29 November 2013

The Word Is Near You

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God — by Whom all things were made.  In Him is Life, and the Light of the world, and the divine Love that upholds all things.

That Word has become flesh and dwells among us in grace and truth.  He has become like you, in order to be your Savior and to share His Life with you.  Having become true Man, He has borne your sins in His own body of flesh, and He has shed His blood to atone for all your sins.

This is what the Word of God has done for you.

He has created you for life and love.  He has fashioned your flesh, given you the blood in your veins, and breathes oxygen into your lungs, with the good and gracious will that you should live, not only here and now, but with Him forever.

For it is not only that He has become like you, but He has made you to be like Him.  He has created you in His Image, in order that you might become and be His brother; and that His God and Father should thus be your God and Father; so that His Holy Spirit should also abide in you and with you, and rest upon you, and remain with you, unto the life everlasting.

Therefore, the same Word of God who became flesh, true Man born of Mary, still comes to you and makes His dwelling with you.

He has not only given Himself for you and atoned for all your sins, but He comes to give Himself to you, to save you from your sin and death.

Being the Word of God, He comes to you by speaking, by the voice of preaching.  That is why St. John the Baptist was sent by God, a voice in the wilderness, to preach and point to Christ Jesus, the Word-made-Flesh, the Lamb of God.  In and with that voice of preaching, Jesus Himself drew near to His people and appeared among them.  And He has ever since continued to call and send preachers in His Name.

As St. John preached and pointed out Jesus to Andrew, and Andrew brought his brother Simon Peter to Jesus, so did Andrew and Peter preach to countless others.  And, following in their footsteps, first as disciples and then as ministers of the Word, the Lord has provided a holy tradition of pastors and preachers in every time and place, even to this time and place, even here and now.

The holy Apostles are the Lord’s first and foremost gift to His Church on earth — His one holy catholic and Apostolic Church — because, not only did they preach Christ and administer His Sacraments in their own day, but by their example and the inspired record of their words and works, of their doctrine and fellowship, Christ Jesus still draws near and dwells among us.  So does He speak to you and dwell with you today.

It is especially appropriate that the Feast of St. Andrew should mark the beginning of the Church Year, and the beginning of holy Advent — the sacred season of our Lord’s coming — since Andrew was among the first of our Lord’s disciples and Apostles.  Though we have no Scriptures from his hand, we have the apostolic witness of his life and ministry, of his discipleship and apostleship.  He heard and followed Christ Jesus, preached His Gospel, absolved sinners, baptized and communed disciples, and finally gave his body and life for this Ministry of Christ, our Lord.

Truly it is meet, right and salutary that we should remember St. Andrew with thanks and praise to the One who called and sent him.

The preaching of Christ Jesus is fundamental and necessary to faith and life and salvation, as much so as the Cross and Resurrection.  And the apostolic office of preaching is fundamental to that ministry of faith and life.  For how should any preacher preach the Word of Christ, if he is not called and sent by that one Lord, Jesus Christ, in His Name and stead, with His own voice and authority of the Gospel?

But, Christ be praised, that He does call and send preachers, and He puts His Word on their lips, into their mouths — His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Like the Prophets before them, and like St. John the Baptist, St. Andrew and St. Peter and the other Apostles, and the pastors and preachers who have followed them in the Office of the Holy Ministry, have been appointed and ordained as watchmen for the Church on earth.  They warn against sin and unbelief, in order to turn you away from death.  And along with that, they preach Christ Himself, His Gospel and His Life into your ears, into your heart and mind, into your body and your whole life.  So it is that you live instead of dying.

The preaching of Christ Jesus is the preaching of forgiveness, because He truly is the Lamb of God who takes away your sins.  And that preaching of the Gospel of forgiveness is “the Word of faith,” because it is by that preaching of Christ that your ears are opened to hear Him, and your heart is opened to believe in Him, to fear, love and trust in Him.

Christ and His Spirit are actively present and at work in this preaching, and through this preaching, to create and nurture faith in your heart; in much the way that God created all things out of nothing by His Word, and called forth light out of the darkness by His Word.

That same Word of Christ that is preached to you, also opens your lips and your mouth to confess His Name and to call upon His Name.  And you shall not be put to shame; because He has mercy upon you, and He saves you by His grace — by this preaching of His Word of the Gospel.

Not only does this preaching of Christ Jesus forgive you and save you from sin and death, but it still points you to this Lamb of God, and it gives you life and salvation by setting you at His Table to feast upon His flesh and blood.  His sacrifice upon the Cross was once and for all, but just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, so is this great Feast of His Sacrifice, His Holy Communion, an ongoing and never ending meal of Salvation.

How much closer could He be to you, than He is here in this Feast of His Body and His Blood?

So, then, do you want to know where He is staying?

Come, and you will see.  Hear and heed His Word, His preaching, and follow Him here to His house, and stay with Him here, where He stays with you.

He is here with you and for you — He is near you, in your ears, and in your mouth, and in your heart — because He sends His preacher to you here, and He causes His Word to be preached to you here, and He draws near to dwell with you in this preaching.  This Word forgives you and feeds you, and it shall not fail you.  For this Word of Christ is the Love of God, His Life and Light and Salvation — for you and for the many.  He is the Christ, the Messiah, and He has found you here.

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

27 November 2013

Offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice

Thanksgiving is fundamental to and distinctive of the Christian faith and life.  It is of the first priority, in so far as your words and actions are concerned, as a child of God in Christ.  For it is with thanksgiving to God that you confess the faith, and pray, and live in love for your neighbor.

Such thanksgiving on your part corresponds to the gracious providence and good gifts of God: For what He has already done and given to you; and for what He has promised; and also for His loving discipline, as a father for his son, His call to repentance, and His forgiveness of all your sins.

In mercy and in love for you, He catechizes you to live by faith in His Word: to live by everything that proceeds from His mouth, as the Father speaks to you by His Son, and as the Son breathes His life-giving Holy Spirit upon you by His Gospel.  He teaches you and trains you to recognize and receive His gifts with thanksgiving, and so also to call upon His Name, and to wait upon Him in hope, looking to Him in expectation of good things.  He calls you and guides you to walk in His ways, to keep His commandments, and to give yourself in love to and for your neighbor.  This is how you live and multiply and possess the good land which the Lord has pledged and provided.

At the same time, there is a leprosy (of body and soul) that cuts you off and keeps you out, which reduces you and renders you impotent, and which puts you to death.  It separates you from God and man, from Church and state, from house and home, from family, friends, and neighbors.

It is the leprosy of sin, which not only lacks but actively opposes faith and love and thanksgiving.  It brings about doubt and despair, on the one hand, and yet promotes prideful arrogance on the other hand.  It drives (and is driven by) selfishness, self-reliance, and self-righteousness, which is utterly futile, because all this self-serving ambition achieves nothing but anxiety, anger, and further alienation: not only from those whom you are called to love and serve, but likewise from everyone who would love and care for you.  That is what the leprosy of sin accomplishes.  It does not rise up in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, but it erupts in outbursts of rage, either verbally or bodily violent, and it vents itself in terrible temper tantrums, in cursing, swearing, lying and deceiving.

There is no happiness, peace or rest in this leprous condition, but only desperate want, and deep sorrow, bitter loneliness, and relentless death.  Existing, but as good as dead, and always dying.

Until the Lord Jesus enters in to save you, to rescue and redeem you, to cleanse and sanctify you.

He comes to you, and makes His way to you, and He addresses Himself to your deep and desperate need.  He confronts you with His presence, with His Word, and you are met with His holiness vs. your uncleanness.  And, to be sure, He disciplines you, humbles you, and calls you to repentance; only not to shame you, discourage you, or punish you, but to catechize you, and to bring you from death to life, from the desert wasteland into Paradise, and from the outside into His house.

He draws near, this Lord Jesus, not only to expose and reveal your need, but also to provide all that you need.  He draws near to you, that you might draw near to Him.  He has gone outside the wall and gate, in order to find you, the outcast, and to gather you back into the holy city, to the place where His Name and Glory dwell, and really to enfold you to Himself.  He does not recoil in fear and loathing from your unclean flesh.  He does not retreat and run away from your blemished body of sin and death.  But He lays hold of you and embraces you with His own.

He breaks your heart of stone, yes, but so that you might recognize and receive Him as your God in the flesh.  So does He speak to you in love, and by His Word He opens your lips to call upon His Name and to show forth His praise: to confess what He has spoken, to worship and glorify Him by faith in His Word, and to give Him thanks for all His tender mercies and great salvation.

With all of this, He is even yet far more, and He does far more.  He is your merciful and great High Priest.  Therefore, it is not that He ignores your leprosy; nor does He merely remedy its outward symptoms; but He actually takes your leprosy of heart and mind, of body and soul, upon Himself, into His own skin, into His flesh and blood; and so does He cleanse you of all unrighteousness.

He sacrifices Himself to atone for all your sins, and He reconciles you to His God and Father in Himself.  He establishes the way of real life and true righteousness in Himself, in His own body and life as true Man.  He lives and dies for you in the way of faith and love, which He in turn gives to you, and makes your own, with His Word of the Gospel: His Word of forgiveness and peace.

He gives Himself to you, as He has given Himself for you, and He also brings you out of death into life, and to the Father, in and with His own Body of flesh and blood.  Which is to say that, He is not only the Priest and the Sacrifice, but His Body is the true and eternal Temple of God, whereby God dwells with you, and you abide with God in Him.

So, then, here is what that looks like, and what it means for you: Your worship and prayer, your praise and thanksgiving, are focused and centered in Christ Jesus.  Not abstractly or randomly, but in the hearing of His Word to you, in the receiving of His Body given and His Blood poured out.

He Himself, who is the primary Liturgist, the true Preacher and Celebrant of the Divine Service, He is your prayer, your thanksgiving, your living sacrifice, and your sweet-smelling incense, who offers and gives Himself to God for you, and who is received by the Father on your behalf.

He is your faith and love, your righteousness and holiness, your peace and hope, your joy and happiness, your confidence and courage, your compassion and charity.  Which is both why and how you now live in love for your neighbor; especially for your fellow Christians, your brothers and sisters in Christ, but also for those who are estranged, who are still wandering on the outside.

You are set free from the shackles of your leprosy.  You are no longer shut out and barred from the house, from the city, from the good land of the Lord your God, but you are at home with Him in His Church, within the Body of Christ, your Savior.  You belong to the household and family of God; you are a citizen of His Kingdom; and you are safe and secure in the Mighty Fortress of His beloved Son.  Here you are well-fed and well-provided.  You lack no good thing, nor shall you.  No matter what you suffer in the wilderness, you shall not die, but you will live (forever and ever).

Therefore, as God, your dear Father in Christ Jesus, has given you this body and life on earth, you are free and able to give this body and life to and for others, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection and the life everlasting in body and soul.  For you already know the good land which the Lord has sworn to you, by His own Name, and you know that He will surely bring you into it.

In truth, in the Body of Christ, you have already entered into that good land, and you live and abide in it, by grace through faith in His Gospel.  For, already, Christ is yours, and He is here with you, with the same crucified and risen Body that makes heaven the Paradise it is.  His Church on earth flows with milk and honey from that Cross (the tree of life in the midst of the garden), and she is wealthy with the jewels and precious gems of His Passion: with the treasures of His Gospel, the water from His side, His Body and His Blood, the outpouring of His Spirit, His Holy Absolution.

The beauty and the glory of it all, for now, is hidden and mysterious, in, with, and under the Cross; and it so often seems so elusive, as though you will never be able to find it or reach it.

    How long must you live in the wilderness?

But now, wait upon the Lord.  He shall open His hand to satisfy all of your needs and desires, and He shall give you true Meat and Drink indeed, in due season.  Even now, He gives to you this sacred Manna and spiritual Drink, which are His own true Body, and His holy and precious Blood.

By this Food, by this Meal, this Feast, you lack nothing at all, but Christ feeds you with Himself — yes, even here and now — that you might also abide with Him, both here in time, and hereafter in eternity.  For as surely as you eat this Body and Blood of the One who sacrificed Himself for you, who died and rose again, who ascended to the Right Hand of the Father and ever lives to pray and intercede for you, so do you dwell in the Lord’s House, in His good land, forever and ever.

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

24 November 2013

The Green Tree of Paradise

When you see these things happening, know that summer is near.  For now the Tree of Life is green, its branches heavy with the Fruits of Christ; its wood is wet with the waters of His Baptism, and with His Blood, poured out for you and for the many.

He brings the whole Tithe of His Body and Life into the Holy Place.  So shall His Father surely open the heavens to pour out a blessing upon His beloved Son, and upon all who belong to Him.

He does not save Himself, but He has numbered Himself with sinners in order to save them.  He has taken His stand with all the sons and daughters of Adam, in order to redeem them from sin and death, and to bring them safely into the peace and rest and everlasting life of His Kingdom.

He does not save Himself, because He trusts in His God and Father to provide for Him, to satisfy Him with all that He needs forever, and to save Him from out of death.  Therefore, Jesus lives by faith, and He prays at all times and in all place, and He proceeds in love — for His Father, for His friends, but also for His foes, and for all His neighbors — even to His death upon the Cross.

It is for this that He was baptized, and for this that He has entered His holy city; that He might be enthroned upon His Cross, and reign in love over all the nations with His Word of the Gospel.  Here, then, He enters into Glory through His suffering on the way of sorrows.

The rulers of this world, and their soldiers of fortune, “just doing their job” in ignorance, and all those who die in their sins — none of them are able to recognize or know what is happening here.  You are in the same boat, and under the same condemnation, until you are brought to the fear of the Lord and to faith in His royal clemency.

You gaze upon the spectacle of the Cross, and perhaps you also bear its weight and violence, but it appears to you a tragedy, a farce, and a lost cause.  You mock and ridicule the Lord, in order to hide and protect yourself in your own miserable self-righteousness.  Or you taunt and heckle and cajole, as though you could spite God Himself with your bravado.  And, still, you die.  Which is what you rightly deserve for your misdeeds, and for all that you have failed to do and accomplish.  It is what you deserve for presuming to be your own god, and for living unto yourself.

What, then?  Is there no hope?  Must you die in your sins and be damned for your transgressions?  No.  It is not too late.  But, do not kid yourself.  It is that serious.  Therefore, even now, repent.  Return to the Lord your God, and find that He has turned toward you in mercy.

Behold the Man: The King of the Jews.  The promised Seed of Abraham.  The serpent-stomping Seed of the Woman.  Great David’s greater Son.  Here is the true Solomon, the Prince of Peace, who shall be seated at the Right Hand of His Father henceforth and forevermore.

He has done nothing wrong.  Nor is He undone by the wrong that others do to Him.  But, why, then, is He there upon the Cross?  He suffers and dies, not for any sins of His own, but for the sins of the world.  In this you know the Lord’s compassion.  By His Cross you are called and brought to repentance, and to the prayer of faith.

The other criminal, crucified with Christ, confesses what is true, for you as for him; and he prays, as you also are taught to pray, that God’s Kingdom would come, and that He would forgive.

In the face of death, it sounds so feeble, so futile.  The criminals still suffer and die, on the right hand and on the left.  There’s no time left for them to mend their ways.  They cannot make up for all of their past mistakes.  Nor can you undo the wrong that you have done.  You cannot take back the harmful words that you have spoken.  You cannot stop or even slow down the ravages of time upon your mortal flesh.

And yet, the Father vindicates the Son who serves Him.  For He is the Chosen, whom He loves, and He is well-pleased with Him.  So shall the Father raise this same Jesus from the dead, and every knee in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, shall bow in reverence before Him.  Even now, by the way of the Cross, He comes into His Kingdom.

Not for nothing does He do this.  Nor for His own advantage and benefit.  But in mercy, and for love’s sake, He suffers, dies, and rises, that He might be the Firstborn of many brethren.  In Him, the Father has been pleased to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through His Blood on the Cross, and raising Him from the dead for the justification of the ungodly.

He has made things right, in order to save you.  Behold, He makes all things new.  His Body is the Firstfruits of the Resurrection, that you might belong to His harvest, to be with Him where He is.

Do not weep for Him, dear child of God, as though He were tragically defeated, done for, and done away with.  Not at all!  But hear and believe His Word, and call upon His Name, and find in Him alone your salvation, both now and forever.  For He and His Sacrifice are your Redemption from sin and death, and His Resurrection is your Righteousness unto the life everlasting.

The Tree of His Cross is green and ripe with His own Body and His Blood, given and shed for you.

Suffering and death do not and cannot destroy Him; rather, from these He brings forth abundant fruit for the life of the world.

If your tree, then, is dry — and you are “ripe,” not with fruit, but for kindling and fire — by all means, repent, and return to the waters of His Baptism.  Repent, and be baptized, you and your children; or, remember that you are baptized, and what that means.  Be drowned in the death of Christ, that you may rise with Him in His Resurrection, and live with Him in His Kingdom.  Weep and mourn, not for Him, but for your sin; and rejoice in the Gospel, the forgiveness of His Cross.

It is by the Cross that He separates the righteous from the wicked, and spares those who fear the Lord and call upon His Name.  It is by the Cross of Christ that God the Fathers calls you out of darkness into Light, and transfers you through death and the grave into the Kingdom of His beloved Son.  For Christ is the Head of His Body, the Church, and where He is, there His members also shall abide in Peace.

Today, even here and now, and in the neverending Day of His Resurrection, you shall be with Him; for here He is with you.

Beloved, He remembers you: “Take, eat; this is My Body, which is given for you.”  “Drink from this, My Cup, the New Testament in My Blood, which is poured out for you.”  Here is the forgiveness of all your trespasses and transgressions.  And here His Kingdom comes to you, by His Word and Spirit, that you might enter with Him into His Royal Garden.

For here are the branches of His Cross, His Tree of Life, in the very midst of Paradise.  The wood of this Altar is alive with the Gospel of Christ.  It bears for you the life-giving Fruits of His Cross.

Here behold your King, who saves you.  That is true.

17 November 2013

The Leaves of His Tree Are for Your Healing

Chin up, beloved.  Do not be downcast or dismayed.  Let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid.  By the Cross of Christ Jesus, your Redemption is at hand; and He Himself draws near to you with His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead.

For you and all the nations, He has suffered and atoned for the curse of sin and death.  Not only that, but, now then, by and with His Word and the preaching of it, He distributes and bestows the life-giving fruits of His Cross: That is to say, by the Gospel of His Cross, He forgives you all your sins; He rescues you from every evil of body and soul; and He redeems you from death and the grave.  By this Word of His, which shall never pass away, you have eternal safety, peace, and rest, in and with the Lord your God; and so do you live forever the divine Life of faith and love in the New Creation of Christ’s own glorious Body.

Receive and trust this Word of Christ and of His Cross, in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection.  He shall not disappoint you.  As He enters into Glory through His suffering, so shall you also enter into His Glory, with Him, through His Cross and Passion.

In fact, His Cross and Crucifixion are the central fulcrum upon which the whole Creation, the heavens and the earth, and your life, also, all hinge and depend.

The Cross of Christ is the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden, which, even now, bears good fruits after its own kind: both for you, and in you, unto the life everlasting.  Its leaves cover your nakedness and heal your infirmities.  Its fruits feed and nourish you, and quench your thirst, and satisfy the deepest hunger of your body and your soul.

But it is only by the Word of Christ, by the teaching and preaching of His Apostles, that you are able to discern the Truth of His Cross; and only by the Sign of His Cross that you are able to keep your bearings and endure the great tribulation which falls upon the whole earth.

For all of Creation is under the curse of sin and death, on account of man’s rebellion against God.  It has been subjected to futility; not without hope, but its hope is found only in Christ Jesus; in the sacred Sacrifice of His Body and His Blood, crucified and risen again; and in His Word of the Cross.

Every other help and hope to which man clings will pass away, from the heights of the earth and heavens, right down to the nitty-gritty details of your own life on earth.  You must be disabused of all those false hopes and perishing allurements, be they great or small; yet, without giving yourself over to doubt or despair, to disbelief, dissipation, or drunkenness.

No, do not despair, and do not be distracted by the anxieties and worries of this old world.  Neither attempt to forget your troubles nor drown your sorrows in the addictions of this life, no matter what form those cares and occupations may masquerade themselves in.  Rather, being put to death by the Word of the Cross, so shall you be raised up to newness of life.

Ironically, this Cross of Christ is the Springtime of His Love.  His Cross is the sure and certain Sign of His Resurrection, and the drawing near of His endless Summer in the Kingdom of God.  For the Resurrection of your dear Lord Jesus follows more surely upon His Crucifixion, death and burial, than the rising of the sun in the eastern sky.  The day will come when that sun shall not come up tomorrow, because there will no longer be any tomorrow.  But, by the suffering and death of Christ, the Son of God, the Sun of Righteousness now rises upon you; not with scorching heat and the burning fire of destruction, but with healing in His wings.

It does seem odd, though, doesn’t it?  As though the Lord has confused the seasons of His own Creation, or mixed His metaphors like a novice author: For He compares the shaking of the heavens and the sufferings of the whole earth to the rising of the sap, and the budding of new leaves, and the early fruits of spring.

Isn’t that strange?  Should He not, rather, have compared the destruction and death of this world to the falling of the autumn leaves, and to the onset of winter with its waning days, thick darkness, and sometimes deadly cold?  So it would seem to us, if we evaluate our life in this world by our feelings and experience.  Does not the Cross bring suffering and death?

It’s easy to consider and discuss it all dispassionately, if you are simply contemplating the trees and their leaves; especially if you do so from the comfort of your cozy living room.

But Jesus is now speaking of your life and death on earth, and of the cosmic catastrophes that you read about, and hear about, and see depicted on the news, which cause you to gasp and tremble, and, hopefully, to repent of your sins, and to call upon the Name of the Lord.

When people hate you and mistreat you, make fun of you, and take advantage of you.  When you and your loved ones get sick, suffer, and die.  When the whole world is falling apart.  When even churches burn to the ground and crumble into dust.  When towering ocean waves sweep over countries, and strong winds blow them away into the depths of the sea.

Are these not fallen leaves and barren trees, bespeaking nothing else but death and decay?

Except that your dear Lord Jesus says, “No, do not be dismayed.”  Do not lose heart or give up hope.  These tribulations are new green leaves and the budding fruits of spring.  Summer is at hand.

Because everything has been redefined by the Cross of Christ.

In His death is Redemption and newness of life.  He has made Atonement for His whole Creation, and for you, His dearly beloved.  As He is lifted up in death upon the Cross, He raises you up, and He lifts up your head to behold His Resurrection.  His crucified and risen Body is the First Fruits of the New Creation.  In His holy and precious Blood, poured out for you and for the many, is forgiveness of sins, and everlasting Life, and eternal Salvation.

The leaves of His Tree bear the sunshine of His Gospel and the waters of Life for the healing of the nations; and they are for the healing of your heart and mind, your body, soul, and spirit.

The Fruits of His Tree — His Body given, and His Blood poured out for you — these are the Feast of Paradise, with which He feeds you, even now, in the midst of sin and death.  These Fruits of His Tree strengthen you, and keep you steadfast in His Word and faith, unto the Resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and your soul.

You are preserved, and you possess your life, by His Word, by His preaching of the Gospel of His Cross.  He is your Strength and your Song, for He has become your Salvation.  And He is faithful; He is steadfast and true.  He has endured all your suffering and death, and He has persevered in the faith and love of God.

He entrusted Himself, His body and life, into the hands of His own God and Father, and His Father raised this same Jesus from the dead.  So does He raise you up, day by day, with His forgiveness of your sins, and at the last, in Glory, in His own Resurrection from the dead.

So shall it be, that, by His Cross, even though you die, yet shall you live forever; and not even a hair of your head shall ever perish.

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

13 November 2013

No Surprise, or Surprisingly So

When I view and treat others as though they had nothing to offer, it is no surprise when they offer nothing to me for my efforts or in my need.  Why bother?  If I have no use for them, why would they have any use for me?  Why would they not hide themselves away from me and my contempt?

But, if I value others and regard them as worthwhile, I may be pleasantly surprised to find that they use what they've got, be it little or a lot, to love and serve and care for me.  To be so regarded instills both confidence and a desire to share oneself with others.

What is truly surprising, in this sinful and selfish world, is the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For He has valued us, and we are precious in His sight, in spite of our bad attitudes and behaviors.  He does us good, for the sake of His own love, in the faith of His God and Father; and the cost of His own life is the great price He has paid for us and our salvation.  He was counted as nothing, and made Himself nothing, in order that we might be raised up from death to life and receive everything from Him in the Kingdom of God.

03 November 2013

The Rich Man Is Like a Little Child

Being rich is a risky business.  From the beginning of his Gospel, St. Luke has made that clear.  Already in chapter one, St. Mary’s Magnificat declares that, whereas the hungry are filled with good things, the rich are sent away empty-handed.  We’ve been given examples of that very thing, as well.  The rich fool stored up treasures for himself on earth, but then he died, and all his stuff went to someone else.  The rich man who ignored poor Lazarus at his gate, he died, too, and found himself in Hades, in great agony and torment.  He had his good things for a little while, but they couldn’t save him.  Most recently, in the chapter just before this morning’s Holy Gospel, the rich young ruler came looking for eternal life, but he went away sorrowful and disappointed, because he was extremely rich, and he couldn’t bear to give up his many possessions in order to follow Jesus.

“How hard it will be,” Jesus says, “for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God!  It is easier to thread a camel through a needle than for a rich man to enter God’s Kingdom.”

But Zaccheus is not only a rich man.  He is also a tax collector, and not the first of those that we have heard about in the Gospel According to St. Luke.

Here is one of those many places where cultural and societal expectations, and religious expectations, too, have been turned on their head.  For tax collectors have received the preaching of St. John the Baptist, and have repented and believed the Gospel of the Christ.  And yet, St. John did not tell them to quit their jobs; only to carry out their occupation fairly, honestly, and with integrity.  “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to,” he said.

Among the Holy Apostles, who even now follow Jesus on His Way through Jericho toward Jerusalem, St. Levi (Matthew) was a tax collector when Jesus called him to discipleship.  And far from forsaking his former associates, the first thing that happened after he was called, is that Jesus reclined at table in his home to break bread with a great crowd of tax  collectors.  It is the Pharisees, not Jesus or St. Luke, who describe those men as “sinners.”

In fact, Jesus has gotten quite a reputation for befriending tax collectors, receiving them to Himself, and eating and drinking with them.

Likewise, this past Sunday, in the case of the Pharisee and the tax collector, it was the tax collector who went home justified, in repentant faith, by the mercies of God.

So, maybe this tax collector, Zaccheus, is seeking the mercies of God in Christ Jesus.  Or, maybe, to begin with, he’s simply curious about this Guy from Nazareth, to find out for himself who Jesus is and what He’s like.  Maybe he’s just looking for a friend, having heard that Jesus is a friend of tax collectors.

In any event, whatever his ambition may have been, you find out with Zaccheus that “rich” and “poor” are not such clearly defined categories.  Not so easy, after all, to divide the black hats from the white, the “good guys” from the “bad.”  Turns out that wealth, in itself, is ambiguous and morally neutral; it’s rather how one holds and uses wealth that is decisive.

Now, you might also remember that Father Abraham was a rich man in his day: “Very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold,” with several hundred trained men in his household.

Come to think of it, the Father of the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ Parable is also a rich man.  For so the Lord Himself is rich in mercy toward us, toward all who call upon His Name.  And, as such, by faith in His mercy, both rich and poor alike are given to be rich toward God and rich toward their neighbors in love, in charity and generosity.  It is the attitude of your heart, and the actions that you take, which determine the real wealth or poverty of your life.  That is what the Lord perceives, regardless of the world’s evaluation of you and your holdings.

Here, then, as in the case of St. Matthew and his house guests, it is neither the Lord Jesus nor St. Luke who describe Zaccheus as “a sinner.”  That is the accusation of the crowd, by which they aim to impugn Christ Jesus, who is living up to His reputation, yet again, as a “Friend of tax collectors.”

Granted that all men are sinful and unclean; there is no one who is righteous of himself — no, not one.  Zaccheus is no exception to that rule.  And granted that he acknowledges the possibility that he may have defrauded someone in some way or another.

But, so far as this Holy Gospel is concerned, what it means for Zaccheus to be “lost” and now “saved” by Christ, is not described in terms of sin and forgiveness, but in relation to the household and family of God.

It is true that sin is the problem, and forgiveness is the solution, apart from which there is no life or salvation.  Yet, in the particulars of this case at hand, there is no “confession and absolution,” per se, but a different scenario unfolds and plays itself out.

Zaccheus has a position of power and authority, albeit an unpopular one.  And he has lots of possessions.  He is a rich man.  But, for all of that, look at where he’s at: On the outside, not even able to look in.  He is excluded.  Shut out.  More to the point, he is crowded out.  He wants to see Jesus; he’s trying his level best, but he can’t.  He is unable.  Powerless.

What it means, exactly, that “he was small in stature,” is a matter of conjecture.  No doubt it refers to his height, although the word for “stature” here is more commonly used for age.  Maybe he was simply shorter than average, or perhaps he was actually a “little person.”

But, whatever the case may be, his shortness is part of his inability.  It is why he cannot see.  And it presents an interesting contrast to his wealth and power.  Significantly, it aligns him with the “little children.”  So does his tree-climbing, for that matter, which a businessman in that culture would never do.

Zaccheus really is childlike in many ways; not only in his smallness of stature, but in what he cannot do or achieve for himself — and, then, in what he is given and receives.

His efforts to see Jesus are comical: easily pictured and remembered, and part of what makes this story so endearing.  It’s a bit slapstick, like that Little Tramp, Charlie Chaplin.

Well, this wee little man runs ahead and climbs a tree, in the hopes of seeing Jesus.  But, then, suddenly, the initiative has shifted entirely to Jesus, who seeks out Zaccheus.

As silly as it seems, climbing up a tree looks ahead to what is coming.  For the Lord Jesus is about to pass through “that Way,” as He now journeys to Jerusalem in order to be lifted up in death upon the Tree of the Cross, to enter into His Glory through suffering.

It is by the Way of the Cross that He comes, and by that Way of the Cross that you behold Him and receive Him as He is.

But so it is, first of all, that Jesus comes to that place, to that Tree.  And He sees Zaccheus, and calls him down from the tree, and comes to him, to stay at his house on this “Today.”

It is Christ who will climb the Tree and be crucified: for Zaccheus, for you, and for all.  And it is Christ who sees you in mercy, who comes to you in peace and love, and bestows His salvation upon you; so that you, by His poverty, are made wealthy indeed in His Kingdom.

Then it is, by faith in Him, that you are crucified to yourself, to your power and your riches, for the benefit of others: to make amends for whatever hurt you have caused, and to help the poor and needy with whatever means the Lord has provided you.

But, first of all, the Lord comes to abide with you — as He comes to stay with Zaccheus.

Zaccheus is delighted.  He hurries down and receives the Lord Jesus gladly: receives Him like a little child on his birthday, giddy with excitement to be given such a good gift.

And you disciples of Emmaus know how it is when Jesus comes to be your guest and to abide with you, how He becomes the Host, and He reveals Himself and bestows salvation.

So, too, here, in much the same way: Zaccheus does provide hospitality for Jesus, as he also provides for the poor and pays back whatever wrong he may have done.  But consider what Jesus does for this little man:

He takes the public shame and contempt upon Himself, in order to give life, and to honor the one who has been lost: to gather this sheep back into the flock of Israel.  The crowd has called Zaccheus “a sinner,” but Jesus calls him “a son of Abraham,” which is to say, that he, too, is an heir of the promise, a child of God by grace, a member of the household of faith.

This rich man is not condemned to the torment of Hades, but is gathered with poor Lazarus to the comfort of Abraham’s bosom.  And, like that other tax collector, of whom we heard last week, this chief tax collector is brought home justified by the Lord Jesus.  Salvation comes to him, and to his house, in the coming of the Christ.

It is entirely by grace; for this is what the Son of Man has come to do, to seek out the lost and to save them.  He is the Rich Man who empties Himself in order to fill you up with good things.  He is the Big Man who makes Himself small in order to gather the little ones to Himself, to bear them on His shoulders, rejoicing, and to raise them up by His own Tree.

This is how and why it is that Zaccheus is not left on the outside, desperately trying to look inside, but unable to see past the crowds.  Now he is at home, at the Table with Jesus.  Like a little child he has received the Lord gladly.  And as Christ has entered his house, he has entered the Kingdom of God.  He passes through death into life, and he is able to stand tall and serve, to confess with generosity his faith and his gratitude.

Today, that same salvation of Christ Jesus has come to this house, so that you, too, may live as a child of God, at home within His household and family.

Whether you are tall or short, young or old, rich or poor, or whatever your circumstances, by faith in the Gospel you are a member of the Body of Christ.  By your Baptism into Him, you belong to the Holy Communion of all His saints, of all times and places, in His holy Body and precious Blood.  And, as you are lifted up by His Tree of the Cross, so shall you ever live to see the salvation of our God in both body and soul.

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