Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 17)
August 29, 2010
Text: Luke 14:1-14

Jesus points out the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and pride by playing their own game. He notices how they jockey for the best places at the table, the places of honor at the Sabbath meal, and He gives them some pointers on how to gain the greater honor before men. “You’re going about it all wrong, you Pharisees. Don’t be so obvious in your pursuit of earthly admiration. What you want to do is take the lowest place, a place that is ridiculously low, and then everyone will marvel at your great show of humility. With all pomp and ceremony, the host of the feast will come to you and say, ‘“Friend, move up higher.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you’” (Luke 14:10; ESV). Of course, Jesus is not really advocating such a false show of humility. This is far from the godly humility commanded in the Scriptures. Really, Jesus is mocking the Pharisees. And they know it. The Pharisees wanted to appear humble, all the while taking the places of honor. Jesus is even better at their game than they are. But the fact that He says it out loud exposes the Pharisees’ sinful pride. In fact, the greatest occasion for pride is a false show of humility. We long for people to say of us, “Look how humble he is,” so that in our great show of humility we are exalted in the eyes of all who behold us.

This is not to say we shouldn’t be humble, or act in ways that befit humility. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6). There is great wisdom in taking the lower position and considering others better than yourself, as we read in the Old Testament this morning, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble” (Prov. 25:6-7). But Jesus’ parable is so much more than a lesson in good manners or table etiquette. It is a lesson on how one should approach God, the host of the unending wedding feast of the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and His holy Bride, the Church.

You see, our Lord Jesus is here speaking about the pride of self-righteousness before God verses the humility of repentance. The pride of self-righteousness brings our own merits and good works before God and expects that God will reward them. If you’ve ever heard yourself say the words, “I may have my faults, but I’m basically a good person,” you’ve committed this sin. Repent. If you’ve ever taken a certain self-satisfaction in doing a good turn or putting an extra five in the offering plate, you’ve committed this sin. Repent. If you’ve ever compared yourself to your neighbor, the one with the alcohol problem, or the teenaged unwed mother, or the potty mouth who puts salty sailors to shame, and thanked God that you are not like others, especially these sinners, you have committed this sin. Repent. By contrast, the humility of repentance brings us to our knees before God, confessing our sins and our total lack of worthiness, our total lack of righteousness, and pleads the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. In Christ alone we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, not based on anything within ourselves or anything we have done. It is the free gift of God in Christ Jesus to all who believe, to unworthy sinners who have done nothing to deserve it. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). The one who puts himself forward before God on the basis of anything within himself will be humbled, put in his place, and that place, beloved, is hell. But the one who confesses his sins, confesses that his place is precisely hell, will be exalted by God, invited up higher. The one who cannot possibly repay Jesus invites to His holy feast that has no end.

The Pharisees took great pride in their strict devotion to the Law. They believed God owed them something on the basis of their devotion. They not only kept the Law of God (at least outwardly, in public), but they added many human traditions to God’s Law so that they could be extra sure of their own holiness. The Sabbath was a particularly opportune time for the Pharisees to demonstrate to God and to other people their great obedience and piety. They did no work on the Sabbath. They kept all the human traditions of their ancestors that had been added to God’s Commandment. And they believed that their strictness in keeping the Law, going above and beyond the Commandment, gave them reason to boast before God. They even believed they were better than Jesus! They betrayed their pride when they attempted to trap Jesus by planting at the dinner party a man with dropsy. Would Jesus heal him, and thus break the Sabbath? You see, according to the tradition of the Pharisees, you could not practice medicine on the Sabbath unless someone’s life was in immediate danger. Dropsy, a condition wherein water-filled pockets develop in bodily tissues, resulting in swelling of the limbs, is very painful, but poses no immediate threat to its victim. Furthermore, dropsy was often, though wrongly, thought to be the result of an immoral life. What would Jesus do? Jesus turns the question on them. What about you, dear Pharisees? “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not? … Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” even though, we might add, a son or an ox may very well survive in the well until the end of the Sabbath? In their pride, the Pharisees are silent. They cannot disagree with Jesus, lest they show their lack of compassion. They cannot agree with Jesus, or their trap will have failed. The Pharisees came before Jesus with their own righteousness, with their great good works, with their strict keeping of the Law. And Jesus put them in their place. Dear Pharisees, you have chosen a place for yourself that is too high. With shame, go and take the lower place. Repent of your pride and self-righteousness and lack of compassion. Pride, which exalts itself before God, will always lead to the Lord’s rejection.

Notice, though, the man with dropsy. He does not say a word. Rather, He is hanging on every Word that comes from the mouth of his Savior. “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” What will Jesus do? He will pull His son out. He will heal His son of his dropsy and send him away with a blessing. For the man with dropsy will take his true Sabbath rest in Jesus, and so be healed. He who humbles himself will be exalted. He will be exalted by God. He will be exalted by the healing and forgiving Word of the Lord Jesus Christ.

He will be exalted because he is in Christ, who is the humble man. Jesus is the One who was willingly humbled, who humbled Himself, even to the point of death on a cross for us men and for our salvation. Almighty God, the Son of God, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, took on lowly flesh and became one with sinners, that He might fulfill the Law of God for us and suffer and die as the price of our forgiveness. Thus being obedient and humble to the point of death, God exalted Him by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand to rule all things (Phil. 2:1-11). Jesus is the exalted One who was willingly humbled. Jesus is the humble One who is exalted by God His Father. And beloved in the Lord, in Christ, you who have been humbled, put in your place by the Law of God, who confess your sins and plead nothing before God but the blood and righteousness of Christ alone, have been exalted by God. And you will finally be exalted for all to see in heaven and in the resurrection. For you are baptized into Christ. You are baptized into His humiliation and exaltation. You are baptized into His death and resurrection. Jesus says to you who hang on His every Word, “Be healed, and depart in peace and in the Sabbath rest of my death and resurrection.” The dropsy of your sin really is a matter of eternal life and death. With a Word Jesus takes your dropsy away and into Himself, and gives you His own perfect health.

And incidentally… Or actually not so incidentally, when Jesus tells His host to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, next time he gives a banquet, He is not describing what you need to do at your next backyard barbeque. Jesus is describing what He does in inviting you to His Table here, the foretaste of the feast to come, and to His Table at the unending end-time feast. Jesus invites the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, sinners, you. There is no room for those who boast of their own righteousness. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled. There is only room for beggars at His Table. There is only room for sinners who make no claims for themselves. He who humbles himself will be exalted. He who confesses his sin will be forgiven. He who casts himself on the mercy of Christ alone will be seated at the Lord’s own banquet Table. And the Lord Himself will serve him. You cannot repay the Lord for His great mercy. The Pharisees thought they could, but they were rejected. You can only receive. Beloved in the Lord, come, receive. Confess your sins. Be forgiven. And be served by the Lord Himself with His true body and blood. Your Lord says to you this morning, “Friend, move up higher. I myself will serve you. I will give you myself. I will give you eternal life.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 14)
August 8, 2010
Text: Luke 12:22-40

Beloved in the Lord, where is your heart? For the place of your heart is the indication of your treasure. “For where your treasure is,” says Jesus, “there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34; ESV). If food and clothing and money and stuff is what you treasure, your heart will be devoted to these things, which means that these things will have become your gods. And the problem with these gods is that they are unreliable. They can and will fail you. That is why you worry. That is why you are anxious. Your heart is set on things that cannot satisfy, things that cannot deliver, things that are destroyed by moth and rust, things that thieves can break in and steal. This is why God, the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has given us the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”[1] Your god is whatever you fear, love, and trust above all things. In other words, it is the object of your heart’s devotion. Whether it be stuff, or even other people, our fallen, evil hearts naturally gravitate toward gods that cannot deliver, gods that are not the one true God. Thus our Lord graciously directs us this morning away from our idols to Himself. He alone is reliable. He alone can deliver. And beloved in the Lord, He alone can deliver us from anxiety and fear. He does so with His Word: “do not be anxious” (v. 22).

It is difficult to heed the admonition of our Lord, because anxiety is epidemic in our times. Even in a world of plenty, we are an anxious people. Many of us suffer with chronic anxiety and depression. We worry about things. We worry about people. We worry about money, about our jobs, about the economy. We worry about politics. We worry about our health. We worry about our friends. We worry about our family. We worry about our children and we worry about our spouses. And this is sin, beloved. Worry, anxiety, is sin because it demonstrates that we are of little faith. We believe, but we need help from the Lord for our unbelief. We lack faith in God who is the Giver of all good gifts, and who sustains all of creation. He is in control. But we deceive ourselves into thinking that our worry puts us in control, that our worry is what sustains all things. And once again we are back to the First Commandment. For we become the god of our own false gods. Knowing our false gods to be unreliable, we offer up the prayers of our worries and anxieties, hoping that in this way we can keep those false gods on track, hoping our false gods will not fail us or be harmed or destroyed, lest our faith in them be shaken. How misguided we are. How easily deceived. “[W]hich of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” (vv. 25-26). Believe in God. Trust God. He is in control. He has promised that all things will work together for your good (Rom. 8:28). He paid the price of His own dear Son’s blood to purchase you for Himself. Why would He now forsake you in the things you need the most?

This is not to say your worries and anxieties and fears are not real. They most certainly are. And that is why it takes a real solution. The solution again, is Jesus’ Word: “do not be anxious.” “Fear not” (Luke 12:32). It is a real Word of the Lord for real anxiety. And it is not simply a command. It is assurance. It is backed with a promise: “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (v. 32). Beloved, if it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom, the very Kingdom of God which is yours by faith in Christ Jesus, how will He not also along with it graciously give you all things? Why worry about food and drink and clothing and all the rest when the Father has already promised you the Kingdom? Do you see the futility of our thinking? Beloved, repent, and rest in the promises of God. For God cannot lie. Your sins of worry and anxiety and fear are covered by the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Your heavenly Father knows what you need (v. 30). He provides for all your needs of body and soul. He has provided for your eternal life and salvation in Christ Jesus. So do not worry and fret about your life, what you will eat, or your body, what you will wear (v. 22). “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing” (v. 23). Your life is hidden with Christ in God. Christ is your life. So instead of worrying about these things, seek His Kingdom, knowing that it is your Father’s good pleasure to give it to you, and all the rest will be added to you as well (v. 31). You have God’s Word on it that He will take care of you. He is your God. Not all of these other things. And certainly not yourself. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is your God.

This has profound implications for how we live this earthly life in view of the Last Day when Jesus comes again. First of all, with regard to our possessions, since they are no longer to be our gods, since they have been unseated by the one true God, and since we know that these are gifts from our heavenly Father and He promises to add all these things to us as we have need, we can be rather reckless with them. We know that we own nothing. God owns everything, and entrusts our possessions to us for our stewardship, which means not hoarding away for selfish ends, but giving for the need of the neighbor. So we can give this stuff away. “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy” (v. 33). Because this stuff doesn’t complete you. It not longer has any power over you. You are not enslaved to it. It is rather enslaved to you and to God. So give it away for your neighbor. And in so doing you provide yourself with a moneybag that does not wear out, with true treasure in heaven. For now your heart is set on the things that are above, in heaven, where Christ is, and not on earthly things. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (v. 34).

Second, with regard to your spiritual life, you now have a new set of priorities. Since you know that your possessions are fleeting, that they are not your gods, but that God will provide you with what you need, you no longer live for the stuff of this earthly life. Rather, you wait and you diligently watch for the coming of the Lord Jesus and the heavenly life that He will bring you. “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes… You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (vv. 35-37). How do we watch for the Master’s return? How do we remain at all times ready for the coming of Christ? To watch in this way is to continually be seeking the Kingdom that your heavenly Father has promised to give you, and is giving you, and has given you already (in a hidden way), through His means of grace, the Word, and the Sacraments. For you are dressed for action, clothed with Christ and His righteousness in your Holy Baptism. Your lamp is burning as you hear and read and study His Word in the preaching and the Scriptures. And even as you wait for your Master to come to you at the end of time, so also He comes to you here and now in His Word and in His Holy Supper. Even now, He dresses Himself for service, has you recline at His Table, the holy altar, and He serves you with His very own body and blood. But this is only a foretaste of the feast to come, the wedding feast of the Lamb and His Bride, the Church, an unending feast, wherein our Bridegroom, Christ, will feed us the choicest of food. The earthly food about which we worry and fret now, pales in comparison with the food our Lord provides at His altar and in the eternal wedding feast! The earthly clothing we worry and fret about now, pales in comparison with the robes of Christ’s righteousness which were given us at our Baptism, and which we will wear for all eternity in His Kingdom.

Indeed, the Kingdom is our lot. Our heavenly Father takes His good pleasure in giving us the Kingdom. None of our other gods can give us that. The reality is that that longing, that emptiness you feel in your heart, your desire for more and more stuff, the hole that you try to fill with people and things and false gods of every variety, can only be filled by God Himself. Unbeknownst to fallen human flesh, it is a longing for the very gift God gives: The Kingdom, Christ Himself, come to save us from our sins, from death, and from hell. It is the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, salvation in Christ alone that you need. Seek that. You have it by faith in Christ. It is a gift, freely given, won by the death of Christ, distributed by the risen Christ in the Gospel, here, in His Church. If God has given you this, and He has in Christ, He will certainly add everything else to you as well.

Therefore do not be anxious. Gone be all false gods. For we have the one true God. We are possessed by Him. He purifies our evil hearts by His Spirit. He has engraved us on the palms of His hands, the hands of His Son, Jesus Christ, the hands nailed to the tree of the cross, now risen hands by which our Lord Himself serves us. Don’t worry about the things that belong to you, as if anything belonged to you anyway. You belong to this God, bought at a price, the blood of God’s Son. And His Name is on you. You are baptized into that Name, the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 13)
August 1, 2010
Text: Luke 12:13-21

Beloved in the Lord, what if you lost everything tomorrow? I mean everything, all your possessions, your money, your house, your car, your job and position in life, your health, your honor, your friends, your family? No doubt the counsel of Job’s wife to “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9; ESV) would be the first option for many. On black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed, heralding the beginning of the Great Depression. Many stockbrokers tragically took the counsel of Job’s wife that day, jumping off of buildings to their death because, in their minds, they had lost everything of importance. And there is great fear today that history will repeat itself. Politicians and pundits alike tell us that we are in the most severe recession since the Great Depression. Many worry that a double-dip recession or even another depression may be just around the corner. Try as we might, we cannot secure ourselves against the possibilities. The stuff of this earthly life is fleeting. Not matter how tight our grip, we may lose it at any moment. Then what? What if the grim possibilities become reality? What if our worst fears come to fruition? If we lose everything, will we consider our lives over? Will we take the counsel of Job’s wife? Will we curse God and die?

Better to take the counsel of Solomon and St. Paul and Jesus Himself. Wise King Solomon reminds us that if we live for the stuff of this life, possessions and prestige, this is vanity. It is, in fact, the vanity of vanities, for when we die and our bodies return to dust, all that we’ve worked for and striven after will be enjoyed by someone else who did not work for it (Ecc. 1:2; 2:21). St. Paul offers the corrective for this sad state of affairs. We ought to set our minds on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Col. 3:1). “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,” writes Paul (v. 2). Why? Because you have died to those earthly, perishable things. In Baptism, you died with Christ, and you’ve been raised to new life in Him, new life that you possess even now. But your life is hidden with Christ in God. Set your mind on that life, and the stuff of that life, that is hidden with Christ in God, and which will be fully revealed on the Last Day when Christ, who is Himself your life, appears. For “then you also will appear with him in glory” (v. 3).

In the mean time, now, in this earthly life, remember what Jesus says to you this morning: “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:16). Beloved, your life does not consist in what you possess. It does not consist in how much money you make or how much money you’ve saved, nor does it consist in how much money you lose in a plummeting economy. Your life does not consist in your possessions, or your house, or your car, or any of the things that you purchase with your money. Nor does your life consist in your job or your position in life. It does not consist in your health. And while it is true that your new life in Christ is to be directed wholly toward your neighbor, including your friends and family members and even your enemies, they are not the substance of your life, such that if you lose them, you cannot continue to live. Christ is the substance of your life. He is your life. Not your stuff. Not your reputation. Not your health. Not even other people. Christ Jesus is your life.

Therefore guard against all covetousness, as Jesus says. To covet is to desire something in such a way that you believe acquiring that thing will somehow complete you. To covet is to believe that you are not whole unless you have acquired whatever it is you desire. To desire something is not sinful in and of itself. It is when desire becomes covetousness that it is sinful. In this way both things and people can be coveted. And when we covet things and people, we make these things and people our gods. That is why covetousness is so often singled out in the Bible as such a dangerous sin. It leads to false worship and faith in false gods, setting up people and things and ultimately our own selves as our gods. May the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit keep us from this evil. For this is an evil that leads to death, not just bodily death, but eternal death and damnation.

Jesus illustrates this for us in a parable. The rich man in the parable has a bumper crop. Now it is true that farming takes a lot of knowledge and skill. But every farmer knows he is ultimately at the mercy of the conditions: the land, the weather, and any number of variables that are not in the farmer’s control, which is to say, the farmer is at the mercy of the Lord. The parable says that the land produced plentifully (v. 16). God is responsible for the rich man’s increase. God is the Giver of every good gift. It all comes from God’s hand, and in reality, it all belongs to God. But the rich man does not consider God when he asks the question, “‘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’” (vv. 17-18; emphasis added). I and my. The rich man is only concerned for himself and his own needs and desires. He covets the good life. He believes that his life consists in his possessions. He wants to store them up so that he can relax, eat, drink, and be merry. He believes that he has brought this fortune on himself. He does not consider the needs of his hungry neighbors. St. Ambrose said something to the effect of: He had plenty of room to store his grain in the mouths of the poor! The rich man does not consider the glory of God. He does not thank God. He does not give even the slightest credit to God for his good portion. If he did, he would have fed his neighbor, knowing the grain belongs to God and that his life consists in God, who will continue to bestow good on him. He is not rich toward God, but toward himself. And that very night his life is required of him.

It is no sin to be rich. Nor is it a virtue to be poor. The question is, rich or poor, whether you trust in God, or trust in riches. To covet is to trust in riches. And that makes riches your god, because a god is whatever you fear, love, and trust above all things. The rich man trusts his possessions. The poor envies the rich. And rich and poor alike, along with everyone in between is not satisfied with what he has, but always wants more. Beloved in the Lord, repent.

Your life is hidden with Christ in God. Christ redeemed your life from the empty promises of the competing gods that claim your allegiance. Christ is your life. Not stuff. You belong to Christ. You were bought at a price, the blood of the Son of God. And in truth, you own nothing. God has given you everything that is yours as a gift and as a trust, a trust over which you are a steward. So you should use everything at your disposal, including your very self, for the glory of God, which means using it to serve your neighbor. This is what it means to be rich toward God. Do not store up treasure for yourself. It isn’t yours anyway. It is God’s. So be rich with it toward God. Spend it on your neighbor. For God has placed you in the life of your neighbor, and God has placed your neighbor in your life, that you might serve your neighbor with what God Himself has given you for this very purpose. Do you really think that you can exhaust the gifts of God by being too rich toward Him? Do you really think that God’s gifts will dry up if you spend them to help your neighbor in need? No, beloved, that is setting your minds on earthly things. Set your minds rather on things above, where Christ is, and where your life is hidden with Christ in God. And be rich toward God by being rich toward your neighbor. The gifts of God never dry up. He is faithful, and His love is inexhaustible.

And beloved, He has redeemed your life by the blood of Christ for this very thing, that you be rich toward Him by loving and serving your neighbor with all you have, with your very self. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Almighty God, the Son of God, took on flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He was made man. And He humbled Himself. In His state of humility, He did not serve Himself with His divine powers. He only used His divine powers in the service of others, for us men, and for our salvation. And He humbled Himself yet more. He gave Himself into the betrayal of His friend, the hands of His persecutors, though at any moment He could have commanded a legion of angels to destroy them all. He stretched out His hands in weakness to receive the nails of crucifixion. He was pierced for our transgressions. He suffered, bled, died, for us, in our place, the punishment for our greed and covetousness and miserliness. He did it to purchase us, to buy us back from our slavery to godless mammon, from our slavery to sin, death, and the devil. He gave His very self. And beloved, He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity, and gives us to participate in His life. He is our life, hidden to be sure, in God, but He is our true and real and abundant and everlasting life.

Why then, do we hoard earthly stuff as if it could give us anything in comparison with this? Let it be so no more. For Christ is risen, and you are His. In the joy of Christ, give. Give yourself, for He has given Himself for you. Give an offering to the Church, give alms to the poor, feed the hungry, give the thirsty to drink, clothe the naked, visit those sick and in prison. And do it all because Christ has done it for you. Do it all because Christ has saved you. Do it all because in doing it to the least of these, you do it to Him. Do it not because you are compelled, but because it is your joy and privilege in Christ. And Christ will fill you in a way that stuff never can. He will fill you with an inexhaustible supply of Himself. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.