Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20,c) September 18, 2022
[Jesus] also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. 10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” 14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
Jesus hates debt. He wants no debtors.
So he releases debt—your debt, my debt, our neighbor’s debt, the debt of the world. He releases debt with no rhyme or reason, no logic, ridiculously to the eyes of our world.
If Jesus’ releasing of debt, his forgiveness of our sin, made sense, if it were rational, logical, then it would not be grace. Rationality, logic, rhyme and reason, fairness, is of the Law.
The man with the wealth is mad. You would be, too, if you had a manager wasting your possessions.
We’re not told how he’s been wasting. Jesus had just told the Parable of the Prodigal Son, so maybe we think of things such as drunkenness, laziness, parties, and prostitutes. This all comes under the language of the Law. It’s in the comfortable domain of the wisdom of our world.
The sinner will never have good news from the Law.
But the man with the wealth is mad. His possessions are being wasted. There will be an accounting. Jesus said,
“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’”
The Lord doesn’t put up with wasting.
That seems a simple enough lesson—so take the gifts and talents you have from the Lord, wake up each morning thankful for them and looking how you can enjoy using them for the benefit of your family and neighbor, don’t waste them, and go to bed each night thankful for another day.
Simple enough. Use your master’s possessions well. And your master will commend you for not wasting.
It a great motivational speech. But it’s all Law. It’s the Commandments. It’s loving God and loving your neighbor: Law.
Try to do it, and it will kill you. You can always intend to do it—but intention is not the same as doing, and that too will kill you. It’s horseshoes and hand grenades. Either you keep the Law fully, or you keep it not at all, for God is a holy God, and holy doesn’t stop.
So, we are wasters. Miserly managers who have not managed his wealth at all. What a waste.
But that’s not why Jesus is telling this parable.
If this were a parable about how we must be good managers and not waste any of the time God gives us, or the talents God gives us, or the opportunities God gives us, then the parable could’ve ended with the wasteful manager turning around his life, committing himself to his Lord, practicing good management and good life skills, and, when he started doing all that, the rich man would commend him for being a good servant.
The rich man does commend him. But not for any of that. When the servant had been caught out at being a waster, what did he then do that had the rich man commend him? Luke 16:5:
Summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.
The wasteful manager started releasing debts.
But the debts belonged to the rich man! If the rich man was going to hold the manager accountable when he was being a waster, how much more will he hold him accountable for releasing debts that belonged to the rich man?
It’s the Gospel.
Accountability is language of the Law.
Accountability and measurements, examinations and reminders of when you have fallen short, this is all language of the Law. And the Law will always find out the waster, and the accountability comes down like a hammer. The Law counts things up, measures, and you are found short.
But Jesus doesn’t tell parables in order to put people under the Law. He tells parables to people who are under the Law—for we all are in our sinful flesh—in order to reveal to us the mystery of his Gospel.
Jesus said his parables are a speaking of the mystery of the kingdom of God [Mark 4:11]. The Apostle Paul tells us that the mystery of God is the preaching of Jesus Christ crucified [Romans 16:25]. If we hear a parable in a way that it makes sense without Christ crucified for the justification of the sinner, then we are hearing the parable not as the mystery of the cross, but as a moral teaching, and that is nothing more than Law.
But if a parable has its way with us, we hear it first for Law, which is no mystery, then we hear it for the mystery of Christ crucified, for the release of debts, for the justification of the sinner, for the forgiveness of all sins—and that’s why Jesus, the teller of the parables, came: for the justification of the sinner.
And the mystery of the Gospel is this: Debts released; sins forgiven.
That’s when the rich man commends the wasteful manager: when he’s releasing debts—releasing debts ridiculously, no rhyme or reason—releasing the debt of 50 measures of oil here, of 20 measures of wheat there, releasing debts to each debtor, one-by-one, freely handing out the forgiveness of debt like he didn’t even care, as if it weren’t his wealth he was handing out anyway, but someone else’s.
And the rich man, whose wealth it was, commended him! He’s mad at the manager when he’s wasting his wealth, but he commends that same manager when he’s giving his wealth out freely.
With the Gospel, the parable makes sense. With Jesus, it’s not finally about accountability, measuring, figuring out who’s efficient—it’s not finally about the Law. We are all nothing but debtors on that account, anyway.
Jesus wants no debtors.
With Jesus, it’s always about the Gospel. About releasing debt, forgiving sins, freely handing out the wealth of forgiveness like we don’t even care, as if it’s not our wealth, our forgiveness, we’re handing out anyway, but someone else’s.
Because it is.
Jesus is the wise manager. He’s not the wise manager because he wisely keeps the Law perfectly. He does do that. He has fulfilled the whole Law. In his life of obedience and in his death for the penalty of the Law that belonged to us, Jesus has fully and perfectly kept the whole Law. But that’s not what makes him the wise manager.
He’s the wise manager because … he releases debts.
He looks at those who have sinned against his Father and says to us, Your debt: released. Go in peace. You are free.
He releases debts, ridiculously, with no rhyme or reason, releasing the debt of that sinner over there, of this one over here, of you, of me, releasing debts and holding no one in debt to the Law, because … he wants every sinner to be free, no sinner to be chasing obedience like a bankrupt man trying to figure out how to pay his mortgage; he wants every sinner cleansed in Baptism and reconciled to his Father, for there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all. [1 Timothy 2:6]
And when we’re releasing debts, when we’re forgiving the sins of those who have sinned against us, we’re doing nothing but handing out the wealth of Jesus.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16,c) August 21, 2022
22 [Jesus] went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
In the Name of Jesus.
In the chapter previous to the text we have before us, Jesus spoke of living a life of no fear. He taught of the Kingdom of God as pure gift. Luke 12:32:
[Jesus said,] “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
The angel had told Mother Mary of this kingdom. The angel told her of the Holy Spirit coming upon her so that she will bear the Son of God. And the angel told Mary that her Son’s kingdom will be eternal. [Luke 1:33]
Later, Jesus gives us to see this kingdom of no fear as he pulls in a sinful woman of the city, so that in thankfulness she enters the Pharisee’s house in order to anoint Jesus’ feet. [Luke 7:36]
This kingdom is Jesus forgiving sins and sending his Apostles to forgive sins.
This kingdom is Jesus healing the servant of a Gentile centurion; of him looking at the paralytic let down on a mat and saying, “Your sins are forgiven,” then telling the paralytic to stand up and walk. This kingdom is Jesus touching lepers and making them healthy; of him eating and drinking with the worst sinners in town and announcing himself to be friend to tax-collectors, drunks, and sinners.
This kingdom is God the Son coming in the flesh to be with sinners, to take all their sin upon himself, to cleanse them of all shame—it is the kingdom of Jesus making these sinners his own.
Jesus has been going out into the towns and villages gathering sinners into this kingdom of God, and sure enough, someone comes up to him and says,
“Lord, will those who are saved be few?”
Why ask that question?
It’s easy to note that the man did not say to Jesus words of thanksgiving for opening the Kingdom of God to all sinners. He didn’t say words to extol the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He didn’t even say words of petition, praying for mercy for someone he knew or even for himself. He said, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”
The man asks a question seeking the limits of God’s Kingdom. What are the borders of the kingdom?, the man wants to know. Who’s allowed in, who’s not. Give us some measurements for the kingdom—what is the count of those saved?
The question assumes the Law. Who gets in, who doesn’t? Who’s worthy, who’s not? To whom does the Lord give mercy, from whom does the Lord withhold? The man wants to measure by the Law. Jesus will give him the Law. Luke 13:24:
[Jesus said,] “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’
The man had been looking around at others. His question wondered how many were righteous enough to get in. That’s a Law question. So Jesus gives him a Law answer. Jesus uses the Law to bring the man to look at himself. Because, that’s what the Law does—it puts a mirror in front of you so that if you rightly hear the Law, you will be looking at your own sin. So, as the man asks how many will get in or how many won’t be counted worthy, Jesus tells him what he must do: Strive to enter through the narrow door.
When all is said and done, when the Law has its way, the sinner is brought to repentance not because he’s able to count up the sins of others, or to figure out how many make it into the kingdom, but the sinner is given repentance as the Law shows him his own sin and excludes him from the kingdom. In hearing the Law, the sinner finally hears the Lord’s voice: “I don’t know you, I don’t even know where you came from.” [Luke 13:25]
With the Law, the borders of the Kingdom shrink so tight that the man could now count the number of those who are saved without even getting to the number one. It’s a stingy kingdom that is run by the Law. But that’s not the kingdom Jesus wants the man left with. Luke 13:29:
[Jesus said,] “People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Jesus’ kingdom bursts borders. His kingdom gathers from all the nations. He brings in sinners of every tribe and language to the table. This is the kingdom Isaiah prophesied.
The prophet Isaiah had spoken of the virgin bearing a Son who would be called by the name Immanuel, which means, God is with us. [Isaiah 7:14] So Isaiah proclaimed the kingdom of the Messiah who would bear the sins of every sinner. This Messiah would be oppressed and afflicted on our behalf, stricken for our sin, all in order to account sinners righteous. [Isaiah 53]
In our Old Testament reading this morning, we hear Isaiah describing sinners being gathered from all nations and all tongues, from Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, and from the distant coastlands.
This is the kingdom of Jesus. The kingdom of the virgin’s Son, the suffering servant upon whom the sins of the world were laid. This kingdom is not tightened down by the counting and measurements of the Law. It’s opened up to dimensions the teachers of the Law cannot even fathom, stretching to the farthest coastlands. This is the kingdom of no boundaries of tribe or language or culture:
The time is coming, [says the Lord,] to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them.
So we are given to see Jesus going out into the towns, including the unclean villages of the Samaritans.
He’s gathering sinners to into his kingdom.
The teachers of the Law taught a Kingdom of God as small and constricted, confined to the acreage of the Temple, confined by the borders of Jerusalem and Israel. But Jesus teaches a Kingdom whose borders are defined by the blood of the cross. And the blood of the cross leaves out no sinner.
The Lord never intended his Israel to be a matter of confining his salvation. He set Israel as a light to the nations, a servant to the world of sinners; he set Israel to be his congregation into which he would gather the nations.
For the true Israel of God is nothing other than the kingdom of God sinners gathered to the Lord’s Name. The Lord gathers these sinners not with the Law, for the Law gives only condemnation to all, but the true Israel he gathers by the Gospel.
Where the Lord has his Gospel being proclaimed, where Jesus is justifying the guilty by his word of forgiveness, where the Holy Spirit is calling sinners to the Body and Blood to be cleansed of sin, there Jesus is gathering his true Israel, the Kingdom of God on Earth—it’s the church.
In the church, the counting is over. The Law has done its work of measuring and found us to be sinners.
Now, it’s the Gospel.
By his Gospel, Jesus gathers you into his Israel, the kingdom of God. He wants no sinner left out. He reaches into the home under a blanket of despair, into the marriage twisted in conflict, into the friendship cut by malice—he reaches into the heart and conscience of the sinner living in fear.
His kingdom recognizes no boundaries, for Jesus left out no part of our sin, our shame, or our fear. He took it all upon himself, so that his righteousness now goes to all. We can find not a single sinner to whom we can say, Jesus is not for you, your sin does not belong to him.
This is our own salvation. In knowing that no sinner is to be left out of the proclamation of the Gospel, we find that the Gospel is for even us.
Jesus proclaims his Gospel to us, to all sinners, gathering the lowliest into his kingdom. Hebrews 12:24:
you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in Heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of the new testament, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
In the Name of Jesus.
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15,c) August 14, 2022
[Jesus said,] 49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
In the Name of Jesus.
Jesus came to bring peace on Earth. That we were given to hear at his birth.
“Glory to God in the highest,”
declared the angels to the shepherds,
“And on Earth peace among those of God’s good pleasure.”
Peace. When the old man Simeon took the little child Jesus up into his arms, Simeon said,
29 “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation that
you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.
Peace. The word of health and vitality, of happiness and safety. The word of life and the building-up up of life. Peace, the word of peoples and cities and nations in oneness with each another, of families bound together in oneness, of husband and wife united in oneness.
Peace, the word of no break between people or in families, the word of no division.
Jesus is the Lord bringing peace to the Earth, peace to you and me.
And yet. Luke 12:51:
[Jesus said,] “Do you think that I have come to give peace on Earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Division? What is this division Jesus brings to you and me?
In the book of Genesis, after the Lord had given the promise of a Savior to Adam and Eve, and then again, the promise to Noah and his family, in the generations following: The Tower of Babel.
All the families and clans on Earth, following the flood, got together to build a tower to the heavens. Genesis 11:4:
And [all the people] said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then [all the people] said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole Earth.”
The people were unified. That were at peace together. Their project would to bind them together. They would build themselves up to God. They would make themselves a worthy name. They were unified.
The Lord came down from Heaven.
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who in the beginning, in that divine, life-giving conversation among the persons of the godhead, had said, “Let us make man in our image,” in then in the image of God he created the man in the woman, [Genesis 1:27]—this Lord came down, saw the abomination of the creature trying to overtake the Creator, of man and woman trying to be like God, and the Lord said that mankind was not ever going to slow down in their arrogance, all the peoples were not going to ever be dissuaded from working to make themselves worthy of God; so the Lord broke their unity.
God, who created mankind out of love, who loves all people, every person—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, saw the ridiculous Tower and in the divine, life-giving conversation with each other, said,
“Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the Earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the Earth.
When does the Lord—of life, of health and unity, the Lord of peace—when does this Lord bring division?
This Lord brings division to save our lives! To save us from ourselves.
To work yourself toward God, to work to unify with others to make yourself and them more sanctified, to justify yourself before God by your own desire, your own decisions, your own passion, your own works of your sinful heart—to justify yourself before God by any of your own work, no matter what form that work may take, to justify yourself is death.
So seeing the sinner in death, the sinner whom he loves, the Lord comes down. He comes down in his Word. And the Word of God is alive and active, a sharpened two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, discerning every thought and intention of the heart—with no creature hidden from God’s sight, but every person naked to the eyes of God to whom we must give account. [Hebrews 4:12]
God comes down in his Word to bring division to you and me, dividing each of us at the very depth of who we are, in order to bring us into life.
For what God is dividing us from, is everything bringing us death.
With his word of Law, his word of accusation piercing to the depth of our soul and spirit, the Lord is daily dividing us from our own Towers of Babel. Our works of self-righteousness, of efforts to change our lives and sanctify ourselves, our systems to make ourselves worthy of God—these are our own Towers of Babel.
So the Lord speaks the accusation against us, and with his Law, he divides us, daily putting to death our sinful flesh, our Old Adam.
Wherever the God of life is having his Word of Law and Gospel spoken, wherever he is having the Word of Christ Crucified preached, the Lord is bringing division to the sinner.
But it is the best division of all, the blessed division. It is dividing off the Old Adam that the New Adam, the life of faith, may daily stand in the righteousness not of self, but of Christ. The righteousness which comes never by works, but always by gift, by grace.
By this preaching of Christ crucified for the sinner, the Lord is bringing division also into our families—even father against son, son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother. [Luke 12:49]
For sinners never want to hear the crucified Christ. For if the Crucified Christ is the justification of the sinner, then the sinful flesh is robbed of its deadly desire to justify self. And that brings division, because all who insist on justifying self cannot bear to hear the Word of the cross.
So, yes, Christ brings division. Division of the sinful flesh which wants to self-justify, over against the life of faith, which rejoices in the free gift of justification by Christ the crucified. And division of those who want to sanctify themselves, over against those who rejoice in being sanctified only by the blood of Christ.
In the preaching of the cross the Lord does bring division. But it is only so that in his Gospel, he can do what he most wants to do toward the sinner. And what he most wants to do is justify the sinner, cleanse the stained conscience, destroy all our Towers of Babel, and bring us into unity with him, Christ the crucified, who forgives every sin.
In the Name of Jesus.
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14) August 7, 2022
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
Faith. How do we speak of faith? Do you have faith? Do you have enough faith? Do I have enough? How to know?
And all of the sudden we realize we’re talking about faith as something we can measure. How much faith do you have? How much do I have? We might as well be talking about ice-cream or marbles. How much ice-cream do you have in your bowl? Guess how many marbles I have in my hand. How much faith?
But faith is not a substance. You can’t measure it—that’s for the ice-cream.
If we are looking at faith as a matter to be quantified, something we can measure or feel, then we are looking at faith with the eyes of the law.
But faith is not of the Law; faith is of the Gospel. Faith is not of our work; faith is pure gift from God. And God does not give gifts by measure.
And faith does not look at faith. Faith looks at Jesus alone, holds onto him, and rejoices in his grace.
Faith is not for what we are doing toward God, but for what he is bestowing on us. Faith receives gifts from God.
And the gift faith receives from God is righteousness, justification.
Faith hears the Lord speak his word of forgiveness, and is justified. Faith sees the Lord baptize his Name onto a sinner, and is saved. Faith takes the Body and Blood given by Jesus to his word, and is sanctified.
It’s all about standing righteous before God. After all, how is the sinner going to be made righteous? By faith or by works?
In the confessions of the church, the distinction is explained like this:
The difference between [the righteousness of] faith and the righteousness of the Law is easily discerned. Faith is the divine service that receives the benefits offered by God. The righteousness of the Law [though,] is the divine service that offers to God our merits. [But] God wants to worshiped through faith, so that we receive from him those things he promises and offers.
Then it later continues,
The worship and divine service of the Gospel is to freely receive from God gifts. On the contrary, the worship of the Law is to offer and present our gifts to God.
So we are in these pews today because of faith. By faith, the sinner hears the word of justification and is justified. By faith, the unrighteous one holds to the promise of Baptism, and is clothed in the righteousness of Christ Jesus.
We are here to receive these gifts from God—that’s faith. But in our world, faith is a slippery word.
We get caught-up in the talk. For who in our world can ever say anything bad about faith? But what is it? Do you have faith? If you do, is it strong? If it’s strong, then why don’t you step out in faith? And what does talk like that even mean?
I may have faith that this year my team will win the Mountain West championship. Even though not one single football sports writer predicts that my team will win the Mountain West championship, I have faith in them. So should I step out in faith and bet my house?
I need more faith. I’ll go home and gin it up, and then I’ll step out in it. What does all this faith talk in our world even mean? It can get pretty slippery.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
More literally, this verse in the Greek says that faith is the substance of the things we have hope in, it is the testimony of things not seen.
That is, we hope in our Lord Jesus . We don’t see him now. But by his Word, we have the hope, the certainty of his coming again and of the resurrection of the dead—that’s faith bestowed by the Holy Spirit through the Word.
Our eyes don’t see our Lord forgiving our sins, we don’t see him interceding to his Father in Heaven for us, but our Lord gives us to see the evidence of Baptism, and the testimony of the Body and Blood—that’s faith our Lord gives us by his Word of promise.
Which means, in our Lord’s way, faith is not a slippery word at all. It is a sure and certain word; it is a solid determination based on the promise given us by our God.
That’s why my faith that my team will win the conference championship is really not faith at all. It’s a wish; it may give me a warm fuzzy feeling, but it’s not faith. Because my Lord never spoke that Word of promise to me in Holy Scripture. And without the Lord’s promise, faith has nothing to cling to.
God speaks a Word. That Word creates the faith that clings to the promise. So now, to step out in faith means nothing other than to hear the Lord’s word and be given the certainty that you have been spoken righteous, justified by your Lord. But is always by the Word.
So the Lord gave Adam and Eve the gift of sacrifice where he would forgive their sins, bringing them into the promise of the Savior who was to come, and Adam and Eve taught that gift of sacrifice to their sons Cain and Abel.
But Cain sacrificed in order to make God happy with him, not to receive the gift. So the Lord rejected Cain’s sacrifice of works. Abel, though, hearing the Word of promise, sacrificed for the gift of sins-forgiven, and by that faith in the Word, Abel was justified.
Later Noah heard the word of promise; according to that promise he built the ark. By that faith in the Lord’s word, he was justified.
And the Lord spoke the promise to Abraham; Abraham heard that word; he picked up his family and moved to the promised land. By his faith in the promise, Abraham was justified by God.
And Sarah his wife, hearing the promise, had faith and was justified. She was given a son, who became the father of the tribes of Israel, so that from Sarah and Abraham came the promised Savior generations later.
You can’t have faith by having faith. Faith doesn’t cling to itself. Faith clings to an object and won’t let go. Faith holds onto gifts from God. Faith holds onto the promise; that’s why faith is sure and certain.
Faith that’s something I work on and measure and try to strengthen, something strong one day and weak the next—that’s not faith. It’s just an emotion or feeling—not faith.
The Holy Spirit breathes faith into you and me.
He does it by the Word of Gospel, by the word of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sin. The Holy Spirit creates faith in us by giving us Baptism to cling to, by having us eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus, so that though we don’t see him, we bodily receive him in the eating and drinking, and by faith in that Body and Blood, we are justified.
Faith is always in the Word of promise.
So we see things with our eyes. We see sickness, we see fear; we see despair, we see our own sin, we see friendships broken, we see the brokenness in our own lives, but this is of our sinful flesh; it’s not of faith.
Faith clings to that which is not seen. Faith is in the Word of Christ Jesus crucified, the Word of Gospel, of sins forgiven, of justification before God, of the sinner clothed in righteousness, of the conscience cleansed—all by the Word of promise.
God gathers us here today to receive those gifts of faith.
We are here today, in these pews, at this altar, because faith receives gifts.
And the Lord who loves the sinner, gives gifts. Our faith hears the Word of Jesus and holds on to his promise.
In the Name of Jesus.
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13) July 31, 2022
ECCLESIASTES 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-26
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under Heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. 24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
The Lord blesses the work you do. Your work as a 9-5 laborer, or a clerk, or a teacher, or a business owner; your work as a father or mother, as a son or daughter, or a wife or husband; your work as whatever you do according to your several callings, vocations you are given to serve your family, your neighbor—the Lord blesses your work.
Does it seem like that? The drudgery or the repetition or the thankless hours or the dealing with headaches or chasing after projects which never seem to complete, does it seem like the Lord blesses your work?
It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.
Solomon, the wise king said that: The work we are busy with.
With his line “the work we are busy with” Solomon drives us into the ground with the weight of pointless tasks repeated daily, of redundant programs, of reports that must be filled in before closing time, of tax forms and insurance forms and writing out goals, of harvesting the hay or loading the lumber—are we just walking on a treadmill till closing time?—it is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.
The work we are busy with. It rings with emptiness. What you do, are you doing it to make things better, to help someone’s life, to stand as a person of God doing his work on Earth, or is it just the business you are busy with—this unhappy, never-ending line of tasks. It’s just the work we are given to be busy with—it’s an unhappy business.
But then we notice how Solomon describes it. He describes it not as pointless, but as a gift from God. Not empty; not just an old treadmill. It’s gift from God.
It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.
God who loves all people, who created each of us in our mother’s womb, giving each of us the gifts particular to us, our work is his gift.
In these gifts God gives us, he gives us also our needs and appetites.
We need food. So, God gives the farmer to put the seed into the ground and give it water.
We need drink. So, God gives a man to drill the well or run the pipe or even build the dam.
God gives some to bind our wounds, some to fashion a guitar out of wood, some to protect our homes, some to cook our food—all tasks God gives for persons to be busy with. All gifts from God, vocations from our Lord who loves all people.
But, says Solomon, I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. [Ecclesiastes 1:14]
What is it that takes a God-given task, a holy calling to love our neighbor by the work of our hands, and makes it into an unhappy business you’re just busy with—just punching the clock, just filling in the blanks?
What reverses it is what happens to you on the day you die. It’s a man building new barns to store his crops. He’s doing the building, he’s stacking the crops, but why?
You don’t know why. You don’t know why, that is, until you know what he thinks happens to him on the day he dies.
If he thinks that on the day he dies, he just dies, and he thinks that when he dies this death, he’s nothing then but a dead body in the ground, then he thinks there’s no more him left.
He’s just stuff in the ground, but there’s no him, no person, no one to laugh with loved ones, to eat good food, to drink good wine, to love neighbor—it’s just over, gone, dead bones in the ground, nothing but memory.
If that’s what happens when he dies, then to build a barn is just striving after wind. It’s to build up wealth today, only to be dead tomorrow. And when you’re in the ground, who knows who’s going to get that barn you built? Maybe an ungrateful heir who never cared for you anyway, maybe an enemy who files a lawsuit, maybe the government—but whoever gets it, it’s not you; there’s no more you; you’re dead in the ground. If that’s the way we view ourselves upon our earthly death, then that changes everything; and everything is left as being a striving after wind, a vanity of vanities.
But, there’s life!
If on the day you die, you do not die; if on the day you breath your last breath you are with your Lord; if death has been conquered so that all those belonging to Christ Jesus are united with him in his resurrection; if in Baptism you have already been given your death to your life of sin and your life is now hidden in Christ Jesus, then when you build that barn, you are building it as one who belongs to Christ Jesus. And now, all your work to build that barn is a task of how you may serve your neighbor by providing good food to him and his family over the long winter.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
This promise of Baptism changes everything! Now your tasks are brimming with life. The mother changing the diaper, she belongs to Christ Jesus, to eternal life, she is his servant, and Jesus is using her hands to serve that baby with the gifts of life.
The high-schooler flipping hamburgers, that’s no dead-end job. It’s a servant of Jesus serving neighbor by providing food. And if that high-schooler ends up later in life serving neighbor by being a police officer, or by helping a business thrive by doing the bookkeeping, what better way to be a servant of Jesus and serve your neighbor?
In Baptism, you have died. Your life is hidden with Christ in God. All which you are given to do, you do as one belonging to Christ, to eternal life, and your God is now honoring you by setting you as his servant to family and to neighbor.
This is the gift our Lord gave us to witness this morning as he placed his Name on little Macy, calling her his own. She, along with us, belongs to him, belongs to life.
Now, when one who bears the Name of Christ reports to that so-called dead-end job, that daily task that never seems to end, it may still be boring at time tedious even, but it is gift from God. Your job, your tasks, your callings—this is gift to you from your Lord who loves all people and wants every person to be well fed, well-taught, to hear good music, to enjoy good drink, to know all his gifts of creation. And when the Lord uses our hands to do even a small part of that, it is never just a striving after wind.
So Solomon, who belongs to the Lord, is able to say,
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?
Eat your food. Laugh with your friends. Drink your wine—if that’s the drink you like, or your coffee or tea or whatever is good to your taste—drink it with a smile and rejoice in your work.
For apart from God, no one has true enjoyment. For how can the man rejoice who knows that tomorrow he dies and is thrown in the ground and is no more? But belonging to the God of Life God, knowing that in Baptism you have already died and now your life is hidden in Christ—for you, there is no death. All that you do is not a striving after wind. Rather, it is your Lord caring for your neighbor through you.
So, eat good food; enjoy good drink; find joy in your work. Your sin has been put away in Christ Jesus; he has forgiven you guilt, covered your shame, he stands you before his Father in honor, for in Baptism, your life is hidden with him in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, you also will appear with him in glory.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11, c) July 17, 2022
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. 24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
In the Name of Jesus.
The Apostle Paul is preparing the Church for suffering. He’s preparing us for suffering.
The Church suffers. We don’t want to. But there is no escaping it.
We see the obvious suffering of the Church—the martyrs of the faith throughout the ages. Our brothers and sisters killed by Colosseum lions under Nero. Those Christian families murdered for the faith in the siege of Constantinople. Christians such as Jon Hus burned at the stake. Christians even now being kidnapped and murdered in northern Africa.
That suffering is obvious. But also the not so obvious. Christian families in our own nation having their children taught in the schools immoral teachings about marriage and family. Christians under threat in the workplace if they don’t publicly approve and endorse such prevailing doctrines as unnatural marriage and unnatural sex.
The Church suffers.
We suffer not just due to our sinful world, but also due to our own sinful flesh. We’re not done with that, after all. In our sinful flesh, we walk ourselves, with the help of the devil, into all sorts of sin and arrogance and pride and envy and all forms of despising our Lord’s gifts, walking ourselves finally into trying to justify ourselves before God, which is the ultimate insult to our Creator.
Yes. The Church suffers. Until our own sinful flesh is buried, and until our Lord comes again to judge the living and the dead, the Church suffers.
This is not the suffering of the cross. That was suffered by Jesus alone. The Lamb of God bearing the sin of the world, the Son of Man standing in for all sinners, the promised Messiah sent to save, he alone suffered the death for all sin on the cross. Then from the cross he said, It is finished. As he gave up his dying breath, the suffering of the cross, the suffering to shed the holy blood to cleanse every sinner, at the words “It is finished,” the suffering for sin is over, finished, complete.
Then what is the suffering of the Church? What is the suffering the Apostle Paul speaks of when he says,
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”?
The suffering Paul is suffering, the afflictions of Christ for the Church, this is not the affliction of Jesus’ crucifixion—that’s over and complete. This is, rather, the affliction Jesus, who is now resurrected and ascended, gives to the Church.
Yes, Jesus gives his Church affliction. He gives us to suffer in the world. He places the Church in the world in weakness.
Because, the Gospel goes forth in affliction. The Gospel is spoken in weakness.
The Gospel is a strong word, to be sure. It is God’s strong Word forgiving sin, cleansing the sinner, justifying you and me. The Gospel is the strong word bearing life into a dying world and bringing life daily to you and me and our children.
But the Gospel is spoken in weakness. The Gospel is given to our neighbor not by force or coercion or political action, but as gift.
And a gift never comes by coercion, or it is no gift.
So Jesus, as he gathers sinners into his Church, as he calls us into his Church as those he has reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present us holy and blameless and above reproach, he places his Church in the world to suffer. Not to come to our neighbor in strength and power, but to speak to our neighbor in the weakness, in the kindness and gentleness of the Gospel, to speak to our neighbor as those who have been reconciled by Jesus in the body of his flesh, and who are now given to speak that forgiveness of all sin to our neighbor.
For in that word of the forgiveness of all sins, Jesus is gathering the sinner into life and salvation.
So Paul rejoices in the suffering the Lord gives him. For as Paul says, he is suffering for the sake of the Church, for the sake of his fellow Christians, that even in his own flesh Paul is filling up what is lacking in the afflictions Christ gives to the Church. [Colossians 1:24]
We may all see our suffering that way. We are suffering as those who belong to Christ’s body, the Church. The affections we suffer are filling up, that is, are bringing to completion the afflictions Christ gives us to suffer for the sake of his body, the Church. [Colossians 1:24]
We may not understand this, of course, for any particular affliction; we may not be able to see how the affliction is part of the affliction of the Church, or how the affliction the Church suffers is part of her witness of Christ to the world, but we are to know, as Paul says, that this is of the riches of the glory of [God’s] mystery, which is Christ among you, and it is our hope of glory. [Colossians 1:27]
This is our hope and confidence of resurrected eternal life. For just as we have been baptized into Christ’s cross and death, we have been baptized also into his resurrection and life.
It’s by Baptism that Jesus put his Name on us. It’s by Baptism that he made us members of his body, the Church, setting us in the world as those afflicted for the Gospel.
It’s by Baptism that Jesus this morning put his Name on little Koa.
Two parts of bearing the Name of Baptism.
Go and make disciples of all nations,
by baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and by teaching them to observe all things I have commanded unto you.
That is the gift to Koa—the gift of being made a disciple unto eternal life, of being made a member of Christ’s body, the Church.
First, Baptism into the Holy Name, so that Koa belongs to that Name by promise for eternity.
Second, parents given to bring little Koa to the Lord’s gifts, teaching him to observe all the that Christ has commanded.
What has Christ given to the church by his command, his promise, given to little Koa?
The Gospel. The proclamation of all sins forgiven. The word justifying the sinner and brining into eternal life. The Body and Blood Christ gives to his Church each week for the forgiveness of all sins.
All the gifts of Christ, all the gifts of his cross, of his teaching of grace, of his blood—all the gifts given never by force or coercion but always in the weakness of the spoken promise, in the gentleness of a gift given to a sinner to bring into life, all the gifts given this morning to little Koa, given each week to the Lord’s Body, the Church.
We will be afflicted. But afflicted as those who belong to the Lord, who belong to the promise—afflicted as those who, along with Paul, rejoice in our afflictions.
In the Name of Jesus.
PALM SUNDAY/SUNDAYOF THE PASSION April 10, 2022
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
Here we are given to see our King. It’s Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. The donkey is only a colt: it’s never before been ridden.
The Lord has taken a work animal.
Not a mighty steed, not a warhorse, not a horse for a battle chariot. That’s what would expect for a king.
But Jesus takes a common donkey, a farm animal. Kings don’t ride on farm animals. A farmer, a laborer, a merchant not with a king but with a farmer or merchant, that’s who rides on a donkey.
The Lord takes this lowly donkey up into his use. It’s never been ridden before. It’s been taken up into no other uses. This one is set aside for the Lord.
So this Lord rides into Jerusalem gentle and lowly—that’s the way he comes to save the sinner. Not the waving of victory flags at the front of an army of warhorses, but a single man, with no armor, no sword or spear, with no way to intimidate or harm anyone, riding in on a common work animal.
He has taken this one up into his own use. In this way, it is holy. It is a common thing, this young donkey to which the Lord has bound his Word of promise, by which the Lord is working salvation, upon which he’s riding, gentle and lowly for everyone to see.
The Lord riding on the back of this donkey is he who came into the flesh by mother Mary.
She, too, was common, she was unremarkable; she, too, the Lord took up into his use—in the most kind and dignifying way, she who had never bore children, who had never been married, the Lord honored her by taking her up into his use; he came to her in his word of promise, a word making her to be with child, that she would be the honored servant to bear God in the flesh. In this way, she is called not just Mary, but St. Mary, that is, Holy Mary.
She is holy in that the Lord set her apart for his use, bound to her his word of promise, so that through her he was working his salvation, and by her, as his holy instrument, he was coming into the world as a child, gentle and lowly, for everyone to see.
Mary’s child, now a grown man, rides into Jerusalem.
Here we are given to see our King—gentle and lowly, on the back of the colt of a donkey, riding to his trial.
Caiaphas the High Priest, Herod the king, and Pontius Pilate the Roman governor—this Christ will take them up into his use too.
Caiaphas thinks he is serving himself, just protecting his own jurisdiction and political standing by putting this Christ away.
Herod, too, thinks he is serving himself and his own power, protecting his throne, by putting down the threat of this Christ.
Pilate, too, thinks he is serving himself. He’s keeping strong the jurisdiction given him by the Caesar in Rome by getting rid of this problem of the Christ.
And they are all serving themselves, protecting themselves. What are they protecting themselves from? From this Christ riding into town gentle and lowly on a donkey, giving himself no way to intimidate or harm them, posing no threat to their earthly thrones and power.
But even their malice—the malice of Caiaphas and Herod and Pilate, their use of the laws and regulations to protect what’s precious to them—even all this evil they do in putting Jesus up for trial and then crucifying him, even all this, Jesus takes up into his use.
For he rides into town for just that reason, to be tried and falsely convicted, to suffer and die, in order to give himself the ransom for many. The one who rode in on the donkey, he has taken even their evil up into his use, so that by their hands he will die on the cross. This is our salvation.
So, see the one riding in gentle and lowly on the donkey.
Here look on our King. Here look at our atoning sacrifice, sent by the Father to satisfy justice.
We see the One who on the cross will willingly stand in our place to cleanse us from all sin. We see our delivery from all guilt, we see the covering of all our shame, we see the One who names us as his Bride, the church, and who presents us to his Father, holy and without blemish. He took us, too, up into his use, making us his servants.
He knows we are sinners. He knows our guilt, our malice, our deceit even better than we do. But he makes us his own. He cleanses us with his Word. He declares us to be righteous. He takes us up into his use. And for the sinner, that is the best news of all.
We see the One who loves us, who comes to us in his Word of Gospel even now, who makes us his own—we see our salvation.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
The 10th Sunday after Pentecost, (Proper 13 [b]) August 1, 2021
2The whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
4Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” 8And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.”
9Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’” 10And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11And the Lord said to Moses, 12“I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning, you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning, dew lay around the camp. 14And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
In the Name of Jesus.
The Lord gives gifts. Without count, with no stinginess, he freely gives gifts. To you, to me, to our families, to the church, to all sinners looking for relief, he gives gifts. To the church, he gave some to be Apostles, some to be prophets and evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers, all for the benefit of his people. [Ephesians 4:11]
He gives gifts to sinners. That is the depth of it. To give gifts to not-sinners, that wouldn’t surprise. Those who are not sinners would receive the gifts with joy and thankfulness.
But to give gifts to sinners, unappreciative sinners who think they are owed to, who instead of breaking out in rejoicing, grumble—that is the depth of the Lord’s giving of gifts. Exodus 16:2:
The whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
They grumble. The Lord had brought them out of slavery in Egypt. They already have the Lord’s oath of the promised land; they are already children of Abraham! As Abraham’s children, they have the promise given Abraham that the Lord forgives sins and justifies the sinner by faith—all this already belongs to them. And they grumble.
They bear the Lord’s Name. He put his Name on them in the covenant of circumcision. And yet they grumble.
Things are a little tough out in the wilderness on the way to the promised land, that much might be conceded.
But you are the people of the promise, we would want to say to them. You belong to the Lord. From your lineage will come the Savior of all sinners.
You’re hungry out in the desert? Maybe pray to the Lord, speak in faith, bring your needs to him. Maybe go to your neighbor and speak words of encouragement, maybe even arrange some hunting parties.
When you’re hungry, is there a better time to go to your neighbor’s tent and sit down with him and remind him of the promise given to Abraham, and of the Name of the Lord which we bear, and of his gifts?
What better time to be the people of God? What better time to speak encouragement, to remind of the hope of the promise, to rejoice in the gift of the Gospel, what better time than this to be the people of God rejoicing in his gift of faith? But they grumble:
The whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full.”
What’s the Lord to do? The Lord who justifies the sinner, what will he do when gifts are met with not thanksgiving and rejoicing, but grumbling, as if the Lord’s people should determine which gifts they will receive from him.
What will the Lord do? He will be true to his Name. He located his Name on them, and he will not let them go. He gave them his Name, and when they drag his Name into humiliation, he will be with them, he will suffer, he will redeem them, and he will again call them back to the gifts of the Name.
He doesn’t leave them out in the wilderness, he doesn’t leave them to their own desires and efforts, he again sends his prophet Moses, and Moses’s brother Aaron, to once again call this people back to the Name.
The gift of repentance, of being returned to the Name, this is the Lord’s greatest gift to the sinner.
His greatest gift, to accuse the Israelites of their sin, so that by the accusation of the Law they are brought into contrition, and then to once again announce himself as their Lord who gives them gifts.
Repentance—for the Lord to turn you from your sin, from your self-justification, back to him, to hear his promise, to be cleansed, to be restored to his people who bear his Name. Exodus 16:9:
Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’” And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. And the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning, you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”
The Lord’s greatest gift to the sinner: to be returned to the Gospel, so that then you know that he, the Lord, has made himself your God.
From the lineage of Abraham, from the lineage of this people Israel, the lineage of this grumbling people out in the wilderness, Jesus comes.
Born of a daughter of Israel, Mary, born under the Law, circumcised on the eighth day, Jesus comes.
He came to give gifts. The gift of himself, standing in for all sinners. The gift of his life given over to death on the cross, shedding the blood to ransom all sinners. The gift of his resurrection, defeating for all sinners our enemy death. He came giving gifts.
Then, having been crucified, having been raised from the dead, he took captive everything that held us in captivity. Our sin, the sin of this world which covers us in shame, the devil and his demons who afflict us, Jesus took it all captive, and, says Paul, he gave gifts to men.
To mankind, to all men and women, to all bound by sin and death but now freed by his blood, to all he gave gifts.
For the sinner, he gave to the Church some to be Apostles, some to be prophets and evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers, in order to build up the saints, in order to do the work of ministry, that is, the work of handing out his gifts, for the building up of the body of Christ. [Ephesians 4:12]
Without counting, with no stinginess, in all abundance, the Lord gives gifts.
That’s why we are here. This Sunday, every Sunday, at the preaching of the cross, at the administration of the sacraments, that’s why our Lord gathers us here—to be given to, to receive his gifts, to be rescued from our grumbling and self-justification, and returned always to the gifts of his Name.
The gifts of his Name? It is the Name he put on you in Baptism. The Name of promise. The Name he will never depart. It is the Name of the Lord who ascended on high to distribute gifts to all people, and the gift he gives to you is the forgiveness of all your sin. The gift of being reconciled to his Father and thus, being reconciled also to one another.
In the Name of Jesus.
The 5th Sunday after Pentecost [b] June 27, 2021
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24And he went with him.
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32And he looked around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
In the Name of Jesus.
Will the Lord allow himself to be touched by the unclean, by sinners, by you and me? Mark 5:30:
[Jesus] immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.
The woman was unclean. She had, Mark tells us, a discharge of blood.
With Moses, the Lord had given gave the Levitical law. This Law told who was to serve in the Tabernacle, who was to bring sacrifices, how the priests were to declare sinners clean, and of who was to not come to the Tabernacle.
Those who were not to come to the Tabernacle were the unclean—those with such things as skin diseases or leprosy, also those who had eaten unclean foods. And it included sicknesses such as this woman had.
Why did God call this unclean? Did he not love the lepers and those with unhealthy skin? Did God not want to show kindness to those who had a sickness? Is God trying to say that good people deserve life and bad people deserve death?
None of that. God loves all and wants all to be cleansed. The God of love and mercy, the God who created us and also who justifies us from our sin, he gave the Levitical law through Moses to draw a sharp distinction between the holy and the unholy, a clear line between the clean and the unclean, a distinction between that which is of life and that which is of death.
So when a person was unclean, whether by skin disease or food eaten, or the impurity of sin in the heart, God wanted to cleanse.
So he set the Tabernacle and the Altar of sacrifice and the Ark of the Covenant in the midst of Israel, so that every person, no matter what manner of uncleanness, no matter what stain of sin or what covering of shame—every Israelite would know where to come to receive God’s cleansing and purification by the declaration of the priest.
But, the distinction between the clean and the unclean, the holy and the profane, is not blurred. The unclean one is not to touch the Tabernacle until first being purified in the way God ordained. The unclean one is made clean by the priest making atonement.
But the holy is not to be touched by the unholy, clean not polluted by the unclean. Will Jesus let himself be touched by the unclean? Mark 5:24:
And a great crowd followed [Jesus] and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
Jesus will let himself be touched by the unclean. He came for just this purpose.
We think of the Incarnation, of God coming in the flesh as man, to be a great miracle. And it is. But it is more than just the miracle of God becoming Incarnate; it is God coming in human flesh in order to walk among sinners and be touched by them. In order for the holy to be touched by the unholy, without the unholy being consumed in the fire of judgement. In order for God in the flesh to take all our uncleanness, our impurity, all our shame upon himself, in order to then give himself over to death to atone for the unclean.
That’s what he was doing with that woman. He was letting the unclean touch the clean, and in that, her uncleanness belonged to him.
And his holiness belonged to her.
Jesus let that happen to himself. He let her touch him. He let himself be made unclean with her impurity.
Will he go out and touch the unclean himself? Not just let it happen to him as he places himself among sinners, but will he seek out the unclean and actively touch? Mark 5:41:
While [Jesus] was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”
Nothing is more unclean than a corpse. The touching of a dead body put you outside the camp of Israel until you have been ritually cleansed.
Jesus goes up to the body and gripped the dead hand with his own.
Jesus will touch the unclean. He will make it his own. He takes the death upon himself. He takes upon himself the death of every sinner—that’s what we see his death on the cross.
Because he takes our death upon himself, our death is not death. It is, indeed, the death of our body, of our sinful flesh, but it is not the big death; it is not death before God.
Before God, when we die, we are only sleeping.
When the little girl died, she did not die, her personhood was not annihilated, she did not lose her personal existence. She belonged to the Lord. She belonged to life. Before the Lord, her earthly death was only sleeping, a waiting for the resurrection of the body.
“Talitha cumi,” Jesus says to her. Stand up. You belong to life. For you, there is no death, only life.
Jesus in the midst of the unclean, of the sinners, of those covered in shame—Jesus does not shrink back. He touches us. His body and blood to our body and blood.
Take and eat, the unholy ones given to receive the holy one. Take and drink, the unclean ones receiving the holy one, and now themselves cleansed.
It is all for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus among sinners is always for the forgiveness of sins. For where sins are forgiven, the unclean are made clean, the unholy, holy, those belonging to sickness and death now belong to life.
You are clean. You belong to life. Jesus says no less.
In the Name of Jesus.