Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 22)

(Audio)

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 Saturday afternoon, the U. S. Debt was roughly $28.9 trillion. That breaks down to $86,828 per citizen and $229,000 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 your 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.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 21)

(Audio) 

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.

“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” These words Jesus spoke to an official who pleaded that He would come to Capernaum and heal His son who was near death. I can almost imagine Jesus sighing and shaking His head in disappointment. However, this probably wasn’t the first time that He had encountered weak faith in men, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. As it was, the constant refrain of the people to whom He was sent, the chosen people of God, the children of Israel, was “What sign will you do so that we may believe!” Earlier in Cana, Jesus had changed water into wine in a quiet and decidedly unspectacular way, simply by speaking His Word. Initially, at least, this fact was lost on the official as he insisted that Jesus come down to his house. Likewise, even after feeding 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish, the crowds cried out for a sign like that of Moses and the manna in the wilderness. And, we cannot forget Jesus’ disciple, Thomas, who, upon hearing of His Lord’s resurrection from the dead infamously proclaimed, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”

Are you so unlike the official whose son was dying? Are you so unlike the hungry crowds in the wilderness? Are you so unlike Thomas, wrangling with his doubt? I know that I’m not. In fact, I am Thomas. I need to see and to touch Jesus’ wounds to believe. Thankfully, graciously, Jesus comes to me, and Jesus comes to you, not by Word alone, but also in the seeable, touchable, and tasteable means of water, bread, and wine to forgive our sins, especially the sin of unbelief, to strengthen our faith, and to give us life in and through Him. Your Creator, God, and LORD so loves you so as to condescend to come to you, who cannot come to Him, even though His creative Word alone brought forth creation out of nothing, spoke light into the darkness, and brought forth life where there was no life. Jesus is God’s creative Word become man and dwelling amongst us; His Word is forgiveness, life, healing, and salvation – with, or without seeable, touchable, and tasteable means which are bonus and icing on the cake.

What if you pray, but the cancer remains? What if you pray, but the baby dies? What if you pray, but the divorce still happens? What if you pray, but the job never comes? Did God fail you? Did He not hear your prayers? Is he cruel, vindictive, or simply impotent? Or, do you question whether He truly exists at all? If you are honest with yourself, and you need to be, then you will confess that you have thought these thoughts, entertained these doubts, and felt this way from time to time. Doubt is one of the ramifications of sin. Sin has separated you from God so that you cannot be in His presence, you cannot see Him or hear Him or touch Him. Though you are deaf, dumb, and blind in your sin, and though you cannot come to God or enter His presence because of your sin, your God comes to you, and He unstops your ears, looses your tongue, and opens your eyes that you may see, hear, touch, taste, and speak once again. However, doubt hinders your trust and weakens your faith so that you suffer from uncertainties, misgivings, and temptations to sinful fear and pride. Doubt causes you to need a sign, and to fall into greater doubt, eventually into unbelief, if you do not get what you think you want.

The official in today’s Gospel lesson was struggling with doubt. He had faith – faith enough in what he had heard about Jesus, about the miracle He had performed at a wedding in Cana, in order to compel him to go to Jesus and to plead for His help. But, still he was looking for a sign; he wanted Jesus to come to where his son was, maybe speak an incantation, call on some angels, wave His hands in the air, do something. Though Jesus called him to faith saying “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe,” the official continued to plead, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” But, you see, Jesus was right. In fact, Thomas was right too. You, I, we, mankind – we do need to see and touch and taste! Though the Word is sufficient in itself, though God’s grace is sufficient for us in all things, we need the Word of God made flesh, Jesus. God knows this, and He has delivered, and He delivers Jesus to us still in Word, water, body, and blood.

For your sake, God sent forth His Son, His Word, to become a man, to fulfill the Law, and to suffer and die for your sins and the sins of all mankind, and to be raised, victorious over death and the devil. For your sake, the Word of God became flesh, died in the flesh, was raised and ascended in the flesh, and will come again and remain forever in the flesh. While the official knew that he needed Jesus, he didn’t know that Jesus was God’s Word in the flesh. Thus, Jesus took the official’s faith in the Man, and He added to it faith in the Word of God that had become that Man. The Swedish Lutheran theologian Bo Giertz wrote, “Jesus had never worked miracles to impress people or to make himself popular or to be believed. To do this was one of the temptations of the devil that he resisted. He used his power to help others, but never himself. He used it to reveal the mercy of God and God’s presence. For those who had eyes to see, his miracles revealed that the kingdom of God was at hand and that the Messiah had come.”

To show this to the official, and to show this to you, Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the Word that Jesus spoke to him and he went on his way. Before he arrived at home, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering, precisely at the hour in which Jesus said, “Your son will live”. The official did not need to see his son healthy and standing in order to believe, but now he trusted, not only in the Man who could heal, but he trusted in the Word of God made flesh who is healing and eternal life. The man and his entire household believed in Jesus.

Your Lord Jesus calls you to such a faith – a faith that clings to His Word without seeing and without touching. Nevertheless, He has compassion for you in your weakness of faith and in your doubts and He gives you so much more than even His disciples and Apostles enjoyed, His glorified flesh and blood to see, to touch, to taste that you may commune with Him and dwell in Him and He in you. Still He directs you to the Word made flesh and dwelling amongst us that you may believe that you will live, even if you die, because He has died and yet lives. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He says to you, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” And then He asks you, “Do you believe this?” May your answer be the same as my answer, and the same as another father of a boy possessed by a demon: Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief. And, He does; and, He will.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 20)

 
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.
The parables of our Lord are often simple on the surface, complex and even confounding in the details, and yet again simple in their final meaning. Today’s Parable of the Wedding Banquet is no exception. In this parable the invited become the uninvited and the uninvited become the invited – even notorious bad people, you know, sinners. But, then, even amongst the newly invited, no one gets in without the proper wedding attire. In fact, one such soul among the newly invited was found not wearing the king’s provided wedding garment and he was bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there is only weeping and the gnashing of teeth, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Therefore, what are we to make of this our Lord’s Parable of the Wedding Banquet? What does He want you to learn and to know and to believe as a result of hearing it?
To answer those questions it is necessary to wrestle with those difficult aspects of the parable: Who were the invited? How does one get oneself uninvited? How does one get invited if one were not invited in the first place? What about the wedding garment? How do you get one, and how do you keep it? And, just what is so offensive about not having one that it merits so harsh a penalty as being bound and cast into the outer darkness where there is only weeping and the gnashing of teeth? Yes, these are the questions we must answer, for they constitute the heart of the parable and Jesus’ teaching.
First, Jesus was speaking to His opponents, to the chief priests and the Pharisees who did not believe in Him. Jesus often spoke to willful unbelievers in parables because, “Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” That is to say, they see and hear well enough – they have functioning eyes and ears; they are not blind or deaf – and yet they willfully close their eyes to Jesus’ signs and miracles, and they willfully stop their ears so that do not hear His Word rightly and believe. They represent the invited that make excuses to not follow their Lord because they worship the false gods and idols of mammon, worldly wealth, material goods, the esteem of men, and the passions and desires of the flesh. The Lord Jesus was sent to them in fulfillment of the covenant promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to Moses and the David, their forefathers. However, they rejected their Messiah, their Christ, and their God as a sacrifice to their false gods and idols, as a sacrifice to Satan, for there is no other God but the Holy Trinity.
How does one get oneself uninvited? You get yourself uninvited by willfully resisting the Holy Spirit, by willful and intentional unbelief, and by rejecting the LORD’s gift of mercy and forgiveness in unrepentance, unbelief, and in idolatry. “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Indeed, all are called, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life,” and He “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” In Jesus, the LORD has made it possible for all men to be saved. Everyone who has ever lived, who lives, and who ever will live has been purchased and redeemed and ransomed and atoned for in Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection – everyone! But, only those who believe and trust in Him will be saved.
Because not everyone knows this wonderful and gracious truth about Jesus, the LORD has sent the Gospel invitation out into the whole world, “to the main roads” and “to the highways and the hedges.” He tells His ministers to “invite to the wedding feast as many as you find,” without condition, both good and bad, for Jesus has redeemed them all. This is the Gospel in its fullness and sweetness. There is nothing that is required – not good works, not piety, not holiness, and not even faith – for even faith will be given as a free and gracious, perfect and holy gift. That’s some invitation! The point is this: Everything is prepared! The invitation is just as Isaiah prophesied: “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.” Do you get it? Do you comprehend how incredibly, wondrously gracious is the LORD’s invitation? Would you even consider rejecting His invitation? Sadly, tragically, so very, very many will and do. And, those of you who have accepted the invitation, beware that you do not consider the LORD’s grace and mercy lightly. Do not take it for granted. For, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Therefore, “Be sober-minded; be watchful.” “Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.” And, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
For, even those who are invited can become uninvited, and even those who are in can make themselves to be out. There was one man at the wedding banquet in Jesus’ parable who, presumably, had been out and had been made to be in. He was one of those who received the invitation after those who were invited rejected it. He was one of those on the “main roads” and the “highways and the hedges.” Graciously, by the LORD’s abundant mercy, he became one of the invited, and there he was at the great wedding banquet sitting with the others at the Master’s banquet table. But, there was a problem. He wasn’t wearing the proper wedding attire. Now, this doesn’t mean that he was poorly dressed, but that he had refused to wear the wedding garment that the LORD had provided. You see, in Jesus’ day, such a festive event as the wedding of a king’s son would have meant pulling out all the stops, even the king providing the proper wedding attire for the invited guests at his son’s wedding. To refuse to wear the provided garment would be a grave offense to the king and to his son, the bridegroom. It would have been a dishonor and disrespect of the highest order. Such a rebellious and disrespectful guest would surely expect to be cast out of the banquet, if not arrested, imprisoned, or worse. This is why Jesus uses this image, of a rebellious and disrespectful invited wedding guest who refused to wear the provided wedding garment. The man is bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
Many who are invited and who receive the invitation and come to the feast refuse to wear the LORD’s provided wedding garment. Huh? What garment is that, you ask? The LORD’s provided wedding garment is none other than the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, which covers all your sins and makes you holy to stand before the King, the LORD, in His holiness. Can you imagine the gall of refusing the innocent, righteous, holiness of Jesus’s blood and feigning to stand before the LORD Almighty in your own clothing with your own works and merit? The Prophet Isaiah says that even the very best you have to offer are but filthy rags before the LORD. Not to mention that the LORD’s garment comes at the dear and precious cost of His only-begotten Son. What a low-life, filthy, ingrate you would have to be to presume such a thing. What a rebellious, disrespectful clod of dirt you would have to be to insinuate that Jesus’ death was not sufficient, or that you could offer a better work, or that your sins are not so bad as to require anything more than what you can muster. Then God’s sacrifice was unnecessary. Jesus’ death and blood were insufficient. This is what is implied by those who think they can bring anything of merit before the LORD. This is what is suggested by those think that they cooperate with the LORD in their justification. On the Last Day – for, that’s what this parable is really all about – on the Last Day, their rebellious, disrespectful, unbelief and idolatry will be exposed for all the world to see. On the Last Day, they will be bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, because they will know without a doubt, all will know without a doubt, that they rejected the LORD’s gracious invitation to put their trust completely and solely in Him for their life and salvation. They will know that the reason they are suffering in darkness instead of feasting in light is because of their willful rejection of Jesus and their unbelief. They will know that it is their own damned fault.
But you, you are not like those who have no hope. No, you have entered the banquet hall having washed your filthy garments and made them white in the blood of the Lamb Jesus Christ. You have received the proper wedding garment, a gift of the King and LORD of heaven and earth and of the entire universe and whatever, if anything, lies beyond it. You were not on the A-list, but you are still the recipients of the LORD’s gracious invitation. He sent His ministers to the main roads and to the highways and the hedges to find you, to call you, to invite you, to clothe you, and to welcome you into His banquet hall. You received the LORD’s wedding garment when you were baptized and washed clean in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And you eat and drink in His banquet hall a foretaste of the Great Feast that is yet to come in heaven, the feast of Christ’s victory over sin, and death, and Satan. This food will preserve and keep you until our Bridegroom returns. And, you will keep your wedding garment spotless and sure through contrition over your sin and repentance, receiving the LORD’s gracious absolution again and again and again. You will be saved in the banquet hall of the Church from the darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth outside, just as Noah and his family were saved in the ark from the destroying flood waters upon which they floated to safety in a new land and world.
You are invited, and you are clothed, and you are fed and nourished, protected and kept in Jesus Christ. Therefore, you may be a messenger to others of the LORD’s gracious invitation, that His banquet hall may be full. Go, and tell this Good News. Go, and live this Good News in word and in deed. Go, and give and love and forgive like you have nothing to lose, for you truly have nothing to lose. All is yours. Nothing is withheld. Everything is a gracious gift of the LORD, and you are the LORD’s appointed stewards of His gifts. You buy bread without money and drink wine without cost. You have the Lord’s life within you, and plenty to spare. Spend it, share it, to the glory of God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (observed)

(Audio)

Matthew 18:1-11; Revelation 12:7-12; Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3

 

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

It’s no coincidence that the Gospel appointed for The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels is the account of Jesus’ disciples vying for greatness in the Lord’s kingdom. Indeed, a similar struggle for greatness occurred long, long ago, shortly after the LORD’s creation of heaven and earth, the account of which struggle and the victory of St. Michael the Archangel over Satan and his fallen angels being the focus of this festival day.

One of the LORD’s holy angels, Lucifer, whom Isaiah calls the “Day Star” and “son of the dawn,” and Ezekiel “a guardian cherub,” fell from holiness and grace because of his great pride, desiring to be “like the Most High,” that is, like the LORD Himself. Lucifer was a “signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” and a “guardian cherub” “in Eden, the garden of the LORD.” He was “blameless in [his] ways from the day [he was] created, till unrighteousness was found in [him].” That unrighteousness was pride, which bred discontent, jealousy, anger, and ultimately hatred and murder.

Because of his pride, Lucifer became a profane thing. He literally fell from holiness and grace. Therefore the LORD necessarily cast him from His presence, for the unholy cannot abide in the presence of Him who is holy and holiness. Cast out and away from the LORD’s presence, Lucifer gnashed his teeth against the LORD – against His holiness and His righteousness, and against His just judgment. Lucifer knew that he had no one to blame but himself. Therefore he hates himself, and He hates the LORD, but, most of all, he hates you Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, because the LORD loves you and has created you to be the very crown of His creation, all that He has made, giving your dominion over all of creation, all plants and animals, the earth, moon, sun, and stars, and even over the heavenly angels themselves who serve the LORD and who guard and protect you whom the LORD loves with boundless love.

Thus Lucifer, now Satan, the Enemy, and the Devil, the Accuser, knowing that he could not attack and defeat the LORD, set about to attack, defeat, and defile his beloved creation, Adam and Eve, and you their children. Satan hates you because he hates the LORD and he hates himself. He hates his sorry, miserable, and irreversible condition, which he knows is his own damn fault. Therefore, he has set himself against the LORD and against you, and he exists only and always to take down as many of you with him as he possibly can.

And, that’s why he tempted our First Parents. Though he came in the disguise of one of the LORD’s creatures, a serpent, and though he talked smoothly and convinced them that he had their best interests at heart, that they become wise and like the LORD Himself, Satan was motivated by hatred and he used lies and deceptions to appeal to their pride so that they would fall just as he did. And it worked. And it still works.

“Did God really say?” he asked. The question seems innocuous, doesn’t it? But it’s not. For, that question necessitates that the Word of the LORD be subjected to another’s criticism and judgment, a supposedly higher standard and rule, man’s reason, intellect, wisdom, and will. For, to evaluate “Did God really say?” is to judge the veracity, the goodness, the justice of the LORD’s Word and will by the reason, intellect, wisdom, and will of man. This is the creature evaluating and judging the Creator. This is an act of insurmountable pride. This is to make oneself to be god. And, that is impossible, for only the LORD is God who is before all things and the source, Creator, and sustainer of all things. The LORD alone is good, the very standard, measure, and rule of goodness. And the LORD alone is just, the very standard, measure, and rule of justice. Other people, other things, other words, other thoughts, and other deeds are judged by the LORD, not the other way around. Other people, other things, other words, other thoughts, and other deeds are good or evil, just or unjust, truth or lies in comparison and in relation to the LORD’s Word and will.

Revelation twelve describes a great war in heaven between St. Michael and the LORD’s angels and the Dragon, that is Satan, and his fallen angels. St. Michael was victorious and Satan was defeated and was thrown down to the earth along with his demons. Now, inevitably, people want to ask, “When did this great war happen?” And, you will hear many answers to that question. Some will say that this happened shortly after creation, but before the temptation in the Garden. Others will say that this happened at Christ’s crucifixion and death upon the cross. Others still will say that this is happening now, or is yet to happen. My dear children in Christ, I say to you simply, “Yes.” I think the most responsible answer that can be deduced from the Scriptures is that what John was given to see in the Revelation was from the perspective of the LORD Himself who is not bound by time, who sees all things at the same time. Certainly Lucifer’s rebellion and fall occurred prior to his tempting of our First Parents. And, clearly Satan has been at work tempting and deceiving the LORD’s people throughout the time of the Old Testament. Yet, there is no doubt that Satan was truly defeated when our Lord Jesus Christ died upon the cross. Yet, still Satan prowls this earth like a roaring lion seeking to devour, and the faithful are sealed in Holy Baptism that they may resist Satan’s temptations by the Word of the LORD and by prayer. Indeed, Satan will finally be imprisoned in hell for eternity when our victorious Lord returns in power and glory on the Last Day. Therefore, the great war in heaven described in Revelation twelve is an overarching narrative of the LORD’s victory over Satan in Jesus Christ, a victory ascribed to St. Michael the Archangel whose name means “Who is like God?”

The point is that, though Satan still rages and deceives and leads many astray, he is already conquered and defeated. The LORD God through His Son Jesus Christ has defeated Satan and his demonic angels. Satan no longer has an audience before the LORD by which he may accuse you. Indeed, you “have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb” of God, Jesus Christ. Through Holy Baptism and faith, the gifts of the LORD’s grace in Jesus Christ, you have been sealed and assured that the Lord will be with you always and will never leave you or forsake you. This is His promise to you, His Word that cannot be broken. His promise is not dependent upon your faith, be it strong or weak. His promise is not dependent upon your piety, be it high or low. His promise is not dependent upon your good works, be they many or few. His promise is not dependent upon your church attendance, your knowledge of the Bible, the quality of your marriage, the obedience and faith of your children, or anything else but the promise of Jesus Christ, the Word of the LORD made flesh. All that is required of you is faith, that is trust, which is itself the gift of the Lord by the Holy Spirit. He who believes and is baptized will be saved. He who confesses Jesus before men will Jesus also confess before His Father in heaven.

Do not fear the devil. But, do not be na├»ve about him and his ways either. He is very real and he is very present. His angels are about you all the time, just as the LORD’s angels are about you all the time. They are even here, in this holy sanctuary, right now trying to disrupt the proclamation and the reception of the LORD’s Word and Sacraments. They are in your homes, always working to set husband against wife, and children against their parents and each other. They are very real and they are very present. But, do not fear them, and do not fear him. His only weapons are lies and deceptions. That is why you must hear, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of the LORD. For, by making the Word of the LORD your steady diet, you will be strong in faith and in knowledge of the Word to identify and to resist the devil’s temptations when they come. Moreover, pray. Pray for the Lord’s protection, pray for the strengthening of your faith, and pray for deliverance from the Evil One. For, the LORD has promised that His holy angels will “guard you in all your ways.” Thus, Dr. Luther teaches you to pray in the morning and in the evening, “Let Your holy angel be with me that the Evil Foe may have no power over me.” Likewise, Jesus taught His disciples, and He teaches you, that whoever humbles himself like a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And, Jesus continues, “I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”

And, here we come full circle. Lucifer’s fall was the result of his pride, which bred discontent, jealousy, anger, and ultimately hatred and murder. Humility is the very opposite of pride. Jesus teaches that the humble, the poor in spirit, the selfless and the lowly are great in the kingdom of heaven and that their angels behold the face of God. This is because the humble are open to the LORD’s will and His Word. The humble do not place their own reason and intellect, wisdom, and will over and above the will and the Word of the LORD. The humble do not make themselves out to be gods, or god, but they submit themselves to the LORD, and they acknowledge and confess Him to be the only true, holy, and righteous God.

And so, there is a promise and there is a warning. The promise is that the humble will receive the kingdom and will be guarded and protected by the LORD’s holy angels. However, the warning is that you must beware of haughtiness, arrogance, and pride. These were the cause of Lucifer’s fall, and these are the chief temptations Satan used against our First Parents, and continues to use against you their children. Moreover, beware of looking down on those you think to have weak faith, or a compromised confession, or less than pious lives. Beware of looking down on the little children who in simple faith believe much easier and trust more completely. Beware of looking down on others at all, and worse, of leading others astray by your own words and deeds. As the Proverb says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

But, now, let us join the LORD’s holy angels in glorifying and praising the LORD as they do continually before His holy throne in heaven. For, in this Holy Eucharist, heaven comes down to earth and we are privileged to receive the Lord’s body and blood and to laud and glorify His holy Name “with angels and archangels,” even St. Michael, “and with all the company of heaven.” This day you will be with Jesus in Paradise, for wherever Jesus is, there is the kingdom of heaven.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 17)

(Audio)

Luke 14:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-6; Proverbs 25:6-14

 

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

Upon first hearing, you might think that today’s Gospel is primarily about showing humility in social situations. However, while humility and selflessness are expected traits for a Christian, they are truly the fruit of a more fundamental trait: freedom under the Gospel. Indeed, when you realize, acknowledge, and confess the freedom that you enjoy in Christ, then all fleshly striving, fear, and rivalry will become unnecessary foolishness, for you will see that you already have all things needful and that you want for nothing, and that the praise, honor, and glory of men is a fleeting and needless thing, and that the true riches are often unseen and unquantifiable to all but the Lord Himself.

Today’s Gospel begins on a Sabbath, with our Lord Jesus dining “at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees.” As St. Luke informs you, “they were watching Him carefully.” Why were they watching Him? Well, because, conveniently, there was a man there in their midst who was suffering from dropsy, a swelling of the limbs due to the retention of fluids. You see, the Pharisees were conflicted; they knew that it is always lawful to show love and mercy to a neighbor, but, you see, they held to a very strict interpretation of the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” They interpreted the letter of the Law to mean that they were not to lift a finger to do anything on the LORD’s day of rest, not even to help a neighbor or a brother in need. Again, they knew that the spirit of the Law required them to help, but they were enslaved to the letter of the Law, as they interpreted it, and they were more afraid of being called out by the other Pharisees present than they were the LORD who gave them the commandment in the first place. Therefore, they were watching Jesus to see what He would do. Would Jesus obey the spirit of the Law and help the man with dropsy? Or, would He cower under the letter of the Law, as they interpreted it, and ignore the man just as they were doing? How would Jesus respond to peer pressure?

Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees with a question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. You see, though the Pharisees were free under the same Gospel that has freed you and I, they chose to live as slaves under the letter of the Law, striving to do the Law in order to justify themselves before God, when God, in Jesus, proclaimed to them the Good News that the Law was being fulfilled in Jesus so that they did not have to live in slavery to fear at keeping the letter of the Law, but were free to live the Law of love towards others, without fear of condemnation, to the glory of the LORD. They knew what they were supposed to say: “Yes, it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath, for love is the fulfilling of the Law.” But, they were afraid to say what was right, for fear of judgment by the other lawyers and Pharisees, and so, they said nothing. Then, Jesus answered for them, not with words, but with deeds: “He took [the man suffering from dropsy] and healed him and sent him away.”

“Which of you,” Jesus then asked them, “having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And, again, they remained silent. For, the truth is, each of them would indeed help their own son or ox in need on the Sabbath, but their self-imposed slavery under the letter of the Law would not permit them to say so for fear of judgment, or loss of prestige, before their peers. Again, they knew what was right, but they were afraid to do it – not afraid of God, mind you, but they were afraid of other men, their judgment, and damage to their reputation. This is why they were slaves to the Law. The Gospel always proclaims your freedom the result of the Law fulfilled in Jesus, but the Law always shows your sins and unworthiness, judges you, and damns you to hell. The Law paralyzes you with fear so that you do not do what you know that you should, but, instead, you do that which you know to be wrong. Talk about peer pressure, right?

Then Jesus taught them in a parable about not taking the best seats at a wedding banquet. It is here that you may be tempted to think that this parable is primarily about Christian humility and, as a result, miss the more fundamental point about the joy of living in the freedom of the Gospel. Jesus had observed that the guests who were invited to the banquet at the ruler of the Pharisee’s house strove to choose the places of honor at the table. He knew that they were obeying the rules of a man-made social law that valued such things as place, honor, prestige, and glory, and that they interpreted the Law of God similarly. If they could not secure a place of honor, then they would be miserable and feel short-changed and embarrassed before their peers. Therefore, Jesus taught them that it doesn’t have to be that way, and that it certainly is not that way in the kingdom of His Father. He said to them: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus’ exhortation is to take the lowest place. But, why? Because worldly place, honor, prestige, and glory before men mean nothing to God or in terms of eternal life. Moreover, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has set you free from all of that nonsense! Forget about place, honor, prestige, and glory; you are free! You are free to enjoy the feast for itself, not because of your place in regard to others! Consider the Good News: You are invited! You get to attend the wedding banquet wholly apart from your own goodness or badness, your place, honor, or anything other than the goodness and grace of the host, your heavenly Father. Amazingly, and sadly, too often you miss out on the joy of the feast, the joy of life, because you bow down in slavery to the fallen, broken expectations of this world, the flesh, and other men. Jesus would have you live free from all of that, in His love, compassion, mercy, grace, and forgiveness given to you by grace alone, through faith alone, absolutely FREE!

In truth, this is exactly where you stand! This is your place! You are in, and no one can make you to be out! Jesus has set you free, only you can sell yourself into slavery again. But, if you insist on winning the favor of men by elevating yourself over your brother and your neighbor, coveting the accolades, praise, honor, and glory of men above all else, then, instead of being exalted in the Father’s kingdom, you will find yourself humbled before all, embarrassed, and demoted to the lowest place. For, Jesus warns, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

You see, humility is an important teaching in this Gospel, but it comes as the result of the freedom you enjoy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus has fulfilled both the spirit and the letter of the Law for you, in your place. Therefore, He has set you free from its judgment and condemnation and from the necessity to perform it in any way to justify yourself before His Father. Jesus has done it; it is finished; you are justified! Therefore, you are free to do the Law without fear or coercion. Therefore, do not submit yourself once again to laws that keep you from doing what you know is good and right to do! Primary amongst these things is how you relate to your brother and your neighbor. In this regard St. Paul exhorts you to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Paul explains further that, though you are many, you are truly of “one body and one Spirit” having “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Therefore, the opinions and values of men, the world, and the flesh are meaningless and count for nothing, for there is no distinction in terms of justification, forgiveness, and righteousness, for there is no distinction in terms of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness poured out upon you in and through your Lord Jesus Christ.

To submit yourself once again to the judgments of men, the flesh, and the world is like a freed prisoner returning to his jail cell. But, Jesus has set you free, free even to do that. Further, He knows that you are weak and that part of you desires to be imprisoned. Therefore, to keep you focused on freedom and strong to resist temptations, to protect and keep you from the assails of the evil one, He calls you to return to Him for sweet absolution, He binds up your wounds and pours on the salve of His Holy Spirit, He strengthens you with His Word which is life, and He feeds and nourishes you with His body and blood that you may live in and with Him. You are His; He has bought you with a dear price. But slavery to Christ is the sweetest freedom. If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 16)

(Audio)

Luke 7:11-17; Ephesians 3:13-21; 1 Kings 17:17-24

 

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

Our Old Testament lesson picks up right where we left off last week, with the Widow of Zarephath and her son. Last week we heard how God afflicted the entire land of Israel with a severe famine, promising King Ahab that he would not send rain until the Prophet Elijah prayed for it. Because of the famine, a widow was about to prepare her last handful of flour and use her last measure of oil to bake some bread for her son and herself, after which she despaired that they would surely die as there was no more food to be had anywhere in Israel. Nevertheless, Elijah commanded the widow to first prepare a cake of bread for himself, reminding her of the LORD’s promise, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.” Indeed, the Prophet, the widow, and her son ate and were satisfied for as many days as the famine remained in the land, and the jar of flour was not spent, and the jug of oil was not emptied.

It is this same widow and her son that we hear about in today’s Old Testament lesson, only, now the widow’s son has died. This is to add insult to injury, a double-offense. For, the woman was already in dire straits because her husband had died, and now her only son has died, and this after the LORD had spared them both from the famine, demonstrating His faithfulness, mercy, and grace. Why would the LORD put her to the test once again and in this manner? What could be the LORD’s purpose in permitting this trial to come upon her? Indeed, it is the same as it was for Job and for all of us, that the LORD’s righteousness might be revealed. As He withheld rain from falling upon Israel, so God would show that He was the LORD of life as well as creation by the power of His Word. Elijah, the Prophet, a title meaning “spokesman for God”, called upon the LORD to relent from the disaster He had permitted to come upon this widow and her son, “and the LORD listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.” When Elijah presented the boy to his mother alive, the poor woman had to confess, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and the Word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” And, the LORD was glorified.

The widow of Zarephath was beyond hope. She had lost her husband to death which, in turn, had caused her to lose her source of income, inheritance rights, and even social standing. To be a widow in the ancient world, and even in first century Israel, was to be cast amongst the most poor, orphans, and landless immigrants. But, to make matters worse, her only son, who was her last hope of redemption and life, had become ill and died. The woman was devastated, hopeless, and despairing, and she, like Job, believed and knew that the LORD had permitted this to happen to her.

Now, this is an important and necessary truth for Christians to confess. God is the LORD of life and all creation. This is why you are to fear, love, and trust in Him above all else, for there is no other god before and above the LORD. This is Jesus’ meaning when He teaches you, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” That one “who can destroy both soul and body in hell” is not Satan, as many are want to think, but He is the LORD God. The One who gives life may also take it away. Further, because He is the LORD of life and all creation, Jesus teaches you, as you heard last Sunday, to not worry or be anxious about tomorrow, what you will eat and wear, for the LORD knows what you need and He provides you all that you need for your body and life. Therefore, when tragedy, want, and need befall you, do not despair, and do not worship anxiety, fear, men, the gaining or loss of material wealth, nor any other idols, but call upon and pray to the LORD, the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of your life and all things; He will hear and answer in accordance with His good and gracious will and wisdom, and He will work all things, even horrible, wicked, and unimaginable things, for the good of those who love Him in Jesus Christ.

Likewise, in today’s Gospel lesson, another widow has lost her only son to death. Jesus and His disciples, a veritable procession of life, were entering the town of Nain when they met head-on a veritable procession of death, a crowd of mourners carrying the dead young man on a funeral bier. This story always reminds me of the stanza of Luther’s Easter hymn Christ Lag in Todesbanden, Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands in which we sing, “It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended. The victory remained with life; the reign of death was ended.” Jesus said to the mourning widow, “Do not weep,” for victory over death was as good as done, even if the boy had not been raised, because Jesus was going to die for him, in his place, in your place, in my place, for all the world, and take away the sting and curse of death forever. Therefore, Jesus touched the bier, shocking and scandalizing all around, for He takes your uncleanness, sin, and death upon Himself and He bears it upon the cross of Calvary. But, He raised him up by the power of the LORD’s Word, “‘Young man, I say to you, arise,’ and the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” All the crowds cried out, just as the widow of Zarephath had confessed of Elijah, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people!” And, they were right.

In the darkest hour of our night of sin and death, when all hope is vanquished and despair has set in, when we grimly go about the task of preparing our last meal before we die, that is when the LORD acts – that is when the LORD has acted: Jesus resurrects our last hope…, Himself. Yes, Jesus is our last and our final hope, for Jesus is, was, and ever will be our only hope. Indeed, this is the Christian faith: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

This faith is true freedom, freedom to live your life without fear and anxiety of want, need, or even death, but freedom to live your life in love for God and for your neighbor. Indeed, this is what St. Paul was talking about in the Epistle lesson today, that you may live each and every day of your life, persevering through every trial and tribulation, in faith grounded in love. In this faith and love, it is Christ who gives you “strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” For, He “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Through feast or famine, want or plenty, the LORD will ensure that “the jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty.”

Your life is the breath of God who is before and after you, and who sustains you each and every day of your life. Therefore, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.” Likewise, Jesus teaches you, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” The LORD would have you have this eternal perspective on your life. Your life is not what happens between birth and death, but you are a living soul having a beginning but no end. You were made for life – God’s life in Christ. He is your oil. He is your meal. And, He is inexhaustible. Call upon Him in your time of need and He will fill you to overflowing. You will persevere. Receive His gifts of selfless love: mercy, forgiveness, faith, strength of soul, peace of mind and spirit. Come, eat and be satisfied. Come, drink and be quenched. “A great prophet has arisen among us!” “God has visited His people!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 15)

(Audio)

Matthew 6:24-34; Galatians 5:25 – 6:10; 1 Kings 17:8-16

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

Do you notice how our Lord links together the sins of idolatry and anxiety? Listen to Him once again: No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

I ask you then, is your master anxiety, worry, and fear about what you will wear, about what you will eat or drink, about your health and your life? Is your master anxiety, worry, and fear about whether or not your children will be successful in school, will they make good friends, will they be safe? Is your master anxiety, worry, and fear about making your next mortgage payment, being laid off, having enough savings for retirement? Is your master anxiety, worry, and fear about getting COVID, cancer, or some other disease, about terrorist attacks, or falling out of love? For, if anything or anyone other than God is your master, then you are an idolater and you sin. For, an idol is anything that gets between you and your God; an idol is anything you put your fear, love, and trust in above, beyond, and before your God who commands “You shall have no other gods before me.”

But, the Son of Man did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. Jesus came to set you free from your tyrannical masters. Jesus came to set you free from your anxiety, worry, fear, and death, that you may live in Him and in His kingdom to the glory of His Father. Therefore, He calls anxiety, worry, and fear what they are, idolatry, which is nothing other than slavery to a false god. And He shows you the truth that these false gods keep you from seeing, that you are truly free of these things, for God knows what you need, and He graciously provides you with everything that you need to support and sustain your body and life.

Thus, learn from the birds of the air, for, they do not sow, and yet they eat, they do not reap or gather into barns, and yet they have food for tomorrow, should it come. And does not God, your Father, love you more than these? Yes, indeed, He does, but, perhaps, not in the way that you think. For, He loves you in such a way that He will not let you remain in bondage to anxiety and worry, idolatry, sin, and death. So, He will allow you to pass through times of lean and times of plenty, times of weakness and times of strength that you may call upon Him at all times and in all places in faith, confessing that He is God, ever faithful, almighty, and unchanging.

Thus, learn from the lilies of the field which cannot even move as can the birds of the air. They are root-bound in the earth, totally dependent upon rain and sun, and in the right amounts, to live. They are alive today and thrown into the oven tomorrow. They grow in fields of their own kind, indistinguishable one from another. And yet, how they are arrayed so that any one of them is more glorious than a king dressed in his finest robes! And, if God so clothes these whose life is but a breath, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

And, besides all that, asks your Lord, can you add a single hour to your life by being anxious? Can you add a single minute to your life by worrying about tomorrow? No, of course you cannot. And, like all tyrannical masters, anxiety, worry, and fear actually rob you of life: minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades. Your heavenly Father knows the things that you need and He graciously provides you all that you need to support and to sustain your body and life now, and into eternity.

The problem arises when the gifts of God’s grace are seen as the fruits of our labors, when we perceive ourselves to be the lord instead of the steward. Then we are tempted to hoard our possessions, to be envious of the possessions of others, to begrudge what we don’t have, and to be discontent with what we do have. Do you see, then, how we become enslaved to our possessions, how we make mammon, money and possessions and the pursuit thereof, to be our god? And god mammon is a tyrannical master, controlling you by making you fearful of losing what you have and anxious of getting more tomorrow, making you miserable all the while. And, the end is worse than the beginning, for nothing lasts forever and you can’t take it with you, for, “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever."

But don’t worry. You don’t have to live like that. You don’t have to search for worth and meaning in deaf and mute idols. You have worth and meaning because your heavenly Father created you and loves you and has given His Son Jesus to free you from bondage to sin, death, and the tyranny of mammon. You have died to that tyranny in Holy Baptism, and you have been raised to new and free life in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Still, the old evil foe, the devil, would have you believe that it’s all about you – what you do, what you earn, what you need, what you own. Through lies and deception he would mock God. But do not be deceived, God is not mocked. Indeed, God has mocked the devil and has shown him to be a pitiable fool.

God fooled the devil, sending His own Son in the form of weakness and poverty, unlike the birds, for which He provides, having no place to lay His head. God fooled the devil, sending His own Son into the oven of His wrath against sin to quench that fire so that is finished and there is no more. And, God fooled the devil, raising His own Son from death, snatching Him out of the lion’s jaws, and making Him King over heaven and earth that all who believe in Him might live and have eternal life.

All this is yours through baptism and faith, for you have died with Christ and you have been raised with Him, thus, there is nothing to fear. Jesus has clothed you with His own righteousness, there is no need to worry. And Jesus feeds you with His precious body and holy blood, there is no need to be anxious. And, He has given you a family, His body, the Church, so that you are not alone. Each of you is called to serve one another. Through each of you God provides for all. Let us do good, then, to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Do not be anxious about today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all that belongs to Him in Jesus will be added unto you.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.