Sunday, September 4, 2016

Homily for The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 15)

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.
These past two Sundays the Word of the LORD has exhorted you to live your lives in the freedom of the Gospel – in love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness towards your brother and sister in Christ, towards your friends and your neighbors, and even towards your enemies. This is not a preaching of the Law, but it is the fruit of the Gospel, the fruit of faith that has set you free from the coercion and condemnation of the Law and has cleansed you from guilt and fear. For, when you are profoundly aware of the love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness that you have received from the LORD in and through Jesus Christ, you simply will desire to, and will in fact, show the same towards others. No longer do you need to be coerced or guilted into loving action, but you are encouraged and equipped to go and love in thought, word, and in deed. This is the freedom you have to live as your LORD created you and redeemed you to live – not as a slave or a prisoner, in fear and resentment, but as a child of God, created in His image, free to love and to give and to share without fear, without resentment, or any such thing. You can show love to your brother and sister in Christ, to your neighbor, and even to your enemy, and help and befriend them in their bodily needs without considering whether it is right or wrong, whether it is patriotic, or whether it will cost you anything. For, like the Samaritan leper who returned to Jesus and thanked Him, glorifying God, you also walk in a new way, in the Light of the Word of God, according to the Spirit, resisting the desires of your flesh.
Then, why are you so anxious and afraid? Why do you worry about what you will eat and drink, about what you will wear, and where you will live? Why are you terrified at the wars and rumors of wars abroad, and political wars at home? Why do you fear losing your so-called freedoms and your rights? These are but a few questions you might ask yourself in light of today’s Gospel and subsequent readings. Your LORD and God has already set you free in Jesus Christ and has given you true freedom along with all that you need to support your body and your life. These so-called rights and freedoms that you strive to protect, and fear losing, are not God given, but they are given by men, written in a constitution, interpreted and protected by lawyers and judges, and enforced by laws. I am not saying to you that these man-made rights, freedoms, and laws are good or bad, but I am saying to you that they are man-made rights, freedoms, and laws, and that, if your fear, love, and trust is in them over and above God so that the thing you would die for is keeping them and the thing you fear most is losing them, then you just might have an idolatrous fear, love, and trust in them above and before the LORD. This, especially today when so many of the man-made rights and freedoms we cherish are being threatened and taken away, is something that we are all at risk of doing, and have even done, so that we must be on guard for this temptation, repent and trust in the LORD and His Word, receive and be strengthened, equipped, and protected in His gifts, and walk in His Spirit, Truth, and Light.
Thus, Jesus compares your fear and anxiety to slavery, and rightly so. When He says, “No servant can serve two masters,” it is slavery that He means to communicate. A slave has only one owner, one master. And, when you have fear and anxiety over fleshly, earthly, and worldly cares, values, and possessions, you have given yourself over to slavery to them and to your fear and your anxiety. And, if you are a slave to these, then they are your master, and you cannot have the LORD as master as well. Your LORD’s First and greatest Commandment to you is “You shall have no other gods before me.” Your LORD is a jealous God; He will not share you with other gods, which are truly idols and demons.
What is it that you need that your LORD does not graciously provide? Food, clothing, and shelter? Your body and soul, it’s members, reason, and senses, which He still preserves? Husband, wife, and children? Jesus has taught you to pray with Him, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Does the LORD not answer Jesus’ prayer, and your prayer, graciously providing you “everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like?” Look at the birds and the flowers, Jesus says, how they neither reap nor sow nor worry about clothing or food, and yet the LORD provides for them and marvelously arrays them. The point is not that you be like the insentient beings and not work and be responsible stewards of what the LORD provides, but that you are of infinitesimally greater value to the LORD than these humble creatures for whom He provides all that is needed. How much more does He provide for you whom He has created in His own image and likeness and has redeemed in His Son Jesus Christ incarnated as your brother having flesh and blood human needs just like you?
You were not created to live in anxiety and fear, but in faith and trust in the LORD. Our First Parents’ sin was the result of fear, love, and trust, not in the LORD, but in things that He has given and created: knowledge, wisdom, freedom, etc. They loved these creatures, these gifts, more than the LORD who created and gave them, and they feared losing them, or not having them, more than they feared the LORD who created and gave them. Their trust was not in the LORD but in themselves. They had become gods unto themselves, which is precisely what you do when you worry and are anxious and fearful of not having, or of losing what you have, or of what might happen to you. Willfully you cast yourself into slavery to anxiety and fear, which is truly worship of a false god, another master, effecting that the LORD is not your master. But, that is not the life that the LORD has called you to. As in the beginning, so now, the LORD has created you and called you and given to you and equipped you to work in His creation and to care for it and its inhabitants, both the sentient and the insentient. You simply cannot be a steward of the LORD’s creation if you are anxious and afraid – no servant can serve two masters. You are called to be a light to the world dwelling in darkness. How can you be a light when you are turned in on yourself in anxiety and fear? That is the way the Gentiles, the pagan unbelievers, live, but not you children of God, children of the Light.
Once again our epistle lesson from St. Paul makes a distinction between the way of the Spirit and the way of the flesh saying that the way of the Spirit is the way of humility and peace, contentment, patience, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness, gentleness and charity, etc. But Paul warns that, “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the own who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Again, you are called and equipped to work in this world. However, while your new man, your spirit is willing and desiring, your flesh is weak with passions and desires, fears and anxieties. When you serve them, you sow to your flesh, and the LORD warns that you will reap corruption. But, if you live in the freedom of the Gospel and walk in the way of the Spirit, what you sow will reap eternal life. When you are anxious and worried about having and losing, you often find yourself going through the motions of your vocations, of being a husband or a wife, of being a father or a mother, of being a citizen, even a patriot, of being an employee, and even of being a Christian. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, but faith in Christ for your life and salvation does. Neither does attending Bible studies, serving on a committee, or even saying your prayers make you a Christian, though those are certainly good things, but only faith in Christ – that is fear, love, and trust in God above all things – makes you a Christian. And, this is not a one and done sort of thing, but it must be your life, every day. St. Paul exhorts you to “live by the Spirit” and to “walk by the Spirit.” Living and walking are ongoing, every day, lifelong activities. Beware of anxiety, worry, and fear that tempt you to walk another path, to become proud and greedy and selfish, that rob you of contentment, comfort, and peace. Do not grow weary of doing good, for in due season you will reap the eternal reward reserved for those who trust in the LORD, if you do not give up.
Elijah was one who, according to the flesh, had every reason to give up. So, likewise was the widow of Zarephath. The land was stricken by drought and famine. However, Elijah did not fear dying of starvation, and the widow, who was preparing to eat her last meal and die, did not lose faith and blame and curse God, but she obeyed the Word of the LORD by His prophet Elijah and baked a cake first for him and then also for her and her son. Together, in fear, love, and trust in the LORD, they ate for many days, the jar of flour was not spent and the jug of oil was not empty until the LORD sent rain upon the earth. It is no different with you, O you of little faith. Even now your LORD presses your meager offerings of bread and wine into holy use and feeds you with the sin-forgiving, faith sustaining, life-giving body and blood of Jesus. Truly, the LORD hears your prayers for daily bread and He answers, providing you all that you need for your body and life, and more to share with those less fortunate. Do not be afraid! The LORD is for you. The LORD is with you. The LORD will never leave you or forsake you, and nothing can separate you from His love for you in Jesus Christ. He has lead you out of slavery to anxiety, worry, and fear, to sin and death and the grave, through the waters of your Holy Baptism. Come, eat His body. Come, drink His blood. The jar of flour will not be spent and the jug of oil will not be empty until He returns for you and takes you home. But, until then, your true Master has work for you to do: Love one another, show mercy to one another, be humble, not proud, and readily forgive, even your enemies, as you have yourself been forgiven all in the mercy of the LORD shown to you in Jesus Christ. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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