As a Bride Adorns Herself with her Jewels. Funeral Sermon.

In Memoriam + Betty Hadala

Fred C. Dames Funeral Home

Isaiah 61:1-3, 10

August 25, 2015

“As a Bride Adorns Herself With Her Jewels”

Iesu Iuva

Ruby, Dale, Neal, Jayme,

All of Betty’s family and friends,

Members of St. Peter Lutheran Church:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

God’s Word for our comfort this morning are these words from Isaiah the prophet: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord…for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10)

 

We are here to give thanks to God for Betty and to commend her, soul and body, into the hands of the Lord who gave her and now has taken her away. It’s hard to do this because we are confronted with pain—hers and ours. She lived the last few years of her life sorely missing her husband and life’s companion, Don. And we are in pain because we have to say goodbye to a kind and gentle woman.

Those are the two things I will remember about Betty—her love for her husband and her gentleness. I can remember sitting with her and looking through old photos, talking about Don’s time in the service and seeing her tears because she so missed him. I also remember her gentle spirit. She was comforting just to be around. I gathered that it was not just me that felt that way. From what I understand some of the young women who worked at Senior Star would come to her to talk about their troubles—probably with boyfriends—and get her advice. She was a comforting presence. And if she was for me and the workers at Senior Star, certainly she was also for Don and you.

Two of the readings for today talk about themes related to weddings. That is appropriate for the day we say goodbye to Betty—not just because she loved her husband so much on earth, but because today she is resting and waiting for the heavenly, eternal wedding of all believers in Christ with Jesus, the heavenly bridegroom.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,” says the Old Testament reading, “because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…to comfort all who mourn….” (Isaiah 61:1-2) The one who is anointed to bring good news and comfort the mourners is Jesus. He came to earth to bring good news to those who were in chains to sin and death—that is, all people. He came to announce freedom from sin and death, to bring comfort from heaven, and to bring joy and rejoicing where there was gloom.

There are probably few occasions on earth happier than weddings. Maybe that’s because weddings represent hope for the future. The older we get, the more we experience the vanity and futility of this world which is the result of Adam’s sin. We work our whole lives and then someone comes after us and does whatever he wants to with the work of our hands. We grow to love more deeply as the years go by our spouse and family, only to be parted from them by death. But a wedding signifies hope. It’s a man and woman pledging for better or worse to be one flesh so long as they both shall live. Why would you do that unless you had hope that there would be a happy ending to your story, despite all evidence to the contrary?

But the hope that springs from human love is not enough to save us. As great as the power is of a love of a man for a woman, it isn’t strong enough to overcome the curse on us for Adam’s disobedience to God, and our own. We find ourselves in the place Isaiah describes—brokenhearted, in chains to sin and death. Even gentle souls like Betty, even those human beings regard as good, are born in sin and bound by death.

But Jesus comes to us anointed by God to bring comfort and to prepare us for His wedding. He came into the world to break the bonds of death and sin. He came and still comes to proclaim liberty and joy to the captives of sin, death, and the devil.

Jesus proclaims that though we live in the valley of the shadow of death, death’s hold on us is broken. It is broken because He, the Son of God, became one with us in our humanity. He was born of a virgin and laid in a manger-cradle. He came that way to be united to us and to pay our debt to God so that we might be His beloved bride for eternity. As Jesus grew older, nothing in His appearance gave away that He was the all-glorious Lord, the Creator who lives forever and ever. He looked in every way like one of us. He was subject to the same sweat and toil as we are. He was subject to the curse of futility that is on the earth because of sin. Jesus went to funerals and mourned over death. He did this so He could be made like us in every way except for sin.

Then in the last 3 years of His life He was anointed to preach good news to the poor. He began to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to those who were poor and brokenhearted. Sin is the cause of death and every evil. It isn’t something we can cure because it infects our will, heart, and mind to their very core. But Jesus came proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. God cancels all sin for those who believe in Christ. And those who believe in Christ are dressed up in beauty as a bride for her husband.

Jesus not only preached the forgiveness of sins. He also made it happen. He gave His life, which was without any stain of sin, as a ransom for His bride, as a payment that her sin and guilt might be cancelled. This is why the prophet says: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Is. 61:10) This is how Jesus makes us ready to come to the wedding of eternal life and be joined to Him as His bride. We are not beloved to Christ and pleasing to Him because we strive to make ourselves beautiful by living a holy life, although we do that. But He has made us holy and beautiful and without blemish. He paid in full for our sins by His death on the cross. And now He clothes us with the glorious garments of salvation and righteousness the way that a bride comes down the aisle in her wedding dress. He gives us the wedding garments of salvation as a free gift, through faith in Him alone.

That is why Jesus summons us to rejoice for Betty today. To the flesh it looks like she has lost. But she has really won. Death is the beginning of her victory. Because she was clothed with the garments of Christ’s holy life and death when she was baptized. In those holy garments she drew near and received the bread and the cup of the heavenly wedding feast—the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. That means we lay the body to rest not of one who was enslaved to sin and death, but one who had been made free. She has been made free from death and corruption by Jesus, her heavenly bridegroom. Betty loved Don and Don loved her.   But the love of their heavenly bridegroom is even stronger than their love. It destroys sin and swallows up death. So we rejoice that Betty lives and rests with Jesus today. She is not separated from the bridegroom who rose from the dead. But we also rejoice that this body that we lay to rest will also be united with Christ. He will return and raise all the dead with His voice. And those who believed and were baptized into Him will rise with the glorious wedding garments He has given them. They will rise with glorified, immortal bodies that shine with the glory of God forever. Jesus covers us with salvation’s clothes and righteousness’ robe in this life through the proclamation of His death for us. But on that day we will see them with our eyes, together with all who have died in faith in Christ—Don, Betty, and all you who believe in Jesus. And above all we will see our heavenly bridegroom, Jesus, together.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Jesus’ Groan. 12th Sunday after Trinity, 2015.

12th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 7:31-37

August 23, 2015

“Jesus’ Groan”

Iesu iuva

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” says St. Paul in Romans chapter 8. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility…in hope that the creation itself will be set free from corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:18-23)

 

Groaning. Paul says creation is groaning with birth pains, waiting for the revealing of God’s Sons. In the Gospel reading today Jesus groans. It says, “sighs” in our translation, but it is the same word Paul uses in Romans chapter 8.

Paul says creation is groaning as it waits for God’s Sons to be revealed. When God’s sons are revealed, then creation will be set free from futility and corruption.

Not only creation groans. We groan, says Paul. Christians groan. “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Why do we groan? We are waiting for the same thing as creation. We are waiting for the redemption of our bodies, when we will put off death, futility, corruption, and put on glorious, immortal, resurrected bodies.

And not just we and the creation groan. The Holy Spirit also is groaning. “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

 

Groanings too deep for words are what comes from Jesus’ body as He sighs over this deaf and mute man. “And taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, He sighed (or groaned) and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘be opened.’”

Jesus is not just groaning over this deaf and mute man. He is groaning over the futility and corruption that binds all creation.

“’Vanity of vanities,’ says the preacher, ‘Vanity of vanities. All is vanity! It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 13-14)

 

Jesus is groaning as with labor pains to bring in the new creation that God has promised. In the new creation there is no more death and no more futility, no more sickness and infirmity. In the new creation there will be life and the glory of God.

“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:22-23) And the new creation will appear when the sons of God appear. Right now God’s sons are hidden. They are subject to death and futility like the rest of creation. But when God’s sons are manifested, then creation will be transformed. God’s glory will not be hidden, but will give light to creation like the light of the sun.

But that is not yet. God’s sons are not yet revealed. How could they be? Even God’s only-begotten Son is not yet revealed except through the preaching of the Word. When He was on earth Jesus was subject to the same futility as us. He lived in a world that was always dying because it was under God’s curse. And Jesus was not visibly any different from the rest of human beings. He “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:7) Though He was the Son of God “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death…even though He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered.” (Hebrews 5:7-8) Jesus’ glory was hidden, even though He was “the Word made flesh.” He was the world’s Creator, yet He was made like His brothers in every respect (Hebrews 2:17)—His brothers being the sons of God—you and me. He was made subject to futility and death. That is why Jesus sighs and groans over this deaf man. He is groaning as in labor pains that this man and all of us might come into the “freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21)

 

What this groaning means is that He, the Creator, has taken the curse of vanity and futility caused by sin upon Himself. Creation is in bondage to death and corruption, and so are we. Our groans would not be the groans of childbirth, but the groans of death, except for the fact that our God has taken on Himself our groaning. He groans and sighs here to God as a great high priest for this deaf and mute man who is brought to Him. He takes his deafness and muteness upon Himself and brings it to the Father, groaning.   And the Father hears His sighs just as He heard the groans of Israel in slavery. We are in slavery, in bondage to corruption and futility and vanity, and Jesus groans the groans of our slavery.

Then after He has groaned and taken the anguish of the man’s bound ears and tongue to God, He returns from the presence of God as a priest does, with blessing for those for whom He has interceded. He comes out from the glorious presence of God and with shining face speaks a word of glory, freedom, and new creation—“Ephphatha”—that is, “be opened.” In the flood the windows of the heavens and the fountains of the deep were opened to destroy and cleans the earth, but here the Word of God opens the closed ears and mouth of the deaf man to the world outside him. He is opened to creation.

In the same way Jesus took our bondage upon Himself at Gethsemane and Calvary that He might speak the word of glory and freedom to us after His resurrection—the word that opens us to the new creation. He groaned in the bonds of our corruption in the garden, sweat poured from Him like great drops of blood, and He groaned as He surrendered to the bonds of death for us. Nailed to the cross, He groaned in the presence of God as He was forsaken for us and became the ransom-offering for us. He groaned in anguish as He paid for us to be set free from death and corruption, from futility and hell.

And on the third day when He exited the tomb and appeared to the disciples with a shining face, after having made intercession with God for us, He spoke a glorious Word of freedom. “Peace be with you. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.” Just as He loosed the bond of this man’s tongue and opened His ears, He forgave His disciples their sins, loosed them and gave them the key to loose the bonds of sin.

That is what the groaning of God’s Son merits us—a new creation. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” says St. John, “for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21: 1, 3-4) When Jesus pronounces our sins forgiven through a man, the pastor or another brother in Christ, the former things have passed away. The old has gone and the new has come and we are a new creation.

When the water pours on the baby’s head with the name of the Triune God, Jesus glorifies that baby and sets it free from bondage to sin and death. He glorifies and pronounces us sons of God in Baptism and the absolution. The old has gone, the new has come. Jesus’ miracles were signs that the kingdom of God was among them, about to break out into the new creation. Today His Word and Sacraments are the signs that the kingdom of God is among us, and that the sons of God will soon be revealed among us who participate, who commune, in the only Son’s flesh and blood.

Jesus groaned for us in Gethsemane and on the cross. Now, risen from the dead and glorified, He says, “Be opened. Your sins are forgiven.” His word glorifies and liberates from corruption and sin everyone who believes it. It opens our ears to hear the glorious news of salvation, and looses our tongues to praise God and proclaim Christ’s name to those around us. Just as at creation God looked at everything He made and saw it was very good, so He looks at us who have received the firstfruits of the new creation, the Holy Spirit, and pronounces us “very good,” for the death and resurrection of Jesus covers us. And now we groan, not in despair, but with eager longing for that glory which is ours to be revealed when Christ is revealed in His glory. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)

 

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Things That Are Unseen. Funeral Sermon.

In Memoriam + Lois B. Holmstrom

Blackburn-Giegrich Funeral Home

2 Corinthians 4:13-18 (Psalm 42, Isaiah 25:6-9, Luke 16:19-31)

August 22, 2015

“The Things that are Unseen”

Iesu Iuva

Beloved in Christ:

Bill,

Carol and Dale,

Joyce and Tom,

David, Jonathan, Eric, and Jennifer

All Lois’ friends and family,

Members of St. Peter Lutheran Church—

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Word of God for our comfort this morning is found in all the readings from Scripture that we just heard, but we focus especially on these words from 2nd Corinthians:

”For this slight, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

 

In 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 the apostle writes, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) And in church before communion we sing: “It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all place give thanks to You, Holy Lord.” So perhaps strangely, though this is a day of grief and mourning, it is also a day of thanksgiving to God. Because it is God who gave you such a beloved wife, mother, and grandmother. It’s because she was such a good gift from God that it aches so much now that she is taken away for a little while.

So then let us give thanks to God for giving us Lois. For 85 years she was permitted to give and receive much good on earth. She was born on January 29, 1930, during the first winter of the great depression. By God’s grace she was brought by her parents to be received by Christ in Holy Baptism, to be washed in the bath of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. She was confirmed 13 years later, having been instructed in the chief parts of the Christian faith from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, and having confessed Christ before the gathered congregation. And nine years later, a little after Easter, she was joined in Holy Marriage to Bill Holmstrom, with whom she spend 63 years.

The Lord blessed them with two daughters. And we give thanks not only for the joy Lois was given when those daughters were born, but also for the lives of Carol and Joyce, whom Lois brought into this world and nurtured. You remember her as a devoted mother who stayed at home and was a good cook and seamstress. The world today doesn’t regard being a mother and a wife and taking care of the home as a great thing, but God looks at things differently. Through His apostle Paul He commends women who “marry, bear children, and manage their households” (1 Timothy 5:14). If only there were more women today who were able to devote their full strength to raising children and loving their husbands! Lois not only served the Lord in her calling as a mother and wife. She taught children God’s Word in Sunday School, was a member of the Ladies’ Aid at St. Peter. She faithfully attended the services of God’s house, and when infirmity made that impossible, she faithfully received Christ’s Word and His body and blood at home.

We give thanks to God for these things and for all the good God permitted Lois to give and receive in her life on earth. And now we commend to God the soul He created, which He gave to you and now He has taken away.

We have one other thing that we should mention in giving thanks for Lois. She also gave us an example of faithful endurance of suffering. The truth of the matter is that we don’t always feel like giving thanks to God in every circumstance, at all times and in all places. We often have the experience of the Psalmist in Psalm 42. Our soul thirsts for God, for the living God, and yet we seem only to receive tears to eat and drink: “My tears have been my food, day and night, while they say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’” God seems to be far away, and our soul is cast down and in turmoil within us.

Why do we feel this way? Because we suffer and God does not seem to deliver us. Lois experienced this. She bravely bore with a great deal of pain all the time I knew her. Sometimes I didn’t know what to say to her. She was a godly woman who read the Scripture and prayed, and yet it seemed during the time that I knew her that God didn’t give her much relief from her pain.

And our verse today from 2nd Corinthians says, “This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Cor. 4:17) But Lois’ affliction didn’t seem light and momentary. It seemed long and heavy. And it may be, in fact it probably is, that many of us here today have afflictions of one kind or another that do not seem slight or momentary. Even in the story Jesus tells in the Gospel, the poor man Lazarus suffers his entire life until he dies. How can Paul say that kind of suffering is slight or momentary?

Paul calls the suffering we endure in this life “slight and momentary” because he isn’t looking at the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen. He’s looking at our present troubles through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus changes the frame in which we see our pain.

When we look at suffering apart from Jesus’ resurrection, it is overwhelming. Life is short, and so much of it seems to be taken up by trouble and pain. We say, “How long, Lord? I’m not going to live forever.” Lazarus spent his whole life on a sickbed, begging and barely receiving anything. What kind of life is that? When we are afflicted we see our lives the same way.

Paul wasn’t unfamiliar with that kind of pain. His missionary efforts didn’t result in great earthly success. He planted small congregations that had plenty of troubles, and his reward for it was beatings, imprisonments, riots, and finally death. If Paul looked at what was seen in his life, it would have seemed like his life as an apostle of Christ was a waste.

Btu Paul doesn’t look at the things that are seen. He has his eyes fixed on the resurrection of Jesus and the unseen blessings that are his as a result of the resurrection. He believes that Jesus has risen from the dead and says, “We also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also and bring us with you into His presence.” (2 Cor. 4:13-14)

 

Because we believe Jesus rose from the dead, we also believe that God will raise us and bring us into His presence. That is because Jesus, the Son of God, suffered and died for our sins. He was handed over for our sins, but was resurrected for our justification, that we might be declared righteous and free from all our sins. It’s as Isaiah prophesied—in His death and resurrection Christ the Lord swallowed up “the covering or the shroud that is cast over all peoples…[He has] swallowed up death forever.” (Is. 25:7-8) He destroyed our sin and death by His suffering and death, and when He was resurrected from the dead it was for us as well. His resurrection is the guarantee that God will resurrect those who belong to Jesus.

Viewed in this light, our affliction really is slight and momentary. We have pain while this life lasts. Some have more and some have less, but we all have it. But when we look not at the pain we see, but the resurrection and glorification of Jesus that we do not see, our suffering appears how it really is, slight and momentary. Because God has prepared for us “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” After we have suffered a little while, we fall asleep. Then Christ will raise these bodies that have suffered in glory. They will share in the glory of God. God’s glory will shine from these bodies that have been subject to death. These eyes that have wept tears will see the face of God and be satisfied forever. Then we will see what is unseen, while now we can only look to what is unseen. Then we will see. And it will not be for a month, or a year, or even eighty years—it will be for eternity. “For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

 

“It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’” (Is. 25:9) We will say “This is the Lord,” because we will see the face of Christ that was hidden from us when our souls were cast down within us. We will see Him, who we feared had abandoned us, and then we will be vindicated before a world that said to us, “where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10)

 

For Lois, that glory has already begun. She didn’t seek her good things in this life among the things that are seen; she sought them at the right hand of God, where Christ is seated. Like poor Lazarus, when she died, the angels carried her soul to rest with Father Abraham and all the saints who are reclining on Jesus’ breast. She is comforted. She had pain on earth but now she has eternal comfort. It begins now, but the day will come soon when we will see her comfort with our own eyes, on the day when Jesus returns to the earth with the sound of a trumpet and raises Lois and all the dead from their graves. Then this body that suffered will have every tear wiped away by God’s hand.

Why will this happen? Because Jesus Christ was crucified for her sins and yours. And Lois firmly believed that God raised Him from the dead. That was the guarantee that God will raise her also. Jesus’ death and resurrection was not for Himself but for us. He died to blot out our offenses before God and He was raised as the firstfruits, so that all who are in Him will follow where He has gone. Lois was in Christ. She was made a participant in His death and resurrection in her Baptism. She believed His Word. And she received the body and blood of Jesus that was given and shed for her.

Now as we go forth to commit her body to the earth, we go as those who have also been included in Christ. We too were baptized in His name. There Jesus promised that His death and resurrection apply to us. In His Word He declares Himself risen and promises us that He will raise our bodies also. And so we go to the grave not looking at the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen. To our eyes, death seems to have the victory. But unseen, Jesus stands risen from the dead at the right hand of God. He is preparing a place for us there, an eternal place in the glory of God. That is what lies beyond this slight and momentary affliction. So testifies the Risen One, the Son of God.

Amen. The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

Trinity 11, 2015–Justified and Exalted.

11th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:9-14

August 16, 2015

“Justified and Exalted”

Iesu Iuva

Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?

                Who may live on your holy hill?

                He whose walk is blameless

                And who does what is righteous. Psalm 15:1-2

 

Who will live forever? Who will be honored to sit at the right hand of God? Who will receive God’s praise?

The Bible says: the righteous person. The just person. The one God finds to be righteous is the one He exalts. “Whom He justified, He also glorified,” says Romans 8.

Many people today think that God isn’t concerned about righteousness. God accepts everyone, righteous or not. So goes the thinking of the world. Just about everyone goes to a better place when they die.

But that is not the testimony of the Scriptures. The Bible doesn’t picture a God who is unconcerned about righteousness. The God of the Bible came down in fire on Mount Sinai to speak His ten commandments. There was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled…Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it with fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Exodus 19:16-19 The people were so terrified they were shaking with fear. God has no pleasure in unrighteousness. He wants His commandments kept.

Psalm 11 says:

The Lord examines the righteous,

                But the wicked and those who love violence

                His soul hates.

                On the wicked He will rain

                Fiery coals and burning sulfur;

                A scorching wind will be their lot.

                For the Lord is righteous,

                He loves justice;

                Upright men will see his face. (v. 5-7)

 

God does not leave us in doubt as to what righteousness is. “So then the law is holy and the commandment is holy, righteous and good,” says Romans 7 (:12). Do the commandments of God and you will be doing what is righteous. His commandments begin with our obligation to Him and then tell us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The first three commandments tell us to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, to use His name in prayer and thanksgiving and not for lying and cursing, and to keep the Sabbath by gladly hearing His Word. First and foremost, a righteous person is a worshipper of God. First He trusts God, hears His Word, and prays, and from this comes love toward his neighbor.

But no one who disregards God’s commandments is righteous.

Since that is true it makes sense that a person would want to be found not only to be a hearer of God’s commandments but also a doer of them. It makes sense that we would want to be those who keep God’s commandments. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable appears to have wanted to be among the righteous who keep God’s commandments. He avoided immoral conduct like greed and adultery. He tithed on everything he had, which meant he gave ten percent of his income and possessions as an offering to God, as His Law in the Old Testament commanded. He also fasted twice a week, which God’s Law did not command. He seemed to live a strict, God-fearing life, even going beyond the commandments of God.

But God was not satisfied with the Pharisee’s works. He did not regard the Pharisee as righteous and therefore worthy of eternal life. He did not justify him.

Why not? Because God doesn’t justify the hearers of His Law but the doers of His Law. He does not judge us by comparing us to other people, as the Pharisee judged himself. He regards us as righteous if we have actually fulfilled His will. When a rich ruler comes to Jesus later in this same chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, he asks Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds, “You know the commandments—do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.” (Luke 18:18-20) The answer to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life,” “what must I do to be righteous in God’s sight” is—you must keep the Ten Commandments. The Pharisee never claims to have done that. He thanks God that he is not like the rest of humanity, which is wicked. While he accurately diagnoses human beings—that they are filled with all manner of wickedness—he fails to judge himself rightly because he compares himself to others instead of God’s law. Everyone who transgresses God’s commandments in the smallest point is under God’s curse, because it is written “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything that is written in the book of the Law.” (Galatians 3:20) If a person has a covetous heart, he has transgressed the Law of God as much as any thief; if a person is lustful, he is unrighteous just like any adulterer. “Until heaven and earth disappear,” says Christ, “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18) The Pharisee comes to God and asks for nothing. He boasts and thanks God that he is not as bad as other sinners. And God finds him guilty, just as surely as God finds you guilty if you consider yourself righteous because you have done better, lived better, than others. Never look at yourself in relation to other people when it comes to your standing before God. Look at yourself in the mirror of the Ten Commandments, and you will have a true sense of what you look like before God, and what kind of prayer you should bring to Him.

That’s how the tax collector in Jesus’ parable evaluates himself. He doesn’t tell us that he read the ten commandments in preparation for coming into the temple (which is, by the way, a good way to prepare for confession and absolution and the receiving of the holy body and blood of Christ—reading the Ten Commandments.) No, Jesus doesn’t tell us that he examined himself in the light of the Ten Commandments. We know it from what he says. He calls himself—not a person who makes bad choices sometimes, not a good person who means well. He calls himself “a sinner.”

Tax collectors had a bad reputation. They were regarded as sinners, whether or not they called themselves that, because commonly tax collectors made themselves rich by charging extra taxes and putting some of that extra in their pockets. When a tax collector went to the temple it was about like a drug dealer or a stripper coming to church. People would look at him as if to say, “What are you doing here?”

And so the tax collector enters the temple. But he comes in the temple with actions and words that speak a different message than that of the Pharisee. They show “a broken and contrite heart” which Psalm 51 says are “the sacrifices of God [which He] will not despise.” (v. 17) Because he doesn’t come into the temple acting like God owed him something, like the Pharisee. He comes but doesn’t look up to heaven when he prays. He stands far off—one would assume far off from God’s presence in the sanctuary, but maybe away from everyone else, too. He beats on his chest, a sign of great mourning. And he says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

 

By saying he was a sinner he was saying just the opposite of what the Pharisee said. Not, “thank you that I’m good,” but, “I know that I am bad.” A sinner doesn’t have a claim on anything from God but His anger. In fact, the Law of God doesn’t hold out any hope for those who break it. It proclaims that God is a jealous God and that He punishes those who hate Him, which is what disobedience to His commandments is—hatred of God. The Law doesn’t hold out hope to sinners. In fact it proclaims with certainty that God will punish them. Because God is righteous, and His Law is righteous, and the unrighteous, the wicked, His soul hates, as Psalm 11 said.

Yet this tax collector has hope. He says, “God, be merciful to me.” The word in the original language is “be propitiated toward me.” That means, “God, let Your anger be turned away from me and Your favor come to me.”

Now, how did it enter into the tax collector’s head to pray this. Was it just some kind of shot in the dark, hoping to win the spiritual lottery, that maybe God would cancel His offenses and let His righteous wrath against the tax collector’s sin pass by? That would be a pipe dream, a vain hope. God is righteous and because He is righteous, unrighteousness, lawlessness, sin, and sinners must be punished.

No, the tax collector was basing his prayer on the Gospel, the good news that has been proclaimed by Scripture alongside of God’s holy law since the fall of man into sin. The tax collector prayed and trusted in the same thing that the saints of the Old Testament trusted in for salvation. They didn’t trust in their works, but in the promise of God to remove their sins, to justify them without the Law. Because David believed God would do this, after he stole another man’s wife and murdered him, he prayed: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1-2) Because David believed that God would justify sinners apart from the Law, apart from their deeds, he prayed, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him, and in whose spirit is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2)

 

In the Gospel, another righteousness is revealed than the righteousness of the Law. The righteousness that is by the Law says, “The man who does these things will live by them.” (Romans 10:5) The righteousness revealed in the Gospel is the righteousness God has prepared for those who are under the curse of the Law because they have not kept it.

The righteousness revealed in the Gospel is the righteousness of Christ. He fulfilled all the commandments of God. He had no other gods, never misused God’s name, kept the Sabbath, always gladly hearing and learning God’s Word, always honored His parents, never spoke a word in hate, never harbored bitterness in His heart, never lusted, never stole, never slandered or gossiped, never coveted. He was righteous in thought and deed. Because He was righteous He merited God’s praise; He deserved to be declared righteous and to be exalted by God.

But instead He humbled Himself. He made Himself nothing and took the form of a slave. He humbled Himself to bear responsibility for our sins, for the sins of the world’s tax collectors and the sins of the world’s Pharisees, for Cain’s sins and for Abel’s, and for all the iniquity and wickedness from Adam to the end of the world. “And being found in appearance as a man He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8) He died a cursed death for everyone who was under the curse of the Law, because it is written “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13) And by His death He redeemed us from the curse of the Law. He did not deserve to die, but He subjected Himself to death as though He was a sinner like us.

Here you can see how the righteousness of the Pharisee and all self-righteousness is directly opposed to the righteousness of Jesus. In our self-righteousness we exalt ourselves and claim we are not like other men. We are not like all the other sons of Adam who deserve death and hell, we claim. We try to raise our heads above the rest of humanity. But in reality we are no better than our brothers. We are transgressors, unrighteous, wicked in thought, word, and deed. But Jesus really was not like the rest of mankind. He was true God, and in Mary’s womb He became a true man. But He was born without the stain of Adam’s guilt and He never disobeyed God’s holy Law. He really was not like us, but He made Himself like us. He suffered with us, was weak like us, was tempted like us. Then He died like one of us, as though He had sinned. And just like we deserve for our sins, He experienced abandonment by God.

That is what the tax collector and we deserve—to beat our chest and weep and gnash our teeth forever because we are abandoned by God for our sins. But instead God has heard the crazy, seemingly impossible plea of the tax collector—“Be propitiated toward me, the sinner!” He has heard our pleas for mercy, too. He blotted out our transgressions in the suffering of His only-begotten Son. And because His judgment fell on His Son, it is no longer directed toward us who believe in Jesus. It is quenched and His favor is turned toward us. He has justified us—declared us to be righteous—through faith in Jesus Christ.

Who may dwell in God’s tabernacle and on His holy hill? The righteous. And the righteous man is the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5). The righteous man is justified, declared to be righteous, apart from the Law, through faith in Christ alone. That’s why the tax collector went home justified. We don’t hear that he quit being a tax collector or started to restore what he stole.   That’s not because he wouldn’t have begun to turn away from his sin and do good works. He would have; that’s the necessary fruit of repentance and faith in Jesus. But it doesn’t tell us that in Jesus’ parable because the tax collector was justified before he began to change his life. God regarded him as righteous the moment he was sorry for his sins and trusted in the propitiation God was going to provide in Jesus’ death.

That’s how we receive the comfort the hymn of the day had us sing of, when we sang

And to this our soul’s salvation

                Witnesses Your Spirit, Lord,

                In Your Sacraments and Word.

                There He sends true consolation

                Giving us the gift of faith

                That we fear not hell nor death.

In the Word and Sacraments, in preaching, and Baptism, and Absolution and the Holy Supper, Jesus invites us to believe that in spite of our many sins we are regarded as righteous by God.

As Christians we continue to see and experience our sinfulness. We see our unbelief, our lack of fear of God, our other sins, and sometimes we say, “I hope I’m really a Christian. I hope I go home justified today. I hope I have heaven to look forward to when I die.” In the Sacraments and the Word Jesus, who has been exalted to heaven, justifies and exalts us. In His resurrection He left all the sin He had died for behind forever. On the cross sin and God’s wrath met in Him. Blood poured from His body and grief and anguish from His soul. But in His resurrection sin is as far from Him as heaven from earth. It is removed and destroyed. And in Baptism He pledges that we are united with Him in His exaltation. In the Holy Supper He gives us His crucified flesh and blood that blotted out our sins. There and in the Word He gives us the gift of faith so that we believe that His propitiation applies to us. Jesus has been justified, declared free of sin and exalted to the Father’s right hand. From there He gives the forgiveness of sins in the Word and Sacraments and assures us that we are justified in the midst of our ongoing struggle with sin.

And if you are justified, you are also exalted. Who does God exalt? With whom is He well-pleased? Who will dwell on His holy hill and in His tabernacle? The righteous person. Not the one who appears to be better than others in His own eyes. The one who God declares just. And that person is the one who without works believes in Jesus Christ. That person goes home to his house regarded by God as having fulfilled the whole law. And if God regards us that way, who will say otherwise? If God justifies, who is to condemn? And if God justifies us, He also exalts us. We have His favor in this life and we can boast before Satan and the world that we are pleasing to God. And we have in front of us a glorious hope-not merely that we go home to our house justified, but that God will welcome us into the heavenly mansions as His righteous ones, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. That’s what Jesus invites us to in His Word and Sacrament.

Your great love for this has striven

                That we may from sin made free

                Live with You eternally.

                Your dear Son Himself has given

                And extends His gracious call

                To His supper leads us all.

 

Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria

Trinity 10, 2015–The Things that Make for Peace with God

10th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 19:41-48

August 9, 2015

“The Things that Make for Peace with God”

Iesu Iuva

Jesus approaches Jerusalem, riding on a donkey’s colt. Around Him is the crowd that has greeted Him with palm branches as the King who comes in the Name of the Lord. They are rejoicing because He is coming to the city of God, the city where God dwells in the temple. They believe that when He arrives peace will come to Jerusalem and from there to all the earth.

But when Jesus sees Jerusalem rising in the distance he begins to weep. “If you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace,” He cries. “But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Peace is not going to be the result of His coming, but rather devastation. The enemies of Jerusalem will besiege it, burn it and its temple to the ground, slaughter hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants. All this will happen because they did not know the time of their visitation by God. They did not know the things that belonged to their peace.

Jerusalem thought that it already had peace with God. All the cities on the earth were filled with temples dedicated to the worship of demonic idols. But Jerusalem was built around the temple dedicated to the one God who made earth and heaven. All day long the blood and smoke of sacrifices poured out in pagan cities to honor those that were not gods at all. But in Jerusalem every morning and evening a whole bull burned on the altar to remember and honor the Lord. Every day the priests that God Himself had ordained carried out the duties of the divine worship that He had assigned them. They offered sacrifices for sin, sacrifices of thanksgiving. They burnt incense in the Most Holy Place before the presence of the Lord. Once every year they entered behind the curtain into God’s presence on earth and sprinkled blood to make atonement for the people, so that the Holy God could dwell in the midst of sinners and not destroy them. All these practices were carried out regularly. God had commanded them. And the leaders of the people of Jerusalem believed that through them they had peace with God. They believed He was pleased with them because they performed the worship He commanded.

But now Jesus is saying that God is not at peace with them. The things that belong to their peace are hidden from them. They are actually at war with God despite their temple and sacrifices. And Jesus weeps for them because He knows that the only result of warfare with God is destruction.

The blood of bulls and goats cannot make peace with God. God commanded that these sacrifices be made, but they could not take away God’s wrath against sinners. The leaders of Jerusalem didn’t know this. They didn’t know the things that belonged to their peace. So Jesus entered the temple in anger and zeal to clear it out and make room for His own teaching, which does give peace with God.

The world is no different today. It doesn’t know the things that make for peace with God. Today people don’t perform blood sacrifice to God. In fact more and more any kind of public honor and worship of God seems to be declining. People believe that they have peace with God without being involved in the public worship of His name. They believe that they have peace with God without any sacrifices. They believe that God lets just about everyone into heaven when they die, as long as they have made some effort to be good or at least have a good excuse. They don’t believe that God is angry with us because of our lack of fear, love, and trust in Him and because of our selfishness toward our neighbor. They think they already have peace with God.

But to stubbornly trust in your own goodness when God calls you to repent is warfare with God. Our world is at war with God. They reject the peace that God sends. He sends His Son in our flesh to give us peace with Him. But the world doesn’t believe it needs Jesus. God is already at peace with us, it insists.

Even within the visible boundaries of the Church, there are many who do not know the things that make for peace with God. They say they believe in Jesus but they live like those who reject Him.   Jesus visits us in the Church. He comes to us in flesh and blood in His preaching and in His supper. He teaches us and gives Himself to us. But man y who have the name of Christians don’t come out to Jesus when He visits. They act like our world, which believes it has God apart from Christ. They say they believe in Jesus, but they ignore Him and stay away from Him when He comes.

And what about those of us who are here, who do come to hear Jesus when He visits us? Aren’t we often like the people in the temple? They were so distracted with their work of buying animals for sacrifice that they missed the whole point of the public worship of the temple. It wasn’t so that people could make sacrifices and thereby merit God’s pleasure and peace. The purpose of the temple worship was to put before the people’s eyes their sin and their need of a priest to make satisfaction for it. The sacrifices and the priesthood of the temple were not what made peace with God, but they pointed to what was coming that would truly make peace and purify from sin.

The things that make for peace with God are also not all our works and efforts to care for the church, even though those efforts are necessary and good. The things that make for peace with God are Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. There God provided a spotless lamb, a man who was innocent from all stain of sin and who was God with the Father from eternity. He was given by God the Father to make peace for us by His agony, suffering, and death in our place. God is not pleased with us without a sacrifice. In that respect the ancient world was smarter than our world today. They knew there needed to be a sacrifice of blood to remove our guilt before God, to make peace for us. But they were wrong about what the sacrifice was. The sacrifice is provided by God. It is His only-begotten Son. By His one sacrifice He takes away all the sin of the world. He makes peace with God for us.

This peace with God has been prepared and accomplished by Jesus’ suffering on the cross. The reason why we are gathered together for public worship is so that this sacrifice that Jesus made that brings peace can be proclaimed. It is proclaimed to us for the forgiveness of our sins in the preaching and in the Lord’s Supper. But it is also proclaimed by us as we gather and receive the message of peace with God through His blood. Paul says, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup of the Lord, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” When the Lord Jesus has consecrated the bread and wine to be His body and blood, He proclaims through the minister, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” This is not just a greeting or a wish. The peace of God is with us because Jesus has made atonement for us through the sacrifice of His life on the cross. We are about to receive a share in that sacrifice as we eat His body and drink His blood. And as we do, we are also remembering and proclaiming before the world the death of Jesus that makes peace with God for us.

“Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peace with God is obtained only through hearing what Jesus has done for us and believing it. We are justified by faith alone. It is a free gift. By faith alone in what Jesus did on Calvary we receive the peace that He made with God for us by the sacrifice of His body on the cross.

The world does not know or believe in that peace. It thinks it has peace with God on its own merits. That’s why we gather to the Church where Christ visits us bodily in word and sacrament. We come to receive forgiveness of our sins, to receive the peace that He won for us. But we also remember, proclaim, and give thanks for His sacrifice where He won us peace. In doing this we offer sacrifices that truly please God. They are not the sacrifices we do to justify ourselves but to praise and thank and proclaim the honor of Him who made peace for us on the cross.

How blessed we are to have peace with God, solely through the sacrifice of Christ! Whether the world smiles at us or no, whether death comes near, we have peace with God. God is not angry with us but pleased. Even the city of Jerusalem with its temple couldn’t boast of this. But we can, through Christ’s cross.

As we gather together we proclaim the things that truly make for peace with God. We proclaim by receiving Jesus’ blood, sacrifice, and righteousness. Come receive the things that have made peace with God for you—Jesus’ body and blood. And as you receive, you proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ alone gives us peace with God.

Amen.

SDG

Portrait of a Hardened Sinner. Walther.

August 6, 2015 1 comment

waltherAt the close of our text we read: “And he,” that is, Christ,” taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him.” V. 47. After they had become blind to that which belonged to their peace, after they had lost all fear of God’s judgment, they fell from this sin into another without considering it sin; the most bitter enmity grew from their contempt of Christ, until finally they plotted to murder him, the Innocent, and did not rest until their bloodthirstiness was appeased by seeing Christ on the cross.

In their example you see the condition of a person who is hardened. He has fallen so far that he no longer knows what belongs to his peace. In vain God’s Word is preached to him; he no longer knows what belongs to his peace. His heart is hard as a rock. Though the Gospel with all its strength and comfort is preached to him, though Christ is presented ever so movingly in his love of sinners, and though he is in an ever so friendly and urgent a manner incited and enticed, it does not move the hardened person. And though the Law is preached to him in all its threatening severity, though God is described in his frightening righteousness and holiness, and though he is ever so earnestly admonished and warned, it does not move the hardened person. Though grace or wrath, life or death, blessing or curse, heaven or hell, salvation or damnation is presented to him, it is all the same to the hardened person…

…as little as God’s Word enlightens, awakens, and moves a hardened person to repent, so little do also the events of his life, which God permits him to experience. If all goes well, he does not let his heart become soft; the more love God shows him, the more secure, proud, and impudent he becomes, the more he believes that he is in no trouble. On the other hand, if things do not go well, he absolutely refuses to let himself be humbled. Then he murmurs against the Ruler of his fate, and insolently reviles the Almighty in heaven.

Finally, he comes to the point where he no longer feels any sin. His conscience is branded; it no longer carries out its duty; it no longer accuses him; it has become silent. He does only what he wishes without fearing God’s punishment; he becomes a declared enemy of Christ, his work, his Christians, and finally even persecutes them. The tears of anxious parents, brothers, sisters, former fellow-believers, and friends are in vain; the hardened laughs at those who sympathize with him and thus he hurries to meet the day of the revelation of God’s righteous judgment, hell and damnation.

C. F. W. Walther, “Sermon on the Gospel for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity”

Justified Stewards. Trinity 9, 2015.

9th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:1-13

August 2, 2015

“Justified Stewards”

Iesu iuva

“There was a rich man who had a manager,” begins the Gospel for today. But the King James version used a different word. “There was a certain rich man, which had a steward.” A dictionary defines “steward” as “a person entrusted with the management of estates or affairs not his own.” A steward manages the property and wealth of another person for the profit of the owner. To be a steward is to be in a position of trust. The greater the wealth under your management, the greater the trust placed in you. In the Old Testament, Joseph was placed over the house of Potiphar and then over the Kingdom of Egypt to rule it in Pharaoh’s interest. The Pharaoh placed great trust in Joseph, and Joseph did not let him down because he was a trustworthy man, a man of integrity.

To be a good steward of a big estate would require a lot of ability, but there is one quality that every good steward has in common, whether he is put over much or only a little. A good steward has to remember that the money and possessions he manages are not his. He has to act like they are his—he has to pay bills and invest and seek to gain a profit as if it were his own money. But a good steward can never forget that the money belongs to someone else, who is his master. He has to be ready at all times to give an account of how he has managed the goods entrusted to him.

Now in Jesus’ parable we have a steward pictured who doesn’t remember whose goods he is managing. “What a stupid steward,” we may think. “Doesn’t he know eventually he’s going to have to give an account of his stewardship?” But if the steward is stupid, he’s not unique. We see people behave irresponsibly with their own possessions all the time. People rack up credit card debt, take out mortgages and loans they can’t afford all the time. Surely they know eventually there is going to be an accounting?

But Jesus doesn’t refer to the steward as “stupid” or “foolish.” In fact He calls him “shrewd” or “intelligent.” The steward is not dumb. He ‘s just unrighteous. He doesn’t waste his master’s possessions because he is stupid but because he’s self-seeking. Maybe it’s out of laziness that he wastes his master’s possessions. Maybe it’s out of a sense of entitlement. But he’s always acting in his own interests, at least his short-term interests. Then when his master calls him on it and says, “Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward,” he doesn’t feel ashamed that he has cheated his master. All he cares about is padding his landing, making sure that he has food to eat and a place to stay after his master kicks him out. And he is willing to cheat his master further to ensure that he has a comfortable place to land.

This parable of our Lord reminds us that each one of us has a stewardship given us by God. In the first article of the Creed we confess that God has created us and all creatures. Everything we are and everything we have comes to us as His gift. But He has not given us body and soul, reason and senses, food and clothing, house and home, money and possessions, so that we can claim them as solely ours. Everything we have and everything we are comes from God, and so we are obligated to use everything we are and have according to His good pleasure. We are to use our lives and possessions to the praise and glory of God and for the blessing of our neighbor, not to satisfy the selfish desires of our sinful nature.

Just as the master called the unjust steward to give an account of his stewardship, so God will soon call each one of us to give an account of how we managed the gifts entrusted to us. The gifts we have been given, God has given to us that we may use them in His name. If you have skills that God has given you, God will ask on the day of judgment how you used those skills. Did you use them as if they were your own, to seek praise and wealth and honor for yourself, or did you give the praise to God for your skill and seek to put it to work for your neighbor’s blessing. Perhaps you have intellectual gifts or were blessed to be able to pursue an advanced education. On the last day you will give an account not of how intelligent you are or how educated you are, as you are judged in school. On the last day God will want to see what profit came of the gifts He gave you—how your neighbor was helped by them.

But that is not the way people think, is it? If we have special abilities or talents, we tend to brag about it. A beautiful woman bases her sense of self on her good looks. A man who is bold and courageous is often proud of his courage and despises weaker men. This is not good stewardship. It is not treating the abilities and skills given us as gifts to be managed for God. It is treating them as if they are ours, or we somehow acquired them by our own merit. Such boasting will not stand before God when He calls us to give an account of our stewardship. He will call such boasting what it is—wasting His gifts. For whatever we put to use to serve our selfish interests is misusing what belongs to the Lord—wasting it, the same way the unjust steward mismanaged his master’s property.

What is true for talents and abilities is also true for wealth and possessions. One version of the American dream is to get rich so you can enjoy the good life. People waste millions of dollars pursuing this dream through gambling and trying to win the lottery. But God will demand an account of the wealthy as to how their wealth was managed for Him. God will not agree that anyone got his wealth for himself. It is God’s gift if you are wealthy. And He will ask how the wealth was managed for Him. Was it stored up greedily where it could help no one? Was it spent only on the enjoyments of the owner, or did he manage it for God’s purposes, above all using it to support and extend the saving preaching of the Word of God…

When you consider the fact that you will have to give an account of your stewardship of God’s gifts in your life, how do you think you will fare? Perhaps there are some here today who will say something like, “God knows I’ve done the best I can to manage what He’s give me.” That may be, that a person has done his best. But God doesn’t ask whether we’ve done our best stewarding what he’s given us. He asks us whether we have wasted anything that belongs to Him. Nothing that we have is from ourselves—it was from God to be used according to His will. For the blessing of our neighbor. For the praise and honor of God.

But instead, haven’t we squandered what He has given to us? He has given us the infinite treasure of His Word, but haven’t we often hidden that light under a bushel? He has given us time, but how much of our time we spent serving ourselves and our own interests instead of the interests, the eternal interests of God! He has given us wealth, but how often we spent what He gave us frivolously on our own pleasures. How few of us have given out of our firstfruits to the preaching of His Word! How often we have wasted what was given to us through carelessness!

When the unjust steward saw that his stewardship would be required of him, he immediately started to cast around to see how he could provide for his future after he was cast out from his stewardship. No such possibility is available to us. If our master were to cast us out, there would be no other dwellings available to us. Our eternal habitation would be the eternal torment of hell.

But we will not be cast out by our master. He does not regard us as unjust stewards. Through Christ our Savior we are justified stewards. We are stewards of God’s gifts who have been counted upright and faithful. Jesus took the record of our unfaithful stewardship on Himself. All the years we may have gone missing with our Lord’s good things and used them prodigally, Jesus bore the record of our mismanagement. And all our mismanagement that we commit in weakness while we believe in Him, whether it be wasting money, time, or talents—He balances our books at His own expense.

The penalty for wasting our master’s possessions is to be cast out of the stewardship—which means we would no longer enjoy any of the good things of this world, nor the eternal treasures. Instead we would suffer eternal lack and eternal pain. But Jesus our Mediator suffered this penalty for us on the cross. There in unspeakable anguish of soul and body He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” And the answer was that He was forsaken because of our wasting of the Father’s gifts. Jesus bore the penalty. Then He rose from the dead and our account was squared and settled. The Scripture says, “He was delivered over to death because of our sins and raised because of our justification.” (Romans 4:25) By His suffering and His resurrection from the dead He made our accounts read that we are “justified stewards.” It stands for us before God that we have never mismanaged what is His. That is what He declares every time in confession you read the record of your mismanagement.   “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed,” you say, “by what we have done and what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” And God says, “I forgive you all your sins.” And every time you kneel at the altar, the treasure that settles all your outstanding debts before God is given to you—Jesus’ own body and blood, given and shed for you.

So now that your account is settled, you don’t need to try to cover your bases for when your master casts you out. You can’t give away your money in the hope that that will save you. Jesus has given something more precious than money to save you—His own body and blood. You can’t make up for your sins when Jesus already has paid for them. But you can be wise and intelligent with the mammon of unrighteousness. The unjust steward was shrewd in that he mismanaged the master’s money to save his own hide. We have no need to do that. But we can invest the gifts the Lord has entrusted to us in the blessing of our neighbor for Jesus’ sake. That is shrewd because when you do that you reap eternal rewards. So you use your talents and abilities not to enrich yourself and gain yourself honor here on earth, but to bring blessing to your neighbor for the sake of Christ, who has settled all your accounts. And above all, you use the wealth God has given you to make friends who will welcome you into the eternal habitations. That is, you give generously of your firstfruits to support the preaching of God’s Word. That makes you friends who greet you in eternity because only through the preaching of the Gospel do people come to faith in Christ and eternal life.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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