This is really part two from last week. Jesus is teaching about covetousness and how to avoid it. Last week we under the parable of the Rich Fool we elaborated on two parts: 1) have faith in the providence of the Father and 2) be busy putting what is given to you to work for the kingdom. The third part rests on the character of the Father. And that is what Jesus bids us to ponder – just who The Father is and how he acts. There are potential God’s where covetousness would be justified. But that is not The Father who for a day clothes the lilies in such riotous beauty to make Solomon blush. You think he’s going to do that and not clothe you with the resurrection body? C’mon. He wants to give you all the treasures of the Kingdom. And he does this because he is our Good Father.
In my reading one of the biggest shifts from the church fathers to the kids of stuff written and preached today is the concentration on the person of God. The church fathers would preach and write constantly about what we might call metaphysical or philosophical points – like the goodness of God. When you read modern works there is rarely if ever any words on the person or attributes of God. Everything for the modern is about the human experience. When I reflect on that the human experience is quite varied, and we have a giant ability to lie to ourselves. Generalizing from human experience is tough. The church Fathers through some sturdy logic, rhetoric and understanding of the sacred text come to a solid understanding of what God has revealed about himself. And when you have a solid understanding of who God is, both a general application and specific applications to our varied situations are possible.
The text today is a perfect example. The church Fathers all were interested in the goodness of God. In my experience this text, combined with next weeks, are typically turned into stewardship items. The difference I think is between the gospel in the text and the law. The gospel is that God is good, and he invites us to share in that goodness. In no other way can we or anything be good, other that a participation in the divine.
This sermon is in part an invitation to that goodness. It is also an examination about what that goodness means to how Christians then prioritize actions in light of that goodness. It is a pondering of the call of the first commandment.
Worship Note: I moved out hymn of the day to the end of the recording. LSB 753, All For Christ I Have Forsaken, is one of my favorite hymns. It never fails to just kill me. If you do a little research on it and it author Calvin Chao you’ll be torn up more. They’ve set a very Chinese text to the Southern Harmony tune “Restoration”, and it works wonderfully. I usually don’t do this, primarily because it is illegal, but I’m doing it here because this hymn is so good. Most of us will never live a life as dedicated as Calvin Chao, but here are the words of many who heard the invitation clearly.
This sermon is the continuation of last week’s gospel lesson (Mark 10:17-22). The focus in the text is on the difference, the astonishing reversal of the values of the Kingdom of God. That reversal gets everyone’s attention, but that reversal is put to sharp use. The full weight of the law is brought to bear in the saying “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom.” What wealth really does, as the lesson for the day from Ecclesiastes knows, is increase our responsibilities. The weight of the law becomes greater. The camel gets its full load. At the same time we become convinced that we are good at this, after all look at all we have. Jesus call out the huge mistake in that thinking. But he then tells us what the eye of the needle is. It is his promise. All things are possible for God. You will have treasure in heaven. You will be paid back 100-fold. Not in a prosperity gospel way. In this appointed time that comes with persecutions, but in the age to come eternal life. We enter life because God is good, and he has made salvation available by faith. Trusting in the work of Jesus and not our work. He is so good that he has extended to us the change to participate in that gospel. And that participation is part of our proof, part of the return.
Program Note: This is a re-recording. I messed up the original. So you don’t get any of the great hymns we sang. My guess is that you wouldn’t hear these at most American congregations. They are gems of the faith, but supposedly not what is “relevant”. Although given the text the are spot on. We opened with Lutheran Service Book 730 – What is the World to Me. The hymn of the day, was Lutheran Service Book 753 – All for Christ I have Forsaken. That link is not a informative because it is a newer hymn. But here is another congregation singing this haunting hymn from you tube.
Two of the traditional attributes of God are His Sovereignty and His Goodness. This sermon reflects on the conflict those appear to produce today. I can’t help but look at our culture and see a people who are, against what they actually say, aware of God’s sovereignty but don’t believe or trust in His Goodness. Take Christopher Hitchens for a second, his biggest applause line was always, “God’s a bloody tyrant”. His logic doesn’t work. Just because someone is a tyrant doesn’t mean they don’t exist. (Don’t even try, it’s an applause line appealing to felt emotion and not logic.) But, in almost every level of culture the same idea is expressed. Keanu Reeves calls God “a kid with an ant farm” in the B-movie Constantine. A little more heady, the Walking Dead, about a resurrection of sorts, keeps returning to themes of tyranny and tribalism. Only the tribes with a strong leader survive. The mantra of a generation appears to be “don’t judge me” and the noticing of something is taken as akin to tyranny. Nietzsche called Christianity a religion of slaves for a couple of reasons: a) the first reasons was the God used his power on the side of the slaves against the “supermen” but that leads to b) God is the only “superman” or the only tyrant allowed to stand. What these all share is an attribution of power to God, but not goodness. Hence my final line “zombie apocalypse of tyranny”. A God who was only powerful, who was just the resurrection, would do something like that. And that is our cultural bug-a-boo, we still have an idea or a feeling of the power of God, but we have lost faith in the Goodness. And we have lost faith with the Goodness because we have severed ourselves from Christ and the body of Christ.
It is only in the incarnation of Jesus that we can fully observe and take in the goodness of God. Unlike our power, God uses his power for good. And that includes the bestowing of life on all who believe. Jesus is the resurrection (power) and the life (goodness). And that life is not tyranny but “full of grace and truth”. But the only place you find both the resurrection and the life is connected to the body of Christ which is the church. Connected through Word and Sacrament, proclamation of forgiveness and incorporation in water, bread/body and wine/blood. Rejecting the church is rejecting Jesus. Rejecting Jesus is rejecting the goodness of God. The power is still naturally know by looking out the window. But the power alone isn’t enough. We need law and gospel. We need power and goodness. We need the resurrection and the life.