22 September 2019

The Riches of the Rich Man Are Here Freely Given to You

Jesus has been teaching you what it means to be His disciple, that you must relinquish your own possessions, let go of all your earthly ties, and lay down even your own life.  He calls you to take up His Cross and follow Him, that you should live and die with Him, and thus become like Him.

So He has been teaching you what He is like, what sort of Man He is, and what sort of Lord and Master He is, God in the Flesh.  He is the Man who receives sinners and eats with them.  He is the Shepherd who risks ninety-nine sheep to rescue one.  He is the One who prizes repentance over righteousness, who came into the world to save sinners and rejoices to do so in His love for them.

He is the Rich Man who, for your sake, made Himself poor, and who gave Himself as the Ransom for you and all the sons and daughters of man; so that you, by His poverty, might become rich.

This is a different sort of wealth than silver and gold, which perish, and a different sort of elegance than pearls and expensive clothing, which wear out and decay — if they don’t get lost or stolen.  The wealth and riches of Christ Jesus are imperishable and inexhaustible, and they are also traded, given, and received by a very different economy than the dollars and cents of this fallen world.

But do not imagine that gets you off the hook where your money and possessions are concerned.  If you would be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ and live in His Kingdom, then His economics pertain to all your goods and services, to all your words and actions, to all that you are and have.  And if you are not trustworthy in that which is the least, then how shall you be trusted with the true riches of righteousness, life, and salvation?

The way in which you handle your stuff and deal with your neighbors in the world is as indication of where your heart is fixed and where your treasure is found.  And when all is said and done, there can only be one treasure in your heart and life, only one lord and master, and only one god.

So, whom do you worship and obey?  Whom do you love?  You already know that you are to fear, love, and trust in the Holy Triune God above all things, and that you must have no other gods before Him or beside Him.  You are to worship Him alone, the Lord your God, and serve Him only.

But if you would know where your heart and mind really are, before whom they bow, and what they serve, consider how you spend your time and your money.  What do you do with your body and life on earth, and what would you do if you were given the chance and could get away with it?

Think of how you do your job, go about your chores, tend your home, or apply yourself to learning.  Why do you do what you do in the way you do it?  What is it that drives you?  What prompts you to do your best, and what leads you to slack off?  Do you work for yourself, or for others?  Do you live before God in righteousness and purity, or do you seek to justify yourself in the eyes of men?

Consider and discern the measure and criteria by which you evaluate yourself and your neighbor, and by which you compare yourself to your neighbors and compete with them — or by which you care for your neighbors with charity and compassion.

The Lord knows your heart, regardless of your outward actions.  And He would have you know your heart, as well, and repent of whatever is not faith and love, according to His Word.

The Lord knows when you trample the needy instead of providing for their needs.  He knows when you overlook the poor or take advantage of them instead of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, and visiting the sick or imprisoned.  He knows when the alms in your hand are given as a token, for the sake of appearances, and not as a real sacrifice of mercy.

He knows when the hands you lift or fold in prayer are otherwise being used to hurt instead of help or heal, and whether they are engaged in holiness and righteousness or robbery and scandal.

He knows when the lips with which you call upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving are otherwise used to argue and dispute, to curse, swear, lie, and deceive — or to confess your sins and apologize for them, and to speak gentle forgiveness to those who have sinned against you.

The Lord knows your sins of thought, word, and deed, your wasting of His gifts, the squandering of your stewardship, and the accusations of the Law against you.

So, then, because He loves you and desires to save you, to bring you to the knowledge of the truth, He calls you to repentance.  He calls you to examine your heart and mind, your words and actions, and to give an account of your stewardship.  He calls you by the Cross to be crucified with Him, that you should be raised up with Him to newness of life and welcomed into His Father’s House.

What, then, does such repentance look like?  What does it entail?  Where you have wasted your Lord’s good gifts — which are really His things entrusted to your stewardship or management — how should you be using them instead?  What does your Lord Jesus say and teach you to do?

The economics of Christ Jesus are utterly foreign to the wisdom of this world and detestable to those who love money and worship wealth.  In the same way, what is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.  Such is the way of the Cross, the great reversal of Christ the Crucified.

He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, who grants life to sinners at His own expense, at the cost of His own Blood.  His management is mercy, the administration of His Holy Gospel.  The real coin of His realm is neither silver nor gold; it is the forgiveness of sins.

Wasting His possessions does not mean reckless spending or extravagant giving, but the opposite.  You waste His possessions when you horde them and hide them, keep them, and multiply them.  By the same token, you manage your stewardship shrewdly, rightly, and wisely, when you give His gifts away and forgive His debtors freely, trusting His providential mercy and loving His people.

That is what He means when He teaches you to make friends for yourself with worldly wealth.  That is to use what He has entrusted to your stewardship to love and care for your neighbor.  Not as a bribe — and not as though to buy your way into heaven, which would not work in any case — but in the way of repentance and faith.  Worldly wealth will not last forever, no matter how you might save it or spend it, keep it, or give it away.  It cannot justify or save you.  But the Lord Jesus is your Savior and your God, whatever your treasures and talents may be, and however many.

Therefore, by faith in Christ Jesus, use whatever you do have in this body and life to befriend and love your neighbor, as the Lord has befriended you in His great love and mercy and compassion.

Greater love has no man than this one Lord, Jesus Christ, who lays down His life for His friends; who actually makes friends out of His enemies through the forgiveness and reconciliation of His Cross and Resurrection.  In Him the Truth is revealed in the mercies of God, and righteousness and peace kiss each other.  For He has poured Himself out and made Himself nothing, undertaking the absolute poverty of His death upon the Cross, in order to bestow the true riches of His divine Life and His eternal Kingdom upon poor, miserable sinners, such as yourself.

And in His Resurrection from the dead, His Father welcomes you — along with Him — into His eternal dwellings.  As He bore all your sins and griefs and sorrows in His own Body to the Cross, so does Christ Jesus now bear you in His risen and glorified Body to God the Father in heaven.

It was for this great salvation that St. Paul was appointed a herald and Apostle, for the testimony of the Lord’s Redemption in its proper time.  What Christ Jesus accomplished and obtained by the Sacrifice of His Body and Life, He now administers within His Church on earth by the preaching of the Gospel, by the teaching of the true faith, and by the stewardship of His Divine Mysteries.

So also, to this day and in this place, the same Lord Jesus Christ has called and sent His servants  to be heralds of His Cross, ministers of His Gospel, stewards of His Mysteries, and shepherds of His little lambs and sheep.  That is what pastors are, and so that is what pastors do in faith toward God and in love for Christ’s Holy Church.  Your pastors do not simply tell you about the love of God; they love you with the love of God, and God Himself loves you in and through your pastors.

Just as you are entrusted with the stewardship of your office and station and whatever you possess for the benefit of others, so are your pastors entrusted with a stewardship of God’s grace for you.

It is required of such stewards that they be faithful in their stewardship of the Mysteries of God, for they are men under authority.  The authority they are granted by their Master, by virtue of their Office, is the authority of Christ to forgive the sins of those who repent, and thus to save sinners.

When a pastor is tempted to waste his Master’s possessions by withholding the Gospel, hiding and hoarding the gifts, and neglecting the means of grace — when he is tempted to justify himself in the eyes of men, instead of serving in the fear of God — the Lord in His mercy calls His servant to repentance, befriending him by His grace, teaching him mercy, and forgiving him all his sins.

It is with that same measure of the Gospel that your pastors likewise care for you in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus, your Savior and Good Shepherd.

Which is precisely how it is that you are Jesus’ little lamb.  For so does your Good Shepherd love you and provide for you, call you to Himself, and guide you through death into life everlasting.

When your pastors preach to you, it is the Voice of your Good Shepherd that you hear — and you know and recognize His voice and follow Him by grace through faith in His forgiveness of sins.

When your pastors preach repentance, by preaching the Law and the Gospel, they return you to the significance of your Holy Baptism.  You die and rise with Christ Jesus, so that you are cleansed and sanctified and made brand new.  For the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus are not simply true, but they are true for you.  Not just “once upon a time,” but once for all, and here and now for you.

The Lord does not forget what He has done for you, but He remembers you in mercy, day by day, night by night, week after week, and year after year, even to the close of the age.

And, as He remembers you in mercy, so are you given to remember Him.  For when your pastors administer the Holy Communion and give you the Body of Christ to eat and pour out the Blood of Christ for you to drink, all the fruits and benefits of Christ and His Cross are yours.

Thus your Shepherd gently guides you, knows your needs, and well provides you.  He feeds you in the green pastures of His Word and nourishes you with Holy Absolution.  He leads you beside the quiet waters of your Baptism, which wash away your sins and quench your deepest thirst.

And here before you is the Table He prepares for you, even in the face of sin and death; for this Man still receives sinners and eats with them.  What a lavish Feast He provides and serves, Himself the Host, the Waiter, and the Meal.  The Choicest Meat and the Finest Wine are given and poured out for you here.  His Chalice overflows with the abundance of His grace, mercy, and peace, His free and full forgiveness of sins, His Life and His Salvation, in the New Testament of His Blood.

These are the riches of the Rich Man, which He and His servants are accused of wasting because they are given and poured out so freely and so generously.  So be it.  That is the sort of Man He is, the one true God in flesh and blood like your own.  That is the sort of Lord and Master He is, who gives and forgives by His divine grace.  And it is enough for His servants to be like their Master.

Pray, then, for your pastors and for all the ministers of the Lord’s Holy Gospel, that they should be found faithful in their Office and Vocation, and that His Church should thus be served in peace and safety, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting in the Body of Christ Jesus.

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

No comments: