First Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| June 26, 2011| Jeremiah 9:23-24
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD. Jeremiah 9:23-24
If you’re smart, powerful, or wealthy, you’ve got it made. Smart people know how to look out for themselves. Powerful people have the means of keeping what they have and getting more of it. Rich people can buy what they want and not worry about doing without. Yes, wisdom, might, and riches are where it’s at. If you’ve got these things you’ve got it made.
God has a different opinion. He says that it is better to understand him and to know him than it is to be smart, powerful, or wealthy. And we get to understand and to know him by what he does. He shows lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness. Lovingkindness is better than wisdom. Justice is better than might. Righteousness is better than money. Knowing God in what he does is to know what is truly valuable in this life.
Lazarus knew God. When he died, the angels took him to heaven. The rich man did not know God. When he died, he went to hell. Knowing God is better than having wisdom, power, or riches. These idols can’t rescue your body from the grave or your soul from hell. Only God can.
Where are you going to go when you die? Will the angels take you to Abraham’s bosom? Or will you descend into the torments of hell? Where you will spend eternity determines whether or not the life you are living now in time has any value. If everything you’ve loved has been confined to the things of this life, once this life is over you won’t have anything at all. If what you treasure will be destroyed with this world then you are lost. If you will be lost when you die you are already lost while you’re living.
Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches.
Let us consider each of these idols in order.
When wisdom is your idol you set yourself over others as a god. Note that the prophet uses the possessive pronoun for each of these idols. “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom.” Don’t think you’re so smart. You’re not. There’s somebody out there who knows more than you do about what you think you know so well. You know. You understand. You have it all figured out. Why do you need to consult God’s word? You already know. Why do you need to go to church? You already know. Why do you need to be instructed? You already know.
But do you know the lovingkindness of God? Do you know his grace? If you don’t, you know nothing worth knowing. For it is in knowing God in his gracious disposition, in his undeserved kindness, in his condescending compassion, in the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross that you find true and eternal wisdom that will save your soul from hell.
St. Paul tells us about this wisdom. He writes in his First Epistle to the Corinthians:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
“Let not the mighty man glory in his might.” The weakness of God is stronger than men. It is in weakness that justice is done and justice, not power, is to be admired. Justice speaks against power and has the last word.
Mao Tse Tung famously said, “Political power comes from the barrel of a gun.” This, in a generation where everything under the sun – from the home to the church – became politicized beyond repair. He is right who has the power to enforce what he says. So the mighty glory in their might. They get the last say. They get to make the decisions. They are in charge. I have power over you so I have the right to make you do what I say. I have power over me so I have the right to make my own rules. Power rules and the one who has it has the right to do as he pleases.
God says no. He is the judge and he judges. Justice is his. His justice will meet your power and your power will be shown to be the impotent form it always was. Beware, bullies of this world. There is one mightier than you and he will judge. Your might will be met with justice. Divine justice will prevail. You who trust in your power to do as you choose are trusting in a lie. The day will come when you can give no orders because no one will listen. The time is coming when you will be unable to walk or talk or take charge of anything at all. In your helplessness as you face death you will know without a doubt that power is but a fleeting form while justice is eternal.
“Nor let the rich man glory in his riches.” Here the prophet opposes riches with righteousness. The one who worships his riches does not understand or know the God who exercises righteousness in this world. Righteousness in the Bible may refer to the doing of what is good and right. God does what is good and right. He always does what is good and right because God is right.
But the Bible also talks about the righteousness that God gives. Righteousness is not just a word describing what God does and what he requires of us. It is a word that describes what God gives to us when he exercises lovingkindness and executes justice. Where is God’s lovingkindness most clearly revealed? Where his justice is most perfectly accomplished. Where grace and justice met and grace satisfied all of the demands that justice could make. Where do grace and justice meet? They meet where all righteousness is fulfilled. On the cross where Jesus died the God we understand and know revealed with crystal clarity his lovingkindness, his justice, and his righteousness.
His lovingkindness is his grace that covers all our sins. His justice is his doing the good that needed to be done while suffering the evil that had to be suffered so that good would triumph over evil once and for all. His righteousness is his gift to us whereby he reckons us to be righteous, not on the basis of righteous deeds we have done, but on account of the righteous obedience of Jesus who lived and died for us. This is a righteousness that God gives to us freely by his grace. It is a righteousness that we receive through faith alone. We believe him when he says he gives it to us. Through believing we have what he gives. Therefore, we are righteous. We are righteous, not with a righteousness that depends on our doing, but with a righteousness that depends on Christ’s doing.
This righteousness is what makes us wealthy with a wealth that the world neither knows nor understands. The riches of this world are vain. The time will come when they can buy us nothing. But the righteousness of Christ that is ours through faith cannot be taken away. Its value is not in what you can buy with it, for it cannot be bought or sold. Its value is in whom you know through it. For when you are righteous before God, clothed with the very righteousness of his Son, you know God. You understand God. You are at one with God. You commune with God and he communes with you. He is your friend.
Lazarus was God’s friend, though he lay in pain outside the halls of respectable society. The dogs showed him more concern than any man did. No man befriended him. But God was his friend. When Lazarus died, God welcomed him to heaven. Lazarus is not known for his wisdom. One would think that a wise man could have figured out how to raise himself up out of poverty. Lazarus was not a mighty man. He was weak and sickly. Lazarus certainly wasn’t a rich man. He was a poor beggar. So what was this man with little wisdom, little strength, and no money known for? He went to heaven.
And that’s where he was headed while he languished in helplessness and poverty outside the gates of the rich man’s house. He was glory bound. The man inside who gloried in his wisdom, might, and riches was headed for hell. The idols in which he trusted were taken away from him. The man outside the gate was headed for heaven. The righteousness he had received from God through faith and through faith alone is what guaranteed his entrance. So you tell me? Who was poor? And who was rich?
Jesus said to his Father in his high priestly prayer: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (St. John 17:3) We know God precisely by his sending of Jesus Christ. His manger is where he joined the human race. His cross is where he set all of humanity free from sin and death and hell. But we cannot go back to the manger or to the cross to find Jesus. He’s not there. So the God who lives in eternity and who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness in this earth comes to us today. The manger and the cross and the open tomb are set before us every Sunday as we gather together in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. We hear his Word. We eat and drink his body and blood. We sing his praises. He joins himself to us and through that holy fellowship he joins us also to one another in holy love.
And we understand. We know. We understand and we know God himself. Through this knowledge we set aside all confidence in our own wisdom, might, and riches. If they cannot bring us to heaven, they cannot bring us true joy here on earth either. True joy is the joy that lasts forever. So we glory in him who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness here among us. We claim as our own what he so graciously gives and we rely on his promise of eternal life in heaven. This is what makes our lives here on earth worth living. Amen