Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pentecost 18 Sermon -- Luke 16:19-31 (LSB Proper 21C)

September 26, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“The rich man said: ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ Abraham said to him: ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

The rich man had everything that he could ever need. Just listen again to his description: “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” What more could be asked for? The bank account was full of gold. The closet held nothing but the finest of clothes. The dinner tables were set with the most gourmet foods. His house was even equipped with a gate to keep the nosy neighbors and riff-raff away. The rich man really had it all.

This man described by Jesus was nearly identical to the nobility and elite spoken of by the Prophet Amos: “those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils.” Life was full of leisure. Nothing troubled the hearts or minds.

But there was a major problem with the nobility of Israel and the rich man. They had everything that their hearts desired. But their hearts’ desire was misguided, incomplete. These people found security in what they possessed, but were not motivated by what the Lord spoke in the Scriptures. Both the ancient nobles of Israel and the rich man had the opportunity for virtuous action—behavior motivated by proper belief. But what do they do instead? The nobles “are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.” The rich man has a neighbor in need put in front of Him: “At his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” But no help was forthcoming.

So what happens to these people? They receive divine judgment. They feel the Lord’s wrath. Amos the Prophet declares the fate of Israel’s nobility: “Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.” All the parties will come to an end. All the possessions will be lost. All their high status will be torn down. The same is true for the rich man. His life comes to an end. Note the fate that he receives: “The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’”

Why do these people receive such a miserable end? It is quite simple. They have no right belief. They do not heed the Lord’s words spoken to them through Moses and the Prophets. Instead, they chase after what they determine to be virtuous and good, though it stands in opposition to the Lord’s righteousness. This is sin of the first degree, not only poor actions, but an idolatrous substitution of other gods before the Lord. It is an awful combination, especially when it results in having wealth, success, and easy life now, but everlasting loss, torment, and death in the world to come.

So it was with the rich man. When his torment leads him to ask for the smallest bit of relief—a moist finger to barely wet his tongue—the rich man is rejected. Remember what was said to him: “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’” The rich man had received all his good things—riches, fine clothing, gourmet foods, gated house—in his earthly life. That was his choice. It pleased him to have it. But there was nothing good left to give him in eternity. The chasm between Hades and Paradise prevents it.

The rich man’s actions reflected his belief. And that belief included no concern about the Lord’s righteousness or about the life in the world to come. What comes to him is dreadful, but it was avoidable. This is seen in the dialogue between the rich man and Abraham: “Then he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’” Abraham’s statement shows the source of salvation: what Moses and the Prophets declared. They proclaimed the Divine Covenant, all the declarations and decrees that the Lord had made to His people. That Covenant revealed all the sins and shortcomings of humanity. It exhorted mankind to change and repent. And the Covenant included the promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation for those who would believe it.

But the rich man did not heed it and neither would his brothers: “[The rich man] said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [Abraham] said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” Believing the words of the Covenant made is what was needed. The miraculous signs do no good, if the people will not believe what Moses and the Prophets said. If one will not love the Lord with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength and love his neighbor as himself, it does not matter how many signs and miracles they might see.

So how is it with you? What do you believe? When and where do you wish to receive your good things? Do you heed the Lord’s words or do you substitute your own righteousness and virtue instead? These are the questions that Jesus’ description of the rich man and Lazarus is meant to provoke in your hearts and minds. They are asked, because His words are what will bring you life, if you will believe the Covenant that He makes with you.

Moses and the Prophets spoke about Jesus Christ. They predicted what He would say and what He would do. They laid out the faith that one must confess to be saved. They even foretold His death and resurrection. So you have the words of Moses and the Prophets. But if you don’t hear them, then it won’t matter that you also have the words of Jesus who has risen from the dead. But do you believe them? Do you find them to be true and life-giving for you? Are they declaring the good things in eternity that you want to receive?

Those are the topics that Jesus’ words speak of. That is what He wishes to convey to you. His work was to atone for your sin, to shut the doors of Hades for you, to gain you access to Paradise forever. It has all been accomplished for you. All is done, so that you can receive your good things, so that you can be comforted for all eternity in the presence of Abraham, Moses, and all the Prophets. What Christ has earned through His death and resurrection is delivered to you through His Word—His forgiving Word, His watery Word, His feeding Word. As you hear and believe, then what Jesus has for you becomes yours.

That is the way it works. Having a heart only fixed on all the matters of this earth will keep you from receiving them. But having a heart transformed by the Holy Spirit, converted through repentance and then set on what Christ has to give makes those good things yours. This is what moves you from the fate of the rich man to the fate of Lazarus. Again, what determined their fates was their faith: refusal to heed the Lord’s Word led to disaster for the rich man, but trust in the Lord’s Word brought everlasting benefit to Lazarus—the one whom the Lord helped, just as promised in the Psalm: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.”

So as you have been brought to faith through hearing the Word of Christ you are helped by Him. Unlike the nobles of Israel and the rich man, Jesus does not ignore your plight. Instead, He helps you, giving all that you need. Instead of leaving you at the outer gates, Christ makes you a part of His household. Jesus takes His finest robe of righteousness and clothes you with it. He sets up the finest banquet and seats you at the table, so that you may eat no crumbs, but your fill of the Bread of Life. He makes you an heir of all His riches, even a place in His heavenly kingdom. It is where the angels will bring you as your life in this world comes to and end. All this is how Christ makes you like Lazarus—one whom the Lord has helped.

But one more thing must be said concerning this statement of Jesus. The same Word that carries the Holy Spirit who transforms your hearts and souls and delivers Christ’s merits to you causes you to act like differently. As you have been helped by Christ, you should not neglect the plight of your neighbors. It does no good to be one helped by Christ, but then act like the rich man and ignore all the other Lazaruses around you. Instead, you are led to consider them as Christ considered you. Your churchbody will be emphasizing that in the next three years. This parish should note that emphasis and see how we can act accordingly.

Today, as you are welcomed into Christ’s household, clothed with Christ’s righteousness, and fed with Christ’s meal, remember that this is how you are helped by the Lord. That help is delivered through His Word. Pray that your hearts and minds may be transformed and enlightened—strengthened in faith toward the Lord and in fervent love toward one another—that you may believe the Covenant that He makes with you. So you shall avoid the dreadful fate of the rich man, but instead have all the good things like Lazarus.

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

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pentecost 17 Sermon -- Luke 16:1-15 (LSB Proper 20C)

September 19, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said to His disciples. . . “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”

The master’s summons was different that day. Other times the master had called his manager to the office, discussing the way that business was going. But this time, the summons was cold. There was no interest in asking about the manager’s well-being or for advice concerning the business. No, there was anger behind the master’s voice: “What is this that I hear about you?” The manager had been found out. Others had reported to his master that he is a fraud, a cheat, a squanderer. And now he is going to pay for his misdeeds: “Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.”

This was the end of the line for this man’s career. His livelihood was being taken away. No longer would he have a position of authority. No longer would he have access to his master’s assets. No longer would he have people fear and respect him and his decrees. All this was being taken away. The account books would have to be turned in. After his sacking, the manager would have servant and debtor alike dismiss him with nary a glance.

So what is the manager to do? He tries to figure a way out of his mess: “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.’” Physical labor isn’t an option. Pride eliminates the thought of begging for a living. But there is one thing that the manager is good at: he can come up with schemes. The way into the predicament will be the way out. So the manager says: “‘I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’”

How can the manager escape the doom that he has earned? He will do what he does best: he will squander his master’s possessions in order to gain favor with his master’s debtors. He only has a bit of time to complete the scheme. But until the master obtains the account books, the manager can smooth things out for himself. And it works! “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” The master notes how his manager’s scheme helped to secure his future. This doesn’t mean that the manager gets his job back, but he will have a source of support for his physical welfare.

So what is to be learned from this parable? What does Jesus want His people to know? The key to understanding the point is in the closing comment: “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” This is more than a statement of fact, though it is true. You see how well those who are not bound to the ethical and moral standards of the Lord’s way do in this world. You see such a description in the Old Testament Reading for this morning: “Make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat.” It is much easier to obtain and maintain wealth when you have no bounden duty to care for your neighbor’s welfare, to conduct business above board, to be willing to lose money on a sale through honest disclosure of what is faulty in your product. All that is true, but it is not really the point of the parable.

Instead, Jesus’ parable is meant to show how well the people of this generation do in looking out for their own interest and compare it to your actions. When faced with the loss of his livelihood, the manager figures out a way to ameliorate the situation. He may lose his job, but he won’t go starving. He may never find gainful employment as a manager again, but he will have people out there to watch his back. He’s left some markers out there that he can call in. And it didn’t cost him anything: the way to his welfare is accomplished through soaking his master again. Through bald exercise of shrewdness, the unrighteous manager uses his master’s wealth to secure his own welfare.

But how shrewd or wise are you? How will you react when your Master demands your dismissal because you squandered His possessions? What do you do when faced with the loss of your livelihood? These are the questions that Jesus wants you to ask yourselves. But these aren’t questions that concern temporal situations. No, these are questions that address your fate in the life of the world to come, a fate that you must wrestle with in the here and now.

The question asked of the manager in the parable will be asked of you: “What is this that I hear about you?” It is the cold, hard judgment that the Lord God directs against your sinful lives. The report comes to Him of your squandering His possessions. You are given stewardship over creation, but for what purpose do you use it—for ill or for good? At the same time, you are given access to all the grace and mercy of heaven, but are you consistent in receiving them or do you neglect to gather around these gifts? These are entrusted to you, but when they are not employed for their intended purposes—to bring salvation to you through faith in God and to benefit others through fervent love of neighbor—then you have squandered God’s possessions. And your Master will say: Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.”

What Jesus says should be considered well: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” Consider the questions. Are you faithful in the earthly things that your Master has placed under your management? Are you faithful in the earthly relationships in which your Master has placed you? If not, then should He entrust you with the true riches?

When behavior is compared with the standards that your Master has laid out, there should not be a bragging about faithfulness. No, there should be admission of squandering the Lord’s possessions. And because of that He should demand the removal of your livelihood, both now and in the world to come. That is the truth of the matter. So what should you do when faced with that judgment? How can you get out of your predicament?

You saw how the unrighteous manager acted. He came up with a scheme. He figured out a way to secure his living, though it couldn’t be done through his own work or his own wealth. The same is true for you. If the Master removes your status as His manager, there is no way for you to work it out. You can’t dig your way into everlasting life. There is no one that you can beg who can give you enough to buy it. And you can’t obtain it by cutting people’s bills.

“The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” They can come up with scheme after scheme. They can invent ways out of bad situations. But you can’t do so in the matter of salvation. Yet, you can act shrewdly and wisely. You should be just as concerned about your welfare and your eternal livelihood as the manager in the parable was. The shrewd and wise move is to accept the charges leveled against you, admit your guilt, and then to turn to the promises that your Master has made. It is hardly enjoyable, but it is the only way that you can survive, the only way that you will not be dismissed from the Master’s household for eternity.

You cannot cut your own bills in half and make up the difference. But you do have access to Christ’s works that erase all ledgers and repays all debts. What the apostle told Timothy is true for you: “God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” There is the way out of your predicament—not your own scheme, but the fulfillment of the Master’s grand plan of salvation through Christ’s ransoming death and His life-giving resurrection.

Jesus’ parable exhorts you to be shrewd and wise, to act with desperation and swiftness. The unrighteous manager did so. He knew time was short, but that there was a way to secure his future. For his shrewdness, he received commendation. The same facts should be known by you and drive you to action. The time before your judgment is unknown. It may be short or it may be long. But at some time, the Master will summon you. Do not let that be a time when He says: “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” Instead, let it be a time when He welcomes you as He sees that your accounts are in good order because of the ransom offered by His Son, a ransom that you are faithful in receiving through Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Supper. For these are the things that make you wise unto salvation, so that you can be truly shrewd concerning the things in the generation to come.

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

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pentecost 15 Sermon -- Luke 14:25-25 (LSB Proper 18C)

September 5, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus turned and said to [the crowd]: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. . . . So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

Moses teaches the way of discipleship to the Israelites. He gives them final instructions as they begin a new stage of following the Lord: entry into the Promised Land. Prior to the conquest of Canaan, Moses reviews the Covenant that the Lord had made with them. Repeating the Covenant, Moses calls the Hebrew people to be faithful: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in His ways, and by keeping His commandments and His statutes and His just decrees, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.”

Moses shows the Israelites two ways: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.” Those are the only two options. They are mutually exclusive. A person either follows after life and good or after death and evil. But the way of life is demanding, full of constraints. The way of life that Moses sets before the people is not his way, but the Lord’s way. And the Lord has set the requirements: love of Him alone, walking in His ways alone, keeping His commandments and statutes and just decrees alone. Those who follow must keep their hearts, minds, and souls focused on that way. Wandering from it would cause major disaster: “you shall surely perish.”

What Moses declared to the Israelites is analogous to the statement Jesus makes to those following Him. Like the thousands that Moses led to the Promised Land, “Great crowds accompanied Jesus.” Jesus is leading people into salvation, into the promise of life everlasting. Like Moses, Jesus sets out what it necessary to be His follower, what His way requires of them: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. . . . So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.” Those are the terms of discipleship, the only way to the Promised Land that Jesus acquires for His people.

But what do these terms mean? What is required? Jesus’ way is demanding. It calls for complete allegiance and devotion to Him. To follow such a way is difficult: total allegiance and devotion to Jesus requires rejection and renunciation of anything that would draw people from His way or stand as impediments. Jesus is so clear about this. He doesn’t talk in general terms or euphemisms. No, He goes right to the heart of the matter: family, possessions, your own life are all on the chopping block. They become objects of hatred and renunciation.

Why does Jesus call the people to hate family, renounce possessions, and even reject their own lives? Because these intimate things can all stand in the way of allegiance and devotion to Jesus and His way of life. They can become gods and idols—the objects of fear, love, and trust that should be shown to Him alone. As Luther says in the Large Catechism: “Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.” And you heard what Moses said about devotion to other gods: “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.”

So Jesus says: “None of that for My disciples. Devotion to anything besides Me and My way of life that I lay out for you disqualifies you from discipleship. You have to put aside anything that impedes your following Me.” That demand is placed on all those who would be Jesus’ disciples. But what Jesus requires of His followers is what He Himself fulfilled. He does not expect anything of them that He had not done.

Think about Jesus’ life, what you know of Him. Did He show hatred to His family? Recall an incident earlier in Jesus’ life: “Jesus was told, ‘Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You.’ But He answered them, “My mother and My brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’” Did He bear His own cross? Indeed, carrying it out from Jerusalem to Mount Calvary for you. Did He renounce all that He had, all His possessions? Certainly, as He Himself declares: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” And not only earthly things, He set aside all the rights and privileges of being God in order to die for you. You have heard the well-known words of the Scriptures: “Though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, He made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

Why does Jesus make this sacrifice? Because He follows the way to bring you salvation that His Father set out. That way of life required His death. That way of blessing required His bearing a divine curse. Jesus takes up His own advice, calculating the purchase price of your salvation. What will it cost for Him to build not just a tower, but a Church? What will it cost for Him to go into battle not with an earthly king, but with the cosmic forces of sin, death, and Satan? Obedience and devotion to His Father in all things, hating His own life, bearing His own cross, renouncing all His possessions: that is the cost. Did Jesus have enough to complete it? The answer is what He declares from the cross: “It is finished/completed/fulfilled/done!”

The requirements to bring salvation to you have been met by Jesus. He calls you to receive it by following His way of life. Receiving that salvation requires your devotion and allegiance to Him alone. It requires being brought into fellowship with Him. You heard Jesus’ statements: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. . . . So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.” But you respond: “Yes, Lord, but I could never do such a thing. I could never do what You have done. I could never meet such requirements.”

However, Jesus does not leave you in despair. He says: “I know that you cannot do this. But I cause it so that it is done for you. I make all that I have accomplished yours.” That is what Holy Baptism does. You are connected to Jesus, incorporated into His Body, the Church. You bear your cross with Jesus, dying with Him as you are baptized. You declare allegiance to Jesus, renouncing the devil and all his works and all his ways—or as the old way of translating it said “all his pomps.” You reject anything that the old evil foe could offer to you, just as Jesus did. Remember Satan’s offer: “’To You I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If You, then, will worship me, it will all be Yours.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written: You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’”

But all this cannot be accomplished through your own abilities or powers. It is only what your renewed hearts, minds, and souls desire and the Spirit of God in you effects. Hating family, hating your own life, hating your possessions: these are not choices that any of you would make. Bearing your own cross? Suffering for someone else’s sake? What a ludicrous suggestion. And yet, that is what you do as Christians. It is the way of life that your Lord has established and has assigned to you. It is the way of life that the Holy Spirit brings you to love and cherish and leads you to follow.

But even in your new lives as disciples, you never fully meet Jesus’ demands. The desire to obey may be there, but as Jesus says: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” So your Lord grants you what you need, whatever is lacking in you. He calls you to remember your baptisms, repeating the statements of renunciation and the vows of allegiance to Him that you earlier made. That remembrance is done in Confession, so that you receive Jesus’ words of absolution that removes all your guilt, overcoming all your faults. He calls you to eat with Him, to partake of what He gave into death, so that you may live. You eat of the fruit of the cross, remembering how Jesus bore it for you and your salvation. Receiving these things from your Lord, you are made blessed again.

Blessedness and righteousness are never achieved by you. The requirements that Jesus fulfilled and places on you are too great for you to meet. But they are met for you by your Lord, so you can rightly be called blessed. His work forms you to meet the description found in today’s psalm. Jesus calls you away from “the counsel of the wicked, the way of sinners, the seat of scoffers.” He makes “your delight in the law of the Lord.” He places you “like a tree planted by streams of water,” so that you “yield your fruit in its season, with leaves that do not wither.”

That is what Jesus accomplishes for you, bringing you from the way of evil to the way of good. He suffered death and curse, so that you may have life and blessing. Without His works, you would surely perish. Through His works, you live eternally. Because of them, you may “choose life, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him.” May you always do so, receiving what Jesus gives, knowing that “He is your life and length of days.”

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

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September 2010 Parish Letter

“O Son of God, our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, You called Matthew the tax collector to be an apostle and evangelist. Through his faithful and inspired witness, grant that we also may follow You, leaving behind all covetous desires and love of riches; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

[Collect for St. Matthew]

September 21 brings the Church the opportunity to commemorate St. Matthew, one of the Twelve Apostles and one of the Four Evangelists. Matthew is known to us from the Gospels, including his own account of Christ’s words and works. In the Gospel Reading for his festival day, Matthew’s description of his call to discipleship is read: As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ And he rose and followed Him.”(Matt 9:9)

The record of Matthew’s call to follow Jesus is very brief. Jesus gives the command to follow, and Matthew does so. Jesus’ words strike Matthew’s ears, and they create faith in him. Matthew leaves behind his former way of life, in order to participate in the Way of Life. No longer will Matthew be counted among those who collect taxes from men; instead, he will engage in the taxing work of collecting men to be made part of Christ’s Church.

But why does Jesus desire to have someone like Matthew with Him? Of all people in ancient Judea, why would Jesus select a tax collector to be one of His disciples? The answer to these questions is seen in the character of Jesus. The events after Matthew’s call to discipleship display that character: “And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when He heard it, He said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”(Matt 9:10-13) The welcome given to Matthew and his fellow tax collectors displays the mercy that Jesus shows to the world. He has come to aid the helpless, to desire the unwanted, to give new life to who earned the condemnation to everlasting death by their sin.

Matthew’s complete change in life sets the pattern for all who will follow Jesus. As the Christ brings salvation to people caught in sin, death, and the clutches of Satan, a new way of life is given to them. Jesus brings a transformation of life to those He encounters. They are no longer unrighteous, but righteous. They no longer are ignorant of the way God considers them, but rejoice in it. They no longer are rebellious people, but find pleasure in God’s perfect will and desire to fulfill it. Such a change is not limited to Matthew, but is found throughout all generations of believers, even in the present day.

But how does Jesus bring change in our time? Do we have Jesus walking around in our midst? Do we see Him entering the Department of Revenue, calling tax collectors to discipleship? No, we don’t. But we do have His Word present with us that performs what it declares. The call continues to go out to individuals: “Follow Me.” And people continue to rise and follow. But how does that call come to them? It comes through the work of the apostles and evangelists, through the efforts of people like Matthew who are sent out into the world to hand down the accounts of Christ’s words and works to others—the labor that brings people into fellowship with Christ. It is what Jesus desires, so that others may share in His mercy.

This is has happened in your lives. Christ’s Word has come to you. Jesus commands you: “Follow Me.” That Word was spoken when you were made His disciple through Holy Baptism. It has come to you again as you hear of Christ’s choosing the Twelve to follow Him. Every time that one of Christ’s ministers declares that your sins are forgiven, Jesus’ word again calls you to discipleship. Instruction in the way of life that Jesus lays out gives guidance to His followers. The Holy Spirit works through Christ’s Word being proclaimed, even when it is spoken by people like Matthew or you.

Having been made disciples of Jesus, you are led in the way of following Him. There is the temptation to abandon that way, to go back to the former ways, just as the tax booths and their profits tempted Matthew. But the prayer of every disciple of Jesus is to have His Word never leave, but always to sound forth clearly in the heart, mind, and soul. For through that action, the Holy Spirit leads you to follow Jesus in the midst of every temptation. Such a prayer is found in the collect printed above: “Through [Matthew’s] faithful and inspired witness, grant that we also may follow You, leaving behind all covetous desires and love of riches. . . .”

The desire to hear Christ’s Word throughout life is also reflected in the psalm for St. Matthew’s Day: Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep Your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in Your ways. Confirm to Your servant Your promise, that You may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread, for Your just decrees are good. Behold, I long for Your precepts; in Your righteousness give me life!”(Ps 119:33-40) The psalm reveals the benefit of having Christ’s Word present in the lives of believers. Such a prayer is good to offer, especially as you remember the transformation that Christ’s Word worked in both Matthew and you. In your Lord’s mercy, it shall be true for you; Christ’s words and works make it so. As He has called you to discipleship, you shall possess the true treasure—not the coin of the realm that Matthew once collected, but life everlasting in full righteousness and perfection with all of Christ’s people.