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Not Dead, But Sleeping

Luke 8:41-56

Trinity 24/All Saints Sunday

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Jairus came to Jesus with a desperate plea.  Though he was a ruler of the synagogue, he laid aside all normal decorum, fell down at Jesus feet, and begged Him to come to his house.  For his only daughter, a 12-year old, was at the point of death.  Jairus’ heart was breaking at the thought of losing her.  His only hope was that Jesus could save her and restore her life.  The situation was dire.  Time was of the essence.

All of us must learn to become like Jairus, to recognize our desperate need in this dying world, to set aside our worldly standing, ignoring what others may think of us, and come before Jesus seeking and pleading for His help.  For He’s the only One who can save us.  Like Jairus, we must be unafraid to lay hold of Him, recognizing that there’s no time to waste in this passing world.

As Jesus began to make His way to Jairus’ house, the multitudes surrounded and pressed in close to Him–something like a big celebrity trying to walk across the grounds during Summerfest pre-Covid.  I’m sure Jairus was becoming distressed at the slow pace.  Jesus could have slipped through the crowd if He chose.  He did that once at Nazareth when a hostile crowd tried to grab him and throw him off a cliff.  But He didn’t do that here.  He chose to let the crowd get in His way.

In the crowd was a woman who had been sick for the last twelve years, the same number of years as Jairus’ daughter’s age.  This woman suffered from a chronic hemorrhage, a constant uterine flow of blood.  She’d been to all the doctors and specialists.  She’d tried all their remedies and potions.  They took her money, but things never got any better, only worse.  

Perhaps that situation sounds familiar to you.  Even today, with all our medical advancements, there’s only so much that doctors can do for us in our bodily afflictions.  Even after spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on tests and procedures and pills, there’s a limit to what can be done.  We shouldn’t be surprised at that and go running after quack cures and potions.  Sometimes the best a doctor can say is, “You’re just going to have to learn how to manage it and live with it.”

For twelve long years this woman had suffered, not only physically, but also by being isolated from the community.  According to the Old Testament Levitical law, a woman was ceremonially unclean during the time of her flow of blood–which meant that this woman was constantly unclean.  She couldn’t enter the temple.  She was cut off.  Plus, she couldn’t bear children, even as Jairus feared that his 12-year old daughter would never grow up to have children.

This woman heard that Jesus was coming.  “I won’t bother Him,” she thought.  “He wouldn’t want to touch me, anyway.  I’m unclean.  I’ll just come up behind him.  All I have to do is touch his robe, and I’ll be well.”  And so she works her way close to Jesus and reaches out and touches the border of His garment.  And immediately her flow of blood is stopped.  She feels a surge of life flow into her like she hasn’t felt for years.  When she touches the robe of Jesus in faith, she is drawing upon the same energy of God that created the universe and everything that is in it.  She is healed.  

Notice that the power to heal does not lie inside of us, some inner energy.  It comes from Jesus.  There is no healing power within us waiting to be unlocked and unleashed.  Inside us there is only disease and death, hemorrhaging away our life.  Life and health come from outside ourselves.  Every healing comes from Jesus, whether through prayer or penicillin or both.  Medicine and prayer are instruments, but Jesus is the source.

 This woman’s flow of blood stopped because she had come into contact with Jesus, who would cause His blood to flow for her on Good Friday.  It is written, “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.”  Jesus absorbed all of our ailments, and He crucified them in His body.  He suffered all of our suffering to death, so that in Him we might have real and enduring life and wholeness.  The Epistle reminds us, “In Jesus we have redemption through His blood.”

Jesus immediately stopped and looked around.  “Who touched Me?” He knew power had gone out from Him.  Peter replied, “How can you ask such a question?  The crowds are all pressing in on You.”  But Jesus wouldn’t move until He had dealt face to face with the one who had touched Him in faith.  He doesn’t deal with people anonymously but personally.  Jesus wanted to speak to her, to give her more than she had already received from him. “Who touched me?”  

Finally, when the woman saw that she couldn’t hide herself, she came trembling before Jesus.  She confesses the reason why she touched Him and how she was immediately healed.  And Jesus turns her fear to confidence and joy when He says, “Daughter, be of good cheer.”  By calling her “daughter,” he is restoring her to the family, to the people of God.  He is claiming her as His own.  And then Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you.  Go in peace.”  Not just generic faith, which believes God exists–“sure I believe in God”–no this is specific faith in Jesus, faith that dares to sneak up behind Him to touch Him.  Through Him she not only had healing but peace with God.

Doesn’t Jesus still extend the border of His garment also to us?  You are given to touch His garment, too, in this very place and receive His healing and forgiving power.  Just as the woman came into real contact with Jesus, so you come into real contact with Jesus in the Sacraments, particularly the Supper of His true body and blood.  Though you are not yet given to see Him face to face, yet you take courage and come up to Him from behind, so to speak, and touch His garment here at the altar.  And when you come in faith as the woman did, the power of His forgiveness goes out from Him to you.  As it is written, “The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.”  You are not anonymous to Him; He sees you.  He says to you, “Be of good cheer.  Your faith in Me has saved you.  Depart in peace.”  “Go, knowing that whatever ails and pains and troubles your body I have already conquered and overcome, and you will be gloriously healed and made whole in the resurrection of the body at the close of the age.”

Which brings us back to Jairus’ daughter.  Remember, all of this business with the woman in the crowd was an interruption and a detour from what Jesus was on His way to do.  The story suddenly stops and everything is put on hold.  Isn’t that how life generally is, a bunch of stops and side trips on the way to where you think you want to go?  However, Jesus shows us here that what may at first seem like a detour in our human existence is in fact precisely the road God is giving us to travel.  It’s the actual circumstances and people the Lord gives you which constitute the path you should walk by faith and in love.  For our true destination is not merely our own goals and dreams; our destination is Christ Himself.  He is the path and the way.  Jesus received this supposed interruption as sent from His Father, and He was completely there for this woman.  In the same way He is completely there also for you, even in the midst of the interruptions and the unexpected events of your life.

By the time Jesus is done dealing with the woman in the crowd, word comes to Jairus, “Your daughter is dead.  Do not trouble the Teacher.”  But Jesus seems to ignore the news.  He looks straight at Jairus.  “You trusted in Me when your little girl was sick.  Trust Me now that she’s dead.  I haven’t forgotten you; I will not fail you.  Do not fear.  She will be made well.  Just believe.”

Jairus must have been tempted to think that Jesus didn’t really care all that much for him, at least not as much as He cared for others.  Jesus delayed while his little girl’s life just faded away.  So also we can be tempted to doubt God’s care for us, especially when we see others doing better than ourselves, while our life if full of problems.  “Where is God?  Why does He delay in helping me?”  It’s one thing to trust in God when all is well; it’s another thing to trust in Him when the hand of blessing seems shut and all you have to cling to is Jesus and His Word, “Do not be afraid; only believe, and all will be made well, better than you could ever possibly imagine.”

Jairus must have believed and held out hope in Jesus, for He continues with Him on to his house.  When they arrived, they saw everyone mourning and weeping.  But Jesus said to them, “Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping.”  And they ridiculed Him for saying something that seemed so foolish and insensitive.  But from Jesus’ perspective, it was true.  For He knew she would awaken to life.  An ordinary doctor can only help when there’s still life in the body.  But Jesus can help even after the life is gone.  For He is the Lord of life and the Great Physician.

Jesus put them all outside, except for the parents and Peter, James, and John.  No unbeliever would see this miracle.  Then Jesus took the little girl by the hand; He touched her with His life-giving presence and said, “Little girl, arise.”  And by the power of His Word, her spirit returned and she arose immediately.  And He commanded that she be given something to eat, much to the joyous astonishment of her parents.

The world still ridicules Christ and His church today for this teaching of the resurrection.  To human reason it seems to be a foolish proposition to believe.   Yet we do profess, especially on this All Saints Sunday, that those who have died in the faith are asleep in Jesus and that their bodies will awaken at His return to everlasting life.  Remember the words of St. Paul, “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. . .  The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout. . .  And the dead in Christ will rise.”  There won’t be any more ridicule on the Last Day.  For Christ will put the unbelievers outside, who in their profound regret will die a death that never ends.  But Christ will say to the faithful, to you, “Son, daughter, arise,” and your bodies will be awakened from their grave beds to the astonishing joy of sharing in Christ’s Easter glory and the wedding feast that has no end.

And finally, remember this: the Lord has already raised you from the death of sin to a new life in your baptism.  He calls upon me now to give you something to eat, this holy communion which strengthens you in your new life.  Touch Jesus’ garment.  Trust His word.  Do not fear.  Only believe.  Trust Jesus in sickness and pain and in the hour of your death.  Your faith will save you. Your Jesus will save you.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

(With thanks to the Rev. William Cwirla)

If You Abide in My Word

John 8:31-36

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Even many Lutherans may not know that a rather important thing happened almost exactly 500 years ago in the Reformation, in September 1522.  It’s one of the most important things that happened during the Reformation, something we often take for granted now.

You’re familiar with the story of how Luther posted the 95 theses on the castle church door in Wittenberg Germany.  Those 95 statements for discussion called into question the practices of the pope and the church of Luther’s day in regards to purgatory and indulgences and the like.  It was on All Hallows Eve that Luther did this, Hallow E’en, October 31st, 1517, the day before All Saints Day.

The publication of those 95 theses created a good deal of turmoil that eventually led to another key event you’re probably familiar with.  In 1521 Martin Luther was called to stand trial before the Emperor himself.  The pope’s emissaries at the trial called on him to recant his teaching and repent.  For a moment Luther faltered; he asked for a day’s time to answer.  But when he returned the next day and was again asked to recant, he spoke boldly in the face of those who could very well have executed him as a heretic.  He said, “Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds and reasoning–and my conscience is captive to the Word of God–then I cannot and will not recant.”  Then Luther added, “Here I stand.  I can do no other.  God help me!”  Note the importance there for Luther of God’s Word.  That’s where he took his stand.  

Which leads us to the key, less-well-known event of 1522.  After this trial in the city of Worms, Luther was “kidnaped” by his prince and secretly taken to the Wartburg Castle in order to protect him.  There was a price on Luther’s head, and Prince Frederick didn’t want any harm to come to him.  Luther spent 10 months there holed up in the castle.  He wasn’t the kind of person to just sit around, and so he set about translating the New Testament into German, the language of the people.  With all the necessary resources brought to him and at his disposal, he completed his translation from the Greek in eleven weeks.  His colleague at the University, Philip Melanchthon, put the finishing touches on the translation. This was revolutionary.

Two laymen in Wittenberg, Lucas Cranach the Elder and his partner Christian Doering, then made sure this New Testament in German was printed in time for the Leipzig book fair. About 4,000 copies were made, bundled up, and rushed to Leipzig.

And so we know exactly when the Bible began to be the “best-selling book of all time.”  It  was September 21, 1522, the date when the fair opened.  All the copies of this German New Testament sold out before the fair ended. From there, Luther’s German New Testament spread around Europe. A second printing was started immediately and released in December. A pirated version was printed in Switzerland before the end of 1522. In the next year a total of twelve authorized and sixty-six unauthorized reprints appeared throughout Germany and Europe—hundreds of thousands of copies sold in just over twelve months. This Septembertestament as it was sometimes called, the New Testament Bible was a bestseller.  

And so today, 500 years later, we celebrate this very important even for the church.  It’s something we should see as a sort of Pentecost event, the Word of God and the Gospel being translated and spoken in the German tongue, the language of the people, not just for private reading but for public services.  The Holy Spirit was surely at work causing the good news of Jesus to become much more accessible and to spread throughout Germany and beyond.  It was a big influence on the Bible being translated also into English and many other languages.  For Martin Luther, and for Christians of every age, it’s all about the Word of God.  

Today is a good day for us to give thanks to God for one of the main principles of the Reformation, namely that the Word of God is not just for the clergy, it’s for all the people of God to have and to hear in their own language.  We are reminded of how the Bereans in the book of Acts, when they heard the preaching of Paul, searched the Scriptures to see if what he was saying was true.  So also, you are not merely given to just mindlessly accept whatever a pastor tells you apart from God’s Word, but to search the Scriptures and to have a good grasp of the Bible, that you may know the truth and be defended against false teaching.  

This means that you must actually open your Bible and use it regularly.  In many ways we have lost the sense of what a tremendous privilege it is for us to even have our own Bibles in our own homes.  The Christians of most of the history of the Church would have considered that to be a priceless treasure, but we are frequently thankless for this great gift and take it for granted and leave it on the shelf or the coffee table as if it were merely a decoration.  We’ve got study Bibles now with all sorts of notes and helps; you can read the Bible on your phone and even have it read to you!  There are good Lutheran podcasts that discuss the Scriptures and online resources to help you understand it.  Let this Reformation celebration, then, be an encouragement for you to again regularly have devotions and read and meditate on God’s Word.  For Jesus’ words are the words of eternal life.

Jesus Himself said, “If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  We hear a lot of talk about freedom and liberty in this country.  And that’s fine.  But it’s usually a political and personal liberty.  And very often it turns out to be almost the opposite of what Jesus is talking about.  Americans think of freedom as the liberty to do whatever we choose, whatever we want, to fulfill all the dreams and desires of our heart.  But that can quickly turn out to be just another form of slavery.  If we try to live outside of the way God ordered things to be, sooner or later we end up ensnared and imprisoned by our desires. Gluttony enslaves us to our belly and our food, as does alcoholism to drink.  Lust enslaves us to our passions, to pornography, to adulterous behavior that tears people apart.  Laziness enslaves us in a cycle of dependency and pessimism and excuse-making and blame.  Greed enslaves us to our money  and all the things we have to do to get and hold on to our stuff.  “Free thinking” that is not grounded in God’s wisdom leads to all sorts of destructive ideologies and philosophies.  Pride chains us to having to keep up our image and prop up the facade, when deep down we know it’s just hypocrisy.  And on and on it goes . . .  Deep down we know that things aren’t quite right with us, that we’re not truly free.  Jesus said, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.”  And the wages of sin is death.  

However, Jesus came to free us from that bondage.  The way to be truly free, paradoxically, is to have Him as your Lord, to live under Him as His servant.  Apart from Christ, the devil is our deceitful and cruel taskmaster.  But Jesus came to rescue us from that dungeon and to give us a new life in His kingdom.  Jesus did that by actually entering into the dungeon for us.  He suffered death and shed His blood to serve our sentence and pay the price for our sins.  He entered the grave on our behalf in order to blast a way out of it for us and destroy that prison, rising again bodily on the third day.

Listen to how Luther describes it in the Large Catechism:  “The Lord Jesus has redeemed me from sin, from the devil, from death, and all evil. For before, I had no Lord nor King, but was captive under the power of the devil, condemned to death, enmeshed in sin and blindness.  For when we had been created by God the Father, and had received from Him all manner of good, the devil came and led us into disobedience, sin, death, and all evil, so that we fell under His wrath and displeasure and were doomed to eternal damnation, as we had merited and deserved.  There was no counsel, help, or comfort until this only and eternal Son of God in His unfathomable goodness had compassion upon our misery and wretchedness, and came from heaven to help us.  Those tyrants and jailers, then, are all expelled now, and in their place has come Jesus Christ, Lord of life, righteousness, every blessing, and salvation, and has delivered us poor lost men from the jaws of hell, has won us, made us free, and brought us again into the favor and grace of the Father, and has taken us as His own property under His shelter and protection, that He may govern us by His righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and blessedness.”

To be truly free is to belong to Jesus and follow Him.  And that freedom is given to you through Jesus’ words.  Listen again, “If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  To abide in Jesus’ word is to continue to receive His Word in all the ways that it comes to you and to trust in it and believe its promises.  It is to live in the gift of your baptism, where the Word of God was applied to you with the water, drowning the old Adam and bringing you forth to a new life.  It is to hear absolution and the preaching of the Gospel, by which the Word is applied to you and its gifts are given to you.  And it is to receive the Lord’s Supper, where the Word made flesh is truly present, giving you His flesh and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

So let us give thanks to God this Reformation Sunday/weekend for the gift of Holy Scripture, God’s Word.  The Lord is not silent to you. He speaks words of comfort and mercy and life.  He is your refuge and strength, and ever-present help in times of trouble.  So do not fear.  Be still and know that the Lord is God.  He is on your side.  He will never leave you or forsake you.  You are His.  You are righteous in Christ, the Son of God.  And if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Debt Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-35
Trinity 22

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

 An official announcement was made this past week by the White House about applying for student loan forgiveness.  Many people with federal student loans can get $10,000 of their debt cancelled–a few even $20,000. This has caused a significant amount of debate and controversy and court battles.  Many have asked, why should this benefit be given only to some and not to those who fulfilled their obligation and paid their loans off properly according to its terms?  That seems rather unjust.  Others have suggested that this is actually a Christian thing to do since the Bible talks about forgiving debt, and one translation of the Our Father even prays “Forgive us our debts as we also forgive those who are indebted to us.”  Of course, it’s one thing for you to forgive a debt that’s owed to you personally; it’s quite another thing for the government to do so forcibly on your behalf.

But my purpose here isn’t to get into the politics of this, but to focus on one of the arguments that has come up in this debate which teaches us something about the Gospel and Christian forgiveness.  The argument goes like this: the $10,000 in student loan debts isn’t actually being forgiven, it’s just being transferred; someone else is going to have to pay that debt off–other taxpayers or whomever.  And that is absolutely true.  But what we sometimes miss is that’s always the case with forgiveness.  Someone always has to pay.  To forgive is to say, “I don’t hold this against you.  I’m willing to pay the price for what you did without me getting any payback.  I release you from that.”

Someone always has to pay.  Forgiveness simply means that the one who incurred the debt, who did the wrong, doesn’t have to pay the price because someone else is willing to pay the price for them.  This is true of money debt; it’s true of sin debt.  One way or another, the debt gets paid.

I’ve been asked a couple of times by parishioners–and perhaps you’ve wondered this yourself–why was it necessary for Jesus to have to share in our flesh and suffer and die and shed His blood?  Why couldn’t God simply forgive everyone’s sins simply with a wave of His hand?  Couldn’t God have just said of our sins, “Don’t worry about it” and leave it at that without all the blood and death?  The answer is, “No, not if His justice and mercy are real and true.”  

To sin is to offend against the justice and righteousness of God.  It is to rebel against His commands in favor of doing things your own way.  Your sin is not just the equivalent of getting a few parking tickets, a few minor misdeeds.  According to Scripture, your sin is treason against the King of the Universe.  It is the act of a traitor who wants to take over the Lord’s throne. In the end someone has to pay the price for that.  A just God and Lord doesn’t simply say, “Oh, whatever.”  Such sin, such sinners cannot stand in His presence.  His very nature requires that it be dealt with.  It is written in Hebrews 9, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.”  So the question is, who’s going to pay that price?  Is it you, or is it someone else who is willing to pay it for you?  Someone’s got to pay.

In the Gospel reading, the first servant owed the King an enormous debt, 10,000 talents.  Just one talent was worth about 6,000 denarii, and each denarius was about a day’s wage for an ordinary laborer.  So to pay off a debt of 10,000 talents would take the equivalent of 60 million days of work.  How this servant got into such debt, I don’t know.  But his claim that he could pay it off if he was given enough time is just laughable.  There’s no way he could ever climb his way out of that hole he had dug.

This first servant is a picture of each of us.  We have run up such a tab against God with our thoughts and desires, words and deeds, that we can’t even begin to grasp how big it is.  Even if we spent the rest of our lives trying to make ourselves right with God again, even if we entered into a monastery or convent and devoted every possible moment to making up for our sin and trying to become righteous, it wouldn’t be enough.  All we can do is throw ourselves at the King’s feet and humbly beg for mercy.

And thanks be to God, He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  He’s not in the business of payback.  The Lord has taken pity on you and canceled your debt.  He didn’t just reduce what you owed and put you on an interest-free payment plan.  No, the debt is completely erased.  It’s gone.  You are debt free.  You are forgiven.

Now understand, the debt still had to be paid; just not by you.  The debt is very real; and so the payment must be very real.  Just like the king in the Gospel lost 10,000 talents by forgiving the servant, someone had to absorb your debt.  And that person is the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Our Lord became a human being in order stand in for us and pay what we humans owed.  But since He is also God, the payment He earned was infinite, even as God Himself is infinite.  Jesus took on Himself your debt, your sins, and they were crucified with Him.  By dying in your place, Jesus settled your account with God forever–not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.  And by rising again to life, He earned eternal life for you and restored your relationship with the heavenly Father.  All this He has done without any merit or worthiness in you but only because of His fatherly, divine, goodness and mercy.  You are free from the power of sin, free from hell, free from being afraid of God.  Overflowing forgiveness has been given to you.  Like the servant, you’ve been given a new life, a new start.

Since that is true, since God has answered for all sin at Calvary–for everyone–since it’s all covered by Jesus’ blood, who are we to act otherwise?  Who are we to hold onto what God has let go of and dealt with and done away with, whether it’s our own sin or somebody else’s?

The first servant in the Gospel failed to understand this.  He didn’t seem to see the connection between how his debt had been forgiven by the mercy of the king, and how therefore he was also to be forgiving toward others.  And so he went out and grabbed his fellow servant by the throat and demanded, “Pay me what you owe!”  How could that servant behave the way he did?  It seems to me the only way he could act like that was if he didn’t really trust that his debt was truly forgiven.  Still in the back of his mind he was thinking, “This can’t actually be true.  Sooner or later, the king’s going to be coming for me, and I better build up as much in the way of assets as I possibly can, so that maybe I’ll have a little bargaining power.”  Do you see?  If the servant truly believed that the debt was forgiven, he would have been like a renewed Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Day, a new man, giving away and passing on with cheer the same compassion he himself had received.  Instead he didn’t believe it; he didn’t walk by faith.  And so he put himself outside the king’s mercy and ended up suffering the king’s judgment.  

Jesus issues a very clear warning to us here.  To insist on payback with others is to invite God to get payback with you.  To refuse to forgive others is to refuse to be forgiven by God.  After all, you can’t be on your knees before God and angrily at one another’s throats at the same time.  The attitude of humility before God seeking His mercy is the same attitude we should have toward others in giving mercy.

Someone’s got to pay.  Either you can spend your life making sure other people pay for their sin-debts against you and be consumed by your anger and bitterness and efforts at making them pay for how wrong they were.  Or you can pay using Jesus’ account.  You have this limitless resource that Jesus has earned, that covers all sin–including those sometimes terrible sins that have been done against you.  Jesus accounted and paid for all of it.  With the abundant overflow of His mercy toward you, you are made able to forgive the debts owed to you by others.  Because You have full access to Jesus’ account, you are given to say to others, “I’m going to treat you without a desire for revenge, without a desire for payback, without you having to make it up to me.  I’ll take the hit, since the hit was already absorbed by Christ for both of us.  I release you from your debt to me.  I forgive you.”

Through Jesus God has forgiven the sins of every single human being, even those who won’t repent and believe and be saved.  So also in Christ we forgive even those who won’t say they’re sorry or be reconciled to us.  Forgiveness is not dependent on the repentance of the person who committed the sin but on the actions and the attitude of the one who was sinned against.  You can forgive someone even if the other person hasn’t changed.  Isn’t that how it is with God?  God has forgiven the whole world’s sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It’s all covered.  People may still reject that and refuse to believe that and live outside of that forgiveness; but that’s on them.  If they are eternally condemned, it’s because of their own unbelief.  But what we are given to do is to stand with Christ and offer His mercy.  No sin is greater than God’s forgiveness; and it is by His forgiveness that we forgive others.  When someone does us harm, we remember, “Jesus paid for that sin, too. And if He paid for their sin, it’s no use for me to behave as if He didn’t.”

Real forgiveness like that will always be hard.  But all the truly hard stuff was done by Jesus.  All the sin-debt was transferred to Him–atoned for, punished, taken away, released and gone.  Period.  So when you find it difficult to forgive, or when you find yourself feeling unforgiving again toward a person you’ve once forgiven, the way to deal with that is to return to the cross.  You can’t forgive someone from your heart when your heart is empty.  Fill it with the merciful, debt-releasing words of Christ in Scripture.  Fill it with the sanctifying flood that flows to you from your Baptism into Christ the crucified.  And be filled once again with Jesus’ body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all sins.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Good Creation and New Creation

Genesis 1:1 - 2:3
Trinity 21

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

I’m sure you noticed how long today’s Old Testament reading was.  So much of it repeats!  And yet in this account, and precisely in the repeating, the Lord is teaching and telling us something very important.  Particularly in today’s decaying culture, we dare not zip through the creation narrative as if it’s unimportant or because we’ve heard it all before.  For it is increasingly relevant to some very fundamental issues that our society is grappling with today.

One of the things that gets repeated is the phrase, “It was good.”  “And God saw that it was good.”  “And indeed, it was very good.”  What’s being described there?  This material world that God made, and particularly our physical, earthly bodies that He fashioned and formed.  That’s no minor thing for us to recognize and confess.  For that is precisely what the world is rejecting and distorting and corrupting.

As the world drifts away from belief in an Almighty Creator, it increasingly embraces the old spiritualist pagan notions that divide body and soul and that denigrate our flesh as something lesser or lower than the spirit.  This type of thinking even infects us Christians, where we sometimes think of the body as merely a container for our “true selves” which is our inner spirit.  But your body is just as much you as your soul.  To put it simply, the soul is the unique life of a particular bodily person.  In fact in the New Testament, the word for soul can also be translated as “life.”  Only death rips body and life, body and soul apart in the most unnatural of occurrences.  And so it’s not like in the movies where the spirit or the consciousness of a person can move from one body to another. There aren’t little souls up in heaven waiting to jump down into a body during pregnancy.  No, the soul is the unique life of a particular body.  God  creates both as one at conception.  Only the awful curse of sin and death tears asunder the flesh and spirit that God has joined together.

This is important to remember, because then we will avoid the foolish thinking which says, “My outward behavior and actions don’t have much eternal significance.  It’s what’s on the inside, not the body but the soul that matters.”  This is how people can conduct themselves one way with their bodies, avoiding church or acting sinfully in some way, and then still claim to be very spiritual and have faith in God in their hearts.  They really think that body and spirit can be separated like that.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can willfully and continuously engage bodily in sinful deeds, or willfully refrain from doing bodily good, and that has nothing to do with your heart and your spirit and your faith.  That’s just justifying sin and demeaning God’s created gift of your body.

This sort of pagan thinking has so infected our culture that it’s becoming increasingly common for people to actually talk about one’s gender and one’s biological sex as if they’re two different things, as if you can be one gender in your spirit and a different sex biologically, as if you can have a mismatched body and soul! And then there’s talk of two-spirit people who supposedly have both a male and a female spirit, those who are gender fluid, and on and on it goes.  Your soul’s identity is not based on some feeling or preference that you have, but on the body that God created; it’s as straightforward as that.  “Male and female He created them.”  This doesn’t come from within us; it’s given to us from outside of us. To say otherwise is to reject the Creator and to engage in unbelief and the idolatry of the self.  It is to say that what God created is not good, not right.  

Now, to be sure, humanity’s fall into sin has corrupted all of creation.  And so, too, our maleness or femaleness that God created as good can be corrupted and distorted, and this can show itself even in biological ways in very rare cases.  But those effects of the curse–which must be handled with great compassion–they don’t undo the fundamental truth, reflected even in the DNA of every cell of our body, that God created us male and female, and only male or female.  The answer to the curse of sin as it affects our bodies and souls is not to affirm the curse and call it good, but to seek deliverance from the curse by God’s mercy.  

Our maleness and femaleness is created by God with the built-in purpose of continuing His creative, life-giving work.  Unlike all of our other bodily systems, each of us only have half of a reproductive system.  Male and female together form the wholeness that fulfills the Creator’s purpose of being fruitful in the creation of new human life.  Only those who deny the Creator and the goodness of His bodily creation, who reject male and female as foundational to a God-given sexual union, can support same-sex relationships.  Only a person who rejects the Creator’s words, “Be fruitful and multiply” can call gay marriage good, for by its very nature it is sterile and cannot be fruitful or produce life–and not because of age or a health defect, but by its very nature.  Only male and female together form the completeness of what humanity is.  Even if someone feels same-sex attraction as a natural thing for whatever reason, that doesn’t change matters.  For we are all naturally inclined to sinful desires of some sort, from greed to lust to gluttony to envy to selfish pride.  Just because a desire comes naturally doesn’t mean it’s good or that we should embrace it; we must, each and every one of us, repent of such things.  To be sure, we should deal with all people without hatred and with compassion and love.  But it’s not an act of compassion to condone and accept someone’s sin.  That doesn’t help them.  That’s certainly not the way of real love.  God’s love rather calls us all to turn away from our sins, whatever they are, and turn to Him.  For His desire is to deliver us from the death that sin brings and to give us His life forever.

And the creation account is all about how God gives His life to us.  First, note how God goes about creating.  He doesn’t start with pre-existing stuff.  Rather, He calls things into existence by the power of His Word.  “Thy strong Word did cleave the darkness; at Thy speaking, it was done.”  “Let there be light,” and there was light.  There’s the second thing that keeps getting repeated in this account.  God speaks again and again, saying “Let there be . . .”  God brings life to creation by His Word.  So it was in the beginning; so it has been all throughout history, and so it is still to this very day–it’s all the power of the Word.

Interestingly, the Gospel of John in the New Testament begins just like Genesis, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  Through Him all things were made.”  Through the living Word of His Son, God created everything out of nothing.  The Word, the Son of God, is powerful and creative.  He brings about what He says.  All creatures owe their existence to Christ the Word, whether they know Him or not.  In fact, it is written in Colossians 1 that in Him all things hold together still.  Jesus is the Logos (to use the Greek word); He is the logic, the wisdom of the universe.  The Laws of nature, the intricate complexities of the smallest strand of DNA to the largest galaxy, the beauty and the orderliness and the liveliness of creation all find their source in Jesus.  This is why we hold so firmly to the biblical account of creation and the way our Maker has ordered things.  It’s an essential part of our faith; in the end it’s all about Jesus.  To reject the Creator is also to reject the Savior.  Creation is not a separate topic from the Gospel of Christ.  Christ is intimately involved in creation right from the start.  And the Gospel is all about how Jesus takes His good creation, which is now thoroughly infected with sin and death because of man’s fall, and how He makes all things new, how He brings about the new creation in Himself.

The living Word of God, the eternal Son of the Father, became flesh in order to redeem His fallen creation and restore mankind to life.  Jesus became a part of His own creation in order to renew it.  As your flesh and blood brother, He took your place under judgment and was held accountable for your sins.  Just as all creation groans under the curse with earthquakes and hurricanes and droughts and fires and the like, so Jesus groaned and breathed His last for you on the cross to break the curse of death and to free you from your bondage to decay and destruction.  The shed blood of Christ cleanses you and renews you and puts you right with the Father again.  

And the creation account itself foretells and foreshadows this saving work of Christ.  For there’s something else that keeps getting repeated every day in this narrative.  Notice how the days are marked: it’s not morning and then evening the way we usually think of it, but first evening and then morning, the first day; evening and morning, the second day, and so on.  First it’s darkness, then it’s light.  First it’s the shadow of death, then it’s the light of life.  Jesus dies in the darkness of Good Friday to subdue creation, and then He rises at the dawn of Easter on the first day of the week to be the Light of the world, to put an end to death and to bring about a new creation.  With fallen humanity, it’s first you live, and then you die.  Light then darkness.  But with Christ it’s darkness then light; first death, then the resurrection of the body to life everlasting.  

As Adam was created on the sixth day, the new Adam, Jesus, redeemed man on the 6th day of the week, Good Friday.  Having finished His work, He then rested in the tomb on the seventh day.  And He rose again to recreate our humanity and bring about an eternal eighth day, a day of unending light and life.  The Scriptures say that in the new creation there will be no night.  For the Lord God will be its light at all times, and the Lamb will be its lamp.  We will need no rest; for He Himself is our rest and our peace.  In Jesus the image of God is restored to us.  In Jesus we are made fully human again, prepared–soul and body–to live in the joys of God’s presence.

That’s what the new creation will be, a real, tangible, bodily, renewed world where God Himself dwells with His people.  If material things have no eternal significance, then why would Jesus share in our flesh and blood, die in the flesh, and then rise bodily, even now still being fully human at the right hand of the Father?  It’s because the body is good, and Jesus came to redeem us entirely.  Salvation is not trying to escape out of this creation.  It’s for all things to be made new, for creation to be restored through Christ.  

Do you see how that puts a different perspective on our life in this world?  Our physical lives have great meaning, for God created us to in His image, to be His icons, His presence in the world, to have dominion over creation as His instruments, to continue to set things in order and to bring His life and His self-giving to others.  Remember what’s going to happen at the close of this age: it’s not that we’re going to go to heaven and leave material things behind.  It’s that heaven is going to come to us.  God will dwell with us, visibly in all His glory, and we shall be His people.  That renewing, life-giving presence of our Lord is what makes the new creation what it is.

And you have a very real taste of the Lord’s presence right here and now.  For the creative Word of God is still speaking, saying, “Be still and know that I am God.”  “I forgive you all your sins.”  “This is My body; this is my blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  And  by that Word, the bread actually is His body and the wine actually is His blood, that you may be cleansed and filled with His life and light.  Cling to the Word; believe it that you may receive its blessing.  For only the Word of Christ can recreate you and put you back in order again.  It is written, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”  “Then God saw everything that He had made in Christ, and indeed it was very good.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Remembering the Sabbath Day

Luke 14:1-14
Trinity 17

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

When we hear today’s Gospel reading, it’s pretty easy for us to mock the silliness of the Pharisees.  None of us would think for a minute that it would be bad for someone to be healed on the Sabbath.  God was obviously not forbidding that when He told us to “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”  Why would it be OK for someone to get a trapped animal out of a pit but not OK to help someone trapped and afflicted with some disease?  To us that just seems ridiculous.  It’s easy for us to justify ourselves and think that we certainly would have done better than the Pharisees.

But why is it that the Pharisees were thinking that way?  What did they wrongly believe that led them astray?  They were thinking that the way they would be counted as righteous in God’s sight was by how well they kept His commandments.  And keeping the Sabbath was an important one.  Every seven days they were to stop their work, just like God did on the seventh day of creation.  In their mind, it was an offense against the Creator’s righteousness to do any work, even something good like a healing; there were six other days for that.  Especially someone who was a teacher like Jesus should know better, they thought.  If He was a true prophet of God, He would be setting an example which showed that righteousness comes through obedience to God’s Law.  

Now as Lutherans, we think we’re pretty well defended against the Pharisees’ false teaching.  We’ve rightly had it drilled into us that we’re not saved by our own works, but by Christ alone and what He has done for us.  However, we sometimes then fall into the opposite error of the Pharisees.  I mean, why is it that so many Christians are tempted to just disregard the 3rd commandment?  Why are so many gone from church for weeks and months at a time and are not remembering the Sabbath day? Is it possible that we actually have the same root problem as the Pharisees?  Think about it:  If people believe they can do without the preaching of Christ and the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, there’s only two possible reasons for that: either they don’t think they have any real sins that need to be forgiven, or they think that their own private praying and therapies and efforts at good living are enough to merit God’s forgiveness and favor.  And so Jesus’ words and sacraments become basically non-essential.  Do you see?  It’s the flip side of the same sin, thinking that righteousness comes by what we do, apart from Christ’s divine service to us.  Those who purposely skip church are trusting in their own works instead of Christ’s works.

Now of course, there will be times here and there when you simply can’t make it to divine service because of sickness or an unexpected work obligation and the like.  We don’t want to descend into legalism here.  But imagine if people treated the other commandments the way they do the 3rd.  “I only commit murder a couple months out of the year when the weather is warmer; most of the time I respect human life.” Or “I refrain from adultery, except when the kids have sports or when I’m working (or when there’s a Sunday morning Packer game). Otherwise, I’m a faithful spouse.”  And yet, that’s the way too many talk about remembering the Sabbath day, as it if it were merely a suggestion that was adjustable to our plans and desires.  Even if we thought we didn’t have any need for church at all, still we should be eager–simply because God has commanded it–to hold preaching and His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

It truly is a glad thing to remember the Sabbath day, because it’s not about trying to merit God’s favor by your good church attendance; it’s about receiving God’s favor dished out to you as a free gift in Christ’s preaching and supper.  The Sabbath day is all about us stopping our work so that we can focus on God’s work and receive His work for us in Christ.  That’s where real Sabbath rest and peace is to be found.  This commandment, like all the commandments, is given for our good, not primarily as a burden but as a blessing.

When Jesus healed on the Sabbath day, He was showing precisely what the day is all about.  We gather around the Great Physician to receive His healing mercy and forgiveness.  What the Pharisees failed to see was that in Christ God was the One doing the work here.  Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.  And the Sabbath work that He does saves us and redeems us in both body and soul.  Again, remembering the Sabbath day means that we stop our work and all the activities and busyness of our life to dwell upon on God’s work and receive His divine service to us in Christ.  We focus not on our performance but on what He performs and does for us through His words and water and bread and wine.  And we respond then with glad thanksgiving and praise that confesses what He has done.

Now it is true that this commandment applies to us in the New Testament differently than it did in the Old Testament.  Back then, the day of rest had to be the 7th day of the week, Saturday.  But with Christ’s coming the Law was fulfilled so that the requirement to worship on a particular day no longer applies.  Colossians 2 says, “Sabbaths are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”  The Old Testament day of rest pointed us forward to Him who is Himself our rest and our peace, namely, Jesus.  Why focus on all the Old Testament shadows when the One who is casting the shadow has come!  

Just consider how wonderfully Jesus fulfilled the 3rd commandment for us.  Not only was it his custom to be in the synagogue each Sabbath where the Word of God was preached and taught.  Not only did He love being in His Father’s house, meditating on and talking about the Scriptures.  But He redeemed and renewed the days of creation, including especially the seventh.  On the first day, Palm Sunday, He entered into Jerusalem to do His Father’s business and carry out the work and the mission He had been given.  He taught and labored throughout that week.  On the sixth day He suffered and died to pay for our sins, triumphantly declaring of His work, “It is finished!”  And then what did He do on the seventh day?  He rested in the tomb, sanctifying our graves and making them a holy place of rest from which we shall rise again on the Last Day.  He then brought into being an eternal 8th day, an unending Easter by conquering death for us.  His bodily resurrection has ushered in a new creation, free from the curse of sin, rich with mercy and divine life.  That is why Sunday is called “the Lord’s Day” in Scripture and is the church’s primary day of worship.  Divine Service can happen on any day of the week, of course, but at its center is always the Word of the risen Savior who said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Since the Sabbath is all about God’s work, what Jesus is doing, it is necessary that we come before Him with an attitude of humility.  It’s not about us and our works.  This is His show, His teaching, His meal.  Our place at the table is not something for us to take but for Him to give.  We all come before God as beggars, without any right to exalt ourselves in His presence.  No one here is greater or lesser than another.  Whatever we are is a gift of His grace.  

So instead of jockeying for the places of honor at the table and in this world, Jesus says, “When you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’  Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you.”  So humble yourself before God.  Acknowledge your sin in true repentance, trusting in His mercy.  Do not come to assert your spiritual rights, but come recognizing that it is the Lord’s place to bestow honor and glory, and it your place simply to receive what His good and gracious will gives.  Those who love and honor the Lord in humble faith will be exalted by Him and brought to everlasting glory in the presence of the whole creation.

Jesus put Himself in the lowest place, the place of death, in order to save you.  He bore your shame on the cross to restore your honor.  And now Jesus is exalted to the highest place at the right hand of the Father.  And the good news is that He has raised you up with Himself.  By your baptismal faith you are united with Him in such a way that you share in His exaltation as members of His body.  Remember, this is a wedding feast that Jesus speaks of.  It is the celebration of His holy union with the Church, His bride.  And if He is honored, then she also is honored with Him.

It is written in Ephesians that you who believe are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. That heavenly place is here for you today.  Jesus is here among us at the head of the table.  To every penitent heart He says, “Friend, go up higher.”  “Come, ascend these steps to this holy place.  Share in My honor by receiving My own body and blood.  Be filled with My forgiveness and My life.  Here is your Sabbath rest and healing.  Here is the foretaste of the Last Day when in the resurrection you will go up higher forever.”

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

Procession of Death, Procession of Life

Luke 7:11-17
Trinity 16

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Jesus is walking with His disciples and a large crowd of other followers into the city of Nain.  As they are about to enter the gate of the city, however, they meet up with a large group of people carrying out the casket of a young man, the only son of his widowed mother.  Imagine that scene: A large procession of life comes face to face with a large procession of death.  It’s almost as if two enemy armies are coming together on the battlefield.  Life and Death are about to contend.  Jesus and the grave are about to clash.

In order to do battle well, you must know your enemy.  So Luke here describes this son of the widow as a “dead man.”  No euphemisms to cover anything up.  Just the hard truth–inside that coffin was a dead man.  We would do well to learn from that not to avoid or ignore the realities of this enemy, death, that we face.  We can cover up the truth with embalming and heavy make-up and play syrupy music in the background.  We can use green artificial turf and flowers to cover up the gaping presence of a grave.  Cremation can help us to deny the realities of physical death and decay.  We can work out and eat right and take our vitamins and supplements.  But death is still there on the battlefield, like a legion of orcs waiting to devour and destroy us.

Jesus, however, does not retreat or try to avoid death.  He doesn’t just politely step aside to let the funeral procession pass.  He doesn’t avoid the awkward confrontation.  Instead, He meets this enemy head on.  And He does so out of great love for His people, for you.  It is written here, “When the Lord saw (the widow), He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”  This widow is walking into confusion and uncertainty.  She had felt the pain of losing her husband; now she has lost her only son, the last one to provide for her and take care of her so she wouldn’t be alone.  What would she do now?  The large crowd that followed the widow demonstrated this small town’s sympathy with her plight.  Everyone came out for this funeral.

But Jesus saw the widow and His heart was poured out toward her.  That is the kind of God and Lord we have, One who is moved to help us in our need, who cares and empathizes with us in our fallen condition, who even goes so far as to become a flesh and blood man, our human brother, and fight against death for us to save us.  He doesn’t offer the widow any empty words of comfort, “Just give it time; everything will work out.”  No, He simply says, “Do not weep.”  “Don’t cry.  I’ve come to conquer everything that saddens you and makes you feel alone and cut off and hurt and helpless.  I am here to wipe away every tear from your eyes.”

Then Jesus comes and actually touches the open coffin, and those carrying the dead man stop and stand still.  Pay attention to that!  The procession of death had been marching ever since the Garden of Eden, and nothing could be done by fallen human beings to stop it.  “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”  But in the Garden of Eden there was also a promise given that One who was the Seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head and overcome the power of death.  And now here He is.  Jesus stops the procession of death dead in its tracks.  He alone is the One who can do this.  Only He is the One who can deal with the ceaseless march of death through our lives with all of the sorrow it brings.  

Jesus engages death hand to hand.  By touching the coffin with His hand, Jesus is putting Himself in the place of the widow.  Even today, usually it's only family or close friends who touch the coffin.  Jesus shares in her heartache.  And He shares in your heartache, too, especially if you are one who has lost a spouse or a child or a parent.  It is written of our Lord, “He is . . . a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  

And by touching the casket with His hand, Jesus also is putting Himself in the place of the only son.  For by doing that, Jesus is making Himself ceremonially unclean.  He is allowing the effects of that young man’s death to come upon Him.  And in exchange, He transfers to the young man His own life, to make the young man clean and whole.  The only Son of the Father, Jesus, also became a dead man, to save this young man and all of you as well.

On the cross Jesus touched your casket; He absorbed your death into His own body to save you from it.  Outside the gate of the city at Nain and later outside the gate of the city at Jerusalem, Jesus allowed death to pass from you to Him so that you would be restored to life, cleansed and made whole.  Because the Savior has shared your griefs and sorrows, He has redeemed them.  Because the Savior has shared in your death, He has delivered you from death and gives you now to share in His bodily resurrection to life.

“Young man, I say to you, arise!”  Jesus’ words accomplish what they say.  They are the words of the Creator who brings life out of nothing.  The one who was dead sat up and began to speak.  Jesus presented the young man to His mother.  Just as this son was a gift of God in birth, so now Jesus gives this son again to his mother with the gift of new life.  

That’s how it is in baptism, isn’t it?  Not only is it a gift of God that children are born to fathers and mothers, but now Jesus presents them to Christian parents born again to new life by water and the Word.  Remember, all who are baptized die with Christ.  It’s as if you lose your child at the font, and then gain him or her back forever.  We are crucified with Christ in order that we might also rise with Him to live a new and holy life.  Believing children, then, are given to you parents by God twice over so that, like the widow, you may rejoice with them in the everlasting life Christ bestows.

Even as Elijah stretched himself out three times over the Zarephath woman’s son, God stretched Himself out over you in the threefold application of His name at the baptismal font.  He breathed His Spirit into you, granting you a sure and certain hope which transcends all grief and sorrow.  We must live now by faith, it is true, still under the shadow of our physical death which we must yet experience.  But the life of Christ will be ours by sight in the age to come.  For Romans 6 says, “If we have been united with Him in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection.”

On the day of our bodily death, our souls will be received into the blessedness of heaven.  And on the Last Day our bodies themselves will be raised from the dead, rejoined with the soul to live in Christ’s glory.  Jesus said of us, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  Because I live, you will live also.  Whoever hears my Word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” No longer are we dead in our trespasses and sins.  God has made us alive in Christ through the forgiveness of our sins.

In response to this miracle, holy fear came upon the people, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us,” and “God has visited His people.”  Indeed, God has visited His people in Christ, the greatest of all prophets, the very Son of God raised up from the dead to bring life and immortality to all who take refuge in Him.  Even today, in the midst of your dying condition, He visits you in the holy supper.  You partake of His life-giving body and blood, that medicine of immortality.  The risen Jesus is with you and in you.  He raises you up and creates the faith you need to rely on Him and trust in Him through all your earthly losses.  

And all this He does simply because of His mercy, because His heart goes out to you in compassion.  Remember, the widow never says a word here.  She makes no request.  You might say she doesn’t have a prayer.  And yet with Jesus, she does.  For He will not ignore her.  Our Lord acts not based on anything in us, but because of His own grace and goodness.  It is written, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  If that is how God treated us when we were yet His enemies, how much more should we have confidence in Him now that we are reconciled to Him as His children!  What a comfort to know that in Jesus, God has rescued us from our sin and death even before we could utter any prayer.  And now He hears and answers our prayers through Jesus, even the prayers of our heart that words cannot express.

The name of the city, Nain, means “beauty” or “pleasantness.”  Jesus fulfills that meaning for His people.  Amidst the unpleasantness of grief, He brings you pleasant comfort, and amidst the ugliness of death, He brings you beautiful life.  How fitting, then, are the words which Zechariah spoke near the time of Jesus’ birth: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.”  And He will visit you yet again at His return to bring the procession of life to its glorious destination.  So it is that we confess in the creed, “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Sufficient for the Day

Matthew 6:24-34
Trinity 15

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

Jesus said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  Notice what our Lord says there.  Each day is going to have trouble of some sort.  God never promised that if you just have enough faith and do the right things, then everything will go smoothly for you.  There is no promise that if you’re a Christian you’ll have a life of happiness and pleasure and a comfortable retirement.  Our heavenly Father does promise that He will take care of you according to His good and gracious will.  But that doesn’t mean your lives will be without difficulties and afflictions and crosses.  For our Father in heaven is also at work through those things, too, for your eternal good.  You live under the curse of sin.  Your old Adam needs to be put to death if you are to arise and live forever with the Lord.

So don’t be surprised when times of trial come, when the body starts giving out and you’re flat on your back in a hospital bed, when the finances suddenly take a dive, when it feels like the foundations of your life are shaking beneath your feet.  I’ve seen it happen too often that people are unprepared when this happens to them, and then they wonder if God really cares for them or if He’s punishing them or if He’s even there at all.  And then anxiety takes over.  We should remember  what happened to Job in the Old Testament, how He was afflicted with sores from the top of his head to the soles of his feet.  Job’s wife wasn’t any help; she said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!”  But Job said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?”  Earlier, when Job had lost not only property but even suffered the death of all his children, he grieved greatly, but said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  That’s how faith speaks.  “Though He giveth or He taketh, God His children ne’er forsaketh.”  Faith knows that as long as it’s from the Lord, we can accept whatever He sends in the confidence that He knows what He’s doing, that His ways are far higher than ours, and that He is a loving heavenly Father who cares for His children.  He will not forsake us but will provide us with everything that we need in Christ.

Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel about how our heavenly Father feeds the birds of the air without them having to plant and harvest and store their food in barns.  And you are of much greater value than they are.  He will feed you, too.  But Jesus also says elsewhere that not one of these birds falls to the ground apart from the Father’s will–which means that sometimes it is the will of the Father that they fall to the ground and die.  His caring for the birds does not mean that the effects of the curse are removed from them–or us.  Likewise, what is it that happens to the lilies and grass of the field which God beautifully clothes?  Jesus says that it is here today, and tomorrow it is thrown into the oven as fuel to bake bread.  It has a purpose even in withering away and dying.  We know that there were a number of Christian martyrs who were put to death by being thrown into the fire, burned at the stake.  Would we really say that God had forsaken them, or would we say that there was some greater purpose which He was working in their suffering, their great witness to Christ?  So it is, then, also with us and all His baptized children.

And the fact of the matter is that when it comes right down to it, our worries regarding food and clothing and bodily needs are often over comparatively minor things.  I don’t think that anyone here is in danger of going without a meal or not having food in the fridge or not having any clothes to wear.  Our issue is that we are always wanting something more, something better–to be able to go out to eat more often, to have finer and more flattering clothes.  Our worries are about meeting societal standards, being able to have something to show off on social media.  It’s the fear of missing out, not being able to do and enjoy what everyone else is doing and enjoying, of not being able to live out our dreams.

It’s an interesting phenomenon that rates of anxiety and clinical depression are much higher in prosperous countries than they are in poorer ones.  We have loftier expectations and desires that aren’t being met, and so we’re stressed.  Our worries get exaggerated because we link our identity to mammon, money and material things which by their very nature are untrustworthy and temporary and which create anxiety to hold onto–or because we overspend on these things and get ourselves so into debt that it’s hard to climb our way out of those holes we’ve dug for ourselves.

Of course, some of our worries are not insignificant–when we see loved ones suffering from various afflictions, when we are concerned about a friend or family member who has turned away from Christ and His Church, when we see God’s created order being rejected by the world, when our safety is threatened.  Our Lord’s exhortation not to worry and not to be anxious doesn’t mean that these things that weigh on our mind are unimportant, but that the way we are dealing with them is misguided and not right. 

Jesus is saying here that worry is a symptom of a spiritual problem.  Worry is the opposite of faith and prayer.  Worry is what we do when we doubt that God is really in control or when we aren’t sure that He actually cares and is paying attention.  And so we try to take over His job with our worrying and anxiety.  We think it all depends on us and our plans and our managing of the situation, that it’s all in our hands.  When we’re worrying, we aren’t trusting in Him, are we.  When we’re worrying, usually we’re trying to control what is not ours to control but the Lord’s.
Unbelief worries, but faith prays.  Faith doesn’t deny that there are real problems to deal with; it doesn’t pretend everything will be all rosy if we just try to stay positive.  But faith knows that in the end, everything is in God’s hands, not ours.  And so it looks to Him for help and deliverance  and mercy, confident that He will work all things together for our good just as He has promised us.  By faith we trust in the Scriptures which say, “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all [on the cross], how will He not also with Him freely give us all things that we need?”

And here’s another reason why we shouldn’t worry: it’s an attempt to live in the future, which is impossible and pointless for us.  Worry is the attempt to try deal with the problems of tomorrow and next week and next month and next year all today.  No wonder you feel overwhelmed.  You can’t live in the future; only the God who lives outside of time can deal with the past and present and future all at once.  You’re not God.  So just stick with today.  That’s why Jesus says, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

The Lord graciously invites you to trust that your lives are in the His hands and that He will care for you according to His gracious will, even when it seems like you’re getting to the breaking point.  Do not engage in worry but in prayer.  Worry produces stress, but prayer produces peace.  For it dwells upon the sure words and promises of God.

Prayer says such things as, “Father in heaven, you know all the things I need, even before I ask for them.  You feed the birds of the air, which are a dime a dozen.  Help me to trust that I am more valuable in your sight than the birds and that you will feed and sustain me even in the midst of my troubles.  And dear Father, you splendidly clothe the lilies of the field, even though they are little more than the grass.  Give me to believe that you will also clothe me and take care of me.  Keep me from worrying about tomorrow, and give me a thankful heart for the gifts you give day by day.  The world is passing away, but your Word of mercy and life will never pass away.  It will save and sustain me forever.”

Faith prays in that way because of what Jesus has done.  For He is the One who made us children of the heavenly Father.  In order that we would be delivered from a world that is falling apart and winding down to its end, the eternal Son of God entered into this fallen world as one of us, as our blood brother.  Jesus took upon Himself the curse that our sin has brought on creation.  All the deterioration and the degeneration and the death He endured for us on the cross.  In so doing, Jesus caused death itself to die.  Jesus destroyed the sin that makes everything only momentary and impermanent.  He proved that by coming forth from the grave in power, the beginning of a new creation that will never deteriorate or fall or perish, for death no longer has dominion over Him.

Trusting in Jesus, knowing all that He has done and prepared for us, our worries and fears are calmed.  We can turn away from the wallowing in self-pity and the despair and the anger.  For if God has provided so bountifully for our eternal needs, certainly He will care for us in all the necessities of this temporal life.  And even when the hard times do come, even if it’s all taken away and God’s care seems to have vanished, we know that we who are His chosen, baptized people are not forsaken.  We believe that even when terror and tragedy, sickness and death come, He who created us can and will also recreate us in the resurrection of the body on the Last Day.  So literally nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  And if we have Christ, then we have everything; for all things belong to Him, and in Him all things hold together.  

“Do no worry about your life,” Jesus says.  Work hard, yes.  Plan ahead, certainly.  But don’t worry.  It’s all ultimately in God’s hands, anyway.  Live like who you are, children of the heavenly Father, who has loved you to the point of giving you His own Son with all of His righteousness as a gift.  Give up merely trying to live the good life in this passing world, and seek the truly good life in the eternal kingdom of God.  Set your heart on that, and everything else will be added to you.

To assure you of this, the Father who clothes you and cares for your body has robed you in the white garment of Christ’s righteousness in your baptism.  The Father who gives you daily bread now feeds you Jesus’ true body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  So, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble; that is true.  And remember also these words of Jesus, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

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