The Ninth Sunday after Trinity

July 29, 2018

“The Value of Money”

St. Luke 16:1-9


"There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.' Then the steward said within himself, 'What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg.  I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.'  So he called every one of his master's debtors to him, and said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'  And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' So he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' So he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.'  So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home."  Luke 16:1-9



Idolatry is the worship of the creation instead of the Creator.  True worship is the life lived in fellowship with the One to whom this world belongs.  Only a Christian can live this life because this life comes only from Christ.  The Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, is the Lord and giver of life.  In our baptism, He joins us to Christ’s death and resurrection.  When we know Christ as the One who took away our sin and reconciled us to God, then we know His Father as our Father and we are children of God. 


When you are a child of God you are wealthy.  It doesn’t matter how many things of this world you personally own and have in your possession.  What difference does it make when you know the One who owns it all?  When you know Christ, you understand that God doesn’t need anything that you have.  You need what God has.  And God promises that you will receive everything that God has to give.  St. Paul writes: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) 


Christians don’t have to worry about their material needs.  Jesus Himself guarantees us that the same heavenly Father who clothes the field with beautiful flowers and feeds the birds of the air loves us more than anything else He has created.  Surely, He will take care of us.  If we seek out before all else the righteousness that God freely gives us in Christ and cling to Him for dear life God will not forsake us in any material need we have.


The parable before us this morning teaches us about material wealth.  Jesus uses the expression “unrighteous mammon” to describe material wealth that is used in service to sin.  He tells us a story about a steward who showed great ingenuity in how he used unrighteous mammon for his own benefit.  If those to whom this world does not belong can use worldly wealth shrewdly, shouldn’t Christians, who are heirs of everything good God has to give, be just as shrewd?  This is, after all, our Father’s world.


The unjust steward had wasted his master’s money and so was about to lose his job.  The rich man of this parable was a merciful man who could have tossed the unjust manager into jail, but he did not.  He could have fired him immediately, but he did not.  He gave him an opportunity to provide for his future elsewhere.  The man could not do manual labor and he wouldn’t stoop to beg but he figured out how to capitalize on his master’s goodwill in the short time he had left.  He still had his master’s authority to settle accounts with debtors.  He did so, to the great advantage of the debtors.  The man who owed a hundred measures of oil now owed only fifty.  The man who owed a hundred measures of wheat now owed only eighty.  The master could have revoked these decisions, but after the debtors had been treated so generously he wouldn’t have wanted to deprive them of that generosity.  The steward had counted on that.  He depended on his master’s basic decency to rip him off and buy favor with others in the process.  The master was impressed with the man’s shrewdness, if not his honesty.


The point of the parable is simple.  If those to whom this world does not belong are clever in their use of material wealth, should not Christians to whom this world does belong be just as clever?  If sinners expend great energy and ingenuity in sinning, should not Christians spend as much energy and ingenuity in doing what is right?


Jesus concludes the story by saying: “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.”  The unjust steward made friends for himself and was received into the homes of those he helped.  He helped them by doing what was dishonest.  His reward was only temporary.  Jesus tells us of an eternal reward.  Instead of making friends by dishonest means so that we can get a temporal gain, we should use in an honorable way what others use in a dishonest way.  We should make friends who will be friends forever instead of friends who will only be friends for a short while.


The giving of alms or charity is not the payment of a debt.  Christ has paid our debt.  The only debt that remains outstanding for a Christian is to love his neighbor.  God loves us by giving us what we cannot repay.  We love as we have been taught.  There is no greater act of love than to tell the gospel to those who do not know Christ.  This is giving without being repaid.  Telling others the gospel is done not only by confessing the faith and inviting people to church, but also by supporting the preaching of the gospel in our own congregation and elsewhere.  A life without Christ is a live of poverty, even if you have everything that money can buy.  A life lived knowing Christ is a life of wealth because when you know Christ you know God and when you know God you know that you are the crown of God’s creation.  You know that everything that exists exists for your benefit.  Everything God does in this world, to this world, and for this world, He does for the sake of His elect.  The children of God are hidden from view.  Their acts of charity are seldom acknowledged or even noticed.  But God knows those whom He has chosen.  He knows those who wear the white robes that have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.  He knows every act of kindness and generosity that they do in Jesus’ name, and He graciously rewards them.


God rewards the good works of His saints.  By pure grace, he forgives us of all our sins and regards us as saints for Christ’s sake.  More than that, he also regards our Christian acts of love as holy too.  God justifies us through faith in Christ.  He imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to us so that we are really and truly righteous.  The he also declares our deeds done in faith to be righteous deeds.  Even as we are righteous on account of Christ, so our deeds are righteous on account of Christ.  And he graciously rewards our good deeds done in his name. 


The Christian cannot look at his good deeds and see how good they are.  The true virtue of our good deeds is the virtue they receive by God’s grace.  When God forgives, He does a very thorough job of it.  He not only forgives sinners; He forgives sins.  When your sins are forgiven this means that everything that remains is good and pure and holy.  The sin is taken away.  What remains is truly virtuous because what is sinful is washed away.


So we Christians can do good with our money.  There have always been extreme and unbiblical views advanced in the church on the proper use of money.  Some say that poverty itself is a virtue and that the way to secure eternal treasures is to give away all your material wealth.  But sin is as common among the poor as it is among the rich.  Others say that God wants to prosper every Christian financially.  But Jesus Himself said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  (Matthew 8:20)  Proponents of the prosperity gospel divert faith away from the crucifixion of Jesus where sinners are saved, to the acquisition of wealth that will perish with the world.  They say that God wants Christians to prosper financially.  Many of these preachers live in material luxury.  They look at is as a sign of God’s favor.  We preach Christ crucified for sinners and the free forgiveness of sins as the heart of the faith.  We don’t put our faith in money.


We Christians are optimists.  We can give our money to support the work of the gospel and rest confident that God will always bless the preaching of the gospel even when that blessing remains hidden from our sight.  We don’t support the preaching of the gospel around the world because we think that God will materially bless us for our efforts.  We do so because we know that the gospel is the word of God by which sinners are turned into saints.  The best investment of capital we can make is the investment in the proclamation of the pure gospel of Christ.  The gospel will make us new friends, eternal friends, friends of God and friends of the church who, with all God’s saints, will welcome us into heaven someday.


St. Paul writes to Timothy:


Now godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)


When you know the One who owns the whole world you don’t need to worry about whether or not He’ll give you the things of this world that you need.  He will.  You can work for poor pay without resentment.  You can face bills piling up without worry.  You can give to charity and church without regretting the loss.  You have all the riches you need.  God has seen you in your poverty and has given His Son so that you by His poverty might be made rich.  This world doesn’t belong to those who worship it and serve unrighteous mammon.  It belongs to our Father in heaven who has made us heirs of eternal riches by the merits and mediation of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen




The Tenth Sunday after Trinity

August 5, 2018

“The Tears and Anger of our God and Brother”

Luke 19:41-48


Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation."  Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, "It is written, 'My house is a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.'"  And He was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him. Luke 19:41-48



When God became a man and joined us where we live He did not cease to be God.  He did not change.  God is unchangeable.  From the eternal past to the eternal future God is God.  The name by which He chose to identify Himself to Moses says as much: “I am who I am.”


Human beings are fickle and unreliable.  They confidently make promises that they promptly break when their promise begins to exact a cost.  They are easily misled by fear, greed, lust, and covetousness.  Not so with God.  With God there is no variation.  What He said yesterday He will say tomorrow.  We can rely on Him not to change His mind.


When God became a man the human race was able to see God as never before.  And while we may not attribute our fickle human emotions to God, it is an undeniable fact that God became a man and as a man He experienced the emotions common to humanity.  Yet there is a very important difference.  Our emotions can mislead us into sin.  They often take control of us.  But God cannot be controlled by emotions.  He expresses what He is by nature and He is good.  His emotions express the very opposite of sin.  They express pure love, the purest of love. 


In our Gospel Lesson for this morning we see two emotions coming from Jesus.  We see Jesus crying in deep sorrow.  Then we see him angry.  Jesus wept.  He saw the holy city He had chosen and loved and He looked ahead to see her coming destruction and what He saw led Him to tears.  Jesus displayed anger.  He went into the temple and became angry with those who bought and sold there.  He drove them out of the temple.  Jesus displayed two different emotions.  But in fact they were the same.  The tears He shed over Jerusalem and the anger He expressed over the desecration of the temple had the same source: His deep love for His people.


It’s a tragic love story.  God loved Israel.  The Creator of heaven and earth chose the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob out of all the nations of the world.  Why?  God knows.  Out of unfathomable grace He chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob whose name was changed to Israel after he wrestled with God.  He chose the children of Israel.  Out of that nation the Savior of the world would come.  Why Israel?  It was by divine grace.  There is no “why” beyond the love of God.  God’s grace cannot be understood by human standards of fairness or justice.  God shows mercy as He chooses.  He is not bound by any human claim.  He binds Himself to His promise and He keeps His promise.


It doesn’t always appear to us that He will keep His promise.  He promised Abraham that He would bless all the nations of the world through Isaac’s seed.  Then He commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah.  Apparent conflicts often arise and challenge the faith of those whom God has chosen.  But they hold on in stubborn faith to what He promises.  Within Israel there was always a remnant – a small minority – that believed in the divine promise.  Through their faith they were saved.


Ancient Israel believed in a Savior who would come into the world to redeem His people from their sins.  By the time Jesus came most had abandoned the true faith.  They looked instead for a political deliverer, believing that political freedom is more important than spiritual freedom.  Like people today they were more concerned about the bad people out there than they were with the sin in their own heart.  But the true Israelites did not look for political salvation.  Like Anna the prophetess who spent day and night in the temple waiting there for her Redeemer, they humbly waited for a Savior who would wash away their sins, destroy the power of sin and death, and bring everlasting life.  They knew the Savior would suffer for them.  They knew the Savior would take away sin by His suffering.  This was the faith of the faithful from faithful Abel who offered to God the first and the best of his flock to faithful Abraham who offered a ram on Mt. Moriah instead of his son.  Everything in the worship life of ancient Israel was designed to prepare them for the coming of the Savior, from the regulations regarding bloody sacrifices down to the last detail about the worship in the temple.  The temple symbolized God’s gracious presence.  Its outward beauty was only a dim reflection of the beauty of God’s grace promised in their Savior.


Then when their Savior came only a small portion of Israel received Him in faith.


The leaders of Israel rejected their Savior.  The nation as a nation did not recognize her Savior when He came.  The glory of Israel was Jerusalem.  The glory of Jerusalem was the temple.  The glory of the temple was Christ.  But when Christ came Israel refused Him.  That refusal could have only one possible result.  The temple, Jerusalem, and the nation of Israel would be destroyed. 


They rejected a religion of repentance in favor of a religion of vengeance.  The religion of repentance sees our biggest problem as the sin within our hearts from which we cannot set ourselves free.  The religion of vengeance sees our biggest problem as the injustice of the system, or the unfairness of life, or some other sin on the part of others.  Those who embrace the religion of repentance hunger and thirst for righteousness because they know they don’t measure up to the righteous standards of God’s holy law.  God satisfies their hunger by graciously forgiving them their sins for Christ’s sake and imputing to them Christ’s righteousness instead of their own sin.  Those who embrace the religion of vengeance want God to punish those that plague them.  For the Israel of Jesus’ day it was the Romans.  They wanted a Savior from political oppression.  They rejected the Savior who offered them deliverance from sin, death, and the power of the devil. 


Their day came.  But, as Jesus said, they did not know the time of their visitation.  They did not know what made for peace.  They didn’t recognize the Prince of Peace that God had promised through Isaiah.  They did not know the time of their visitation.  Their Savior visited them and they didn’t want what He had to give.  They didn’t want repentance but vengeance.  And that’s what they got!  The full fury of the Roman armies went up against them and after a six month siege by the Roman General Titus, in 70AD, after having been decimated by disease and starvation to the point of cannibalism, the holy city was utterly destroyed in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophesy.  Jesus saw it coming and wept tears for the people He loved.  Jesus didn’t come into this world to judge the world, but to save it.  He came to His own people to bring her the fulfillment of her hope, but she didn’t want what He came to give.


Jesus referred to the temple as God’s house of prayer.  The temple was where God met His people.  But God doesn’t meet us in the buying and selling of things.  He meets us in the giving of the innocent life of Jesus into death to take away our sin.  God’s reign is not to be found in any political or military victory of this world.  God’s wealth is not to be found in the prosperity gospel hawked by today’s religious entrepreneurs who con the gullible to embrace the promise of material wealth in the name of Jesus.  God’s reign is where Christ rules over us by sending His Holy Spirit into our hearts to establish in us a living faith.  This faith looks to Christ lifted up on the cross for us and rests secure in the knowledge that for His sake our sins are forgiven and eternal life is ours.  This faith lives on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  God’s wealth is what God gives us in His Holy Word.  When you have the privilege of praying to God through faith in Christ you are rich.  You don’t need to own wealth when you know the One who does and you know Him as your dear Father.


God is not a man that He should cry, but when God became a man He did cry.  God takes no pleasure in punishing sinners.  Whenever we pray we pray to God through Jesus.  His body is the temple, our meeting place with God.  We pray as we struggle in understanding God’s will for us.  When we seek to understand God’s will we should remember where Jesus went and what Jesus did after He struggled in prayer and said, “Thy will be done.”  He went to the cross.  He bore our sin.  He made peace between God and us and the temple curtain was torn in two to prove that peace was made. 


God destroyed the holy temple, the holy city, and the holy nation.  But that’s not quite true.  He destroyed the temple made with hands.  The true temple remains forever.  Christ’s vicarious suffering and death remains where we meet our God with confidence that He is our gracious Father.  He destroyed the earthly Jerusalem, but the true Jerusalem is right here among us where the Word of God is proclaimed from the spiritual Zion, that is, Christ’s Church here on earth.  He destroyed the nation of Israel, but the Holy Christian Church remains God’s Israel in this world.  God’s Israel is today being gathered from the ends of the earth, from all tribes, nations, peoples, and languages.  No power on earth can overcome her.


It is good for us to see our God and brother cry.  It is very instructive for us.  Jesus did not rail against them.  He did not scream threats of divine retribution.  He cried.  That’s because He loved them.  And he loves every single unregenerate heathen in the world today.  He loves the drunkard and the fornicator, the liar and the thief, the abortionist and the terrorist.  He does not want anyone to perish.  He wants everyone come to repentance and live.  So we preach Christ crucified.  We invite sinners to repentance.  If God destroyed the holy city He loved and honored, He will surely destroy every proud people in this world.  But for the sake of His dear Son, and His holy suffering for the sins of the world, He will receive as His own children those who take refuge in Him.  And the angels in heaven rejoice whenever they do.  Amen




Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

August 12, 2018

“Going Home Justified”

St. Luke 18:9-14


Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:  "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."


What is more important: What God does for us or what we do for God?  What God says to us or what we say to God?  Obviously, what God does and says matters more than what we do and say.  Or maybe this isn’t so obvious. 

You don’t have to go to church to pray.  You can talk to God anywhere, any time.  That is, if you know Him.  If you don’t know God, how can you pray to Him?  Folks who are more interested in their own words than in God’s words will argue that they don’t need to go to church to worship God.  What they really mean is that they want to talk to God but they don’t want to listen to God talk to them.  They think what they have to say is more important than what God has to say.  And when they talk to God they invariably talk about what they have done, as if God’s works pale into insignificance when compared with their own works. 


Jesus teaches us that God’s words and God’s works are far more important than our words and our works.  Jesus teaches us why we need to go to church.  We need to go to church in order to be justified.  We need God to forgive us our sins.  This forgiveness is grounded in what God has done, not in what we have done.  This forgiveness is given to us by what God says, not by what we say. 


Most people would rather come to church to hear a message of what we should be doing for God than to hear a message of what God has done for us in Christ.  This is because people are more interested in their own achievements than they are in the suffering and death of Jesus.  The Bible speaks both of what Christ has done for us and what we do for Christ.  Jesus gave His life for us.  We live our lives for him.  The two go together.  The theological terms are justification and sanctification.  Justification is God forgiving us all our sins on account of Christ dying for us.  Sanctification is God living in us and doing good deeds through us as He enables us to live for him.  They go together.  Both are important.  But what is more important?  What should we emphasize?  What we do for God?  Or what God does for us? 

The Pharisee in the parable represents those who believe that what we do for God is most important.  And, of course, he thanked God for all the good things he did for God.  “God I thank you that I am not as other men.”  To God be the glory.  Give God the credit.  There, but for the grace of God, go I.  That could have been his prayer. 


He cares about being good, and he must see his goodness.  He sees it by comparing himself with others: robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even as the tax collector.  And shouldn’t he thank God for not being one of these people?  It was bad enough that tax collectors worked for Rome with Rome promoting all sorts of sinful idolatry.  In addition to that, the tax collectors made their money by cheating people.  Like robbers and adulterers, tax collectors did real harm to people.  They did not serve God.  They openly despised God.  The Pharisee was appalled at their brazen disregard for God’s law.  He knew God was merciful, but he also knew that people regularly abused God’s mercy and used it as an excuse for ignoring their duty to God.  That was wrong.  Their sin was intolerable to the Pharisee.  His faith was focused on what he did for God. 


He fasted, not once, but twice a week.  He tithed, not just a tenth of his net income, but a tenth of everything he owned.  He was a confident man, a man enthusiastic about living a holy life.  He was a man who thanked God. 

But his prayer was not to God.  It was to himself.  When your faith is focused on what you do – even when you give God the thanks, even when you give God the credit – your faith is vain because it is self-centered.  You want to see your goodness?  You want to celebrate your Christian service, commitment, and your devotion to God?  You want to focus on what you do for God?  Then look to your model, the Pharisee in the Temple.  And listen to Jesus when He says that that man did not leave the Temple justified.  He despised mercy for himself and for others and God does not cast His pearls before swine. 


The tax collector represents those who are more concerned about what God does for them than about what they do for God.  He compares himself to no one.  He sees only God’s demands and he knows he hasn’t met them.  He cannot see the fruit of his faith.  He isn’t interested in anything good he has ever thought, said or done.  He only knows that whatever he has done for God cannot undo his own sin, and for that, he is crushed.  Look at him and see sorrow – not the sorrow of the innocent victim bemoaning his loss, but the sorrow of the guilty person who mourns his own guilt.  He has anguish and self-loathing. 


Why doesn’t he compare himself to others?  Because he knows his biggest problem is not the sin out there – the sin of others – but the sin in here, inside him.  When the Pharisee speaks of his own doings for God, he lists them.  He gets specific.  But when the tax collector speaks of his own sin against God, he specifies nothing, there would simply be too much.  And he doesn’t quibble over what is or isn’t sin, he doesn’t excuse himself, he doesn’t even try to mitigate his guilt, and he makes no promises that he will do better. He pleads for mercy.  That’s all.  That’s all he can do. 


Now the word that Jesus uses here for mercy means more than a general plea for God’s pity and compassion.  It is a specific plea for forgiveness.  Literally, he is asking God to set aside his anger on account of the sacrifice of the promised Savior.  The tax collector pleads what God promised in the Savior.  The prayer of the tax collector is well summed up in the words of the hymn: “I have naught, my God to offer, save the blood of thy dear Son; graciously accept the proffer: Make his righteousness mine own."


Where is your faith focused?  On what you do for God or on what God does for you?  Do you find it tiresome to come to church Sunday after Sunday and hear the same message of Christ’s crucifixion for sinners?  Do you think that there is something bigger and better that God has to give you?  Do you want to go beyond the message of the cross to a more positive message of your own victorious living?  Do you think that perhaps there is too much mention of sin and forgiveness, that there must be something more powerful, more joyful, and more uplifting than the message of the blood, suffering, and death of Jesus? 

Then walk with the tax collector to the corner of the Temple, beat your breast, and bare your soul to God.  Before you ask what you can do for your Lord, how you can serve him, look at how much you need His service.  Look at Him suffering for you, look at His death.  Look at Him shed His innocent blood to take your place.  Then see the fruit of that blood!  From that holy sacrifice for you, God will work every good desire, word or deed you will ever do.  Forget about your doings.  Forget about celebrating your victory over this or that sin.  Forget about all the good things you want to do for God.  Instead, look at Jesus suffering for you.  That is the focus of your faith, because that is the basis, the ground, the cause, and the source of the forgiveness of all your sins.  We treasure the gospel of Christ’s suffering and death for us, because from that comes God’s word to us today and every day of our lives:  “I forgive you.  I have washed your sins away.  I have set aside my anger.  I am reconciled.” 

We treasure what God has done for us.  We treasure Jesus: His holy living, His humble serving, His bitter suffering, His innocent dying, His victorious rising, His intercession at the right hand of the Father.  We treasure Jesus – His words and his work – as a greater and more precious gift than all the works of all the holy people piled on top of one another. 


Do you want to offer God your sincere and acceptable service?  Do you want to give to God your body as a living sacrifice?  Do you want to devote yourself wholly to the praise of God’s glory and live a sanctified life in which the Holy Spirit lives in you and through you?  Is this what you sincerely want? 


If it is, you must first forget every demand God makes of you.  You must ignore every accusation of His law.  You must leave behind every failure, tossing away every regret, and hold on to Christ Who has met every demand, Who has covered your every failure, and Who exchanges His life for yours.  When Christ and His words and His works are our glory, we are born from above to live a new life. 


It is an amazing thing.  The more attention paid to Christ and to His works and the less paid to us and to ours, the more we are equipped by God to live the holy lives he calls us to live.  First we leave the Temple justified, then and only then can we live the life of a Christian.  God does good works through the one who sees no good works of his own, but clings instead to Jesus, wanting and needing nothing more.  Where our broken hearts are joined to the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary; where our God speaks his pardon to our souls; there is our faith and there is the foundation for every good thing we will ever do.  Only those who have received mercy can live a life of mercy. Amen




The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

August 19, 2018

“Hearing and Speaking”

St. Mark 7:31-37


Again, departing from the region of Tyre and Sidon, He came through the midst of the region of Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee.  Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on Him.  And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue.  Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly.  Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it.  And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak." St. Mark 7:31-37



The Church prays the words of the psalm, “Oh Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth your praise.”  Unless God enables us to speak, we cannot sing His praises.  This is brought home in this account of the deaf mute to whom Jesus spoke His almighty creative word: “Ephphatha! – Be opened.”  As soon as Jesus commanded his ears to be opened they were opened.  He could hear clearly and he could speak plainly.


Christ’s miracles recorded for us in the Gospels are called signs.  They signify who Jesus is.  Jesus signified that he was true God by doing what only God could do.  By changing water into wine, creating thousands of loaves of bread, stilling a storm, and raising the dead Jesus did what only God could do.  He did so by his own power.  Read through the Gospels and you will never find Jesus praying to the Father for the ability to do what he does.  On the contrary, he acts on his own authority that he has as the eternally begotten Son of the Father, God of God, light of light, very God of very God.  Christ’s miracles show him to be the Creator and sustainer and Lord over all creation.


They brought a deaf mute to Jesus, begging him to put his hand on him.  They assumed that Jesus would heal the man by putting his hand on him.  That’s not how Jesus healed him, though.  Jesus used sign language to talk to the deaf man.  He took him aside, away from the crowd.  He told him what he would do.  He put his fingers in the man’s ears to tell him that he would open his ears so he could hear.  Then, Jesus spat and touched the man’s tongue to tell him that he would open his mouth so he could speak.  Then Jesus looked to heaven and sighed to tell him that he had heavenly, that is, divine power.  Then Jesus spoke.  He did not heal the man by putting his hands on the man.  He healed the man by speaking.  Just as at the beginning God said “let there be” and there was, Jesus said, “be opened!” and it was so.  Moses records in Genesis 1:31, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.”  The crowd that witnessed Jesus’ miracle said the same thing.  “He has done all things well.  He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” (Mark 7:37)


Deaf mutes are mute because they cannot hear.  Since they cannot hear, they cannot hear their own voices.  We learn how to speak by hearing others and imitating them.  But they cannot hear.


We take for granted the ability to hear.  When you cannot hear what others are saying, you never know just what is going on.  You may have a general idea, but you cannot be sure.  Information is power in just about every area of life.  Lacking the information that hearing provides puts you at a great disadvantage when it comes to interacting with other people.  Whether it is buying something, selling something, getting a job, or just carrying on a conversation, when you cannot hear what others are saying you cannot be sure that you aren’t being cheated or deceived.  You see a world that you cannot enter.  You live in a world you will never really understand.


It was to such a man that Jesus came.  He came to serve those on the outside looking in.  He came into this world specifically to open that man’s ears and to loosen that man’s tongue.  As he said to John the Baptist’s disciples to tell them that he was indeed the promised Christ, “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matthew 11:5)


Note carefully what Jesus does.  First, he opens the man’s ears.  Then he loosens the man’s tongue.  This is a double miracle.  The man couldn’t possibly have learned how to speak as soon as he learned how to hear.  It takes hearing people years to learn how to make the right sounds.  How could a deaf mute learn how to speak immediately?  Both his hearing and his speaking were miracles.


Until God opens our ears we cannot hear his word.  Until God loosens our tongue we cannot pray to him or worship him.  In the Catechism we confess: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Ghost has called me by the gospel.”  Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to us in the gospel and sacraments.  Because of the Holy Spirit, baptism is not just water, but a washing of rebirth and renewal.  Because of the Holy Spirit, the preaching of the gospel creates faith. 


Why do some hear the gospel and believe it while others hear the same gospel and reject it?  All of us are by nature spiritually deaf and mute.  We cannot hear the voice of God and we cannot confess the truth of God.  We are by nature spiritually blind, dead, and at enmity against God.  We can do nothing whatsoever to bring ourselves to faith.  That is God’s doing without any help from us.


The Bible makes it clear that God wants all people to be saved.  He wants those who hear the gospel to believe what they hear.  He wants to open the ears to faith and to loosen the tongue to praise.  He wants to do this for all people.


Why some and not others?  Why do some hear the message of the Savior and rejoice in what they hear and believe it while others do not?  We cannot say that anyone is by nature less spiritually dead than another and we cannot say that there are some that God does not love or want to save.  The simple fact is that we cannot answer the question, “Why some and not others?”  Those who believe in the gospel believe in the gospel by God’s grace alone and not by their own reason or strength.  Those who reject the gospel reject the gospel by their own fault alone and not because God wants them to reject it.  If we believe and are saved, God deserves all the praise.  If we reject and are damned, we deserve all the blame.


We live under grace alone.  Unless the Holy Spirit keeps on talking to us about Jesus’ obedience all the way to the cross as he fulfilled the law for us and suffered our punishment in our place, we will stop looking to Jesus.  We will look somewhere else, anywhere else, but not to Jesus.  By nature we think that we can praise God on our own terms.  We can choose the holy signs God will perform.  We can choose the holy words God will speak.  We can define and describe God according to our own fancy and God will just have to go along with whatever religion we devise. 


This is what we in our native spiritual arrogance actually think!  Just look at all the man-made religions surrounding us that do precisely that!  It is only when the Holy Spirit drowns us and kills us in Holy Baptism so that we die to ourselves and our carnal notions about God, that we can rise from death to a new life lived under the shelter of the cross.  Only the Holy Spirit can persuade us that Christ’s suffering for us is our true glory, for there is it that God takes off of us every sin that besets us.  There is it that the God in the flesh who showed his divine compassion toward the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf and others suffering from physical disabilities, fully destroyed the cause of all physical suffering and death.  Jesus swallowed up our death and utterly destroyed it when he drank to the dregs the full divine vengeance against our every sin.  It may not be pretty to behold, but it is a beautiful sound to hear when our Lord Jesus absolves us of all our sins with the absolution he purchased by his own blood.


But who can believe this without the Holy Spirit?  Jesus told Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)  This is why we return to the water and the Spirit whence we were born again every single day of our lives.  We need to hear the same voice by which we were brought into fellowship with God.  If we neglect to hear that voice, it becomes strange to us.  If we don’t hear it, we won’t remember what it sounds like and sooner or later we will forget how to confess it.  How long must a person’s ears be deprived of hearing before his lips can no longer speak the right words?  Hearing and speaking go together.


The preachers preach from the pulpit that word from God by which we are born again.  Not everyone is called publicly to preach.  It matters what is preached.  It matters what we hear.  But it is not just here in this place that we receive God’s word.  Christian fathers and mothers are called by God to teach the word of God to their own children.  Fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, Christians in every vocation have the word of God as their treasure from which they receive eternal treasures from God.  The more the word of God goes into your ears, the better a Christian confession will come out of your mouth.


We need not doubt that the same Lord Jesus whose heart went out to the deaf mute loves us and our children as well.  He will open their ears and ours.  He will open their mouths and ours to praise him.  He will do so because he loves us all.  The love that send him to the cross to remove from us all of our sins is the love spoken to us whenever we hear his gospel of the forgiveness of sins.  It is the power of God’s love that opens our ears to trust and our mouths to confess Christ the Savior of sinners.  Amen 



The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

August 26, 2018

The Good Samaritan

St. Luke 10:23-37


Then He turned to His disciples and said privately, "Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see;  for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it."  And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  He said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?"  So he answered and said,   "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.'"  And He said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live."  But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, "and who is my neighbor?"  Then Jesus answered and said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a certain priest came down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.  But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of Him.  On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.'  So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?"  And he said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."  Luke 10:23-37



By telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus teaches us both the law and the gospel.  Concerning the law, Jesus teaches us that the law is not given to us so that we may use it to benefit ourselves.  It was given to us so that we may learn how to benefit our neighbor.  The lawyer who wanted to justify himself assumed that the law was given to teach him how to justify himself.  He appeared to know the law very well.  When Jesus asked him what God’s law said, the lawyer answered correctly.  But in fact, he didn’t know the law at all.


He didn’t know the law because he didn’t know its purpose.  He indicated this to Jesus when he said, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  In inheritance is a gift.  A father gives gifts to his children.  You don’t ask what you must do to become a child.  There is a relationship that exists before you have done anything.  You are born or adopted into the family.  Then you are an heir of whatever the family has.


Those who think they must do something to inherit eternal life don’t regard themselves as members of God’s family.  St. Paul reminds us in Galatians 3:26 that we are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  Jesus is the One who reveals God the Father to us.  Only when we know Jesus do we know God as God’s dear children.


This is what Jesus was saying to His disciples when He said,


Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it. (Luke 10:23-24)


From the first time God spoke to Adam and Eve after they fell into sin, he promised that one day the world would see their God standing before them in the flesh.  How many prophets prophesied concerning the promised Savior!  God revealed to them all of the essential facts concerning Him.  He would be born of a Virgin and be both true God and true man.  He would be born in Bethlehem and would be a Descendent of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Jesse, and David.  He would rule over all the nations.  He would suffer rejection.   He would be killed.  He would rise from the dead.  He would rule over a kingdom that would have no end.  He would be the Savior of sinners. 


Jeremiah the prophet called him: “The LORD, our righteousness.”  The Old Testament Scriptures teach that a sinner is justified by God freely by God’s grace, through faith in the Savior, and not on the basis of obeying the law.  The prophets and kings desired to see this Savior, but they never did.  They desired to hear His gracious voice, but they never did.  They lived believing that God would keep his promise to come into this world as a man to deliver man from sin and death.  Through this faith they lived as saints.  In this faith they died.  By this faith they were saved.


And now the center of all human history had arrived.  The time and place of God’s revelation of grace, truth, and righteousness was here and now.  Blessed are the eyes that see him and blessed are the ears that hear him.  But the lawyer, so infatuated with his own good deeds, could not see in Jesus the only righteousness by which he could ever be justified before God.


Jesus met the man on his own terms.  The man was in no position to hear the gospel.  He hadn’t yet heard the law.  The gospel binds up the brokenhearted, and so it is to be given only to those whose hearts have been broken.  The gospel is meant only for those who have been convicted by God’s law.  The man was self-righteous.  He hadn’t been convicted in his own conscience.  He hadn’t yet felt the accusations of God’s law.  He needed to hear the law from Jesus.  And that’s what he heard.


Look at how Jesus teaches the law.  He is the master teacher!  He portrays the holiest models the lawyer could have imagined and shows them to be utter hypocrites.  They did nothing to help the victim who was assaulted by thieves and left for dead.  The priest saw the man in his need, but he did nothing for him.  He passed by on the other side of the road.  Likewise, the Levite saw the man lying helpless and in need of help but he offered him no help.  He walked on by.  Why?  Why did these men not help the man?  The reason is simple: they did not love the man. 


The man wanted to justify himself.  But the law was not given for that purpose.  It is as St. Paul says in today’s Epistle Lesson:


For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.  But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3:21-22)


The law cannot bring us eternal life because the law must be obeyed and nobody has obeyed it.  The law teaches us what we must do, but it does not enable us to do what we must do.  The law tells us what is truly God pleasing and beneficial to our neighbor, but the law cannot make us capable of being what we are not.  It cannot give us what it promises.  When Jesus said to the lawyer who had just correctly summarized the law, “Do this and you will live,” he was not teaching that the man would inherit eternal life by obeying the law.  Jesus never said that.  He said, “Do this” and you will live.  It is only if you do this.  It is only when you have obeyed the law that you can claim the promise the law gives.  The law promises life only to those who obey it.  To those who don’t obey it, the law promises God’s curse both now and forever.


The law makes promises.  But they are conditional promises.  The condition is always that you obey.  This obedience may never be merely following the right rules.  The priest and the Levite always obeyed the rules.  But, you see, the rules cannot teach you to love your neighbor as yourself.  There was no rule as to what to do if you found a man robbed, beaten, and left half dead on the side of the road.  God’s law is deeper and broader and higher than any rules.  It says we must love our neighbor, period.


Are you willing to stake your eternal future on your own obedience to this simple, but unarguably true, fair, and right standard of behavior?  Have you done this?  Can you claim life from your obedience to God’s law?  Can you say to God this morning that you have done as the Good Samaritan did?


The fact of the matter is that none of us can find our lives in the law.  The law stands opposed to us.  It accuses us.  It cannot help us be what we must be and it cannot help us to do what we must do.  It can only judge us for being sinners and condemn us when we sin.  We are that man who is lying helpless, beaten, and half dead on the side of the road.  We’ve been mugged by Satan and left helpless in our sins.  The law sees us in our helplessness and walks by on the other side of the road.  We have not loved God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.  The law condemns us for it as the priest walks on by without helping us in any way.  We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.  The law condemns us for this as well as the Levite walks on by without helping us in any way.


Then the Good Samaritan sees us.  He, who is despised as a Samaritan, sees us in our need and loves us.  What the law could not do for us, he does.  He bandages our wounds and pours in oil and wine.  He forgives and he heals.  He puts us on his donkey, a beast of burden, even as he bears the burden of our sins upon himself as he goes to the cross.  By his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death he purchases what he gives to the innkeeper.  Jesus has purchased the treasures of salvation – the gospel and the sacraments – that he has entrusted to the church.  So we are placed into Christ’s church where God daily and richly forgives us all of our sins.


The Samaritan, not the priest or the Levite, helped the victim of highway robbery.  Yet the Samaritan remains despised while the priest and the Levite are lionized as great and holy saints.  Jesus and his gospel will remain despised until the end of time.  Meanwhile sinners who lie helpless in their spiritual poverty and impotence will be left to languish at the side of the road even as one works-righteous pretender after another walks on by on the other side of the road.  It is only Jesus who stoops to help because it is only Jesus who can help.


Jesus did what the law required so that we may live.  As we hear Christ’s words, “Given and shed for you, for the remission of sins,” we see heaven open and eternal life given to us.  All our sins are forgiven and all our regrets are forgotten.  God has seen us at our very worst and he has not judged us and looked the other way.  He has not walked by on the other side of the road.  He has saved us in our helpless condition and has entrusted us to the tender care of his Holy Christian Church.  As he has borne the burden of our sins, he teaches us to bear one another’s burdens as we share with one another the same forgiveness we have received.  Meanwhile, Jesus keeps us by his Holy Spirit united with his holy Church where we will remain safe and secure until he returns to take us to heaven.  Amen


Rolf D. Preus


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