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Sunday, December 1, 2013
November 27, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”
Once again, the Lord has brought us an opportunity to reflect on the generosity that He has shown to us in providing for our earthly needs. That is the reason that we gather together for a Day of Thanksgiving. We render our thanks in response to what has been given to us from the Lord. In doing so, we take our place in the long line of the Lord’s people who have done so.
The First Reading that you heard gave instructions for how the Lord’s people were to offer their thanks. Some of the fruit and crops obtained from the ground were to be offered to Him. Each Israelite was to bring a basket of their firstfruits to the Lord’s altar. Then there was a little liturgy that they would follow: the giving of the basket to the priest, followed by the recitation of a thanksgiving address. In that statement, the Israelites remembered their history, how the Lord had taken Abraham out of his homeland, raised up a great population in Egypt despite their being enslaved, and brought them to their land. And the last statement confessed the truth about why they had anything to bring to that altar: “And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.”
That phrase spoken by the Israelites during the harvest time worship acknowledged their dependence upon the Lord. It revealed the Lord’s providential nature. In those words are the seeds of truth about the Lord’s identity, what future believers would also confess. The same sentiment is spoken by the Psalmist: “You visit the earth and water it; You greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; You provide their grain, for so You have prepared it.” That phrase even provides a source for what Luther would write in the Small Catechism: “He also gives me food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.”
How different do those prescribed actions in the Old Testament stand in contrast with the man in Jesus’ parable! You heard Him tell the story: “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.’” In that little liturgy, there was nothing attributed to the Lord, no acknowledgement about the actual source of the man’s harvest. But there were plenty of baskets of grain brought and offered up to the rich man. They filled his newly-built barns.
So what does Jesus say about this man? When his life is brought to an end, the rich man’s folly is revealed: “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” And the last statement of Jesus’ teaching on this matter confesses the truth about such people: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
The contrast between the faithful worshiper and the rich man is shown. It is a matter of the heart. It is a matter of belief. Does the individual have an understanding of what is taking place in this world, even in the provision of earthly goods? The one who does know how the Lord is behind the whole system will bring the harvest gifts in the basket and offer them in thanksgiving. The offering is an act of faith. It is a form of worship. It is a God-pleasing work.
But this is not an archaic act. Yes, there have been some changes in circumstance. You have not been brought to Canaan, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” But the rest of what the Israelite worshipers said is true. As you have been baptized into Christ and given faith in Him, you have become a spiritual descendant of Abraham. The Exodus story is now part of your heritage. You have been personally delivered by the Lord by His great deeds of death and resurrection for your sake. And the Lord’s provision of earthly goods to you continues to this day. You are a recipient of the Lord’s graciousness and generosity. So like the Israelites of old, you are led to bring forth the baskets of what you have received and offer them at the Lord’s altar, saying: “And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.” This is an act of faith and form of worship and God-pleasing work that you perform.
In the Second Reading, you heard more descriptions about this giving. The famous, often-quoted verse from Paul’s pen was read: “Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” That verse is familiar to you, since it has appeared on offering envelopes and pledge cards for decades, if not centuries. And so you go try to figure out in your mind what can be given and write down the number or fill out the checks and in the baskets they go.
But this is not quite what Paul is getting at with that statement. Instead, he is showing you and all who have heard this text what happens behind the curtains in the matter of giving. He is confessing the same truth about the Lord as that harvest liturgy did in ancient Israel. And that is seen in the statements that follow the matter of “cheerful giving”: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.”
The apostle is confirming the fact that the Lord provides for you. He grants you what you need; your offerings are a confession of faith that this is so. But he also introduces another aspect of what happens when you do so: the Lord grants things to you as you make your offerings to Him. This is not to say that if you put a $10,000 check in the plate, the Lord will give you $100,000 in the next week or month. Such a statement would be a perversion of what the apostle is saying, and if you heard such things from this pulpit, there should be an immediate call to the District Office, if not to the Attorney General. But there is a truth that is revealed: though you are giving sacrificially, you also are receiving. The Lord’s provision to you actually continues as you are providing for other people through your offerings: your good works increase, the harvest of your righteousness increases, your richness toward God increases.
That truth is a confounding thing to the earthly mind. When hearing about the rich man in Jesus’ parable and the full barns, it would seem that his actions are the way to obtain and maintain riches. But the apostle’s words are just the opposite: “You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity.” You have been given to know what is actually the case. True riches come from the acts of faith that recognize the truth about the Lord’s identity—that He has given you all good things, both temporal and eternal, physical and spiritual. Those acts of faith include the offerings that you present before the Lord’s altar, even the ones that are placed in the brass baskets that will be passed through the pews. Let that be remembered again this year, especially on this day when we recognize the Lord’s provision to us.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
November 24, 2013 - Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA
“And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at Him, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up and offering Him sour wine and saying, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!’”
This Sunday brings the Church Year to its close. It’s somewhat like New Year’s Eve. But unlike the end of the calendar year, the focus of this day is not on restarting on January 1. Instead, the Church is presented with the message of the end of all earthly things, but the beginning of a new era, the life of the world to come. As part of that message, those who hear the Scripture Readings are led to consider the Kingship of Christ, His dominion over all things in heaven and on earth, a dominion that will be seen fully in the next age.
But prior to discussing the Kingship of Christ at the last day and in eternity, there needs to be an examination of what His kingship looked like here on earth. There is a deep contrast between the two. That contrast is seen in the Scripture Readings for today. This contrast is necessary. And the reason for its existence must be considered. It must be, because the contrast between the way Christ’s kingship looked here on earth and how it will be in eternity has everything to do with the way that salvation comes to you.
After hearing the Gospel Reading for today, there was little in it that would be labeled majestic. The crucifixion of a man for rebellion is anything but majestic. But that is what you heard was happening to Jesus. Jesus was hanging naked in shame for all to see. He was slowly suffocating in the throes of pain. He was ridiculed and reviled by those who would pass by and watch the gruesome spectacle. Even the government piles on, posting a sign above Jesus’ head: “This is the King of the Jews.” With that sign, Pilate is basically asking the people of Jerusalem: “Do you want to see your king? Well there He is. Behold the Man and see if you still dare to claim Him as your leader.”
That depiction of a crucified man is nothing that anyone would normally identify as their hope, as their leader, as their king. And yet, you will confess that you believe in “Jesus Christ, [God’s] only Son, our Lord.” You claim that this Man who was pinned to a crossbeam and left to die suspended above a garbage heap is your Lord, your King. Not only do you say that He is your monarch, but you have ascribed all things majestic to Him: “Power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and blessing and glory are His.”
It seems implausible for you to do so. Throughout Jesus’ earthly life, there was little that would lead anyone to deem Him as royal. In a matter of weeks as the new Church Year begins, you will recall His birth in a stable. Later you will hear how His own villagers rejected Him. Even after miracles would show His power and ability, Jesus would prohibit the crowds from making Him king. And in the great crescendo of His earthly life, you will see Jesus enter Jerusalem on a magnificent steed of a donkey colt. All this leading up to the Friday afternoon of ignominious death outside the capital of Judea.
“This is the King of the Jews?” If so, who would want Him? That is the reaction that the world gives to your claims. It is the reaction that you actually have in your own sinfulness. Who wants a King like that? Who wants a Monarch of Modesty, a Prince of Poverty, a Lord of Limitation? And when that same modesty, poverty, humility is demanded of you, while those who don’t follow Jesus enjoy greatness, the same complaints are made that the prophet Malachi spoke of: "It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping His charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape."
The eyes of the world see the crucified Jesus. Seeing that pitiful spectacle leads to the conclusion: “It is vain to serve and follow Him.” Indeed it is vain, worthless, and pointless to follow a man whose life leads to crucifixion and whose path leads to powerlessness. And yet, you follow. You follow that Man and claim Him as King. You do so, not of compulsion, but voluntarily. You freely travel the path of discipleship, even with all its drawbacks. You look at the Crucified Christ and do not scoff at Him or mock Him, but unquestionably point to Him as your Lord.
But how can you do so? How can you confess the opposite of what your senses behold? You do so as there is trust what has been revealed, not what you apprehend by sight. As the apostle puts it: “We walk by faith, not by sight.” By faith, you lay claim to Jesus as Lord. That is, you lay claim to the whole Jesus as Lord. For what has been revealed did not end with the events of Good Friday. No, you have been told much more, much more about that Jesus who was crucified.
You heard that more about the identity of the crucified Jesus in the Scripture Readings for this day. It was declared to you in today’s Epistle Reading. The suspended, hanging Jesus is the Lord of all, because there was purpose in His death, something great achieved by it. That is what Paul explains to you: “For in [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.”
The fullness of God dwelled in a Man? God reconciled heaven and earth to Himself through that Man’s crucifixion? Peace is given through violent death? The claims seem as outlandish as claiming a condemned criminal as king. But that reality is not apprehended by your sense or reason. It must be revealed and then believed by faith. And that has happened for you. That is why you can hear the Gospel account this morning and say that the inscription above Jesus’ head was not satirical, but a statement of truth: “This is the King of the Jews.” And you turn those insults of the scoffers and mockers into ascriptions of praise. You don’t ridicule Jesus by calling for Him to save Himself, but stare in awe and wonder as His giving Himself in sacrifice brings us salvation.
As mentioned earlier, the theme of this day is the contrast between Christ’s earthly kingship and His eternal majesty. His kingship here on earth was marked by humility and service. It claimed no military prowess or international prestige or financial fortune. As Jesus would reply to Pilate: “My Kingdom is not of this world.” It can’t be measured in those terms. It isn’t meant for this age. No, it is eternal and everlasting, a majesty hidden for now, but will be revealed for all to see.
That is what your faith lays hold of, what your discipleship points us toward. You are not caught up in the things of this world, but look forward to the life of the world to come. You identify yourselves as Jesus’ subjects, confessing what has been revealed to you: “[The Father] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Even in the midst of this humbleness, this group of eighty or so gathered around the words of Jesus that the world considers simple and His sacraments that the world mocks as powerless, you make that claim. For you no longer measure everything by sense, but by faith. You see the Crucified and Risen Jesus and point to Him as your Lord.
So you make your confession on this day. With the apostle Paul, you say: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.”
By the Spirit, you say: “Jesus Christ is Lord.” And in that confession is your salvation. So it has been revealed to you, and so you believe. May you remain firm in that confession, despite whatever the world may say and whatever your eyes may see. Look always at that Crucified Jesus as the Lord of Lords, always fearing Him and esteeming His name--the identity revealed in the Scriptures. Come with the request to be remembered when He comes into His eternal kingdom. And when the Crucified and Risen Jesus returns in glory, He will say to you: “Truly, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.