Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The 7th Command [Trinity 9; St. Luke 16:1-9]

Whom we hear today, speaking to us, saying,

Each command from God has two sides to it. The first is the actual act or commission. The second is neglect or omission. The first has you thinking about or acting out your sinful desires and the second is you not preventing it from happening to someone else.

So the manager who wastes his Lord’s possessions is guilty of stealing. Not only is he allowing the Lord’s goods to be mishandled and mistreated, but he is also holding them as not worth his time and effort.

This is not a new concept to the Jews. The very first Temple that was built by Solomon was great indeed, but it took less time and less material to build it than it took to build Solomon’s palace. Before that, the Lord sat in a tent, outside the comforts of the kingdom walls since Israel had conquered the place, some 100 years before, and had been in that tent since the time of Moses some 500 years before that.

Without even having to mention how the Lord’s creation is treated; in this way, God the Master is always the servant. The Servant God. The God who gives and is never repaid, or rather, can not be repaid. As your employer places his goods and his name on the line to hire you, becoming your servant, so the Lord, in giving you all good things, becomes your servant.

This is the proper understanding of how to fulfill the 7th Commandment and, as I hoped you concluded, it is impossible. Since God can not be repaid, you can only take from Him. Whether you do so in good faith or with devious intent, you are a taker. The air you breathe; care to put a price on all you have used up to now?

You can see how, even if you do not steal or are never caught stealing, your entire life, it does not makeup for what you do steal from God. How unfair! How cold-hearted! But so very true. Whatever is under the whole heaven is God’s already. You have no claim on any of it.

Which is why it is only God Who can come and redeem, or buy back, what has been lost, namely, His things. Thus in our parable heard today, it is the Lord’s mercy that pays for all that debt, not unrighteous mammon and the manager being just a tool.

However, it is the shrewdness of the unrighteous manager that convicts us of our own sin. For, he is unrighteous and yet he comes to know his Lord’s possessions are worth what his Lord is worth and shows mercy with them.

Repent. The seventh command reveals an impossible debt piled up for you, but also a possible debt between you and your neighbor. You think you can repay God instead of helping your neighbor to improve and protect his possessions and income. You feel that if you just obey God, you won’t have to worry about taking your neighbor’s money or possessions and getting them in dishonest ways.

Yes, don’t steal from your neighbor. Don’t take his things by wrong or by show of rights. But also don’t presume that you can steal from God His glory of salvation or neglect the fact that He has already given you everything that is His to give in Christ Jesus.

God becomes a man in order that humanity might rob Him. Jesus opens Himself up to physical abuse and manhandling in order that He might give all of His possessions as an inheritance. In the abuse and death of Christ, we see the 7th commandment for what it really is: a prophecy of a Savior come to serve sinners the forgiveness of sins.

You render to the Lord not one thing and that is a good thing! He could not be called the Father of all mercies if He required payment for anything He did for us. Knowing the 7th command is not enough. Living for Him is not enough. The one thing you do for the Lord is to take.

Take what He offers. Take what He has to say to you. Take His washing of regeneration and rebirth. Take the faith given by His Word alone. Take His body and Blood. Take, take, take, because Jesus gives, gives, gives.

Jesus gives us God in a box; an infant shaped box at Christmastime. Jesus gives us a mighty king who grows up under His parents rule. Jesus gives us the perfection of all of God’s commands. Jesus gives us the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world on the cross and Jesus gives us His resurrected life.

The dishonest manager is praised because he shows us Jesus, bringing the kingdom of God to earth. He shows us that Jesus scatters and wastes His Father’s good upon undeserving sinners. This is because, like the manager demands of the debtors, Jesus does not pay us what we deserve.

When we are owed money, we are quick to send collectors and judges after our debtors, be they family or foe. When Jesus is owed justice and payment, He instead pays for it. I desire mercy and not sacrifice, He says. Salvation is not bought with gold or silver or man’s works, but only by the Blood of Christ.

Do not seek to please God with payment of an amended life or good intentions. Instead pay attention. …pay attention [to the Word] as to a lamp shining in a dark place…. Sit down. Rest from your labors and receive the very Good things that Christ has prepared for you from the beginning of the world. All who work for their grace will be grieved. All who receive forgiveness from the pastor, as from the Lord Himself, will be comforted.

The gifts Christ freely gives are what we payback to God. The Cup of Salvation which you take and the Name of the Lord which you already possess. These are gifts to give to God or rather show that you have received them.

Jesus is God and His gifts, which can not be stolen, flow from the font, flow from absolution, and flow from the feast. The Divine Service helps us fulfill this command and prevents us from neglecting it. For you can not steal what is freely and abundantly given and you can not neglect something you have no power over and is offered all the time, to you, for free.


Monday, July 18, 2016

You are holy [Trinity 8; St. Matthew 7:15-23]

The Lord Jesus Christ speaks, not just to His generation, but in history and to you today, saying:

The wolves are cloaked. Hidden from your sight. Impossible for natural man to detect. As a duck blind blinds the ducks to the hunter’s presence, so also are you blind to the wolves. The blind leading the blind, as it were…

In an attempt to not fall victim to the wolves, or to become one yourself, you hear St. Paul’s words today and figure that if you just live according to the Spirit, and not the flesh, not only will you live, but you will be able to judge the wolves from the sheep.

You, however, quickly become bored with good works. You realize that not everyone is doing the works you are and you must make sure they know this. You judge them unworthy to receive Christ’s gifts by holding them in contempt.

In your own attempt to do the sheeply works God demands of you, you wolfishly devour them by one-upping God and instead do what you feel are better works. So, you prophesy, cast out demons, and do many mighty works.

These three flashy acts are the devil’s favorites, because if even one person supposedly enacts them, everyone flocks to them, throws money at them, and forms a cult around them. Yes, the Apostles did these things, but they, and they only, had the calling to spread the Church in this way.

So what are false teachers really after? It can not be the flashy works. They offer no camouflage for trickery and lies. What the wolves are really after is your holiness; your sanctification given to you by the Lord. Those who are already a part of the pack do not incite blood-lust quite like the justification through faith by grace for Christ’s sake.

The howl of the hunt is raised as Jesus opens your eyes in proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. In preaching Christ Crucified, the false prophets loose their camo as the light of the world falls upon them. Jesus is the wisdom of God and the wisdom of God sends His Son to suffer and die on the cross.

For in that event; in Christ dying on the cross, all righteousness is fulfilled. In this once-for-all, historic act that can not be undone, salvation has been completely accomplished. It can not be taken back, because time does not move backwards. Neither can it be undone. It is set in the stone of the past and upon that rock, true faith and the true Church are founded.

Returning to St. Paul’s words then, it is not enough to live in the Spirit, it is more important to be led by the Spirit. Works follow, but being led means you are listening and hearing the words of Jesus. Possessing the Spirit of Jesus commends you to God and gives His promised holiness.

And since your holiness is a gift from God, and is as eternal and unchanging as He is, it can not be taken away from you. No matter how many times you hear someone tell you, you need to be doing this or that to be a better Christian, you are called to the holiness of Christ. Regardless of life lived or works worked, you have it. It is already in your possession, for you are saved by grace alone.

Because this gift can not be taken from you, the false prophets desire it. They want to create doubt inside you, because they want you to reject this gift. This is the only way to lose it. Do you prophesy enough? Have you cast out your quota of demons? Have you extended God’s Kingdom? Are your works mighty enough? Do you even do any of this?!

Dear Christian, these are indeed godly works given to you to do, but a bad tree can not produce good fruit. The wolves love your works; to twist them and make you value them more than church, but they can not stomach the Word of God. Your faith is not based on your ability, but the ability of Jesus to rise from the dead.

Which means that now, your sanctification is happening. You are hearing God speak from His own, human lips and you guard and treasure the pure preaching of the Gospel. You give all of yourself to ensure that this is done among you, in a church. You sacrifice everything to make it to the correct administration of the Sacraments.

These are the promises God makes to you, in Scripture, and these are the promises you see right in front of your face. Your call to holiness is manifested in the words of the Spirit leading you to Jesus in the gifts of the Spirit, given and shed for you.

The false prophets hate that your sanctification is so secure. The wolves loathe that the Gospel and the Sacraments can not be changed or destroyed and that by them, you gain the entire kingdom of heaven. The devil rages and howls because your only purpose in life is to receive the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus lived, suffered, died, and lives still today. Through the torturous cross, He has secured healing. Through His scourging, He has produced comfort. Through His fatal wounds, He secures life for you. In the world, the tree of life looks like the tree of death, good works look like bad works, and holy living looks like bigotry.

There is only one good tree: Jesus. The thorns, thistles, and bad fruit that only produce death were struck down forever on the cross. They are no more and the real thing that the false prophets, wolves, and the devil can not stand is the fact that, even if they were to kill you, you would live.

Your life is now hid in Christ. Others may not see it, but Christ has placed His name upon you and washed you clean. Life may be confusing, but Christ has given His Word to be proclaimed. All we eat and drink may be slowly killing us, but the bread of heaven comes down to set a table that never needs replenishing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

No mere miracle [Trinity 7; St. Mark 8:1-9]

(Preached at Luther Memorial Chapel, Shorewood, WI)

Jesus speaks to you all today, saying,

How fortunate for those people back then! How wonderful a miracle to behold, having had nothing to eat for three days, then to be fed by only 7 loaves of bread and a few fish. What I wouldn’t give to not have to pay my own grocery bill each week. I would give much more in order that God would enact this miracle today, in front of me.

Yet, everyone continues to try and convince me that there are miracles everyday. That I just have to look hard enough, and I too, can experience the miraculous power of God, just like those 4000 did on a hill in Galilee.

However the miracles they bring to my attention are everyday things that happen to everyone else, as well. To be sure, it is a great miracle that God looks after me and daily and richly supplies me with all that I need to support this body and life, but what about my enemy? What about God’s enemies? Why are they also well fed and cared for?

The curse of the Law is written on more than just your hearts. It is etched into your bones and scratched into all of creation. You get hungry. You starve unless you don’t eat. This is a law as well. You must eat to survive.

Jesus could have done a lot better with this miracle. He could have made it ongoing. Each generation could be fed with the amount of food produced by this miracle. Starving children in China would be a thing of the past. World hunger would finally be eradicated and UNICEF be put out of business.

Because that’s what Jesus is really trying to tell you here, right? That social evil must be stamped out and providing free food for everyone is exactly how you crush corrupt governments and tyrants bent on holding sway over their people by starving them. If everyone had food, we could then move on to weightier matters, like world peace.

If only you could call on God for a food-multiplying miracle right now and not have it show up in just some metaphorical way. Jesus does do this and even places the onus on you. Jesus says, “You feed them.” Jesus says that its YOUR job to give them something to eat. If it is your job, why multiply the food at all?

Repent. Jesus puts the feeding of the poor directly into your lap. Jesus gives you His law in order that you follow it and exceed the righteousness of both the Pharisees AND the Scribes. You are impoverished in a land of abundance. You are poor in a land filled with riches and here, Jesus is performing a miracle 2000 years in your past.

Jesus fed the 4000 and the 5000, but He did not feed them in front of you. Jesus may be doing miracles everyday, but they are for other people to see and not for you. What is yours is something far greater than a miraculous feeding.

Jesus is God. Jesus is man. He knows what it is like to be hungry and can end world hunger with a single word, but that is not what happens. The greater miracle that Jesus gives to you is a feeding that, as often as you eat and drink, has no end.

For you are liberated and made free from the curse of the Law. Christ feeding the 5 and the 4 thousand points not to social justice, but to the final removal of feeding. Meaning, that which corrupts your body and soul, sin, death, and the devil, is removed by God Who starves for life on the cross.

This is because it is not physical hunger that destroys faith. It is not even witnessing a miracle that produces faith. “Food does not commendus to God”. It is not what goes into you that makes you clean or unclean.

What does commend you to God? The word of the cross which is the power of God for salvation. The more prophetic Word, more fully confirmed that you hear today, is what commends you to God, for by it you receive faith and by faith you believe.

By faith you believe that, not only did Jesus feed 4000, but that it has to do with His suffering and death. All that food had to come from somewhere and where Jesus gives His body and sheds His blood; that is where this feeding truly comes to fulfillment.

You may be the hungriest person on the planet, but if Christ is not revealed in the Bible for you, you are done for. You may be the most satisfied person on the planet, but if Jesus is not feeding you, you are lost.

And this is the power of God’s Word. That you hear of Jesus, on the cross, rising from the dead, and feeding you still today. That this miracle is not just a metaphor or a demand for the ending of world hunger, but it is a call to return to the Table that the Lord spreads in front of you; of which you only hear in the Word.

Dear Christians, this is why the Church and her Divine Service do not attempt to reenact this feeding. Simply because it is in the Bible does not mean we need to copy it verbatim. The Divine Service, by the power of the Holy Spirit calls you by the Word.

The Word calls you to baptism, not in the Jordan, but in water and the Word. The Word calls you to the Gospel, so you might hear and believe that Jesus is the Christ of God. The Word calls you to the Sacrament of the Altar, not to an upper room in Palestine, but to the bread and wine; the flesh and blood; the meat and drink that promises eternal life.

The true importance of this miraculous feeding and every other miracle in Scripture is to point to the Creator of all things, hanging on a cross. The reason the whole world is not fed, is because Jesus does not just care for the body, but for the soul as well.

It is all well and good that you have food on your table, but that is not the Lord’s Supper. Neither is every puddle and every written word a pathway leading to salvation. But where the Word is and the element promised in the Word is, there is Scripture fulfilled in front of you.

Regardless of whether or not you came to service full, Christ feeds you His holiness. Maybe you are starving and will not get your next meal for days. The Body and Blood of Jesus care for you to eternity. You are fed. The entire world is fed through Jesus, but the true miracle is that He comes today, to feed even me, the free forgiveness of sins.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Church and state [Trinity 6; St. Matthew 5:20-26]

Who speaks to you all today saying,

Jesus today is talking about civil court and civil authorities. Come to terms quickly with your accuser in order that you not end up in prison for ever. St. Paul puts it this way, you should prefer to be wronged and defrauded (1 Cor. 6:7) rather than let anger and strife escalate among you.

Yes, Jesus and St. Paul are talking about affairs in the Church, among the believers, but the same should go for everyone else you interact with as well, regardless of their beliefs. This is explained by the doctrine of the separation of Church and state, which was a church idea, not an American one.

There is no Old Testament Israel anymore. That disappeared when Rome destroyed the Temple for the last time in the first century A.D.  There is no blessed nation that loves the Lord. There is no blessed nation that blesses the Lord’s people. The U.S.A. has never been or will ever be, one nation under God, in the way that the Bible talks about it.

Although the Mormons say differently, there is no Temple in America. Though the Mohammedeans desire it, there is no Mecca here. No matter how much the government wishes it, there is no divine call to worship government officials.

Let’s face it, Israel didn’t want a theocracy. They didn’t want it so much, that they preferred exile in Babylon and Roman rule rather than keep God’s laws. The USA does not want that either. Though the USA founding fathers had some shred of religion, they never demanded worship, they demanded freedom.

They fought because they believed that liberty and rights come from a creator, rather than a ruler, which no other country has ever affirmed or done. The USA, from its conception, was purposefully intended to afford its citizens freedom. Again, which no other country has ever done.

But what have we done with our own country? Are you still free? Do you live in a free society when the gov’t listens to your phone calls? Are you free when you need fishing, gun, and driver’s licenses? Are you free when your beer brewed at home can not be sold and the amount able to be brewed is restricted?

Are you free when you are limited to 6 withdrawls from your savings account per month? Are you free when you can be put on a no-fly list without due process? Are you free when you are forced to spend more on taxes than you do on food, clothing, and housing combined? 

The USA has also become a country that hates God’s Word and His churches. Its flag has become a symbol of all these things. Most of us are oblivious to the extent of government encroachment in our lives and yet, with over 1,000 TV channels on your television, you think you are free.

The state is a world of laws. There is no mercy under the government’s rules. You can feign allegiance, but as soon as you fail to bow down at the proper time or fail some federal litmus test, you will be outed.

Repent. The state is not fit to rule, much less is it fit to extend the kingdom of God. Our trust can not be in princes, they are but mortal, prone to sin the same as you. Your government is more than happy to take responsibility from off your shoulders.

Caring for the poor, caring for your children, holding all the guns, hoarding all the money, dragging you to court. Your brother deserves more than that and Jesus says as much. Not only does Jesus command it, but He also shows you how to do it.

Jesus becomes the criminal for you. Jesus is wronged and defrauded. He took the form of a slave to save everyone from sin, death, and the devil. He exercised none of His divine freedom to make His life easier or His suffering bearable.

Yet, this criminal action is what saves you. Your civil action saves you for a moment, but not without great cost to you. Jesus acts in a way that affects eternity, in that now that He has passed from death to life, He baptizes you into His accomplishments.

In the grace of Christ, the Christian is not only free from sin, death, and the devil but any and all earthly powers. There is no obligation or hold that anything on earth has on you. And yet, in the gospel heard today, Jesus tells you just the opposite. You are to appease civil authorities for the sake of your brother’s conscience.

You who are strong in the faith are not to despise the weak. You are to stake your reputation and life on the fact that Christ also died for your neighbor, even if he is dragging you to court. Has not our Lord suffered similarly? And you, a student, is not above his Master.

In the face of this, the Christian offers only what Christ offers: mercy. Even though we will be dragged before kings and councils. Even though the Name of Christ is blasphemed, we work towards the mercy and dignity afforded to everyone in the cross of Christ.

The difference between church and state comes down to mercy. You can not legislate anyone into belief anymore than you can legislate law-breakers to obey the law. The government has no business making laws concerning religion, unless of course, it wants to start its own. The Church has no business creating the kingdom of God on earth through elections and lobbying. Although you are a responsible citizen and a participant in this republic, this is not what Christ died for and it is absolutely not what He lives for.

What Jesus lived and died for, indeed, what He intended even before the foundation of the cosmos, was a created people free from all shackles. Christianity, from its inception at the beginning of all things, was intended to save through the promise of the coming Messiah. No other religion was created this way, much less has offered such free and wonderful freedom.

In light of God’s unlimited atonement, the state has nothing to offer you. In the revelation of the Lord unconditional election in Christ, laws and elections matter little. Your present suffering under republicans and democrats, war and taxes, is nothing compared to the glory that awaits you.

You are free. Though you live in both the Church and the state, you are free. Though you are still subject to your neighbor and the laws of the land, the Son has set you free. His declaration of your dependence upon Him is absolute. But His declaration is not over 1,000 pages of “who knows whats in it till we pass it”.

It is the simple proclamation that baptism now saves you. It is the easy on the ears, “faith comes by hearing”. It is the easy to swallow, “given and shed for you”. No extortion. No slight of hand. No double meanings and only one election. In the world you will have trouble, but takes heart, Christ has overcome the world.