Monday, February 29, 2016

Inverse [Lent 3; St. Luke 11:14-28]

Some say reality is black and white
Most say reality is a gray area, while the rest who are offended by gray say reality is many colors.

They say life is what you make it. They say reality is an illusion. In order to justify your corrupt desires, you are willing to order and reorder reality as you see fit; red, yellow, black, white, whatever.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells you of one reality with two kingdoms: a divided kingdom and a unified kingdom.

In the divided kingdom, there is peace. There is peace because everyone wants the same thing: to be king, but there is only one king: ba’alzebub. Even though you know this, you still struggle to make the best of things. You still work hard and do our duty, even though nothing in life changes. As a result, we make motivation posters.

In this peaceful, divided kingdom demons are seen as heroes, right is wrong, and down is up; and it is in this kingdom that you dwell. In the First part of the Gospel, Jesus shows that a kingdom divided can not stand, implying that the devil and his kingdom are not as divided as you think.

In the second part, Jesus reveals what a united kingdom looks like. That; even if it is swept and put in order, it may be more evil than you realize. And it is more evil in this way: to you, an upright citizen, a man who works hard, earns his living, and makes his own way is someone to be praised.

More than that, he is someone to be imitated. He is someone you want in your club or church because you know he will be a pillar of support. He will always give, he will always volunteer, and he will always be an example.

This is the world we live in. Jesus says it is one way. You say it is another. In your sin, you are incapable of making sound judgment calls according to the Faith. Since the Fall, there is not the least spark of spiritual power remaining or present, in anyone.

Because of all this, Jesus does come to do harm to this kingdom. He comes to spoil the strong man. He has not come solely to cast out demons, but to banish them forever. He has not come to give everyone a turned-around-life, but to bring true life. He has not come to bring peace, but a sword to this kingdom.

This sword falls upon sin, death, and the devil. Even upon you, for you are sin’s servant and the devil’s captive. In your sin, you do the devil’s will by casting judgment on Jesus and saying that He does things in a false way.

Jesus comes to attack and in your sin you are certain it is against you. As Jesus approaches, the fear of punishment rises and also the distaste of perceived injustice in your mouth. You watch Him, waiting for Him to trip up, and see Him mount the cross.

At last! You say. He is going to come to an end and you will no longer have to deal with His persecution and His holier than thou talk. But in the crucifixion and resurrection, the tables are turned. The Holy Spirit waters and gives growth to what Christ had planted by His Gospel and a realization comes.

The realization that the devil, sin, and death have been the enemies this entire time, not you. You have been so concerned with who’s doing what and how well it looks to others that you missed the picture completely. But, because your sinful nature is strong and active only to do what is displeasing to God, Christ is strong and active to destroy and regenerate that nature.

This new, holy nature is not something to be prepared for or for you to accept. It is a whole and complete gift given through Jesus. It is a gift prepared in the flesh, purchased and won in the flesh, and given, you guessed it, in the flesh. This means that in the midst of your sin and this divided kingdom, Jesus gives His gifts in Word and Sacrament.

Dear Christians, the grace of God has already appeared. The storms may gather and the armies of hell may be unfurling hateful banners, but your captain has already taken the field, is holding the field, and you along with it.

Let’s make no mistake, we are all sorely oppressed by demons, despite what things look like. We all are possessed for the signs of possession are not just evil things, but sin against God. It is not just murder, greed, and inhumanity that make a person evil, but a wrong heart towards God. A right heart towards God only comes through suffering.

The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus clears the smog. In a backwards way Jesus becomes a criminal, pays for sin, and leads the devil captive. Deep guile and great might may be the devil’s work to fool us, but Jesus is not fooled. Jesus knows that His Word is true and that His sacraments offer the promises of God to you , for free.

Your mind and heart are of the flesh and are stuck there. You can no more see inside of a man than you can run through solid concrete. All you get is the front they put up and God help you if you make the wrong decision about someone.

But whether we recognize evil or it pulls a fast one over us all the time; our true and only hope is in Christ and His Word. It is there we hear only of Him and His deeds done for us. It is there that we hear of forgiveness and salvation given by water, bread, and wine. It is in the Word where we hear of the stronger man overcoming the strong man, gaining us as the spoils.

Where the world and our corrupt nature want us in ignorance of the person, words, and works of Christ, the Spirit wills the opposite. Where earthly comforts flee and fail, the Church stands forever as the place where the Gospel is preached in its purity and the Sacraments administered according to it.

Jesus is what makes the church holy. Jesus is what makes you holy. His gifts are what will stand up to the gates of hell and His promises are what will outlast any sustained effort of works on our or the devil’s part. It is not us. It is not from us. It is Jesus. And it is from Jesus.

The reality is that it is all about Jesus. Whether what He does feels right or wrong to you, He is always right. Not that He is showing off, but that He’s doing it all for you. The reality is that we can not trust our own senses, but in Faith, we trust the Word of God.

Your world is divided, but Christ is one. One with the Father; One with the Spirit; and now, one with you. Our senses may be darkened and our reality distorted, but Jesus is the light of our senses and the creator of justification by grace through faith, for His sake.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Lord's Prayer [Ephesians 3:14-21]

This evening, Jesus tells us that St. Paul is praying, in Ephesians, heard tonight. What he is praying for is the Church. What’s happening in Ephesians is this: the pastors are being persecuted in front of the congregation. Not during service, but those who are preaching the Gospel are being publicly beaten, arrested, and slandered.

This terrifies the congregation,. Not only do they sympathize with their pastors, but in the back of their minds, they know they are next. In our days, we can’t understand this as we have lived in relative peace for quite a few generations, in America.

However, that does not make things easier for you. It makes things harder. Where the early Christians could point to their aggressors, you can not. As we said, there is apparent peace in this country, and yet the Word of God still declares that the enemies are at the gate.

The Christian’s only recourse, indeed the only outlet the Lord gives him, is prayer. There is no other way to communicate to the Lord our needs. You can not get there through the Sacraments; they are a one way street (from God to you). You can not use meditation or dreaming and you certainly can not NOT pray, saying that your life and actions are prayer enough.

The enemies you face today are more sinister than even the serpent in Eden. As we said before,  our enemies parade around as the good guys, even using the Word of God. However, what you have in the Lord’s Prayer is one of the great weapons in your arsenal.

Much to the consternation of many people, the Lord’s Prayer is written down and many despise written things because, they say, that the letter kills, but the spirit makes alive (2 Cor. 3:6). Also of great disappointment to many, is the fact that the Lord’s Prayer is not just a template of prayer with which you may plug and play, copy and paste, as you see fit.

No, the gift Jesus gives us in His prayer is much better than both of those things. For one, it is the prayer JESUS HIMSELF PRAYS. For two, it is a direct revelation of what your needs truly are.

Jesus does not make this hard to understand. He gives you the prayer that He wants to hear you pray, so you should pray it, word for word. You’d think this would be a no-brainer. The Man Who wants to hear prayer gives you a prayer to pray. Don’t mess with it, just pray it as often as possible.

The Ten Commands told us what we must do and the Apostles Creed, what we must believe and in these things alone do we find the best and happiest life. However, even though we have begun to believe, we can not cling to them perfectly.

On top of that, the devil with all his power, together with the whole world and our very own flesh constantly resist this, nothing is more necessary than to continually resort to the ear of God. All our shelter and protection rest in prayer alone, for your needs are greater than the saints (Large Catechism).

This the Lord’s Prayer reveals to us. You hear from Jesus’ own words your great need of hallowing God’s Name; of letting His kingdom come; of letting His will be done; of daily bread; of forgiveness of sins; of aid in temptation and deliverance from evil. In calling upon God in this way, pretty much demanding His help, your prayer is as precious, holy, and pleasing to God as any of the most holy saints.

Do not despise prayer, for God commands it. Do not fake humility, God commands that you call upon Him at all times. He wants to hear it. He wants to answer it. He wants to remove all obstacles in the way of faith and belief for you and He wants you to do it the right way.

Thus you have a crucified and risen Lord and Savior giving you both the way and the words to pray. Not only that, but He has caused His Holy Spirit to work through men and the Church in order that it would be written down. Then, He made it so that you would hear this Gospel and believe.

And by believing these written words of Christ, you then would have exactly what they promise, in Christ.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Reversed [Lent 2; St. Matthew 15:21-28]

Jesus speaks today, saying:
“O woman, great is your faith.”

Consider this Canaanite woman. She neither reaps nor sows. She has not been apart of God’s chosen people. She has not planted her own faith, neither has she built it up, yet she possesses it and it really shows up today.

She is on fire. First off, it takes a lot of courage to speak to a public figure in public. And it takes even more to admit a personal problem in front of everyone, not even mentioning the extremely embarrassing fact that it is demon possession. How would you feel?

But, she does it. She gathers everything she has and shouts at Jesus. Then she tries again. Possibly Jesus didn’t hear over the nasty grumblings of the disciples. Undeterred, she lets loose another round of prayer.

Maybe she will get what she wants this time. She knows what to say and when to say it, if she just hangs in there. She knows she has to be humble and sincere and really mean it. Once Jesus sees her courage, persistence, and abject humility, He must give in. If Jesus wants to save face in the public eye, He can’t refuse such a display, can He?!

Because, to the public and to you, she is a hero. She is battling female oppression. She is standing up for what she believes in. She is demanding justice and she is doing it all while being clever and humble.

This interaction seems to be a very unflattering point in Jesus’ ministry. He tries to save things by making things right in the end, but the damage to His kindly image is done. Not only did He initially refuse to answer this woman, but He also refused to help her.

You have no answer to this. You want to be on Jesus’ side, here and make some excuse for Him like, “its all for the best”, but Jesus may have stuck to His guns and completely refused her. Are you less inclined to fear love and trust Him now? Will you not have His back unless He has yours?

Repent. You believe that there is no justice unless God heals this woman’s daughter. You believe that she has shown herself to be deeply committed and deeply devoted. And yet, it is exactly these things that Jesus rejects.

It wasn’t that long ago that the tables were reversed. God had created the universe in six days and begged Adam for an answer. God also saw the complete corruption of Noah, saved him, and wondered why that family did not remain faithful. God shouted at the whole world through Moses, the psalms, and all the prophets and the world did not answer Him a word.

The devil oppresses your ears and tells Jesus that He can go save some other people. Your sinful nature agrees and rejects Jesus at His word and says He is too harsh, too intolerant, and too unloving. He demands too much and requires the impossible. There is no way to please Him.

But that is just the point. Jesus demands perfection because anything less is worthless. Jesus requires the impossible, because anything less is not worth the effort. Jesus rejects the most holiest deeds, not because they are bad, but because they are not His.

The only reason this section of holy Scripture seems unflattering is because you read it backwards. You read it as you playing the part of the Canaanite woman and it reveals how hard your life is and how hard you work at being a good person.

How you need to read this is with the Canaanite woman playing the part of Jesus. As we have already said, In all of history it has been God who has been the beggar, been the pleader, and has been rejected. And in Jesus this all comes to a head.

Jesus, is the final plea of the Lord. Jesus is God, kneeling before His fallen creation, begging for you to turn back to Him through Word and Sacrament. But, unlike Jesus, we do not give God what He desires, even after a lifetime of burying His face in the dust.

What’s missing is a final step. What the Canaanite woman does not do, or more to the point, is prevented from doing, is offering the final sacrifice in what it takes to get a god to do your will. That final step is blood. That final step to show your god how committed you are and that you really mean business, is to offer your own life as payment.

Jesus stops the woman at that point, because He will be the only one to take that final step. Being completely rejected by His own creation, even His own people, Jesus having even bowed to their every request, Jesus is sacrificed. In your sin, you do not show God mercy, but Jesus shows mercy to the woman and to you, without your sacrifice and good works.

Jesus shows mercy, not just by healing this daughter, but by dying for her. She did not deserve it. She did not even come herself to ask for help. Yet the gift remains the same.

You also did not ask God to send His only Son. You did not ask God to beg you for anything. You did not ask God for handouts and you certainly did not ask Him to give up His prized possession. Far be it from you to demand such a thing.

But this is what He gives you. He is not waiting for your life to turn around. He is not waiting for you to learn how to pray or how to evangelize or how to get Him to do something. He takes the initiative and gives everything He has to you. He rejects what you offer and gives you what He offers.

That is: eternal life, light, and forgiveness of sins. For, in the great faith that the cross of Christ wins for you, you stand, then in the place of Jesus. You then have these great works of faith, similar to the Canaanite woman. Not that they make God love you, but that they show how much God already loves you.

In this backwards way, Jesus destroys your sinful actions and thoughts, taking them to the cross. He does not allow anything to get in the way of this forgiveness of sins He is giving to you. He will not allow anything less than perfection and the entire kingdom of God to be yours as a free gift.

Jesus takes your sins, your works, and your devotion and is crucified, in order that He have the glory. The same great faith that begs of God; the same great faith that keeps Jesus on the cross, is the same great faith you need and have as a free gift of God.

Your blessedness is given to you without works. Your salvation and righteousness comes at the same time that God justifies you by faith. If you wish to be sure of your salvation, do not look the secret counsel of God, but hear Christ.

Hear Christ Jesus, Who is the Book of Life, say that it is God’s will that all men should come to Him who labor and are heavy laden with sin, in order that Jesus give them rest from ALL their work. Even bowing down like a dog, work.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Backwards [Lent I; St. Matthew 4:1-11]

Jesus speaks today, saying:

St. Matthew calls him the Tempter and St. Mark calls him Satan. In both cases, it is the devil being drawn to Jesus, fulfilling what Jesus said about Himself, that He will draw everyone to Himself (Zech. 8:22).

On Ash Wednesday, we heard that it is directly our responsibility in teaching our children, not just right and wrong, but all of the catechism (Preface to the Large Catechism, Par. 1-6). This is so that when you are confronted with satan, you and your children will be able to not just repel him, but recognize him in the first place.

St. Paul states that satan is not the black-horned, scary demon Hollywood wants us to believe he is. He is an angel; an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). This means that he walks around looking good to us and feeling good to us. He is so tricksy, that he fools you today.

There is an example you need to follow in the gospel reading today. There is someone who follows Jesus. There is someone who hears God’s Word, believes what it says, and does what it says. He is understanding what God is saying and talking to Him. The Word of God is on his lips and he knows its power.

In fact, just as you have been charged with handing down correct teaching to your children, he wants to make sure that he is teaching things correctly as well. So much so, that he makes sure he is exactly where God says to be in order that he get things right.

Of course, the person I’m talking about is the devil, but you were able to tell, right? I mean, just because you are called to do all those same things, doesn’t mean you do them the same way he does, does it?

Jesus speaks of the zeal of God of the Jews (Rom.10), but they were ignorant of the righteousness of God. But to you and me, any action made by such a person would look just as godly. You would not be able to tell the difference.

In today’s epistle (2 Cor. 6:1-10), Jesus describes it as “working together”, but to do so “not receiving the grace of God in vain” . How do you not receive it in vain? How do you know your zeal is different from the devil’s?

An act of volunteering is an act of volunteering. An act of charity is an act of charity. Regardless of the belief of a person, each and every action looks just like all of yours that you say are godly, yet here, everyone else is doing them as well, even the prince of this world.

Jesus being tempted in the wilderness is not just Him versus satan, it is also Jesus versus you. Your works and your thoughts are indistinguishable from the sinful world. You, like Peter, do not wish for Jesus to suffer and die. You would rather find another way.

But, there is no other way. Jesus must fast for 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus must be in an extremely weak state before he faces Satan’s temptation. Jesus must hear His own Word and works used against Him and He must endure.

Jesus must endure underneath the works of satan and the works of men. He must place Himself underneath His own law in order to redeem those under this law of condemnation. And endure He does.

You do not see Jesus stumble at any point. You see Him fasting perfectly. You see Him refusing angelic rescue. You see Him refusing to tap into His divine power. And yet, you see Him using every drop of power to become weak and hungry; to become spit upon and beaten, and to suffer and remain on the cross until death.

This is no small thing that Jesus does. He does not want you going out into deserts, starving yourself to death, and thinking you can beat satan. He does not suffer and die in order for you to believe that your works are what makes your zeal for God righteous.

In order for your zeal to be real and in the true knowledge of the righteousness of God, you need just one thing: faith alone.

We’ve said before that we have nothing God wants, not even our good works and we can see why. They are too similar to evil. Much more to the point, they are not Christ’s works. Only the Son and everything He does pleases the Father. Therefore, in order to please the Father, you must find yourself in the Son.

In Baptism, you are baptized into Christ. This, your catechism tells you all about. This is also a point of departure between you and satan. This is also the point of departure between your works and the world’s works. For in baptism, you are given faith for free.

It is Faith alone that hears and believes that Christ is the righteousness of God. It is Faith alone that despairs of works and instead rests upon the works of Jesus. It is Faith alone that orders mortal flesh to be silent in the face of a serving God. It is Faith alone that saves.

The devil is revealed in all works and his black robes put on, through the same eyes of faith that see Jesus baptizing each and every saint at this font. To satan, the salvation of the world is accomplished apart from the promise of God to accomplish everything.

Faith knows that weakness produces strength, that suffering produces hope, and that a dying God produces the salvation of the world. In that Faith, you go about your works. In the Faith that will confess every act and thought as sinful, you can do the same works as unbelievers and yet be saved.

You don’t need to look for a battle with satan. You don’t have to engage him in any sort of conflict or combat, because your Lord does it for you. Fleeing to Christ means you confess your sins in order to be forgiven again. Our victory has been won. Satan has lost. There is now no more condemnation left for you, because Jesus took it all upon Himself.

Now, in Christ, you are no longer an impostor, but true; you are no longer unknown, but known; you are dying, but behold you live; you are punished, but are not killed; you are sorrowful and yet always rejoicing; you are poor, but make many rich.

You have nothing, but Christ has given you everything, in Him.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Grace; what? [Quinquagesima; St. Luke 18:31-43]

In celebrating the Feast of St. Timothy, Jesus revealed to us that Grace is undeserved. That we are not the faithful and wise servants we ought to be in order to gain the favor or God. Last week, Jesus revealed to us that we passively receive Grace, in the Parable of the Sower. We do not earn the right to gain the seed, it is simply given fully and completely to us, regardless of the condition of our hearts.

Today, the final Sunday in the Gesima season, we finish preparing for Lent in hearing Jesus tell us that Grace is not easily understood. Jesus speaks, saying,

Indeed, it sounds as if Grace is not understood at all, not just because we aren’t smart enough, but because it is hidden from us. What chance do you have if God is the one hiding something from you? None.

What God has hidden from the Apostles is the centrality and necessity of the cross. Notice how they gloss right over it in the Gospel read today! The main and only point to Christ taking on flesh skips in one ear and goes out the other.

Really, today could be called Hidden Sunday, because even in the Old Testament (1Sam.16:1-13), there is more hiding going on. However, in God dealing with Samuel, you hear of how God hides. For, in hiding the Lord’s chosen in the lowly shepherd David, the Lord did not hide David, but hid his worth.

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature…for the Lord looks on the heart.” Jesus says this of David, because David was not next in line, or worthy, or qualified to be king, as King Saul seemed to have been. Yet, hidden from men, lay the salvation of Israel from the hands of king Saul and their enemies.

Even in the epistle (1Cor.13:1-13), Jesus is still speaking of hiding things. This time it is how much we are known, for now we see in a mirror dimly. All this talk about love, prophesies, tongues, and knowledge and their true meaning is hidden from us. You don’t find it in romance, in rituals, in charismatic gifts, or in books. Rather, you WON’T find them, no matter how hard you look or how you lie about it when you shout, “Eureka!”

The reason why God hides Himself (Is. 45:15); the reason why God dwells in thick darkness (1Ki. 8:12) is because He wants to be found where He wants to be found and not where you want to find Him, that is in your love, in your gifts, and in your understanding.

Repent! The Lord is not going to return in secret and heal the blind and the sick once again, shrouded in mystery. The Lord is not going to look for hearts who are in love with Him or are full of love in order to create His kingdom on earth. The Lord takes no delight in the strength of kings, their legs (Ps.147:10), or their capacity for victory and love.

This is because the Epistle is not talking about you and a program to increase correct love in your life. It is telling you about the hidden God. St. Paul is describing the love that the Lord has towards you. Jesus is speaking to you, in that letter; please don’t hear about your own love, but about Christ’s love for you.

Jesus does not want to speak in tongues; He wants to give love. Jesus does not want to prophesy, know everything, or remove the mountains; He wants to love you. He does not want to give away all that He has or deliver up His body as a sacrifice, but He does because He wants you to know the depth of His hidden love.

Nowhere is love more patient than Christ on the cross. Nowhere is love not envious or boastful, or arrogant or rude, than in the suffering of Christ. Nowhere is it more tolerant or welcoming, than in the death of God. For Jesus does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but prohibits anyone but Him paying for it.

With the light and truth of the cross, the Lord shines in the darkness and reveals all that is hidden, even Himself. For nowhere is God more fully known than in the sacrifice of Jesus.

Dear Christians, this is the love that never ends. This is the love that pass away. This is the exact place God wants to be un-hidden. The Lord is not a king, He is a servant. The Lord is not strong, He is weak. The Lord is not wise, He is foolish. Yet in this seeming weakness of Jesus, God gains complete perfection in redeeming His fallen creation.

In Jesus’ servant hood, His kingship is perfected. In Jesus’ weakness, His strength is made perfect. And in Jesus’ foolishness, you are forgiven. St. Paul and Samuel are not talking about God keeping things from us. They are talking about God hiding His glory in this stinking, sinful flesh.

Paul and Samuel are prophesying that God, in His infinite cleanliness and sovereignty, has accomplished salvation from behind enemy lines and in the guise of an enemy and this makes no sense to you. Grace is still far from your mind

You only see this grace dimly, because you are still waiting for God to act mightily in your life. You retain your childish thoughts, because you are still expecting lightning from heaven to prove to you, once and for all, that God is real.

You may have missed it, but this blind man has not. You may have not understood, fully, the incredibly revealing statement that Jesus has made, but your faith has not. For the blind man and your faith, follow Jesus. They mark and take note of every move and every word, until finally, they stare at His body on the cross and say, “Eureka.”

Jesus hides Himself in suffering and weakness in order that you would find Him, this Lent, on that road to the cross. He wants you to know that in His weakness, He has the power to give sight, meaning, that though God becomes weak, the weakness of God overcomes death on a cross.

Even though Christ is bearing all sin; in that innocent guilt He retains His holiness, in order that each and every baptism, each and every proclamation of the Gospel, and each and every eating and drinking of communion give life, light, salvation, the forgiveness of sins.

Thus, at these words, you know the Son of David is passing by, even this day. For you sing David’s hymn: “Hosanna, hosanna! Blessed is HE that comes in the Name of the Lord.” And at the singing of David’s hymn, David’s Lord mounts the Altar in triumph as both victim and the victor.

As both the greatest and the least; the Lion and the Lamb; the Giver of the feast and the feast, Himself. In this way, Jesus hides in plain sight.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Stewardship? [Sexagesima; St. Luke 8:4-15]

Already beginning our countdown to Easter, we finish out our new-year month that has been filled with resolutions, today; sixty days before Easter. With the parable of the Sower before us, let us reflect on true stewardship and service to God.

Jesus speaks to you today, saying,
“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that
            ‘seeing they may not see, and
            hearing they may not understand.’”

Jesus is preaching this to His chosen 12 stewards. They do not understand, and even one of them will betray Him. So, what we get out of the parable of the Sower is no more or less than the Apostles. Even when Jesus explains it, we find no comfort in only a 1 in 4 chance of serving God correctly.

You may think of this in terms of your own attempts to improve your life with resolutions. They tell you it is always good to have goals and if you can’t meet your current ones, make them smaller…and smaller…and smaller.

For all our efforts at “doing better” this year, we find we really don’t change much. It is so much easier to find a happy-medium, without the chaos of change, and remain there. Who wants chaos in their life? In fact, we always move from change towards the same ole’-same ole’, no matter our intentions.

What can you say about this parable and your own attempts at making it into the right soil? You can say that you know what’s right and what’s wrong. You can say that you do your best. But there is none of that in this parable. Indeed, what God may want you to do is to stop serving the Lord.

Now, you’ve heard this sort of thing before, which means you need to really think about it. Before you rebel and say that you’ll never not serve the Lord, hear what Jesus is saying here. The seed that fell along the path did not give their offerings on time, in order that they might receive seed, much less the birds and the feet.

The rocks didn’t pray fervently or go on a mission trip to get some seed thrown their way. The thorns did not volunteer more and even the good soil was not found sticking to a Bible reading plan to better their amount of growth.

There was simply a Sower and seed that needed to be spread. There is no mention of Christian service, moral living, or pleasing behavior. Christ has a Gospel and its going to be spread, regardless of anything else happening around it.

God needs nothing. He gets no benefit from your moral uprightness. His kingdom is no more extended by a wrong decision than a right one. God’s magnificence is not expanded by your money and He is not more almighty simply because you say He is or you, somehow, show that He is.

God is already all these things, even without your prayers. Before you were born and thinking about serving Him, He had already gotten all the glory there was to be had. Which raises a couple questions, in light of all this: how do I serve the Lord and when is God most pleased with the Christian?

Repent. If you get our answer from today’s Gospel, or any Gospel reading for that matter, you find that you are not a part of the equation. You don’t serve the Lord.

In fact, there are two very unflattering reasons why we can not serve the Lord directly: 1) we have nothing He wants and 2) whatever we have that is worth anything, He gave us.

Of course, Jesus is the key to this impossible riddle of “serving the Lord”. The seed is the Word of God. This means that Christ is preached, but not only preached, Jesus is offered up to death, for in order for a seed to grow, it must first fall into the ground and die.

In order for the soil or the plants that grow to be worth anything, Christ must die for them. Hear the parable in this way: Jesus came to sow His Gospel. All the people He preached to grew violent and only heard the Law condemning them and their works. They then fell upon Him and murdered Him upon a cross.

He died and was buried.

But from the ground came new life. From the bare, lifeless ground of human hearts, the Word sprang up and created faith. In this faith, the birds eat, the rocks hear, and the thorns have purpose. Not of themselves, but because the Word that died has risen again to new life and that life overflows out of Him.

On account of Christ, God is pleased with you. On account of what Jesus has already worked out and accomplished, you are a perfect servant of the Lord. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are already yours and you have done nothing to earn any of it.

You are free. There is no more condemnation for those who are baptized into Jesus. For in that baptism, all of Christ’s perfection is counted as your own. Now, any work the Christian does, in faith, is a good work. Any service the Christian gives is holy in God’s sight.

Since God doesn’t need your good works, you get to offer them to your neighbor: volunteering, serving, changing diapers, and even supporting your Church. Through Christ, God has already accomplished all the better, more holy living you can come up with. All so that you’re free to live and receive these things from Him.

You aren’t really great at serving your neighbor, but its not about that, it is about God serving you. Because, before you go out to serve, you have an incurable corruption of sin that needs forgiving. Before you even think about good works, you need your works killed and raised to new life.

Jesus remains with His own Church, whom He has spread His seed of life upon, and made absolution sprout up an hundred fold. God is most pleased with His service: that when His Gospel is preached and the Sacraments are administered for the forgiveness of sins and that Faith is there to receive and believe, then heaven rejoices.

This is because Jesus came to steward His own Church, Himself. This is because Jesus came in order to forgive sins, even the sins of good works.

Jesus is the key to stewardship. Without the cross, you do not understand stewardship and can not even begin to care for your belief, much less your neighbor. Your service and your offerings are all rubbish, but Christ’s service to you, in Word and Sacrament, is priceless treasure.