Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 11)

Luke 18:9-14; 1 Corinthians 15:1-10; Genesis 4:1-15

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is not intended to teach us how to pray. Jesus gave us His own example and The Lord’s Prayer to teach us that. Thus, the Pharisee is not bad because he positioned himself for prayers at the front of the temple where all could see him, and neither is the tax collector good because he stayed in the back and didn’t draw attention to himself as he prayed. No, the parable is not really about how to pray, what to say and do when you pray, or even how to worship properly at all. What the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is about, however, is justification, that is, how we are made right with God.
Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were religious, and treated others with contempt,” and He concluded the parable saying of the tax collector, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The Pharisee placed his trust, not in God, but in his own goodness, in his obedience, in his works, in his tithes, and even in his worship in the temple – He exalted himself. Moreover, in his pride he treated others with contempt whom he considered beneath him and unworthy: extortioners, the unjust, adulterers, tax collectors, sinners of all sorts. Again, it was not the Pharisee’s outward actions that condemned him, but it was the pride and self-righteousness of his heart which prohibited him from bearing the fruits of love, mercy, compassion, charity, and forgiveness towards others. Moreover, because he trusted in his own righteousness, he could not receive “the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees,” righteousness that comes from God in Jesus Christ.
Righteousness and justification do not come from our obedience under the Law, good works, piety, prayers, worship, or anything else that we do, but righteousness and justification come from God in Jesus Christ and are received by Spirit-created faith and trust in Him. It’s not about anything that we have or anything that we do, but it’s all about what God has done. That is why those who have next to nothing often find it easier to believe and receive, and why those who have much often struggle to believe. Abram’s faith was said to be great because he had great wealth, land, and possessions, and yet he believed and trusted in the Word of the LORD when He called him and sent Him to an unknown land, promising him a son and heir through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed: “Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to him as righteousness.” Similarly, Jesus taught that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, not because there is anything inherently wrong with wealth and possessions, but because wealth and possessions do not make for righteousness and justification, but can actually become obstacles and hindrances.
So it was that a tax collector, who was most likely quite wealthy, having extorted and embezzled his own people under the authority of the Roman government, who maybe gave tithes to the temple, or maybe didn’t, who may have prayed and fasted, or maybe not, went down to his house justified. The tax collector knew that, when it came to a right relationship with God, he had nothing to offer, but that he was a sinner and he placed no trust in his obedience under the Law, good works, piety, prayers, worship, or anything else that he did. It was not his prayer posture of kneeling and bowing his head in the back of the temple court that justified him, for those were but the outward signs of the humility and unworthiness he felt and knew in his heart, but it was his faith and trust in God’s Word of Promise and mercy that justified Him. The tax collector believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to him as righteousness.
You know, it’s entirely appropriate that this parable, and this Gospel theme, would be the focus of my final Divine Service and sermon with you, for I truly believe that this fundamental Christian doctrine of Justification, how we are made right with God, which Luther called “the doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls,” has been the focal point and emphasis of my ministry among you the entirety of my fifteen years at The Lutheran Church of Christ the King in Pawling, New York. When I arrived at Christ the King, young(er), green, and inexperienced as I was, nevertheless, I quickly observed that there was a fundamental problem here – a lack of identity, of who we are and why, as Christians and as a congregation of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Therefore, I set myself to the task of teaching, through catechesis, Bible Studies, topical studies, sermons, meetings of the Council, the Elders, the Congregation, and through personal conversations, and also through some less obvious means such as liturgical catechesis, actions, and vestments, building improvements, community service, and more. All of this was aimed at forming and confirming our identity in Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and reigning incarnationally through Word and Sacrament in His body, the Church, of which we are all members through baptism and faith. Through this ministry I sought that you might find your identity in Christ first and foremost and that this identity would be self-evident in the fruits of your identity and faith in Christ, love, mercy, compassion, charity, and forgiveness towards others to the glory of God in Christ Jesus.
Many of you have surely heard my cliché dictum, “When visitors come to worship at Christ the King, at the very least, while I hope for more, at the very least I want to have them walk away saying, ‘I don’t know what these people believe, but it’s extremely clear that they believe something special and important is happening here’.” Visitors know this because it is self-evident in the reverence we show when we worship. It is, in fact, a confession of what we believe about Jesus’ real presence in our midst, just as the tax collector’s humility was a confession of both his unworthiness and of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. You see, we can’t see into anyone’s heart, which is why, seemingly, the only immutable law of our age is “Don’t judge.” However, because we can’t see into anyone’s heart, we have to go by their words and their deeds, and it is a confessional principle that what we say and what we do are an outward expression of what we believe, teach, and confess. Therefore, people expect that what they see and hear us doing is what we believe. May our worship together always communicate to visitors, to our community, and to each other by what we say and do that Christ is present here in a way He is not present anywhere else, in grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness, both spiritually and physically, even as He is the Word of God made flesh for the life of the world.
There will be great pressure and great temptations to change what you say and do, particularly in worship, in order to accommodate the contemporary world and culture and bring in the lost. These temptations will be couched in very spiritual and pious sounding language, delivered always with the best intentions, and seeming all so wise according to human reason and wisdom and the best business practices of the day. Beware of such talk, as surely Satan’s temptations sounded reasonable and wise, even good, quoting the Scriptures themselves! You must remain firm on the solid rock of God’s Word and what it means, as opposed to what you think it means, and what you think it means, and what you think it means, …. As a congregation, and as heads of households, as families, and as individuals, you must hear, learn, mark, and inwardly digest God’s Word as food and oxygen and water that you may be able to withstand temptation when it comes upon you. Moreover, you can only give to others what you first have yourself. And, Christ’s Church cannot be a light shining in the darkness if it blends in with the darkness. You are called to be in the world, not of the world, and to not be conformed to the ways of this world, but rather to be transformed by the renewal of your minds.
That is to say, you must keep things ordered the right way, the way of the tax collector in Jesus’ parable. The tax collector knew that he had nothing to bring to the table, unlike the Pharisee who boasted of his real and true works, which were but filthy rags before the LORD because they did not flow from faith and trust in God and His Word, but from self-righteousness and pride. The tax collector knew that he was a sinner and that he was worthy of nothing but temporal and eternal punishment. Therefore, he threw himself on the mercy of the LORD. This, in itself, is an act of great faith and trust. The LORD saw his faith, and He credited the man’s faith to him as righteousness, just as the LORD credited Abram’s faith to him as righteousness. Notice, however, that neither Abram or the tax collector, or you or I, are said to be righteous, but we are credited, counted, considered, and declared to be righteous. Whenever we come before the LORD, we come as unworthy sinners, yet unworthy sinners forgiven and declared to be righteous in the blood of Jesus Christ. For this reason, I think of the Church of Jesus Christ in this way: “This church is not a memorial for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” Only sinners can be forgiven. Only the sick can be healed. Only the unrighteous can be declared righteous. Only the dead can be raised. Forgiven, healed, righteous, and alive forever: This is our identity in Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ alone.
C.F.W. Walther said “Man’s justification by the Gospel is not a deed which man himself does, but which is done to him by God. It is not something which goes on in man’s heart, but something which goes on outside man, in God’s heart.” Walther also said “Man’s justification by the Gospel is not to be compared to an actual cleansing from stains, but to the putting on of a beautiful white garment which covers the stains.” When we come to the Divine Service, we come to be so served by our loving, gracious, merciful, and forgiving God. In Holy Absolution He forgives our sins anew and cleanses us of all impurities, restoring us to our baptismal purity. Through the reading and preaching of His Word He strengthens our faith even as He rebukes, comforts, and exhorts us in it. In the Lord’s Supper we actually commune with Jesus and share in all His blessings and benefits including Sonship with the Father, His Kingship over heaven and earth, and His life that cannot die. This is why the German Lutherans called our worship Gottesdienst, which means God’s Service; God serves us in the Divine Service, and He sends us to serve our neighbors with His Divine Gifts.
And so, I leave you with the same point of doctrine I brought to you when I first came to you: Your identity, your life, is in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, apart from whom there is no life, there is no relationship with the Father, there is no Church. However, I do not believe that you are the same as you were then, and neither am I, but we have grown together as a family of faith, fed, nourished, sustained, protected, equipped, and sent forth with His God’s blessing to be a blessing to others as He has richly blessed us in Christ Jesus. I have been blessed, honored, and privileged to be your pastor, but I am only a pastor, and that means that I am an undershepherd of the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. Our Good Shepherd has many, many undershepherds who stand in His stead and by His command to bring to you His gifts. While I know that you will miss me, and I will dearly miss you, you must know and understand that a pastor’s call is from God through the Church, and through a congregation of the Church specifically. That call can, does, and should change from time to time, for the Church is not mine any more than it is yours, but it is the LORD’s. The LORD will raise up for you another pastor and undershepherd, and he will feed you and care for you and give you Christ’s gifts just the same, for the Good Shepherd loves and cares for His flock, even as He laid down His life to save and keep it for life with Him and His Father and Holy Spirit.
Ultimately, your identity is not in a pastor, or even in a congregation, but your identity is in Christ and Him alone. This does not, must not, and cannot change. As we sang in our 50th Anniversary Hymn “The Church of Jesus Christ Is Pure,” which we will sing once again at the close of this service, “Our Bridegroom and our Lord is He, Who gives us our identity; And He whose promise can’t grow old Has nothing that He will withhold. For this is He who did ascend And preaches still to all earth’s end Through all His preachers who proclaim Salvation in our Savior’s Name.” I have desired to preach nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified, risen, reigning, and returning, and His life lived in and through you as a light shining in the darkness of this world that others might know and come to Him who is the life and light of men to the glory of God. May God continue to bless you richly in His gifts of Word and Sacrament, and may He continue to make The Lutheran Church of Christ the King and all of you a rich blessing to the community of Pawling and the communities beyond to the glory of His Most Holy Name.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 10)

Luke 19:41-48; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Jeremiah 8:4-12

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
One of the most poignant ecclesial symbols of Christ’s atoning sacrifice is known as The Pelican In Her Piety. You will find that symbol pictured in your divine service program today on page seven. In a time of famine and distress, the female pelican has been known to pluck her own feathers from her breast and to pierce her own flesh in order that she might feed her tender brood with her own blood that they might live. It should be easy to see why The Pelican In Her Piety became a symbol for Christ as He sacrificed His own life and shed His precious blood that we might be forgiven and restored and have life in Him, even His life in us. So powerful and evocative was this image that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote of it in his communion hymn Thee We Adore, O Hidden Savior saying (LSB 640), “Thou, like the pelican to feed her brood, Didst pierce Thyself to give us living food; Thy blood, O Lord, one drop has pow'r to win Forgiveness for our world and all its sin.”
Today’s Gospel was not the first time that Jesus visited and wept over Jerusalem. In chapter thirteen of St. Luke’s Gospel Jesus lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!’” Notice how Jesus compares Himself to a hen seeking to gather her brood under her wings, just like the pelican, but He adds that Jerusalem, that is, the children of Israel, and particularly her religious leadership, were unwilling to be gathered to Him. Thus, Jesus continues, “And I tell you, you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!’”
I wish to draw your attention for a moment to the words “you will not see me.” In the Gospels, seeing is often more than general eyesight and vision, but it is a seeing in faith, a spiritual seeing, a seeing what is really real and true rather than what only appears to be true. Many people could see Jesus. They saw Him as the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. They saw Him as an itinerant rabbi. They saw Him as a prophet, maybe even John the Baptist returned from the dead. They saw Him as an instigator. They saw Him as a threat to their power, authority, and wealth. That’s what that whole dialogue with His disciples in Caesarea Philippi was all about: “Who do people say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?” Many, most, seeing people didn’t see Jesus rightly. But, then there were a few blind people, even a few Gentiles, who could see what others could not; they could see that Jesus was the Christ, even the Son of God. When Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, He prophesied that they would not see Him until they would see the prophecy of Zechariah fulfilled, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” That day would be Palm Sunday, the very day Jesus wept once again over Jerusalem and spoke the words in today’s Gospel, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your Visitation.”
They did not see Jesus with the eyes of faith, but they were spiritually blind to Him, and this moved Jesus to weep over the city of Jerusalem, for He knew the end of the path they were walking. They were His people, His children, His brood. He was about to pluck His own breast and tear His own flesh and die for them all that they might live in Him, but they refused to gather with Him. And, because of their blindness, because of their rejection, they could not see the things that would make for peace with God. In fact, the LORD hid these things from them so that they could not see and believe and be saved. People commonly say, “seeing is believing;” In this sense, they are right! Those who see believe, but those who do not believe cannot see, for they are blind. Though Jesus proclaimed the Word of the LORD and called them to repentance that they might find peace with God, they considered themselves secure saying, “We are God’s people, we have Abraham as our father; No evil can possibly overtake us.” As Jeremiah prophesied to Israel long ago, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Still, Jesus remained among them, teaching daily in the temple, but instead of believing in Him and finding peace in Him and His Word, they believed that He was a deceiver and that His doctrine was false and dangerous, and the religious leaders of the people sought to destroy Him.
What the people of Jerusalem could not see was that God was visiting His people in grace in His Son, His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Jesus had visited Jerusalem before. He and His disciples had ministered and taught the Word of the LORD there that hearts might be turned in repentance and that they might know peace with God. However, they did not know the time of their visitation. Now, the Greek word translated visitation here is episkopē, which also means bishop, overseer, and pastor. That word is used of your pastor every bit as much as it is used of your District President, or Bishop, who will visit you next Sunday. Both the weekly visitation of your pastor, and the occasional visit of your Bishop, are visitations of grace. They come to you, not in judgment, but with the things that make for your peace with God: The preaching of the Gospel. The forgiveness of sins. Holy Baptism. The Lord’s Supper. Every time we gather here is the time of the Lord’s gracious visitation. This is what St. Paul is getting at when he says, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” However, when Jesus comes again in glory at the end of time, His visitation will be one of judgment. And, that is why Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He saw that so many of the children of Israel, and particularly the religious leadership of Israel, did not believe and could not see the things that made for peace. They found peace in their obedience and works under the Law, as they interpreted it. They found peace in their outward works of piety, in their prayers, in their temple rites and rituals, but they could not see that these things were truly signs of promises made and kept by God in the sacrifice of His Lamb, His Son, Jesus Christ. Once again, the prophecy of Isaiah rings true: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”
Jesus wept over Jerusalem because He saw the coming judgment of their unbelief. The terrible prophecy Jesus proclaimed described the utter destruction and decimation of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in 70 A.D. The Romans laid siege to the city and barricaded it so that no fresh food and water and supplies could get in, and no refuse, sick and dying, or dead corpses could get out. This went on for a few years before the Roman army destroyed the walls of Jerusalem and entered the city. They found a decimated populace, weak and diseased, with evidence of suicide and cannibalism. The Romans destroyed the city and the temple, leaving not one stone standing upon another, and the remaining Jews were sent out and dispersed into the surrounding nations – because they did not know the time of their visitation.
Jesus wept, not because this destruction could have been averted, – maybe it could have been, maybe not, but that’s not the point – rather, Jesus wept because everything had been provided for them that made for their peace with God. Peace in Hebrew is shalom, which means fullness and completeness. The name Jerusalem contains a form of shalom and means “Foundation of Peace.” Jerusalem’s history, however, is anything but peaceful, full, and complete. Again, Jesus recounted that city’s infamous history calling it “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” As Jerusalem did to the prophets whom God sent, so would it do to God in the flesh, His Son, Jesus Christ. The city named the Foundation of Peace would reject and destroy the One who is Peace with God, because they did not know the things that make for peace, but they found peace in things that made for death and destruction, saying to the people, “‘Peace, peace,’ where there is no peace,” and they did not know the time of their visitation.
Jesus is our shalom, our fullness and completeness, and the Foundation of our Peace with God and with one another. Jesus is our Sabbath Rest in whom we find shelter, refreshment, and protection. In His Son Jesus, God has visited His people and has redeemed them. And, when we gather here in His Name as His baptized children, members of His body, He visits us anew, not in judgment, but in grace, mercy, love, compassion, and peace. When you come to church, you must not think that you are doing a good work, that you are serving God, or anything else of the sort, but rather you must believe that you are coming into the presence of God’s Peace, that you are entering His Sabbath Rest, and that you are knowing the Lord’s gracious visitation. I am not suggesting that this congregation alone, let alone Lutherans, have cornered the market on the Lord’s gracious visitation, – not at all – but I am saying that God Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is present with you here, for you here, in a way that He is not present for you elsewhere, though He is truly present everywhere. Here, in this place, in Word and Water, Body and Blood, He is present for you in grace, that He may gather you under His wings and heal you with forgiveness, feed you with His flesh and blood, strengthen you with His Word, and send you bearing His gifts just as The Pelican In Her Piety sacrifices herself for the sake of her brood that they might live and flourish and fill the world.
This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! This day, and every LORD’s Day, is the day of His gracious visitation; may we always see it and know it, and may it be marvelous in our sight! Though the Romans, the Gentiles, the world and its culture have us barricaded, surrounded, and hemmed in, though they threaten to tear us down to the ground, we gather in the LORD’s house of prayer, taking shelter under His gracious wings as we hang on His every Word and are made partakers of His heavenly treasures. Let us never forget the things that make for our peace, and let us cling to them and preserve them, for they are our life and salvation, even Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 9)

Luke 16:1-13; 1 Corinthians 10:6-13; 2 Samuel 22:26-34

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus begins His Parable of the Unjust Steward saying, “There was a rich man who had a manager….” He begins with the relationship between these two characters: The one, a rich man having great wealth and possessions; the other his hired manager of his wealth and possessions. The relationship between the two men is the key to understanding Jesus’ meaning in the parable. The manager is a manager of another’s goods. The wealth and goods the manager manages are not his own, but they are his master’s. So, too, are you and I but managers and stewards of the goods and possessions of another, the LORD. The LORD is our Master, and all that we have, our bodies and souls, our eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason and our senses, and also our clothing, shoes, food, drink, house and home, husband, wife, children, land, animals, and everything else that we have, are not ours, but they are our LORD and Master’s, over which we have been given management and stewardship. The relationship between the rich man and the manager is the key to understanding how the LORD would have us manage and be good stewards of His wealth and possessions, both material and spiritual.
I think that, for people like us, that is, generally affluent, independent, freedom-loving Americans, this is a particularly difficult teaching of Jesus’. It is difficult for us because it flies in the face of what we value most – independence, private ownership, a fair wage for our labor, etc. It wasn’t all that long ago that President Obama drew fire from conservatives for saying “You didn’t build that,” meaning that the roads and bridges, even our privately-owned businesses and our success in them, are not solely the work of our own hands, but of many different people who had a hand in building them and growing them along the way. While I didn’t much care for his statement myself, which was used to foster an economic policy of “wealth redistribution,” I have to admit that there is a sense in which he was correct. We in the West, and particularly in the United States, must resist the temptation to make our independence, private ownership, and freedom idols and false gods. If all we have, materially, physically, and spiritually is not ours, but the LORD’s, over which we have been given management and stewardship, then there is truly no place for selfishness and greed, and lack of charity and mercy towards others. Indeed, C.F.W. Walther expressed this well saying, “Though a person may have control over thousands and millions of dollars, he is still only God’s treasurer. Though a person may possess a most profitable business and control vast resources, he is still only God’s manager. Though a person may call many homes and palaces his own, though he may hold clear title to a great tract of land, he is till only God’s tenant.”
Being a manager and steward of someone else’s wealth and possessions calls, not for pride, self-righteousness, and selfishness, but for humility, charity, mercy, and grace. This is a theme of which Jesus taught regularly in His parables. In the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, the laborers hired early in the day expected to receive more than those hired later in the day. The master of the vineyard answered them saying, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” Do we not often think this of what does not belong to us? Similarly, in the Parable of the Talents, the master gave each of his managers a talent to manage and steward while he was away. When he returned, the master was angry that one of his managers returned to him the very same talent he gave him to manage, having buried it and not used it to make a profit. You see, the LORD does not want you horde His goods or lock them away and not use them, but He wants you, He expects you, He demands you to use them, for your own sake and for your family, but also for your neighbor that the Name of the LORD may be glorified.
It is for this reason that the master in today’s Parable of the Unjust Steward commends his manager for reducing the debts his debtors owed him. Now, when managing the wealth and possessions of another man or woman, this would be dishonest and illegal, but when managing the wealth and possessions, material, physical, and spiritual, of the LORD, not only is this faithful, good, and commendable, but this is the LORD’s will for you in managing His goods. The LORD wants you to use them, for yourself and for your family, but also for your neighbor. The LORD wants you to use them generously, liberally, even recklessly, for in so doing you show that you understand the relationship you have with your LORD and Master – that you are a manager and a steward of His varied graces, gifts, wealth and possessions.
For, what are the varied graces, gifts, wealth and possessions of the LORD but love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness? Of these, the LORD wills that you use them generously, liberally, even recklessly, showing your faith and trust in Him and in His goodness, and glorifying Him by loving others as He has loved you in Jesus Christ. The manager in the parable is said to be unjust because he did this with his human master’s possessions, but God, the LORD, our Master and Father wants us, wills us, demands us to use His wealth and possessions, to use His graces and gifts recklessly for others, even to use them to secure eternal life. Indeed, this is related to the “righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” you heard about last week; such righteousness, worked in you by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, bears forth the fruit of bold and confident faith and generous, liberal, and reckless love for both God and neighbor.
There are those who seek to turn Jesus’ teaching into an economic or political ideology so as to make the LORD either a capitalist on the one hand, or a socialist on the other. This is complete and utter nonsense and represents a gross misunderstanding of God, of man, of sin, of grace, of forgiveness, and of nearly every other doctrine in the Holy Scriptures. Those who seek to make God a capitalist point to the Parable of the Talents to claim that the LORD is pleased when we invest and make a profit. Those who seek to make God a socialist point to the practice of the early Christian Church in the Acts of the Apostles who sold all they had and put the funds in a community chest to serve the poor and widows. However, both attempts miss the point of Jesus’ teaching: Nothing belongs to us, but we are managers and stewards of the LORD’s wealth and possession, gifts and graces. The LORD wants you to confess this and to use them for your benefit, and also for the benefit of others. Thus, the LORD loves a cheerful giver.
Here at Christ the King we have effectively made it a policy to not speak of stewardship, particularly from the pulpit. While I sympathize with this to a point, I also believe that we have done ourselves a great disservice by not preaching and teaching and talking about Godly stewardship. And, so it is that we struggle, not only financially, but also spiritually, for when we give, we give grudgingly, as if we were being forced, compelled, guilted, or robbed. However, the blunt, biblical truth is that we possess and own nothing of our own, but all is the LORD’s, over which we have been given management and stewardship. The day will come when we will be called to give an account of our management, just as the man in Jesus’ parable today, and in the Parable of the Talents. The LORD will demand to see what you have done with His wealth and possession, His grace and gifts. Have you used them in humility and love for God and for your neighbor to His glory? Have you used them generously, liberally, and recklessly, confessing that they are not your own but the LORD’s? Have you gained a profit for the LORD by your management and stewardship of His wealth and possessions, grace and gifts? “Make friends for yourself by means of unrighteous wealth.” That is, share with, give to, love, and forgive others generously, liberally, and recklessly with God’s goods, “for one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.”
Of course, none of us can do this perfectly, for we are sinners and we regularly succumb to temptations to greed and envy, to selfishness, and to the fear of losing or not having. However, there was one Manager and Steward who was once the Master Himself, who, in love for God His Father and in deep humility, made Himself nothing, taking up the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, and that One was, and is, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Jesus generously, liberally, and recklessly shared and gave of His Father’s wealth and possessions, grace and gifts, for you and for all the world, that His Father may be glorified. He who had all forsook it all in love for God and for you, His neighbor, and became a beggar. I believe that this is precisely what Martin Luther had in mind when he scribbled these words on a scrap of paper that was found in his pocket after his death: “We are all beggars. This is true.” We are beggars. We own nothing. We were brought into life with nothing, and we take nothing with us when we go. There are no U-Hauls behind our hearses. And yet, we who fear, love, and trust in the LORD are richest of men and lack no good and needful thing. I have been blessed, privileged, and honored to serve you as a steward of the mysteries of the LORD these past fifteen years, in which I only give to you what our Lord Jesus has given His Church on earth: His Word, His forgiveness, His baptism, His body, and His blood. Today He invites you to come and taste the goodness of the LORD once again. Come, you beggars, you have nothing of your own; come, eat and drink without price and live! And then, go, sharing and giving freely, generously, liberally, and recklessly as His managers and stewards of His varied graces and gifts to the glory of His holy Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.