Sunday, October 23, 2016
Matthew 18:21-35; Philippians 1:3-7; Micah 6:6-8
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
On the corner of West 44th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan you will find the National Debt Clock which keeps a running, cumulative accounting of the national debt year after year, day after day, minute by minute, second by second. Needless to say, it has a lot of digits. On the left side of the clock, the numbers, thankfully, move rather slowly, but on the right side, even into the thousands of dollars, the numbers fly by so quickly that they appear as a digital “8,” the shape from which all the other numbers are formed. Recently I Googled the words “National Debt Clock” and I found the website USDebtClock.org which features a multitude of real-time “clocks” monitoring U. S. debt and all sorts of financial indices. As of Wednesday afternoon, the U. S. Debt was roughly $19.7 trillion. That breaks down to $60,685 per citizen and $165,073 per taxpayer. Suffice it to say, our nation, and every citizen and taxpayer in it, is in serious debt.
Ah, but that’s ok, right? After all, some of the richest and most powerful men and women in the country have mastered the art of turning debt into wealth. For them, debt is good! Well, debt may be acceptable and necessary at times, so long as the one you owe the debt to doesn’t come expecting payment, though I’m uncertain how it can be good. The U. S. economy is, seemingly, based upon, even dependent upon, debt. The only reason that we haven’t tanked is because we are generally thought to be “good for it.” That is to say, other nations, banks, etc. are willing to loan the U. S. money (or products) on credit with interest in the belief that the U. S. will be able to pay it back. And, truth be told, many American households are run on this principal as well. But, what happens when you don’t have good credit? What happens when the lender wants to be paid now and you don’t have the cash? That’s when the chickens come home to roost. That’s how it is with you concerning your sin.
Before God, you are a debtor having no credit and no way to pay Him back what you owe. You inherited your debt from your father, and from you grandfather, and from your great-grandfather, all the way back to your First Father Adam himself. And, don’t think that it’s somehow unfair that you are held accountable for someone else’s debt, for “in Adam we have all been one, one huge rebellious man.” No, Adam’s debt is truly your debt, and my debt, and the debt of every human soul, and your debt must be paid back in full. However, the debt you owe God because of your sin is only half the problem. You transgressed His commandments. You rebelled against your God. You chose to exercise your will over and above and in opposition to His will. You put your fear, love, and trust in other things and in yourself before God. You wanted to be a god unto yourself. The wages of this, your sin, is death. Now, supposing you could pay back your debt to God for your transgressions, which you cannot, you still must die for them. Your death is the fair, just, and righteous penalty for your sin. Death is what you have earned and merited. Death is what you deserve. You can pay it; in fact, you will, even as you are paying it in the decline of your body and mind right now. But, when you have paid your debt in full, you will have nothing left, you will be dead. And, worse than that, you will suffer in hell for eternity. You will never get out.
This is what Jesus had in mind when He taught His disciples in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Yes, Jesus’ point in the parable is that you must forgive as you have been forgiven, just as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Some translations read, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” for it is our debt to God that has been forgiven in Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. However, to illustrate the enormity of the debt you owe to God the result of your sinful transgression, Jesus speaks in terms of financial indebtedness. Suffice it to say, the debt the U. S. owes, exemplified by the National Debt Clock, is but a drop in the bucket compared to your debt, and my debt, to our holy and righteous God.
Once again, Jesus begins by saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…,” for this is yet another parable of the kingdom. Whatever you are to learn from Jesus in this parable is meant to teach you something about God and His kingdom. The parable begins with a servant who owed his master 10,000 talents. The amount is equivalent to something like ten billion dollars, an insurmountable and impossible debt for anyone to pay. The point is that the debt you owe to your Master God is insurmountable and impossible for you to pay. However, because the indebted servant pleaded with his Master for mercy, even if wrongly trying to strike a deal for more time to pay, the Master unexpectedly, amazingly, and graciously canceled the entire debt and let His servant return home forgiven and free. That is precisely what God your heavenly Father has done for you in Jesus Christ, giving Him unto death to satisfy your debt and pay the penalty you owed for your sin, death, that you might be forgiven, restored, and live. And so, the rest of the parable is truly about you: Do you recognize the debt your LORD has forgiven you? Do you recognize the love and mercy He has shown to you in canceling your debt in the blood of His own Son? If you do, then how can you hold anyone in their sins and transgressions against you? If you do, then how can you withhold forgiveness from those who are indebted to you a mere pittance in comparison to the debt your LORD has forgiven you?
As Jesus tells His parable, the servant for whom the Master had canceled the entirety of his debt and set him free went immediately to a fellow servant who owed him a small debt and demanded from him repayment in full. The unforgiving servant showed no mercy or forgiveness to his fellow servant but had him arrested and thrown in prison until he could repay the entirety of his debt. Of course, in prison, the poor indebted servant could never repay. When the Master received word of this He was understandably furious and He revoked His mercy and forgiveness and delivered His unforgiving servant to the jailers until he should repay the entirety of his debt. And, because this parable is not about financial indebtedness at all, but about forgiveness and the lack thereof, Jesus added, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Now, again, this parable is a parable about the kingdom of heaven. What it reveals is that your God has mercifully and graciously, completely and entirely forgiven you the debt you owed to Him in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. This is real and true for you, and it is irrevocable and certain. However, you must bear the fruit of the LORD’s forgiveness in your own love for your brother and sister, for your neighbor, for the stranger, and even for your enemy. To refuse to forgive others as you have been forgiven will not revoke the LORD’s forgiveness of you – that remains and stands irrevocable in the blood of Jesus Christ – but it is for you to refuse and to reject the LORD’s mercy and forgiveness yourself. If you refuse to forgive from the heart, then you have refused and rejected the LORD’s forgiveness for yourself.
Remember that Jesus told this parable to Peter and the disciples who had sought to place a limit upon forgiveness. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” asked Peter, “As many as seven times?” Peter thought he was being generous! “I do not say to you seven times,” replied Jesus, “but seventy times seven.” Do not think that Jesus meant that you should forgive only 490 times, but, rather, that you shouldn’t count, but forgive always and without consideration. But, even if you did attempt to limit your forgiveness to only 490 times, you would surely lose count before that.
Now, I’ve preached it and taught it and said it countless times before, but it needs to be said again: When you forgive others, you forgive with God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. It’s not really your forgiveness, but God’s. Therefore, what have you to lose? Nothing! When you forgive another who has sinned against you, it costs you nothing. In fact, when you forgive others you also free yourself from the self-imposed burden of keeping another person down. Or, to put it another way, you are an extension of God in Christ to others. You are Christ’s hands and heart, mouth and voice. When you forgive others, you extend to them Christ’s forgiveness. You are a branch of the True Vine Jesus, and the fruit you bear is forgiveness, mercy, love, and compassion. Needless to say, as a fruitless branch is cut off and thrown into the fire, so there can be no such thing as an unforgiving, unmerciful Christian. That is why the judgment against the unforgiving servant is so extremely harsh. By not loving and forgiving others, the unforgiving Christian demonstrates his lack of fear, love, and trust in God.
“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand?” Thus we prayed in the Antiphon to the Introit this day. This is the confession of the Christian who knows the debt he owed to the LORD that the LORD has mercifully and graciously forgiven in the blood of Jesus. This is also the confession of the Christian who knows that he is no better off, no less sinful and guilty and in debt before the LORD than his brother or sister, than his friend or neighbor, or even than the stranger or his enemy. As Martin Luther famously confessed as he was dying, “We are all beggars.” Just as we all share a part in our national indebtedness, right down to every taxpayer and every citizen, so much more are we all together indebted to our God and Father. Therefore, in humility and lowliness we think no one beneath ourselves. However, in faith and trust and in fervent love for our God and Father we believe and know that we are forgiven, for He poured out the life of His Son Jesus in death upon the cross for our sins and for the sins of all the world. And, He invites you to come, drink freely of His mercy and forgiveness. Let His mercy and forgiveness fill you and flow out of you unto others for the life of the world. You are an extension of His grace and mercy, love and forgiveness, to the glory of His holy Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
John 4:46-54; Ephesians 6:10-17; Genesis 1:1 – 2:3
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Why didn’t Jesus do as the grief-stricken father pleaded with Him to do and come to his home on the spot and heal his son who was dying? Why didn’t Jesus come immediately to His friend Lazarus when He received word that he was dying? Why didn’t Jesus just heal the paralyzed man on the spot instead of proclaiming his sin’s forgiven? Why doesn’t Jesus answer your prayers in a direct, obvious, and satisfying way and heal your cancer, mend your broken marriage, or reform your rebellious teen? Time and time again you come to Him in prayer and nothing happens, nothing changes. Maybe He isn’t listening? Maybe He cannot help? Maybe He doesn’t care? Maybe He isn’t even real? Or, maybe, you are not so unlike the people of Jesus’ day, refusing to believe unless you see signs and wonders?
Jesus performed numerous signs and wonders during His earthly life and ministry, and an even greater number in the times before then as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, exacting astounding plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians, parting the Red Sea and the Jordan River, providing manna, quail, and water from the rock to sustain the children of Israel in the wilderness, guiding them in their journeys in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, appearing in a burning bush and with fire and smoke and an earthquake upon Mount Sinai, and more. You have all these signs and wonders and still you refuse to believe Jesus’ Word and promise to you. If He says that you are healed, then why do you not believe? If He says that you will be raised, then why do you not believe? If He says that you are forgiven, then why do you not believe? If He says that He is with you always, even to the end of the age, and that He will never leave you or forsake you, then why do you not believe? If He says that you have died with Him in Holy Baptism and that you will be raised with Him in His resurrection, then why do you not believe? If He says that He is present with you in this Holy Meal that you may eat and drink and commune with Him in flesh and blood and spirit, then why do you not believe? O, you of little faith? Do you, like Thomas, refuse to believe unless you see and touch?
No, you are not alone in this, your weakness and smallness of faith. Though Abraham believed the LORD so strongly at first, when Sarah did not conceive according to his timeline he took matters into his own hands and conceived a son with Hagar, his wife’s maidservant. But, Ishmael was not the son of promise, and the LORD provided still a natural son for Abraham and Sarah in Isaac, through whom all the nations of the earth are blessed in Jesus. Likewise, Moses and the Israelites, who had witnessed many signs and wonders, failed to trust in the LORD and obey His command to travel around the land of Edom for fear that they would perish of starvation. Because of their sinful unbelief the LORD sent fiery serpents to bite the people, and many died, that they might turn in repentance and be forgiven and healed. Even then, many refused to look upon the bronze serpent to which the LORD had attached His Word of Promise and healing. Though forgiveness and healing were provided them, they chose unbelief and death over faith, repentance, and life in the LORD. And, then there was Peter, who gave a bold confession in reply to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” answering, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But, then, Peter was overcome with fear and doubt when Jesus explained that the Son of Man must suffer and die, and on the third day be raised. Peter refused to believe Jesus’ Words, and Jesus rebuked him saying, “Get behind me Satan.”
They had seen so much. They had come so far, lead and fed, cared for and protected by the LORD and His Word. And, still they struggled, at times they failed, to believe. And, so do you. “Unless you see signs and wonders you will never believe.” This Word of Jesus was at once a rebuke, a statement of fact, and a commiseration, for your Lord Jesus is a flesh and blood human just like you, experiencing the temptation to fear and doubt and unbelief that come with hunger and thirst, pain and sorrow, and ultimately death, just like you. Jesus knows what it is like to be you. The LORD your God knows what it is like to be you. Therefore He grants you signs and wonders that you may hear with your ears, see with your eyes, touch with your hands, and taste with your mouths that He is good, that He cares for you and guides you and protects you, because He loves you and He does not desire to see you perish. God loves you, and God loves the world so much that He has given His Son into your fleshly weakness, has suffered temptation and overcome Satan by faith and trust in the Word of the LORD, and has submitted to death on the cross, the death you deserve, that you might have, in exchange, His life that cannot die, that you might be restored to sonship with His Father as you were created to enjoy in the beginning.
It happened in Cana, where Jesus had performed His first wondrous sign changing water into wine at a wedding feast. He did not do this simply to bring pleasure and joy, but Jesus changed the water into wine that His weak-faithed people might see and believe. And, many did. One of those who saw and believed that day may very well have been the official in today’s Gospel who, hearing that Jesus was near, came to Him and pleaded with Him to come to his home and heal his son who was near death. The official had faith, though it was small faith. That is why he came to Jesus. However, Jesus desired to strengthen his faith, just as He would strengthen Thomas’ faith saying, “Do you believe because you have seen? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus told the official, “Go, and your son will live.” Though he was surely disappointed and struggled to believe, the official “believed the Word that Jesus had spoke to him and went on his way.” “As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household.”
The Word might seem weak as a foundation for faith unless it has something visible, physical, and tangible with it. But the Word is sufficient by itself. Compare Jesus’ Word to Jesus Himself and you’ll see how true this is. Jesus seemed like a weak foundation for salvation. His strength was beaten out of Him. He stood helpless before His accusers. He was too weak to carry His own cross all the way up Golgotha. He died quickly as far as crucifixions go, letting go of life long before the criminals crucified on either side of Him did. Is this seriously your foundation for salvation? Yes! Yes it is! Jesus may have looked weak, but that’s how He chose to defeat sin, death, and the devil.
What we were set up to expect in today’s Gospel indeed came to fruition: Jesus did another sign in Cana, and more believed. Jesus did not go to the official’s home, and yet He healed the man’s son by speaking His Word. In the end, the official’s faith depended on Jesus’ Word, and not upon his sight. Faith that believes without seeing is stronger faith. This your Lord would have for you. Faith that believes the Word of the Lord without accompanying signs and wonders is faith that cannot fail. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
Now, you have heard countless sermons and teachings on the importance and power of the Word of God, and this is yet another. However, I will attempt to simplify things and get right to the point. The Word of God is not a word like you and I speak, a word that changes in meaning over time, a word that effects nothing true or lasting, a word that can be spoken falsely, insincerely, or in deceit, but the Word of God is a person, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, even the Word made flesh Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word God spoke in the beginning by whom everything was made and is still sustained. When God said, “Let there be Light,” Jesus was the Word that God spoke even as He is the Light of the world. God’s Word, Jesus, is a creative and performative Word, a Word that actually brings into being what it says. When God says, “Let there be Light,” there is Light. When Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” your sins are forgiven. When Jesus says, “This is my body; this is my blood,” they are precisely what He says. And, when Jesus says, “I will raise you up on the Last Day,” you can trust that He will. So, when your Pastor tells you that you must believe and trust in the Word of the Lord, this is what he means by the word “word.”
Therefore, the Bible is not just a book full of words, written by men, therefore containing errors and myths and prejudices and agendas that our task today is to weed through and discard the chaff while ascertaining the wheat. No! The Bible is the Word of God, breathed by His Spirit through His inspired writers, testifying to all that God has done, is doing, and will do in and through His Son, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. The Word of the Lord, the Bible, is authoritative and unchanging, true and without error, and Jesus Christ is the interpretive key and the revelation of its fulfillment and meaning. The Word of the LORD is sufficient for you. It is all you need. Whether or not the Lord provides you signs and wonders, you can trust His Word and promise that will not and cannot fail. And yet, your God is not a God who is far off, but a God who is near, even a God who has become a man, flesh and blood just like you. And, your God is present with you now, not only spiritually, but in signs and wonders that you can hear and see and touch and taste. Your God would have you believe without seeing, but to strengthen your faith and to lead you there, He washes your sins away in Holy Water, He absolves you anew through the mouth and the hands of your Pastor, He comforts, strengthens, and equips you through His Word of Law and Gospel proclaimed in the Church, and He feeds you and communes with you, filling you with Himself in the Holy Supper of His real and true body and blood. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” Believe it for Jesus’ sake.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
Matthew 22:1-14; Ephesians 5:15-21; Isaiah 55:1-9
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
To say that Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Feast is perplexing might seem to be an understatement. Our Lord seemingly turns upside down our expectations and our understanding of the meaning of some fundamental terms concerning our Christian faith – invited, worthy, called, and chosen. To be invited is not necessarily to be worthy. To be called is not necessarily to be chosen. What then do these words mean? Jesus would have you see that your invitation to His wedding feast in heaven is not on account of your worth, your value, your merit, your decision, your choice, or anything in you at all. That you are invited is the gracious gift of the King, God the Father, and not an indication of your worthiness to be invited.
No, your worthiness is bound up in your host, your King and LORD, alone. Will you receive your host’s gracious invitation in Spirit-created and given faith and trust and bear forth its fruit of fear, love, and trust – that is, obedience, – or will you reject it in sinful, rebellious unbelief, demonstrating that your fear, love, and trust are in other things that you have set before your LORD, the stuff of His creation which you worship as false gods and idols? Similarly, Jesus would have you see that, simply because you are called is not the same thing as your being chosen. And, herein lies the mystery of predestination and election – “Many are called, but few are chosen.” What does this mean? The LORD’s Gospel call goes out to all, to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile. Therefore, many, even all, are called. As in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, the Sower scatters His Word/Seed everywhere, upon all kinds of soil/hearts, without discrimination. However, just as the seed only takes root, grows, and bears fruit in the good soil, so only those are chosen “who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” And so, it is the fruit that you bear – fear, love, and trust in the LORD, along with obedience – that makes you worthy and chosen and elect.
In Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Feast, the King, His Father, sent His servants to call His invited guests to the feast, but those who were invited refused to come. The King, being good and kind, patient, and longsuffering, sent even more servants proclaiming that everything was prepared, that there was nothing they had to do but come and enjoy the feast, and still they refused to come, and some even treated the King’s servants shamefully and murdered them! Those invited who refused the King’s gracious invitation and murdered His servants were the religious leadership of the Jews, the Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes. They were invited by their gracious King, but they refused the invitation and rejected Him. The King was angry and He destroyed the cities of those murderers. Those invited were called, but they were found not worthy. They did not fear, love, and trust in the LORD, and they did not bear the fruit of faith. They murdered the LORD’s servants who were sent to them with His gracious invitation, the Gospel, and, ultimately, they murdered the King’s Son, Jesus. It is no coincidence that this parable follows directly after the Parable of the Tenants in which the tenants of the Master’s Vineyard murdered His servants and, finally, His Son. Both of these parables occurred in the days following Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus had the religious leadership of the Jews squarely in mind.
Still, the King sent out His servants yet a third time, this time “to the main roads,” to call and to invite “all whom they found, both bad and good.” You see, there it is, as clear as day – your invitation is not based upon your merit, your worth, your works, your faith, or anything else inside you, but your invitation is by the grace of your King and LORD alone. And so, the King’s hall was filled with the bad and the good regardless of anything attributed to themselves, just like this church today! For, only the sick can be healed. Only sinners can be forgiven. Only the dead can be raised. If you are a guest of the King, it is because of His gracious invitation. And, do not think saying, “Well, I still had to accept the invitation and come,” that you have contributed something. That’s sophistic nonsense. Before your accepting and coming was the LORD’s gracious invitation. Truly, you remain invited even if you reject His invitation. This is the LORD’s doing, alone, and it is glorious in our sight. Do not succumb to the devil’s temptation to reduce the LORD’s grace from a truly free and unconditional gift to a mere prod in the right direction. You are either saved by grace alone or you are not saved at all. You are either invited or you are not. But, all have been invited in Christ Jesus, therefore all are without excuse.
However, “when the King came in to look at the guests, He saw there a man who had no wedding garment.” Now, this was an impossible thing, for the host, the King, provided even the appropriate wedding garment for each invited guest. The only way that this one guest did not have a wedding garment was that he refused to wear it. He didn’t sneak in. He was one of those bad or good who were invited. However, now that he was in, he must have refused to wear the provided wedding garment. Now, much ink (or bytes) has been spilled attempting to explain what the wedding garment represents. However, the wedding garment is not what is essential here, for this unclothed man was already in, he was already a guest just like all the others, he was invited. So, the wedding garment cannot be baptism as many are want to claim, and neither can it be faith, for the unclothed man was already an invited and present guest. No, the wedding garment must be something else. What we must focus upon, however, is not what the wedding garment was, but how it came to be that this invited and present guest, who was most certainly provided a wedding garment, came to be found not wearing one. Again, he must have refused to wear it. If that is the case, then you can well see the disrespect and the irreverence this man showed toward his King. His refusal to wear the provided wedding garment was a display, even a confession, of his lack of fear, love, and trust in the LORD. Now, if the King were merely an earthly monarch, we might consider his reaction to be overly harsh and extreme. However, this King is the LORD God who alone is righteous and holy. He had provided everything for the feast and had graciously invited and clothed all present. To refuse His grace now and disrespect and dishonor Him so would be the height of rebellion and treason meriting the fullness of His wrath against the man’s sinful rebellion and unbelief. This is a parable of judgment, just like the Parables of the Tenants in the Vineyard and of the Wheat and the Tares. The King had the man bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. On the Day of Judgment, the tares, like the unclothed man at the wedding feast, and all who refuse the LORD’s gracious invitation in Jesus Christ, will be bound and thrown into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Once again, it must be stressed that it was the Jewish religious leadership whom Jesus had squarely in mind in this parable, though it has application for all of us. The LORD had sent them numerous servants bearing His gracious invitation through the prophets of old up to John the Baptist who pointed squarely at Jesus in their presence proclaiming, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” and they rejected them and murdered them, and, finally, they murdered God’s only-begotten Son. They were invited. They were in. But, their refusal to believe, in fact, their rejection of Jesus in spite of who they believed and knew Him to be, damned them to hell. They were invited, but they were not worthy. They were called, but they were not chosen. And, even worse, they were false shepherds, even wolves in sheep’s clothing, and they failed to tell their flock that the LORD’s invitation was for them as well. Therefore, because of their refusal and rejection of the King and His Son, the invitation went out to others, even to all, to the bad and the good, and the wedding feast was filled with guests.
The wedding feast is for your Bridegroom Jesus and for you, His Bride, the Church. God the Father is the King and host of the feast and He has graciously invited all the world in His Son. Many are called, indeed, all are called, but few are chosen. To be chosen, to be elect, is not only to be invited, but it is to hear the Word and “hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” The fruit you bear is obedience and good works. They are not the cause of your invitation, but they are consequence and confirmation of it. Thus, your Lord Jesus proclaims that He is the Vine and you are the branches saying, “remain in Me and I will remain in you, and you will bear much fruit.” Fruit bearing is not an option. Producing the fruit of obedience and good works is the living proof of your being chosen and elected. Therefore, St. James declares, “Faith without works is dead.” This is NOT works righteousness. Your righteousness is in Jesus and is the sole reason you have been invited. But, faith in Jesus is living, not dead, bearing the fruit of fear, love, and trust in the LORD, that is obedience, and love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for your neighbor without discrimination or exception.
Therefore, if you are concerned that you are not one of the chosen (the elect), know that the chosen are chosen through the call of the Gospel. Worldliness, hostility to the Word, and distractedness from the Word plague all Christians because of our sinful flesh. If this cuts you to the heart, this foretaste of the Great Wedding Feast to come is precisely for the purpose of binding up your hearts and comforting your troubled consciences. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” You are invited, but only the life of the Vine Jesus flowing through you and bearing fruit makes you worthy. You are called, but only fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all else makes you chosen in Christ Jesus. Behold, the feast is prepared. Everything is ready. Come and eat. Come and drink. The life of Jesus the Vine is poured out for you to forgive your sins anew, to strengthen your faith, to equip you for good works, and to send you forth bearing good and much fruit in service of your neighbor to the glory of the LORD. Jesus’ blood and righteousness are your glorious dress, even your wedding garment. You are invited and worthy, you are called and chosen, that the world may see it. Go forth in peace.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
Matthew 9:1-8; Ephesians 4:22-28; Genesis 28:10-17
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jacob’s dream was more like a revelation, an unveiling, in which he was granted to see something that had been present with him all along, but hidden, veiled as it were, so that he could not see it. What it was that had been there all along, hidden and veiled, was God Himself, present with Jacob, and with his fathers, but not seen. In his dream, the first thing Jacob saw was a ladder set up on earth with its top reaching into heaven. The ladder had been there all along too, hidden and veiled. It had been set up on the earth by God. Moreover, God’s holy angels were ascending and descending upon it. The scriptures say first that God’s holy angels were ascending, which means that they were already there with Jacob on earth too, even when he could not see them. Truly God’s holy angels, truly God Himself is present with you even now, and every day and moment of your life. Even in your darkest moments and your most uncertain days, your God is with you and His holy angels are with you, guarding, protecting, and defending you lest you strike your foot against a stone.
Then the LORD spoke to Jacob saying, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” This was, essentially, a repetition of the covenant promise God had made to Abraham and to Isaac, reiterated now to Jacob, and to you as well. The land that the LORD would give to Jacob and to his offspring, and to you, was not merely that little plot of ground upon which he laid his head, but it was the earth itself, for the entire earth and the universe in which it exists is Bethel, the House of God. The earth and everything in it is the LORD’s, even He who created it and sustains it. And, the LORD has given it to you. Though the LORD was already present in the world, hidden and veiled, what He was about to do would change everything. The LORD, Himself, would become Jacob’s offspring, incarnated in the womb of Jacob’s descendant Mary. The LORD would speak His creative Word once again into the virgin soil of Mary’s womb and raise up a New Adam, His own Son, the Son of God and the Son of Man, the Son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Son of David, the Lamb of God’s providing who would take away the sins of the world. Through Jesus, the LORD’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be fulfilled. In Jesus, all the nations and families of the earth have been blessed.
Moreover, in the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus, God has intimately and everlastingly joined Himself with humankind. To paraphrase Athanasius, God became man in Jesus that man might become God. “Behold, I am with you,” saith the LORD, “and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Rightly did Jacob awake from his dream and confess, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it,” and “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” In Jesus, God has visited and made His dwelling among His people. The promise is not only for sometime yet to come, but it is a promise that is fulfilled even now. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, then, now, and always. Your LORD God, Creator, and Sustainer has penetrated this His creation, has taken up your flesh and redeemed and restored it in the holy, innocent shed blood of His Word and Son made flesh Jesus Christ. He has redeemed and restored the world and everyone in it – Yes! Everyone in it! And, you are redeemed and restored to proclaim this Good News to the world and to every human being in it, be he brother, sister, friend, neighbor, or enemy. This is the Truth, but your enemy would have you keep silent – and too often you are! Do not keep the Light that enlightens you hidden, but let it shine in and through you that those walking in darkness might see and glorify the LORD. You cannot be a light shining in the darkness if you blend in with the darkness of the world. Repent and return to your baptismal grace, and shine with the eternal, primordial Light of the world.
This is what the paralytic’s friends were doing in today’s Gospel – they were shining with the Light of Christ for all the world to see. When they brought their paralyzed brother to Jesus, Jesus saw their faith. What did Jesus see? What does faith look like? Faith bears forth the fruit of love. It was their fruit, it was their faith in action, that Jesus saw. By bringing their friend to Jesus they displayed their faith – their faith in Jesus, their faith in God, and their love for their neighbor – for all the world to see. Jesus “saw their faith.” That’s a remarkable statement! Then Jesus did something even more remarkable; He said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” Now, the man didn’t ask for forgiveness. He certainly didn’t confess any sins. His friends who brought him to Jesus didn’t ask for forgiveness either. Presumably, they wanted Jesus to heal their paralyzed friend.
Now, admittedly, this isn’t how we typically think of forgiveness, is it? Don’t we expect someone to repent first, to confess their sins, and then be absolved? Indeed, that’s the way it works in church, isn’t it? Each and every time we gather here we confess our sins together before we receive the Blessed Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood. Then, why did Jesus simply pronounce the paralyzed man’s sins forgiven? If the man needed forgiveness, why didn’t Jesus first call him to repentance? Herein lies the beautiful and wonderful truth of Jesus’ incarnation: Jesus is forgiveness for all who trust in Him. Already then, at that very moment, even before His crucifixion, death, and resurrection for the sins of the world, Jesus is forgiveness, incarnate for all who believe. Jesus saw the faith of the friends of the paralytic, that they lovingly brought him before Jesus trusting that He would help. So, likewise, when you intercede for others, when you pray for them, when you love them and serve them and seek to help them, when you forgive them, they are forgiven. In the case of the paralytic, Jesus only pronounced what was already the case: “Your sins are forgiven.” And, that is what your pastors do. And, that is what you do for others – You proclaim what is already the case: The sins of the world are forgiven in Jesus Christ. This fact is received by all who trust in Him.
Why didn’t Jesus heal the man? Well, in fact, He did. Forgiveness is the healing that all of us sin-sick-unto-death souls are in need of. All physical ailments and suffering of any kind are but the external, physical, and emotional effects of sin. Sometimes Jesus heals physically, sometimes He does not, but Jesus always forgives those who trust in Him and cling to Him for life and salvation. Truly, even those whom Jesus did heal grew sick again later and died. And, those whom Jesus raised from the dead still died again, for the wages of sin is only, and always, death. Jesus would have you look beyond temporary healing to the one thing needful – to faith and forgiveness, which are the true healing, and to resurrection unto life that does not perish and die. In forgiving the sins of the paralytic, Jesus was simply proclaiming what was already a present fact – God’s gracious and merciful presence was in their midst, even as Jacob saw God’s holy angels ascending and descending a ladder set up upon the earth with its top in heaven. Forgiveness and true healing are here for you now in Jesus Christ. When you intercede for others and pray for them, and when you bring them to Jesus, as did the friends of the paralytic, you do a holy work for them, one that accomplishes infinitesimally more than physical healing, which will still, ultimately, end in death. When you pray for others and bring them to Jesus you extend to them the same grace, mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness you yourself have received. And, Jesus’ grace, mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness never fail to accomplish what they are poured out for – the forgiveness of sins, and the bestowal of life that cannot die.
But, the scribes were offended. “This man is blaspheming. No one can forgive sins except God.” Of course, they were right, but they didn’t know how right they were. Jesus is God, in the flesh, the Word and Son of God incarnate as a man, in our midst, even the Ladder set up upon the earth with its top in heaven. In Jesus, God dwells with men and brings the kingdom of heaven down to earth. Therefore, it was not Jesus, who is God, but the scribes who were blaspheming. However, what the scribes were truly upset with was that Jesus was taking authority away from them. There was a whole process and ritual by which sinners were forgiven, made clean, and restored and it involved sacrifices and repentance; it involved them. But, Jesus bypassed all of that and simply pronounced the man’s sins forgiven. All that is required to receive forgiveness is faith – not sacrifices, not penance, not a public confession or a priestly absolution, though these are gifts our Lord provides to comfort and confirm us in faith. Even our Lutheran Confessions state that, “repentance consists of two parts. One part is contrition, that is, terrors striking the conscience through the knowledge of sins. The other part is faith, which is born of the Gospel or the Absolution and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven.” Jesus saw the faith of the paralytic’s friends borne out in their love for him and trust in Jesus. And, Jesus knew the heart of the paralytic and saw his own faith as well: “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus answered the scribes saying, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” In this case, Jesus granted the physical healing, but this was but a foretaste of the true healing, which was hidden and veiled, the forgiveness of sins, and the greater physical healing that is yet to come in the resurrection of the body. As great as was the healing of the paralytic that day, that man would still pass through death. So much greater will be the day of his, and your, resurrection when the effects of sin and death will be healed forever. Truly, it is easier for Jesus to say your sins are forgiven, for that includes the healing from sin now, and the healing of the body for eternity on the day of the resurrection of all flesh.
Jesus is God’s forgiveness present among you now with His Words and His Wounds. Your God-given, Spirit-created faith receives His forgiveness in faith and trust and causes you to bear forth the fruit of faith, love, towards your neighbor to the glory of God. As Jesus healed the paralyzed man because of his faith, and the faith of his friends, so too does Jesus hear your prayers and intercessions for others and forgive them. Thus He has taught you to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” The whole earth is Bethel, the House of God, because God is present here with you in His Son Jesus. Jesus is the ladder that bridges heaven and earth. In Jesus, God has visited His people in mercy, love, and forgiveness and has made His dwelling with you. You are an extension of this Good News to all the nations and families of the world. Let them see your faith. Let them see Jesus in you. Surely the LORD is in this place for you. Your sins are forgiven. Rise and walk. Pray for your brother, your sister, your friend, your neighbor, and even your enemy, and bring them to Jesus. Your love covers a multitude of sins, not least of all your own.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.