Thursday, August 28, 2008

15th Sunday After Trinity

Trinity 15 August 30 - 31, 2008
Saint Paul Lutheran Church Hamel, Illinois
Matthew 6:24-34 “Your worth before God”

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We worry and fret and agonize and stew about so many things. And many of these things are not insignificant or trivial. Some are very important—like how our children will turn out; how we’ll get by when we retire; how a relative or friend will get through a sickness or trauma; or what path the Lord is leading us down as we head into the future.

These are not small matters. But then again, neither are the questions, “‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” There aren’t too many things more basic than food and clothing. And yet Jesus tells us in the Gospel not to worry about them. If that’s so, should we really be anxious, then, about the other things?

And yet sometimes, we just can’t help ourselves. We keep talking with others about these things. We obsess. We act as if it’s all dependent on us and what we do and what our strategy and plans are. And then, when we’re in that frame of mind, it’s easy for us to treat Jesus’ words as just pie-in-the-sky religious niceties. In fact, it can seem as if He’s trivializing our problems by making comparisons to birds and flowers. That’s all fine and good, we say, but my life’s a little more complicated than a bird. Get real. “Don’t worry” just doesn’t cut it when the realities of life in this fallen world set in. We can be tempted to think that He doesn’t truly care or that He’s just brushing off our concerns as no big deal.

But of course, Jesus isn’t throwing clich├ęs at us to get us off His back. He doesn’t treat His adopted brothers and sisters that way, which is what you are. And neither does His Father, who is our Father in heaven. For Our Lord God is not a harsh, uncaring, selfish Father who spends time with us only when He feels like it. Our heavenly Father is the picture of perfect warmth and kindness. He’s the essence of mercy and love. And so He never brushes us off, never leaves us to ourselves, never abandons us. We may say and think He does, but that doesn’t make it so. And we may turn a deaf ear to Him, but that’s not how He treats us. And we may be unfaithful, disloyal, disrespectful, and demanding of Him, but He never dishes it back to us. And we may hold a grudge against Him because we think He did us wrong, but He is quick to forgive, quick to renew His Holy Spirit within us, and quick to restore to us the joy of His salvation.

So then, how does He answer the things that worry us? Well, what did you hear in His Word today? First, you heard this from His prophet Elijah: “Do not fear.” The Lord will take care of you. You may think your back is against the wall, and that there’s no hope. But, really, there is nothing to fear. Your bin of flour shall not be used up. Which for you means, you will always have a place at the Lord’s Table, and always be able to eat bread in His kingdom? And the jar of oil shall not run dry. This for you means that the Lord will never take back the anointing of your Baptism, the healing of your soul, the undying forgiveness, and the eternal life you received when He said you were His own. And what’s more the prophet says, the Lord will send rain on the earth. Which for you means that He will pour out on you His Holy Spirit—to restore your hope, to uplift your spirit, to help you look beyond the many things that trouble you, and to cause you to believe that, no matter what you’ve done or what’s been done to you, no matter what the future may hold for you or your children or your grandchildren, the Lord will continue to take care of you, and lavish you with His love, and sustain and strengthen you. So do not fear. For “if God is for us, who can be against? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also along with Him freely give us all things?” If God has taken care of all of our eternal needs in Christ, can’t we also trust Him with the temporal things?

That is the word Our Lord Jesus speaks to you today by His Spirit. For He’s not talking about birds and flowers to brush you off. He’s pointing to them and saying, “The Lord takes care of them—and they are so trivial, so small. Surely, you’re of more value than they are! Surely, you matter much more! For they’ll never be called children of God, and they’re not made to commune with God. But you are. For the Son of God did not become a sparrow or a lily. He became a Man. He died as a Man to redeem you, and rose as a Man to conquer your death, and ascended to the Father’s right hand as a Man to give you a place in heaven. He is coming back as a Man, God in the flesh, to bring you to Himself. Your human nature has been taken up into the very nature of God Himself in Christ! What great honor the Father has bestowed on you! How could He ever forget you? He is never negligent. He keeps His promises. He takes care of the birds and the flowers. He will take care of you. So seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.”

But, you still might ask, what about Christians who are poor and hungry in this and other countries, or who suffer persecution, or who seem to be as forsaken as Lazarus outside the rich man’s gate? Is God not keeping His promise? Perhaps this story can add some perspective: During World War II, God allowed Father Maximilian Kolbe to be handed over to Nazi brutality in the concentration camp at Auschwitz, where they tried to use hunger to turn men into animals. Once, when it was thought that a prisoner had escaped (who was later found drowned in the latrine), the guards chose 10 men to execute as a punishment. Father Kolbe was not one of them. However, one of the ten who was chosen cried out in despair about the fate of his wife. Father Kolbe had compassion. He asked the commandant to allow him to take the man’s place. The commandant allowed it. Kolbe endured two straight weeks without any food and virtually no water. The Lord sustained him. Finally, he was killed by a lethal injection. The man whose place he took lived to be 95 years old. Now, did God’s promises to Father Kolbe fail? Certainly not. They were simply fulfilled in a different and greater way than he could have ever foreseen.

We must always remember that it is according to God’s wisdom that “all these things will be added to you.” He has said that He will work all things together for your everlasting good. And sometimes what is best for your everlasting good, and the good of others, is to bear the cross in this world. Remember the temporal serves the eternal, not the other way around. The Father never wants the passing things of this life to become a hindrance to your eternal life, so that you serve mammon and perish forever. And so sometimes He does multiply the flour, and men walk out of fiery furnaces and lions’ dens with their body intact. But at other times your heavenly Father brings His children to Himself through suffering, by bullets, starvation, tyrants, or disease. But in every case, faith trusts and knows that He is good and His steadfast love endures forever. So when our Lord says “do not be anxious about what you will eat or drink or wear,” He is giving you the true and proper perspective. He holds all things in His hands, most especially your eternal welfare.

Your heavenly Father knows what you need; better than you know it yourself. Dream your dreams and plan your plans all you want, but you cannot add a single cubit to your life. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord. The Lord provides. He feeds His children, not just with bread and meat and ice cream, but especially with His righteousness. He gives what we truly need: the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death and the devil, immortality.

How can we be anxious about food when we have the Lord’s life-giving body and blood? How can we worry about new clothes and the latest fashions when we’ve been robed in Christ and wrapped up in His righteousness? Having these things, we have it all, even if we are in poverty. For we have the sure promise that these perishable bodies will be clothed with the imperishable, that we will put on immortality in the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day. And we will take part in the feast of salvation, the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom that has no end.

So if you still struggle with sorrows and anxieties, know that through them the Lord is guiding you, keeping you close to Himself. He is not done with you. Your faith is not yet full. You still have loving works to perform, prayers to pray, testimonies to give, things to learn. But He always provides. He always forgives. He always loves. The Lord who gave His Son into death to have you as His own, the Lord who marched through Hell with the remnants of the devil's crushed head stuck to His heel, the Lord who emptied the grave of its sting, the living Lord of Life, He will not forget you. He will not miss a single detail. He hears and answers all you prayers.

Do not worry. You are worth more far more than sparrows or lilies. Your Lord is ever faithful, ever true, ever merciful and kind. Come to His table. Be joined to heaven. And that will be sufficient for the day.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.