Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Who is poor? [Trinity 1; St. Luke 16:19-31]

Jesus speaks today, saying:
“And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.”

Thus the rich man did not hear Moses and the prophets speaking to him about the care for the poor. The rich man did not hear that God demands caring for the poor, not because it is a requirement to get into heaven, but because when the Messiah comes, He will be poor and poorly treated.

Don’t fool yourself. Anyone can care for and love the poor and do it better than a Christian. Similarly, anyone can give to charity, even to a church, but this is not why you give to church.

Last week, we talked about how the belief in a Triune God gives us a different worldview and that, because God exists this way and interacts with us in only certain ways, that changes how we go about living our lives. The story of Lazarus and the rich man further explains this to us.

The first thing we need to understand, is that when Jesus tells His parables and stories and other things, He is speaking to the Church and to those in the Church. It is not unbeliever vs. believer and it is not “reaching out”.

Jesus has framed the rich man as a member of the church. The clues are that he is dressing in purple and fine linen, which are Church things. Purple as a king color and fine linen is what dresses up the altar. He feasted sumptuously from food that had no lack. This is yet another picture of the kingdom’s great feast.

The final give-away is that he recognizes Abraham as his “father”. The rich man is a member, probably in good standing because of his generous offerings. For obvious reasons, Lazarus is also a member so where is the disconnect?

The rich man is disconnected from Church. He has reduced Church to an offering plate. He has pushed his Church aside in exchange for those things which he believes to be God-pleasing, which turn out not to be. He has ceased to see how much he needs the Church and how intimate his relationship with it really is.

The rich man no longer owns his Church. He no longer weeps with it, celebrates with it, or lives and dies by it. His life is not invested in it except by the means of a check. He has never known the poverty of not having the Gospel. He has never known the sorrow of comforting someone for whom he can do nothing except sit there.

The Church, to him, is a country club; a weekend getaway; a waste of time. The reason he thinks this way is because the truth is too hard to bear. Because, if the rich man treats the Church incorrectly, then who does it the right way? Lazarus.

Lazarus, the poor. Lazarus the sick. Lazarus the beggar. Lazarus the helpless. Lazarus the worthless. Here is what you must become in order to be a true picture of the Church of your faith. Here is the example you are to follow in order to imitate Christ and be a true believer.

Do not be surprised and do not be surprised at your own reaction against this, just as the rich man rejected it. Do not be surprised, but repent. In America, you are so far removed from poverty that you have never known need. You have never known of a famine of the Word of God and you have never been so thirsty for righteousness that you needed to start up your own church in a tent.

You are drunk on prosperity and you overlook the poor and yet your Savior was poor. Jesus was sick. Jesus was the beggar. Jesus was helpless and became worthless. Jesus left His prosperity and took up your cross. Jesus was laid in a stranger’s grave, covered with mortal wounds.

In this life, the wicked receive good things and the Church receives the bad, just as Jesus did. On this side of glory, the Triumphant Church is the sickly Lazarus. In this life, evil is conquered by God on a cross. In this life, all are dealt with by the blood of Christ.

Partying hard and dressing fancy are not unforgivable sins and even if you don’t help each and every poor man in the world, the Lord is not going to strike you dead. The Lord is not just going to return and find you in sin, He sees what you do each and every day, already. He has no need to be sneaky about it.

Indeed, He accomplishes all these things through the cross. The public way we know and believe the love God has for us is Jesus, on the cross. The real and physical way God abides in us is in Jesus. Love is perfected with us, because Jesus died among us, on earth, as one of us.

Truly, as He is so also are we in this world. Jesus, the Crucified, still has the marks of the nails and the spear in His body and that is how we will look. In His life, Jesus was Lazarus. Yet, unlike Lazarus, the suffering and death of Jesus allow a pathway to be opened, from death to life.

Because of the Crucified and Risen God-man, Jesus, there was hope for the rich man and that same hope is for you. That hope is that, even though every investment we make in this world fails us, time, money or emotion, the heavenly investments we make do not. That even if we are made into paupers, through generous giving or through no fault of our own, our reward remains great in heaven.

Our reward is Christ. There is no purple or fine linen on earth that matches the baptismal garment Christ clothed you with in baptism. There are no excuses or fancy words that out-perform the life giving Word of Christ and there is no sumptuous feast that lasts to eternity, forgiving sins, except the Feast which the Lord lays out before you.

Our hope is that we are forgiven. Our hope is hearing the Word and believing it when it says not only that we are deserving of the rich man’s fate, but that for Christ’s sake, we are given Lazarus’ fate instead.

And even though the world treats us like Lazarus, we are comforted here as well as in heaven, because Jesus has spoken and His Holy Spirit gives us Faith to believe that we will be on the right side of that chasm.

Whether one day you feel like the rich man or another you feel like Lazarus. The only feelings that matter are Christ’s feelings for you and His Word declares that you are saved.

Monday, May 23, 2016

What to do with the Trinity [Trinity Sunday; St. John 3:1-15]

Jesus speaks to you all today saying,
“Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.””

So, really; what does Isaiah’s vision of the Lord upon a throne have to do with Trinity Sunday? Well, we could say that this part we heard today, from Isaiah’s book, is filled with threes.

The Lord is on a throne, high and lifted up, and His robe fills the Temple. The Seraphim, which means fiery-ones, have 6 wings; that’s 3 times 2. The wings cover face, feet, and they fly. They cry out, Holy, Holy, Holy. Isaiah is in fear of his life because he has unclean lips, his people have unclean lips, and he has seen the Lord of Sabbaoth.

Finally, one of the Seraphim flies to Isaiah with a burning, hot coal which touches Isaiah’s lips, takes his guilt, and atones for his sin. So, at second glance, maybe the reading from Isaiah has a lot to do with the Trinity. We could spend all week in the Old Testament finding similar and more obvious examples.

Looking at the antiphon for today, it comes from the book of Tobit. It was written in-between the time of the Old and New testament. Even there, we hear the angel Raphael exclaiming to Tobit the glory of the Trinity.

Of course, then, in Jesus’ own words, He tells us to baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Any way you shake a stick at it, it falls out as the Holy Trinity.

Now, where did things go wrong? In the Garden of Eden. Since that time in the beginning, the true understanding of the Lord has been attacked. The Bible has been rewritten and edited just so that most of these references are taken out. If they can’t edit them out, then they taught that God is only one and He would just use angels for two others to be there.

But we don’t just need symbolism to be taught that God is three in one. Its not even going to be the words of men that is going to convince anyone of a God that is one but yet three persons. As the Gospel tells us, only the Spirit will make us believe.

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
As we found threes in Isaiah, we could also search for threes in our heart or threes in our life, but we would be sorely disappointed. As the saying goes, good or bad, things come in threes. If they wanted to speak the truth, they would say that those things don’t just come in threes but in multiples of three.

Nothing of the flesh; nothing in nature tells us of God. We don’t know His will, we don’t know His personality, and we certainly don’t know what He is saying. We will also certainly agree with those who tell us that the Trinity is not in the Bible, because the word “trinity” is not there.

Against human nature, then, the Church has firmly placed the Trinity in the centre of the true faith, by establishing the creeds. Moses and the Prophets have constantly preached the Trinity, as we heard, even to the Jews. If all of this is true and of monumental importance, what does it have to do with you? What does “one God, not three gods” and “not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person” have to do with planting corn, counting pennies, or graduating?

It has to do with world-view, meaning, how you view everything you think , say, and do in the world  AND how you view everything that others think, say, and do in the world. A man that believes in the Trinity does plant corn the same way as everyone else, but he does not plant corn for the same reason as everyone else.

This is because now that the Trinity has placed true belief in his heart, the only motive behind planting, working, or doing anything is so he can go to Church.

Now that God has revealed Himself in His Bible, now that this verbal revelation has taken on flesh, and now that the Trinity offers Himself, literally, to His Church for her salvation, what is the point of doing anything else or to being anywhere else except the place God does this?

Indeed, it appears as if things become pointless; meaningless. They become altogether too much for our small minds to handle: an eternal washing accomplished with tap water? Heavenly salvation simply by listening? Divine forgiveness given in eating and drinking?

Yet, it is in these impossible things that the Trinity points us away from and points us to easy to understand things such as words in a book, working, and graduating, among other things.

We are not allowed to remain confused and overwhelmed, but are given gifts and tasks that are within our means to comprehend. Jesus has perfected and accomplished all the impossibles for this reason. These high and mighty topics still remain, but now everyone understands them through Jesus.

Therefore, since we have such a great high priest and since this glorious salvation is already ours, along with the entire kingdom of God, we can simply live. Having faith in baptism that never dries out, we can go into a dry field, plant crops, and know that big or bust, Christ has secured our salvation. Having faith in a Gospel that gives faith freely, we can work 9-5, 9-12, or 12-12 and know that we believe. Having faith in the Body of Christ, we can gain all the knowledge in the world and know that it is all a wash if we do not have the forgiveness of sins.

When Nicodemus comes to Jesus and does not understand baptism, Jesus takes offense, because He knows Nicodemus has worked long and hard to elevate his teaching and life to an high, godly plane of existence. However, Jesus is not in the high and lofty. Jesus is not working and saving that which is high and lifted up. Jesus, and therefore the whole Trinity, is working here, down below.

If Nicodemus really wanted his work to be godly, he wouldn’t work out the most holy things he could think of. He would realize that, in Christ, he is already as holy as he is going to get and therefore could have the most meaningless job on the planet and yet still be doing holy work.

The only thing that divides the work of the Christian from the works of everyone else is faith. Faith that even if we do, what we feel is, a worthless task, God takes pleasure in it. Because, no matter what the Christian does, he can do it loving God and loving his neighbor.

Faith tells us that, even though the Trinity is impossible to understand, it can still shape our life and affect us. Belief in the Trinity therefore changes our worldview and makes us see that it is not what we do, but what Christ has done for us. Therefore we should seek Him out where He wills Himself to be found.

That place, of course, is His own Church where forgiveness and salvation daily come by His merits and are handed out for free.