Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 13)

July 31, 2016
Text: Luke 12:13-21

            The true riches have nothing to do with financial security or abundance of possessions.  The true riches are yours in Christ.  They are the gifts given freely, poured out upon you from the wounds of our crucified Lord.  They are the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.  They are peace with God, the wiping out of your debt, the end of your death and condemnation, the providence of your heavenly Father, and the protection of the holy angels.  The true riches are the gifts of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).  The Holy Spirit Himself dwells in you by virtue of your Baptism.  And you are in Christ by virtue of your Baptism, and in Christ, God is your Father who loves you, and you are His dear child, and you possess the very Kingdom.  When you understand that these are the true riches, distributed here, freely, in Preaching and Sacrament, it reorders your priorities now in this life.  Your money and your stuff are really not that important.  All that really matters is Christ.  For it is He who, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9; ESV).  God became a man, became poor unto death, that you might be rich unto life and dwell forever with God. 
            You know that by faith, but you live as if it isn’t true.  That is why you worry.  That is why you never have quite enough, and if you could just have a little more, then you would feel secure and be generous.  But of course, when you get a little more, you need just a little more.  Even Donald Trump said, long before he was running for president, that his wealth will never be enough.  He will always want more.  And lest we think this plague is exclusive to the rich, think how this same thinking can afflict the poor.  Poverty, by definition, is a lack of money and possessions.  So what do the poor look for to deliver them from poverty?  Money.  Stuff.  Rich and poor alike think the answer to all that ails them is more money, more stuff.  Covetousness, which is idolatry, plagues us all.  Repent. 
            Is it sinful to have money?  Is it wrong to hold possessions and enjoy them?  No, these things are good gifts of God and should be received with thanksgiving.  God even gives a commandment that affirms ownership and property.  “You shall not steal,” God says, which means you should not take your neighbor’s stuff, and your neighbor shouldn’t take yours.  Instead, you should help each other prosper and keep your stuff.  What, then, is the sin Jesus warns us against in our Holy Gospel?  He says, “be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).  That means, don’t look for happiness and fulfillment in wealth or in things.  God does not give these to you to fill you.  They cannot do that.  And when you look to them to do that, you have made them a god.  You worship a god called Mammon.  And you are enslaved.  If you can’t give a thing away or suffer the loss of it, you are a slave to that thing.  If you cannot be generous with your money and give it away, you are a slave to your money.  If you cannot live without that house or that car or even that person, you are a slave to that house or that car or that person.  Repent.  If something has become an idol to you, the best thing you can do is give it away.  After all, you cannot keep it forever, no matter how firm your grasp.  As they say, you can’t take it with you when you go.  Hearses don’t tow trailers.  Naked you came forth from your mother’s womb, and naked shall you go (Job 1:21).  You’re going to die, and all your wealth and all your stuff will be meaningless to you.
            The parable of the rich man in our text is instructive here.  The land produces plentifully.  Already we have the language of gift.  The rich man cannot produce a crop.  God gives the crop success.  But the rich man does not receive the gift with thanksgiving.  He does not credit God for his success.  He credits himself.  And he hoards it up.  It belongs to him, he thinks.  He earned it.  And now he knows just what to do.  He will tear down his barns and build bigger ones that can hold more.  He will store his grain and his stuff and live the good life for many years.  He will relax, eat, drink, and be merry.  Now, it’s not that God is against relaxation and feasting and merry making.  The Bible paints heaven in these very terms.  But what is the man doing?  He is building his own heaven on earth.  And to what does he look to deliver him to that heaven?  His riches.  His stuff.  And he does not stop to consider that God does not give His gifts so that we can hoard them up and be selfish with them, much less look to the gift instead of the Giver for every good, thus making the gift our god.  God gives His gifts, not only to be a blessing to us, but to be a blessing to our neighbor through us.  This is the key for the Christian when it comes to money and possessions: God gives us gifts so we can be generous with them.  God gives us gifts so we can give them to our neighbor in love.  To give the gifts (which don’t belong to you, anyway… They belong to God!) to your neighbor is to be rich toward God.  And these gifts are not a zero sum game.  God does not forsake you when you give the gifts away.  He gives you more.  To give away more.  And then He gives you more.  To give away more.  God is an unfailing fountain of good.  You are His conduit, His pipe.  The gifts flow through you and to your neighbor and you both enjoy God’s abundance.  But even this, the wealth and the stuff God gives, is not the treasure.  The treasure is the forgiveness and life He gives in Christ.  Heaven is where we’ll relax, eat, drink, and be merry.  And here at Church, where heaven meets earth, we relax in the Word and eat and drink the Supper and we’re merry with praise toward God.  But so also, here, now, we have work to do, because our neighbor is in need.  God has given us provision to provide for our neighbor.  Do it and rejoice.
            The rich man was a fool, for he spent all his time and energy in laying up treasure for himself, but that very night death robbed him of his wealth and it all went to someone else.  There is a way, though, to save up wealth that lasts for eternity, and this kind of saving takes a wisdom alien to our nature and reason.  You want wealth that lasts forever?  Give it away now.  That’s the way it works in the Kingdom of heaven.  The first shall be last, and the last first.  The exalted shall be humbled, and the humbled exalted.  The hungry shall be filled with good things, and the rich sent empty away.  He who would save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for Jesus’ sake and for the Gospel will save it.  It’s the great reversal.  It is death and resurrection.  God uses what is foolish to shame the wise, what is weak to shame the strong.  Tax collectors and sinners go into the Kingdom before Pharisees.  Jesus dies and sinners live.  He gives up His life and the Father gives it back to Him for all eternity.  Christ is risen.  The filthy are made clean, the unrighteous are justified, declared righteous for the sake of the Crucified and Risen One.   

            St. Paul tells us in our Epistle to think on that.  “(S)eek the things that are above,” he says, “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1-2).  Why?  Because “you have died” … That’s what happened in your Baptism.  You died with Christ.  And you’ve also been raised to new life in Him, but “your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (vv. 3-4).  Christ is your life.  Christ is your glory.  All your riches are in Christ.  So, rich or poor by earthly standards, you are rich in the Lord.  And think about these things.  God has never yet failed to provide for you.  You’re here, aren’t you?  You’re alive.  You’ve been fed and clothed and sheltered.  And in Christ, all things are yours.  That is what St. Paul says in another place (1 Cor. 3:21-23).  Your brother, the world, may refuse to divide the inheritance with you, but in the end, it all goes to you.  It is the Christians who will inherit the earth.  Those in charge now are operating on borrowed time.  Jesus is coming back, and then everything will be set right.  But there’s more.  All these things will be renewed on that Day.  They will be recreated.  You will be recreated, refashioned into the image of God once again.  And since all this is true, think how silly it is to covet the stuff of this earthly life.  Imagine a prince envying the possessions of a beggar.  That’s what it is when we live for the stuff of this world.  But you don’t have to do that.  Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions.  Your life consists in this, and this alone: Christ possess you.  He bought you with His own blood.  All things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (vv. 22-23).  Set your mind on this, and let God worry about the rest.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 12)

July 24, 2016
Text: Luke 11:1-13

            “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1; ESV).  Teach us, for we know not what or how to pray.  Our prayers are weak and inadequate.  The words of our unclean lips and the desires of our unclean hearts are unworthy of Your divine majesty.  And when You, in Your mercy, answer our prayer anyway, we are not pleased with Your answer.  You do not do our will in heaven as it is done on earth.  And we don’t like it.  Not one bit.  Therefore, You must teach us to pray.  You must open our lips, that our mouths declare Your praise.  You must give us the words.  And You do.  You give us Your prayer.  And in that prayer is included every need of body and soul, for time and for eternity.  By that prayer, because it is Your prayer, Your Word, You bestow Your gifts.  You grant the faith to speak it in confidence and receive Your answer with thanksgiving.  You bring our fallen will in line with Your holy will.  You bestow Your Kingdom in bread for the belly and Bread that is Your Body, in the forgiveness of sins and defense against temptation and evil.  Your prayer is the perfect prayer, and You give us poor sinners to pray it.  And in it You place us before God as our FatherFather, You teach us to call God.  As dear children ask their dear Father.  For that is who we are, and that is who He is.  Baptized into Your death and resurrection, made one with You by water and the Word, God’s own child, I gladly say it!  Baptism bestows the right to call God “Father,” and to address Him as little children learning our first words.  “Lord, teach us to pray.”
            “Father” is a faith word.  It is the key word in our text.  It is a confession that God is for us and not against us.  It is a confession that God delights in our prayers, loves to hear them, and will always answer them.  And it is a confession that God will answer in a way that is good for us, in such a way that His Kingdom comes and we are saved.  God is a better father than I am, and yet I, being evil, still have some experience giving good gifts to my children and withholding things that will hurt them.  Now, there is nothing in the whole world my children cannot ask me.  That is what it means that they are my children, and I am their father.  They can ask me all their needs and desires, and they should.  And I should hear, and I should answer.  But it often happens with children that they ask for ridiculous things, and so also it often happens that they ask for things that will hurt them.  They’re kids!  They’re very smart kids, and they don’t want to ask for things that are ridiculous or may hurt them.  But the fact remains, I know what is good for them, and what is bad, and they don’t know.  Because I am the father, and they are the children.  So, many times they ask, and I say “no.”  And they don’t like that word, do they?  They think that word is bad, and that my will for them is bad, and that I’m against them, and not for them.  The truth is, though, just as I will not give them a serpent if they ask for a fish, neither will I give them a serpent if they ask for a serpent.  Because even I, being evil, know that will hurt them.  And if that is true for me in relation to my children, how much more will our heavenly Father withhold what is harmful (or just ridiculous), and instead give the Holy Spirit, faith, the very Kingdom, and every good gift to those who ask Him? 
            We’re the kids, guys!  Our Father knows, and we do not know, what is good and what is evil.  Adam and Eve thought they could know good and evil for themselves, and look what it got them.  Look what it got us.  Sin.  Rebellion against God.  Death.  Hell.  That is what Adam and Eve chose when they got to do their will.  And that is what our will apart from the Spirit chooses, every time.  So when the Father says “no,” it is a good thing.  He’s protecting us.  He’s providing for us.  He’s loving us.  And we throw our temper tantrums, as children do, and God disciplines us, as good fathers do.  Not punishment.  Discipline.  Teaching.  “Lord, teach us to pray.”  And notice that the things Jesus teaches us to pray are the opposite of things we choose on our own, apart from the Spirit.  Jesus teaches us to pray for the hallowing of God’s Name, that we keep His Name holy.  To pray that His Kingdom come, not that we get to be king.  To pray for daily bread, for the things we need for body and soul, not for great wealth and possessions.  To pray for the forgiveness of sins, which is a confession that we are not worthy of things for which we pray, and to commit ourselves likewise to forgiving.  And to pray for defense against temptation, defense against the very things after which our flesh runs with reckless abandon.  We’re praying against ourselves in the Lord’s Prayer, against our old sinful nature, and for ourselves as the new creation in Christ that daily emerges from the baptismal water to live before God in Jesus, and in the Spirit.  Luke, by the way, gives us the short version of this prayer.  For the full version, you’ll have to look in Matthew.  But notice how whichever version you’re looking at, it includes everything God promises in Scripture.  That is why we don’t have to pray it with conditions, like “if it be Thy will.”  The petitions are terse.  Demanding, even.  But we pray them confidently, because these are the Words Jesus has given us to say to the Father.  And there is the Promise: He loves to hear it.  He will answer.  To this prayer, His answer is always and unequivocally “Yes!”  Just ask, seek, knock.  You will always receive, find, and enter the Kingdom through the open door that is Christ Himself.
            And what about our other prayers?  I’ve been with several of you this week who are going through some pretty tough things.  We’ve prayed, as our Lord commands, and we know He has heard our prayer, as He promises.  Some of the things we’ve asked, He has not given.  What does this mean?  What are we to do with that?  Does this mean God is against us?  Has He actually, for the first time in all eternity, failed to act for our good?  Our Lord’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is instructive here.  He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).  And what is the Father’s answer? … The cross is the Father’s answer.  He does not take the cup from His Son.  Jesus must drink the cup of God’s wrath for our sin down to its very dregs.  It is God’s will.  God was against Jesus on Golgotha, His own beloved Son.  He was against Jesus who bore our sin, our rebellion, our will so stubbornly opposed to His own.  He was against Jesus in order to be for us.  And see, look what good God accomplished by bringing the ultimate evil upon His Son.  The cross was not some sadistic and arbitrary act for God.  It served a purpose; namely, the forgiveness of sins for the whole world and the salvation of all who believe it.  And even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, through His suffering and death has been exalted.  He did all this for the joy set before Him, the joy of saving you and making you His own and bringing you into His Kingdom.  And He is risen from the dead, ascended bodily into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  There He rules all things.  For you.  What great glory.  And He’ll bring you there to reign with Him.  And He’ll raise you bodily on the Last Day.  That is the good our Father accomplished by giving His Son into death on the cross.

            And if that is what He has done with Jesus’ cross, that is what He will do with the crosses He lays on you.  This call situation is not what many of you wanted, and you will hurt and be sad, and so will I.  There are among you some dealing with the death of a loved one or your own mortality.  There are some dealing with other great pain and loss.  These things are crosses to be borne in faith.  Not for your salvation, for that is complete in Jesus, but because God is working these things to Your greater good.  And like children, you don’t understand the things your Father is doing.  You experience them as bad, though your Father knows they are good.  He has given them because He loves you.  So what are you to do when God lays a cross upon you?  Jesus teaches you what to do.  He gives you words to say.  You are to address God as “Father,” and pray the prayer the Son teaches you.  And then you receive His answer right here in the Means of Grace, in the Word of God and the Holy Sacrament.  That is how God’s Name is hallowed.  That is how His Kingdom comes.  Here is the Bread of Life you really need, the Body of the Lord.  Here is the forgiveness of sins and shelter against temptation.  Here at the font.  Here at the pulpit.  Here at the altar.  Here where Jesus is for you, here where your Father gives His Spirit.  Your Father will give you a cross, but never a serpent or a scorpion.  Trust Him on this.  He is always working what is best for you.  He does all things well.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.            

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 10)

July 10, 2016
Text: Luke 10:25-37

            We all know what this parable means.  Don’t be mean, like the Meany McMean Pants priest and Levite, who have neither the time nor the compassion to help a brother in need, but get over into the far lane to pass by safely and go merrily on their way.  Be like the Samaritan.  He’s a good fellow.  He’ll always stop to help.  The camping club to which some of you belong depicts him as a disembodied head with a halo.  You’ll note that is not on our bulletin cover.  We call someone a good Samaritan when they stop along the freeway to help change a flat tire, return a lost dog, or help an old lady across the street.  Those are all wonderful things to do, and I hope you do them.  But do you see what we’ve done?  We’ve made this parable all about me and the good things I can do to make God smile.  Really, we’ve reduced our Lord’s teaching to the simple moralism: always be helpful.  This is how the parable is proclaimed from most pulpits, and taught in most Sunday School classes.  And if, after ten years with you, you think that is the right interpretation, I have utterly failed as your pastor.  This misses the whole point.  The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has nothing to do with encouraging you to be nice.
            The parable is about Jesus!  And it is about what Jesus does for you when He comes upon you beaten, naked, dying, and dead in your trespasses and sins.  We always want to identify with the hero in the story.  You can’t do that with this parable.  If you do, you’ll think changing tires and camping make you a good Christian.  That’s not it, guys.  Here is how it is.  A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  It’s never good in the Bible when you go down.  Especially from Jerusalem, the Holy City where God dwells in the Temple.  And especially to Jericho, that cursed city conquered by the Israelites long ago when they came into the Promised Land, the one where they blew the trumpets and the walls fell down and Joshua declared that whoever rebuilds it would lay the foundation at the cost of his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest child (Josh. 6:26).  And so it was for Hiel of Bethel hundreds of years later, who lost his firstborn Abiram as he laid the foundation, and his youngest, Segub, as he set up its gates (1 Kings 16:34).  So Jericho has a reputation to say the least.  The man in our text is going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  We might say something like, “the man is going down from the Church for a good time in Vegas.”  And he fell among robbers.  Notice the perils of the journey down from what is holy to what is unholy.  Who might the robbers be in the story?  The devil?  The world?  Your own sinful flesh?  And what happens?  They strip him naked.  That’s what happened to our first parents when they fell into the clutches of the devil in the garden.  Remember?  They looked down and they were naked and ashamed.  They covered it up as best they could, fig leaves and all, and they tried to hide, but the damage was done.   They were exposed…  Those robbers stripped the man and beat him to a pulp.  As sneaky and enticing as our three main enemies can be, they never leave us unharmed.  The odd thing is, we often like the beating at the time.  And we don’t even notice the robbery… of our life.  Of our faith…  They leave us a bloody mess, half dead, soon to be carrion for the vultures, the demons, the rotting creatures of hell.  You are not the Good Samaritan in this story, beloved.  You are the wounded sack of flesh and bones on the side of the road.  Helpless.  Hopeless.  Dying.  Dead.
            And now, what about the priest and the Levite?  It’s not that they’re just big meanies.  They might be really nice guys, and they’re certainly morally upstanding citizens, good Christian folk.  It’s not even that they don’t want to help, but that’s just the point.  They cannot help you.  The priest and the Levite stand for God’s holy Law.  The Law of God is good and wise.  It is righteous and pure.  And if you can keep it perfectly, you will live.  But what can the Law do for a sinner?  It can only accuse.  It can only kill.  It can only damn to hell.  So I suppose we should be relieved that the priest and the Levite pass by on the other side instead coming over to us to finish us off. 
            But then Another comes down the road.  He is not holy in the way of the priest and the Levite.  That is to say, His holiness is not in the eyes of men.  It is no mere outward keeping of the Law.  It is something much deeper.  It is His very essence.  Now, in this way, the Samaritan offers a good illustration.  It would never occur to a Law-abiding Jew that a Samaritan could be holier than a priest or a Levite.  We speak of the Good Samaritan, but a Jew would never call a Samaritan “good.”  The Samaritans were hated.  They were the unfaithful remnants of the 10 lost tribes of Israel, intermarried with the nations and idolatrous, unclean, sinners.  Jesus is not a Samaritan, but that didn’t stop the Jews from saying, “Are we not right in saying you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48; ESV).  Not just a Samaritan, but a demon-possessed Samaritan, they called our Lord, so consuming was their hatred for Him.  Isaiah said it long ago: “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Is. 53:2-3).
            But it is the despised and hated Samaritan who comes upon the man and has mercy, who binds up his wounds and pours on oil and wine, who sets him on his own animal and brings him to an inn and personally tends to him.  And when he must go away the next morning, he pays the innkeeper to tend the man, with a promise that he will return and repay the innkeeper for any added expense.  And so it is the despised and hated Jesus who comes upon you in your sin and death and has mercy on you, who binds up your wounds and anoints you with the oil of the Spirit in the water of Baptism and gives you to drink of the wine of His blood.  He picks you up and brings you to an Inn, Holy Church, and He tends your wounds, and He charges an innkeeper, your pastor, to care for you.  And there is the promise: He will come back for you.  He will see your healing all the way through.  And to the innkeeper there is the promise: “I will repay you when I come back” (Luke 10:35).  The final healing for all your wounds, and the reward for a pastor’s faithful care, these things are given in the end, when Jesus returns and raises you from the dead and gives you eternal life in the New Creation.
            Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  Jesus is the Neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers.  Now, it is true, our Lord says at the end of the parable, “You go, and do likewise” (v. 37).  If we aren’t careful, we’ll turn this story back into a moralism: Be helpful… Be kind.  But remember, the lawyer who put Jesus to the test asked a Law question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25; emphasis added).  He was seeking to justify himself, to clothe himself with fig leaves.  Well, ask a Law question, get a Law answer.  It’s really quite simple.  Have mercy, like Jesus.  Perfect mercy.  Love perfectly, like Jesus, from your heart.  Rescue your enemy, who hates you and wants to kill you, from what otherwise would be certain death. And give yourself and all you are and all you have for the healing of that enemy.  And do this all the time, all the way, no exceptions, no omissions, perfectly, from your heart.  All the way to Golgotha.  All the way to the cross.  All the way to death and hell, to spare your enemy from death and hell.  That’s what Jesus does.  Go and do likewise.  And you can’t, can you?  Not even the lawyer could do that.  Nor the priest, nor the Levite.  Only Jesus.  This is not a moralism, this is the mirror of the Law in all its gory truth.  The Law accuses you.  The Law kills you.  The Law damns you to hell.  And that is why your Good Samaritan, Jesus, must rescue you and care for you and bring you to the Inn.  That is pure Gospel.  Jesus does it.  Not you.  Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  Not you.  Jesus is the Good Samaritan for you. 

            But then, there is something else here for you to keep in mind.  Here you are, in the Inn, and your wounds are being tended and your ultimate healing is assured.  You’re still very weak.  The old sinful nature keeps popping up again to plague you.  He must be drowned in repentance.  But you have the medicine, the Gospel, that assures your recovery.  And so, it is true that ever so weakly and far short of the perfection of Jesus, you can begin to love your neighbor and have mercy on him.  Now, understand, you aren’t doing this to inherit eternal life, as the lawyer wanted to do.  You’re already in the Inn of the Church, and Jesus has promised to come back for you, so all of that is taken care of.  You already have eternal life.  No, you’re doing this because your neighbor needs you to do it.  And having received all of this love and mercy from Jesus, it just overflows in works of love and mercy for your neighbor.  That is always the way of faith.  That is always the way of the Christian life.  You can begin to give yourself up for your neighbor, as Christ gave Himself up completely for you.  You can die to yourself.  You can forgive and ask forgiveness.  You can give to missions and to charity.  Generously, even.  You can change flat tires and walk old ladies across the street and do good work at your job and be a faithful spouse, parent, or child.  And when you aren’t faithful (and you’ll never be, perfectly), nevertheless, there is the medicine.  There is Jesus in His Word and Sacraments.  There are the fruits of His cross.  There is Christ crucified for you, risen for you.  You don’t do anything for this.  Jesus has done it all.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.