Laetare (Lent 4) – John 6:1-15

10. March 2013
Laetare (Lent 4)
John 6:1-15

We are in the midst of difficult times as a congregation. We overspent our offering receipts from last year by eight thousand dollars, drawing these funds from our reserve. The current economic climate has not improved and 2013 offerings are already falling significantly behind last year. The “writing is on the wall” and significant revisions are needed to this year’s budget to prevent the depletion of our entire reserve. Difficult choices were made and we’ll need to continue to be attentive as the year goes on.

Some think we should, as a congregation, “go gracefully into the sunset,” a euphemism for closing. Others think that we should continue to slash the budget. Others think we can do fundraisers to make up the deficit. Some say that we should cut the pastor and return to a vacancy situation. Some would have us investigate how to share pastor(s) or merge with another parish. Fiscally and physically speaking, one can understand these suggestions. Responsible and frugal actions should be taken as responsible stewards of God’s material gifts, gathering up the what remains of His miraculous barley loaves.

Something critical is missing in these discussions. There is a great spiritual danger lurking underneath the surface. Answer this question: Who built this church? If you answer, “we did,” you’re both right and wrong. You’re right in that your hands, monies, and time invested in the life of this congregation. But you’re also wrong. The holy Christian church is not made with money, or hands, or even time but by God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Church is built upon Jesus: the Word of Jesus, the washing in the blood of Jesus, the forgiving touch of Jesus, and the bread and wine sacramentally united to the body and blood of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies the Christian church on earth and keep it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. We do not confess that building, utility bills, organs, lighting projects, air conditioning, parking lots, nor fellowship times make or break churches. Buildings come and go along with the congregations within them. Air conditioning systems break, roofs leak, pews get matted and torn, and hymnals fall apart. The things of this earth see rust, moth, and decay. But the church remains forever, built upon the immovable and sure prophetic Word. Your faith cannot be starved by physical hunger nor the Holy Church destroyed when steeples crumble.

God is providential and always gives us precisely what we need to hear, taste, and see. The Holy Spirit opens our ears to hear and our hearts to understand, applying the Word of Truth to our lives. Today’s Holy Gospel is no different. It is no coincidence that today’s lesson is given during the trying time of Lent. It’s no coincidence that today’s Holy Gospel fell a week after an “emergency” congregation meeting slash congregational spending. The Word of Jesus needs to be heard by us today for our confidence and comfort in the face of difficult times.

We have a bread problem. We’re hungry and we we’re going to satisfy the need. Compared  to some we’re quite full and yet we still desire more and more. We’ve dined sumptuously on rich food, of marrow and wine. We have amassed closets of clothing. We build bigger and better houses. We “upgrade” our cars, our computers, and even our spouse. The engorgement never ends There’s a hunger deep inside us and it is never satisfied.

Saying “no” to the hunger is next to impossible. The cravings of our stomach, our heart, and our mind overwhelm us. They are irresistible. “Feed me,” says the ravenous beast within. Only later do we realize that satisfying our appetite actually increased it. “I used to get by on much less,” some say. “How did we ever live without that, “ others ponder. Our greedy sinner selves are insatiable.

This misplaced desire leads to sin and death. To want what is not given is to covet. To take what is not yours is to steal. To lust after another leads to adultery. To damage another’s reputation is to artificially inflate yours. To hate is to take life. To break God’s holy Law is desire what is not yours to have, to do, or gain. You do not want to know both good and evil but to have clean and pure heart, holy in thought, word, and deed.

Desire is not in itself evil. Only when desire is perverted into use contrary to God is it sinful. It is God-pleasing to desire your husband or wife. For your spouse been given to you for your blessing. It is God-pleasing to show love to the neighbor. This desire is a fruit of God’s love for you. It is God-pleasing to desire to help and not harm the reputation and income of the other. It is God-pleasing to desire to protect and wisely use the many gifts of body and soul He has given you.

Thus, desire can be used to be faithful to God and love neighbor. Or desire can be twisted to love oneself and hate God. Desire is always distorted. Because we are both sinners in the flesh and holy and righteous in the blood of Jesus, our desires are at odd. We both are faithful and despise God. We love and hate our neighbor. Simultaneously. Duplicitously. Even when we love what is given, we also seek to use it for our own self-interest. Even while we love our neighbor, we secretly would rather have nothing to do with him.

Confident that your desires are holy and right can only come from the Holy Word. Only by listening to the voice of Jesus can you accurately weigh your thoughts and deeds. The Word exposes the wickedness of the flesh, crushing the old Adam to death. The Word raises up a new Man, righteous and pure in the blood of Jesus. This Word is a refining fire, a two-edged sword, a bone-saw that exposes the joint and the marrow. The faithful desire to hear this Word so that their sin would be annihilated by Christ’s death and holiness be given by Christ’s Spirit.

The faithful act beyond reason and pursue this Word at all costs. They give up bread, clothing, home, family, and even their life to hear and meditate upon this Word. They will sacrifice everything to sit at the feet of Jesus and receive His life-giving bread. “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) By their Baptism they have undergone a priority reversal. Those under the curse think of themselves first and God enters the frame only to fill in the needed blanks. Those redeemed in Christ, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) knowing full well that all else will be given to due measure.

Thus five-thousand men (with women and children) left everything behind and followed Jesus into the wilderness. They pursued Him to hear His every Word and receive His gifts. They were not concerned about food for the journey, shoes to make the distance, water for the desert, or even a blanket to sit upon. They desired rightly every Word that proceeded from the mouth of Jesus. Whether they knew it or not, Jesus would take care of them. The would be fed with the Holy Word, bread from heaven, for their aching souls and barley loaves, bread of the earth, for their aching bellies. Like their fathers in the wilderness, they would have meat and bread as they needed. God even provided a soft grassy earth from them to recline and feast upon the Him.

You may have the inclination to wring your hands in despair or panic, to worry about what tomorrow may bring, or to give up and throw in the towel on Grace Lutheran Church. May it not be so! Hear the Word of Jesus: “Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” (Psalm 34:9-10) Learn from the faithful whose holy desire led them to purse Jesus into the wilderness, rightly desiring first to hear the Word of God, confident that Jesus would later take care of their other needs.

We do not know what is in store for our body, our life, or our congregation.We trust that He will preserve His Word and our faith until our end or He comes again. The fact that we here at all is testimony to the miracle of God’s grace and mercy. We give thanks for the multitude of blessings the Father has given our body and life. But we all the more store up the treasures of Jesus Christ, desiring first His Word and the holy Sacraments, confident that upon this bread from heaven, the church will remain forever.

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

“The Birds and Lilies Don’t Worship Idols” – Matthew 6:24-34

16. September 2012
The Sunday of the Birds and the Lilies
Matthew 6:24-34

The source of every anxiety is idolatry. Your fear, panic, and every trembling comes from trusting something or someone other than your heavenly Father. As long as you are sinner, you cannot avoid anxieties nor the idols that drive them. So it was from the beginning with Adam, Eve, and you, their children.

To the woman [God] said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.” Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:16-19)

From the first act of idolatry, trusting our own word about a tree and its fruit over the Lord’s own Word, our lives are full of anxious labor. Children are come into the world with pain. Then we wait anxiously for the heartbreak they often inflict. Wives impatiently overrule their husbands, while husbands refuse to love their wives. Each sit on a pins and needles, anxious to avoid the next blow-up. Our toil does not always yield enough money to pay the rent, feed the flock, or keep the lights on. We struggle with what tomorrow may bring.

Is our anxiety manageable? Can we get a grip on the panic over what hardships the next presidency might bring, the changes at corporate, the ignorant choices of our children, the retirement benefits running out, the tanked portfolio, or the rising cost of fuel and corn? What about the fear that tomorrow may be our last day, through accident or tragedy or heart attack, we breathe our last breath? Idolatries. We have placed our hopes and confidence in our stuff—the mammon of this life. We’re okay if we’re safe, employed, loved by our obedient children, well fed, comfortable, and our future is certain. If the rug is pulled out from any one of these, what then?

Anxiety. The idol fails and we panic. Such it will always be in this body of flesh, just as it was for our cursed parents. Sorrow, pain, domineering, toil, and sweat mark everyone who trusts in their pantheon of idols. It’s not that we don’t love God. We certainly call on his name at least a couple times a month, maybe weekly, or even daily. It’s that we do not love and trust in Him above all things. We do not call upon Him in every trouble. We do not listen attentively to Him when He speaks. We have mammon that we trust. We call out to others for help. We listen to advice of world and demon.

We’ve created a soup of mixed loyalties. We turn to our heavenly Father only for churchy stuff and then infrequently. In the next breath, we turn to government for protection and economic welfare, friends for comfort, children for love, spouses for companionship, doctors for health, capitalism for employment, and the like. Once you taste this soup, all the bitter idols overwhelm the sweetness of the Father. Only when we’ve got a taste for God, then we fish Him out of the soup. The rest of the time we swallow Him without a thought of even needing His providence.

Thus we are utterly captive to our anxiety. God is not some extra aid, a tasty frosting for the cupcake of life. He’s not the spoonful of sugar that will help the bitter medicine go down. He isn’t the emergency service you call when life’s toilet won’t drain. When your doctors and specialist throw up their hands, is that when you start praying? Every anxiety of body and life is the ugly child of our trust in something other than our heavenly Father.

No one 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. It’s all or nothing. If God is not our God alone, will be anxious about everything: money, conflicts with family and others, our work, and even the laundry. We go to bed worried about the morning and forget to even take the God-given rest the darkness grants us.

And so Jesus says emphatically: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Jesus is the stubborn pastor who allows no excuse for forgetting to pray, failing to teach the children the faith, using the Sabbath as a vacation day from God, or ignoring the church in her need. Jesus doesn’t care if your friend is leaving town, you’ve got work to do, plans to make, packing to do, or the like. His friend Martha was scolded for busing herself with the idol of chores when she should have let Jesus be her God. If God is to be our only God, then the old man that loves his idols must be put to death. Every idol trashed, burned, or eviscerated.

O you of little faithdo not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Right now, Jesus is here, God in the flesh, to give you every good gift of His kingdom. Every idol is cast down from its throne. He suffers, dies, and rises on the third day so that you may never die, sins forgiven, and eternal life inherited.  Jesus sits enthroned between the cherubim. He sits upon His mercy seat. He speaks and forgives. He sheds His blood. He gives to you bread from heaven. He washes you of every spot and blemish. He claims you as His own. He is your refuge and strength. He is your hope in every struggle. He is the provider of every good thing for the life to come and even now.

We work because God gave us work. We carry each others burdens. We share with the one who teaches. We do not grow weary of doing good. Especially for those of the household of faith, we never grow weary. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. For he lives in us and we walk by Him. So also, the Spirit has crucified the flesh in us, along with its nagging restlessness and painful worry. Can we do our part? What will tomorrow bring? God only knows. Cast your burdens on the Lord and He will sustain you.

Your are children of the heavenly Father, safely in His bosom gathered. There within the arms of the Father, you rest as beloved children. His rod and His staff guide you. He knows your needs and well provides for them. Our hope is not founded on today or tomorrow. Our days are full of toil and trouble, sorrow and heartache. Our hope is grounded in the eternal future of heaven. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Your anxiety is cleared when your walk is heavenward all the way. There is no need to worry about today or tomorrow. In Jesus Christ you are forgiven. By His death and resurrection, death is destroyed and the gates of heaven are opened to all believers. Our eternal fate is assured in Christ’s righteousness, washed over us in our Baptism, declared over us in Holy Absolution, and given to us to eat and drink in the Holy Communion. We share together in this hope.

Not only that, look at the birds and the lilies! Look how your heavenly Father takes care of them and they work without anxiety, fear, or panic. They serve God and God clothes and feeds them. So our Lord thinks of us, we who are of more value than they. He knows our needs and well provides for them. No need to worry. No need to rely on idols like a crutch. He will provide in part now and completely in eternity. On that day, we will be clothed in His righteousness, feast in His heavenly mansion, and be restored to vitality forever.

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

The Sunday of the Rich Man and Lazarus 2012

10. June 2012
The First Sunday after Trinity – Baptism of Vincent Nowaczyk
Luke 16:19-31

Every single person who walks through those sanctuary doors has the wrong idea. Every single one, every single week. You came this morning with wrong ideas about life. You have the wrong ideas about death. You think wrongly about faith and church. Your mind is confused by the many whisperings of worldly liars. Your heart is torn from its true love to instead lust after guilty pleasures and false idols.

Perhaps you think I’m harsh. Jesus begs to differ. He says, “there is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” (Ecc. 7:20). He also says, “All men are liars” (Ps 116:11). This knowledge is absolutely necessary. Without believing in this real defect, the magnitude of Christ’s grace cannot be understood. “Those who are well have no need of a physician”(Mt 9:12; Mk 2:17). “All the righteousness of man is mere hypocrisy before God unless we acknowledge that of itself the heart is lacking in love, fear, and trust in God” (Ap II 33).

Jesus has some harsh words for you. Yet, just as loving Father disciplines those whom He heals, so Jesus doesn’t leave in the pit, in the Sheol of despair. You cry out “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?” That’s not the wrong idea. That’s precisely the right idea of faith. That’s why you’re here. To have God’s Word wreck, destroy, and utterly demolish your wrong ideas about life, death, church, God, love, and stuff.

How long will You hide Your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” And God, by the way, it seems like its taking an terribly long time. Life sucks. Death stinks. The church is full of hypocrites. I don’t much understand you. I have so little to love. And stuff, well, I ain’t got any.

Wrong. Wrong ideas. The lies of sinful men. The idolatry of yourself. Stop listening to your rotten soul. Stop grieving all the day for the treasures that moth and rust can destroy. Call upon the Lord in the day of trouble. Let Him lighten your heart, to consider and answer you. Let Him light up your eyes with the truth, lest your enemy Sin overtake you, lest Death prevails over you, lest the Devil rejoice that you are shaken. “O Lord, I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” Turn to the Lord and live.

So it goes in our Lord’s parable. There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linens and who feasted sumptuously every day. In other words, the 1%. He’s got it all, not a care in the world. Every luxury provided for. Health–good. Wealth–plenty. Prosperity–abundant. But he is a beggar, utterly poor in the things of God. He does not call on God in a time of need, for he has none. He does not need the Great Physician since he’s seems healthy. He needs not be dressed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness. His purple and fine linen of his own making are comfortable and stylish.

This man is rich in the things of this world and yet poor in the things of God. Who needs to pray for daily bread with the perfect capitalistic market society gives him everything he wants? He trusts in doctors and not in God’s providential and protective hand working through them. And really, when you look as good as he does, why should he even fear what God sees? He’s a beggar without even knowing it.

At his gate was a laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.Here’s the 99%, the suffering majority. Poor in body and spirit. Suffering in his body. Needing even a small bite what the 1% greedily is enjoying in his banquet hall unto gluttony. Poor, miserable, pitiable. He is even despised by men, cared for only by dogs. They are this man’s only friend. Truly a beggar but as history will show, rich all the same.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. This poor worm of man was carried by angels to rest in the loving embrace of his patriarch Abraham. Where is his father Abraham but seated at the eternal feast, with rich heavenly food and a cup overflowing with divine grace. This man who was poor in this life and yet received a wedding garment washed in the Lamb’s own blood. His body was covered with sores for a time and yet received a resurrected body for eternal life. His mouth longed to be filled with the crumbs from the rich man’s table but this hunger was forever satisfied with the crumbs that fall from our dear Lord’s table.

The rich man also died and was buried. His resurrection was unto Hades, and being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. Why? While He feasted sumptuously, clothed himself like a GQ model, and set himself up for a life of luxury he neglected the truth. He was actually a beggar. A rotten sinner. A liar. A hater of God. When it comes to His standing before the judgment seat, he looks little different than the sore-infested beggar laying at his gate.

You and I all come from radically different backgrounds. Some are given much. Some have little. Some have never been sick in their life. Others can’t seem to shake the last sickness before the next one strikes. Some come dressed in fine suits and others with barely the polo shirt to their name. And yet, we do well to heed Luther’s final words: we are all beggars, this is true.

Not one of us has anything to contribute to salvation. Not a good work, an act of charity, a loving embrace, or even a faithful prayer. Not one of us has decided for Jesus, chosen to follow Jesus, or even accepted Jesus into our hearts. We are all beggars, this is true. “How long, O LORD?” is the cry of poor Lazarus. “How long, O LORD?” is the cry of every beggar.

There is not one righteous (Romans 6:3). Everyone of us is a liar. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Sinners. Yet, even sinners are not without good things. Good things? Like what? Clothing? Shoes? House? Home? Nope. Jesus did not build your hotrod. Jesus does not give you your perfect life now. Jesus gives you truly good things—your perfect life into eternity.

Abraham said [to the rich man in Hades], “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” Trust not in princes, they are but mortal. Trust not in wealth which is here today and gone tomorrow. Trust not in health for all men die. Trust not in clothing for it rots just like the flesh. We are all beggars, this is true. Trust in what, then? How are we to know that God loves us?

All you who are unrighteous in thought, word, and deed—liars and haters of God—why are you here? You have heard the Word of God and want to live. You don’t want the just punishment for your sins, the suffering you deserve, nor the death of the wicked. You desire God—His love, His salvation, His grace, and His mercy. You are hear for you know you are beggars; this is true. “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God, light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.”

You know there a great chasm fixed between Abraham, Lazarus, and the whole heavenly host—and the rich now poor man and the whole host of the damned in torment of Hades. You know and fear this righteous judgment. For truly we are all beggars, deserving nothing but the same sort of death and punishment.

Unlike the “rich” man, we know that true joy, true happiness, indeed true love and salvation are in the riches of heaven. There is no amount of health, wealth, or good things in this life that prepares for the life to come. Only the riches of God’s grace given only in Jesus Christ’s shed blood can take even you, poor Lazarus, unto Abraham’s bosom. Only God’s own salvation given can take you into heaven.

All the wrong ideas, the lies, and the idols are confiscated at the font, forgotten by the voice of Christ, exorcised from the pulpit, and healed through the medicine of Christ’s own body and blood. Only by these means of grace, daily and richly received are you rich for heaven. The light of Christ illuminates your heart with the bright radiance of His glory, glory of the only-begotten of God, crucified, dead, risen and ascended for you!

Receive the heavenly riches just as little Vincent. We are all beggars, this is true. Receive the robe of Christ’s righteousness in your baptismal waters. Receive healing of body and soul in the resurrection of the dead. Receive life everlasting in heaven. Receive the rich food of your salvation. Receive, trust, rejoice, and sing!

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana