04 August 2013

Set Your Heart and Mind on Christ

Blessed are those who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labors, and their works of faith and love do follow them in Christ, into His Resurrection and the life everlasting.

But he who dies with the most toys . . . dies . . . and all his toys will go to someone else: to family, friend, foe, or stranger.  Perhaps they will go to his children, who will foolishly fight over them.

Beloved, beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed.  The Lord has warned you, and His Apostle, St. Paul, has told you what such greed amounts to: It is idolatry, the worship of false gods.  So has Dr. Luther taught in his catechisms, too, that, whatever it is that you trust in, whatever you long for and depend upon, whatever you desire and look to for help and happiness, that is your god.  Whether it is something you already hold in your hand, or horde in your barns, or that which you crave and covet in your neighbor.

Maybe it is money, or maybe it is some other kind of wealth and riches.  Maybe it’s your spouse, or your children, or your neighbor’s family, or the apparent freedom of those who have no family.  Maybe it’s medals and trophies.  Maybe it’s friendship and popularity.  Maybe it’s some talent.

Your sinful heart is able to make a false god out of anything, or anyone, including the good gifts of God: Not wealth or riches, but greed and covetousness of every kind are the problem at hand.  In striving after such idols, in sweating bullets to stockpile and safeguard the idols you’ve got, you turn your heart and mind away from the true and only God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; and you turn away from your neighbor, as well, even while using your neighbor to stock your barns with stuff.  For such unfaithfulness the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience.

Your idolatry is not only sinful and wrong; it is foolish and self-defeating.  In being consumed with yourself and your stuff, you are finally consumed.  It’s already consuming you in the meantime, because putting your trust in perishable and passing things cannot provide you with peace or rest.  Even late at night, you won’t be able to sleep well if your god is not the Lord: No matter how smart you are, no matter how savvy and skilled, no matter how long and hard you work, and no matter how careful you may be, with insurance and security in place, it’s still a losing game, and it’s only a matter of time before your soul shall be required of you.

Therefore, do not look for life in your possessions, and do not spend your life storing up treasures for yourself on earth.  Repent of all your greed, and die to yourself, to your selfishness and lust.

To die in this way is not a matter of despair, but of turning away from your false gods — beginning with yourself — and turning to the one true God in Jesus Christ your Lord.  Both false belief and unbelief alike are foolishness, but wisdom is found in the fear of the Lord: in the Cross of Christ.

It is the case that, what appears wise in the eyes of the world, is foolish in the sight of God; and what appears foolish to the world, is the real wisdom of God in Christ the Crucified.  Set your eyes and ears, your heart and mind on Him.  Lift up your heart unto the Lord, and keep seeking those things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the Right Hand of God.  That’s where your life is.

Christ Jesus is your Life: True God in the flesh, who has given Himself for you in His death upon the Cross; who has risen from the dead, never to die again, but to live and reign for all eternity.

His Vineyard and His Field bear the abundant Fruits of His Cross and Passion: not for Himself, but to the Glory of His God and Father, and for the good of all His neighbors, including even you.  It is for this reason that He has built His one Holy Christian Church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, upon the Ministry of the Gospel, even to the ends of the earth.

He is not a miser, but the true Philanthropist, the true Lover of souls and the Charity of God.  For He did not count His divinity as something to be hoarded for His own perpetual enjoyment, but He humbled Himself, and poured Himself out, and made Himself nothing, in order to save all the poor, miserable sinners of the world.  Though He was rich with all the wealth of Paradise, He made Himself poor and wretched, despised and rejected, in order to give you the inheritance of heaven.

For you and for the many, He has stored up all the treasures of His Kingdom with God the Father in the heavenly places.  But, so also, by His Word and Holy Spirit, He has stored up these same treasures in His Church on earth, in the preaching of the Gospel, in the Word of Holy Absolution, in the waters of Holy Baptism, and in the Holy Communion, so that you may eat, drink, and live.

This, too, is from the hand of God.  For who can eat and drink or have enjoyment without Him?

Therefore, pray and work, as He has taught you, not for the bread which perishes, but for the true and living Bread of Christ, which does not perish but gives you everlasting Life in body and soul.

And as you are thus fed and nourished by the Gospel of your dear Lord Jesus Christ, be satisfied and content with whatever else He gives you in this poor life of labor.  And “be rich toward God.”

Okay, then.  But what on earth does that mean?

The Lord God Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the Maker and Preserver of all things, He doesn’t need your stuff: Actually, it isn’t “your stuff,” anyway, but His to begin with.  Return thanks to Him for all His gifts and benefits, and use His stuff to glorify His Holy Name by using it according to His Word.

Really, to “be rich toward God” does not mean giving anything to Him, but to look to Him for all good things; to call upon His Name with confidence that He will hear and answer; and to receive with gratitude whatever He gives into your hand.  It is to live by faith in Christ your Savior.  And, with such faith, you are “rich toward God,” also, by your charity and generosity toward others.

That is how the Lord has taught His people to live: Not to glean your vineyards and your fields to the ground, but to leave what remains for the poor of the land to receive from His gracious hand.  To store up the abundance He provides on Friday for the Sabbath Rest of your entire household; not only for your own family, but also for your workers.  And to reap whatever He sows and brings forth, not for your merriment and ease, but for the feeding of the hungry when famine comes.

He would not have brothers and sisters divided by greed and competition for things that perish, but united in faith and love, and united in all things — as the early Church had all things in common.

Whatever the Lord your God has put into your hands, whether a little or a lot, He has entrusted it to you as a stewardship of His grace, in order to provide for all your needs of body and soul, because He loves you; and to serve your neighbor, as well, as an instrument of His providence.

The greatest wealth of all, in this mortal life in a fallen world, is the free forgiveness of all sins, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.  That is the “judgment” and “arbitration” that He has been appointed to give, for which He has received all authority in heaven and on earth: To forgive sins by His Cross and Passion, and to justify the ungodly with the righteousness of His Resurrection.  That is the “coin of the realm,” the chief currency of the Kingdom of God in this life on earth.

So, then, not only do you feed and clothe your neighbor, and shelter the homeless, and visit the prisoner, as the Lord provides you with the ways and means and opportunities to do all of these things; but you also forgive your neighbor his sins against you, as the Lord Jesus forgives you.

For He has not simply come to visit you in the prison house of your sin and death, but He has set you free by His Word of the Gospel.  He has opened His hand to fill your hands with Himself and His Life, and with all the good things of God.  You need not waste your time chasing after wind, because He has poured out the Holy Spirit generously upon you, and has filled you with the Spirit.

You need not be shackled and chained by the relentless pursuit of perishable things, which cannot give you life or save you; because you have already died to yourself and to your foolish idolatry, and you are daily raised up to newness of life with the Holy Triune God.  He has not coveted your soul, as though to rob you of anything, but He has called you in body and soul to Himself, in order to bestow His blessed peace and Sabbath rest upon you.  That is what He gives to you in this Meal.

You have heard His Word and promise: Your life is hidden with Christ in God.  You could not be more safe and secure than you are there!  For though your life is hidden under the Cross, and it is hard to see, except by faith; nevertheless, it is real, sure, and certain in Christ Jesus, who has risen from the dead and lives forever.  Such is the wisdom of God.  He is your Life, who shall not fail you; who shall never be taken away from you, nor you from Him.  He lives and reigns within you, by the Word and Spirit of His Gospel, and His good works in you now follow after Him in peace.

Here, then, take your rest.  Eat and drink, dear friend of God, and rejoice now in the labors of your Lord, who loves you.

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

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