Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 22)

Matthew 18:21-35; Philippians 1:3-11; Malachi 6:6-8

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” You see, the Prophet Micah gets it. The answer to all his rhetorical questions is an unequivocal “No! Nothing!” All that the LORD requires of you is that you do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. What does this mean?
This means, don’t try to offer the LORD anything. It’s all already His anyway. Truly, it’s not even thanks and praise that pleases Him, but the thing that pleases the LORD is when you sacrifice of yourself and give to others on account of His sacrifice and love for you. Then you confess the LORD to be God and yourself to be the recipient of His gracious gifts. Then you confess that you fear, love, and trust the Giver of the gifts more than the gifts themselves, when you willingly and freely give them away. Likewise, don’t try to offer anything to the LORD for your sin. You don’t have enough to pay, even if you could, not even your body, soul, and life. Rather, let Him forgive you in His love, mercy, and grace, and then live with Him and walk humbly with Him, always aware that you don’t deserve it or merit it, but that you have your life because God is love and He loves you.
You see, it’s impossible for you to be shorted or cheated, particularly with the LORD’s spiritual gifts, but, truly, with anything at all. Everything is His: Your body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses; clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that you have; everything that you need to support your body and life. And this is especially true with the LORD’s spiritual gifts: grace, mercy, love, peace, kindness, gentleness, charity, self-control, and forgiveness. These are the selfless gifts given to you by your selfless God for you to selflessly share and give away to others as you selflessly received them. When you give of these gifts you lose nothing at all, for you are giving of the LORD’s gifts that you yourself have freely received. More than that, you show mercy with the LORD’s mercy, grace with the LORD’s grace, love with the LORD’s love, and forgiveness with the LORD’s forgiveness. Moreover still, you have this promise: With the measure you use will it be measured back to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, filled to overflowing will be poured into your lap. It’s grace upon grace without limit.
That’s what the servant in Jesus’ parable received. The master forgave him his enormous debt because he pitied him – period. The master had compassion on his servant and he released him, he forgave him. The servant was a debtor and nothing to offer to the Master, just like you before the LORD, but the master had pity on him and showed him mercy, just as the LORD has done for you, and he forgave his servant who could not pay him back, just as the LORD forgives sinners like you who are indebted to Him with your life and your soul and have nothing with which to pay Him back for your trespasses – the LORD has pity for you, He loves you and He shows you mercy; more than that, He showers you with His grace and forgives you completely, even paying the debt you owe Himself, in the innocent shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.
However, the gifts that the LORD gives you are living gifts; they are gifts that literally give life, the LORD’s life. That means, the LORD’s gifts do not remain stagnant and lifeless, but they change you and they make you fruitful. When the LORD blesses you with His gifts of life, love, and forgiveness, you will not remain the same. As our Lord Jesus teaches, “I am the vine and you are the branches; remain in me, and I will remain in you, and you willbear much fruit.” That means that you must give of the LORD’s gifts, love with the LORD’s love, and forgive with the LORD’s forgiveness. Not “must” in the sense of works that merit forgiveness, but of works that are the fruit of forgiveness.
The forgiven servant in Jesus’ parable failed to produce the fruits of forgiveness. He took the gift of his master’s forgiveness, but he refused to forgive another who was indebted to himself. He received the seed, but the seed did not produce fruit. There was nothing wrong with the seed, the problem was the soil. The servant’s heart was hard; the soil of his heart was fruitless. The master was angry and he had his pitiless and merciless servant thrown in jail. Jesus concludes His parable with the warning, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Does that sound harsh? It is harsh. Jesus pulls no punches with the Law of God. He expects there to be fruit: Those who have been loved are expected to love. Those who have been given to are expected to give. Those who have been forgiven are expected to forgive. Remember, Jesus told this parable in response to Peter’s question, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him: As many as seven times?” Jesus means to teach you, “Don’t ask such a question.” You simply forgive because you are forgiven. You simply forgive with Jesus’ forgiveness. You bear the fruit of forgiveness because you are a branch connected to the True Vine, Jesus. Bearing fruit is not an option, neither is it something that has a limit. Moreover, you are never out anything, for the forgiveness you give to others is the LORD’s forgiveness. The same is true with anything that you give or show to another. If you are receiving, then you will be giving. This is what James means when he writes, “Faith without works is dead” and “Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” However, the works are always, and only, fruit. An apple tree produces apples because it is an apple tree. A grapevine produces grapes because it is a grapevine.
Still, you must resist the temptation – and that is precisely what it is, a temptation – to attempt to name and quantify your works or the works of another. One of our Synod’s theologians, Norman Nagel, has written: “‘Good works do not have a name,' said Martin Luther. The moment we honor good works with a name, they are no longer good works, that is, they are no longer done in faith. They are no longer within and from the giving hands of the Lord. They are slipping towards becoming a basis for boasting and making demands.” All good works are the LORD’s, thus there is no place for boasting. All good works are the LORD’s, thus He alone, not you, or I, or anyone else, is the measure of the fruitfulness of His branches. “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Nothing. There is nothing additional that the LORD requires of you through faith in Christ Jesus who has done all things well.
Thus, St. Paul exhorts you saying, “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” St. Paul’s prayer for you is “that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
The LORD who created you to be fruitful and multiply has redeemed you and forgiven you that you may be fruitful once again, bearing His fruit of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness, giving His life to others to the glory of His Name. He who has begun this good work in you in Holy Baptism and faith is, even now, bringing it to completion. You are a fruitful branch, and a work in progress. But, the harvest is coming, the day of Jesus Christ, when you will be complete in Him. Until then, you have the fruits of the True Vine Jesus Christ – His Word and Absolution, Baptism, and Supper – through which He fills you to overflowing with His gifts, that you may freely give to others without counting the cost. Go, and be fruitful.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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