The Fifteenth Sunday after Holy Trinity 

The Fifteenth Sunday after Holy Trinity – Matthew 6:24-34

Trinity 15 Sermon Audio

I have good news for you today!  

Everything you own…  

your house…  

your car…  

your clothes… 

your family heirlooms… 

your work accomplishments… 

your reputation…  

these will all come to nothing in 100 years or less.  

Your house may or may not be demolished in 100 years, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be in your family. 

Your car will be in a junk heap or recycled for other things. 

Your clothes will be in a junk heap or disintegrated. 

Your family heirlooms will be sold or trashed. 

Your work accomplishments won’t really matter. 

And you’ll be lucky if your great grandchild remembers you, let alone your great-great-grandchild. 

Maybe there’s a Plato or Luther or Napoleon or Babe Ruth in our midst… but I doubt it. 

Solomon puts it this way: 

2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 

3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? 

4 A generation comes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever… 

8 All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; 

The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing… 

11 There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance  

of later things yet to be among those who come after.” (Ecclesiastes 1) 

And Solomon would know. His wealth makes Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates and Elon Musk look mediocre. He tried out everything under the sun… literally. He tried it all, accomplishment, comedy, rich food, and sex. Nothing was withheld from his hands. And His conclusion was that all is vanity or a chasing after the wind.  

This doesn’t sound like good news, does it? 

But there is someone who’s wealth makes Solomon look mediocre, or even laughable. Jesus is God and owns everything. This is how Jesus says the same thing as Solomon, but with hope.  

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) 

If the earthly realm is all there is, treasures on earth, including a good reputation, are bad news because they fade away. Moth and rust and thieves do destroy. But there is a place where moth and rust and thieves hold no sway… heaven. St. Lawrence is helpful in teaching us what these heavenly treasures are. 

St. Lawrence was a priest who lived in the third century. He was put in charge of the property and finances of the western church. The emperor at the time wanted to confiscate the riches of the church and ordered St. Lawrence to produce the “treasures of the church.” “Lawrence brought before the emperor the poor whose lives had been touched by Christian charity.”1 He was jailed for his cheekiness and martyred in AD 258. But he teaches us something valuable.  

The treasure of the church is Christians. That’s why parents are instructed to raise up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. In other words, you want to make Christians out of your children. You want them with you in the heavenly places. But God also puts other neighbors in your life so that you may share Christ and Christian charity with them. I’m sure when you get to heaven, you’ll be amazed at the people you influenced without realizing it. And think of it the other way as well. How many of you are Christian because of your parents or other relatives or even other people whom God put in your path? These eternal relationships with people are the real heavenly treasure. This is why both Solomon and Jesus warn us today of the temptation of mammon. 

Mammon is the Arabic word for wealth. Wealth is just a tool to get possessions like food and clothing. And food and clothing are something we actually need. Now you don’t need the richest food or the latest fashions, but you do need food and clothing. And food and clothing are not, in and of themselves, evil. When God said on the sixth day that creation was “very good,” He meant all of creation. God made us as physical creatures who can enjoy physical things. But since the fall, these physical things have become a snare for us. Here’s how Paul puts it: 

“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving hat some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10) 

Paul warns us about earthly things robbing us of eternal joy. But Jesus gives us a wonderful promise: 

“For the Gentiles seek after all these things, [that is, food and clothing,] and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (v. 32-33) 

Just as God provided for the children of Israel in their wilderness wanderings with manna and clothes that did not wear out, He will provide for you. As I said before, God doesn’t promise to provide the richest food or latest fashions, but He promises to take care of you, who are His children. And He gives you a gift beyond measure… contentment. 

Right before Paul warns us about the love of money being the root of all evil, he says, “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:8) And this comes from a guy who probably only had one cloak, had very little to eat, and seemed to be routinely beaten. Solomon says, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” (Proverbs 15:17) and “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.” (Proverbs 17:1)  

This contentment is a gift from God. I believe it really comes from knowing that your sins are forgiven and that your eternal salvation is secure. This too is a gift of God. If we look at our lives with brutal honesty, we see a lot of insecurity. We see sin plaguing our everyday existence. We see our pursuit of earthly pleasure or distraction, even to the point of harming ourselves or others. We see a pile of useless junk in our homes we spent so much time and effort to acquire. Our houses are bigger than ever before, but the self-storage industry makes 39.5 billion dollars annually. We see how our pursuit of food has cost us even our health, generally speaking, at least in America. We see an unstable government, and unstable economy, and rising costs in pretty much every aspect of our earthly life. There is, indeed, earthly speaking, much cause for insecurity. 

But Jesus came into the flesh not to establish an earthly kingdom, but an eternal one. Earthly kingdoms come and go. The United States has come, and at some point, will go the way of the earthly kingdoms before it. But Jesus established an eternal kingdom, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” (SC) 

Jesus could have established an earthly kingdom. He could have accumulated wealth and prestige that would make Solomon and Elon Musk look really poor. His apostles, in fact, were expecting Jesus to establish such a kingdom. (Acts 1:6) It would have been a kingdom unlike any other before it or after it. But that would not have solved our heavenly problem. It would not have given us, through grace alone by faith alone, a heavenly kingdom. Jesus, as soon as He was conceived, was solely focused on establishing a heavenly kingdom through His own suffering. He was solely dedicated to making this happen regardless of His earthly comforts. 

Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) When Jesus was revealing Himself to the woman at the well, He didn’t even think of food. “[His] disciples were urging [Jesus,] ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But He said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Has anyone brought Him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” (John 4:31-34) And accomplish His work, He did. He created a heavenly kingdom where moth and rust and thieves have no power to destroy. 

You are brought into this heavenly kingdom, and kept in His kingdom, through His Word and forgiveness. When we are told by Jesus to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, we are told to pursue God’s Word and forgiveness. God knows that we live in an insecure world filled with sin and greed. He knows that we are tempted left and right to forsake His Word and Sacraments. He knows that we have real enemies that want to see us destroyed, both temporally and eternally. That’s why God is so rich with His Promises and forgiveness. 

Romans 8 is one of the most beloved chapters in the Bible and for good reason. Paul starts off this way, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” (vv. 1-3) By being baptized into Christ, you are set free from the law of sin and death. God is no longer your judge, but your advocate! And God bases this not on any work you do or fail to do, but on the work of Jesus! God has taken off His robe of righteous judgment and become your dear Father. Near the end of Romans 8, we hear this wonderful rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31) 

And this is the key to contentment. To true living. If you boil down western classical tradition, that is, Greek and Latin tradition, into 5 questions, you get: 1) What is life?, 2) What is death?, 3) How may I secure the future?, 4) What’s worth dying for?, and 5) What’s worth living for? Natural knowledge, or natural law, can answer the first two questions. Science can give us pretty decent answers for what life is and death is. Christianity is the only thing that can give us an answer to the third question. We secure our future by placing our trust in Christ who rose from the dead. The order of the fourth and fifth questions reveal startling wisdom by the ancients. Only after you know what’s worth dying for are you qualified to know what’s worth living for.  

And that’s the good news of my original point. Earthly possessions will pass away. Are they really worth dying for? Solomon and Jesus and Paul have made clear that pursuing earthly things can only lead to vanity. They warn us because there is something worth dying for: Jesus! You don’t love Jesus because you are such great people, but because He first loved you! (1 John 4:10) And He is worthy of your love. He proved it by living, dying, and being raised again. He proves it by creating and sustaining you. Is that not worth dying for? And you live for the same thing that Jesus lived for… other people. You show your love to God by loving other people. And you cannot even do this on your own. But God doesn’t leave you as orphans. He gives you His own Spirit so that you are empowered to love. And, even more, the Holy Spirit, through His Word and Sacraments, creates more heavenly treasure when and where He wills.  

Let me leave you with another verse from Romans 8: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (v. 32) Amen.   

The Fourteenth Sunday after Holy Trinity

The Fourteenth Sunday after Holy Trinity – Luke 17:11-19

Trinity 14 Sermon Audio

What we see in today’s Gospel reading is an intersection between the Old and New Testaments. To understand this, we need to understand some Old Testament concepts. It’s harder for us to understand this because we don’t grow up Jewish. We can read the Old Testament, but we really never live it. It’s not shocking for us to eat pork or shellfish which were forbidden in the Old Testament. The Old Testament believers thought of time differently as well. Their time was defined by the Old Testament festivals like Passover and the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths. Our time should be defined by Christmas and Easter which are our festivals, but they really aren’t.

The first Old Testament concept we need to understand is holiness. Holiness is solely associated with God. God is holy. He alone is holy. For someone or some thing to have holiness, it must be given that holiness from God. People are given holiness by being chosen by God. God speaks to His people in Leviticus: “You shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine.” (Leviticus 20:26) You see an echo of this in Ephesians, “He chose us in Him, [that is, Christ,] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy.” (Ephesians 1:4) Things are given holiness by the presence of God. You’ll remember when Moses encountered the angel of YahWeh, the pre-incarnate Christ, that God told Moses, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) And you know that only the high priest could go into the holy of holies and then only once a year.

But there’s an important distinction to be made about holy places. The holy places we read about are the ones that have the presence of God for His people’s good. Since God is holy and cannot be otherwise, it is dangerous to be in His presence. Moses was probably closer to God than anyone else in the Old Testament besides Adam and Eve before the fall. He desired to see God face to face. God told Moses, “You cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” (Exodus 33:20) It is dangerous to be near God’s presence. God must make a way to share His presence safely.

God’s presence was muted in the burning bush as He selected Moses to save His people. God’s presence is muted in the holy of holies, but only the high priest could go in there and he could only go in once a year. But what happened in the holy of holies? The high priest would sprinkle the blood sacrifice for sins on the mercy seat. This forgave sin. This forgave sin because it looked forward to Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross. God was present in mercy for His people. In the holy place, the assigned priests would perform their duties interceding for the people. Then in the courtyard, the people of God could gather to hear God’s Word and pray. The holiness of the people was determined by the proximity to God. The holiest was the High Priest. The priests on duty would be the next holiest. And then would be the holy people of God. This system was hierarchical, but it wasn’t meant so that the high priest or priests would have power over the people. It was a way that God passed on His holiness to His people through the intermediary He had set up.

This is where the second Old Testament concept is important; clean versus unclean. We’re talking about a theological cleanness verses uncleanness. I think all of us know what it’s like to be unclean and need a shower! But that’s a physical kind of uncleanness. In the Old Testament, you could become unclean for a variety of reasons. A woman on her menstrual cycle was considered unclean for seven days. This, after all, is a sign of the curse. If you touched a dead body, you were considered unclean. And if you had leprosy, you were considered unclean.

Leprosy in the Old Testament was not just what we know as Hansen’s Disease. It covered a variety of skin ailments. If you had “a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a case of leprous disease on the skin of his body,” then they had to be brought to the priests. (Leviticus 13:2) Even if it turned out not to be leprosy, you had to do a lot of ritual things to be determined clean. If it was, in fact, leprosy, you would be banished. If the leprosy cleared up, you had to go through even more rituals before you could rejoin the community. Leprosy does not spread that quickly, but we still don’t know exactly how it spreads. If you had it in the Old or New testament times, you had to be excluded from the community so it wouldn’t spread.

But this shows the danger of being unclean… you’re access to God was taken away. We cannot generate our own holiness. It must be shared with us from the source of holiness, God Himself. If your access was taken away, you no longer shared in God’s holiness. It was bad enough to be excluded from other people, but to be excluded from God’s presence is horrendous. But if your leprosy cleared up, there was much joy in being back in the presence of God and finally sharing again in His holiness.

The lepers in our Gospel reading today are outside of the village that Jesus is entering. They raise up their voices because they’re prohibited from getting too close to people. In Luke 5, we hear of Jesus cleansing a lone leper and the report of that cleansing going out. Even these ten lepers probably heard about it. They go to Jesus for the same healing. Jesus commands them to go show themselves to the priests. The fact that they arise and go to do that is testament to their faith. They believed Jesus’ word. And they were healed on the way. But only one leper appears to notice. And he doesn’t go to the priests but directly back to Jesus. Jesus marvels, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (vv. 17-18)

The Samaritan leper understood what they nine Jewish lepers did not… the presence of God for His people had shifted from the temple to the person of Jesus. The nine lepers weren’t necessarily being wicked; they just didn’t see that the presence of God had shifted from the temple to Jesus. They were working with an Old Testament understanding. The Samaritan saw the new reality that Jesus is the presence of God for He is God Himself. This is really what Jesus means when He tells the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) His own apostles didn’t understand what Jesus was saying until He rose from the dead!  But now the presence of God, or I should say, the safe presence of God, is found in Jesus.

If you’ve read “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” you’ll know who Aslan the lion represents. Mr. Beaver describes him to the two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve: “’I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.’ ‘Ooh!’ said Susan, ‘I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.’ ‘That you will, dearie, and no mistake,’ said Mrs. Beaver; ‘if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.’ ‘Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy. ‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’”[1] This describes Jesus perfectly. “’Course He isn’t safe. But He’s good. He’s the King.” Sometimes we’re a little too casual about Jesus and many times we’re too flippant about our sin. All of us could use a little more awe of Jesus in the original sense of that word. Awe means “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder” and originally was reserved for God. We could use more awe in our lives but, at the same time, we also understand that the presence of Jesus is the presence of God for us and not against us. And the New Testament concept of the presence of God is different than the Old Testament concept.

The first New Testament concept is the priesthood of all believers. We get this primarily from First Peter: “As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5) This means two things for you. First, you offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God your Father in heaven and they are pleasing and acceptable to Him. Second, your prayers are heard and answered. Many people pray to God, but He only listens to His dear children. In prayer and praise, you have direct access to the throne room of heaven even if you cannot see it with your eyes.

The second New Testament concept is the Lord’s Supper. Certainly, the Holy Spirit brings the presence of Jesus in Holy Baptism, in the reading and preaching of His Word, and in the Holy Absolution, but Jesus is present in a way unlike any other in His Supper. I don’t know if we appreciate that enough. The early New Testament church certainly appreciated Jesus’ personal, bodily presence in the Lord’s Supper. Back then, confession & absolution was only done privately. The Divine Service was split up into the Service of the Word, which culminated in the preaching of God’s Word, and into the Service of the Sacrament, which culminated in the distribution of the Lord’s Body and Blood. In between the Service of the Word and the Service of the Sacrament, they kicked out everyone who wasn’t able to receive the Lord’s Supper and literally locked the door! Yes, the had closed communion. Closed communion is the historic, Biblical practice of the church. Anyway, those kicked out were those who weren’t baptized yet or those serving penance for grave sin. They understood that the Lord’s Supper was the physical, bodily presence of Jesus and that He’s not safe. He’s Good, but not safe. In the Eastern Orthodox church, they make this announcement with communion: “The Holy Gifts for the holy people of God.” They are confessing that God is holy and that the Lord’s Supper has the presence of God which imparts His holiness to you. When I hold up the consecrated elements and say, “The peace of the Lord be with you always,” I am saying something very similar. I am confessing that here… here is the presence of God for your good. Here is where you find peace with God. Here is where you share in the holiness of God.

We don’t really talk in the Old Testament terms of hoy versus common or clean versus unclean and I don’t know that we need to. We do need to understand how the New Testament talks about these very same concepts with the priesthood of all believers and the Lord’s Supper.

You are brought into the priesthood of all believers in your baptism. It is how you know you are holy, that is, set apart by God for God. I love how Luther talks about it in the Large Catechism: “Our Baptism abides forever. Even though some one should fall from Baptism and sin, still we always have access to it. So we may subdue the old man again. But we do not need to be sprinkled with water again. Even if we were put under the water a hundred times, it would still only be one Baptism, even the work and sign continue and remain. Repentance, therefore, is nothing other than a return and approach to Baptism. We repeat and do what we began before, but abandoned.” (LC Part IV.77-79) In other words, our baptism makes us holy and is always accessible to us.

You are offered the Lord’s Supper where He gives you His very own Body and Blood. This is truly the presence of God for your good! What more can be said about such an amazing gift?

So, continue to remember your baptism and receive the Lord’s Supper regularly. Here is the presence of God for you in a safe and beneficial way. Here you see the love of Christ given to you personally. Here you can say with Paul, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) Amen.

[1] The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, pgs. 79-80, 1950, (HarperCollins edition)