30 September 2008

The Heart of the Financial Matter

The U.S. financial crisis has been front and center in the news and in discussions at the water cooler, to be sure. It's amazing how a singular vote in the House of Representatives--on whether or not the U.S. Government should spend $700 Billion of taxpayer money to buy bad mortgages--can grab our attention and the headlines. It's also fascinating to observe folks who normally don't give Wall Street the time of day perk up when it takes a nose dive of almost 800 points. As of this writing, however, it appears that Wall Street, contrary to yesterday's dire predictions, recouped almost 500 of those points in what looks like a pretty good day.

What's really going on, in the recent vote, in the Wall Street roller coaster ride, and in the pocket books on "Main Street" (to use the current politically fashionable word)? I won't pretend to be an economist, let alone to have grand answers, but I will pass on for your consideration some dispassionate explanation of what seems to be happening before our very eyes.

What is happening? It appears to be a tug 0f war between two vying economic systems: capitalism and socialism. That, it appears to me, is the real heart of the matter being played out in New York City, Washington, D.C., in the nation's headlines, and in the presidential campaign.

How can it be dispassionate in this time of highly charged emotions and over the top rhetoric? Because this was written in 1995 by Dr. David Noebel, a noted Christian apologist, in his book Understanding the Times: The Religious Worldviews of Our Day and the Search for Truth.

What Noebel has to offer won't put money in our pockets, ease our tax burden, set politicians straight, bring greedy CEOs to justice, or clean up the economic mess. But I hope that his words will help us understand what's happening before our eyes and inform us as we vote for the good of all people in our nation come November 4.

Here's Dr. Noebel:
We began our analysis of capitalism and socialism by noting that capitalism trusts the free market while socialism requires centralized control. From this most fundamental difference between the two systems springs a number of ramifications, including the counterproductive bureaucracies created by the welfare system in the United States. Because socialism requires a planned economy, including control over wealth, distribution, pricing, and production, it also requires a powerful central government to initiate the plans. As P.T. Bauer points out, "Attempts to minimize economic differences in an open and free society necessarily involve the use of coercive power." [P.T. Bauer, Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981), p. 18] Thus, the socialist must rely upon increased political power to achieve his goals of economic equality and a planned economy.

In a capitalist system, in contrast, far less political power is necessary, because the government need not worry about controlling incomes, prices, or production. Citizens are free to determine how they will spend their money and how they will use their resources.

Clearly, there is a relationship between the type of economy a society chooses and the amount of freedom the individual must sacrifice. In a socialist society, the individual must relinquish to the government much of the control over his life. "The only way to arrive at equal fruits is to equalize behavior," says Beisner; "and that requires robbing men of liberty, making them slaves." [E. Calvin Beisner, Prosperity and Poverty: The Compassionate Use of Resources in a World of Scarcity (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988), p. 54] Economic freedom and the right to private property are crucial for political freedom. (Understanding the Times, p. 330-31)
What's at the heart of our current U.S. financial crisis? It would appear to be a wrestling match between capitalism and socialism. Only time, perhaps measured only in months and years, will tell which one will (or has) become dominant. But it seems prudent to bear Dr. Noebel's words in mind as we listen to, watch, and read news reports about our financial crisis. I pray that keeping this "big picture," the principles of the matter, in mind will help us citizens be informed on what's happening and speak up, especially to our elected representatives.

After all, such matters do affect us in the Church and how we can confess the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Homily - St. Michael and All Angels

I cannot believe that I actually passed up the chance to preach on St. Michael's day, but I could tell that Mr. Louis Boldt really wanted a chance preach on this great day of hearing God's teaching on angels, especially the story of St. Michael. As you can see from the following sermon, Louis did a very fine job as he took the task of preaching an "image-based" sermon, doing a masterful job of describing the picture (shown here) to which he refers throughout the sermon. You can learn more about the picture here: http://www.artilim.com/artist/david-gerard/altarpiece-of-st-michael.aspx .
Here's Louis' homily:

Today we are observing the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, which occurs tomorrow. September 29 is the day that the Church has set aside to acknowledge and honor the role of St. Michael and all angels in God’s created order. Today’s sermon will focus specifically on the work of St. Michael. While St. Michael is only mentioned five times in the Bible: 3 times in our Old Testament reading, once in our Epistle reading, and once in the Book of Jude, these sections of Scripture tell us quite a bit about his role in God’s creation. While many artists over the centuries have used these sections of Scripture for inspiration, there is a 16th century painting by Gerard David that expresses St. Michael’s work and his role in God’s creation in a unique way.

When you look at this painting, your eyes are drawn to its center where you see St. Michael standing on the ground with outstretched wings. Wings that almost span the entire width of the painting. Wings that almost span the entire height of the painting. And as we gaze at this larger than life image, we see that he is wearing a gown of the finest silk. Silk that is the color of the sky on a cloudless, summer day. A gown held in place with gold rope across his chest and cinctured around his waist.

And overlying this silk gown, St. Michael wears a cloak made from the softest and choicest of velvets. Its interior color is the warmest charcoal gray and the exterior color is the richest burgundy. Trimmed with intricate, gold filigree and held in place by a large gold medallion. A cloak so long that it drapes across the ground around him. And we are reminded of Daniel’s vision from our Old Testament reading. A vision that promises that Michael, a great prince, one of the chief princes, will arise and deliver the people from their trouble, trouble like there has never been before. And then we notice the shield in St. Michael’s left hand and the spear in his upraised right hand. And we know that this great prince does not come to deliver the people with a peace treaty. He comes to deliver them by waging war.

And as we look at the spear in St. Michael’s, we notice that he is looking down toward the ground and our eyes are drawn to that part of the painting. And as they focus on the ground at St. Michael’s feet, we see seven hideous, demonic creatures struggling to get out from underneath him and flee away. Creatures that have an other worldly appearance with horns, fangs and claws. Some bear a resemblance to animals, while others have a disturbingly human appearance.

And as we gaze upon this epic struggle between St. Michael and these demonic creatures, we notice other figures behind St. Michael up in the sky. And when we look more closely, we witness an on-going battle. A battle between angels in sky blue, silk gowns and demonic creatures like those at St. Michael’s feet. And we remember John’s vision from our Epistle reading, the vision of St. Michael and his angels battling the great dragon and his angels. St. Michael and his angels are victorious. They cast them out of heaven and throw them down to the earth.

Now this may or may not surprise you, but most people don’t believe that Satan is real. Most people believe that Satan is just a symbol for evil. He is just a symbol that people use to explain the bad things that happen in the world. A symbol to blame for all the bad things that people do. But they are wrong, very wrong. Now, I have never met Satan nor could I point him out in a crowd, but I know he exists. I know that he is real. I know because there is evil in the world. I know because behind every evil act is the agent of evil. The Devil. The Ancient Serpent. The great dragon. And that is how we see him. We see him through his works, through his temptations to sin. And this is what Gerard David is depicting in his painting entitled St. Michael Defeats the Seven Deadly Sins. Those seven demons underneath St. Michael’s feet represent the seven deadly sins.

And these sins are evidence of Satan’s work among us. Satan tempts us with LUST. He tempts us to take that lingering, second look. He tempts us to fantasize about that person we saw. He tempts us to act out our fantasies with that person.

Satan tempts us with GLUTTONY. He tempts us to eat one more dessert; after all, the first one was so good. He tempts us to eat out more often than we eat at home, just because we can. He tempts us to get our money’s worth at the all you can eat buffet; after all, we paid for it.

Satan tempts us with GREED. He tempts us with the latest and the greatest cell phone, game system, or plasma screen TV the market has to offer. Even if we already have one; after all, the new one can do some things that the old one just can’t do. He tempts us to replace our car with a new model - sure our car runs great, but it is getting old. He tempts us to work longer hours and take on more jobs to make more money; after all, we need to save for our retirement.

Satan tempts us with SLOTH. He tempts to spend less time on a project than we should; after all, we can cut a few corners and get it done more quickly. He tempts us to do our volunteer work in a half-hearted way; after all, we are not getting paid to do it. He tempts us to sleep in and skip Bible Study class; after all, that’s not as important as the worship service.

Satan tempts us with WRATH. He tempts us to lash out in anger because we didn’t get our way. He tempts us to get back at the other person; after all, they started it. He tempts us to get in the “first word” because we know they are going to attack us.

Satan tempts us with ENVY. He tempts us to think ill thoughts about a sibling because they always get what they want. He tempts us to think ill thoughts about a co-worker who got the promotion instead of us. He tempts us to think ill thoughts about another family because everything always seems to go their way.

Satan tempts us with PRIDE. He tempts us to boast about the things that we have done. He tempts us to withhold compliments even though they are warranted. He tempts us to disregard people’s attempts at correction; after all, that doesn’t apply to me.

And as we take in this epic battle scene between St. Michael and his angels and Satan and his minions, we notice the golden hue of sunlight breaking through the clouds at the top of the painting. And as our eyes are drawn toward that glorious light, we notice a figure within the light. A figure dressed in the finest of silk gowns. A figure wearing a cloak made from the softest and choicest of velvets. A crimson red cloak that matches the color of the underlying gown. Crimson red like the color of blood flowing from an open wound. As we look closely at this figure, we see that He is wearing a many tiered, golden crown on his head and carrying a royal scepter in His left hand. And we realize this is The King, The King who reigns in heaven above. We realize that the King of Kings is overseeing this battle. And then we remember John’s words from our Epistle reading, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, ... they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony...”

And we realize that the battle that St. Michael and his angels are waging against Satan and his minions was already won. It was a battle won when the very Son of God came down from heaven above. To take on human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. It was a battle won by Jesus, the Christ, when he lived a life under the law. To fulfill the law for those who could not. It was a battle won on a cursed tree at Golgatha. When Jesus Christ shed his blood and gave His life to pay for the sins of the entire world. To pay for your sins and for my sins. It was a battle won in an empty tomb on Easter morning. When Christ Jesus overcame death itself by rising from dead. It was a battle won when Christ ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of His Father. Where He received the power, authority and dominion over all of creation. It was a battle won when the Son of God enacted the full and complete kingdom of God.

And the great news for us, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is that we are part of this kingdom of God. We were brought into this kingdom of God through the waters of our baptism. We heard the Word of God. We received the sign of the cross on our foreheads and upon our hearts. We were baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the waters of our baptism, we were clothed with Christ as we were baptized into His death and resurrection. To receive forgiveness for our sins and to rescue us from death and the devil. And we live our lives looking forward to Christ’s glorious return at the end of this present evil age. An age where the devil lives and walks among us, prowling like a roaring lion. Looking for people to devour because he knows his time is short. An age where Satan seeks to pull us away from God by tempting us with the seven deadly sins.

And if we were left alone to face these temptations, we would surely succumb and be lost forever. But we are not alone. God has given us the Holy Spirit in the waters of our baptism to help us. God is at work within each of us through the power of the Holy Spirit to face these temptations and overcome them. Our faith in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit enable us to resist Lust and instead practice CHASTITY. To practice TEMPERANCE and resist Glutttony. To resist Greed and instead practice CHARITY. To practice DILIGENCE and resist Sloth. ..... To resist Wrath and instead practice PATIENCE. To practice KINDNESS and resist Envy. To resist Pride and instead practice HUMILITY.

And when we succumb to the temptations of the Devil, Jesus does not forsake us or leave us, He forgives us. When we confess our sins to God our Father, it is Jesus, Himself, who forgives our sins in the words of Absolution. When we come to the rail burned with guilt over our sins, it is Jesus, Himself, who says, “Take, eat, this is My body given for you” “Take, drink, this is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” And it is Jesus, Himself, who promises “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Amen.

25 September 2008

Back to our roots, for economics too

Check out this article by Chuck Norris on the current financial mess and meltdown in our nation. It would appear that Norris is quite savvy about more than just karate and acting; he may just have something to say in our economic/political climate, and that by returning to the fathers of our nation's past. Actually, it sounds pretty common sense to me, but then again I, like most Americans, am a "Washington outsider."

Homily - Trinity 18 Midweek

God’s Sense of Fairness
Wednesday of Trinity 18 (A-Prop. 20)

Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30; Matthew 20:1-16

“That’s not right!” “It’s just not fair!” How many times we’ve heard and said those words, or words much like them! We have a pretty good sense of fairness, of justice, of right and wrong – or so we tell ourselves. But what do we do when our sense of fair play butts heads with God’s? What do we do when we lock horns with God over things we think are right and just?

After all, our first reading reminds us that God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. And if we want to talk about fairness, how fair was it that St. Paul served time in prison, and had to write his letter to the Philippian church from prison, just for confessing Jesus Christ and His Gospel of life and forgiveness? And what about that Gospel reading? A master pays all of his servants a whole day’s wage, even though only a minority of them actually worked the whole day? How fair is that—those who worked only one hour, let alone three, or six, or nine hours, received a whole day’s pay for twelve hours of work?

We often turn our sense of fair play loose on tragedies and circumstances in life. How fair is it that so many people had to flee for their lives and end up losing so much when Hurricane Ike smashed into Texas? Or when it’s remnants caused flooding in our area two weekends ago? It’s just not fair, we say, that some companies have recently crashed and burned as they’ve gone broke, but some of their CEOs float away in “golden parachutes” of millions of dollars. Or perhaps we look at the things we must endure individually and cry, “Not fair; not right!” Perhaps we focus on an illness we have or that a loved one has. Perhaps we want to defend our children or our spouse or our friend from unfair treatment. The list could go on.

What should we do? Maybe we should reexamine and reevaluate our sense of fairness and our notions of right and wrong.

I remember when I was a young lad and I would do one of those five-point headstands. You know, when both hands and both feet are on the floor, but so is your head and you’re looking upside down at things in the living room. Or I might do one of those hanging off the edge of the couch moves. You know, when your legs and backside are on the couch cushion, but your head hangs down, upside down, almost touching the floor. When I would do such silly things, I also remember thinking, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we could walk on the ceiling?” There was only one problem with that, or so I thought. When we had to go through a doorway, we’d have to really step up high to avoid the real top of the door.

Now, of course, that sounds silly, and it was. After all, I was looking at things upside down. The real problem was looking at things upside down. Real life—real walking around—doesn’t happen upside down on the ceiling at all.

That, I believe, is what our sense of fairness and our notions of right and wrong often are before God—rather upside down and in need of readjusting because of our sin and death. You see, when we cry out that something’s unfair or not right, too often we do so without God in the picture. Too often we think that we matter most, or that we should be in charge of the world and our individual lives. Or, worse yet, we even blame God for the unfair things that happen. “How could a loving God let that tragedy happen?”

But let’s remember what Isaiah says in our first reading: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Yes, the Lord God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—has compassion and abundantly pardons. He wants us, and all people, to seek Him while He makes Himself found in His grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. In that way we might realize that even the tragedies of hurricanes, flooding, financial meltdowns, and our various personal troubles, are really meant to drive us to Him.

Let’s remember how St. Paul comforts us and models the Christian faith for us. He could say that even his imprisonment was “for Christ” and that Christ would be honored in his body. He could boldly say, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” because Christ had died for him. This same Jesus, the Son of God, has lived and died for us. His suffering brings us peace. His death brings us life. His blood brings us eternal forgiveness for our many doubts about God and His goodness. His love reorients our sense of fairness to receive His mercy and grace always. Redeemed and loved by this Jesus Christ, we can look at all of life with new lenses. All things work to lead us back to our compassionate, forgiving God. All things work together for good for those who love God.

And let’s also remember our Gospel reading. The master was not unfair when he gave the last workers the same day’s pay as he promised the first workers. You see, he did keep his promise to pay the first workers a full day’s wage. The problem comes not from the master, but from the first workers and their sense of “fairness.” They thought fairness meant getting paid by the hour and only for what a person can earn by hard work through the heat of the day. The master, though, had a different way of thinking. His thoughts were higher than their thoughts. He decided to be extra lavish and overly generous. He chose to give everyone a full day’s wage, no matter how many hours they had worked.

Dear friends, that master is the perfect picture of our Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We expect Him to act within the bounds of our sense of fairness, even as we look upside down at Him and our life with Him. But, truthfully and thankfully, He has a different sense of fairness. No, His sense of fairness is not arbitrary or capricious. Rather, His sense of fairness is right side up. That’s what our Lord Jesus shows us on the cross and in His resurrection. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might by saved through Him” (Jn. 3:16-17). Master God pays all of us the “day’s wage” of His mercy, forgiveness, and love. Everything in life—even our life itself, even the bad things as well as the good things—is a gift from the Savior who loves us enough to die and rise again for us.

Things may not seem “fair” in this fallen world of ours. But we can be sure and certain that our loving God, our Savior Jesus Christ, has a different sense of fairness. His sense of fairness says, “I love you. I give Myself for you.” So, come, receive Him in His Body and Blood; come, receive His fairness of forgiveness. Amen.

21 September 2008

Homily - St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Jesus Heals Sinners
St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist

Matthew 9:9-13

Today the Church remembers and thanks God for St. Matthew, the Apostle and Evangelist. In our Gospel reading, he calls himself “Matthew,” but in Mark and Luke, he’s called “Levi.” Other than that other name, the story before us today, and the Gospel that bears his name, not much is known of Matthew for sure.

We do know for certain that Matthew was a tax collector. (Hiss! Boo!) Now we know what it’s like to deal with the taxman on April 15, but that’s nothing compared to Matthew. You see, Matthew did not work for the government of his own people. No, he worked for the much-hated Roman government, the empire that occupied Palestine in the first century. So he and other tax collectors were viewed as treasonous traitors to their country. On top of that, they were also considered apostates, or standing outside of, their people’s religion in the synagogue and the temple. And on top of all that, the tax collectors would routinely overcharge the folks, in order that they could line their own pockets. Hey, what’s a few extra shekels? Give the Roman authorities their due to keep them off your back, but then have a little extra left over to get rich quick. So, what we see in our Gospel reading is pretty remarkable just because of who Matthew was before he encountered the Savior.

Then Jesus, the Word of God made flesh and dwelling among us, came to Matthew and said two simple words: “Follow Me.” Matthew, the hardened, corrupted, thieving tax collector simply “rose and followed Him.” What a miracle! Matthew was one of the sin-hardened Israelites. Why would he want to hear God’s Word in the flesh? After all, it would mean a complete change in his life. He would have to give up his dishonest gain from over charging people on their tax returns. He would have to sacrifice his posh lifestyle. But he would receive something much better in place of it all. He would receive full life with God and complete healing from sin and death.

Matthew was changed by the forgiving mercy of Jesus, and he threw a great banquet for the Lord of Life, the Word of God in the flesh. And Matthew wanted his business associates and his acquaintances to take part in this new life too. So Jesus came to eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners. What a great display of God’s eternal mercy, forgiveness, and life!

But the sin-hardened Israelites did not like what they saw: Jesus dining with sinners. “Why does He do it?” they asked the disciples. Jesus answered: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” You see, dear saints, Matthew shows us how to realize and admit our sickness of being hardened in sin. Matthew shows us how Jesus comes to heal us.

I’m sure that each of us can identify with Matthew. He had his lying, cheating, and stealing ways. We have our lies. We cheat or steal in different ways. Perhaps we cannot tell our spouse what’s really upsetting us. Perhaps we lied to the boss about that little conflict the other day. Perhaps we did not want to be completely honest with our mom or dad, or with our children. Perhaps we cut corners on our tax returns, this last year or for several years. Perhaps we cheated on that test at school, or copied someone else’s work on that term paper. Perhaps we stole the company’s time by not working to our fullest potential. We’re a lot like Matthew.

But remember this: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” You don’t go to the doctor if you are healthy; you go when you are not well. And so we have come to Jesus’ hospital for sinners here today. Since He desires mercy and not sacrifice, He gives us a wonderful prescription of healing forgiveness. Yes, it’s expensive, and no health plan can cover the cost. It cost Jesus His very life as He spilled His holy, precious, life-giving blood from the cross. But that, dear friends, is our greatest medicine! That’s what we receive today in our ears and our mouths. Jesus, our Divine Physician, desires to give us His mercy, the mercy He showed by sacrificing Himself for us and for the whole world.

Notice how He did that with Matthew. First, Jesus called him to follow after Him. Then, Matthew threw a banquet for this Jesus who showed him mercy. Then—scandal of scandals!—this Jesus starts hanging out with and dining with other tax collectors and sinners. (Gasp!) But isn’t that the way of a physician? He kind of has to hang around those who are sick with all the nasty little viruses and bacteria. A physician kind of has to deal with all of the messy, putrid little details of sick people.

Well, that’s exactly what Jesus came to do for Matthew and for us. When He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, He truly came to hang around with and deal with us who are infected by sin and death. And just why would He lower Himself to hang out with us sin-sick people? In order to set us free from our sickness of sin and death. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection set us free from our sickness that leads to lying, cheating and stealing.

We certainly see how Jesus’ healing changed Matthew. He went on to write the first Gospel account. He probably wrote it in Palestine for his fellow Israelites. That certainly comes out in his Gospel account as he shows that Jesus came to fulfill the various Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. According to Church tradition, Matthew also proclaimed the healing of Jesus, the Gospel, in various countries in the Middle East. It’s generally believed that Matthew was martyred, that is, executed for confessing Christ and His forgiveness and life. No one is quite sure how it happened, whether he was burned, or stoned to death, or beheaded, but it does seem that Matthew was martyred for confessing and proclaiming the Lord of life and His healing of forgiveness. What enabled Matthew to do this? The full and perfect healing that he received from Jesus, the Son of God. Yes, Matthew shows us “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Matthew shows us how Jesus’ healing in forgiveness leads us in the Church to “a mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

When Jesus heals us, as He did Matthew, we too can endure whatever afflictions come our way, confident that God will always love us and always see to our needs. We no longer need to live like a tax collector, scraping and scratching, thieving and cheating to make ends meet or to make our lives meaningful. No, we can live in complete confidence that we are well, that we live with God. We can enjoy the feast that our Lord puts on for us here today, a feast with all of us sinners gathered together for healing. As one preacher said: “Jesus’ sitting at table has more significance for Matthew than just dining. Jesus will be feasting not on food but on the return of sinners. He will call them back through feasting, collegiality and human affection, enjoying himself with their pleasant conversation while reclining at table.” (Peter Chysologus, ACCS, NT, I:178) Amen.

19 September 2008

Irrational Unbelief

Many secularists of various stripes (atheists, humanists, etc.) would say that religion, especially Christianity and it's beliefs (in things such as the Holy Trinity, the two natures in Christ, and the Real Presence of Christ in His Supper), needs to be overcome and left behind in favor of a more reasonable, rational way of life. However, such "logical thinking" may not hold water. Those who try to get rid of religion, especially Christianity, may very well tend to be the more irrational and superstitious of the bunch! Here's an intriguing article by M. Z. Hemingway over at the Wall Street Journal.

Here's a little paragraph from that article to pique your curiosity even more:
Anti-religionists such as Mr. Maher bring to mind the assertion of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown character that all atheists, secularists, humanists and rationalists are susceptible to superstition: "It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can't see things as they are."

17 September 2008

Homily - Trinity 17 Midweek

Here's this evening's homily. Pr. Weedon may remember the substance of it from the time three years ago when I preached for "Mission Sunday" at St. Paul, Hamel, IL, but it has been adjusted for inflation and local circumstances. :-)

Forgiven and Forgiving

Trinity 17 Midweek (A-Proper 19)

Matthew 18:21-35

Peter would fit right in with our business-minded, consumer-driven culture here in America. He wants to keep his accounting book on how many times he has to forgive his brother. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Can’t you just hear the click, click, click of the old fashioned adding machine of Peter’s brain as he punches the number keys every time someone sins against him? And when he exhausts the pre-paid limit of his forgiveness, he pulls the lever and you can almost hear that infamous “ka-ching” sound as he thinks, “Okay, I’ve forgiven you enough; now it’s time for you to pay.”

For just a moment, Jesus plays along with Peter’s accounting nonsense. “No, Peter, I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” At first, we bookkeeping, accounting-minded sinners try to do the math. “70 x 7 = 490. That sounds quite good. After all, it’s a lot more forgiveness than Peter wanted to give.” The problem is: we’re still trying to cook the books in our favor and put a limit on our forgiveness for Bob or Henry or Sally or Matilda. Even though Jesus plays along and uses accounting language, He’s really trying to throw our spiritual accounting books in the trash bin. He’s trying to uninstall our spiritual versions of Quicken from the hard drives of our minds and hearts. Even if the current rate of forgiving our brother is 490 times, and even if we try to keep records, we’ll probably lose count somewhere along the way. And when we lose count, well, we’ll just have to start the count all over again and just keep on forgiving. That’s Jesus’ message, both to Peter and to us!

And just in case Peter and we don’t get the point, our gracious, forgiving Lord tells a story that should lead us to unlimited, free-flowing forgiveness. A King, no doubt the Divine King, the holy Trinity, wanted to settle accounts with His indentured servants. You see, He did not want those debts to get in the way of His servants enjoying life in His kingdom. He figured that if He could settle the accounts, get all the debts and IOUs out of the way, then everyone would enjoy “[living] under Him in His kingdom and [serving] Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.” He wasn’t punishing His servants; after all, He didn’t need their money. He wanted them to enjoy life in His kingdom without their debts hanging over their heads.

But one servant owed the King a tremendous debt. He’s a good picture of us. If we use the Missouri minimum wage of $6.65 per hour, it works out something like this. A denarius, a day’s wage, for an eight-hour day is $53.20. One talent, then, would equal $266,000. And this man owed ten thousand talents! That makes the total of all his credit card bills a whopping $2,660,000,000! (Yes, that’s “billion” with a “b” and “million” with an “m”!) And this servant thought that he could repay it, with a little time and patience? How foolish! That’s just as foolish as when we think that we can pay God back for all of our millions and billions of sins we commit each day and every week. And how do we try to pay God back? It’s usually when we say silly things like, “I’ll do better next time,” or “I promise it won’t happen again.”

But notice the wonderful, sweet, precious, life-giving message of mercy: “Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” No, the Master did not make him pay the debt. No, the Master did not make someone else pay the debt. Instead, the Master forgave the debt, wiped it out, considered it a tax write off, simply erased the multi-billion dollar figure out of His ledger and out of His mind. As St. Paul said: “And you, being dead in your trespasses…[God] has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:13-14, NKJV). Yes, my fellow servants, our gracious and merciful God has wiped out the enormous debt of our sins against Him, erased them from His ledger and deleted them from His memory. Each one of us has a huge, insurmountable debt of sins. But our debt of sins was nailed to the cross with our Lord Jesus Christ. Our debt was cancelled “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

Now isn’t this great news! Every week we get to come to this place, our King’s Palace at Neosho and Brannon, and we get to fall down before Him and beg for His mercy and patience. And, just as in Jesus’ parable, our Master, our loving Triune God, is moved with compassion as He releases us and forgives our billion-dollar debt of sins against Him. No matter how many times we keep coming and falling down before Him, He still forgives the debt, still keeps wiping the slate clean. He erased the debt in our Baptism. From our perspective our debt of sin may seem like it’s written in permanent ink, but Baptism treats the writing against us as water-soluble ink and completely washes it away. When our pastor speaks the words of Absolution directly into our ears, he is releasing us yet again from our debt of sin. And in our Lord’s Holy Meal, King Jesus strengthens us in that wonderful freedom of debt cancelled forever. Yes, our debt of sin is completely forgiven.

But the story does not end there. That servant, who’s a good picture of each of us, goes out and wants to settle his own petty, personal accounts. One of his friends owes him a whole $5300. Yes, for most of us, it’s a good chunk of change, but it’s really nothing compared to our own debt that’s already been forgiven and cancelled. It’s easy to see the rudeness and hostility of the unforgiving servant. But is it easy to see those problems in ourselves? Remember, he’s a good picture of us!

When your spouse irritates you, do you hold it against him or her? When your child gets into trouble again, do you remind him or her of all those other times? How long do you remember what your co-workers or next-door neighbors have done against you? And what about your brothers and sisters in the congregation? Memories get awfully long with all those ill-spoken words or misguided deeds. It’s far too easy to keep mental ledgers of how others have wronged us, and far too hard to forgive—that is, cancel out—their puny little debt.

And here’s the real point of Jesus’ parable: just as God forgives each one of us our debt of sin against Him, each of us gets to forgive our neighbor’s debt against us. St. Paul said the same thing in Ephesians: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). And just in case we don’t catch on the first time, the Holy Spirit had St. Paul say it this way to the Colossians: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:12-13). Since God has forgiven our debt of sin, each of us gets to forgive our neighbor’s debt of sin against us.

Brothers and sisters, how can we not forgive our brother his trespasses? Jesus has wiped clean our billion sin debt; what’s a handful of sins committed by our friend or neighbor? And besides that, think of this Holy Meal we’re about to enjoy. Not only does it unite us with Jesus Himself, but it also unites us with each other. What we do to others, we also do to Jesus. But the great news is this: when He forgives our debt of sin in this Holy Meal, we get to do the same. In fact, we get to look at each other as already forgiven and free. Amen.

14 September 2008

Homily - Trinity 17

Take the Lowest Place
Luke 14:1-11

Imagine you’ve been invited to a wedding. You attend the worship service. The radiant bride and the handsome groom promise their faithfulness to each other. The pastor pronounces them husband and wife, and then proclaims, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” After the service comes the reception celebration. You enter the reception hall. Music is playing, but later the volume will be turned up for dancing. The wedding cake looks so nice as it sits on the table, just waiting for the bride and groom to cut it and feed each other the first bites. Tables are decorated quite nicely. Then you notice a table at the other end of the room. It’s separated from the others and set on a platform as it overlooks the rest of the reception hall. So you go and sit at that table.

Later the bride, the groom and the wedding party enter to cheers and applause. They make their way through the crowd, and then they see you sitting at their table, the head table. The best man rushes over to you and says, “Sorry, but this is the head table. You’ll have to go to the back of the room.” And off you go, ashamed and embarrassed. As Jesus says, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” In other words, our Lord calls us to take the lowest place, in all of life.

I’m sure we all know what the head table is at a wedding reception, and who sits there. But are we really that different from the Pharisees in our Gospel reading? They loved the best seats at the dinner that Jesus attended. I’m sure many of us would love to have the best seats right behind the dugout at Busch Stadium, especially for a good playoff game. I would certainly love the best seats just a few rows up on the 50-yard line at the Edward Jones Dome. And if wedding receptions or local professional sports aren’t our thing, each of us still likes to script and tell the story of our lives with me, myself, and I as the leading character, always the hero, always in control of whatever happens in life. Let’s face it: we love to exalt ourselves.

The Pharisees exalted themselves over the sick man who crashed their dinner party. They exalted themselves over him by ignoring him. You see, one of their leaders finally arranged for Jesus to come and dine with him. And this was not just any meal; this was the Sabbath Seder meal, the Friday evening meal of teaching God’s Word and eating together. It was a mini-remembrance of Passover. They would celebrate and talk of God’s great deeds of liberating their people from slavery in Egypt. As they ate the food and drank the wine, they would toast God for His merciful goodness and rejoice in His saving deliverance.

So Jesus uses this setting to teach. The sick man was not free. He was shackled by his sickness of swollen joints. Jesus poses a simple question: Is the Sabbath Day – a day of rest – good day on which to heal and give rest? How could the Pharisees say “No”? But they know Jesus would have to exert Himself in work to heal this man. So they didn’t say anything! Then [Jesus] took him and healed him and sent him away.

You see, the Sabbath Day is about healing and freedom—healing from what ails us most and freedom from what enslaves us most. And what is that? Our sickness called “sin and death,” our inborn desire give ourselves life by exalting ourselves over others, our cancer of looking down on people around us. The Pharisees did this. They bound everyone with picayunish, man-made rules about what to do and what not to do to ensure God’s blessings. So Jesus wanted to liberate them too. He wanted to free them from exalting themselves. He wanted to free them to take the lowest place. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

We could say that Jesus is teaching us “table manners” for life in God’s family in God’s house at God’s table. Too often we are like the Pharisees. They did not want to help the man with dropsy, a watery swelling of the joints, because they figured that he was too much of a sinner. How often don’t we do the same thing? We think that human being is beneath us and not worthy of our care. When we get upset about something at home, at work, at school or at church, we exalt ourselves by looking down on those who caused the problem and even talking about them behind their back. It’s really quite common.

When Jesus teaches us “table manners” for life in God’s family in God’s house at God’s table, He reverses everything we might cherish. He overturns our human desire to be exalted and “in charge,” both in our personal lives and in our church life. You see, Jesus wants to free us from exalting ourselves. He wants to free us to be humble. He frees us to take the lowest place.

It’s been said that someone asked Martin Luther, “What’s the first step in religion?” He answered, “Humility.” Then, what’s the second step? “Humility.” And what’s the third step? “Humility.” Luther was echoing Jesus. The key to life in God’s family is being humble—before God and before other people. Being humble before God means constantly confessing your sins and hearing God’s merciful forgiveness in Jesus. And, yes, you may even go to your pastor for Confession and Absolution. When we humbly confess our specific sins, the sins we know and feel in our hearts, before our pastor, he then does God’s bidding of pronouncing us forgiven because of Christ. Then being humble before other people means serving them in love rather than making them fit our expectations.

There’s a wonderful story of General George Washington. He was riding along with his coat covering the insignia of his rank. He rode past a detail where a corporal was commanding his men to lift a log too heavy for them. The corporal was shouting at them and commanding them to heave ho. Since they could not move the log, Washington quickly dismounted, walked over, and with his strong and tall body gave the log a quick push, and it went into its place. He turned to the corporal and asked him why he did not help his men. The man said, “Sir, do you not see that I am a corporal.” George Washington humbly opened his coat and said, “Yes, sir, I see you are a corporal, but I want you to see that I am the general.”

Isn’t this exactly what our Lord Jesus Christ has done? His rank is far above general, or even commander-in-chief. He is Lord of the universe. In Him the fullness of God dwells bodily. And yet He humbled Himself. He humbled Himself to be born of a virgin, to live among us, to die for all human beings, and to rise bodily on the third day.

St. Paul said it best. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8). Jesus, the true exalted One, freely took the lowest place to free us from selfishly exalting ourselves.

But this Jesus who humbled Himself was also exalted. Again hear St. Paul: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11).

Jesus humbled Himself in suffering and death for us. In His humiliation we are exalted to God’s right hand with Him. So, there’s really no need to exalt ourselves. We’re already exalted in Christ. Now we can live in the pattern of His “table manners.” Now we can freely take the lowest place. First, we humble ourselves, then God, in His own way, at His own time, exalts us. We humble ourselves in confession, and God exalts us in the Absolution of His forgiveness in Jesus. We humble ourselves in hearing and learning His Truth, and God exalts us in His true way of life. We humbly kneel at the Lord’s Table, and Jesus lifts us up by feeding us on His own Body and Blood.

Just as Jesus healed the man with a watery swelling of the joints, He also heals us from our swollen view of ourselves. Jesus sets us free to be humble, free to take the lowest place. And in Jesus’ family in Jesus’ house at Jesus’ table, He teaches us the life-long practice of humbling ourselves. After all, we find Jesus not in the heights of the heavens, but in the humble places where He lowers Himself to be found – humble water, humble words, humble bread and wine, and humble people called His Church.

Someone once said: “Saintliness and humility go hand in hand. The more fruit-laden the branch, the farther it bends to earth.” Thank God that our Lord Jesus has bent and still bends Himself to earth for us. Thank God that Jesus also frees us to learn humility and take the lowest place. Amen.

11 September 2008

Sweet Water

This picturesque explanation of Baptism and the Holy Supper comes from St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, in his treatise On the Mysteries.
Marah was a spring of bitter water. When Moses threw wood into it, its water became sweet. Water, you see, is of no avail for future salvation without the proclamation of the Lord's cross. But when it has been consecrated through the saving mystery of the cross, it is then ready for use in the laver of the Spirit and in the cup of salvation. Therefore, as Moses in his role of prophet threw wood into the spring of Marah, so also the priest sends out into the fountain of baptism the proclamation of the Lord's cross, and the water becomes sweet, ready for the giving of grace (On the Mysteries, 12-16; as cited in Wright, Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, p. 369, emphasis added).

10 September 2008

A Must Read (and Strong Caveat)

Scott, over at "Stand Firm," has posted this must-read column on the proposed "restructuring" of LCMS polity. I quote his post here in its entirety to help "spread the word."

Eroding Christian Freedom?

HandcuffsBelow are four quotes, taken from three different eras, past, present, and proposed future, that represent the attitude of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod towards its member congregations. As you can see, our proposed future is one of possible servitude if left unchecked. Now is the time to speak out. A freedom lost is not so easily regained. Don't let your freedom in Christ to be taken away, or we'll be "walking together" in handcuffs and leg irons.

...according to the constitution under which our Synodical union exists, we have merely the power to advise one another, that we have only the power of the Word, and of convincing. According to our constitution we have no right to formulate decrees, to pass laws and regulations, and to make a judicial decision, to which our congregations would have to submit unconditionally in any matter involving the imposing of something upon them. Our constitution by no means makes us a consistory, by no means a supreme court of our congregations. It rather grants them the most perfect liberty in everything, excepting nothing but the Word of God, faith, and charity. According to our constitution we are not above our congregations, but in them and at their side.


Article VII, 1. of the current LCMS Constitution:

In its relationship to its members the Synod is not an ecclesiastical government exercising legislative or coercive powers, and with respect to the individual congregation’s right of self-government it is but an advisory body. Accordingly, no resolution of the Synod imposing anything upon the individual congregation is of binding force if it is not in accordance with the Word of God or if it appears to be inexpedient as far as the condition of a congregation is concerned.
Bylaw 1.7.2 of the current LCMS Constitution:

The Synod expects every member congregation of the Synod to respect its resolutions and to consider them of binding force if they are in accordance with the Word of God and if they appear applicable as far as the condition of the congregation is concerned. The Synod, being an advisory body, recognizes the right of a congregation to be the judge of the applicability of the resolution to its local condition. However, in exercising such judgment, a congregation must not act arbitrarily, but in accordance with the principles of Christian love and charity.


The change proposed by the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance in its “Walking Together: The LCMS Future” document:

The task force proposal clarifies and affirms that the Synod expects every member congregation of the Synod to respect its resolutions and to consider them of binding force on the assumption that they are in accordance with the Word of God and that they are applicable to the condition of the congregation.

Once again, kudos, dittos, and hearty "Amens" to Fr. Hollywood - this time for his post on "Christology from the Mouths of Babes." Here are a couple of paragraphs to whet your appetite and lead you to read his entire post for this wonderful pearl of wisdom:
Little children instinctively seem to understand that the pastor, the preacher, the one who is always talking about Jesus, the one who wears churchly vestments, stands in the front of the church, and makes the sign of the cross - is somehow inextricably linked to Jesus.

Maybe this is why our Lord says we must become as little children to inherit the Kingdom. When we get older, many of us no longer see a man in persona Christi, but rather a hireling, a functionary, a guy with a job. We begin to see the minister not for who he is and for Whom he acts (ontologically), but rather for what he does (functionally) - and then we are quick to posit that anyone else can do the same job. We begin to see ordination as nothing more than a quaint little ceremony and the ministry as merely a function that can be carried out by vicars, "lay ministers," DCEs, and lay elders. After all, lots of people are "ministers" who have a "divine call" - not just "ministers of religion - ordained" (as the bureaucrats would say).

05 September 2008

Homily - Trinity 16

Dying to Live
1 Kings 17:17-24 & Luke 7:11-17

In his book, Dying to Live: the Power of Forgiveness, Pastor Harold Senkbeil says this: “There’s only one bottom line in this world of ours: Death.” He also goes on to say: “Ultimately, all of life is lived graveside. We are all dying—from the youngest newborn to the oldest nursing-home resident. We might be dying to live, but we’re all dying.”

How’s that for a reality check on this Sunday morning? But it’s true, isn’t it? Every human being on the face of God’s good Earth may be dying to live, but deep down we all know that we’re living only to die. Don’t believe me? Go visit the cemetery. Still don’t believe me? Ponder this: the death rate in this world is always one per person – always has been, always will be – until Jesus returns, that is. A surgeon once gave a lecture to some seminary students. He talked about the great advancements of medical science. Then he told those students: “Do not forget…that with all this advancement, the mortality rate remains 100%.”

Notice how we try just about anything and everything to avoid or deny death—tummy tucks and Oil of Olay moisturizing cream for wrinkles; memberships at Gold’s Gym and youthful clothes to help us “feel young” again; Clairol hair colors and Grecian formula to help keep the gray out. We idolize the vitality of the 15-20 year olds, and we put our older folks in nursing homes so we don’t have to watch them slip toward death. We want doctors and nurses, hospitals and health food stores to keep death at bay. Death haunts us even as our eyes grow dim, our ears grow silent, and gravity seems to pull our body mass from up around our shoulders to down around our waistlines. And we Christians are not immune to this. We even try to hide death from our churches by holding Christian burials in generic, non-religious funeral homes.

In last week’s Old Testament reading the widow at Zarephath prepared to eat her last meal with her son and then die. But God provided food for her, her household, and even Elijah. Today we see that same widow some time later, when her son actually does die. Notice how she kicks and screams when death does come. Is she any different from us? She even blames Elijah, God’s preacher to her: “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” When we face death, we get scared. After all, we face our own sinful condition.

C. F. W. Walther, first president of the Missouri Synod, said this about death: “Death is the most powerful and effective preacher the children of this world have. Though they avoid all churches and despise all preachers of God’s Word, yet one preacher—death—they are compelled to hear. His church is the earth, his pulpit the deathbed, the casket, the hearse, the grave, and the cemetery.” And what sermon does death preach? It painfully preaches what happens when we try to live life without God. That’s the basic human problem. As St. Paul said, “The wages of sin is death.”

Well, after Elijah’s prayer and through his ministry, God brought the widow’s son back to life. And notice how this new life is intimately tied to God’s Word. The widow spoke, not words of blame, but words of faith: “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” Elijah, the widow, and her son show us God’s pattern. First, we die; then, we live. In the world, we live only to die. But in God’s kingdom, we die only to live.

That’s exactly what Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, shows us today in His miracle. One procession—Jesus, His disciples, and some others—meets another procession, a funeral procession. One is the procession of life; the other, a procession of death. One includes an “only son of his mother,” dead on a funeral cot; the other includes God’s only-begotten Son, the very fountain and source of all life. And notice how Jesus brings life out of death, not just for the dead young man, but also for the widow.

As Jesus approaches the funeral procession, He addresses the widow. You see, her husband had died, and now her only son had died. Her family was gone. Her livelihood was gone. Yet Jesus shows great compassion. His heart goes out to her. He tells her, “Do not weep.” Only Jesus can say that and get away with it, because only Jesus can change her lot. And He does. Remember, He is God-in-the-Flesh. He is the Creator come to re-create and re-enliven His fallen creatures.

Jesus then touches the coffin. It was not a steel box, hermetically sealed to separate death from life. Most likely, it was a cot with a cloth draped over or wrapped around the body. But Jesus touches it nonetheless. And when He touches it, He makes Himself unclean in the death; He identifies Himself with the corpse; He takes the death into Himself.

This only-begotten Son would take all death into Himself when He went to the cross. He went into the very gullet of death to deliver the poison pill—the only poison pill—that could kill death itself. He, the Lord of life, is that poison pill for death. Jesus went into our death in order to free us from it. He died only to come back to life. And in His death, we have life—life with God, life with meaning and purpose, life in this dying world.

So the Word who is Jesus goes to work outside the village of Nain. He tells the dead young man: “I say to you, arise.” Now, we all know a corpse cannot bring itself to life. Only Jesus can bring life out of death. It’s true physically; it’s even truer spiritually. Just as He did at creation, Jesus spoke, and it happened. Jesus’ words do what they say.

That’s why we keep coming here week after week. Here, as nowhere else in the world, we hear Jesus’ life-giving words: “I forgive you. I love you. I give you life. I will take care of you. I say to you, arise.” We come here to have Jesus stop our daily procession of death. We even get Jesus touching us with His very Body and Blood in the Eucharist! On the cross he took our death into Himself, but in the Eucharist He delivers His pure life to us! Talk about life out of death!

“And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” Once enlivened, the young man did not keep to himself. Once enlivened, the young man was not to live for himself. He began to speak—no doubt about his newfound life. He was given back to his mother—no doubt to serve and provide for her. That’s what life from Jesus means for us too. Once enlivened, we do not keep our new life to ourselves. No, we get to speak the wonderful deeds of our life-giving Savior to people around us. Once enlivened, we are given back to each other—in our families, in our congregation, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces. We get to serve each other and others around us with the life that Jesus gives to us.

After Jesus raised the young man and returned him to his mother, the crowd was amazed. They kept glorifying God. Wouldn’t it be great if our world of death would look at the Church and be amazed? Wouldn’t it be great if people trapped in death’s clutches could see a place where true life lives on? That’s exactly why God puts His Church in the world. And like the crowd that day at Nain, the Church spends all her time saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” His name is Jesus the Christ. The Church exists for one purpose—to tell the world, “God has visited His people.” Yes, He is here, visiting us right now. God comes to serve us in this Divine Service with His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. What a Savior! What a life!

“And this report about Him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.” What a great conclusion! Watch how the report of Jesus—His death and life given to make us alive—will go out when we leave this place. It will go with each of us because we are Christ’s people of life. Enlivened here by Jesus, we will go out and be the breath of life in our daily lives. Instead of living to only die, we are dying to live. And we get to show and tell Jesus’ life in our lives.

Let me close with one final thought from Pr. Senkbeil: “If there’s one thing central to living the Christian life, it is the presence of our living Lord with His church. He fills our worship and our life as well. That’s why we’re always dying to live in this world. Daily dying to sin, yet daily rising in Christ to live a new life.” Amen.

02 September 2008

Homily - Trinity 15

Tale of Two Liturgies
1 Kings 17:8-16; Galatians 5:25-6:10; Matthew 6:24-34

Our Lord Jesus gives us a strong contrast between two kinds of worship. He tells us: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Two different kinds of service and worship for two different kinds of gods. Let’s call it a “Tale of Two Liturgies.” One liturgy serves the true God; the other liturgy serves the “god” mammon, that is, money.

Just as God’s liturgy has an invocation, so does the liturgy of mammon. Mammon’s liturgy begins in the name of the money and of the stuff and of the loads of possessions. But it does not conclude with a comforting, confident “Amen.” No, invoking mammon concludes with anxious worry. Consider the widow at Zarephath. She had “only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug.” And what did she plan to do with that flour and oil? She was going to fix one last meal for her and her son, and then they were prepared to starve and die. How anxious and worried she was!

God’s liturgy has an opening prayer called the Kyrie. Mammon’s liturgy has its own kind of opening prayer too. It says, “In worry let us long for more goods. Lord, give more stuff.” “For the peace of this world and for our prosperity, let us long for more goods. Lord, give money.” Of course, the lord of this liturgy is not the ever-present Triune God, but the ever elusive god mammon who must be served with nothing but anxiety and worry. The prayer continues: “For the things of the world, for the happiness of having things, and for the security of funds, let us long for more goods. Lord, give good things.” “For our retirement needs and for all stocks and bonds and 401ks, let us long for more cash. Lord, give money.” “Make us rich and prosper us, O lord.” But the prayer to mammon cannot end with a trusting “Amen.” No, it ends with an anxious “Let us worry!”

The liturgy of mammon also has its scriptures – a whole collection of writings designed to give us information, very detailed information, but this collection also inspires us to all sorts of worries and frustrations, and even despair. What are these scriptures used in the liturgy of mammon? Checkbook registers and bank statements, investment prospectus books and those dreaded bills that come due each month like clockwork. We use them for records to be sure, and that’s fine, but these writings so often have another affect on us—they cause us to worry and fret as we wonder how to pay the bills or will it ever be enough.

The liturgy of mammon is a liturgy of anxiety. When we offer our worship to mammon, like the widow at Zarephath, we constantly run back to our jars and jugs, our bank accounts and portfolios, to see if we have enough. And what happens then? We see that we don’t have enough. It really doesn’t matter how much we have or don’t have in those jars and jugs, those accounts and portfolios. It’s never enough. It’s certainly never enough to share with others, because, well, we’re afraid we won’t have enough for – you guessed it – ourselves.

That’s why Jesus must remind us yet again: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Oh, we’d like to think that we can certainly abide by Jesus’ words. “Of course, Lord, I go to church. Of course, Lord, I hear the Bible readings, the sermon, and even take Communion. But, Lord, I do live in the ‘real world,’ and I do need to be concerned about my bank accounts and portfolio and bills.” So Jesus gives a shot between the eyes to humble us: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his life?” It’s not the size of our bank accounts that matters. It’s not the number of bills we have that matters. The problem is our anxiety, our worry, our habit of wringing our hands in worry instead of folding them in faith and prayer.

You see, we cannot be curved in on ourselves in fear and anxiety in the liturgy of mammon and at the same time be set free, turned away from ourselves in faith toward God and in love toward our neighbor. So Jesus invites us to leave the liturgy of mammon, the liturgy of anxiety, behind us. In fact, He wants us to die to it. He invites us to His liturgy, the liturgy of faith in the Father. Why, even the world around us lives in this liturgy. The little bird in the air does not worry about her food. No, first thing in the morning she gets up and sings her little heart out as she praises her Creator. Then she flies off to find whatever He has given for food for that day. And the little flowers in the fields and along the roads? They don’t worry either. They’re clothed in those bright, joyous colors. They’re here today and gone tomorrow. And yet they live without any anxiety, because God takes care of them. He gives them all they need to be the flowers He created them to be. “Will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

St. Paul reminds us: “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). That righteousness, peace, and joy come from our Lord Jesus who did not worry even as He had no place to lay His head. That righteousness, peace, and joy come from our Lord Jesus who went to the cross to free us from our liturgy of anxiety. As He suffered the blows and insults, He did not worry. As the nails pierced His hands and feet, He was not anxious about what would happen to Him next. As He breathed His last, He entrusted Himself into the caring hands of His Father. And then, as He rose again from the dead, He revealed the righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit for all to trust and enjoy. You see, our Lord Jesus sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness for us, and now all of His good things are added to us. That’s God’s liturgy—the liturgy of faith, the liturgy of receiving life from Jesus, the liturgy of forgiveness for our worry and anxiety, the liturgy of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

So the liturgy is truly and literally our best antidote for fearful anxiety and worry. It teaches us to trust our heavenly Father for daily bread. After all, He gave us our true daily bread in His Son Jesus, the bread of life. And He continues to give us our daily bread in the Body and Blood on the Altar. He also clothes us with the garment that can never wear out, that is, the righteousness of Jesus Christ in our Baptism. [And we get to see that garment put on Kiera here this morning.] So, if our Lord Jesus gives our true daily bread of forgiveness and life and our true clothing of righteousness, don’t you think that He will also give us the food and clothing that we need for our pilgrimage through this world? Yes, He will, and that sets us free to focus on the one thing needful: Him and His kingdom.

With that freedom, St. Paul can exhort us: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Let’s go back to the widow at Zarephath. As long as she looked only at her jar and jug, she despaired. But once Elijah exhorted her to look out from herself, to help meet the need of her neighbor, then she had enough. And notice the pattern there. God did not give her a mound of flour or a river of oil. No, He simply gave enough to fit in her jar and jug. But it was enough, and even more than enough, as she poured it out and gave it away.

That’s the liturgy of faith. Since God has promised to provide for our every need, we are freed from focusing on ourselves. Faith gives birth to love, and we get to focus on our neighbors instead of ourselves. Of course, we do good to all people, but, as St. Paul says, we especially do good to our fellow Christians. Their need is our need. Their hurt is our hurt. Let our joy become their joy. That’s why God blesses us with money and stuff—not to serve ourselves, but to serve and be a blessing to those around us.

That’s the liturgy of faith, the liturgy of receiving God’s kingdom, and His righteousness, and other good things. And to all of that, the best and proper response is a hearty, “Amen”— the word spoken with hands open for receiving from Jesus, with hands folded in faith and prayer, and with hands extended to give to our neighbor. Amen. This is most certainly true.