Monday, September 25, 2017

Mammon loses [Trinity 15; St. Matthew 6:24-34]


Who speaks to you today saying,

Mammon is the name that the Jews gave to describe two things: money and gain. It is Aramaic, not Hebrew, but both still have to do with having no other gods before the Lord. So where does mammon affect us today?

For one, this flag to my right represents a government who serves mammon. Last year, the average person in America paid more in taxes than they did on food and clothing combined, even forcing families to worship mammon as well, if they want to live.

This flag to my left also represents service to mammon. Whether or not the family of the man who designed it still receives royalties, you still must pay for it. This oppositely represents the Gospel its supposedly for, which can not be bought or paid for. This also coming from the churches who are adamantly opposed to a crucifix, but gladly fly this piece of cloth in the Chancel instead.

Finally, you say you don’t serve mammon, but there is a way to disprove that. All I would have to do is set fire to either the flag of the United States, a 100 dollar bill, or your credit score and your reaction would reveal your true heart and your true god.

Divorce is a separating of what God has joined together; a gory slicing apart of one flesh, yet it does not receive the same strong reaction.

Abortion is murder, yet sports games receive more of a reaction than does this abomination within our midst.

Children are being publically taught that money and career is more important than fatherhood, motherhood, and having families. Yet, by keeping all this among us, we think we offer service to God, but our actions betray us.

The real evil is in the “necessity of money” that modern society preaches.
We should offer recompense for work done on our behalf. We should expect recompense for our work in order to do good with it. We need it to live, but that is exactly the chink in the armor that mammon slips in through, corrupting our good intentions with sinful desires.

This is why mammon is usually referred to as “unrighteous gain” in Scripture, because this freedom is a two-edged sword. Yes we can use money, but it can be used for evil or good. It is a tool, not a god.

The Lord says to honor Him by sacrificing your mammon to Him (Prov. 3:9). He also says, 
“Woe to him who builds his house with mammon and his upper rooms without justice,
Who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages” (Jer. 22:13).

This is because you must destroy lives, what God has created, in order to get dishonest gain (Eze. 22:27). Blood must be shed to worship mammon. Faith must be sacrificed in order to worship mammon. This we see as our sins crucify Jesus on the cross.

If you are ever in doubt as to whether or not you serve mammon or are guilty of any other sin, you need only look at the cross of Christ. If He is there, in His Word, suffering and dying, you are indeed sinful and guilty.

Jesus says, render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Thus, Jesus can go on in the Gospel to say be anxious for nothing, because everything you have is on loan. Your money does not have your picture on it, but your ruler’s picture. Give it back to him.

Likewise, your body has Christ’s picture on it, not yours. Give it back to Him. One way or another both of these things happen. The government takes all your money and the Lord retrieves your body from you. With the world there is no mercy. Yet, with the Lord there is mercy and redemption of both body and soul.

Trust not in princes, or money, or gain, they are but mortal and soon decay. Though you need money, use it, don’t let it use you. As all things, sacrifice them at this very altar, which Jesus has prepared for you in the presence of your enemies. Give them up, for though your service is incomplete, God’s Service to you is full and free.

For unlike unrighteous gain, the Lord is righteous. He gives good gifts both of earth and heaven. Not only does He know your earthly needs and provides for you, but He knows your eternal needs and provides for them in His Church, through Jesus.

Faith purifies all things for the believer, because faith in Christ leaves no room for any kind of earthly gain. Faith knows that it is not our service, but God’s that counts for eternity. Thus, in the Church we call it the Divines Service, because it is the Divine (God) that serves us, not us serving God, much less our mammon.

Since the Spirit of the Lord has given us faith, we want nothing in the way of or obstructing that service. It is Jesus’ work, Jesus’ Church, and Jesus’ gifts. Jesus keeps His work pure for you. He purifies His Church in His Blood, for you. He offers you heavenly gain at no cost to you.

In Christ, neither money, nor food, nor any other thing can bar salvation from us, because it has been freely purchased and freely given. Your misplacement or misuse of your fear and love and trust are forgivable sins, because faith trusts that Christ is on the cross for you.

Our sins may have hung on the cross with Jesus, but it was His love and mercy that put Him there, Himself. It is not a diet free of polyunsaturated fats, or free of processed foods, or free from money that will save us, but only the Son of God.

And His Church reflects that. There is nothing but Christ Crucified here. Christ Crucified on the Altar. Christ Crucified in the Gospel. Christ Crucified in the font and Christ Crucified and living in you. Church comes first because that is where God and His Kingdom and His righteousness are.

Now, by this cross, we know what it looks like to serve God and not mammon and it is completely backwards in our estimation. What serving God looks like this: that we set aside the work we do so that God may work in us. Serving God is receiving what He is serving us, that is the full remission of all your sins in Jesus.

Thus, if you are ever in doubt as to whether or not you are saved by grace, you need only look at the cross of Christ. If He is there, in His Word, suffering and dying for you, you are indeed saved and forgiven.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Prudence [Trinity 14; St. Luke 17:11-19]


It is Jesus Who speaks in your hearing today, saying:

This is a wise thing that these 10 lepers do. They go to Jesus. This is a wise decision because they have reasoned that Jesus is a healer. They have heard of Jesus’ deeds and from that deduced that He would do the same to them, if they could just get to Him.

This wisdom, however, only saves 1 of the ten. Though all ten were wise and infected, perfectly suited to receive healing, only one had been given saving faith. Why this difference.

I would say that this 10th leper had wisdom applied to practice, or prudence. He did not simply go to a place or a person solely for his own gain, but recognizing true goodness in Jesus, he turns back to stay with Him, where this true goodness is.

Wisdom is finding the good. Prudence is staying with the good and returning to it again and again. Thus, prudence turns out to be one of the four cardinal virtues, meaning anyone can practice them even without a gift from God. The other three are justice, fortitude, and temperance.

While the world turns away from virtue, it is good for us to practice a life full of virtue. Not because we will become famous or rich or healed by Jesus, but because an unexamined life is not worth living and indeed our own culture has proved this for us.

Every part of the cultural revolution in the United States has failed virtue. Whether it’s the sexual revolution, education revolution, or scientific revolution. We were given a republic that guaranteed a wide berth for liberty and for local oversight, with the central government reserved only for matters that were truly national, we now face tyranny.

We were given a clean slate and a very intriguing plot line for culture and community. We were a civil melting pot, able to live together in peace with those who differed from us. So we need to clear out the garbage, admit our errors, and rebuild.

Repent. Every single pagan philosopher of the ancient world said that if you wanted to be free, you had to learn the hard ways of virtue and that the worst form of slavery was slavery to your own appetites. We must find the good and return to it.

Joseph, of the coat of many colors fame, was called prudent by Pharaoh when he interpreted his dream and was consequently set as second in command of all Egypt’s empire (Gen. 41:33, 39). King Solomon of course, on top of his unmatched wisdom was also prudent (1 Ki. 3:12).

Jesus tells us the prudent man builds his house upon the rock, so it won’t wash away (Mt. 7:24). There are 5 prudent virgins who make it into the marriage feast of the Bridegroom (Mt. 25) and there is a faithful and prudent slave who, when the Lord returns to His house, finds him so, giving food at the proper time (Mt. 24:45).

There is also the downside to virtue, however. The Serpent in the garden of Eden is called “more prudent than any beast of the field which the Lord God has made” (Gen. 3:1). And most of St. Paul’s talk about prudence is in the negative, as in don’t be prudent in your own eyes (i.e. Rom. 11:25; 12:16). Again, anyone can practice it.

So why bother?

The key is in the phrase, “then one turned back”. Virtue will not save us from death, but it sure points the world in the right direction. God is full of all virtue, yes, and yet we see Jesus acting imprudent with these 10 lepers. He wastes a good healing miracle on ungrateful louts and only gets a 10% return on His investment. Not wise. Not prudent.

Virtue gets us halfway, but halfway is not good enough. Because Jesus is not numbered with the self-righteous, He is numbered with the unvirtuous, the transgressors. Virtue may save our culture, but it will not lead us to Jesus. Jesus is where prudence means wasting all that you have for the sake of one sinner repenting.

Thus, we see that what we think is prudence is not really prudence. What we see as 1 sinner making the right decision, is really one sinner being saved before even thinking about turning around. What we think is a parable about 10 lepers, is really a picture of a leprous Savior.

Jesus takes on your skin, which means He takes on all the disease that goes with it. He is numbered with transgressors and lepers alike, taking their disease in exchange for His health. He walks with all of us in our disease filled sin and corruption. Yet in all that He does not sin. The nine; all of creation, continue to walk in sin and death. The One, true Son of God, turns back.

Jesus is the one, born of a woman, that turned back; the only one to turn back to God. Multiple times the Lord has called His people to repent and turn to Him, even in the New Testament, but we would not and do not. Not at His Incarnation. Not at His miracles. Not at His cross. Not at His empty tomb.

But that is where Jesus went. We find our unvirtuous God handing out godly virtue and unlimited grace to all who have faith, and faith comes only by hearing, and hearing only by the Holy Ghost.

Thus true virtue is only found in the gift of the Holy Spirit, which in wisdom points us to Christ and in prudence drags us to His Church again and again. Virtue is not virtue if practiced in sin, but in faith the Christian stands up against even death itself.

Because Jesus has done this for you, in a body just like yours. Thus, He heals you in a body like yours. He comes to you in a body like yours. He feeds you, speaks to you, washes you with a body and creates a bodily faith that saves even you.

Wisdom is finding out that Jesus lives with His Church. Prudence is constantly returning to where Jesus is giving food at the proper time: His true Body and His true Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Better-than-good Samaritan [Trinity 13; St. Luke 10:23-37]


Jesus speaks to us today, saying,

Ah. The Good Samaritan. Everyone’s favorite parable for three reasons: 1) it seems upbeat and apparently shows the good in people, 2) it sets a nice, low bar for having mercy (one neighbor), and 3) we don’t need Jesus to be a Good Samaritan.

The first step to becoming a good Samaritan is being able to say, “I am wrong”. That is what the Samaritan does in this story. He thought he had plans for the day, but he was wrong. God had other plans in that he was to find a neighbor in need.

The people in Texas and Florida had plans. God had other plans. Now you have other plans. God places neighbors in your path so that you, too might be like this Good Samaritan, find a neighbor in need, and show him mercy.

And that’s a good thing. We can send money or go ourselves and help a few people or for a little while and call it a day. We have the godly (ungodly?) advantage of not being in danger from hurricanes and so have a whole home to come back to.

Another good thing is there are not just churches helping. In fact, most of the religious help is about as bad as the government help: corrupt and not helpful. But there are many organizations not even associated with religion helping. In fact, what has saved most of Texas at this point is not federal aid, but local aid not handing out bibles, but handing out hands.

We would call that signs of humanity. People scraping well laid plans and giving selfless aid instead. But robbery and snobbery are also signs of humanity and that certainly is still going on in these devastated areas.

Thus, in this parable, Jesus gives us a micro picture of the world we live in. He shows humanity in action: those working to the betterment of their own lives, by whatever means. The robbers had plans to be lazy that day, but found they could increase their holdings by robbing this man.

The priest and the Levite had plans to do their business quickly and without interruption, but found that they were inconvenienced, maybe even by a prick of conscience, along the way. The innkeeper had plans to run a clean and well-kept inn, but found this uppity patron who forces him to run a hospital instead.

We are all eager to confirm “helping our neighbor” and condemn those who don’t. We wholeheartedly accept Jesus’ “loving thy neighbor” bit, but only when it has to do with our neighbor’s actions towards us. We demand people recognize our efforts. We demand that others return our calls and treat us with the respect we deserve.

We expect all to stomach our bad moods, our short temper, and our selfishness. We groan and complain when our boss demands better work from us and shorter breaks. We are hurt, angry, and go sulk when others aren’t the neighbor to us that we have never been to them.

Because, your neighbors are not just the victims of hurricanes or poverty, left half-dead in ditches. Your neighbors are the thieves in need of your prayers and admonition. Your neighbors are the priests and Levites in need of your example, your patience, and your loving rebuke. Your neighbor is the innkeeper in need of your two denarii, your encouragement, and your promise to help even more.

Though they are unlovable, you are to love. Though they are merciless, you are to show mercy.

Attend to this other parable: A man was stepping down from heaven to His own creation and He fell among His own people who stripped Him, scourged Him, and left Him for dead upon a cross. All had abandoned Him; all we like sheep have gone astray and scattered when the Shepherd was struck.

By divine chance, His heavenly Father was watching and had compassion upon His obedient Son. He went to Him and bound up His entire being, having poured out His Blood for the forgiveness of others’ sins, and carried Him from death to new life.

He brought Him back to heaven and took care of Him. He set Him on His throne and gave Him all His authority in heaven and on earth. He would never be molested again, never be wounded again, and never die again.

The next day, the Father showed His Son to the women, Peter and the twelve, more than 500 of the brothers, and to one untimely born: St. Paul. The Father gave this command: “Take care of my Son. Guard His Word and Sacraments and whatever you spend, be it coin or life, I will repay you when I come back.”

The Father proves Himself the neighbor of neighbors. The Son proves Himself the true merciful God Who offers mercy freely to those who believe.

For you robbers of mercy from your own neighbors, Jesus is your better-than-Good Samaritan who not only heals your death, but forgives your sin and restores what you have stolen. Even moreso, the Father then looks upon you as those who have given, who have restored, and who have shown mercy, because the Son has done all those things while wearing your skin.

For all the times we have walked away and refused to show love, the Better-than-Good Samaritan did not walk away, but has knelt down with us and extended mercy to us. He does not pass us by, but stops to love us and intercede for us: washing us, He speaking comforting words to us, and He feeding us heavenly medicine from His very Body and Blood.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Service [Trinity 12; St. Mark 7:31-37]


God is speaking to you today, saying:

Dr. Luther says that if we could perfectly obey the first commandment, we would not need the rest. If you could love God above all things, you would be able to love your neighbor as yourself. Some people even say that if you love God best, you will love the rest.

But this idea only goes so far. What does it mean to love God? Does it mean to focus on Him alone? If that’s the case, then you are focusing on God, not your neighbor. Does it mean to put god first? If that’s the case, then you are always going to choose Bible study over helping your needy neighbor.

Too often we see “loving God” or “focus on God” as something that we do and so it necessarily takes up our time, energy, and work. In fact, nothing could be WORSE for our neighbor than us loving God best, because then our eyes are turned up, but our neighbor and God are at our feet.

At this point then, our hands go up. If I serve my neighbor, I’m not serving God. If I serve God, I’m not serving my neighbor. An impossible task to be sure, because we are not ubiquitous beings. We can not be in two places at once and neither can we give all of our heart to one thing or another.

Finally, we get angry at God and either despair or give up altogether. It is impossible to love a God Who is this strict and this impossible to please.

The truth is we don’t love God most, less, or otherwise, much less our neighbor.

The absolute truth is: We love God and others best, when God loves us.

The man in the Gospel reading today was not exempt from God’s demands to love Him and love his neighbor and yet he was prevented, quite physically and literally from doing so. This begs the question: is God just crazy to demand these things, even from the handicapped and infant?

The answer is no, because the Lord does not demand them of you nor did He demand them of the man He healed today. He demands them of His Christ. The Commands of God are there not just to show us what we are to do and not to do, but to reveal just how pure and holy Jesus must be.

God demands the Christian life be a life led in love and because we have seen Jesus do it, that means its possible for us. And that’s the rub. Jesus did it. We are to be Christ-like. Or else. End of story.

Unless Christ loves you first, you have no life to love in you. Unless Jesus tears open you heart, head, and lips you are lost.

And that is what today’s Gospel is all about. We see a man impeded unjustly and wrongfully imprisoned, behind his handicaps. His sin and his death have locked him behind iron curtains and iron bars. Do not be fooled. This is not unique to deaf and stammering men. It is not even unique to nonbelievers. It is unique to the human race, though, for we all sin and fall short and are all in prison.

Our good works are as nothing before God because He must first perform good works for there to be good works. Jesus first goes to Tyre through Sidon. Jesus first goes to the Sea of Galilee to the Decapolis. Jesus first performs other miracles so people begin to bring Him other people. Jesus first take this man aside, first sticks His fingers up in His ears, and first utters the word to him.

This Word is then taken up by this now formerly blind and stammering man, for now he speaks plainly. More true to the language, he speaks orthodoxy, meaning he is now going to say only what Jesus says.

“Be opened”, that is “Be forgiven”. Let all of your corruption because of sin, death, and the devil fall away and cling to you no more. The Word of Christ demands obedience. This does not produce an obedient follower when spoken. The Word also demands a regeneration, for the man must not only be able to hear and speak, but he must have a clean heart and right spirit to do so.

We know the love of God because He first loved us. Not just a one-time deposit, but an ongoing declaration and giving of love. We don’t just need one vaccine of “love” to boost us on our way. We need a constant IV drip for life, for we don’t stop sinning and we don’t stop trying to do good works for godly gain.

So now that God has loved us, through His Son, our love for Him looks like believing Christ’s person, Word, and works: Jesus’ works, not ours. So now that Jesus works and has loved us on the cross, our love for our neighbor is to speak to them orthodoxy; Jesus words.

By grace our ears are opened to hear Jesus and by faith our mouth is opened to speak about Jesus. By grace we have been brought from death to life in order to live the life of faith and love. Not our faith and love, but the life of Jesus’ faith and love.

For this life we have been given has been predetermined. We do not decide what love looks like or what good works look like. We simply hear and receive as the blind man did today. We speak, but we only speak what Jesus has already said.

Now Jesus says Do unto others as He has done to you. No. Even easier than that. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

For what Jesus does is love God perfectly, in your place. fulfilling the demands of God and giving you credit, by being obedient unto death on a cross. Jesus has also loved His neighbor perfectly, not only dying for every single one of them, but being a perfect sacrifice for all their sin and being the Door to heaven.

You can not be that neighbor that God demands, no matter how hard you followed Jesus’ example.

But now that the cross of Christ and the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed by Christ’s Church, you don’t have to. Freed from your guilt, you are now free to live in faith according to the Law. Redeemed from death, you now love God’s Law and, although you are not the one to fulfill it, you are the one who receives it perfectly in faith.