Baptized, but Not at Church

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)

 

I mentioned in the sermon on Sunday that it’s dangerous for a person to be baptized without being part of a congregation because it paints a big target on their back for the devil to attack them.  I wanted to elaborate on that more.

 

In Baptism, there is necessarily an exorcism, a casting out of all evil spirit as the Holy Spirit enters in.  Martin Luther’s 1526 baptismal rite actually begins very boldly, “Depart, O unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit.” In the more familiar rite, this is what’s happening with the threefold renunciation of the devil (“Do you renounce the devil…all his works…all his ways?).

 

Well, once a person has had an evil spirit driven out, it’s necessary for the Holy Spirit to take residence in the heart and create and sustain faith.  But what happens to the person who is baptized, but does not stay in the Christian community around the Word of God?

 

This issue is personal for me, because I was brought to the saving waters of Baptism, but my parents rejected subsequent invitations to worship.  Whatever faith the Holy Spirit had created in my heart[1] eventually died because my discipleship was stunted (remember Jesus commands not only Baptism but also teaching in Matthew 28:19-20).  The result was I became a rank unbeliever and was even adverse toward the Christian faith.  For 23 years, my last state was worse than the first because I had lost the treasure delivered to me in Baptism and Satan sifted me like wheat.

 

Despite the sinful will and the devil’s evil plans for me, my Good Shepherd brought me back to the faith of my Baptism.  But it was rough going and I now bear the scars of a Christian who spent years under the devil’s sway.  The message for parents of baptized children who don’t go to church is get them into the holy ark of the Christian Church at all costs.  I mean, if you will drive them to dance, soccer, and Boy Scouts for their social and physical development, why not on Sunday morning drive them (or have a relative get them) to church for their eternal welfare.  Don’t put the Lord to the test.  Who knows?  You might even be saved along with them.

 

The point which the Lord makes, and which I was trying to convey in the sermon, is how profound Baptism is, and what an enemy the devil is.  It’s not safe out there in the world, and the baptized believer needs a community in which they are regularly renewed and prayed for.  Keep praying for your baptized, yet unchurched relatives.  I had people praying for me and I didn’t even know it.  Remember that Jesus is the Stronger Man who is able to cast out Satan and make room once again for His Holy Spirit.  Thy Kingdom come, Lord. Amen.

[1] Acts 2:38, Ephesians 2:8

Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Luke 1:57-80)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon and Sweet Home, OR

Nativity of St. John the Baptist + June 24, 2018

Text: Luke 1:57-80

“How is the Bible relevant to me today?”  This is the question of the day.  How does it speak to my experience and what practical advice can I glean from it?  That attitude predominates most of what you’ll find in Christian bookstores.  Authors try to make Scripture relevant to people’s lives.

 

In the Gospel reading, we see quite the opposite approach.  Instead of seeing their lives at the center of the universe, Zechariah and Elizabeth understand their lives as described by God’s Word, not just according to their own private experience.

 

Indeed they were the second elderly couple to conceive and bear a son of promise, but Zechariah’s song, called the Benedictus, gives deeper insight than a biblical “me too!”  The Spirit-breathed interpretation of what was happening tells the whole story, not just about John’s birth, but about God’s whole plan of salvation from the beginning of the world.  So Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and sings:

 

68“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,

For He has visited and redeemed His people,

69And has raised up a horn of salvation for us

In the house of His servant David,

70As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,

Who have been since the world began,

 

This birth fits right in with God’s plans from of old.  A forerunner to the Messiah must be born, as the Lord had told us in Malachi and Isaiah 40 (which we heard today).  John was that man in the spirit and power of Elijah which God had appointed. (Mal. 4:5-6)  He was to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord. (Isa. 40:3)  It wasn’t to inflate John or his parents and make them feel more special about their child; it was the glorious wisdom of God bringing His plans to fruition.

 

I’ve been into digital photography for a number of years.  Over that time, the images have gotten larger and more detailed.  That becomes a problem when you bring it over to the computer and it opens at 100% zoom.  That picture you took of the whole family might only show your sister’s chin.  What you have to do in order to see the whole picture is zoom out, and choose the option “Fit to screen.”

 

This is like what Zechariah’s prophecy, the Benedictus, does in relation to John’s birth.  John’s birth is one event in the whole history of the world, God guiding all of it.  It’s zoomed in on one moment, but this prophecy invites us to fit the whole picture of salvation history into a single frame.

 

So, the prophecy continues:

 

71That we should be saved from our enemies

And from the hand of all who hate us,

72To perform the mercy promised to our fathers

And to remember His holy covenant,

73The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:

74To grant us that we,

Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,

Might serve Him without fear,

75In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.

 

From the beginning of the world, tracing the promise of a Savior through Abraham, here is the content of that promise: To be saved from our enemies (namely the devil and his demonic host), for they truly do hate all people who belong to God through faith.  A pastor and I were discussing why it isn’t a good idea to baptize someone without their being connected to a congregation. It’s because Baptism paints a big target on their back, at which the Devil is looking to throw all his fiery darts.

 

The Benedictus goes on to the promise of God showing mercy to the generations of His people who came before, a holy covenant promised on oath to Abraham: “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you…in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”[1]  This was in connection with the offering of Abraham’s son which found its true fulfillment in God offering His Son, His only Son to bring all who believe the blessings of: Deliverance from the hand of our enemies; serving God without fear of sin and judgment; and being made holy to live before Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

 

But then there’s this amazing switch in the Benedictus:

76“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;

For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,

77To give knowledge of salvation to His people

By the remission of their sins,

78Through the tender mercy of our God,

With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;

79To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,

To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

 

Did you catch that?  It gets personal!  All of this big picture of salvation history, spanning generations and lands, and now it’s come home: You, child.  The life of Zechariah and his family falls right into this big picture of the history of God and His people, sacred history.  Sacred history is their history.

 

In that way, it’s no different for us in the Church.  Of course I’m not saying that your child is going to repeat the ministry of John the Baptist, but what we can rejoice in is that all of the tender mercies we hear about in Scripture are ours too.  The Dayspring from on high has visited and redeemed us from the darkness of sin and the shadow of death.  Rather than wandering in arid wastes, He has guided our feet into the way of peace in Jesus Christ.[2]  This isn’t a story about other people; it’s about us—our forerunners in the faith, our brothers and sisters today, the church to come, and the eternal peace which God has accomplished for His people with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

 

It’s this narrative of God’s work in history that we rehearse and meditate on every time we come to worship.  It’s our touchstone to what God is doing in the world and even in our own life.  In Confession and Absolution, we receive again the good news of Easter: Your sin nailed Jesus to the cross, and the Lord has taken away your sin.  In the readings, we the story of God’s people including us, we hear instruction given to the churches but also to us, and we hear His gracious promises spoken at that time but reaffirmed today.  In the Creed (and the Te Deum) we confess with all the faithful people of God who He is, what He has done, the peace He has for us today, and the hope He has for us in the resurrection and eternity.  In the Lord’s Supper, we both remember what He has done and also receive that grace and strength in the moment on our tongues.  All of worship is a rehearsal anew of God’s people who have been brought into God’s history.

 

This is what I pray you hear when you read Scripture.  God isn’t just giving you an instruction manual, a rule book, or a self-help guide.  God forbid that the Bible is ever seen as a self-help guide!  “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love.” (Ps. 147:11)  No, the pages of Scripture describe to us God who created us, us who rebelled and inherited an evil heart, and God who continually is at work seeking those who are in darkness and bear the burden of death.

 

This vision of seeing ourselves in the whole of Scripture does two things: It tempers our fears and it breaks our pride.  It tempers our fears which naturally are zoomed into our daily struggles and what our eyes see.  I’m a wretched man who can’t seem to do any better.  The Church is in shambles and people compare her to a sinking ship.  The world is getting more powerful and chaotic and nobody seems to be able to stop it.

 

2Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:2)

 

This God who made heaven and earth, who orders the universe and upholds all things by the word of His power, is the one who reveals Himself in the pages of Scripture.  He makes Himself known as your God, your Redeemer, the one who holds the entire future in His hands.  He will neither leave you nor forsake you.  What can man do to you when the Lord is at your side? [3]  As for the world, as Psalm 2 declares, He who sits in the heavens laughs at those who set themselves as His enemies and seek to break apart His bonds.

 

This whole-Scripture view also breaks our pride.  There’s a tendency in every generation to think we are smarter than those who came before us.  It’s manifest in the idea that we’re more evolved than those Cretans who came before us.  Israel made a golden calf and called it their God who brought them out of Israel?  What idiots!  But as soon as someone in our day suggests congregations combine and sell their properties, our devotion to these created, beautiful, and costly things called buildings comes out.  We, too, are idolaters.

 

This is St. Paul’s point when he writes to the Corinthians.  First, he reminds them that “these things [in Scripture] took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did,” but then he concludes by saying, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.”  Meaning: watch out buster, you are just as susceptible to idolatry, sensuality, faithlessness, and any other sin as any others who came before us or will come after us.  Jesus came to seek and to save sinners!  Therefore Paul comforts us in our temptations: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:6-13)  Repent and the Lord will have mercy and save you, just like He did all those who came before you.

 

Go from this place reminded, or perhaps hearing it anew, the great things which God has done for you.  It isn’t all on you, and you are not all alone.  You are part of a great cloud of witnesses, of prophets, apostles, martyrs, and all God’s people who together acknowledge Him to be the Lord who has visited and redeemed His people.  Surely a great host, but He has counted us among them.  Amen.

[1] Genesis 22:16-18

[2] Psalm 107:1-22

[3] Hebrews 13:6

Third Sunday after Trinity (Luke 15:1-10)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Third Sunday after Trinity + June 14, 2018

Text: Luke 15:1-10

 

When someone says, let’s celebrate Father’s Day, the first thing that usually comes to our mind is our own fathers—for better or for worse as the case may be.  Many fathers are great men, who reflect the attributes of God and give a fair comparison between God our heavenly Father, and the human title they bear.  Other times this isn’t the case.  Yet, God is the gold standard for fatherhood, the one St. Paul says, “from whom all fatherhood is named in heaven and on earth.” (Eph. 3:15)

 

Psalm 103 teaches us more about the character of our heavenly Father:

 

11For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

12as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

13As a father shows compassion to his children,

so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:11-13)

 

Our heavenly Father is one who delights in forgiving sin, putting it away, removing it as far as east is from west.  Nonetheless, we can get hung up on our human ideas about the Father, as we see Him through our human lens.  That’s what happened during Jesus’ ministry:

 

1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”” (Luke 15:1–2)

 

What did the Pharisees and scribes think God the Father was like?  They saw Him as One who demands holiness and obedience.  They conceived of his hatred for sin and destruction of those who transgress. Their concept of God the Father was One who disowned children who brought shame to the family name.

 

To set the record straight, Jesus tells the first of two parables:

 

4“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:3–7)

 

This is how the Father views those who have made a mess of their lives: As lost sheep.  They’ve forsaken sound leadership, gone their own way because they thought they were wiser and more powerful.  Then reality hit them like a ton of bricks.  They can’t find their own way, and are in awful peril.  God is both able and willing to rescue them.  So, the Lord bears them on His own shoulders to bring them back to the fold with rejoicing.

 

What God the Father delights in even more than a life of obedience is one where a person hears His call to repent and live.  This is what the angels of God celebrate.   Perhaps it should teach us that the Church on earth is not on a quest to make the world act righteous, but on a quest for greater repentance and forgiveness of sins.  That would truly reflect our heavenly Father’s heart here on earth.

 

The Pharisees and scribes missed the purpose for which God gave the Law.  Certainly if a Law had been given that men could keep and earn their way back into God’s favor, then they would be right to insist on strict obedience.[1]  But sin has weakened all of us too much to be able to obey even the first Commandment to the extent it requires.[2]  God’s Law ought to drive any fallen person to despair of his own ability with all that it demands.  All that’s left to say is, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13)  Enter Jesus, the Son of God who “receives sinners and eats with them.”

 

The second parable tells us even more about our heavenly Father’s heart:

 

8“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”” (Luke 15:8–10)

 

The difference here is that the subject is a coin, but no matter what we may believe about the couch cushions, money doesn’t wander off on its own.  Nevertheless, money that is lost cannot fulfill its purpose.  The $20 you forgot in your pocket isn’t worth $20 till you find it.  So the woman in the parable makes a careful search for the coin until she finds it.

 

We learn from this parable both the attentiveness to and the value God places on every one of His children.  To God, there is no one whose departure goes unnoticed.  Nobody in God’s house “slips through the cracks.”  That’s because of the value He places on each of His children—not merely a monetary value—but an imputed value which says: this person’s life is worth the shedding of Jesus’ blood.

 

The key thing we learn about God from both of these parables is that He seeks and saves the lost.  On the one hand, that’s a backhanded insult to all who flaunt their religious credentials—how pure their life is, how much they read their Bible, etc.  But on the other hand, it’s an invitation to God’s grace for all who admit how much shame they have brought to God’s Name.  It’s much-needed reassurance for the person who’s afraid the church would fall down or lightning would strike the moment they passed the front door.

 

God loves the lost and it is His delight to see those who were lost to Him return.  While men grumble, God rejoices.  God chooses what is despised by us, like Paul, a former “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (1 Tim. 1:13) and turns him into a bold evangelist and author of 28% of the New Testament.  He chooses the irreligious to shame the religious.

 

This is something Christians always need to keep in mind—the danger of Pharisaic thought, of believing God chose you because of your good choices.  The Church is not our country club, and God may gather in whomever He will.  Our sinful flesh might want it to be a bunch of people who look like us and come from similar backgrounds, but what about when God gathers “the poor, crippled, blind and lame”? (Luke 14:21)  May we rejoice with God and His angels over every sinner who repents, regardless of background or traits.

 

God calls on His children to reflect who He is.  He loves, seeks, and saves sinners.  To accomplish this, He is merciful.  He is compassionate.  He is patient.  To this end, we pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  So may God give us His Father’s heart to be merciful, compassionate, and patient with our fellow tax collectors and sinners—even our brothers and sisters.  Amen.

[1] Galatians 3:21

[2] Romans 7:14

Second Sunday after Trinity (Luke 14:15-24)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Second Sunday after Trinity + June 10, 2018

Text: Luke 14:15-24

Life happens.  We all know that.  Sometimes life happens so much that one’s faith falls to the bottom of the list.  Children, work, family get-togethers, sleep…all sorts of things compete for attention in our lives.  This is how it’s always been, and how it will be in the future.

 

But when it’s a problem is when life is happening so much, that there is no room left for God to speak.

 

“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’” (Luke 14:16–20)

 

Week in and week out, the Church is in worship.  The Church hasn’t closed like a department store.  She hasn’t ceased meeting because a building was sold.  And only in times of dire persecution does she go underground so that you have to know someone to meet her.

 

Likewise, the messengers (pastors) haven’t stopped delivering the news.  They weren’t silenced because they were banned from Facebook.  They weren’t shut up by a group of rabble rousers who drove them out of one particular city.  And the faithful ones haven’t changed their message to get in line with the popular ideologies of the day.

 

So what so often accounts for the empty places in church?  It’s when we take this for granted that the Church will always be there—whether we mean the congregation, or faithful pastors, or the opportunity to fit Jesus back into our lives.  More often than we would like to admit, we say “Come back later, Jesus.”

 

“When things aren’t so crazy, then I’ll go back to church.”  This excuse might work for why you can’t volunteer for more things.  But the reality is that life is always going to be crazy to one degree or another.  The more important thing to realize is that life is always going to be messy.  You are always going to fail at some things.  You are going to hurt people by your actions or inaction.  People, no matter how much you may admire them, are going to let you down or wrong you.  To put it plainly, this messy life is full of sin.  It’s in the midst of that sin of daily life that God call you back to His grace.  Confess your sins to your pastor; don’t ignore them or make excuses for them.  Receive the Lord’s Supper as often as you possibly can and don’t get carried away with the lies that you’re strong enough without it or that less often makes it more special.

 

“If I could just get myself and my life together, then I won’t get stares at church.”  The social aspect of Church really gets to us.  So, we know we’re sinners who have sinned.  But it’s much more comfortable when we can keep a tight lid on that sin and not let it show to others.  It’s so much easier when we can put a smile on and go to church and tell everyone that we’re doing fine.

 

One of the great throw-away greetings that our culture uses is, “How are you doing?”  I even find myself using it, and sometimes I ask people on Sunday morning how they’re doing.  Now, the answer the checker at the store wants is “fine,” but I think it’s better when we can say something more honest about the burdens we’re carrying.  At the very least, be honest with God about why you’re here.  You need His grace, His strength, His guidance, His power.  Whether your sin is visible to others or not, know that every one of us is in the same boat.  We’re sinners here to dine with Jesus.

 

Lastly, we say, “When God shows me some good, then I’ll start praying.”  Many times we hear a brother or sister talk about the great blessings they received after praying—how a sense of peace washed over them, or a loved one’s health took a miraculous turn for the better, or a wandering child came back to their faith.  But when we look at our own lives, we can get down and only see the negative, the failings, the impossible situations.  Thinking God only answers other people’s prayers, we might not even bother asking.  Not wanting to be disappointed if God has another plan, we don’t bring it up to Him.

 

Take a step back and consider your life in light of God (not in light of your own understanding, Prov. 3:5).  According to His eternal purpose for your good, He called you into His Kingdom in Christ.  He adopted you as His child, and God Almighty as your Father.  He is eager to hear all your prayers because you are His child.  He is powerful enough to turn around even the most humanly-impossible things.

 

God does not change.  His Word is always the same.  His invitation to His grace in Christ is always going out.  Even if it’s ignored by some, it still goes out because His saving purpose is for all people:

 

21So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Luke 14:21–24)

 

We can safely assume that the Church will always be there, even unto the end of the age.  But how can you be sure that you will always have the opportunity?  We don’t know the length of our life.

 

 

Yes, the Kingdom of God will come, and so will the King’s messengers.  But what’s to say they will always be readily accessible?  Luther, acknowledging that the Word of God comes down like rain upon the earth, also recognized that sometimes it’s like a passing rain cloud.  If the people reject it long enough, it moves on to another place.  We can see this happen in history: The Byzantine Empire rested secure in their Christian kingdom, only to be invaded by the Turks.  Europe had such a rich history of Christianity with the buildings to prove it, but now those buildings lie vacant or are museums.  It should be a signal to us in America where we boast of our religious liberty, that if we abuse that liberty by driving away true teachers and following after false prophets, that we will soon be a spiritual wasteland, and the Gospel will move on to places like Africa and China.

 

In 2 Corinthians 5-6, St. Paul says, “Be reconciled to God…Do not receive the grace of God in vain…behold, now is the favorable time, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 5:20, 6:1, 2)  We need to repent of taking God’s Word and the Gospel for granted.  We should truly hear what the 3rd Commandment says to us all:

 

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

 

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

 

What a priceless gift it is for the King’s messengers to come among us and invite us to the eternal banquet!  The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is ready, all is prepared, come, taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34)   The Kingdom of God does not come with coercion and force.  It comes with the Holy Spirit in the heart, working a living and active faith.  For the sake of Christ and the salvation He wrought for us, may the Holy Spirit do this in each of our hearts and lives.  May the weakness of our flesh be crucified and die with Christ, and may our little faith be increased.  God grant it, even to us this day. Amen.

First Sunday after Trinity (Luke 16:19-31)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

First Sunday after Trinity + June 3, 2018

Text: Luke 16:19-31

Last week, we confessed in the Athanasian Creed, “Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith.  Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.”  Today, we see the application of this biblical truth—The rich man is in hell, while Lazarus is comforted at Abraham’s side.

 

So, the biggest question from the Gospel reading today is: What shall we do, “lest we also come into this place of torment” where the rich man finds himself?  At first glance, the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus seems to say that rich people go to hell and poor, sick people go to heaven.  Wouldn’t that make it easy?  Then the ideology would be right that says struggling, disadvantaged people are more noble than fat cat CEO’s.  That’s the message we hear all the time, so much so that it seems to be evil simply to have money.  If you don’t believe me, just ask any Christian what kind of looks they got when they drove to church in a new Mercedes.

 

But it’s not that simple.  The point of this story isn’t found in purple robes and feasts or starvation and open sores.  In the Athanasian Creed and Matthew 25:46, we confess, “Those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.”  What St. John says is true, “whoever loves God must also love his brother,”[1] but it’s deeper than outward actions.

 

Despite the first blush of this story, our lot in life doesn’t determine our place in heaven or hell.  If you’re young, healthy, and everything is going well, it doesn’t mean God loves you any more than a middle-aged woman who suffers with chronic pain.  If you can barely make ends meet and live with an endless stream of trouble, God’s love is undoubtedly yours because of Christ.  What you have or don’t have in this life where to look for God’s love.

 

The more important issue is, Where is your faith?  Jesus illustrates a rich man who believed in his material blessings and was comforted by them.  On the other hand, Lazarus despised his earthly life and looked only to God for comfort.  But it doesn’t have to be just deluded rich people and God-fearing poor people.  St. Paul writes to Timothy and to us, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”[2]  Yes, there are wealthy people who boast in the comfort of their wealth.  But there are also poor people who look to money as if it were their savior.  There are millionaires with messy divorce fights over property and there are poor people who scrape and fight to get every last cent they think they’re entitled to.  But before God they are all alike: “Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.”[3]  Whether you’re comfortable or lacking, if you believe your help comes from the things of this life, your faith is in the wrong thing.

 

In Colossians 3, St. Paul writes, 1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:1–2)  This is where your Lord wants your faith to be: in Him, who made heaven and earth, who adopted you as His dear children, and who gladly and freely gives you all that you need to support this body and life.

 

And if that’s where your faith is, what flows from that is contentment.  In this life, the rich man was content with having everything his heart could desire—a fully belly, fine clothes, and people to wait on him.  Lazarus, though he had nothing, he was content with it.  That’s not to be confused with being happy about it.  But how can we make such a claim that he is content with his condition?  Because the parable tells us something we don’t normally have true knowledge of: Lazarus had faith in God, evidenced by the fact that he was in paradise.

 

Faith in God brings about contentment with whatever your earthly lot gives you.  Again from Colossians 3: 5Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5)  The trouble really isn’t what stuff or how much stuff people have; it’s our earthly sinful hearts that are filled with jealousy and covet that Mercedes that our brother or sister drove up in.

 

But you have been crucified with Christ and were put to death with Him.  All that fills you with discontentment has died on the cross.  Your true God, the maker of heaven and earth, has given you a new heart and His Spirit, so that you trust in Him for all things.   With your faith you acknowledge Him as your loving Father who always and forever cares for you, His child.

 

Therefore whether you have much or little—it is enough.  You might have good health or poor health—it is enough.  Whether He gives or He takes away—it is enough.  It is enough because it is what your Father has given you for today.cg4eede

 

Now that He has given you a right faith and contentment in Him, then He sends each believer out to love His neighbor.   The faithful who are amply supplied now get to share in something amazing.  St. Paul writes to Timothy, 17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share”[4]

 

But on the other side, if you are in need, your place in this economy is no less important.  While you might not be able to be generous the same way someone who has more can, God has also given you empty hands to lift up to Him.  Receive whatever good things God gives you by the hands of others, giving thanks and praise to Him.  The Holy Spirit who has been given to you also will guard you from trusting in and hoarding what you have.

 

When our journey is over, and God brings us from this valley of sorrows to Himself, these differences will pass away.  In the Kingdom of God, none are lacking and all are fully comforted.  And this amazing inheritance is yours through God’s gift of faith.  Therefore it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him at all times.  Amen.

[1] 1 John 4:21

[2] 1 Timothy 6:10

[3] Psalm 62:9

[4] 1 Timothy 6:17-18