Friday, August 05, 2022

The One Who Does All Our Works for Us

In my quiet time today, I considered Isaiah 26. Verse 12 hit me:

"O Lord, you will ordain peace for us,
for you have indeed done for us all our works."

It's the second part of the verse that struck me. Nothing good that we do comes from us. That's because in our own power or moral strength, as Isaiah writes elsewhere, "all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment." (Isaiah 64:6) The moment we set out to consciously do a good or righteous thing, our sinful natures stand up to applaud and tell us what wonderful, good people we are, giving the lie to our pretended intrinsic goodness or righteousness.

In Jesus' portrayal of the day when He returns to bring the Kingdom of God in its fullness, He tells His sheep to enter into the joy He's prepared for them because they had visited imprisoned disciples, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and given drink to the thirsty. In giving these gifts to "the least of these," Jesus says, the sheep really cared for Him. But the sheep have no memory of these good deeds. 

This underscores the transformation that happens in the baptized as they turn to Christ in trust. The God revealed to us in Christ invades their lives and God does HIS good work through them. They're just living their lives in the freedom of forgiven sin, the freedom of knowing that as God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, He will do the same for those who trust in Jesus.

This is exactly what the apostle Paul talks about in his famous verse about those who are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by any good thing they do. He says: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Notice that good works, being a good person, cannot make us acceptable to God, bring us forgiveness for our sin, or give us eternal life with God. That's because in ourselves, we could never be good enough.

Instead, God gives us faith in Christ, then, as we turn daily turn to Christ (Luke 9:23), Christ does His good works through us and in us. If Christians do anything good, righteous, or loving, they'll know not to take credit for it. In fact, they'll be completely unaware of having done anything good at all. 

But Isaiah's words apply to more than just good works. He says to God, " have indeed done for us all our works..." 

ALL is an ALL-ENCOMPASSING WORD. Without God, we can do nothing. 

In Athens in the first century, Paul quoted one of the Greek poets and said of the God we all now can know in Jesus Christ, " him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28) 

If you're living, breathing, and reading these words, it's the work of God. 

If you're able or have been able to make a living by your brain and brawn, your brain and brawn comes from God, along with your capacity to work or think. 

God didn't have to give us life. And once the whole human race fell into sin, God didn't have to give new life through the crucified and risen Christ. But He does. And He works in our lives.

Today, like every day, is a good one to repent--turn away from our sin, including our sins of pride and pretended self-sufficiency--and trust in Jesus. 

Sunday, July 31, 2022

More Than Enough!

[Below is the message from today's worship services from Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. You'll also find live stream video from both of our worship services. Have a blessed week!]

Luke 12:13-21

The first thing to be said about today’s Gospel lesson and the parable of the rich fool that Jesus tells us is that there is nothing intrinsically wrong or sinful about having possessions.

Jesus doesn’t want to take anything from you. Not your house or cars or boats or 401k’s or stock portfolios.

But there is a warning in what Jesus tells us today…and a holy, life-giving reminder. There is, in other words, Law and Gospel.

First, the Law. It’s interesting to notice how much of God’s moral law is about protecting what is ours from others who would take it from us and protecting what belongs to others from us should we take it into our heads to grab their possessions.

In the Seventh Commandment, God says, “You shall not steal.”

And, as if that weren’t clear enough, God has two more commandments among the ten that prohibit us not just from taking what belongs to others, but even from wanting to take what belongs to others.

The sin these two commandments address is covetousness. In the Ninth Commandment, God says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.”

And in the Tenth Commandment, He says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his workers, or his livestock, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

God doesn’t want to take the money, possessions, or earthly life He has entrusted to your care, your stewardship. He wants to protect them for you. That’s part of what these commandments are about.

But, here’s the other thing these commandments are about: God wants to protect you from the fatal sin of overvaluing your possessions, of overvaluing what they can do for you.

Money, home, possessions: These can be very good things. But their value ends at the grave. Each can give us a measure of life in this world and are to be treated as trusts from God. But none of them are God.

Covetousness, ultimately, is idolatry, idol worship.

This is why in The Large Catechism, Martin Luther gives over a big chunk of his discussion of the First Commandment–”You shall have no other gods before Me”--to a discussion of covetousness. Even though he’s going to later spend time discussing it in relation to the Ninth and Tenth Commandments.

“Many a person thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and possessions,” Luther says. “He trusts in them and boasts about them with such firmness and assurance as to care for no one. Such a person has a god by the name of ‘Mammon’ on which he sets all his heart. This is the most common idol on earth. He who has money…feels secure…and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise…he who has no money doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God…This care and desire for money sticks and clings to our nature, right up to the grave.”

We worship money and possessions when we adopt the deceptive belief that they can give us what only the God Who has conquered sin and death for us in Jesus Christ can give us: life, eternal life with our every need–our daily bread–provided for us as free gifts from the hand of a gracious, loving God.

In today’s Gospel lesson, a man approaches Jesus and says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” (Luke 12:13)

We have no idea whether this man has a legitimate beef with his brother or not. But we do know that Jesus refuses to get involved with the dispute. “Man,” Jesus answers, “who appointed me a judge or an arbiter [literally, a partitioner or divider]  between you?” (Luke 12:14)  “Look,” Jesus is saying, “God has established governments to arbitrate disputes like that. That’s not what I’m here for.”

After that, Jesus tells the disciples who are with Him as He journeys to Jerusalem: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

Then, Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool. “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ (Luke 12:16-19)

Jesus’ parable was vividly illustrated by the Swiss artist Eugène Burnand in a kind of diptych.

The rich man in Jesus’ parable has a problem. He doesn’t know what to do with all of his stuff. He seems to give no thought to giving some of it away, to help those in physical or spiritual need.

Nor does he ask for the advice of God or anyone else.

He doesn’t see God as the One Who blessed him with the brain and the brawn that made his wealth possible.

Have you noticed that money has a way of turning us in on ourselves and away from the world?

That’s probably why, in the original Greek in which Luke’s gospel is written, the man in Jesus’ parable uses the words “I” and “my” twelve times. That’s a lot of I, Me, Mine, to quote the Beatles.

In this print by Burnand, we see the rich man at the moment of his decision. His face is still creased with worry despite a self-satisfied look that shows him dreaming of days of ease, just him and his money.

Jesus tells the rest of His parable: ““But God said to [the rich man], ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 14:20-21)

This is the second part of Burnand’s portrayal of Jesus’ parable.

To be rich toward God, friends, isn’t Jesus putting out a plea for a bigger offering at church, although that may be part of it.

To be rich toward God is to be open to God.

It means to refuse to sell our souls for less than the value God placed on them when He died on the cross for us!

And this is the Gospel!

We’re told in 2 Corinthians 8:9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

Friends, yesterday, our community of faith witnessed two baptisms.

In the morning, Aliyah Jean was baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the hospital.

In the afternoon, her brother Damian Westley, as had long been planned, underwent the same sacrament.

They were immersed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and so became beneficiaries of His rich grace: the forgiveness of sin, the deliverance from death and the devil, and everlasting salvation for those who believe the promise of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;  and whoever lives by believing in me will never die…” (John 11:25-26)

This is the treasure of the Gospel that Jesus purchased for us through the lavish expenditure of His innocent body and blood, of more value than all the money and possessions, good though they may be, that this fallen, dying world can offer us!

Behind the fever of human covetousness is the suspicion that the everyday blessings God gives to us in our daily lives and all that He offers us in Jesus Christ–the forgiveness of sin, life everlasting with God, freedom from the condemnation of the devil, the world, and our sinful selves–is not enough.

But, friends, the very best this world has to offer is only the faintest hint of all that God has already given to us in Jesus at His cross and from His empty tomb. The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:21-23: “All things are yours, whether…the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.”

Friends, the Law says, “Don’t covet.”

The Gospel tells us, “In Jesus, you don’t need to want for anything more than God already daily gives to you. In Jesus, all is yours! In Jesus, you have all you will ever need in this life and the next!”

He offers Himself and an eternity of blessings to you again today: in His Word, in His body, in His blood.

Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

He says, “Take My body, given for you.”

He says, “Take My blood, shed for you.”

Dear friends, take Jesus Christ and live! He is more than enough! Amen