Sunday, October 17, 2021

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24B)

October 17, 2021

Text: Mark 10:23-31

            Money is not the source of your life.  That is the lie Satan tells you.  And you’re pretty easy to convince.  You may grasp intellectually that this cannot be true.  But you too often act as though it is.  You look to money, riches, to provide for you, protect you, help you in times of trouble, give you joy, and enable you to live a full and fulfilled life.  But do you see the position to which you’ve elevated money?  You’ve made it an idol.  You’ve made it your god.  Again, let’s call it by its true name, Mammon.  And it works exactly as Satan intends it.  It shuts out from you the true Source of your life, the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the true riches He delights to pour out upon you: Eternal life with Him in His Kingdom, the forgiveness of sins, the wiping away of guilt and shame and pain and tears, the resurrection of the body, and true and eternal wholeness, peace, and joy.  Money can’t buy that!  And that is precisely the point Jesus was making to the rich young man when He told him to “go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21; ESV).  And that is precisely the point He is making to His disciples in our text, and to us as He preaches this Gospel this morning: “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (v. 23).  Mammon, makes a very poor God.  And if you fashion it as your god, it will rob you of the one, true God. 

            The disciples are amazed at this.  Not because they think money makes a wonderful deity.  But because the Jews believed that, at least among the chosen people of God, material wealth was a sign of God’s favor, a reward for a life well-lived according to the Law.  Poverty was a punishment for sin.  And so, if anybody can be assured a place in the Kingdom of God, surely this rich young man, who has kept the Commandments from his youth, as attested by God’s giving him such vast wealth and possessions, will be counted among them.  And if he can’t make it, well then… “who can be saved?” (v. 26). 

            And before you wag your head at this silly notion of the disciples that the rich are better off before God than the poor, stop and think a minute.  Isn’t it true that we tend to think the same way?  I look around the room and I see people, none of whom I would consider “rich” by today’s standards (maybe I just don’t know), but nonetheless more materially comfortable and secure than the rich young man, or even kings in the ancient world.  And we all say of it, “I am blessed by God,” and we are, that is right.  We should recognize that all that we have comes from God, and give thanks to Him for it.  But then we look at someone in poverty (which, again, is a relative term… There is a vast difference between a poor person in America today, and a poor person in the ancient world, or even this very moment in many other places), and what do we say, or at least think?  They are poor because of their own sin.  Drugs.  Alcohol.  Unwilling to work.  Scamming the system.  Unwed pregnancy.  Which may be true!  As so much of the wisdom in Proverbs teaches, bad choices do lead to bad outcomes, and good choices do lead to good outcomes.  Not always, but generally speaking.  Then again, our assumption may not be true.  Perhaps the person is poor because of sickness, or tragedy, or because someone else has cheated them.  We are forever breaking the 8th Commandment with regard to the poor, assuming the worst, assuming we know the cause of the poverty.  And notice that we actually start to think about this as, God has blessed me because I’ve lived well according to the Law, and He hasn’t blessed them, because they haven’t.  Be careful.  God may soon disabuse us of this thinking by leveling us all in economic collapse, or catastrophic war, or disaster.  And it is quite possible that you may be thrust into abject poverty precisely for your righteous actions.  Remember, the world hates Christ and His Christians.  And it will punish you for being faithful.  The cost of following Jesus may just be the loss of earthly goods.  So repent of such thinking.

            Truth be told, as a matter of the First Commandment, Mammon is an idol of the rich and the poor and everyone in between.  Think about it.  Wherever you fall on the spectrum of wealth, isn’t it true that you actually think most of your problems and inconveniences could be solved with just a little more money?  Just a bit.  Just enough.  I’m not being greedy, here.  But it’s never enough!  The poor man thinks money will solve his every difficulty.  The rich man always needs just a little bit more to be secure.  And every last lovin’ one of us who fall somewhere in between believe we’d be better off if we had just a little more.  And when we get a little more, thanks be to God, but we need just a little more.

            This is a certain indication that Mammon has become your idol.  To expose this, Jesus changes, mid-course in our Gospel, how He speaks about the difficulty of entering the Kingdom of God.  First He says it will be difficult for the rich.  Then He simply says it will be difficult, period.  Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!” (v. 24).  Because Mammon is an idol to all.  For those with wealth, easier for a camel, proverbially the largest animal in Hebrew thought, to go through the eye of a needle, proverbially the smallest opening in Hebrew thought.  For those without wealth, or who think they are without wealth?  Not any easier.  And the disciples get it.  Not just difficultImpossible!  Yes, absolutely impossible to be saved.  Now we’ve really arrived at the point.  Salvation is impossible! … With man.  Even the richest.  Even the greatest.  Even every last lovin’ one of us.  Impossible for us by our own merits or resources to enter the Kingdom of God.

            But not impossible for God.  For all things are possible with God” (v. 27).  See, if you are to be saved, you cannot do it.  God must do it.  And so He does.  Remember, Jesus is the Young Man with all the eternal riches in His possession, very God of very God, the eternal Son of the Father, who gives it all up all the way to the death of the cross, gives it all up FOR US,  gives it all up TO US, that we poor, destitute, sinners may have it all, the very Kingdom of God, eternal life and blessedness.  Money, silver and gold, can’t buy that.  Jesus pays with His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death.  So if you’re counting on money to provide for you, protect you, help you in times of trouble, give you joy, and enable you to live a full and fulfilled life, then Friend, you’re betting on the wrong horse.  Jesus is the God who does all that.  Jesus alone, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit.  “And there’s none other God.”  If you can’t keep that straight, better to give it all away.  Certainly an important spiritual discipline to give a lot of it away, to the poor, to your neighbor, to preach the Gospel.  So that you keep money in its place.  As a gift of God, but most certainly not God.  This is actually why God gives you any wealth in the first place.  Not to hoard up for a rainy day, in case the Father forsakes you and you have to count on money to catch you when you fall.  No, to give.  To help.  To be a blessing.  To put to work for your neighbor, and for God.

            By grace, Peter and the others knew that money doesn’t save.  Only Jesus does.  He is not speaking pridefully when he says, “See, we have left everything and followed you” (v. 28).  It is a statement of fact, and it implies a question… What about us?  Salvation is impossible with man, but possible with God.  Where do we stand?  Now and then?  Because the fishing business is severely understaffed since we left the boats, and there isn’t much money in the bank.  Are we okay, here?

            You’re more than okay, Peter.  You have the true riches.  Jesus assures Peter and the Apostles that “there is no one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time… and in the age to come,” yes, eternal life” (vv. 29-30).  This means that those who make sacrifices for the sake of the Kingdom, like so many of my brother pastors whom I so admire, who unlike me, left big houses and high paying jobs to go to seminary, spent their savings on school, gave up their luxuries, just to become poor preachers of the Gospel and tend their little part of the flock; like so many of our brothers and sisters throughout history, and throughout the world at this very moment, who suffer persecution, the confiscation of their goods, rejection by their loved ones, imprisonment, beatings, death, simply because they are baptized, or because they are found in a Church, or because they own a Bible; like the saints of old, like these very Apostles, all of whom (with possibly one exception) suffered a martyr’s death; like the prophets who came before them and were rejected by the very people for whom God sent them.  They “loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11). 

            And like you.  Yes, even you.  Oh, I know you struggle to forsake your idols.  Truth be told, so did Peter and the Apostles.  But like them, by grace, you know that money doesn’t save you.  Nor does anything else, or anyone else, but your Lord Jesus Christ who loves you, who died for you, who is risen and lives for you.  And you do give generously for the good of your neighbor, to aid the poor, and to preach the Gospel.  It is the Spirit of the living God who works this in you.  And you do suffer (perhaps in much milder form) rejection on the part of those who think you’re silly to believe all this Jesus Christ and Bible stuff, who even think that must mean you are hateful and bigoted and ignorant, and that you should be cancelled.  Some of you suffer sharp rejection from your own family members for the sake of Christ, and there is nothing mild about that.  I know Christians right here in America who have even lost their livelihoods for their faithfulness to Christ.  And while, at the moment, we enjoy some measure of religious freedom in our country, we must know this freedom is fading.  Christianity is no longer favored by the state or the culture.  We must be prepared to give it all up, our wealth, our possessions, our comfortable lives.  And you are.  You are prepared.  Weakly.  Reluctantly.  But you are.  And you will in the time of trial, God strengthening you and helping you, as He promises He will.  For all things are possible with God. 

            So Jesus’ Promise here is for you, as well.  A hundredfold now in this life.  And in the age to come eternal life.  But what could He possibly mean by the “hundredfold”?  If it is taken away, and you die destitute, how has Jesus kept that Promise?  Well, what house does He give you a hundredfold but the holy Church, here and throughout the world?  And what brothers and sisters and mothers and children times a hundred, but the new Family of God in Christ, consisting of those who hear the Word of God and keep it?  And lands?  Each new land where the Gospel is preached, a foretaste of that great Day when the whole Land, the whole earth, will belong to Christ and His people, in the New Creation.  In other words, it is the very Kingdom of God.  Though, note, you don’t receive new fathers a hundredfold.  Because you have one Father, even God your heavenly Father.  And He is all the Father you need. 

            Salvation is impossible with man.  You can’t purchase it with earthly riches.  But then, it isn’t that kind of Kingdom.  This Kingdom is given to you as a gift, by grace.  Not because of your wealth, or your worthiness, your works, or anything in you.  Because of Jesus.  Because He died for you.  Because He is risen.  Rich or poor or in between, whatever wealth or possessions you have here and now are entirely beside the point.  Even faced with the loss of all things, having Christ, you have it all.  You are rich beyond measure.  Money is not your life.  Thanks be to God, Christ is.  And here He is this morning, to give you all His riches in His Word and Sacrament; in fact, to give you Himself.  Satan is a liar.  Wealth is but a tool.  Jesus Christ is all in all.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   

Monday, October 11, 2021

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity


Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Blessed Sacrament Lutheran Church, Hayden, Idaho

October 10, 2021

Text: Matt. 9:1-8

            Which is easier to say?  “Your sins are forgiven?”  Or, “Rise and walk?”  On the face of it, of course, it is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” because there is no visible test this side of Judgment Day whether the words have been effective.  But to say, “Rise and walk,” well… Either the man will get up and walk, or he won’t, and then we’ll all know whether Jesus has such authority.

            But in reality, in terms of words actually accomplishing what they say, it is much easier to say, “Rise and walk,” than “Your sins are forgiven.”  Doctors apply remedies to physical afflictions all the time, and that skillful application often (though certainly not always) results in the bedridden arising and walking.  We Christians recognize God behind the medicine and the doctor’s skill, and even unbelievers will often call it a “miracle” when extreme illness or injury is cured, or at least mitigated, by medical treatment.  But the fact remains, what we see is a mere human being, perhaps not even a Christian, saying to someone previously rendered immobile, “Rise and walk,” and that is just what they do.

            But only God can forgive sins.  The scribes are on to something when they say, “This man is blaspheming” (Matt. 9:3; ESV).  They are wrong, of course, but only because they do not recognize who Jesus is.  If Jesus is a mere man, like a medical doctor, He has no business forgiving sins!  And to claim such authority for Himself is to claim that He is God.  Blasphemy for any rabbi to claim of himself, no matter how pious and great a theologian he may be. 

            ‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – he then said to the paralytic – ‘Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’  And he rose and went home” (vv. 6-7).

            Authority.  This is the nature and purpose of the miracles.  They show Jesus’ authority.  They are a demonstration of who He is, and what He has come to do.  Who are You to forgive sins?  “I’ll show you,” says Jesus.  “I am the Creator come to heal my creation of its brokenness.  I am come to restore fallen sinners, broken people, paralyzed by their iniquities, dead in their transgressions.  I come to forgive.  I come to enliven.  I come to heal and to save.” 

            Now, unlike a medical doctor, in the case of this miracle, our Great Physician, Jesus, does not do His healing work by means of herbal or chemical prescriptions and physical therapies administered over time.  No.  He speaks His authoritative Word.  He gives a command.  And the cure is immediate and comprehensive.  The man gets up, and not only walks, but picks up his bed!  So what is the only conclusion to be drawn?  This is a miracle!  Only God could do such a thing!  Therefore, this man must be God.  And if He is God, not only can He miraculously heal paralytics, He can forgive sins.

            And which is the greater miracle?  It is the forgiveness of sins.

            Jesus begins by treating the foremost need.  Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (v. 2).  Paralysis is just a symptom.  Sin is the disease.  The wages of sin is death,” Paul reminds us (Rom. 6:23).  All illness, all affliction, and all injury, be it physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, is an indication of, a prelude to, death.  You may treat the illness, affliction, or injury, and you should.  Jesus does, after all, heal the paralytic.  But in the end, you’ll still die.  To save you from death, and that is to say, spiritual death, eternal death in hell, never mind physical death, Jesus must treat the mortal disease: Sin.  And that is what He does with the medicine of His Absolution.  Your sins are forgiven.” 

            I often use this same distinction between disease and symptoms to illustrate the difference between original sin and actual sins.  This is a common catechetical device.  Original sin is the disease passed from generation to generation.  We inherit it from our fathers going back to Adam in the Garden.  This is why newborns and even babies in the womb are in need of Jesus’ forgiveness, even before they have an opportunity to actually sin.  Actual sins, the actual bad things we do against God’s Commandments (sins of commission), and the actual good things God commands that we neglect or fail to do (sins of omission), are the symptoms of the disease, which is original sin.  This is where so much of Evangelical Christianity goes off the rails.  You can go to an Evangelical Church (which is a misnomer, because it is anything BUT evangelical, anything BUT Gospel-centered), and you will probably hear a sermon about how to combat some actual sin that is plaguing your life.  Now, understand, you should combat any actual sin that is plaguing your life.  Of course you should.  Actual sins are bad.  They hurt you.  You should strive against them, and not do them.  But you have to understand, such actual sins are but symptoms of the fatal disease called original sin.  And unless you treat the this fatal disease, no matter how successful you may be at eradicating the symptoms, they will come back again in one form or another.  If I have a brain tumor, I will most probably have a headache.  And it is fine and good to take Tylenol for that headache.  But I would be dead wrong if I thought that by taking Tylenol for my headache, I had in any measure successfully treated the disease.  And if I don’t treat the disease, the headache will be back, and more seriously, I will die.  There is only one medicine that will cure the disease of original sin, which is the cause of all actual sins.  And that medicine is not your striving and effort.  That works about as well as the paralytic trying really hard by his own efforts to get up, pick up his bed, and walk home.  The medicine is Jesus.  The medicine is His Holy Absolution.  Take heart.  Your sins are forgiven.

            They are forgiven, because Jesus, who is God, and therefore has the authority to do so, has taken them away.  He has taken them into Himself, all your sin, original and actual, your very death, and all the afflictions that are death’s indications.  And He suffers it all, and for it all, for you, in His Body on the cross, where He puts it to death in Himself.  He buries it all in His tomb.  This is why the medicine of the Absolution, Jesus’ Word of forgiveness, is effective.  Jesus Himself is the active ingredient in it.  He pulls the disease out of you, sucks out the poison of sin and its guilt and shame, and ingests it, and bears it away to His cross and death.  But that’s not all!  Now He is risen from the dead (though your sins and afflictions will never rise), and now by the same medicine of His Absolution, administered in Baptism, and Gospel preaching,  the Office of the Keys, and the Lord’s Supper, He infuses His resurrection life into you.  So that you rise.  He raises you.  By His authoritative Word.  Rise and walk.”  In your hearing of this Gospel, He addresses these words not only to the paralytic, but to you!  You have been raised from the dead… by faith, even now.  You have eternal life, even now.  And you are given to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).

            And so, having been cured of the disease, what happens with the symptoms?  Well, in one sense, and it is the most important sense, they are taken care of, too.  That is, your sins are forgiven.  Not only original sin, the disease, but all actual sins, the symptoms.  And what Jesus has done for you spiritually already, He will do bodily, on that Day when He comes again in glory. 

            But in another sense, there are still the vestiges of the symptoms on this side of that great Day.  That is, Old Adam is always struggling to pop his head up above the baptismal waters.  You still sin, actual sins of commission and omission.  And though you are forgiven, it is a daily struggle.  Daily repentance.  Daily emerging and arising to live before God in righteousness and purity.  Simul iustus et peccator.  At the same time righteous and sinner.  Jesus didn’t only say, “Rise.”  He said, “Take up your bed and carry it until you get home.”  It is a burden.  But it is a burden always borne in the faith and knowledge that the disease has been cured, your sins are forgiven, and it is Jesus’ life that enlivens you to carry it until you see Him face to face, as He welcomes you into that place where all your burdens are cast away forever, and you are finally home with your Savior.

            And we do still get sick and suffer afflictions in this life, and these, too, are vestiges of the symptoms.  Now, when we do suffer in this way, our friends often bring us to Jesus for His help and healing.  That is, our brothers and sisters in Christ, pray for us, and Jesus hears their prayers, and answers.  We often take it for granted that, in most cases, when we are hurt or sick, we get better, we overcome.  But we forget that when we do, when we get over a cold, or COVID, or cancer, or a hangnail, even when this is accomplished by the intervention of modern medicine, it is the same Lord Jesus who healed the paralytic, who also speaks us well. 

            And the medicine we need above all else when we are ill or injured, as in our daily life of repentance and struggle against sin, is the Absolution spoken by Christ, “Your sins are forgiven.”  This is why you call your pastor when you are in the hospital, and want him to come to your bedside when you are sick, or hurt, or dying.  When you think about it, by any worldly standard, it is a rather ridiculous thing to call your pastor in a medical emergency.  What is he supposed to do about it?  He will only get in the way.  That is why, with almost no scruples, nearly every hospital, nursing home, and care facility immediately banned clergy visitation at the beginning of this pandemic, and even now, the door is only open for us a crack.  But you know what the world in general, and the medical profession in particular, has forgotten.  What you need most in a time of crisis is the forgiveness of sins.  That is why God has given you a pastor, to speak, not his own forgiveness (for no one can forgive sins but God alone), but the very forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  That is the most important thing.  When the paralytic was brought to Jesus, He didn’t immediately tell him to rise and walk.  No, the first thing He said, the first order of business, as a matter of first importance, was “Your sins are forgiven.”  Now, disease cured, He moves on to the symptom presented, thus curing the paralysis. 

            The forgiveness of sins, the curing of the disease, will always lead to the healing of the symptoms, from paralysis to cancer to hangnails.  Always.  Oh, it may first lead through the valley of the shadow of death.  But you know where the true and perfect healing will be manifest.  There is, of course, heaven, where your soul will be with Jesus, and you will no longer suffer.  But I’m not even talking about that.  No, I’m talking about the Day when Jesus comes to you at the cemetery, and because He has already, here and now, declared to you, “Your sins are forgiven,” He will bend down over your coffin and say to you, “Rise and walk!  “Live!”  And He will take your hand and pull you out of the grave.  So that you do just that! 

            Which is easier to say?  “Your sins are forgiven?”  Or, “Rise and walk.”  Jesus says both.  And He has all the authority to do it.  Because He is the Son of God.  He died for you.  And He is risen from the dead.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23B)

October 10, 2021

Text: Mark 10:17-22

            No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18; ESV).  So if Jesus is good, He must be more than simply a “Good Teacher” (v. 17).  From the rich young man’s own mouth comes the unwitting confession.  Jesus is good.  Therefore Jesus is God.  Not simply a teacher of ethics and moral philosophy.  Not simply an example of how to live your life, in every situation asking the question, “What would Jesus do?  No mere prophet or religious guru.  He is God.  Therefore, He alone is good.

            But the rich young man thinks he may be a candidate for the title, as well.  When he asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 17), he is really looking for an endorsement from Jesus that he is good enough to have merited his way to heaven and resurrection.  Never mind the absurdity of earning an inheritance.  The rich man asks a Law question, so Jesus gives him a Law answer.  You want to be a good person by your own efforts and merit?  You know the Commandments.  Let’s start with the so-called “easy” ones, the Second Table of the Law, the Commandments in relation to the neighbor (v. 19).  Do not murder.”  Okay, got it.  Haven’t killed anyone lately.  Do not commit adultery.”  No problem.  Cheating on my wife would be unthinkable.  Do not steal.”  Check.  I always pay for everything.  Do not bear false witness.”  Truth is my number one virtue.  Do not defraud.”  Alright, I expected Him to say “Do not Covet,” but I suppose defrauding is the outward manifestation of coveting, and it is important to be honest in all our business dealings.  Which I am.  Check.  Honor your father and mother.”  Listed last for emphasis.  No problem.  Sure, I had my rebellious thoughts as a teenager, but I never acted on them.  And yes, when I had a chance to give some corban, money dedicated to God, I took what I might have given my parents for their support and care, and gave it instead to a holier cause, but surely they understand, and, after all, God will take care of them if they, like me, are holy enough, and surely God is more impressed with my pious offering than He would be with more mundane parental care.  But I always treat Mom and Dad with deference and respect.  Very important.  Check.  Teacher, all these I’ve kept from my youth” (10:20), from the time of my bar mitzvah at the beginning of my teenage years, when I became, literally, a Son of the Commandments, and God began to hold me responsible for my own holiness. 

            Now, you Lutherans need to give this young man a break with your Lutheranism.  You’ve heard Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5), and you’ve attended a Lutheran Catechism class, so you know the problem with the young man’s self-righteous assertions.  Keeping the Commandments is not just a matter of outward behavior, but of the heart.  He who even hates his brother, or wishes or does any harm, is guilty of murder, whether he kills him or not.  He who merely looks at a woman with lustful intent has committed adultery with her in his heart, whether he acts on it or not.  Thus the Commandments are broken, and we all do it.  All true enough.  You’re absolutely right.  Good job.  You pass your Catechism exam. 

            But the young man does have a point.  He has outwardly, and scrupulously, kept these Commandments of the Second Table.  And that is a good thing.  And as a result, everyone says of him, that he is a good man.  We speak the same way about people who live up to high moral principles.  And we should, humanly speaking, because it encourages people to do what is right, and not do what is wrong, and that benefits us all. 

            The young man has every reason to believe, or so he thinks, that he has also kept the First Table of the Law, the Commandments in relation to God.  He only worships the God of Israel.  Idols are abhorrent to him.  He doesn’t misuse God’s Name, because he doesn’t even say it.  When he is reading the Scriptures, where the text says “YHWH,” I AM, he substitutes “Adonai,” LORD.  And the Sabbath.  Never, ever, for any reason, does he do any work.  He attends synagogue service, and then goes home and eats what has been prepared the night before.

            But Jesus is good, and therefore God, and therefore knows what the young man does not know about himself.  For all his abhorrence for idols fashioned of wood and stone, the young man has an idol made of silver and gold and the trappings of comfort and luxury.  His wealth.  His possessions.  His stuff.  Mammon.

            So looking at him with intense, divine, saving love, Jesus essentially says to him: “If you want to be good by keeping the Commandments, I’ll grant you that you’ve kept all those we’ve talked about from the Second Table (though you may want to read my comments in the forthcoming Gospel of Matthew when that book is released, wherein I will show you that you really haven’t kept those Commandments to God’s standard, from your heart).  What I really want to get at now is a matter of the First Commandment.  You shall have no other gods.’  You should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  But you, my dear child, love and trust something else.  And it must be dealt with.  The idol must be toppled and excised from your life.  So ‘go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me’ (Mark 10:21).” 

            The issue is not that the young man hadn’t been generous to God and to the poor previous to this.  I’m sure he had.  He’s just the kind of person who would put large sums of money into the Temple treasury (Luke 21:1), and toss a few more spare coins to the beggars on the street (Matt. 6:1 ff).  The issue isn’t what he’s given.  The issue is what he’s kept.  And why he’s kept it.  Because he loves it for what it does for him.  He trusts it to provide for all his needs and desires.  And above all, he fears losing it.  Because then he would be destitute.  And that is why he goes away sad.  He cannot do it.  He cannot give up his god.  As it turns out, he is not good.  So when it comes to his own doing, he has no hope of gaining eternal life.

            So also with your doing.  You know you cannot gain eternal life by it.  You know the Commandments.  And you know that, even if you have kept them outwardly, keeping them really is a matter of the heart, and you know the disposition of your heart in light of all those Commandments.  And really, the Word of Christ in our text hits you, also, right where it hit the young man.  It is not that it is wrong to have money or possessions.  More on wealth next week.  But for now, suffice it to say, Abraham and David were both rich men for their time and place, and yet Abraham was a friend of God, and David was a man after God’s own heart.  Money, itself, is a good gift of God, as are many of the things money can buy, and more importantly, the good things money can do for your neighbor.  It is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evils (1 Tim. 6:10).  In any case, Jesus has not commanded you to sell all you have and give it all away to the poor.  But then, what if he did?  Could you do it?  And if you did, isn’t it true that you would still walk away sad, like the rich young man?  You love and trust your money, too, the pernicious idol, Mammon.  And you fear losing it as much as the rich young man did.  So you, also, are not good.  And even if you keep a pristine outward moral life, you will never inherit eternal life by your doing of the Law.

            But the Gospel has been implicit from Jesus’ first words in this text.  Let’s make it explicit.  No one is good except God alone.”  Jesus is God.  Jesus is good.  And it is by His goodness that you inherit eternal life.  He knows the Commandments.  He never murdered, never hurt or harmed his neighbor in his body, but helped and supported him in every physical need, healing the sick and injured, feeding the hungry, raising the dead.  He never committed adultery, but lived a sexually pure and decent life in all that He said and did.  And ever faithful to His Bride, the Church, He restored adulterers and prostitutes, sinners and the unclean to Communion with God, eating and drinking with them, as He does to this very day at the holy Altar.  He did not steal.  As a carpenter, He would have always been at the improving and protecting His neighbor’s possessions and income.  And He is the gracious Giver of all that you have.  He did not bear false witness, but always spoke truthfully.  He did not defraud anyone.  And as to His parents, we know that the Boy Jesus was submissive to them as He increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:51-52). 

            With regard to the First Table, Jesus feared, loved, and trusted His Father above all things, ever seeking to fulfill the Father’s will to save us.  He did not misuse the Name of God.  He bore it and revealed it for our salvation.  And He not only fulfilled, the Sabbath, He is the Sabbath’s fulfillment.  He is our Sabbath rest from the endless striving to win salvation and eternal life by our goodness, by our fulfilling the Law.  He is our forgiveness and redemption.

            And all of His keeping of God’s Law, He did not for His own benefit.  He who gave us the Law, was made subject to the Law, for our sakes, and for our salvation.  He fulfilled it.  He did it for us.  We are baptized into Christ.  And all His perfect keeping of the Law, outwardly and inwardly, is credited to our account.  And all of our breaking of the Law, outwardly and inwardly, has been atoned for in His flesh, in His blood and death on the cross.  And all of His perfect righteousness is given to us as a gift in the Gospel and Sacraments.  Our sins are forgiven. 

            And that is how we inherit eternal life.  Not by our doing, but by His.  Ask a Law question, and you get a Law answer.  This is what you must do, and do perfectly, to merit eternal life.  And you haven’t, so you can’t.  You’re doomed.  But Jesus has a better way, the Gospel way, His way.  As Martin Luther wrote, “The law says, ‘do this,’ and it is never done.  Grace,” that is, the Gospel, “says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done” (Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 26, LW 31:41).  

            We have a good God, who became man, taking on our flesh, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.  Jesus is the One who gave up all He had and bestowed it on us poor, miserable sinners, who have nothing of our own.  He looks upon us with intense, divine, saving love.  He has done all in our place, and given us His goodness, His righteousness, as a gift.  He died for our sins.  He is risen from the dead.  This is grace, God’s unmerited favor bestowed upon us for Christ’s sake.  Believe in this, and you will not only inherit eternal life… you have it already.  Now, resting in this, that Jesus has done all for you, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation, go love your neighbor by keeping the Commandments, because that is what your neighbor needs.  And look not to Mammon, to your works, or to any other god to provide for you.  Jesus is good.  He is the one true God, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit.  And He alone will do it.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22B)

October 3, 2021

Text: Mark 10:2-16; Gen. 2:18-25

            It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18; ESV).  Man was created to live in relationship, in communion.  First of all with God.  Man is, after all, the fruit of the love and communion within the Persons of the Trinity, our one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But so also, to live in communion with other people.  And the highest expression of this is Holy Marriage, God’s own institution, given to man even before the fall into sin.  Even then, in the perfection of the Garden Paradise, where God saw all that He had made, and declared it “very good” (Gen. 1:31), there was one thing that was “not good”… Adam had no one to share all this with.  Adam had no other person to care for, to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, for whom to be the very image of Christ, to receive as the very image of the Church. 

            Adam didn’t know this, of course.  He was unaware of the deficiency.  Thus the parade of animals.  As Adam was naming each creature, which is to say, doing scientific observation and classification, he noticed that God had created each of the beasts male and female, that every male had his mate.  And he also noticed that there was no mate among the beasts for him, no helper fit for him, or better, corresponding to him, to be his physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual counterpart.  God introduced a longing in Adam, the realization that it is “not good” for him to be without such a complement, to live in isolation, to be alone.  So God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, and from Adam’s side, from Adam’s own flesh and blood, God formed for him the woman, Eve.  And God Himself, our heavenly Father, marched her down the aisle, brought her to the man, gave her hand into his, and blessed the marriage by His Word.  He united the two as one flesh.  Adam confesses it, in a beautiful love poem: This, at last, is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh (2:23).  And this will be the pattern from now on.  A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.  They shall be one flesh, joined by God, by His Word, and in conjugal union.  One man, one woman, for life.  That is marriage.  That is God’s design.  And because He is the Designer, He gets to say what it is.  And He is the very best Designer, giving us this gift for our good, for companionship, for procreation, for enjoyment of His good gift of sexuality.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate (Mark 10:9). 

            But… the Fall.  Adam and Eve sinned.  And we, the fruit of their union, fell in their sin.  And we’ve been sinners, and we sin, ever since.  And by our hardness of heart, we are continually separating, breaking asunder, what God has joined together.  You know all the ways we do this.  It is all the ways we bend and abuse God’s good gifts that He designed exclusively for Holy Marriage, by grasping them outside of Holy Marriage.  This is especially true with regard to holy sexuality.  We profane that holy gift when we fornicate, which is when we engage in sexual activity with another person before marriage.  And I don’t know if you’ve thought about this, but when you fornicate, you sin not only against God, but also against your own body, as St. Paul says (1 Cor. 6:18), and the body of the other person, and also, if you don’t marry that person, you sin against your future spouse, and his or her future spouse.  You rob them of the exclusive enjoyment of their future spouse’s body and intimacy.  The world would have us believe that fornication is no big deal, but it is a big deal, and it goes to the very heart of our most intimate relationships.  It breaks the union before there is a union, and it creates a union where a union is not intended.  And, of course, there is always the possibility that such a union will result in procreation.  Babies, which are always a blessing, no matter the circumstances of conception.  Nevertheless, God has designed Holy Marriage for procreation, so that a baby can grow up in the safety and providing care of a mother and a father who are united to one another by God as one flesh, committed to each other and to their children.  That is the ideal.  That is God’s design. 

            We also profane God’s holy gift when boyfriends and girlfriends move in together before marriage.  Even if they plan to get married eventually.  This is not God’s design.  Vows first.  Commitment first.  The joining together by God’s Word, the sanctification of the marriage by Word and prayer, first.  And yes, in deference to the Fourth Commandment, the marriage license first.  Those living together outside of marriage should either separate, or get married right now to make the situation right. 

            And, of course, adultery profanes God’s holy gift.  To adulterate is to mix a foreign substance into a thing.  And to commit adultery in the most technical sense of the word, is to bring a third party into the marriage, into the one flesh union between husband and wife.  Again, when you do this, you not only sin against God, but your own body, and your spouse’s body, and the other person’s body, and their spouse (or future spouse), and your children if you have them, and their children if they have them.  And so you see, sexual sins are not victimless, contrary to the cultural narrative.  They leave a vast trail of catastrophe and destruction in their wake. 

            We’ve barely scratched the surface of the ways we profane God’s gift of Holy Marriage, and we can’t address them all right now.  Needless to say, homosexuality, pornography, abuse, spousal neglect or resentment, vindictiveness, nagging, the withholding of conjugal rights from a spouse, not to mention our unholy words, our lust-filled eyes, and our impure minds and hearts, are also violations of God’s design for marriage and sexuality.  These are all ways in which we are broken.  But this morning, Jesus highlights one particular way we profane His gift.  And I know this is painful for some of you, but we have to talk about it, because we must preach the whole counsel of God.  And that is divorce. 

            We should not get a divorce.  That is to separate what God has joined together.  Moses permitted divorce in Israel because of their hardness of heart.  But that does not mean God approved of it.  He still doesn’t.  It is sin.  Among the Jews, there was a school of thought that it is permissible for a man to divorce his wife for any reason.  If she argues too much.  If he no longer finds her attractive.  If she burns supper.  Or if he’d simply prefer to marry someone else.  Needless to say, this was very one sided and didn’t offer the woman much protection.  Hardness of heart, indeed, on the part of such a husband.  But today men and women divorce for any reason.  And this is separating what God has joined together, profaning His gift, and rejecting His design for marriage, rejecting His very Word.  There are two biblical reasons one may seek a divorce.  One is when your spouse commits adultery.  Jesus speaks of this in Matthew 19.  The other is what we call malicious desertion.  St. Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians 7 where he says, if an unbelieving spouse separates from the believer, the believer is free.  Otherwise they are to remain married.  But even in these cases, divorce is tragic.  It is “not good.”  We should always pray for, and work towards, the maintenance of marriage, and the reconciliation of hurting and broken marriages.

            Now, I know some of you have experienced divorce, and I don’t necessarily know all the circumstances.  But this is very important.  For whatever reason you divorced, if you didn’t receive pastoral care, Confession and Absolution, the counsel of God’s holy Word, by all means, talk to me.  And some of you have experience with the other ways I’ve mentioned that we profane God’s gift of Holy Matrimony, or with ways that I haven’t mentioned, and let me say again, if you haven’t already worked through that with pastoral care, my door is open.  None of these are the unforgiveable sin.  There is forgiveness and healing.  Let’s talk.  And some of you may be saying to yourself, “I haven’t sinned in any of those ways.”  And if you are saying that, I urge you to take a closer look.  Because I know that if you are a flesh and blood human being, and your name is not “Jesus Christ,” you have at least looked lustfully upon another, and you bear impurities within yourself.  So we are all indicted.  Repent, all of you.  Repent, all of us.

            Thanks be to God, we have a faithful Bridegroom, Jesus.  He does not profane God’s holy gift.  He redeems it.  Did you ever wonder why Jesus never married in His earthly life and ministry?  Because He was already pledged in faithfulness to His Bride, the Church.  And what does He do for her?  For you?  For me? …  For all of our hardness of heart, our lust, our unchastity; for every way we profane his holy gift of marriage, whether as husbands and wives or as single people; for fornication, for adultery, for divorce… Jesus gives Himself into death, the death of the cross.  Like Hosea, who pursued his unfaithful wife Gomer, to redeem her from a life of prostitution and immorality, to take her back into his covenant faithfulness, so our Lord Jesus pursues us, to redeem us from marital infidelities and sexual sins, from sins against God and against our own bodies, sins against our spouse and the bodies of others, sins against our own children.  He pursues us, and redeems us, buying us back, not just with fifteen pieces of silver and a homer and lethech of barley (Hos. 3:2), but with His holy, precious blood, and by His innocent suffering and death.  God put Jesus into a deep sleep, and from His side, by blood and water, He formed for Him, the Church.  Our New Adam is risen from the dead, and God our heavenly Father marches us down the aisle, brings us to Him, and He lives for us in faithfulness, and gives His very life to us.  He covers over our transgressions with His blood, and clothes us in His own righteousness, as Paul says, that He may present us to Himself as a splendid Bride, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:27).  United to Him in Holy Marriage at the well of the baptismal font, He will never abandon us.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  What God has joined together, He will not separate. 

            And now He calls us to live faithfully in Him.  Husband and wife, one man and one woman, united until death parts them, one flesh, giving themselves to each other, in love and fidelity.  Husbands sacrificing themselves as the icon of Christ for their wives.  Wives submitting as the icon of the Church to the providence, protection, and headship of their husbands.  Spouses being fruitful and multiplying, as God has blessed.  Singles living in chastity, looking to the Lord for fulfillment and joy, and if they desire a spouse, waiting upon the Lord in prayer and faith, that He will provide, or give them the strength to endure, asking that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Fathers and mothers, tending and caring for the fruit of their union, bringing their children to Jesus that He might touch them and make them His own in Holy Baptism, and bless them with His Word in His Church as their parents raise them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).  This is “very good,” communion with God, communion with one another, that we not be alone.

            All leading toward the great Marriage Feast to end all marriage feasts, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and His Bride, the Church, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (Rev. 21:10).  Holy Marriage is for this life.  In heaven, we will neither marry, nor be given in marriage (Mark 12:25).  But God gives marriage here for companionship, for procreation and rearing of children, and for our enjoyment of holy sexuality.  And to point to something greater.  To be the living picture of what is to come.  The consummation of Christ’s marriage to His Bride for all eternity.  You are radiant in His sight.  You are holy.  You are righteous.  Your sins are forgiven.  All of them.  And He is coming to take you to Himself, into His Kingdom, and His Home, forever.  All that is His is yours.  And you are His.  Rejoice.  There is no deficiency in this Paradise.  It is not only “very good.”  It is perfect.  You will see.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.