the Lutheran theological context, the justification we’re talking about is something that comes from outside of ourselves.  We’re not justified in our own actions (let alone in our own excuses as to how or why Jesus should pay attention to us when He’s letting those attending His wedding feast in the door), but we are justified despite our actions because Christ’s perfection, His impressiveness, His glory, becomes our own.  The word justification has the same literal meaning as it does in ordinary life, but for us it refers to something that God does for us as a free gift.

And that’s the difference between those who sit at the feast and those who are begging to get in after the door is shut.  Some find their justification in God’s free gift of Christ’s perfection, while others try to justify themselves.  Some recognize that they are beggars who don’t deserve to be there and who therefore regard this as a precious, free gift, and others think they’ve done something to become the few, the proud, the self-righteous.  None are worthy in and of themselves, but only a few will be brought to repentance to see that and to accept the gift that is given them.

And what a gift.  Sitting at table with the Creator of heaven and earth, enjoying His blessings and His presence forever.  Feasting upon those things He gives, sharing with the saints who have gone on before us.  Jesus mentions Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, partially because He was talking to Jews who were proud of their descent from these patriarchs.  But we could include David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hezekiah, and many other saints of the Old Testament, not to mention the twelve Apostles, St. Paul, St. Barnabas, St. Timothy, and so on.  We could also include St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Athanasius, and many, many other church fathers and noted theologians of the early church.  Also Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Martin Chemnitz and other heroes of the Reformation, CFW Walther, Franz Pieper, Friedrich Wyneken and the other founders of our own church body here in America, right down to our own loved ones who died in the faith.  And that feast isn’t something we only look forward to.  It’s here, now.  It’s called the Sacrament of the Altar.  We feast with the disciples in the upper room on Holy Thursday.  We feast with all those presently before God’s face.  We feast with our fellow saints still here on earth who partake at other physical altars but who share in the same Jesus.  We feast with those saints who are even now being persecuted for the sake of the Gospel.  We even feast with those saints yet to be born.  We feast with all those with whom we will share eternal life, because the feast of Holy Thursday is the feast of eternal life, all at the same time.  And we do so here and now, in this room.  The feast is ready.  The master of the house is also the meal, because he is both sacrificed for us and resurrected as our head.  We recline at table in the Kingdom of God.  Amen.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Peace When There Is None

Sermon on Luke 12:49-56
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
August 18, 2013 (Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.  We sang it toward the beginning of the service today.  And then we read this Gospel lesson.  Not peace, but division.  Not a cool breeze, but a hot wind that whips up fire.  War, not only between nations, but within families.  Clouds bringing thunderstorms and tornadoes.  South winds bringing drought and famine (ask Tina’s family about that one – they’re going through a terrible drought this summer, in fact, and this past spring their own county seat was damaged by a tornado, as well).  Conflicts between automobiles piloted by inattentive or even malicious drivers.  Conflicts between viruses, bacteria, and cancer cells against the human immune system.  All this unpleasantness, and Jesus says in today’s Gospel that He is here to bring us these conflicts.  What then of the angel’s message on Christmas?  What then of Jesus’ greeting of peace when He appears to the disciples in the upper room following His resurrection?  What then of all the places the word peace occurs in the Divine Service, including the pre-sermon blessing with which I greeted you only a few seconds ago?  What is Jesus saying here?

First of all, the division, the conflict, the wars and rumors of wars, the fire and famine, the tornadoes and the thunderstorms, all of these are not Jesus’ doing.  This world is unstable.  Whether you look at us people, or at nature itself, stuff just happens in this old world.  Often the wicked flourish while the righteous struggle along barely making it.  Fights break out in families, not only about religion, but about every other subject imaginable.  Fights break out among the human family, the human race, and when that happens hundreds or thousands die in the crossfire.  Fights break out between warm air masses and cold air masses, and tornadoes destroy property and lives.  Fights break out between tectonic plates, and earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear disasters happen.

None of this is Jesus’ doing; none of it is His fault.  He comes to fix all these things.  But He comes to fix these things in a particular way.  The most efficient and simplest way of solving the massive death and destruction Adam and Eve caused by their disobedience, is by destroying the whole creation in an instant and starting fresh.  But that would be to deny His own goodness as creator, not to mention dooming us, the crown of His creation, in the process.  And so, instead of simply stopping natural disasters, wars and rumors of wars, diseases, accidents, and, yes, family squabbles by just waving His hand and making the universe just disappear, He takes all these things into Himself.  He who knew no sin became sin for us.  He who can not die, dies.  He takes the whole mess upon Himself, and allows it to carry Him under the waves so that, instead of being merely immortal, merely sitting up in heaven wringing His hands, He is the Resurrected One, the one who cannot die because death swallowed Him and was fatally poisoned as a result, the one who laid with us in our grave so that those who believe in Him will follow Him into immortality and be seated at His right hand.  Instead of simply sitting up in heaven and watching the fire of sin consume and destroy everything He’s made, He allows Himself to be consumed so that sin itself is burnt out and can no longer harm us.

The problem is, of course, that this old world is still old, and getting older all the time.  The effects of sin still affect us.  Wars and rumors of wars, floods, fires, and famine all still happen.  These things are the reminders of the end times.  And that’s no accident, by the way.  It’s precisely the messes that are caused by sin that are the signs of the end times, because it is precisely because of sin that this old world is fatally damaged and will not (and can not) endure forever.  And because of that, the new and the old are inevitably in conflict.  He who cannot die comes into the world, and the world cannot help but kill Him, because His perfection is simply incompatible with imperfection.  His message, His good news, His eternal gift that the war with God is now over, that God has, for the sake of His Son’s death on the cross, unilaterally declared peace with us, is incompatible with human pride which wants to pursue God on our own terms, to find some way to make Him pay attention to or be impressed with us.  His peace, in other words, cannot help but be at war with the world.

And so, that means that, in addition to the fact that conflict naturally happens between family members, there is also conflict over the subject of religion.  Even wars are fought over differing views of what our relationship with God ought to be.  To be sure, in many cases religion is used as an excuse for a war that is actually motivated by crass nationalism, but nevertheless, there it is.  The Gospel of peace, simply by existing in a broken, war-infested world, itself brings division and war.  Not by its own fault, but simply because the brokenness of this old world is a brokenness that wants to stay the way it is, to try to fix itself, and which can not and will not accept that God could or would fix things from His side.

And yet, that’s exactly what God does.  He fixes it from His side of the battle lines.   He declares peace unilaterally.  He enters our humanity and our death and transforms it into resurrection.  And all of this at the right time.  That’s the other thing we in our impatient, breathless, anxious and angry society fail to recognize.  Some moments are more important to others, not only for us as individuals, but for God.  There are times and places that belong to Him in a way that other times and places do not.  He is everywhere, and yes, he is everywhen, but not everywhere and everywhen is set aside for Him to bless us.  Most of the Jews had no idea that they were living during the time that all of the promises of the Old Testament would be fulfilled in Jesus.  That hill outside Jerusalem on that Friday was the very center of human history, not necessarily in terms of chronology, but in terms of importance.  The whole reason God had established His temple there was because of its proximity to the place where the world itself would be redeemed.  And that time and place is here for you, now.  It is the body crucified and the blood shed which you eat and drink here.  You join the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven here and now.  You join Jesus on the cross and in the tomb through water, and you share in that body broken and made whole, and that blood shed and restored, this very morning, in this very room.  You can see in the west when the clouds come and it’s going to storm.  These days, we can pull our smartphones out of our pockets and see them even when they’re just starting to hit Madison or even Iowa.  But can you see heaven itself?  Do you know when the center of human history comes and visits you?  Wherever His Word is rightly preached and His Sacraments rightly administered, that is the time and the place that you are in Jerusalem in 33 AD, and you are in eternity itself seated at God’s right hand.  The world doesn’t like it, and the world will throw a tantrum about it, but you are at peace with God Himself, because you are always with Him where and when He made that peace.  Amen.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Don't Worry

 Forgot to post this last week.

Sermon on Luke 12:22-40
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
August 11, 2013 (Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost)

Don’t be anxious!  That sounds like a command.  It sounds like law.  It sounds like something we’re supposed to not do if we wish to please God.  And it is.  After all, what Jesus is talking about here involves the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods.  What does this mean?  We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  And Luther explains this further in the Large Catechism: A God is that which we call upon in every time of need.  Anxiety and worry, on the other hand, is looking to oneself in every time of need.  It’s going over and over in one’s mind the idea that I’ve got to solve all my own problems, and if I can’t solve them, then nobody will.  In effect, it’s making myself my own god.  And so, by saying “Don’t be anxious,” Jesus is telling us not to break the First Commandment.  He’s telling us not to make idols of ourselves.

Here’s the thing, though.  It doesn’t help.  Making idols of ourselves, seeing ourselves as the primary resource we have to solve our life’s problems, is something we’re naturally born to do.  After all, if we can solve our problems ourselves, then we’re in control.  And if we’re in control, we don’t need outside help.  The problem with trusting someone or something else for meeting our needs and solving our problems, is that we can’t control when or whether we will be given the help we need, or at least the help we think we need.  And if we can’t control that, we feel helpless, afraid, and, yes, anxious.  It’s how we are.

What makes it worse, is since we can’t obey the command not to be anxious, and we know that we’re supposed to keep the First Commandment if we want to please God, our relationship to our creator itself is on the line.  Not just the problems of this life, but the biggest and most important problem of all, namely the question about whether life has any meaning at all and whether we are going to heaven or hell after death, is something we have no control over.  And again, when we have no control, we get anxious.  We worry.  We go over the problem again and again in our minds.  What happens, in other words, is that we worry about the fact that we’re disobeying God and earning His wrath by worrying.  We are anxious about the fact that we’re anxious.  And then it just feeds on itself.  Even though it’s true, seeing Jesus’ saying here as a command doesn’t help us.  It only makes the problem worse.

Which is why Jesus isn’t so much commanding us not to worry or else, He’s telling us that God has given us reasons not to worry.  He is the creator.  He is the One who has the power to solve every problem we have.  And, what’s more important, He is the One who has the love for His creation which causes Him to solve every problem we have.  He’s the one who clothes even the flowers of the field, and gives food and drink to the birds of the air.  And so, not only is worry sinful, it is also completely unnecessary.

But we still have the problem of our relationship to Him.  We still have the problem that we have done something He has commanded us not to do.  We still can’t do anything to fix our own hearts, which are naturally inclined to try to control and fix our own problems, and which worry and get anxious if we don’t.  Who is going to solve that problem?  After all, food and clothing, house and home, and so on, are all well and good, but we are all going to die sooner or later.  What happens then?  How do we deal with that reality?  How can we fix that problem?  Especially since the One who is our Judge condemns worry, and we’re worrying about, of all things, His judgment against worry itself.

Well, it is precisely our creator, the one who made us and all creation, who has given us body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them – it is He who is also the one who has fixed, from His end the ultimate problem we all still have, namely our broken relationship with Himself.  The Creator is also the one who has redeemed us.  It is the Father’s good pleasure to give us, not just food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all that we have, but the Kingdom itself.  It is the Father’s good pleasure to give us, not just this life, but eternity.

What does this mean?  Our sin of worrying has already been paid for.  Our concern for food and clothing is answered by the One who became naked, thirsty and hungry on the cross.  He became forsaken by the one who feeds the birds and clothes the flowers, in order to provide us with the clothing that does not get eaten by moths or stained by rust and the food which does not rot or spoil.  He died so that we might have life.  In fact, He becomes our clothing and our food.  The white robe of His righteousness, which He put on us in Holy Baptism covers the nakedness of our unrighteousness.  The body which was broken and the blood which was shed become our food and drink.  Compared to these, providing us with food and clothing in this world is as nothing.  We wear Christ, and we eat and drink Him, and we will do so forever.  What is there to worry about?

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Sunday, August 4, 2013

True Riches

Sermon on Luke 12:13-21
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
August 4, 2013 (Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost)
 

    “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!”  The problem with an inheritance is that it is, well, inherited.  It’s not something you earn, and it’s also not something you can demand.  It’s a free gift that becomes yours upon the death of the one giving it to you.  Now, it’s true that people contest the last will and testament of their fathers and mothers all the time, especially when they think that someone else has gotten what they should have gotten.  They think they can grab what is another’s by a free gift, and who really knows which is right and which is wrong?  Is the judge’s decision right?  Is it fair?  It’s hard to know, since the one who wrote the will is already dead.  It’s a matter of this world, because all worldly riches will perish along with this world.  And that means any riches you have, whether inherited or earned, will eventually go to someone else.  The farmer who has a bumper crop may die the next day, and will never enjoy the fruits of his labor.  Vanity, says St. Solomon.  In this old world, all is vanity and a chasing after the wind.
    Because it’s a worldly matter, it’s for the judges in this world to decide.  Jesus isn’t here to be a judge of this world.  He didn’t come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it.  And He isn’t really concerned about whether things in this world work out “justly” or “fairly” or not.  Nothing in this life is fair in the first place, since everyone is already corrupted by sin, and so any attempt to make it more fair or more just is doomed to failure from the outset (and that’s true whether you take a socialist or a libertarian view of what the words fairness and justice mean, by the way).  Jesus isn’t here for vanity.  He’s not here to fix petty squabbles that will soon pass away.  He’s here to provide us with the true riches of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
    By the way, the last sentence of today’s Gospel lesson is easy to misinterpret.  At first glance, it seems to say that we should give richly to God, either in the form of gifts to the Church or of charity to “the least of these My brothers.”  And, yes, donations to charity and to the Church are something that God would have us do.  But I don’t think that’s the main thing Jesus was talking about here.  The phrase rich toward God can also be translated as “rich in God,” or “rich from God’s perspective.”  You see, everything we are and have is already His.  He doesn’t need any of it.  Yes, our neighbor needs it, and we should help him out, but the point here is that, from God’s perspective, there is only one way we can be rich, and it’s not to be found in the “health and wealth” teachers we see around us on TV and in Christian bookstores.  The only thing that counts as riches to God is the heavenly riches, the inheritance we have from Him that is only ours through the death of His Son Jesus on the cross.  The only true riches to which we have access are those things that are not vanity, those things that will not belong to another once our soul is required of us, those things that are laid up for us in the heavenly storehouse.  The only true riches to which we have access, in other words, are the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
    The thing of it is, though, that the true riches of God are an inheritance.  They are not something we can ever earn, nor can we demand that someone else give us our fair share.  Fairness isn’t part of the picture here.  Fairness would end all of us sinners in hell.    Inheritance, on the other hand, is a gift.  It’s something you haven’t earned.  The very idea of suing someone else for this inheritance is absurd, because the Judge in this case gives freely to all, and everyone who receives it has the fullness of it.  It doesn’t matter whether you have only a third or a quarter of this inheritance, because a quarter or a third of infinity is still infinity.  It’s a gift that comes completely unfairly, despite our having done anything and everything that should have caused us to be written out of Jesus’ last will and testament.  It’s a gift that doesn’t really have meaning in this old world, because it doesn’t give us any advantage in dealing with this old world.  But it’s a gift that is given with the death of the one who wrote the will.  Take, eat, this is My body.  Take, drink, this is the new testament in My blood.  This last will and testament gives us the testator Himself, risen from the dead.  Not only do we get the inheritance, but more importantly we enjoy the eternal fellowship of the one who gave it to us.  A testament takes effect upon death, but this testament is given by one who is also resurrected and will live forever.  The gift He gives us is Himself.  And that is worth more than all the riches in this world combined.  Amen.


+Soli Deo Gloria+