Monday, August 30, 2010

Proper 17 of Series C (Luke 14:1-14)

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, most experts will tell you that there are several major world religions and literally thousands of minor ones. In fact, some say that there are as many religions in America as there are people. Those experts are wrong. In fact, in all of the earth, amongst every group of people that has ever lived, there have only ever been two religions, Meism and Foryouism. Now, I’m not sure you have heard of either of these religions, especially since your pastor just made the names up, but Jesus deals with both in our text for today. In fact, these two religions are diametrically opposed to one another, because they focus people in two completely opposite directions. Meism and Foryouism have always been at odds, and this conflict comes to the fore once again when Jesus is invited to a meal.

Jesus of Nazareth came to the house of a prominent local Pharisee to enjoy a banquet, but it didn’t take long before Meism asserted itself. Jesus watched as the guests chose the honored seats, competing with each other for who would sit in the most favored positions. You see, in Meism, the only ruling principle is that you must seize honor for yourself. You cannot depend on anyone else to give it to you, and you shouldn’t let your own honor be given to another. In Meism, everything is all about and centered upon, well, me. I live my life my own way, I make my own decisions, and no one can tell me differently. I definitely shouldn’t be held up to some kind of outside standard. It’s all about my own needs, my own pleasure, what I want I should be allowed to get.

Meism, as you can probably guess, is a very old religion, in fact as ancient as the world itself, but in our country today, it seems to be gaining great momentum. Its various branches go under different names, Buddhism, Islam, even atheism. In fact, atheism is the purest form of Meism. Some of those other groups still have this primitive dependence on some sort of ‘god,’ but in atheism, it is all and only about me! When it comes to religion, Meists can fit into a variety of different groups, but only if that group encourages me to rely on myself, my own good works, my own obedience, my own efforts. What savior? I don’t need one- I’ve got myself! Many Christian churches have even jumped on the Meism bandwagon. People want to depend only on themselves, and many congregations are only too happy to oblige. Everything from the songs sung to the sermons preached focus squarely on me and my life, teaching me how to get my best life now or achieve my goals. Other congregations rarely speak about sin and do their best to be inclusive and endorse any kind of lifestyle that walks in. Salvation, too, is all about me. There is still some trust in God, but mostly it’s about what I’m doing, how I’m contributing. Don’t worry about me, God, I’ve got this salvation thing covered!

If Meism is all about my own needs, then what do I do with other people? Now, for the followers of Meism, other people are vitally important, because they help us get what we want. They can affirm us in our decisions, they can provide for our needs. But if they do not perform that task, then there is only one thing to with our neighbors- discard them. The follower of Meism knows that relationships are fleeting, so people can be discarded with little or no consequences. Marriage is just a piece of paper, and it’s much better to just sleep around, fulfilling your own pleasures. The prophets of Meism preach that message loud and clear from their pulpits on network and cable TV. In fact, science has been quite helpful in carrying the banners of Meism. The followers of Meism wanted sex without consequences, and science and politics obliged with abortion on demand. Roe vs. Wade was one of the greatest triumphs of Meism. If a baby gets in the way of my life in any way, I can just dispose of it! In a great triumph of Meism, just a couple weeks ago a judge in California declared that gender is irrelevant to marriage! Thousands of Meists now say: I can marry whoever I want! Meists are even excited for the day when legalized euthanasia will provide the opportunity to get rid of anyone who is holding them back. The only time you give aid to another is if you can get something out of it. That is why the host in our text invited only the rich and powerful. Followers of Meism may live in a community, but they will only become involved in a project if it directly benefits them. That only makes sense- why should I do anything that doesn’t assist me in fulfilling my own needs? That is ridiculous! Living in community and helping others doesn’t really fulfill the needs of Meism; instead, I need to rely solely on myself.

Throughout history, the proponents of Meism have dominated the human race, no matter the nationality or religion. The adherents of Foryouism have been comparatively few. This has been a persecuted bunch, trampled on by the world because their defining characteristic is humility. They know that they cannot achieve anything by themselves because they are sinful and corrupted. There is no trust or dependence on ‘me’ here, but instead upon another, someone outside of themselves. They are the poor and needy, those who have nothing to offer anyone but their sicknesses and infirmities. They know this, and therefore they do not attempt to grab the seats of honor, but instead sit in the lowest place. Unlike the Meists, who seize honor for themselves, the followers of Foryouism know that honor is something that is given, not taken. And so they humbly waited for deliverance.

That deliverance came from the greatest proponent of Foryouism, Jesus Christ. Jesus did not seize glory and honor for Himself, though He certainly had the right. He was the sinless Son of God, in intimate communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit. All glory and honor belonged to Him, but He gave it up. St. Paul puts it so well in Philippians chapter two: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.” In an act of utter and complete humility Jesus allowed Himself to be tortured and killed…for you. That is where this religion gets its name: It’s not about you, it’s about Jesus Christ for you! The focus is not on us but on Him and what He has done for us. He gave His life into death for us to pay the price for our sin. And as a result of His humility, Jesus Christ was exalted. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” This is the great paradox of Foryouism. Those who follow Meism attempt to exalt themselves, but in Foryouism, one is exalted only by being humble. Following His death, Jesus was raised in victory over the grave and now He is exalted to the right hand of the Father. His humiliation led to His exaltation.

If Jesus is exalted, then we too will be exalted with Him. Jesus is the host who invites the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, that is, you and I, and He places us at the feast. Jesus calls you by name, for He knows you intimately, and He died and rose again for you. He gave you a place at the feast when He called you by name in the waters of Holy Baptism. When you partake of the Lord’s Supper here on this earth, you are participating in that feast, because Jesus is giving Himself once again for you and for the forgiveness of your sins. At the feast, here in earthly time and there in eternity, our Lord gives us the honored places. Jesus tells us, “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.” We have been humbled by the burden of our sin, but Jesus lifts us up and brings us to the highest places at the feast, the honored seats of those who have been redeemed by His blood. Around that feast will be all those have heard the mighty voice of the Gospel, the ‘for you’ of salvation in the waters of Holy Baptism.

Therefore, the followers of Foryouism do not keep their eyes focused on themselves, but instead upon Jesus Christ and then upon their neighbors. For the Meists, neighbors are something to be used to get us what we want, and then to be discarded. The Foryouist instead sees the neighbor as another person for whom Christ died, and therefore one who needs our service. They do not serve their neighbor in search of reward, but they do so because they have a reward, a reward that is in heaven. Jesus said, “But when you give a feast, invite the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Just like Jesus, the followers of Foryouism place others before themselves, always looking for an opportunity to let the ‘for you’ of the Gospel ring out in another’s ears. For that proclamation is the lifeblood of the one who is in Christ, the constant refrain: Jesus died for you, and He lives for you!

So we have two religions in our world, existing side by side, although the religion of Meism definitely has the numbers. We are all born Meists, and we fall back into that religion on a daily basis. That is why Jesus is constantly working to apply the Gospel to you each and every day, to forgive your sins, for He died and rose again for you and your salvation. Only He can bring you from Meism to Foryouism, only He can bring you to the feast, and we rejoice that He has done so, that He has given up His life for you, to bring you into the feast that will never end, the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom into all eternity. In the Name of our great host and living Savior, Amen.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Thy Strong Word radio broadcast

The Denison Circuit has a radio spot every morning, and the pastors rotate week by week to cover it. My week began this morning, so I thought I would share my 'show transcripts.'

Program number 1 for August 23rd

Good morning! This is Rev. Christopher Maronde, new pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Kiron and Faith Lutheran Church in Deloit. This week I would like to speak to you about the hymn, Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me written by Paul Gerhardt. The hymns of the Church are a wonderful treasure. In them we find the voice of all Christians throughout the centuries, as they respond to the great deeds of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in prayer and praise. When looking deeply at a hymn, it is often helpful to understand where the author is coming from and why he writes the way he does. Today we will learn a bit about the life and ministry of our author, Pastor Paul Gerhardt. Some have called him “A Theologian sifted in Satan’s sieve.” We will soon learn why.

Paul Gerhardt was a Lutheran pastor who lived in the seventeenth century. He grew up in the midst of the Thirty Year’s war, a conflict over religion and power that ended up consuming much of central Europe. All wars cause suffering for the people caught in the middle, but this war was especially horrific and intense. Soldiers ravaged the land as the battle lines moved back and forth over Germany and the rest of central and northern Europe. The war caused disease as well, great plagues that ravaged the towns of Germany. Pastor Gerhardt’s father died when Paul was young, and in the course of his life, Gerhardt lost five of his six children to disease, and finally he lost his wife as well, leaving him with a six year old son. This is in addition to all the suffering he saw in the people he served. In the middle of all this personal suffering and loss, Pastor Gerhardt was removed from his office as pastor. He was tossed out by the government after refusing to sign a document stating that he could not preach against false doctrine. He considered it his duty to remain free to preach the Word of God in its truth and purity, and therefore faced the consequences. After three years he was called to another town where he labored until his death. During this tragedy-filled life, Pastor Gerhardt penned 133 hymns, many of which have found their way into English hymnals.

As we will see in the days to come, Gerhardt’s writing of hymns flowed from his life experiences, but not in the way we would expect. We would think that such a difficult life would cause him to write dark hymns full of despair, doubt, or even anger to God. But instead, his hymns are filled with hope, they are filled with love, they are filled with an inexplicable joy, the joy that can only come from the knowledge that despite all we face in this world, we have a God who loves us. And it is this great love of God that Gerhardt praises in our hymns for this week, Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me. I encourage you to grab a hymnal and look at this wonderful hymn today, and I look forward to digging into it with you tomorrow and through the rest of this week. Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, you preserved your servant Pastor Gerhardt despite all that he faced in this life. Guard and protect our faith from every assault of Satan and keep us firm in all of life’s trials. For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen. May the Lord bless your day!

Program number 2 for August 24th

Good morning! This is Rev. Christopher Maronde, pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Kiron and Faith Lutheran Church in Deloit. If you remember, this week we are exploring the depths of a wonderful hymn, Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me written by Paul Gerhardt. Yesterday we talked about our author’s difficult life as a Lutheran pastor in the midst of a horrific war. Today it is time to look at the first verse of this hymn. If you have the Lutheran Service Book, you can follow along- it is hymn 683. Here it is: “Jesus, thy boundless love to me No thought can reach, no tongue declare; Unite my thankful heart to thee, And reign without a rival there! Thine wholly, thine alone I am Be thou alone my constant flame.”

What a beautiful prayer to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! The opening line tells us the subject of this hymn: Jesus’ love shown to us. Pastor Gerhardt says about this love that “No thought can reach, no tongue declare.” We cannot comprehend the depths of Jesus’ love shown to us. It is simply unthinkable that the sinless Son of God would take on our human flesh and join us as a man. Who can imagine that one without sin would take our sins upon Himself? And Jesus didn’t die for us because we were such great people, He died for us when we were sinful and wretched, and altogether unlovable. Isn’t that amazing? He loved us who had done nothing to deserve this love, who in fact had done everything to rebel against our loving creator. Jesus loved us who by our sin could not love Him, and brought us salvation by giving up His life on Calvary’s cross. Paul writes in Ephesians 3: “According to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have 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.” It is only through the work of Christ that we can even begin to comprehend such great love!

The response to this love is the prayer that Gerhardt prays in this hymn. “Unite my thankful heart to thee, and reign without a rival there!” Notice who is doing the action here. Our hymn writer realizes that he cannot unite Himself with Christ, he knows that in his sinful heart there are plenty of rivals for Christ. Instead of relying on ourselves, we instead pray that Christ would unite our heart to Himself, and that He would dwell without a rival within us. We cannot do this on our own, and in fact our sinful nature does not want to give any room for Christ. Therefore, our prayer is that He would work within us day by day to renew our hearts and reign there alone. Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, you have shown us unthinkable love by giving up your life for us while we were still sinners. You love us and because you love us you have delivered us and still work to renew us day by day. Continue to work within us, strengthening our faith until you give to us our heavenly inheritance. In your holy and precious name we pray, Amen.
May the Lord bless your day!

Program number 3 for August 25th

Good morning! This is Rev. Christopher Maronde, pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Kiron and Faith Lutheran Church in Deloit. This morning we will continue our hymn study, examining the second verse of Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me written by Paul Gerhardt. Yesterday we spoke about the unfathomable love of Christ, that He, the sinless Son of God, would give up His life for us. Today, we will explore how the love of Christ is expressed in our lives. Here is the second verse of our hymn:

O grant that nothing in my soul
May dwell, but Thy pure love alone
Oh, may Thy love possess me whole,
My joy, my treasure, and my crown!
All coldness from my heart remove;
My every act, word, thought be love.

Paul writes in Galatians chapter 2: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Pastor Gerhardt expresses that same though in our verse for today. Because Jesus gave Himself up to death for our sins, because He shed His very blood to reconcile us with our Creator, our lives are now lived in Christ Jesus our Lord. As Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” That is what Pastor Gerhardt prays for in this second verse. He cries out to God, “Oh, may Thy love possess me whole, my joy, my treasure, and my crown!”

Notice the order of events here. First Jesus shows His great love to us by giving up His life for us. He hung upon that cross for you and your salvation, He did not come down because He loves you and wants to bring you to Himself in heaven someday. Only once Jesus has shown His great love to us are we then able to live in Christ. We don’t meet Jesus halfway, but instead He shows His great love to us, and then we respond in love toward Christ and our neighbor.

Pastor Gerhardt prays that his “every act, word, thought be love.” Because Jesus has shown His great love to us, we then go out and show that same love to others. This doesn’t have to be spectacular, like a mission trip or a huge donation, though those are certainly good ways to show Christ’s love to others. Instead, God has placed people around us in every part of our lives that need our love shown to them. Our spouse, our children, our friends, and our co-workers all need the love of Christ shown to them, and it is our joy to serve them because Jesus first served us! Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, we praise you for the great love that you have shown to us. Through that love enable us to live in you and serve our neighbor in joy. They need your love shown to them, and we pray that you would use us as your instruments to serve them. Amen.
May the Lord bless your day!

Program number 4 for August 26th

Good morning! This is Rev. Christopher Maronde, pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Kiron and Faith Lutheran Church in Deloit. This week we are studying the wonderful hymn Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me by Pastor Paul Gerhardt. Yesterday we spoke of how the love Christ first showed to us is expressed in our day to day lives. Today we are going to look at how Christ’s love affects our inner being. Here is the third verse:

This love unwearied I pursue
And dauntlessly to Thee aspire.
Oh, may Thy love my hope renew,
Burn in my soul like heavenly fire!
And day and night be all my care
To guard this sacred treasure there.

Christ showed such great love to us by giving His life for us on the cross. His shed blood on Good Friday removed our sin and corruption, it destroyed all that kept us from a relationship with our heavenly Father. And this love first shown to us has a powerful effect on us. Jesus is working within us to renew us, to remove all our sin. But this is not some triumphant march toward perfection. No, instead the Christian’s life is a cycle of repentance. We sin, we repent of our sin, and we are forgiven. Then the next morning we wake up and repeat the cycle again. That is the baptismal life of the Christian. We daily return to the baptismal font, where the Lord claimed us as His own and washed away our sin. The more we grow in our faith, the more we realize our sin and our need for repentance and Christ’s forgiveness

Listen to how Pastor Gerhardt describes the Christian life: This love unwearied I pursue and dauntlessly to thee aspire. The Christian life is one of striving after the love that Christ showed us. We need His love shown to us each and every day, and thankfully Jesus wants to give us His love each and every day. The last two lines capture the repetition and continual cycle of the Christian life: And day and night be all my care to guard this sacred treasure there. Christ has given to us a great treasure in our baptism, and His work within us is to constantly preserve that treasure that He first gave us. Notice who does all the work here- it is all about our God! He is the one who delivered us; He is the one who claimed us as His own through the waters of the Holy Baptism; He is the one who preserves us in the faith delivered to us. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are at work within us!

Let us pray: Thank you Lord Jesus Christ for the great gift of Baptism, which makes us your children. Work within us to strengthen and preserve our faith each and every day, for we sin much and need your precious forgiveness daily. In your precious name we pray, Amen. May the Lord bless your day!

Program number 5 for August 27th

Good morning! This is Rev. Christopher Maronde, pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Kiron and Faith Lutheran Church in Deloit. Today we are looking at the fourth and final verse of Pastor Paul Gerhardt’s hymn, Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me. This is my favorite verse of the hymn, and I believe that it delivers great comfort at the times that we need it most. Here it is:

In suffering be Thy love my peace,
In weakness be Thy love my power;
And when the storms of life shall cease,
O Jesus, in that final hour,
Be Thou my rod and staff and guide,
And draw me safely to Thy side!

This verse contains what I believe are two of the most beautiful lines in the entire hymn. “In suffering be Thy love my peace, In weakness be Thy love my power.” If you remember Monday’s segment, the author of this hymn, Pastor Paul Gerhardt, lived an incredibly difficult life. He lived during a terrible war, and disease claimed five of his six children and his wife. To top it off, he was removed from His pulpit by the town government! This man knew suffering! And see what he says about suffering. In suffering Christ’s love is to be his peace and in weakness Christ’s love is to be his power. How does a person survive suffering in this life? Only through the love of Christ! Notice that Pastor Gerhardt doesn’t try to avoid talking about suffering, but instead he takes it head on as a reality in this world. And He provides the solution to suffering: Christ’s love. Jesus Christ knew suffering, in fact, that was the reason that He came to our world as a man. He had come to suffer and to die for all of our sins. And so in suffering we know that we have a Lord and Savior who knows intimately what we are going through and that He suffered so that our suffering would end when He brings us to heaven.

That is what Pastor Gerhardt sings about in the last several lines. And when the storms of life shall cease, O Jesus, in that final hour, Be Thou my rod and staff and guide, And draw me safely to Thy side! This is a wonderful hymn of comfort to sing when one is facing death. It put our focus exactly where it should be- on the love that Christ showed to us on the cross. Because He shed His blood and died for us on Good Friday, death for those who are in Christ is nothing other than the gateway to life. The Lord draws us safely to His side because He has conquered death through His death and resurrection. I can’t think of better words to have on the lips of a Christian as death draws near. Let us pray: Lord, in suffering be our peace and our comfort, and when death draws near give to us the comfort that you have conquered death for us. Strengthen us with this hope as only you can, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen. May the Lord bless your day!

Program number 6 for August 28th

Good morning! This is Rev. Christopher Maronde, pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Kiron and Faith Lutheran Church in Deloit. Throughout this week we have been studying the wonderful hymn, Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me by Pastor Paul Gerhardt. I choose this hymn for several reasons. First of all, I wanted to introduce you to Pastor Gerhardt. Our Lord raises us many important people throughout the centuries that truly bless His Church here on earth, and I believe that Paul Gerhardt is one of those people. The Lord was with Him in the midst of all the trials He faced, and He blessed him with the talent to write beautiful and comforting hymns. I believe that Pastor Gerhardt is a person that many of you can connect with. He was a man very much acquainted with sorrow and suffering. He had a difficult life, and I know that for all of us, life in this sinful world is often a struggle.

That is why his hymns have so much to teach us. They do not shy away from suffering, but instead speak the great promises of God in the midst of it. God doesn’t always tell us why things happen to us in this world, but He does give to us His great promises. He promises to be with us, to protect us, and He promises to deliver us from all suffering when He calls us home to Himself in heaven. Jesus has shown great love to us, and He will continue to do so.

If there is one thing that I want you to take away from our study of this beautiful hymn, it is Pastor Gerhardt’s great theme from beginning to end: Christ’s love. Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners, of which each one of us is the worst. We were left condemned to an eternity apart from our Creator, but our Father in heaven did something about our situation and send His Son to deliver us. Jesus never shied away from His task, but instead His love made Him seek us out and deliver us through His shed blood. Think back to the first verse of our hymn: Jesus thy boundless love to me, no thought can reach, no tongue declare. It is amazing that Jesus would give up His own life into the most horrific death in human history for people who were sinful and corrupted. We had nothing of our own to offer Jesus, just our sins, and He took them upon Himself and sacrificed His life in our place. If you do not have a church home, we invite you to visit one of our area Lutheran Churches, where this same Jesus is proclaimed to you each and every Sunday. Thank you for listening this week and I hope and pray that you learned of Christ’s love from the words of Pastor Gerhardt.

Let us pray: Lord, we ask that you would continue to pour out your love upon us in your great gifts of your Holy Word, the washing of Holy Baptism, and the gift of the Lord’s Supper. Use these gifts to strengthen our faith and forgive our sins so that we may join you in heavenly glory. In your saving name we pray, Amen. May the Lord bless your day!

Proper 16 of Series C (Luke 13:22-30)

“And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, what is it that teachers say- ‘There are no stupid questions’? I think that little saying makes a lot of sense, because usually the only way to find out information is to ask questions. A lot of you know that I have been spending most of my first month here asking questions, then listening to and learning from your answers. The answer to most of those questions is probably obvious and easy to those of you who have been a part of these two congregations for a long time, but for a newbie like me, I have no clue unless I ask. In our text for today, Jesus is chugging around Israel, and someone stops Him to ask a question. Now, keep in mind what Jesus has been talking about lately. In Luke chapter twelve we have plenty of fire and brimstone, judgment and warnings, and we heard a bit of that last week. In response to these teachings, an unnamed ‘someone’ comes up to Jesus and says: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” It’s as if he walked up to Jesus, gave Him a friendly pat on the back and said, “Whoa, Jesus, that’s pretty intense, all that fire and judgment and stuff. Whew! Probably not many of these people out here are gonna make it, right?”

Jesus doesn’t dislike questions, but He usually has something to say when a person examines others without examining himself. The questioner wants to talk about all those ‘other people’ out there, but Jesus wants to make it much more personal. He wants to turn the question around- the questioner asks, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” but Jesus wants him to ask, “Will I be saved?” To do this, Jesus, like a good carpenter, speaks about doors: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” What kind of door is this? We learn all about it in Revelation. When Jesus speaks to the church in Philadelphia in Revelation chapter three, He says, “Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” Here we have a door hanging wide open, that no human could shut, even if they wanted to. And that door is open for those who are in Christ. What is behind this door? Well, we’re in luck, because in Revelation chapter four John goes through it. “After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’” Behind that door John sees the throne of heaven, he sees God Himself on the throne and the Lamb, Jesus Christ, enthroned with Him. The door that Jesus speaks about is the door to heavenly glory, to the very throne of God! But while the door was open to all those in Christ, it will not remain open forever. Jesus says, "When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then he will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from.'"

The narrow door is shut, and many, many people are left outside. Now there is a crowd that doesn’t even know that there was a door in the first place, or if they did, they ignored it during their life and they aren’t going to change now. There are plenty who put their trust in other gods or no god at all. But much closer to that door is a group who is loudly banging on it and crying for entry. You might recognize some of that group. There are plenty of God’s chosen people there, the nation of Israel, those who brought the messianic line to completion in the womb of Mary. The Gospel first came to them. A large contingent is those who followed Jesus around Palestine for the three years of His ministry. Jesus actually taught amongst them. Many were born into strong Christian families, and their names remained in a church directory throughout their life. We can see some that sat in the pew at church each and every Sunday, constantly surrounded by God’s. There are even more than a few pastors and church leaders, those who had the privilege of proclaiming God’s Word. They all have a common objection to voice. “Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’” Wait a minute, Jesus! I was in your house each and every week. Sure, I never paid attention, and didn’t really believe much of it then, but I was there! I was born into a strong Christian family! I never came to church, but my name’s on the membership list- doesn’t that count for something? I preached your word and administered your sacraments for decades. I let my own faith wither and die, but I served you for too long to sit outside the door! Isn’t that just another form of works-righteousness, trusting in our deeds to bring us to heaven? If we think that our birth, church membership, or worship attendance alone can bring us through that door, then we are sadly and tragically mistaken.

Jesus here destroys any self-confidence that we may have in our own ability to waltz through that door ourselves and attain heavenly glory. Jesus has some pretty harsh words of warning for those who trust in themselves: "In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out." Where can we turn, then, for salvation? We cannot trust our own ability, but instead must place our trust in another. How do we pass through the narrow door? Jesus doesn’t give us detailed instructions on how to gain entry, but instead He goes forth to achieve entry for us.

For Jesus Christ Himself is the door that He spoke of in our text. He teaches us this in John chapter ten. “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” He is the one through whom we find entry into heaven, He is the one who provides access to the Father, He alone is the narrow door, the only pathway to eternal life. He is all these things only because He traveled to Jerusalem. Luke told us at the beginning of our text: “He went on His way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.” This is not some idle comment by St. Luke, but a reminder of what Jesus is doing throughout the latter part of the Gospel. Jesus has set His face to go to Jerusalem, and He is determined to go there despite all that He may face in that city. He goes to provide access to the Father, to bring us through Himself to heaven by demolishing the barrier between God and man. Before Jesus went to the cross, there wasn’t a narrow door at all, in fact every pathway to God was barred by our sin. All humanity stood outside the walls, doomed to spend eternity separated from their Creator. But Jesus came to change all that. He came to create a door, a door that would provide access to God for all people. And He forged this door in His own blood.

Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem to shed His blood there, to give up His life for you, for me, and for all people. His blood poured out there reconciled you to your heavenly Father, it provided access to heaven, the open door that Jesus told the church in Philadelphia about. Jesus said in the final verse of our text. “And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Jesus was the firstborn of all creation, God’s only and beloved Son. But on the cross God’s firstborn became last, for He placed you, me, and all people before Himself by submitting to death on our behalf. On the cross, the exalted One was humbled, and He choose to be humbled because of His great love for you. Jesus did all of that, He gave up His very life into death to open up a door to heaven, a door to the heavenly banquet. The way to heaven now lies open, and it goes through Jesus Christ.

With His resurrection from the dead on the third day, Jesus then works to bring us through the open door and into the feast. He says, “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” You might recognize some of this group. It will include some of the lowliest members of humanity, those who had little else to depend on rather than Christ. There will be Gentiles at the feast, those from every nation, tribe, and language, those called by the Lord Jesus Christ through His Word. It will include all those who cling to their baptism in God-given faith, struggling in a sinful world to hold onto the promises of Jesus. But their weak and faltering grip on Christ is overpowered by His strong grip on them, for He knows that without His aid, none of us could stand. That is what it means to “strive to enter through the narrow door.” It means the struggle of the life of repentance, worked by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. This crowd is harassed by Satan, it is scorned by the world, but it belongs to Jesus, and He preserves them through His gifts, His Word and His Holy Sacraments. He says about them, “And behold, some are last who will be first.” And it will include you and me, those who have nothing of our own to offer Christ but our sins, and He takes them upon Himself and then carries us through the door to the heavenly banquet. That is why we come to this place, not to earn something before God, but instead to receive His great gifts, the forgiveness we need and the strength we require to strive and struggle in this sinful world.

We do so knowing that because of Christ we are destined for the reality described in our Epistle lesson: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” That is what lies behind the open door- thanks be to God that Jesus will bring us through it! In His name, Amen.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Proper 15 of Series C (Luke 12:49-53)

“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read just a moment ago from the twelfth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, I want you to think about Christmas. Now, that shouldn’t be too difficult considering the weather we have been having lately. Last week was positively Christmas-esque. What I especially want you to think about is the song that the angels sang that night. In fact, it is the same song that we sang earlier in the service. The Gloria in Excelsis is the song of Christmas, it is the song of the angels! Turn back to it with me (it’s on page seventeen). We sang: “Glory be to God on high; And on earth peace, good will toward men.” It makes sense, doesn’t it, that we would begin our service at Christmas. And what characterizes the song of the angels? Peace.

You heard that same word at the beginning of the sermon: “Grace, mercy, and peace…” You will hear it at the Lord’s Supper: “The peace of the Lord be with you always!” And you will hear it as you depart this place: “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” Peace, peace, peace! That’s really all we want to talk about throughout the Divine Service, and for good reason. For when the infant Christ child was born of Mary, He was born to bring peace, peace between God and man. Jesus’ work can be summed up by that one Word, and that is why we speak it so often. His death and resurrection reconciled us to our heavenly Father, to our Creator, His work tore down the dividing wall of hostility between God and man. When Jesus hung upon that cross, He was bringing peace, the peace that we needed, the peace that passes all understanding.

This emphasis on peace makes Jesus’ words in our text for today seem very out of place: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Can you imagine being amongst the disciples that day? “Whoa, wait a minute Jesus! Didn’t anybody tell you that you became man only to bring peace? Maybe you missed the memo, maybe the song of the angels didn’t quite get back to you, but your mission is to restore relationships, not divide them.” But Jesus has a point to make on this day. His disciples, along with you and I, need a reality check, we need to understand what consequences follow in the wake of the Messiah’s work. And while Jesus came to bring peace between God and man, His work would not provide peace in this world. Instead, division is the unfortunate result.
The work of Jesus confronts all of humanity with a question, the same question Jesus put to the disciples in Matthew chapter sixteen: “Who do you say that I am?” Many throughout the centuries, along with you and I, reply with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We can only say this through the faith worked in us by the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, many, many more in every generation say that Jesus is just a guy, just some good teacher, just a prophet, a revolutionary, a vegetarian, and a whole host of other things. In fact, people have answered that question with just about every label we have, but none of those answers is correct. They reject Him and His work, sometimes out of spite, sometimes out of ignorance or indifference, sometimes because they simply can’t believe what Jesus says about Himself. But whatever the reason, they reject Him, and the world is separated into two camps, Christ’s work divides humanity in two. We who believe in Christ as our Savior are in one camp, and those who reject Him are in another. And the reality is that we will spend eternity in those same two groups.

This wouldn’t be so tough if it was simply all of those nameless, faceless people ‘out there’ who were opposed to Christ, but you and I know that the division that Christ’s work brings hits far closer to home. “For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” You all know the truth of Jesus’ words here. You know all too well that when confronted with the work of Christ, our own families become fractured. We all have family members that have abandoned the faith, those who have gone to another religion or those who have joined America’s fastest growing religious group: “No Preference.” This is painful, it hurts us deeply, especially when we have done our best to raise them in the faith or provide a positive influence in their lives. And this division is even more difficult when we face the ridicule or even persecution of those whom we love the most because of our faith. We hear about this tragedy in our Introit for today. “For it is not an enemy who taunts me- then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me- then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, by familiar friend.” If we don’t face persecution from our families and friends, we sure face it from the world. One only needs to watch the news, read a newspaper, or surf the internet to find people mocking Christianity, or in the case of Islam, threatening our very lives. The division that Christ’s work brings surrounds us at all times, and Jesus tells us that it is a reality in our lives until He returns.

Jesus knows that His work will cause division, but He knows that it is only through division that He can bring us salvation. He begins our text: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” Jesus is agitated, He is distressed, for He is headed for a baptism that is not by water at all, but by fire, the fire of God’s wrath. He is constrained by divine necessity to go to that baptism, for in that bloody baptism on the cross Jesus will pay the price for our sin. There the hot wrath of God that we deserved for our sin will burn against Jesus, and it will consume Him, it will kill Him on that cross. On Good Friday, Jesus Himself will experience the division that His work causes. His own family and people, and indeed all men to whom He came as a brother will condemn Him to death and nail Him to the cross. But that was not the greatest division of that day. Jesus proclaimed in our text: “They will be divided, father against son.” On the cross, Jesus’ Father will be divided against His only-begotten Son. God will pour out His wrath on His beloved child, He will separate Himself from His Son, Jesus will suffer the reality of hell. This fact causes Jesus anguish, it causes Him distress, but still He goes, for He is determined to accomplish your salvation, He is absolutely committed to deliver you. And He will go to Calvary’s cross because He loves you, and He does not want you to spend eternity separated from your heavenly Father. He was willing to suffer that separation, that division; He was willing to have His Father be against Him so that our Father would never be against us. Jesus did that all for you, and now He claims you as His own through your own Baptism.

If Jesus describes His death as a baptism, then it only makes sense that our baptism is into His death. When you were brought to the font and water was poured on your head “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” you were incorporated into Christ’s death, you were brought all of the gifts that He won there. But baptism also entails a division, this one much more personal. The prophet Zechariah connects Christ’s death with this division. “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the LORD of hosts... In the whole land, declares the LORD, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people;’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’”

The sword has been awakened against Christ, and when it strikes Him, not only is humanity divided into those who believe on Jesus and those who reject Him, but those who believe are put through the fire. This is the fire of baptism. In Jesus’ bloody baptism on the cross, He faced the fire of God’s wrath; therefore, when He baptized you into His death, the God’s fire did not destroy you, but instead it refined you, it burned away your sin and corruption. Jesus divided from you all that kept you from a relationship with the Father. Because you are incorporated into His death and resurrection, God says to you, “They are my people.” Because you are now His child, you can say in response: “The Lord is my God.” This is not a painless process. The old sinful man within us wants to hold on, He does not want to leave. Therefore Baptism is more than a one-time occurrence, it is lifelong cycle of repentance, of Christ working within us to burn away our sin and divide our sinful nature from us. John the Baptist prophesied this baptismal life in Luke chapter three. “John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’” Christ causes division within you, division which purifies you, which cleanses you, which brings you every good gift that He won.

Christ’s work removes every weight, every hindrance, every sin that separated us from our heavenly Father. Because He chose to be divided from His Father, because He divided us from our sin, He will give us eternal peace. That is the peace He gives, that is the peace the angels declared, not peace in this world, but peace forever, peace with our Father, peace that lasts. He does not give as the world gives, but He gives more, He gives lavishly, He gives to you and me the victory that His resurrection declares. God’s peace is yours forever, because of your Savior! In His holy and precious Name, Amen.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Proper 14 of Series C (Genesis 15:1-6)

“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the fifteenth chapter of Genesis. Dear friends in Christ: one of my favorite chapters in all of Scripture is our Epistle lesson for today, Hebrews chapter eleven, the ‘Hall of Faith.’ In this chapter, the author lists out the great heroes of the Old Testament, showing that each of them lived by faith, not by sight. He begins by giving the textbook definition of faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” By that definition, Abraham was definitely a man of faith. When the Lord first appeared to him, He came with marching orders: Abraham was to leave his home and travel to a far off land, living as a stranger and foreigner. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” From this we may get the impression that Abraham lived the easy life of faith, trusting fully and completely in God. But when we read our Old Testament lesson for today, we get the other side of the picture.

Abraham was afraid. He was a wealthy and powerful man, and even though he had obediently left his homeland to live as a stranger in the promised land, he still carried much of home with him. He still had his livestock, his servants, and all his possessions. And now he feared for those possessions. Abraham had no son to receive his inheritance. God had promised when He first called Abraham that He would make him a ‘great nation,’ but nothing seemed to be happening. And now he was afraid. He cried out to God: “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” We too fear for the stuff of this world. We fear and worry about money, about our things, especially in these troubled times we spend a ton of time thinking about our financial security. For a lot of us, the time spent fearing and worrying about the things of this world far outweigh the time spent in prayer, devotion, or bible study, showing that our priorities are often pretty similar to Abraham’s.

Now as Christians, we do want to put the best construction on everything, and so while it seems that Abraham is only concerned about the disposition of all his earthly stuff, we can guess that there was a deeper fear in the back of his mind. He knew that long ago, when man first fell into sin, God promised to provide a deliverer. The Lord declared to the treacherous serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” But now that promise had hit a roadblock. Sarah’s barren womb brought the messianic line to a screeching halt. In the back of Abraham’s mind, he must have realized what this meant. If God did not bring forth from his line the promised messiah, then man would remain in sin, separated from God. And that we should truly fear. We should fear that possibility more than the loss of all our material things in this world, for if God does not bring forth a Savior, then we are done for. All mankind is then condemned to hell, no questions asked, for our sins would still separate us from our creator. If we truly understand what it means for Sarah to have a barren womb, then we too should tremble with fear. All other fears and worries in this life pale in comparison to this situation, for if we do not have salvation from our sins, nothing in this world matters at all.

All people react to fear in different ways, but most of us, like Abraham, usually have a complaint ready for someone. At least Abraham directed his complaint to the One who could do something about his situation, his Creator: “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” Well, we tried to put the best construction on it, but it seems that Abraham, like us, is mostly concerned with his things, his property and wealth. But at least he cries out to the right person. Our world teaches us to cry out to a whole host of others when we have fear. Now, lawyers, Thrivent representatives, or bankers are not bad people to turn to, but when we turn to them alone and not to God, then we are placing our trust in the wrong place. But even if we do cry out in complaint to God, as Abraham did, we often need patience, for God works on His own timetable. And patience comes hard to one who is living in fear. Abraham once again receives the promise of God in our text, but the promise is not fulfilled immediately. Fear takes hold again and then leads to impatience, and in the following chapters Abraham and Sarah take matters into their own hands. Abraham tries to get his heir with Hagar, and while a son is born, the only result is a dysfunctional household. God will accomplish His purposes in His own time, but for sinful humans, patience is difficult, if not impossible.

Impatience leads to us trying to do things our own way, and when we try that, things usually become worse. But God’s purposes will not be thwarted, even by our own efforts to move Him along or help Him out. His great plan to deliver us from sin, death, and the power of the devil had hit a roadblock, Sarah’s barren womb. But our Lord and Creator had something to say about that situation. “After these things the Word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward will be very great.’” Do not fear? Why shouldn’t Abram fear? As we heard before Abram has plenty to fear, and all of humanity with him. But the Lord says, “I am your shield.” God has defended Abraham before, and He promises to do so now. But how will He defend us? Our enemies are death and hell, and they are powerful foes. We need deliverance, we need a Savior, and all our hopes rest on an elderly woman’s barren womb. But that barren womb will remain an important part of our salvation. “And behold, the Word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” The Lord thunders forth His promise- Sarah will bear a son. Despite Abraham’s fears, despite his impatience, God will preserve the Messianic line. He will protect and preserve His promise.

The Seed of a woman, begun with Eve’s son Seth, would not be halted by Sarah’s barren womb, but the Lord would open that womb and bring forth Isaac. And God would provide for His people through the centuries, He would defend that seed until the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and she brought forth the Messiah. Jesus Christ, the seed of a woman, the offspring of Israel, would be the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that night. Jesus Christ came to conquer fear, He came to be a shield for His people, He came to deliver to us heavenly treasure, for He had come to reconcile us to God. Do not fear, for Abraham’s offspring is also His God and your God, come to reconcile His people to Himself. Do not fear, for Jesus Christ took on human flesh to bear your sin. Do not fear, for He gave Himself in your place to the shame of crucifixion, the Son of God in the place of those whom He loved. Do not fear, for every drop of blood that He shed there He shed for you and your salvation. Do not fear, for the One prophesied long ago crushed Satan’s head just as God said He would. Do not fear, for Christ conquered your great enemy, death, when He rose victorious from the grave. Do not fear, for your Lord will take you to be with Himself in eternal glory. Do not fear, for Jesus Christ is your shield, and He will defend you against every assault of your enemies. Death, hell, and Satan have nothing against you now. God kept His promise, and when He opened Sarah’s womb He opened up the line which would bring to you salvation.

“And [Abram] believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” Abraham grasped onto the great promise of the Lord in faith; he believed that what God said would come true. That faith conquered fear, because it was rooted in the very promises of God. Faith is not simply something floating out there by itself. The moment we begin examining our own faith on its own merits, we are in trouble. Instead, faith has an object, it has a focus, it fixes its eyes on the promise of God and there it finds its anchor. Only when faith is centered on the promises of God can it conquer fear, doubt, and impatience. We, like Abraham, have the promise of God, the promise of Jesus Christ and His redemption, the promise that through Christ we have been reconciled to our Creator and have forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Through this promise the Holy Spirit creates faith within us, faith which grasps onto God’s Word and Jesus Christ Himself. And because we, like Abraham, grasp onto Jesus in God-given faith, what happens? “And [Abram] believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” Because we are joined with Christ through faith, God sees us as righteous, He declares us righteous. We are right before God because of Jesus! Faith focused on Christ joins us to His death and resurrection, and it brings to us all that He won there.

St. Paul turns to our text when he writes to the Romans about this faith. “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” We confess that it is by faith alone that we are justified, made right in God’s eyes. Any of our own efforts, any of our own attempts to help God along cannot reconcile us to our Creator, but simply push us further away. Faith alone reconciles us to God. But faith is never alone. Faith has an object, Jesus Christ Himself, His promise to deliver you from sin, death, and hell through His sacrifice, His promise to keep and preserve you despite anything you face in your life. As our Lord said in our Gospel lesson today, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Proper 13 of Series C (Luke 12:

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the twelfth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, as I travel the roads of northern Crawford County, I cannot help but notice how wonderful the crops look. Each and every field seems to be bursting with tall, green corn or full and bushy beans. It seems to me that we are headed for a bumper crop and a joyous harvest. Now I know that most of you are not directly involved in bringing in that bumper crop, but I don’t have to tell you that the entire economy of this area is ultimately dependent on those fields, making a good harvest good for everyone. The Lord has truly blessed us this summer, but when you think about it, He has blessed us each and every year, for even when the crops are not so good, He still provides for our needs.

That is because our God is a giver- He loves to shower His good gifts upon His people. I don’t think anyone has expressed this better than Luther did in his explanation to the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all I need to support this body and life.” The gifts of a fruitful creation, providing all that we need to live on this earth, come only from God. He works through humans to give these gifts to us, but they ultimately flow from His desire to give us every good thing. All that we have to support this body and life flow from the loving hands of our Creator. But notice how Luther began: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul…” Not only does God give us the things we need for our lives, but even our lives themselves are a gift from Him. Our lives are not our own, but they are given and sustained by Him as a gift, along with every other gift.

But somehow that doesn’t sit right with us. We have been taught that our lives are our own, to use how we please, that the abundance of the earth is a result of our labor, to provide for our own pleasure and perceived needs. The rich man in our text is not too far off from any one of us. Listen again to this parable of Jesus: “The land of [a Crawford county farmer] produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.’” There is nothing wrong with building a barn, silo, or grain bin, but notice what the rich man doesn’t do. He doesn’t give thanks to God for this abundant harvest. He sees the abundance of his fields as something for himself, something earned solely by his own labor, and therefore something to be enjoyed by himself. Listen to the pronouns: my crops, my barns, my grain, my goods. He depends on no one but himself. And now he even has a conversation with himself: “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry.’” What is your first response when God has blessed you? Is it to give thanks and praise to Him? Is it to think of the needs of others that you can now provide for? Or do we, like the man in our text, praise ourselves and think about our own wants? The rich man completely isolates himself from others, he doesn’t think of God, he doesn’t think of his neighbor, but only about number one.

Before He tells this story, Jesus warns us: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness.” Saint Paul in our Epistle lesson has an interesting take on that term, which is the same thing as greed: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Paul equates covetousness or greed with idolatry! It is not too hard to see why. Idolatry is the violation of God’s first commandment: “You shall have no other Gods.” Luther gives us the explanation: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Who did the rich man fear, love, and trust? Himself. He made an idol out of his own accomplishments, his own wealth; in fact his own life of leisure became his idol. That is what happens when we depend on ourselves, when we don’t give thanks to God or share our bounty with others. We become self-centered and self-dependent, eventually worshipping not the God who gives all good gifts but instead only ourselves. But God has a wake-up call for all who trust in themselves: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” A fool is one who places his trust in anything or anyone other than God. When we are focused only on ourselves, we are blinded to the fact that our own lives are given by God. It is His prerogative to take that life back when He so chooses. At that point, anything we have stored up here on earth is worthless, it can do nothing to help us, as God tells the rich man, “And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Jesus’ conclusion is a warning to us all: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

This brings up an important question: how do we become rich toward God? It is relatively easy to lay up treasure for ourselves, for greed is not simply a vice of the rich, but where is it that we find heavenly treasure? The answer, once again, comes in God’s character. Our God is a giving God. And in order to give us the heavenly treasure we needed, He gave us another gift. Luther talks about this gift in the explanation to the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord.” That is why we open presents on Christmas, because on that night God gave to us the gift of His Son. And Jesus Christ came into the world as God’s great gift to us to bestow on us even greater gifts. Luther continues: “who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

Jesus Christ came to give to us His own life in our place, on the cross He won the great gifts of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. He came to fulfill the promise we heard in today’s Introit: “God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me.” We couldn’t pay for our own redemption, no amount of the stuff of this world could fulfill the debt we owed. But Jesus Christ, God’s gift to us, paid on our account with His life, with His very blood. He ransomed us from the power of death, He gave to us His very self. Jesus did this out of the same love that motivated the Father to create us, the same love that motivates Him to give us every good thing. Jesus hung on that cross to deliver you, to redeem you, to pay your debt out of His great love for you and His desire to give you the ultimate good gift: eternal life with Him.

When Christ rose from the grave on Easter Sunday, He went forth to deliver the heavenly treasure and inheritance to you, me, and all people. One becomes rich before God by being joined with Christ, by having His treasures poured into our hearts. He pours out on you in abundance His holy Word, filling your treasure chests with every good thing that your soul needs. This very day He gives to you the gift given by God on Christmas Eve and by Christ Himself on Good Friday, His very Body and Blood, given and shed for your salvation. He fills you with the treasure of Himself. Finally, he poured out on your head the treasure of Holy Baptism, where He gave to you an eternal inheritance, one that will never fade. You are not your own, you are His, bought with a price, and so the Lord desires to give you every good gift. The treasure and inheritance delivered through those gifts declares us right before God, it is the treasure that counts in eternity.

The man who called out to Jesus at the beginning of our text wanted Jesus to divide his inheritance with his brother. Jesus responded: “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” Jesus did not come to grant earthly inheritances, He came to grant to us a heavenly inheritance, entry into the new heavens and the new earth where we will dwell into eternity. Because we have such a treasure, such an inheritance, we can have confidence that our God will continue to provide for us out of His rich bounty. We are freed from worry about trying to store up treasure on earth, for our inheritance is not of this world. Now, this does not mean that we sit around, waiting for God to send us abundance from the sky. We do continue to labor wherever God has placed us. But we do so with confidence in God’s providing hand, and with thankfulness for whatever He gives to us. If God gave to us His very Son, how will He hesitate to provide us with everything we need for this body and life? Our God is a giver God, and the same one who gave us Jesus Christ for our salvation will also give to us “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that I have.” He will provide for you because He loves you and has redeemed you through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Unlike the rich man in our parable, as Christians, when God blesses us with abundance in any way, we do not keep it for ourselves, but we give thanks to God for it and put it to use to bless those around us. The Lord uses us as His means for providing those ‘First Article gifts’ to our neighbors. We do this in the confidence that as God has blessed us, so He will continue to bless us. He is our heavenly Father, who desires to give good gifts to His children. He has given to you His Son Jesus Christ, and someday He will show you the heavenly inheritance that He has won for you! Amen.