11 August 2019

Not to Worry: The Lord Is Faithful!

When the Lord Jesus Christ tells you “not to worry,” He thereby takes away one of those things that you do best.  Indeed, He takes away everything that you might presume to do for yourself, by your own ingenuity and effort, as though to gain some treasure of your own desire and devising.

It is one thing to maintain a godly concern for others, and to serve faithfully within your God-given calling and stations in life.  But to worry, to be anxious, is to suppose that everything depends on you.  As though you were the one to feed the ravens and clothe the lilies.  As though you were the one to make the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good.  As though you were capable of opening your hand to satisfy the wants and needs of every living thing.

So, as a Word of the Law, “do not worry” exposes your pride and self-righteousness, as well as your doubts and fears, your desperate anxiety, and all the other symptoms of your unbelief.

But this Word of your dear Lord Jesus Christ does not simply bring your sin to light.  It is also His call to repentance and faith — both of which are His work, not yours.  That is to say, He calls you away from yourself and your sin to your Father in heaven, to His grace and mercy and forgiveness, and to His gracious providence of all that you need for your body and soul, for now and forever.

Christ Jesus calls you to fear, love, and trust in the Lord — the one true God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — because He loves you; and He is willing and able, eager and active to care for you in all the many ways that you cannot care for yourself.

To demonstrate that point, He offers you the familiar example of the birds and the flowers, which do not work or worry in all the ways that you do, yet God takes care of them beautifully, just as He daily and richly sustains His whole creation (even for the wicked, despite their lack of faith).

So does the Lord your God feed and clothe your body throughout your life on earth, solely out of His Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, for Jesus’ sake, without any merit or worthiness in you.  For you are far more precious to Him than the birds and the flowers!  Has He not created you in His own Image and Likeness for life with Himself forever?  Has He not given Himself in His Son, in flesh and blood like yours, to die for your sins and to rise again for your justification?  And in your Holy Baptism, has He not given you His Name, His Spirit, and His Kingdom as your own?

Indeed, He has done all of this and more, according to His steadfast loving-kindness, His grace and mercy toward you.  And it all depends on Him.  None of it depends on you.  It is His good work and His good gift, for the sake of His own divine and holy love.  What is more, He remains faithful in all things, and all that He has promised and pledged to you in the Word and Flesh of Christ, He continues to do and give, not only here in time, but hereafter in the Resurrection to eternal Life.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has chosen gladly to give you the Kingdom in and with His Son.  Through the free and full forgiveness of all your sins, He pours out the Holy Spirit upon you and lavishly bestows His divine life and eternal salvation upon your body and soul.

Therefore, Jesus comforts you this morning: “Do not be afraid, little flock.”  Such beautiful, sweet, and tender words of grace and mercy and compassion.  Not empty words, but full of peace and life.

Yet, even in these comforting words of the Gospel, there is the implicit reminder of the Cross and suffering — which the Church on earth, and all the disciples of Jesus, are given to share with Him.

Consider, for example, what a little flock our own Emmaus congregation is, over against the big and boisterous world all around us.  And you know that many of our sister congregations are as small or smaller than we are.  Beyond that, the entire Church on earth is under duress, and often under attack on all sides, outwardly outnumbered and outgunned, surrounded by hostility.  Such temptations the little flock of the Good Shepherd faces, both individually and collectively, to give way to fear and anxiety, or else to resort to desperate activism or to frantic marketing strategies.

But in the face of it all, in the very midst of adversity, hardship, and persecution, you are called — and the entire Church is called upon — to fear, love, and trust in our God and Father in heaven: All for the sake of our one Lord, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead for our salvation.

Christ Jesus is the Lamb of God, the little flock reduced to One, who by His voluntary suffering and death has destroyed death, conquered the devil, tread hell beneath His gloriously wounded feet, and gotten forgiveness for the sins of the entire world.  So, that is your great value to the Lord your God — and that is your great victory — this Lord who has given Himself to save you:

He, too, has been small and frail and beleaguered, surrounded by His foes, crucified, put to death, and buried.  But His God and Father in heaven has given Him the Kingdom, the Resurrection and the Life, and all authority in heaven and on earth.  And these He gives to you.  For though His holy Apostles were also few in number, weak by all the standards of the world, a little flock of sheep in the midst of wolves, He sent them to preach His Word, to baptize and absolve in His Name, and to feed His lambs and sheep around the world with His Body given and His Blood poured out.  Though they were martyred for His Gospel and His Name, their labors were not in vain.  His holy Christian Church has survived and spread throughout the world, also here to you.  Do not think, because you are such a little flock, that your Shepherd has forgotten you.  Not once.  Not ever.  He is always with you.  And wherever He is with His Word, there is the Kingdom of God for you.

It is for the sake of this Lamb who has been slain, who has risen from the dead, who was and is and is to come, that the little flock, so poorly regarded by the world, is regarded with the Father’s good pleasure and established as the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.  Take that to heart, and do not be afraid.  Only remember that everything begins with and centers in Christ Jesus, in His Body of flesh and blood, crucified for your sins, and risen from the dead as your righteousness.

It is by His Cross that He has obtained and opened the Kingdom of God for you and for all who believe and are baptized in His Name.  And it is likewise from His Cross that He feeds and clothes you with Himself: in the waters of your Holy Baptism, and week after week in His Holy Supper.

There is no greater treasure than those good gifts Christ freely gives.  Not even close.  Nowhere in all of creation, neither on earth nor in heaven.  And being given Christ Himself, the incarnate Son of God with all His fruits and benefits (freely bestowed in the Ministry of His Gospel), there is nothing else that you need, and therefore nothing at all for you to worry or be anxious about.

It is within that gracious freedom from all fear and anxiety, in that divine comfort and eternal life which are yours in Christ Jesus (by grace through faith in Him), that you are able to dedicate and use your entire life on earth, and all of your possessions, to serve your neighbor in loving charity.

The Lord your God freely provides you with all that you need and more, with all good things, and He still takes care of you.  Your hope and confidence, therefore, are not in this perishing world or any of its temporary things.  Whatever you have in this body and life is from the hand of God, for which you rightly give Him thanks.  It comes and goes according to His wisdom and His grace, not for your salvation, but for the exercise of faith and love to the glory of His Holy Name, even as you live in the hope and promise of the Resurrection, in the confidence of the Holy Gospel.

As you eat and drink from the hand of God, as you are clothed and sheltered in body and soul by His grace, so do you love and serve your neighbors in mercy with whatever means the Lord has provided within your own place in life.  That is the stewardship of your life itself, whereby you invest yourself, your body and soul and all that you have, in the Kingdom of your God and Father.

That does mean feeding the hungry, as you are given the means and opportunity to do so; clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and welcoming the homeless, as your Lord Himself has surely taught you to do.  It also means sharing His Gospel, His love and forgiveness, with your neighbors in the world.  Speaking the truth in love.  Turning the other cheek to those who hurt you, and forgiving the sins of those who trespass against you.  And it means supporting the Church and Ministry of Christ with your prayers and intercessions, with your time and talents, as you’re able, and with your offerings.  All of this belongs to the fabric of your faith and life in Christ Jesus.

But none of these works of faith and love are undertaken as though you should thereby “earn” or “deserve” anything.  On the contrary, it is because the Father has already been pleased to give you His Kingdom by grace, that you serve and support His Kingdom with all that in you lies, and you extend the grace of His Kingdom to others as you are given the blessed opportunity to do so.

In contrast to the rich fool, who worked so hard to provide for himself and store up treasures for himself on earth, only to lose them in his death (and his soul with all the rest), all good things are yours in Christ Jesus, all the treasures of heaven, freely given by the grace of God.  Thus are you free to be generous and giving with your treasures here on earth, unafraid of sin, death, and hell.

That is what Jesus means when He speaks of selling your possessions and giving to “charity.”  He teaches you to hold on loosely to the things of this world, and to use them in mercy to serve and care for those in need.  Just as you are so poor and needy in the presence of God, who deals with you and cares for you in mercy and compassion.  And as you rely upon and live by His mercy and forgiveness and love, so does He expect and require that you should exercise that very same mercy, forgiveness, and love in relation to your neighbors in the world — to the glory of His Name.

Where you have, rather, invested your heart and yourself in treasures that will rust and perish and fade — where you have placed your hope and confidence in money bags that will grow old and fall apart — Repent!  Trust your God and Father in Christ, and live no longer for yourself but in love for God and man.  For the Lord your God in His good pleasure gives to you His Kingdom with no strings attached: the Gospel of His forgiveness, and the Body and Blood of Christ for life and salvation.  These precious gifts cannot be taken away from you by any thief on earth.  They cannot rust or fade or be destroyed.  They cost you nothing, and yet, they give you everything.

These gifts of the Gospel — and the faithfulness of the Lord in giving you these gifts — call you again and again to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.  Not to worry, but to believe in Him and to live by that faith in His mercy.  Knowing that, regardless of what you may or may not have to wear in this body and life, you are clothed with the righteousness of Christ from the waters of your Holy Baptism unto the Resurrection of your body.  Knowing that, regardless of what you may or may not have to eat and drink, you are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ.  And knowing that, in spite of your sinful worries and anxieties, you are forgiven by His Word of Absolution.

As you are gathered here and now, together with His little flock, around the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who has such tender mercy and compassion for you, so are you granted His peace and hope and confidence and a treasure in the heavens that does not fail or fade away forever.  Lift up your heart and mind to Him who loves you, to Jesus Christ, your Savior, who has risen from the dead and ever lives to make intercession for you before the throne of God.

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

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