Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Readings: Genesis 4:1-15 | Ephesians 2:1-10 | Luke 18:9-14

Text: Ephesians 2:1-10

This reading from Ephesians 2 is often a go-to passage for us as Reformation Christians. It beautifully covers the doctrines of original sin, election, God’s grace, faith, and even good works. It’s like the Swiss Army knife of Lutherans.

Original Roman Swiss Army Knife

These words, so often repeated, can become numb on the ears and lose their impact with us. But today, I’m going to get back to the basics of our study of who God is and what He does (a theology) and of who we are and what we are capable of (an anthropology). Paul writes,

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world…”

If you were to share this passage with most people today, they’d think this was bogus. After all, to say someone is dead is to say they’re not alive. Ask any biologist, and they’ll give you the seven characteristics of life: You have cells which are organized, you metabolize food into energy, you respond to your environment, your body is able to self-regulate its temperature (homeostasis), you are growing and developing, you (or at least your parents) can reproduce, and your cells evolve (that is, change over time). How can you say (to someone who has ears, a functioning brain, and a beating heart) that they are dead?

First, understand we’re not talking biologically—“You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked”; we’re talking about a person spiritually. And this is one of the first places that an unbeliever probably has a different understanding of what makes up a human being. The most common view today simply sees as the sum of their material parts—skin, bones, muscles, blood, other organs, neurons, and so forth. But something which we learn from God’s Word is that a human person is more than just the material stuff which can be seen and measured. Human beings also have a soul or spirit. (I often teach the catechism class to distinguish between animals, angels, and human beings in that animals have a body but no spirit, angels have a spirit but no body, and only humans are body and spirit.)  And the soul, although it can’t be detected by our instruments, it very much impacts one’s life.

The soul is where the desire for transcendence is—”he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Eccl. 3:11)  It’s also the major part of what the Bible calls man’s “heart” or “inner being.”  Neuroscience has tried to figure out the source of consciousness and sentience, but so far have only been able to offer the energy that is picked up by MRI’s. The Word of God tells us the whole story about the human makeup. Body and soul belong together, and you can’t “just do something” with your body without your soul, any more than you can just “spiritually” do something apart from the body. This is also why death is such an awkward state, because it’s unnatural for body and soul to be divided, for “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Eccl. 12:7) 

With this anthropology, this understanding of a human being, now we’re able to move forward: “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

While there are the seven characteristics of biological life, there are some characteristics that help us determine if a person is spiritually alive. The living soul assents to the Word of God, saying things like “The just decrees of the Lord are true…More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold” and “Let it be to me according to your Word” (Psalm 19:9-10; Luke 1:38)  The living soul feeds on the Word of God and growth comes from it, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” and “Like newborn infants [who] long for the pure spiritual milk [of God’s Word], that by it you may grow up into salvation” (Deut. 8:3; 1 Pet. 2:2)  Lastly, the living soul gives heed and obeys what its Creator commands: “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” and “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:26)

The absence of these things is what one looks for to know if they have spiritual life or not. This is what happened when sin came into the world. The Lord God had warned that “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). It wasn’t that Adam and Eve dropped physically dead there on the spot. In their quest to know good and evil, they became intimately acquainted with spiritual death (which preceded physical death). And spiritual death was handed down to all their descendants by natural birth. Since then, all fathers, who are sons of Adam himself, procreate children with sin and death. As Gregory Schulz explains in “The Problem of Suffering” about the death of his old children: “There is nothing more terrifying than seeing the wages of sin present in your own child. The terror lies in knowing…that I as a father am the medium for the sin that brings my child’s death.”[1]

This spiritual death which we each have from our fathers, requires the Word of God to diagnose. That’s because every self-evaluation tool—whether religious or philosophical—misses the full scope of the damage. It may touch on symptoms, but it can’t diagnose the root cause. There are three main effects of what’s called original sin (not that Adam and Eve’s guilt is charged against us, but it refers to the spiritual state we naturally are in). They are concupiscence, blindness, and rebellion.

Concupiscence is a term coined by Aurelius Augustine, the 5th century bishop of Hippo (who for his part had quite the tour of philosophies and smorgasbord of worldly delights). The Lutheran confessions explain, “Concupiscence is not only a corruption of physical qualities, but also, in the higher powers, a vicious turning to fleshly things” (Apology II 25). Augustine’s own words are quite vivid about it: “Out of the dark concupiscence of the flesh and the effervescence of youth exhalations came forth which obscured and overcast my heart, so that I was unable to discern pure affection from unholy desire. Both boiled confusedly within me, and dragged away my unstable youth into the rough places of unchaste desires, and plunged me into a gulf of infamy.” (Confessions, Book II, 2)   That’s how it manifests itself for sexual desire, but concupiscence is a bent which all people naturally have away from the will of their Creator: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7) and as Cain experienced in the Old Testament lesson, in spite of the clear and reasonable warning from the Lord, he was unable to rule over sin (Gen. 4:5-7)

Original sin also manifests in a lack of senses when it comes to the things of God. It’s a blindness that can look at the clear Word of God or the proof of that Word, and not perceive, which was exhibited in the Pharisees in John 9:35-41 who claimed to see God’s will clearly when Jesus healed the blind man. It’s a deafness to the hearing the truth which condemns man’s sin and offers salvation only through Jesus Christ, shown when the mob stopped their ears and rushed forward to stone Stephen in Acts 7:54-60. It also makes a dulled conscience that can’t feel the pricking it ought to:

“God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Rom. 1:28-32)

Finally, and maybe most familiar, is that original sin shows its ugliness in rebellion against God’s will and insists on its own way. That’s the fruit of original sin that often plagues Christians. Yes, it’s a weakness against the temptation to do the wrong thing, but it’s sin in us that actually likes doing it. It’s fun; it’s exciting; and to be honest I’m kind of glad to get away with it. Thankfully the Holy Spirit wrote this insight for us in Romans 7: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Rom. 7:15-19)

Now, to be clear, even with original sin and all the damage it does to human spiritual life, this does not mean human beings are completely dysfunctional. There is a lot of moral good we do, believer or not. And that helps to show the distinction (not disconnection) between our powers of reason, strength, and compassion, and the part of us which is created for a right knowledge and fellowship with our Creator. God made people in His image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-27)—with intellect, emotions, reasoning, and words. People still know how to live together, to love, to heal diseases, to be curious about the universe, and so on. Even if those things are marred, and only partly understood from their original potential, God still allows us to enjoy them.

But it’s not on the basis of this moral good that a sinful human being can be restored to fellowship with God. This God, who is known to varying degrees by each person, truly exists and comes to our rescue:  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved”  This is what God is saving us from. It’s more than moral deficiencies, more than a weak mortal body, more than the abuses and divisions we see among people. In Twelve Step recovery, I learned to “Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of [myself]” and to “have God remove all these defects of character”[2]  It wasn’t until I heard the Word of God in March 2006, that I realized I had a far bigger problem that character defects and sketchy morals. This is what God does: He doesn’t just pick us up and rehab us a bit; He takes us and resuscitates us from death. That’s why it’s called His “rich mercy” and “great love.”  It’s the very model of what those things are, and it goes beyond anything we’ve ever seen demonstrated among men.

and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Sadly, the Christian religion is often reduced to “I get to go to heaven when I die.”  If Christ is no more than a cheerleader urging us on from the fictitious “pearly gates,” then we are in a sorry state. It’s true, because God has saved us, dead in sin as we were, and made us alive with Christ, that we do have a heavenly hope. In the coming ages, we will see and be filled with joy at what God has prepared for His children by grace through faith. Yet, for His children, God is very present. Each day of this life, a Christian can rejoice in what God has done, plus how He continues to be gracious and full of mercy as we navigate darkened understanding, temptation, and the pangs of death.

As redeemed children of God, we are already experiencing that restoration. With the renewal of our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we gladly hear His Word and see there’s more to life than “being saved.”  God created our first parents to work, to have dominion over creation, and to serve one another in various callings. With the blindness and rebellion of sin held at bay, we can glimpse what our Creator has made us to truly be. A far cry from following the course of this world, satisfying its selfish appetites, we can learn from the Commandments just what it means to love the Lord our God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. We are created for service to others, for us in body and soul to minister to them, body and soul. And this is where we will find the truest fulfillment and satisfaction this side of eternity. The “prince of the power of the air,” the Devil, and the sinful flesh will make this difficult at times, but we know the God who created, redeems us, and grants us to share in the resurrection spiritually now and bodily at the Last. If He has the power to save us from the depravity of sin and death, should we doubt that He can save us through the years of this life? In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Rev. Dr. Gregory Schulz, “The Problem of Suffering” Chapter 2 section, “The Cause of Death”

[2] “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” pp. 6-7

Tenth Sunday after Trinity

Readings: Jeremiah 7:1-11 | Romans 9:30-10:4 | Luke 19:41–48

Text: Luke 19:41-48

Zeal can be a beautiful thing.  I have to say it is exhilarating being at Higher Things in the worship services with hundreds of voices exultantly singing beautiful, poetic meditations on the Word of God.  With our voices declaring the mighty works of God, and singing with joy from the heart what our own experience of the Gospel has been.

Zeal is an inspiration.  Although I haven’t had the chance to experience it personally, I believe it would be electrifying to be part of a march in support of life.  How inspiring and encouraging it is to see so many Christians gathered together to advocate for the unwanted lives, the outpouring of love there must be to bring open hearts and arms for pregnant women in perilous circumstances, to shine the light of God when the rest of the world would tell them that it’s no more than a medical condition which can be solved by a bloody procedure.  And what a joy to see fifty years of labors bear fruit in having the Supreme Court overturn its previous decisions.

Zeal is invigorating.  As we often ask God in the Divine Service to “strengthen newly established congregations, and support them in challenging times. Make them steadfast, abounding in the work of the Lord, and let their faith and zeal for the Gospel refresh and renew the witness of Your people everywhere.”  What a joy it is to see mission congregations planted in new or changing communities here in our country.  How awesome it is to hear of the Church abroad where droves of people leave the religions of their fathers—animism, Islam, Hinduism—and come to believe in the True God and line up to be baptized.

But like everything our sin touches, zeal can be used selfishly without a thought for God.  This is what our Lord is confronting with His people Israel in today’s texts.  In Jeremiah’s time, they boasted of lineage, of temple, of blood descendance from David and the sons of Levi.  In the time our Lord came in the flesh, it was of the strict devotion of the Pharisees, the temple observances of the Sadducees, the perseverance of the Essenes, the temple rebuilt under Zerubbabel.  Even after Jesus came and accomplished His saving work—not just for Israel, but for all the families of the earth—and you hear in the Epistle how the Jews stubbornly rejected the God in which they boasted.

But as the Apostle to the Hebrews puts it succinctly: “Without faith it is impossible to please [God].” (Heb. 11:6).  All the zeal one can muster, apart from the Lord cannot please Him, no matter how much it might be right in our own eyes or the eyes of those around us.

So, one of the first things Jesus does after coming into Jerusalem (the city in which the Jews took so much pride as the city of David) was to lament over the Jews’ lack of faith.  It’s hard for us to draw the lines simply by looking at their works.  After all, the Pharisees were the most observant to the Law of Moses that any Israelites had been since the days of Joshua.  The Sanhedrin saw to enforcing the strictest of purity requirements.  The Temple had enough income to keep it in spotless repair and the priests carrying out their many responsibilities.  So, by all appearances, it was a golden age for Judaism.

But the Lord Himself has this against them: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!”  Peace, or any Hebrew speaker, Shalom.  Aren’t they in the city of peace itself?[1]  Do not the sons of Aaron put God’s Name on the sons of Israel saying, “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you shalom?” (Num 6:26)  If anyone should know the Lord’s shalom, it should be them! 

But their religion has become unhinged from the Lord who gave it to them.  They came up to Jerusalem yearly for the Passover, singing:

  Peace be within your walls
and security within your towers!”
  For my brothers and companions’ sake
I will say, “Peace be within you!”
  For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good. (Ps. 122:7-9)

But to them, those words meant the city itself, its walls, the temple buildings.  The peace is not to be found in absence of enemies, but in the one who stands there—the Messiah, Jesus.  It’s only through Him that true shalom comes from God, a shalom that flows from the cross where Abraham’s offspring was offered up for all people.

Where Jesus goes next is their other source of pride: the Temple.  Starting with David, there was a pious desire to build a permanent house in which the Lord would be (2 Samuel 7).  In some Christological double-speak, the Lord told David, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Sam. 7:12-13)  And it was fulfilled in the time by Solomon, who constructed a tremendously ornate building, a hint at a return to the Garden of Eden, nearly everything inside the Temple of Solomon was plated with gold.  After falling into disrepair that corresponded to their unbelief, this temple was utterly destroyed in 587 BC.  They returned, according to God’s promise after 70 years, and were allowed to rebuild the Temple.  Yet, Zerubbabel’s temple was a poor substitute.  Herod the Great strove to make the Temple magnificent again, and it was a belief held, even by Jesus’ disciples, that they were approaching the former splendor.

Yet what does the Lord think of this edifice?  “He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”  There was more of a problem than not having the glory cloud, or the Ark of the Covenant.  Their practices, for as ornate and well-financed as they had been, were vain and deplorable by the Lord.  They still did point to the Lord being approached by the blood of the sacrifices, but for the Jews, they wanted the building more than the true Sacrifice which would cleanse them.  As St. Paul writes, “being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Rom. 10:3-4)

The Lord also says something rather unnerving: “But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

“But now they are hidden from your eyes”?  You might think this is unfair of God.  If He wants to be found by all people, why would He hide such things from them?  In faith, we acknowledge that the Lord is wise in His ways, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:9)  Is this not the humbling which He knows they need?

            Compare this to the preaching of Jonah.  Jonah came to Nineveh, and preached, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  And how did the people, these uncircumcised, respond?  “And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.” (Jon. 3:4-5)  Yet, when the Lord in the flesh preaches the same kind of sermon, what do the people of Jerusalem do but “seek to destroy Him.” Where the Word of God has its proper effect, it works repentance in sinners. It lets God in His words and blameless in His judgments (Ps. 51:4).  It also lets God entirely be the One who can save, the One by whom we live, and the One by whom we pass through judgement by the merits of Jesus Christ.

We may not be Jews or live in Jerusalem, but these warnings continue to be apt for God’s people of the New Testament.  Often, we find ourselves believing that our walk before God is simply a matter of our effort.  We need to be thoroughly debased of that notion, lest the Christian Church become a thing without Christ.  You see this in churches that are so focused on what they’re doing, pressuring each person to “get involved” and “commit.”  Soon, it’s not so important what a person believes about Jesus and their life of repentance and faith, so long as they’re doing things “for the Lord.”  And you can be sure this kind of religion gets results—it brings people out (for a time), gathers the money (by holy guilt trips), and it claims to glimpse what the church “really should be like.”

But like the Jews of Israel, we need that humbling from the Lord that it isn’t about us and what we can do.  The people of God forever rely on what He can and does do.

Personally, we might believe that our life could go better, simply if we made the right choices.  In our faith, we think if we just drummed up more zeal to read our Bible, spent more time on our knees in prayer, if we gave a certain percentage more…  We also sometimes believe this about our day-to-day lives.  If we just adopt the smartest financial plan, then we’ll really be in charge of our destiny.  If we find just the right diet, we’ll avoid disease and live longer.  If we change our parenting in the right way, our children will be obedient and never run into trouble.

It’s not that these aren’t all good things.  Zeal for your walk with God is good, just as zeal for caring for the life God has given you.  It’s that our sinful hearts insert pride, and (like the Jews) think we’ve gotten more control than we really have.

What really counts is the foundation of all of it: hearing the Word of God in faith.  Let the Lord Jesus be what His title says, and let His Word do to you what it needs to do.  As He said to the church in Laodicea, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Rev. 3:19)  And let Him grant the success and increase, firmly believing that “you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Cor. 1:30-31)

47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.

For the Jews, the Lord showed His love by continuing to preach to them, knowing that it will accomplish that for which He sent it.  It’s the same for us in the Church today.  His Word has the power it needs to bring the straying to repentance, to ignite those who are cold, and to empower a right zeal for the Word of God and the Gospel of salvation.

We thank God for His steadfast love.  His steadfast love [see Psalm 136] is His faithfulness to the covenant He made with the Blood of His Son, on the day when He visited the world and offered up the sacrifice no sinful priest could: Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  Behold, Christ, your paschal lamb has been sacrificed.  And He has continued to preach that Word which kills our sinful flesh and makes us alive before God.  It is a Word which makes us dead to the fleshly ideas of Shalom, of Sanctuary, of Church.  It enlivens us to find peace in the pierced hands of the risen Jesus, sent to us, who says: “Shalom! Peace be with you!” (Luke 24:, John 20:19); to find the house of the Lord “where two or three are gathered in His Name” (Matt. 18:20) where His Word is preached and taught with joy, and His mysteries are honored.

Thanks and praise be to the Lord our God!  In the Name + of Jesus.  Amen.

[1] Jerusalem roughly translates to mean “Where peace has been cast” (See also Heb. 7:1-2)

Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Readings: 2 Samuel 22:26–34 | 1 Corinthians 10:6–13 | Luke 16:1–9

Text: Luke 16:1-13

Luke 15 is one of the most popular chapters in this Gospel.  It’s refreshing to hear the parables of the Shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep, “And on His shoulder gently laid, And home rejoicing brought me.” (LSB 709:3).  We love to hear about the coin because we rejoice that God values us so highly: “Never grudging for the lost ones That tremendous sacrifice; And with that have freely given Blessings countless as the sand.” (LSB 851:1).  And of course, countless generations of those who have erred and returned with contrite hearts to a gracious heavenly Father: “I once was lost but now am found; was blind, but now I see” (LSB 744:1).

But no such pious hymns ring out about the parable which follows, which is before us today: The Parable of the Unrighteous Steward.  Nevertheless, it too has a comforting message of salvation for the lost.  It just that it usually cuts us in a way that too close to home.


“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’

This steward is facing a danger common to us all: unemployment—aggravated by the fact that he has not been trustworthy with his master’s possessions.  He’s afraid for his livelihood and future, and that brings out our deepest fears in this life.  It’s the root of looting during disasters, hoarding before the you-know-what hits the fan, of servers who slip just a little more from the tip jar telling themselves they need it to make ends meet.

And what the manager does benefits him, and only temporarily makes his master look good:

So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’  The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. (φρονίμως)

Notice that it says the master commended the manager for his shrewdness—his aptitude at working the system to his own advantage.  The master in this particular is not God.  It is a kind of wisdom the unrighteous manager displays, but it is not the kind which God commends, noted by the same Greek word: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise (φρόνιμος) man who built his house on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24)

That brings us to the point of the parable:

For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

Worldly, self-serving cunning can be found the world over.  It can be found in us, as even Christians and church leaders fall to embezzlement.  But it’s not much benefit to just dwell on the outward behavior, without getting to the problem in the heart.  Yes, the problem is sin.  It is unbelief in God as Creator and provider.  But we make more of it than that.  It’s what God is shining His holy light on when He says: “You shall not covet your neighbors house… his ox or donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (9th and 10th Commandments, Exodus 20:17)  That craving for the stuff, by which our sinful mind thinks we live, is a spiritual problem which the Apostle identifies: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:…covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God comes.” (Col. 3:5-6)

It is transgression against the commandment of God, but it is also idolatry: to fear, love, and trust in Mammon.  So, our Lord drives the point home to our hearts, where it needs to land and do its work of repentance:

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and [Mammon].”

Martin Luther understood this, as he wrote in the Large Catechism about the First Commandment:

6 Surely such a man also has a god—mammon by name, that is, money and possessions—on which he fixes his whole heart. It is the most common idol on earth. 7 He who has money and property feels secure, happy, fearless, as if he were sitting in the midst of paradise. 8 On the other hand, he who has nothing doubts and despairs as if he never heard of God. 9 Very few there are who are cheerful, who do not fret and complain, if they do not have mammon. This desire for wealth clings and cleaves to our nature all the way to the grave.
10 So, too, if anyone boasts of great learning, wisdom, power, prestige, family, and honor, and trusts in them, he also has a god, but not the one, true God. Notice, again, how presumptuous, secure, and proud people become because of such possessions, and how despondent when they lack them or are deprived of them. Therefore, I repeat, to have a God properly means to have something in which the heart trusts completely. (Large Catechism, I 6-10)

If we worship and serve Mammon—the things of this life—then we will suffer tyranny under this false god.  Mammon is ruthless and cruel.  His favor is as fickle as a mad king.  Who can save us from this slavery and tyranny?  Only the one, true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This is a persistent sin for us, and also one for which the Lord of Glory was nailed to the cross.  All idols, mute and helpless to save, fall down before the one true God, and His Son, Jesus Christ.  The light of Christ shines in the darkness of our hearts, and the blood of Jesus was shed in love to save us from this false worship, that we may serve the living God!  “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you,” the Lord’s Apostle writes, and Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:2-4)

You have a different God than the unbelieving world imagines.  So the way of Christ is not the way of the world, even if we use the very same money, food, and institutions as those who abuse God’s gifts.  And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.  With renewed hearts from God, our goals are different, and so it’s apparent in how we use the things of this life—this “Mammon.”

Here, I think we can learn a great deal from the Christians who came before us.  In the early 4th century, there were several wealthy Christians who heeded the Lord’s word to the Ring Young Man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matt. 19:21)  This was the start of the ascetic movement in Christianity, and contributed a great deal to the growth of the Church.  Our brothers and sisters recognized something that we today are often dull to hear: The things of this life, the Mammon, is given to us by God for a time, and we are obligated to put our faith into practice with how we use our earthly treasures.

These same words about where your heart is, there your treasure will be also, are said in Luke 12:

32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)

You and an unbeliever have the very same green in your wallet.  You have the same 24 hours, 7 days in the week.  The difference is who is your God: He who made heaven and earth, who redeemed you from the slavery to sin and the futility of a heart that loves money rather than the true God.

And that is what we see in the Church still today.  Look at how Christians are generous with their money and possessions in service to God’s Church, showing mercy to those in need.  When the world legalizes and promotes the killing of babies, notice how many crisis pregnancy centers were opened!  Notice how, in our own town, Christians and congregations donate to make a ministry like Obria thrive and grow.  When the early church lived in a culture of abandoning unwanted children, it was Christians who made the sacrifice to adopt them and raise them to know the God who made them and does not reject them.

When the world embraces the cult of transgenderism and seeks to indoctrinate the young and vulnerable, the Church doubles down on studying the theology of gender, investing in youth conferences and education for parents.

When the world tells you that you can privatize your faith and don’t need the congregation or pastor to minister to your soul, Christians instead confess their faith in the means God established and they build up the congregation, support the pastor, repair the facilities for those things.

This is the Lord’s Word to every one of us, and to us as a congregation.  It calls for continual reflection about who our god is and what service we are rendering.  When we are more interested in our own comforts, thinking of it as my money, thinking “other people will give to the congregation,” or the government will take care of the poor, or if I tell someone that their lifestyle is wrong I might lose their friendship—repent, because this is your heart serving Mammon.

Where our congregation has only been interested in the things inside these four walls, fretting over how much is saved in the bank, and failing to give to District or Synod or any other mission—these are signs that our service has not wholly been to our Father who delights to give men the Kingdom.  We need to repent of that, and ask Him to forgive us, and give us a new heart that desires to use what He has given us to do the things He command us to do.

The world will say we’re crazy.  The devil will tempt us to think and act like everyone else.  We won’t be able to keep up with the world’s standards of opulence.  Our treasures will not be the things of this life, but the souls of sinners who, who like us, were saved by our telling them repentance and forgiveness in Jesus alone.  Although we will not look successful in the world or Mammon’s judgment, we will receive the commendation that truly counts—and lasts for eternity: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt. 25:23)  In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.