Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that in our time we view our comforts and security as essential. I was watching a show recently that exemplified this. One of the main characters was undergoing an understandably stressful situation and because she was famous, it was something that she was having to deal with very publicly. In the midst of all of that, her husband told her he wanted a divorce. She agreed because she was tired of her husband as well, and in defense of the divorce went on a monologue about how hard she had worked and how much she deserved having good things and how she deserved to be happy especially in something like love.
As I was listening to it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the book I spent a fair amount of time talking about on Wednesday. As I spoke about the book, which is called “You Are What You Love,” describing these cultural liturgies we have around us, I mentioned how it described these liturgies associated with thinks like consumerism. What is at the heart of consumerism? It’s that same mentality, isn’t it? You work hard and so you deserve to have a comfortable and happy life, one that you know is happy and comfortable because of all of the things you have and even your happiness in love. As the book spoke of many examples, it even made the connection of this to marriage. It made the point that we even treat marriage in a consumerist fashion.
In fact, it referenced another writer who called our treatment of marriage an idolatry. Now, as we look at how many marriages have ended in divorce and how many young people are living together without marriage, and certainly are having sex outside of marriage, we might be inclined to think that this insight is nuts. After all, how can we say we’ve created an idol out of something that we demonstrated no respect for. I myself sort of thought that as I was reading. And then I read this quote: “The real sin of marriage today is not adultery or lack of ‘adjustment’ or ‘mental cruelty.’ It is the idolization of the family itself, the refusal to understand marriage as directed toward the Kingdom of God…. It is not the lack of respect for the family, it is the idolization of the family that breaks the modern family so easily, making divorce its almost natural shadow. It is the identification of marriage with happiness and the refusal to accept the cross in it.” Isn’t that an interesting perspective? The point is that we have created an idol out of marriage and the family to the extent that we expect marriage and family to bring us all happiness. And so when things get hard with family or with marriage, what’s the response? I’ll find something that isn’t this hard. I’ll find a spouse who doesn’t leave their clothes lying around all the time. I’ll find a spouse who gives me attention that I want. Or I’ll create a family situation that actually is perfect when I find that perfect person. And what do the spouse and family become at that point? Mere objects of consumption for me.
Now, so far, I’ve been speaking about marriage and families and I am abundantly aware that this is not the circumstance for everyone here. I know that not everyone is married. I know that not everyone views their family as an object for consumption. But the lesson is one that can be carried over to all aspects of our lives. Especially as we hear those last words, that the problem “is the identification of marriage with happiness and the refusal to accept the cross in it,” we can draw that out to our lives altogether. The problem we have—and I think this is true as Americans in many ways and true even in the American Church—the problem we have is that we think this life altogether should be identified with happiness and we refuse to accept the cross in it.
Now, let me be clear. If you are happy, I’m not telling you that’s sinful. However, I am saying to make sure that you don’t expect to derive your greatest happiness in the things of this world. Make sure that you don’t trust in the things of this world. Make sure that your expectation isn’t that this world is all about our comfort and security.
Now, as I say all that, you might be wondering where this is coming from in relation to the Lessons for today. You know, for the Gospel Lesson we had Jesus and His temptation, and for the Epistle Lesson, we have Paul.
And consider both of those. You’ve got Jesus fasting forty days and forty nights, then the Devil coming to him and telling Jesus to turn a rock into bread. I don’t know how common fasting is among you all. I hope some of you fast periodically if you’re able—and to be sure there are medical conditions that affect that. But if you fast then you might know how tempting it is to break that fast, even if it’s something like fasting from sweets during Lent. You’ll be going along fine and then the chocolate will be right there and you can smell it, and your mouth waters, and you can almost taste it. It’s easy to just have that one—which of course once you break the fast, it’s usually broken and done for the day. But imagine forty days. And then the temptation: if you just speak the word this rock will be bread you can finally satisfy your hunger with. That resistance came from the knowledge that this world isn’t about the comfort and security we think it is.
And Paul. Look at what he says about his work in Christ’s ministry: “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise.” As servants of God, we commend ourselves by great endurance in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beating, imprisonment, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger. When’s the last time you endured affliction, hardship, calamity, beating, imprisonment, riots, labors, sleepless nights, or hunger for the faith? We are pretty soft in our Christianity, aren’t we? Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it, but look at our cush lives in the faith compared to that. And look at how the Church keeps giving inch by inch to our culture. And why? Because the assumption is that we should be respected by people, and if we just say things the right way and massage the message the right way, people will like it. And some of that is well intentioned. We love Jesus and we want other people to love Jesus. But some it is because we don’t know the reality that the faith wont’ be comfortable for us.
But I love how Paul acknowledges this. Look at where he goes from there: We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. Do you see what he’s doing there? He’s saying that people treat him and his fellow pastors and evangelists as imposters. They treat them as unknown, as dying, as poor and punished, as sorrowful. This is what the world thinks of Paul. And what’s that? Not much, right?
I think we can even get a taste of this ourselves. There are a lot of ways where the Church has been respected so we don’t get it, but there’s one way I think we can. As it described that sorrowful aspect, I couldn’t help but think of how people I’ve talked about the Gospel with have responded to our view of sin. They find out that the Scripture teaches that we’re all born dead in trespasses and sin, that we all deserve hell, and they say, “and you like that?” Or maybe they say, “and you believe that?” Or maybe they see the confession at the beginning of the service and they say, “that’s a lot about sin, there, doesn’t that make you sad?” They see this as sorrowful. And of course sin itself is sad. The doctrine of original sin and the effects of sin on the world, that’s depressing. But we aren’t sorrowful. Why? Because there is joy. Christ has taken that sin and buried it in His tomb. The world thinks that talking about sin is sorrowful, but every time I confess how sinful I am, what a blessing! Why? Because I’m reminded of the One who didn’t come for the healthy but the sick, who didn’t come for the righteous but the unrighteous. I’m reminded of Christ in whom I have joy.
It’s in that joy, Christians, that we see where our true comfort and security are. They’re in the resurrection of Jesus. Because He has born our temptation faithfully, because He has died on the cross faithfully, because He has borne the curse of our sin faithfully, in His resurrection we have the promise of eternal life. That’s why Paul can say all of the things he says. Yes, the world sees us as imposters, unknown, dying, punished, sorrowful, and poor. But what are we really? In Christ, we, you, are true. You have the truest and most authentic identity in Him. In Christ, you are known to the very hairs on your head. In Christ, yes, your body is fading away, but it’s doing so in the knowledge that it will be redeemed, and you will no longer be clothed in mortality, but in the immortality promised you in your baptism, your resurrection with Jesus. You aren’t punished or sorrowful, instead you are beloved and have the truest of joy. And you certainly are not poor. You could die hungry and penniless with no place to lay your head, and yet you have the possession of the eternal Kingdom of Christ.
Again, Christians, that’s our true comfort and security. In Him we are secure to eternity. In Him we have eternal comfort. In Him we have the riches of a Kingdom that will never perish. We have it such a way that it gives us perspective now. It gives us freedom now. It gives us the strength to endure cross and dissatisfaction now. You see, our lives aren’t about the things of this world, the things that we can consume, even the spouses and families that we have. Those certainly aren’t bad things in themselves. Many of them are even gifts from God Himself. But they aren’t the source of our happiness. Christ is and Him alone. And in Him we have something greater than temporary happiness, we have eternal joy. In this Lenten season then, fix your eyes upon Him and the Joy that is yours in Him. Do that, and the draw of this world will be less and less appealing. Why? Because He is the One who has loved and cared for you and He has done so in a way that will be lasting forever. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read.
Trust is a hard thing to build and an easy thing to destroy, isn’t it? Think about how you’ve had times where you worked and worked to build trust with someone, and something happened—you maybe did something, or you maybe didn’t mean to do something, but that trust fell apart. The person felt they could no longer trust you. Their perception was perhaps right, or perhaps it didn’t put the best construction on the circumstances. But that trust was hard to maintain.
As we look at things in a less personal perspective, we see a society around us that is distrusting. I think, in particular, about the political circumstances. As I often point out, there is great division in our country politically. Those who are on the left don’t trust those who are on the right and the things they say. Likewise, those who are on the right don’t trust those on the left and the things they say. And those in middle probably don’t trust either.
I have really been enjoying the writing of a blog by a reporter on the internet. I remember reading this reporter years ago as he discussed the Financial Crisis that we endured beginning in 2008. In particular, I remember appreciating his objectivity. Interestingly, his writing now is making that point that reporting has lost all objectivity. If you read a news story it’s commonly filled with adjectives that make the biases of the reporter totally clear. And this reporter’s point is that this is true on the left and on the right. If you read right leaning stories, their bias is to those on the right. If you read left leaning stories, their bias is to those on the left. And in the midst of it, the reporting has become so untrustworthy. You can see this in how things were reported with regard to the pandemic, you can see it with how they were reported with Trump as president and now with Biden in that same role. And what’s the consequence? The reporter says it: the Media have ruined themselves. There’s no trust. People don’t know where to get the truth. They don’t trust that they are getting the truth, and they don’t know what to believe. So, people who are right leaning trust right leaning sources—whether reports or people—and those who are left-leaning trust left-leaning source, and neither trust the other. There’s not trust. Trust is a hard thing to build and an easy thing to break.
Or look at a marriage. A marriage can have a trust that is founded on years or even decades of goodwill. But then, something can happen that can tear that trust down. It can be a small lie. It can be a big one. It could be accusations that come from the outside—even ones that are untrue. And what happens to the trust? It’s suddenly shaky. Trust is a hard thing to build and an easy thing to break.
And what we see is that there is all manner of reason for it to be broken in our sin-fallen world. We see all kinds of things that lead us to be untrusting. And often rightly so. We see how broken and sinful people are. As we look at those in power, for example, we see how absolute power corrupts absolutely. We see how people will constantly manipulate circumstances to their own ends. Or even in things that don’t represent the brokenness of man, we see how the world just lets us down. We might have plans for something and the weather makes a drastic shift—the blizzard comes through and closes the airport so that we can’t make a trip to the beach. Or we might be looking forward to time with our spouse after we retire only to have illness take them from us before we’re able to realize that. And things become untrustworthy.
In fact, as we wrestle with all of this, it becomes very easy for us to focus our blame in one particular direction, doesn’t it? And what to what direction am I referring? I mean to God. It becomes easy in the midst of this to blame God and assume that He is the One who is not trustworthy. But look at how this happens. I remember when my mom died, I had a friend who was particularly struck by it. He questioned God at that point. Interestingly, I was strengthened in my faith by the whole thing, but he wasn’t. It really gave him reason to doubt.
But this is nothing new is it? After all, look at what Adam does in the fall. When he partakes of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil who does he blame? On the surface, it looks like he blames his wife. And he is throwing her under the bus a bit. But who does he ultimately blame? God. He blames God for the woman that God gave him.
That’s often what we do isn’t it? When things don’t go the way we want or the way we expect, we blame God. If we don’t get to enjoy the comforts or the occasions or pleasures we’d like, we blame God. And we assume He’s untrustworthy. Or in a perhaps more sober way, we look to things like suffering and pain, and we do the same. How could God let people suffer if He really loves them? How could God let horrible things happen to people: rape; murder; genocide? Those are awful things, and so we assume that their existence gives us reason to find God untrustworthy. Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose.
I remember when I was in seminary, though, a small way how God would show Himself faithful. Often when I would start worrying about financing schooling and support, someone would come out of nowhere and give us money unsolicited. Sometimes it would be somewhat smaller amounts in comparison to the costs at hand, a kind and thoughtful twenty dollars for a dinner, or a gift card for a date night. Other times it would be in sums significantly larger. God was showing His trustworthiness to us. He was showing that He would care and provide for us.
But even as I say that, as I point to God’s trustworthiness, is that where we ultimately should find it, in those signs like that? Sure, they’re comforting, but how do we ultimately know that God is trustworthy? Hopefully, you’ll know the answer. God reveals His full trustworthiness in Jesus. Trust is hard to build and easy to break, but Christ God proves it’s never broken by Him. Or to put it into the context of our lesson for today: Jesus is worthy of our faith because He is the Son of David who fulfills the promises of God.
I say that, this is in the context of our lesson because look at what happens there. Here Jesus is walking on His way, and the blind man hears He’s coming and what does he cry out? “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Now, we don’t realize it, but those are loaded words: “Son of David!” How so? They fulfill the promise of the Old Testament. I’ve referenced it a couple of times recently, but you might recall that a few weeks ago, we had that promise. We see a glimpse of it in the Old Testament Lesson for today, where David was anointed as the King, but the promise was made in that passage from 2 Samuel 7 that was the Old Testament Lesson the Sunday after Christmas. In that passage, David was going to build the temple for the Lord. But the Lord said to David, “You aren’t going to build me a house, I’m going to build you one.” In other words, “David, you’re not going to build the temple, but I’m going to build the line of an eternal king from you.” And that line finds its end in Jesus.
Look how you see it in the Gospels. You know our reading is from Luke today, look there where you see it. When Gabriel comes to Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.” Or look at what Zechariah sings in his song, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” Or just the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the City of David, where Samuel went in today’s lesson to anoint the future king. And that’s just in Luke. You see it in the other gospels too.
There in this is the fulfillment from God who carries out what He promises to carry out. And that’s just with regard to the promise of being the Son of David. Look at what Jesus says in the lesson, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” Everything written about the Son of man will be accomplished. It will be finished, just like Jesus said was on the cross; brought to its end, its fulfillment—the God who promises things showing His trustworthiness.
And you see that this God is trustworthy not just because He does what He says He will do, but because of what He shows as He does it. Think about it, what do you see about God in Christ? We say this all the time, but what does that cross show you? It shows you the love of this God. It shows you that God is trustworthy because what He does, He does out of love. Would God give His own Son for the world if He didn’t so love the world that He would seek to give that Son that none would perish but have eternal life? Of course not. Or would He baptize you and make you His own, would He speak faith and forgiveness into your ears, would He feed you with the very body and blood of Jesus if He didn’t love YOU? Of course not. So, you see it, Christians. You see this trustworthiness. You see how those actions bring faith to you, the arms of our Lord outstretched in love, not just in word, but in deed, for you.
Yes, trust is hard to build and easy to break, so hold on to that Lord in trust. In fact, as one last thought, I love what we see in the Gospel lesson. Hear the faith in the interaction between Jesus and the blind man. The people had tried to silence the man, but what happened? He cried out all the more! “But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” When you’re inclined to doubt, cry out all the more to the Lord. Look at the result: “And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.’” Now, to be clear, I’m not going to stand up here and tell you that if you just call on Jesus enough that He’ll make all your pains go away, heal all your traumas of body and soul, or making you aching joints better—at least not right now. But He will eternally. That said even now, your faith will make you well. It will save you—you see that’s the literal Greek there: “your faith has saved you.” And that is the promise. Trust is hard to build and easy to destroy, but Christ is trustworthy and faith in Him will save you. It will bring healing to you body and soul eternally, and bring you the promise of it now, sustaining and strengthening you to go on in this broken world. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on Hebrews 4:12: “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
As we hear our Lord’s parable this morning, there’s such a fitting image there as He gives the key to understanding it. He speaks those words, “The seed is the Word of God.” And you can fit the pieces together as He connects each part to real life experiences that we all see with regard to the Word and peoples’ responses to it. The differing soils, the differing circumstances. Some of them warnings to us, the last encouragement. But in the midst of it is the seed. The seed that I’ve mentioned before is so recklessly strewn, right? It doesn’t make sense for this sower to cast this seed in these places that aren’t going to be conducive to the final fruit bearing of the plants, and yet that’s just what He does. We talked about that generosity of our God last week, and there it is again. Just recklessly cast this seed around.
And think about seeds. They’re quite miraculous, aren’t they? My understanding is that scientists still aren’t quite sure as to what motivates the seed to begin growing. You know, you have this seed dormant and dry, but then you add water to it, and you see that it was never dead. It was alive. And that life fits with the Word of God. You all, I’m sure, have heard that phrase of planting seeds. You know, you might talk to someone who isn’t a believer, and they might not be receptive to hearing, but you plant the seed and trust that it will grow. It won’t look alive, but you plant it. And this is that Word. That living Word. “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
As we hear that verse again, I want to focus today on that Word. I want to focus on how that Word is living and active. And as I do this, I’ll make the point that the Word is historical, it’s surgical, and it’s performative. But all of those describe how it’s living. This Word is living and active.
Now as I say that, I remember when I was in the process of leaving Roman Catholicism and was basically an American Evangelical. I remember at that time reading and memorizing this verse and loving it. Yes, this Word of God is living and active! But what did I think of when I thought of this Word? I thought of the Bible. And how was it living and active? Well, it was living and active because of it’s depth. You know that depth that it has where you can read or hear the same verse time and again, and then one day it strikes you in an entirely different light? That’s awesome when that happens isn’t it? It’s really amazing, but that’s all I thought this meant.
But I was listening to a presentation recently that made that great point. We as Christians need to understand that this Word isn’t just static. It’s not just information in a book that we read and hear again and again and get the depth and are struck by that depth. Now don’t get me wrong, like I said it’s awesome when that happens, but understand what this means. And to do that, let’s go back to that question I just asked. Is the Bible just a book? When you think of God’s Word do you just think of that book? Many of us in our culture in American Christianity think just that, that it’s this compilation of these records of words. That it’s knowledge. But this Word is more than a book, it’s a living Word. It is the viva vox Dei. It is the Living Voice of God. Do you open your Bible and think of that way? No? Then do. Realize it is God speaking to you. Realize also that He speaks to you as that Word is preached. He is speaking to you now. Sure, it’s just me this vessel of clay, but God is speaking to you through this weak and fragile vessel that you’re looking at. Does it mean that I’m not fallible? No. If I step away from that revelation of Scripture, I’m breaking the vow of my ordination and you’re hearing a man. But when I’m preaching that Word, that living Word is coming to you, to your ear; the organ of faith as Luther called it.
So, then in light of that, how is that Word living? Well, like I said, it’s historical. Now, as I say that, I think we think of this aspect the most. We think of how there is all of this historical data that’s recorded in these pages, and that’s what it’s there for. However, understand something, Christians. This isn’t just historical data written down that you could know about these ancient people, the Israelites, if you’d like to be historically literate and academically minded. No, this living Word is more than that. It’s history that reveals God to you. How so? Because as you see God revealing Himself in history in the history in that book. And as you hear that, He’s putting you in that story too. This book is your story as a Christian. It’s your family History, it’s your History. And as I say that I don’t mean that it’s something where you focus on making it your own. No. Look at it and understand that it makes you it’s own. You’re job isn’t to look and say, “how can I fit this in my life?” No. The Word works on you and makes you a part of it’s life. The Word comes to you and baptizes you and you are joined to Jesus. You are joined to His body, the Church—mind you, this is the Church throughout time. It’s the Church of Adam, the Church of Eve. It’s the Church of Abel, that of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of David, and Isaiah and Daniel. It’s the Church of Peter, James, John, Paul. That’s your story now, because you are integrated in their story.
I was reading a book about the liturgy this week that made that point. It was describing how when you come into the liturgy of the Divine Service, the external structure of it, what you see in Church is the Word proclaimed and grabbing you to bring you into the narrative. It’s giving you new life in that life of Christ and His story. So, this living word is historical, it’s revelation of God and of God’s actions in History that you might be joined to that History.
Second, then, this Word is living in that—and I wasn’t sure how else to say this, but in saying—it’s surgical. You might be wondering where that came from—although if you watched my devotion this week, you might know. It’s from that word, “two-edged sword.” I was reading Dr. Kleinig’s commentary on this—the commentary I’m using for our study on Hebrews on Wednesdays—and I was reminded that he says in there that this “sword” is more like a knife; like a knife a surgeon uses. Think about the image of this sword, this knife: it’s piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
As I noted in my devotion, I couldn’t help but think of my aunt and her cancer diagnosis. I always think cancer is such a great analogy for sin. It’s something that grows in you, but can be removed. It’s presence is deadly, but there are treatments. Even after you remove it and while you’re treating it, there are effects. But in this case the illustration fits that much more aptly. You see my aunt had endometrial cancer. This had grown all over her abdominal cavity. Some it had sadly even grown onto her Inferior Vena Cava, that vein that carries blood back to the heart from the lower portion of the body. The issue with this that was so challenging is that the cancer could not be cut off of the vein. You see if there was the slightest slip of the scalpel and the vein was cut, there would be no time to reclose it as the blood would exit the vein so quickly that my aunt would have died from the loss of the blood. That knife was not able to divide, to pierce like the Word of God can. In fact, as I was reading Dr. Kleinig’s commentary on this, he said this about it, “When wielded by God himself, [the knife of the Word] can pierce exactly to the points of “division” that separate one human function from another, distinguishing what appears united and dividing what seems indivisible. And it does this without killing its patient!
Now, as we say this, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt sometimes. Think about how sometimes someone applies that knife to you. It hurts, doesn’t it? You hear how you’re not doing something that Jesus tells you to, or vice-versa. Or when someone explicitly confronts you about a sin. It hurts. The Law of God hurts our sinful nature. But yet, we still need that application. God is able to cut off those masses of our sin our without us bleeding out in the process. However, we have to be strengthened in our faith in Him to be willing the surgery happen. That’s to say we have to cling to that Word that the surgery may happen and we might know that His tried and true hand will be able to heal us for eternity with Him.
Likewise, we also need to apply that Word as we look at the world. For example, parents, I don’t know if you saw the educational standards that are coming down the pike for Illinois. They are grounded in what is called Critical Theory, and they are going to hammer the idea for students that there “is not one ‘correct’ way of doing or understanding something,” and bring to the fore discussions of things like their sexual identities. Christians, while we must remain humble in our acknowledgments of our wrongs, that humility must rest on the one correct truth of God’s Word and it must be our surgical knife to cut away the sinful ideas of the world as we approach them as well. And hopefully, you can see how this Word is surgical.
So, the Word is living in how it is historical, surgical, and finally it is also performative. That means the Word does what it says. This is clear in that passage from Isaiah. Look at what he says there: “as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” When God speaks it happens. The Word does what it says. You hear me speak in this way all the time. And hopefully you hear how it applies to you. Think about it once more, though.
When you hear Christ on the cross speak the Word, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do,” what does that mean? It means by that very Christ who was on the cross bleeding and dying for the cost of your sin, that sin was being forgiven; Christ speaking and the forgiveness happening. It means that when that Word was spoken with the water poured over you, you were baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and that God put His Name on you. It means that when you hear that absolution, I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, you are returned to that baptismal grace in its purity with your sin gone. And I’m guessing you’ll know what’s next. When you hear “This is my body given for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” You can know His body is there and the same for the blood. They are there for you by the authority of the Christ whose Word performs what it says, and they are there for you that would be forgiven.
Yes Christians, that Word is performative, it does what it says. It’s surgical, it cuts the sin from you by God’s Law and His Word of condemnation, but it heals you with His life-giving Word of forgiveness in the Gospel, and it’s historical bringing you into the story of our God and His salvation. This Word, Christians, is living. Just like that seed that fell on the ground in the parable. Cling to it, then. Cling to it steadfastly like that soil that bears fruit one hundred fold. Cling to it so that you will be that fruit here and in the gracious Kingdom of the One who speaks to you in that Word, our precious Lord Jesus. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read, sometimes called the parable of the generous landowner.
As we hear this parable, I was reminded in Bible Class on Wednesday of how there is a very fitting interpretation of this, which I think is clear in the story. The interpretation is that the differing workers represent, in a sense, those who come to the faith at varying times in their lives, and so work varying amounts of times for the kingdom of God. So, you get those who are baptized as infants and believe their whole life, then you get those who come to faith at or near their death, like the thief on the cross next to Jesus. Despite these varying efforts, the reward is the same: the eternal joy of new life with the Lord. I think that interpretation makes great logical sense. However, if you can remember what I preach on a certain text from year to year, you might not be able to recall me preaching on that understanding. I don’t remember that I have. Why not? Because I don’t think that’s something we really struggle with.
Think about it. How many of you would begrudge some one joining Grace here in their 90’s who had never been a Christian? Knowing you all, I don’t think you would. I think you would rejoice with our Lord that they are receiving the forgiveness of sins and we’ll be with them in the eternal glory of Jesus. That said, I think you can see in the context of Jesus’ preaching why this makes sense. You had the Pharisees who were very concerned about these ideas of works and just rewards for works as they saw fitting. You had the Jews altogether who also had to learn what it meant for Gentiles to be saved in the grace of Christ. Or if you look at the immediate context you see this as a criticism—a gentle criticism, but a criticism nonetheless—of Peter who is talking right before this about he and the disciples having a great reward for leaving everything and following Jesus. Of course, in view of that, a bit of the point has to be understood as saying that we need to not worry about what our exact reward will be and how it might compare to others. That’s something, again, I don’t think I see from you all.
So, then, what do we wrestle with that applies to this? Well, you see this parable is finally about God’s generosity. And the reality is that we don’t like to address that. Now to be fair, this goes back to our sinful nature. We were talking this week in Bible Class about that and our culture. I made the point that I do occasionally that God has made us, has created us to hear a voice of affirmation. In particular, He has made us to hear His voice. Most particularly, He has made us to hear His voice justifying us, declaring us beloved, declaring us right, just, and good. But because of our sin, that’s all messed up.
What I mean is that now because of our sin, we still seek that voice of justification, but we don’t seek it from Him. No, now instead we seek to justify ourselves. However, because God has made us to hear that voice from outside of us, we seek to have the approval of others around us. In other words, we like to make sure that we present ourselves just so so that we will get others to affirm us. If you don’t believe me look at Social Media. It’s a whole phenomenon that is centered around putting things out there for people to see, and often doing so in hopes that they’ll like it, or love it, or respond with comments telling us how smart we are and how we are so right. And beyond that, look at the direction our culture is taking. We have a whole attitude that is becoming so divided because both sides are seeking the back patting of the others in their tribe so as to prove how right and just they are. Or if you look at the cancel culture I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the justification comes in tearing down those who don’t meet an ever increasing standard. This leads to the contest for who can become the standard bearer and prove themselves the most righteous. Why is all of this? Because we like to think we earn righteousness and it’s earned by how much those around us give us approval. And in the midst of this, look at what’s been lost: grace, mercy, forgiveness. There is now no grace, mercy, or forgiveness for those who don’t toe the line. In that mindset we don’t hear the grace of God and receive His graciousness, do we?
Now as I describe that, I’m describing a sort of cultural problem. One that I think results from the removal of God from the picture. How do we approach this from our perspective where we keep God in the picture?
I think we struggle with this in the ways we feel like God isn’t fair. And this is something that in my experience we do in a couple of ways. We do this when we see what we perceive as inequity in this life, and we question how God in His goodness could do such things. For example, we look at those who suffer greatly, and we think that is unjust of God to let them suffer. We see the poor and the starving and we say that’s not fair when so many have so much. Or sometimes we look at something that’s happened to us and we don’t understand why God chose us for such suffering, especially when you have those who aren’t faithful who don’t have such struggles. And that seems unfair. Those are the inequities I think we most often perceive in this life.
But then there are those with regard to the life to come. We know that there are those who have never heard the Gospel. The Bible makes it clear that those without faith in Christ are not saved. The one who does not acknowledge Jesus doesn’t acknowledge the Father, as John says in his first letter. Or as Paul says to the Romans, all men are without excuse. Neither of these qualify that condemnation as only existing for those who have heard and rejected the Gospel. And so, we hear that, and we say that’s not fair. It’s not fair that someone should not be saved never having heard the Gospel.
And as I mention that example, as I mention all of these examples, that’s exactly true. They aren’t fair as we understand fairness. It’s seems inequitable that some are saved and others aren’t, especially when they haven’t heard. It seems inequitable that some suffer more than others in this life. It seems inequitable that some feast for every meal and others die of starvation. So yes, it’s not fair.
So how do we deal with this? Well, on the one hand we deal with it in the reality of sin and the sin fallen world. Why do we suffer at all? Because we have sinned and rebelled against God. Why is there condemnation for any person at all? Because they have sinned and deserved temporal and eternal punishment. And as we look at that fact, we see something about fairness. What would be fair for us? It would be fair for us all to be cast into the eternal darkness with no hope for relief. So, of course, on the one hand it’s not fair that some get less of suffering and others get more.
But why does anyone get any relief at all? Because God is merciful and generous. You see what we deserve is black and white. The Law is black and white. The Commands tell us what do and how we haven’t done it, and so deserve horrible things. But then you have God’s mercy, you have His grace. That’s what makes things gray. So, how do we deal with that?
Those of you who watch my devotions heard the point that I made in those. It was from a commentator that I read. He said we don’t look at those around us, but at the landowner. By that I don’t mean that we don’t look to other people to care for them. I don’t mean that it isn’t incumbent upon us to seek to do our part to fix injustice. There is no disputing that God commands you to help your neighbor. But think about when we have issues with the injustice that we see around us how looking to our Lord fixes the issues we have. Think about how we’re like those who “begrudge” God His generosity, as it says in the reading. Which I pointed this out last year too, but that literally says there, “or are your eyes evil because I am good?” Think about how our sinful eyes are evil and God’s are good.
So, when we recognize that, we look to Him. And what do we see there? Look at the cross. Look at the Lord who shed His blood, who gave His life for you. Look at the Lord who shed His blood, giving His life for the sins of the whole world. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours but the sins of the whole world; the sins of everyone. Look at that love. Look at what’s not fair.
I think I mentioned this in my devotion on this too, but I was talking to my kids about this, and it struck me. Look at this parable. The early workers feel that it’s unfair to them that those who worked less got paid the same. But who was it actually unfair for? Who actually got shorted? Did the workers who worked all day get shorted? No. They got a fair wage for their work. They agreed that wage was fair for their work when they started. Did the later workers get shorted? Maybe just the satisfaction of doing the work and being accountable for that. But who really got shorted here? It was the landowner. He paid all this extra money for this work that didn’t get done.
It’s true of our Lord Jesus. What did He have in heaven? He had everything: comfort; power; honor; might; glory; all of it. What did He deserve? All of that and more. He deserved all good things. And yet what did He get? He got the wrath for our sin, the condemnation we deserve. That was poured out on Him, and you could say it wasn’t fair for Him. That cross for you, so that He could have you with Him eternally. Was that fair? No. But that’s the depth of His love. And as you see Him as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, you see that’s the depth of His love not just for you, but for absolutely every soul who has ever lived. And He is so grand He is capable of that perfectly for all of them.
So that question of why some and not others? We can’t answer it. We can only care for those around us like He tells us to, like He has loved us. But we can say that when we see those arms outstretched on the cross, they are outstretched in that love. They are outstretched in His perfect goodness, in His perfect love, in the love that wasn’t fair to Him.
When you have those issues with fairness, then Christians, look there. Do you feel shorted by God? Look there. Do you feel it’s not fair that some have some things and others don’t? Look there. Do you feel it’s unfair how God works salvation? Look at that cross. Look at Him and not others, that you would see His goodness, His love, and His perfection.
And yes, the benefit of that is given to those who were called in baptism as infants, those who were called in the third, sixth, and ninth hours of their lives. The benefit is given to those who were called even at the eleventh hour of their life. But that love applies to the whole world. Every single man, woman, boy, girl, child ever. Why some and not others? Why the perceived unfairness here? We can’t say apart from knowing it’s our fault as sinners. But we can say that when we see the generosity of our Lord it is good and He is good; good in His perfect love and generosity for all. Amen.