Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Rich toward God. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 8, Proper 13C, preached on Sunday, August 4, 2019.

    It is so often frustrating that the Scriptures offer us the most obvious of truths when what we desire are keen insights and secret wisdom.  If it is frustrating for you as the hearer, it is even more so for the preacher who preaches what we all know and have heard many times before.  Jesus says a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.  Well, duh.  We all know that.  We don’t need a preacher to tell us what we already know.  We don’t even need Jesus for that.  But there is a problem with obvious truths.  That problem is what we know is true does not make it easy to live out.

    What do we daydream about?  Winning the lottery?  Having the house of our dreams?  Taking the vacation of a lifetime?  Doing whatever we darn please when we retire?  Going on a shopping spree without having to pay the bill?  Being honored for the smart and witty and magnetic personality we know we are?  Ah, that is the problem, isn’t it.  We know something is true but that does not mean this truth is something we want to or find easy to live out in our daily lives.  Just the opposite, knowing that something is true often makes the truth harder on us because we cannot live it out.

    We live our lives in the what ifs of our dreams.  We think that if we just had this or that, everything would be better.  A bit more money, a better job, more free time, a better husband or wife, better children, better connections, more recognition – you name it.  We live in a dream world in which we are always asking God to intervene.  Tell my brother to give me what I think I should be given.  Tell my boss to raise my pay or honor my contributions.  Tell my spouse to do what I want.  Tell the disease to go away.  Tell death to wait one more day or one more month or one more year.

    But Jesus insists that He is not come to judge the circumstances of our lives and give us what we deserve.  The Law takes care of that.  It judges our thoughts, our words, and our deeds and it gives us what we deserve – it gives us death.  We think that we deserve to eat, drink, and be merry but the Law will not be fooled or bought off.  It knows the score.  It does not need Jesus to give us justice.  The Law has already that.  It was just in its condemnation of sin, just in its guilty heart, just in its shame of being found out, and just in its death as the wages of sin.  Jesus has not come as the Law.

    Jesus has come as the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great price, the reward none of us deserve.  He has come as the voice of grace to sinners who think they want justice and the voice of mercy to a people who think the problem is they are not getting what they deserve, and the voice of life to those marked by death for death.  He has come to do what we cannot, to make us right toward God.
    The treasures of the world you lay up for your selves.  Maybe through hard work and a little luck, we think.  Maybe by being in the right place at the right time, we imagine.  Maybe with a silver spoon in our mouths at birth or at least a taste for the good life.  We build our barns and fill them full and donate them all to the church yard sale and buy more and build more and fill them all over again.  But there is no contentment in the pursuit of things and there is no peace in treasures which rust and decay and are subject to inflation.  No, the treasures of this life cannot satisfy us but we spend far too much of our lives trying to convince ourselves they can.  Jesus has come to bestow on us the real treasure – grace upon grace and mercy beyond measure.

    He comes in the Father’s name not to judge but to save, not to be served but to serve, not to receive the ransom for our souls but to be that ransom on the cross.  He has not come for justice but for the greatest injustice of all time – He died for sinners, the innocent for the guilty, while they were still the enemies of God and no friends of righteousness.  He offers as the perfect offering for our sins, His sinless body broken on the cross and His sinless blood shed to make us clean.  He lays in the tomb for three days so that the grave may have no victory over you or me.

    A fool is one who knows the truth and refuses to hear it or live it.  Don’t be the fool.  Do not lose your life in the pursuit of wrongs you think you deserve to be righted or waiting for those who have wronged you to make it right.  Do not lose your life in pursuit of things that are at best temporary treasures to a people who brought nothing into this world and who can take nothing out.  Do not lose your life in pursuit of a self-righteousness which is not good enough to cover all your sins or the dream of happiness that can be earned or purchased.  Instead, rejoice at the One who has come to make you rich toward God through His suffering upon the cross, His death for sin, and His life strong enough to raises us up to life everlasting.  Instead of trying to pursue possessions, rejoice that the Lord has purchased you with His blood and possessed you in baptism and now delights in calling you His own sons and daughters.  This is your treasure – the treasure of grace sufficient for all needs and the mercy big enough to cover all sins.
    Those who are possessed by grace do not need to possess anything.  Those who are owed by God’s gracious favor need not fear the things of the world when they come or when they go.  Those who are possessed by God’s mighty act of salvation through His Son, live not in the dream world of what if but in the confidence of the because.  Because He died, I am forgiven.  Because He lives, I shall live also.  We know the obvious truth of it all – a man’s life does not consist of an abundance of possessions.  Of course, this does not mean that poverty is great, either.  What it means is that there is but one treasure that counts and you cannot earn it or possess it, Christ earns it for you.

    Christ earns it for you so that you might be possessed of the Kingdom and for the Kingdom forever.  There are those who try to make Christianity into the perfect religion of self-discovery.  But Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, to deny the riches of this world so tempting, to deny that justice will satisfy or that we can earn the treasures that matter. Instead, He directs us to the treasure that is His to give, to the life that we do not own but to the life which owns us by baptism and faith.  He leads us to the richest of mercies and to the grace that death cannot overcome.  He gives to us what no amount of money can purchase and no amount of labor can earn and no earthly righteousness can merit.  It is not that Christ makes it possible for you to live your fullest life but Christ takes your life, replete with all its sins and purchases you back from the devil and death that own you.  Now you are His and His alone.

    We fear those words.  You brought nothing into the world and you will take nothing out of it.  These are not words of judgment but of truth.  They are spoken not to depress us but to set us free from the pursuit of things that would define us but are only temporary.  Jesus has come to bestow upon us what we dare not ask and do not deserve – the treasures of heaven which we own by faith today but soon will own face to face in heaven.  So until that day, let go of the dream of things, the pursuit of fading treasures, and the idea that we are owed something.  Let it go in order to rejoice in what Christ has given you.  Use your earthly treasures to make heavenly friends through the good works of tithes that accomplish His work and offerings that glory in His purpose. 

    Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and everything else will be given you.  The Lord knows you and will give you daily bread and the bread of the eternal day.  This is your riches, this is your joy, and this is your peace that passes understanding.  Amen.

    Blessed be the name of the Lord.  Amen.

1 comment:

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I enjoyed reading this message because it stressed the importance of reading the word of God throughout your life, guided by the teachings of Jesus. We are called to be followers and disciples first. Our faith should be living and active, not just academic or intellectual. Our first resource should always be the Bible. It covers most things we need to know about relationships, faith, conduct, finances, and righteousness. Our pursuits need to be in accordance with God's word. We need to be less concerned with society and politics than with the state of our own souls and our relationship to God. When we start to feel proud, we need to remember we are sinners saved by grace. There is no room for spiritual pride, only humility and service to others. We can and should pray for wisdom in handling our affairs and in our conduct. We need to read the Bible every day, pray, and practice our faith.