Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pentecost 14 Sermon -- Luke 14:1-14 (LSB Proper 17C)

August 29, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“One Sabbath, when [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him carefully.”

Those words set up the whole Gospel reading for today. Jesus is going right into the heart of His enemies. He is walking into the proverbial lion’s den. Everyone is watching Jesus. They want to observe Him closely, wanting to see how this rabbi from Galilee behaves. The Pharisees are not His admirers; the dinner guests are not His faithful disciples. They neither believe nor teach the same thing He does. They see themselves as better, more deserving—the true followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. All their eyes are glued on Jesus, waiting expectantly for the moment He will slip up, the instant He will falter.

But someone not expected at a Pharisees’ banquet is also present. St. Luke tells us that there is a most unlikely dinner party guest in the house: And behold, there was a man before [Jesus] who had dropsy.” Why is this man there? The text implies that it was a bit of a set up. Such a man should not be welcome; his disease appears to be a mark of his sin, a curse placed upon him. His presence presents an opportunity for Jesus. The man cannot be helped by anyone’s knowledge of medicine or therapeutic skill. But Jesus can heal his disease and restore the man.

At the same time, the presence of the diseased man presents a problem for Jesus. He is part of the trap. The Pharisees want to ask a question about the man. But the question they want to ask isn’t: “How can we help this man?” Instead, their hearts and minds were racing: “Will Jesus dare to work on the Sabbath?” But knowing the Pharisees’ duplicity, Jesus decides to ask the question for the Pharisees: “And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’” That’s the question the Pharisees were obsessed about. What action will obey not only the Torah, but all the legal commentaries on the Scriptures, all the books of teaching that had been developed and handed down through the generations of Pharisees before them? They hear Jesus’ question, and they want Him to answer. The Evangelist reports: “They remained silent.” But their silence isn’t meant to allow Jesus to teach them; rather, they want Jesus to make the first move, in order to catch Him doing something “wrong.”

But as is usual, Jesus doesn’t answer in words only. He acts. Even when the Pharisees were silent, holding their tongues and waiting to pounce on His words and deeds, Jesus acts: Then [Jesus] took [the man] and healed him and sent him away. Now that seems like the right thing to do. Yet, in the world of the Pharisees, it wasn’t. Healing was work, and the Sabbath was to be work free. Nothing was to be done. Even granting health and wellness to this helpless man suffering from dropsy was a “sin” in their eyes. There’s the mistake they’ve been waiting for! The Pharisees think they have Jesus caught.

But even before they can open their mouths, Jesus says something quite profound: “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” Questions about lawfulness would normally cause great scholarly debate among the Pharisees. You could almost hear the wheels spinning in the lawyers’ heads about lawfulness: “What exactly would break the Sabbath ban on work? How has this ban been interpreted during the past several centuries? What do our law books and our oral tradition have to say about this?”

But this time, Jesus’ second question—the one about falling into a well—reveals the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. The answer to Jesus’ question is self-evident. Of course, anyone, even a Pharisee, would rescue their child or animal from a well on the Sabbath, even if it meant doing work. And yet, the Pharisees in that house object to Jesus’ healing of the diseased man. The action that would benefit a stranger is condemned, but what would benefit them is work they would do. Having their hearts exposed by Jesus’ question causes silence. St. Luke even tells us: “And they could not reply to these things.”

Why could the Pharisees not reply? Because they had no concept of what the Lord God’s Law was really all about. It wasn’t so much about rules to follow and earn both salvation and praise from fellow men. No, it was to show what the righteousness, holiness, and goodness of the Lord God looks like. The Law testifies about the Lord God’s nature, how He is greater than any of us. And it certainly shows humanity where they do not meet such a standard.

This was part of the reason for the Third Commandment. Even the Lord God rested on the Sabbath after creating the universe. But what was the point of the Sabbath Day requirement not to work? It was so the Lord God to do saving work in and among His people; so that we sinners could receive salvation, not by our actions, but the Lord God’s work. Luther explains this point about the Third Commandment: “We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching and God’s word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” The Sabbath is meant so God can work in hearts and minds. This is so we may be forgiven of all the times we break the Ten Commandments and to be spurred on by our Lord to strive to obey them, being full of fervent love toward Him and to one another.

And what greater love can there be than to provide for someone’s health and well-being? That’s what Jesus does on the Sabbath. He heals the man with dropsy. He demonstrates the full capabilities of divine action and divine love. A life is restored where sin afflicted and corrupted it. The man lived in the chaos that sin and Satan brought to the world; Jesus sets it right again. This is His purpose, His mission. He fulfills the commandments, not just on their face, but in their substance. Jesus meets their true meaning: “Love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

That is what Christ does when He heals the diseased man. He demonstrates goodness to the Pharisees and to us, but not a show-offy goodness or a glossy veneer that hides interior flaws. Rather, Jesus displays divine love and compassion in word and deed. The Law of God would neither be fulfilled by leaving this ill man in his condition nor by letting your child or ox drown. The Pharisees’ manmade rules meant to enhance the commandment “You shall sanctify the Sabbath Day.” cannot trump the full requirements and ramifications of “Do not murder.” For Jesus, there is no debate or question about what is right. Instead, there is only goodness, a full demonstration of what divine love is really all about.

Christ’s actions that day in the Pharisee’s house were not a slip up. They were not a cause of legitimate offense. No, they show how we are to act. But more importantly, they show how our Savior acts for us. The Pharisees may have believed that Jesus was a sinner, no matter how wrong they were. Yet, Jesus accepts that. He does not shy away from such criticism. He would take their accusations, as deceitful and unwarranted they might be. But He would do so in order to bring salvation to the world, to pull men and women out of the depths of Satan’s well of sin to partake of His holiness.

The hateful criticism that Jesus endured on that day in the Pharisee’s house is what He endured on another day for all of us. As the accusations of rebellion and blasphemy were hurled at Him on a Friday dawn and morning in Jerusalem, Jesus did not back away from what fulfilled the Law. Instead, He followed the Heavenly Father’s will. The Pharisees and lawyers shouted for crucifixion: “He has broken our law; He must die!” And the Christ took the indictment, the conviction, the sentence: “for no greater love has a man than to lay down his life for his friends.” But for the Lord God, no greater love has He than to lay down His life for both friend and enemy. This He does, because it is His nature: to love the unlovable, to help the helpless, to show mercy to the unmerciful, to give to those who cannot repay.

All this He did for you. And this episode in the Pharisee’s house publicly shows both what Jesus was meant to do and what the Law of God was to teach us. For the questions that Christ asked basically come down to this: “Is it lawful for the Lord God to give healing and forgiveness? Will the Lord God immediately save those who are in danger of eternal death?” In truth, the answer should be “No.” It isn’t right or just for the Lord God to give healing and forgiveness to those who broke His Law, yet He doesn’t do what is only lawful or what only benefits Himself. Instead, He does what is truly good and charitable for you. The Law gives Him the authority to let all of us sinners die forever, but Christ uses such authority to save. Everything that Jesus did in small scale in that Judean house He would surpass on a cosmic scale in His sacrificial death on Calvary. That is what we can draw from this episode of His life.

We see Jesus as Redeemer in the Gospel Reading today. It is not Christ’s concern of what others may think about Him as He does His work. No, the concern is how He can grant aid to those who must receive it from Him. All who see that will recognize that true righteousness is not obedience to our concept of the law. It isn’t what we display on the exterior to be complimented and praised. No, it is a matter of the heart, a matter of compassion and goodness. That is what Jesus demonstrated in the past by healing the sick man in the Pharisee’s house. It is what He now shows here in His house, as He exalts you from sinfulness to holiness.

Watch closely and observe it frequently, as your Lord Jesus Christ shows compassion and goodness to you, even today as He has invited you to His banquet. For Jesus works in you this morning, as He forgives your transgressions, absolves your sins, and cures your disease. What you cannot cleanse, Christ purifies—even on this Sabbath—as He still works for you and your benefit, taking you and healing you and sending you on your way. For that is what Christ declares is truly good and right so to do, even for you who could never repay.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pentecost 13 Sermon -- Luke 13:22-30 (LSB Proper 16C)

August 22, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

And Jesus said to them: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”

The Evangelist writes: “[Jesus] went on His way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.” But His teaching is not always a word of comfort; often Jesus speaks blunt truth that hurts. As you heard this morning, Jesus gives a stern warning to His audience in the Judean villages. It isn’t what they might normally expect. It certainly isn’t what they want to hear from His mouth. And rightly so, for it shouldn’t be any sort of pleasure to see this promise of Christ come to fruition: “Many will seek to enter [the kingdom] and will not be able.” That is something to remember as you consider His words that were read this morning. Jesus’ teaching is true, but it does not mean that it is His total joy to have it be that way.

Yet, the words must be said. What Jesus tells His followers and all who would listen must be spoken, even in public, even in mixed company. For what is heard from Christ is essential for the salvation of His audience, even necessary for you. His teaching is for your good, despite its unpleasant nature. No one wants to hear about the exclusivity of the Christ’s way. No one wants to hear about “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” No one wants to hear about people being left out. But it is much worse never to have heard about it, and then to face an eternal future of tears and regret.

So the Judean villagers and you wrestle with Jesus’ words. You hear His exhortation: “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” His teaching gets the hearers’ full attention. It should spark inquiries in the heart and mind: “What is this narrow door? Where can it be found? How do I enter it?” These are the questions that Jesus wants His hearers to consider. But He doesn’t want people only to ask such questions; He wants His hearers to know the answers, to be familiar with what He’s talking about. For those who know and believe Jesus’ teaching will have the salvation that He offers.

In this case, Jesus wants His hearers to know that He is “the narrow door.” When Jesus teaches about access to salvation, He is speaking about Himself. He is talking about the way of life that He brings to sinners who need forgiveness, life, and salvation. Jesus is saying to the people who listen: “I am the narrow door. I am how you will enter life everlasting. You won’t find eternal hope in what you do. No one else can provide you with the path to salvation.” This forms the heart of Jesus’ teaching—and not only on that day in Judea. In many and various ways, in many and various places, Christ gave the same message.

Alongside that confession about Himself, His self-identification as the “narrow door,” Jesus reveals the corresponding truth: “Many will try to enter and will not be able.” This severe warning that Jesus gives to His hearers is the truly unpleasant part of His teaching. But so the people will fully understand His statement of law and judgment, Jesus gives an illustration that they will comprehend: “When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’”

Certainly no one wants to hear that from Jesus. Yet, He says it will be said to some. And the worst part about it is that it such people will not be strangers to Jesus, people who never knew Him who will hear it. No, we see from Jesus’ words that there will be people quite familiar with Him who will receive such a response at the Last Day. They call Christ “Lord,” yet He does not recognize them. They say they have dined with Him and heard Him teach, yet Jesus sends them away, calling them sinners.

Just who are these people? Unfortunately, they are people who had been familiar with Jesus, perhaps even called themselves disciples. Yet, they are people rejected by Christ. Not because He didn’t do enough to provide for their salvation, but because they failed to “enter through the narrow door.” Instead, things had gotten in the way. Other doors were tried. The path to salvation was abandoned by them. And on the Last Day, the doors to everlasting life are closed shut to them.

What is even more amazing is that many of these left out people were familiar with the Old Testament. Note Jesus’ words: “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.” There will be people who know all about the patriarchs, all about Moses and the prophets, but who do not enter the kingdom of God. They will be rejected by Jesus, because they reject who Jesus is. They do not confess that He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, the One whom the patriarchs looked for and the prophets foretold. Denial that Jesus is the Christ, the Promised Messiah, leads to exclusion from the kingdom of God. True confession about Christ’s identity is essential to entering through “the narrow door.”

But the left out people are not just a group from the past; Jesus’ warning is also for people of the present day. This includes people that the author of Hebrews wrote about: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” Both Jesus and the Epistle Writer describe the same people: men and women who had heard the Gospel, who began to follow Jesus and His ways, but who later turned to other concerns—be it false religions or the way of life that is prohibited by divine law. Either way, what had once been theirs is lost. Without obtaining it again, the doors will be locked to them when the Last Day comes, and there will be no way to reopen them.

So Jesus even warns you who have been following Him for many years or have just begun to follow Him. He exhorts you “to enter through the narrow door,” reminding you of where your trust should be and how your lives ought to be shaped. Though it is unpleasant and troubling to hear about people excluded from everlasting life, it is a necessary reminder. The Lord has always spoken such words to His people. Remember that even the Israelites were told: “Gather to Me My faithful ones, who made a covenant with Me by sacrifice! . . . Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God.” Christ’s disciples are tempted to think that they don’t need such a message, but inclusion or exclusion from the kingdom of God is determined only by whether one is “striv[ing] to enter through the narrow door.” So the Lord provides His discipline to ensure that it will be so: “[He] disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

But even in the midst of all this hard teaching, the unpleasant reality that Jesus honestly describes, is something joyous and grand. Jesus says that there will be people in His kingdom. He echoes Isaiah’s prophecy of old: “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Not all will be shut out. In fact, the doors will be opened wide to many. People of every nation, language, and race will enjoy the eternal banquet that Christ has prepared for them.

Who are these people? They are those who “enter through the narrow door.” They are all who believe that Christ is the source of their salvation; those who participate in the life-giving acts that He has instituted; those who hear His teaching and have their lives guided by it; those who forsake the things of the world that run contrary to Christ and hold onto Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength; “those who lift their drooping hands, strengthen their weak knees, and make straight paths for their feet.”

Such are the characteristics of the people chosen and elected by the Lord to receive the treasure that He desires to give. It is what He has wrought in you who have been called to belief, and not only called to faith but kept in it. You have first been brought through “the narrow door” by Holy Baptism. In your lives, you are constantly led through that “narrow door” that grants entry into the kingdom of God. You enter it again through your absolution, your reception of Christ’s body and blood, your learning everything that Jesus has commanded, and your being motivated to live that out in your experience as His disciples.

This is what you have been set apart to receive because Christ has opened “the narrow door” of life for you: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Christ has made you part of the many who will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” So hear the exhortation to follow the way that Christ has established. “Be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” And may it be fulfilled as the Lord has chosen and elected for you.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

St. Mary, Mother of God Sermon -- Luke 1:39-55

August 15, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

The elderly woman’s cry of praise confesses the unique identity of the Galilean maiden. Elizabeth’s visitor is no ordinary woman, at least not now. Once she had been so. Once she had been nothing more than a village girl in Nazareth. She was one of the Lord’s chosen people, a participant in the divine covenant, but so were most of her fellow residents. Her family had a connection to the priestly line of Israel, but it is her kinswoman Elizabeth who enjoys most of those benefits. Nothing extraordinary is found in the nature of this visitor from the north, she of “humble estate.”

But what comes forth from Elizabeth’s mouth? A declaration is given that is anything but ordinary. The priest’s wife does not welcome her visitor with a customary greeting. Instead, she is given divine words to speak: “And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry.” She is given to prophesy, to speak authoritatively. And the authoritative message is given as a blessing: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” This is spoken of the Virgin Mary, whose festival day the Church celebrates today.

Elizabeth’s prophetic statement shows the uniqueness that Mary has been given. Of all women who have existed—past, present, or future—she is the most blessed, the one chosen to be the God-Bearer, the Mother of God. Her blessed state comes from the One whom she carries within her: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb!” The maiden of Nazareth has within her the Son of the Most High God, the One who would bring salvation to her and to the world. She is the vessel from whom the Lord God makes Himself present in His fallen creation to deliver it from the curse of sin. That any of this even transpires is a matter of divine grace and mercy. And that divine grace and mercy manifested in the person and work of Jesus Christ is the message of this day, even the festival day dedicated to Mary.

Elizabeth’s blessing engages this topic of grace. After speaking of Mary and the pre-born Christ she bears, Elizabeth continues with a statement about herself: “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Note the glad surprise, the joyous shock within this believer. She has no expectation that she should be a participant in any such event. Her words reveal her thoughts: she sees it as a gift. “And why to me this?” she asks. Why indeed? Is it something that she has done? No, it is an honor that Elizabeth receives as part of the divine, merciful act of salvation being brought to the world.

The favor received by Elizabeth is an extension of the divine mercy that St. Paul described to the Galatians: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” In “the fullness of time,” the priest’s wife was divinely chosen to be the mother of the Christ’s forerunner; here in that same “fullness of time,” she has been granted the favor of having that Christ in her presence. “The fruit of [Mary’s] womb” brings salvation, and Elizabeth is a recipient of it.

But in the house on the Judean hillside that day, there is another one who is blessed with mercy and grace. Mary herself is also a recipient of divine salvation. She is saved through childbirth, through the Son that she bears in her womb. The Maiden of Nazareth is chosen to be the Mother of God. That blessed and unique state is granted to her. She does not acquire it for herself; the Lord God’s work makes it so. It is the fulfillment of His will completed in “the fullness of time.” As the Lord God determined it to be so, Mary receives the assistance of Him who was born of her, born under the Law, to redeem her who was under the Law.

Elizabeth’s prophetic greeting ended with a statement about Mary’s blessedness. Note the words very carefully: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Do you see the source of Mary’s blessedness? It is found in what was spoken to her, in the heavenly word that performs what it declares. And as she believed it, as the Holy Spirit came to her and kindled faith in the divine declaration delivered by the Angel Gabriel, Mary receives her status. Through that performative word, Mary is made to be “the blessed among women.”

That truth is what Mary confesses in her statement of praise. Many of you know the words well, as you have spoken them in the Church’s evening prayers: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” Note what the Blessed Virgin says: she exalts the Lord and finds gladness in Him because of His actions. He has elevated her. He has given her a blessed status. A majestic and powerful thing has been done for her: life exists where it should not, given by the Living One, God Himself.

But Mary’s song of praise is not simply a testimony about what she has received. No, there is more. Her lyrics declare a divine promise for you. Hear it again: “And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.” The statement is about the Lord’s mercy: grace and favor are meant for more than the God-Bearer and the priest’s wife who welcomes her. The Lord’s mercy is given to a much greater segment of people: all those who fear the Lord, those who believe who He is, how He considers people, and what He does for them. The Maiden’s words confirm what her relative said about her blessed state: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

This connection between blessedness and belief is at the heart of the Scriptures. The entire story of salvation is about those who have trusted in the Lord’s promises from the very beginning of time to the present day. The prophet speaks about them: “Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed.” Strewn throughout the generations of humanity are the names of those who have feared the Lord, including those mentioned last Sunday: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah. Out of all people of the earth, they were chosen by the Lord, His Word kindling faith in them. So they trusted His great promises, receiving His mercy by fearing Him. They recognized Him as their source of eternal benefits, believing that what He desired would be fulfilled for them.

You also have been divinely called into that line of believers. The statement in Mary’s song applies to you: “[The Lord’s] mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.” Like the Maiden of Nazareth, a divine word has been spoken to you. That word declared to you what “the fruit of [Mary’s] womb” has done for you: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” That is the salvation you have been chosen to receive. It is what the truly divine and truly human Son of Mary has achieved through His obedience of the Divine Law that you could not keep, through His offering of His life to offer payment that you could not remit, through His rising to life again that brings you out from under the curse of everlasting death. That is the full measure of “His mercy for those who fear Him from generation to generation.”

And so you participate with Mary in a blessed state. Mary’s being the Mother of God is unique to her. But like her, you also have been elevated out of the humility of sin and imperfection. You have been brought from total iniquity into holiness. You have been filled with the Holy Spirit. This is part of the divine merciful work done for you: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” The apostle’s words echo Mary’s testimony about the Lord’s powerful acts: “He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away.”

What motivates the Lord’s actions? Divine love, grace, and compassion. You see the character of your God in this great event. He promises you that He would do so, just as He promised those of previous generations. Mary’s bearing of His Son into the world is the fulfillment of those promises: “He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” The Lord sees your need and meets it. That He makes a maiden the Mother of God shows His great power. That He would even dare to make sinners His heirs shows the greatness of His merciful generosity. That He actually does so shows His great faithfulness.

The Lord’s promise of a Savior has been fulfilled, so you might receive adoption as sons. That status is not what you achieved; it has been granted to you. Like He did for the Virgin Mary, the Mighty One has graciously done great things for His people. You have received the benefits of Christ’s act of salvation through Holy Baptism, through hearing His Word of forgiveness, and through His sacred meal. As Christ’s Church, His people, faithfully participates in these things, then Elizabeth’s and Mary’s statements stand true even in this day: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. . . . His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.”

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pentecost 11 Sermon -- Luke 12:22-40 (LSB Proper 14C)

August 8, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Jesus’ words speak the truth about your focus and attention: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” You all have items or matters that you consider valuable. They are worth your attention. In fact, you are drawn to them like magnets attract iron. They become your focus in life. It has been so since your youth. Those who consider an education to be valuable direct their attentions to acquiring that diploma. Others who thought their first car to be their treasure would gladly burn the midnight oil maintaining its engine, repairing any scratch or dent. Perhaps what you favored was athletic prowess: hours of around-the-world shooting or batting practice or tackling drills seemed a good price to pay.

As you have matured into adulthood, the same truth holds. The treasures undoubtedly change over time. Perhaps it is the long-desired promotion. Or the vacation property on the lake or in the woods. Maybe it’s the successful mutual fund or the model family or leadership in a civic organization. The treasures vary from person to person. But no matter the treasure, it still attracts your heart’s attention, devotion, and dedication. Jesus is right: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

But Jesus’ teaching is not meant to be a simple summary of social behavior. He makes the observation in order to teach about true treasure, to focus His hearer’s hearts on what is infinitely valuable. What was the audience concerned with? They were focused on earthly necessities and benefits. After telling the parable about the foolish rich farmer and exhorting the people to be rich toward God, Jesus declares: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” Jesus’ statement stands against the way that humanity thinks.

You can imagine the thoughts going through the people’s minds after hearing Jesus: “What do You mean, do not be anxious about food or clothing? Don’t You know that if we don’t have food, we will starve to death, and if we don’t have clothing, we will be exposed to the weather?” The hearts’ focus is on having these necessities, even calling them treasures. They require the full attention of the individual to ensure that daily life continues. But Jesus has a truth to give His audience: life is not equal to what is consumed by the mouth and what adorns the body. No, life is more than that. It is the treasure that Jesus has to give His people. That will need to be their hearts’ focus.

To move the people away from anxiously obsessing over earthly necessities, Jesus gives them some questions to ponder: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” His point becomes obvious: for all the attention that your earthly welfare demands from you, you don’t actually have any power to change how long your earthly life will last. All your anxiety won’t increase the amount of days that you will live. Why? Because you’re not in control of that. No, God the Father is the one who has determined in His divine, inscrutable will how many days, hours, and seconds you will walk the face of the earth. Since that is so, then move your heart’s focus away from trying to gain control.

Jesus goes further with this thought, using ravens and lilies as sermon illustrations: “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! . . . Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith!” These creatures of God receive His providential care. He gives them what they need to live out their days that He has set for them. And if that is so for these minor creatures, then it is so for you who are greater than they are.

The birds and flowers receive what they need to survive as God wills it. God your Father will so provide for you. That is true. Jesus says: “Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.” But even this is not the fullness of Jesus’ teaching. For what the Father has in store for you is much, much more than providing earthly necessities. What is it that He has for you? Jesus reveals it: “Instead seek, His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” That is the treasure which should receive your heart’s attention.

So what is that kingdom? It is the reception of salvation, being brought into a true and good relationship with God. That is, it is gaining the status of having God as more than your Creator and Provider, but as your Father. It is being made an heir of everlasting life. Luther’s Small Catechism summarizes it well when speaking about the Lord’s Prayer petition, “Your kingdom come.”: “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” A present and future reality is disclosed: righteous life now and in the future. That is the kingdom which the Father has for you.

Jesus said: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The statement is a great promise based upon what has already been accomplished for you. It is the result of God the Son’s work. The Father wishes that you be made an heir of everlasting life, not just a recipient of earthly necessities. He desires that you be in fellowship and communion with Him in the here and now, but also in the world to come. And so, He has sent His Son to fulfill that will. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were all done to bring about the fulfillment of the Father’s good pleasure. So Jesus discloses the truth by speaking about what the Father has in store for you. But even more so, by His actual doing—including His own suffering of hunger and thirst, by His being stripped of all His clothing, by His dying in crucifixion, and by His rising to life again—Jesus meets all that is required for you to receive the Father’s good pleasure, so that you may have a godly life here in time and in eternity.

What Jesus accomplishes for you is the true treasure. That should be the focus of your attention, your heart’s desire. Jesus says: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.” You can part with earthly treasure and aid those who have little, just as Jesus gave of Himself to give you His righteousness. But Jesus goes further: “Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” Such a treasure is worth having, it’s worth even losing things on earth in order to obtain.

But even this heavenly treasure you cannot get by worrying. Your anxiety will not acquire it for you. It is given. It is placed into your possession by Christ Himself. His Word comes and delivers the goods. As you believe it, so you are what it declares. Like Abraham, you believe the Lord, and it is counted to you as righteousness. Your Lord Jesus says, “I am making you heirs of everlasting life. That life is found in being united to Me, so I connect you to Myself by baptizing you in the Divine Name that I possess. I take your mortality upon Myself, giving you My immortality in its place. To guarantee what awaits you, I place My Body and Blood in your mouths and into your hearts, so that you may have forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. As you live as pilgrims in this world, I constantly remind you of what will be yours for eternity—a place that I have prepared by going to My Father through death, resurrection, and ascension. I shall return and make all this your own. Don’t become distracted by the vain and worthless things of this world, but fix your hearts on these things.”

All this is wrapped up in Jesus’ statements: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. . . . For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Jesus was not distracted by the concerns of this world. Why? Because His heart was focused on the treasure of heaven—the treasure that was already His, but which was destined to be made yours through His work. That treasure is given to be yours. Currently, you have it in part, for you are like the patriarchs of the past: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” But that treasure is now theirs and shall be yours.

So the Lord Jesus exhorts you to be ready for His return: “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” If your treasure is what Jesus brings with Him—resurrection to everlasting life—you will be prepared. Your hearts are set on it. Like all the people who readily give time and effort for temporal things, so you are dedicated to receiving what is eternally valuable. You listen to Christ’s words of salvation and believe them. You endure whatever sufferings and afflictions come for the sake of Christ. You live without obsessing over every little detail of earthly life. For your treasure is not this world, but the kingdom which Your Father delights to give you. And since your treasure is there, so your hearts will ever be focused heavenward.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pentecost 10 Sermon -- Luke 12:13-21 (LSB Proper 13C)

August 1, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus] said to them: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

What does your life consist of? That is the question posed by Jesus’ statement. He states clearly: “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” But how many people would agree with that statement? How many live in concert with those words? Do you? Jesus’ statement runs against the thinking of most individuals. Think on how people behave. How much emphasis is placed on the securing of income and acquiring of goods?

We have several television networks that provide round-the-clock reporting on economic data. The health of our country’s life is measured in the Gross Domestic Product. Decisions are made based upon how much is being consumed and purchased by the general public. The out-of-control amount of spending of the past decade has now led to commercials telling us to “Feed the Pig!” emphasizing the importance of having cash assets saved up for a secure life instead of spending money on frivolous things. The opposite message of Jesus’ statement is pushed: that life does consist in the abundance of possessions.

Such is the thinking of the world, but not the thinking of God. This is why Jesus makes His statement. In today’s Gospel Reading, you heard how Jesus was confronted with the world’s thinking: “Someone in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’” The demand comes from a man in the crowd. He had been listening to Jesus. He had heard Jesus speak about great heavenly eternal truths, even speaking about authority. But what does the man want from Jesus? To have Him settle a dispute over money. Such demand comes from a mindset consistent with the world: that what is truly important is to have possessions; that the measure of life is in what one owns.

This way of thinking is vain and empty, the thinking of the world. It misses what is truly valuable and precious. So Jesus says: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” To illustrate this point, Jesus tells a story about a rich farmer: “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” This rich farmer in the parable has his life set and secure, for he believes that life does consist in the abundance of possessions. Note what the man trusts: for many years he has ample goods laid up. The pig has been fed. The farmer has everything that he thinks he needs.

But Jesus’ parable continues: “But God said to [the rich farmer], ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” The rich farmer has all that he could need, but he has missed what is truly important. For this he is called “Fool!” He is foolish, lacking true sense, true wisdom. What was lacking? He had determined that his life was set and secure, but he had the wrong assessment of life. That wrong assessment of life is what Jesus warns all His hearers, including you, against.

To consider that life consists of the abundance of possessions makes it vanity. The Lord God speaks of life as eternal, as lasting. Yet all possessions are temporal and transient. Think of all things that you own. After your death, they will no longer be yours. They will not be yours eternally. But how much effort is put into acquiring them? The observations of the Preacher deals with that effort: “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? . . . So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. . . . What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest.” And what does he say about how wise all that is? The Preacher states: “This also is vanity.”

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. . . .” The Preacher laments the foolishness of it all. There is no wisdom in the thought that life consists of the abundance of possessions. That is why Jesus calls the rich farmer in the parable: “Fool!” The man had no wisdom because he had focused on the things of this world. But wisdom is given from God Himself when He reveals His will to humanity and when the hearts, minds, and souls of humans are renewed to understand, believe, and rely on that will. This is what the Apostle Paul speaks of when he says: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Place your focus, your attention, your faith in what is greater than this transient, vain, earthly life and all its trappings.

But why should this be done? “For one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” No, the amount of what you possess does not make up your life. Rather, your life consists of being in a right relationship with God the Father, put there through what Christ Jesus has accomplished in His death and resurrection, delivered to you by the Holy Spirit. That is where you have life. Life isn’t made up of what you acquire for yourself. No, life has been accomplished for you and given to you. It is found above in Christ, yours because of what Christ has done here on earth below.

This truth about life is stated by the Apostle Paul: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Note what the apostle says has happened to you: you have died and you have been raised with Christ. That is baptismal language. It describes the reality that you have already experienced. That experience of baptism has given you a new identity. You are God’s people and His will has been revealed to you. You possess His wisdom, including the wisdom about life.

So where is your life? What does your life consist of? Not the abundance of your possessions. The things you own are yours for the here and now, but they do not comprise your life. Rather, you can think of what you learned in the Small Catechism: “[God] also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” The items listed—the abundance of possessions—do not comprise life, but are given to support it. Instead, life is found in hidden with Christ in God. Christ’s righteousness; His merits; His resurrection; His victory over sin, death, and Satan—these things comprise your life. For through them you are regenerated and renewed. You are given the wisdom that comes from above, so that you know what pleases God and you want to do it. And what you lack in such desire and accomplishment is made up for by Christ’s perfect obedience to His Father’s will.

These heavenly and divine things are what last. They are eternally for you. The possession of those heavenly things is what your soul can rely on. Unlike wealth or property or fame, they are not taken away from you at the end of your earthly lives. No, they are yours for all time. So you can rely on what Christ gives you—that which makes you “rich toward God.” The rich farmer’s statement can be rephrased. Remember what he said: “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” The problem was that he was thinking about all his grain and goods stored up in his new barns.

What Christ desires you to say is this: “I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for all eternity; relax, eat, drink, be merry. Those goods aren’t my possessions, but what my Lord has brought to me. Those goods aren’t the harvest of the field, but the fruit of His labor and cross. So I can rest, knowing that Christ has accomplished my salvation. I can eat and drink what my Lord provides, His divine food that brings forgiveness, life, and salvation. I can be merry and rejoice, since my condemnation has been lifted from me.” This would be a great statement of true faith in what Christ Jesus provides, in the things that are greater than this world.

In fact, you can go back to what the man said to Jesus and rephrase that: “Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But He said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or arbitrator over you?’” It was true that Jesus was not there to deal with such a mundane, earthly matter of dividing property; He was there to bring salvation. And because Jesus has done so, you can say: “My baptism made me a member the Father’s household. Before I even asked, Christ my Brother and Lord divided His Father’s eternal, heavenly inheritance with me.” So you need not covet the things of this world, “for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Trust instead the eternal truth: “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.