Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany – Series A
Last week if you preached that Gospel lesson, you probably hit your folks with a very strong Law and Gospel message of perfection. Jesus words are either the harshest law or the sweetest gospel, and I pray it was a little of both.
Today, after such a strong message, the preacher is given a bit of an option. Either he will continue that tension as Jesus develops the whole theme along the lines of how we spend our money, or he will relieve the tension, proclaiming the Gospel in the powerful relational terms found in both Jesus’ words and those of Isaiah.
It is a dilemma the preacher must resolve in his own particular circumstance, but either way your message will really revolve around a singular topic: Trust.
For Isaiah’s people, the suffering servant song which began chapter 49 has been met with a hopeless shrug. God has forgotten them. Their lack of trust has left them with their eyes firmly fixed downward and on their fast approaching doom. They have no hope. For the folks in Jesus day, they are scurrying after the things of this life as if they really matter, working themselves into a frenzied state about money and wealth and in the process knowing no real peace. Their misplaced trust in wealth has left them without any joy or peace, only anxiety and a fearful eye always cast upon their bank accounts and stock portfolios.
For them all, God establishes a relationship with his people in which the discouraged are given to hope, and the distracted are given peace. Essential to the both of these goals is the simple deed of that relationship: Trust.
We should be very clear here because it is important. Faith is not trust, rather, faith, the relationship which God has given to us, that faith trusts God. It is not that I must somehow trust God enough to be saved. That is a particularly American problem around the discussion of faith, as if God has some trust-o-meter at the pearly gates of heaven and those who break a certain threshold are allowed in. Faith is the relationship in which God rescues me from sin, death, devil, and all sorts of enemies. This is not a new problem, in fact it even has its own obscure name in theology: Semi-Pelagianism or the notion that the work which God requires of me in order to be saved is to trust/believe in him.
This is the much more subtle and devastating critique which might continue the message from last week. Christians are terribly prone to imagining that somehow we are saved because we got something right. I am going to heaven because I am humble enough (see the Epistle lesson today) or I have trusted God where this or that unbeliever has not. The preacher who wants to continue the tension will want to notice that self-worship takes some really odd forms – not only trusting in wealth, but also in trusting in my own humility, oxymoronically insisting that I am indeed humbler than thou. It would be funny if it wasn’t so often accurate.
I am saved by God through his gift of faith. But the preacher who seeks to relieve the tension today will note that the faith through which God saves me is not an inert or static thing which
God has somehow installed in my Baptism like a piece of hardware. It is a dynamic relationship with God which grows, changes, and matures. (Remember last week when Paul spoke to the spiritually immature in Corinth?)
That faith trusts God and that act of trusting God radically transforms our lives and the living of those lives for the better, at least from the perspective of the one who trusts. Sometimes that trust in God means I suffer too, but even in that suffering I am not devoid of these two great gifts of God: hope and peace. That may mean that am given to enter the arena and face the lions hopefully and peacefully. It certainly means I balance my checkbook and buy my groceries and make my offerings in peace. It means that when life deals me a terrible blow, be that sickness, loss, or death itself, I trust that God saves me from these afflictions as well. I enter that surgery or funeral or interview with hope.
Collect of the Day
O Lord, mercifully hear our prayers and having set us free from the bonds of our sins deliver us from every evil; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
We ask God to mercifully hear our prayers. Is there any other sort of hearing of our prayers? After all he is under no compunction to hear our prayers. The adverb here implies that God’s listening to us is an act of his gracious, merciful love. We tend to think that God would of course listen to us. At least that is often how we approach this. But God’s attention is mercifully given to us, or in truth, we don’t want it.
We then notice that he has set us free from the bonds of our sins and on that basis want him to deliver us from every evil.
What are the bonds of our sins? How does this express? We don’t have a choice, we are addicted, chained to this sin. We cannot release ourselves from it. we are trapped. Jesus empowers a person to approach vices very differently. We can resist. How does that empowerment work? What about the Jesus experience for folks sets them free, releases them from this bond?
Most people get snared into addictions because they are looking for all the right things. Jesus supplies the missing ingredient. But also he gives them hope. Many who are particularly ensnared in sin are there because they don’t have any hope for something different.
But what about the rest of us, we are addicted to sin, true, but we don’t think of ourselves as addicts. What is the liberation for the person whose most serious addiction is probably coffee? Is idolatry really another form of addiction, or is addiction really a form of idolatry? If you pull money or fame or one of the other idols from folks, do they have just as serious of a withdrawal symptoms as any heroin addict?
Can we talk in turn of a good addiction? Can we be addicted to reading the Bible? Can we be addicted to Jesus? Does Jesus simply change my addiction? Is that really a healthy way to talk about this? Armenio notes that in the Latin American culture the word does not have that same negative connotation that it may have in the English context. Is the positive form addiction in English actually the word “passion?” It might be an unhealthy passion, but often this is viewed much more positively.
8Thus says the LORD: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, 9 saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; 10 they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. 11 And I will make all my mountains a road, and my highways shall be raised up. 12 Behold, these shall come from afar, and behold, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene.”
13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.
14But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. 16Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
This passage falls immediately after the servant song in which the servant is compared to a polished arrow hidden in the quiver of God and it its first verses seems to be addressed to the servant. But it is not clear whether the servant is the people or an individual, sometimes it seems to be both.
The servant will be the instrument in the great reversal of fortunes which God has in mind. The prisoners will be released, the desolate places will be the verdant pastures for the flock of God’s people. They will be led by springs of pure water. They will eat the lush grass, they will not be tormented by scorching sun or wind. John seems to have this very passage in mind when he writes Revelation 7:15-17. They will be healthy and whole once more. Perhaps most important for the original audience, the scattered people of God will be gathered. Remember Isaiah is addressing the folks who are in exile, not only the Jewish folks who are resettled as a group in Babylon, but also the scattered northern ten tribes who are almost entirely lost and absorbed into the cultures of their new homes.
This will happen with miracles and massive public works projects as the mountains are made low and the valleys lifted up. It is a civil engineer’s paradise and a reference to Isaiah 40.
Verse 13 introduces a new element, nature itself, the hills and mountains, the heaven’s themselves will sing for joy and exult in God. He comforts his people and has compassion on them. This often sounds odd to us, but it is not unusual in the text of the OT. Consider Psalm 98 which was the basis for “Joy to the World.” This seems to come from the covenant itself. God had patterned the Mosaic covenant in the Torah after something known to us as a Hittite Suzerainty Treaty. One of the elements of such treaties was that the people who made the covenant would then invoke the god’s to bear witness against them if they did not keep the provisions of the treaty. Of course God would not do such a thing, it would be meaningless, so when Moses writes this down, God calls upon heaven and earth to bear witness, (Deuteronomy 4:26 et. al.) You can see now why they are rejoicing at God’s mercy. Their terrible duty to bear witness to the destruction of the people has been obviated. They no longer need to fulfill this function within the covenant. God has gone beyond the covenant and shown mercy.
It is at verse 14 that we get the real reason for this text in today’s lesson. The servant has made his proclamation, the message has been proclaimed, and the people have not believed it. The children of Israel do not see that their exile is actually part of the covenant. They only can see that it is the anger and wrath of God, his negligence of them and their cause. God has forgotten us. Isaiah is really calling them to remember the covenant and then to see a God who is bigger than the covenant. But his audience can only see that they are far from home and God is not helping them. They have lost hope. All they can see is the fairness of God, they can no longer see the compassion and the comfort of God. Though God has asserted his merciful treatment of them, they have not believed it. They are in a crisis of faith, they are in a crisis of hope.
And here God exposes his heart and the reason we can say that he is bigger than the covenant, it not about the keeping of rules. Can a mother forget her child? Of course not, but even if that
could happen, God could never forget you. You are engraved on the palms of his hands. He loves you.
Of course for the Christian, who knows that the marks of cruel nails are on the hands of Jesus, this is almost too good for us to pass up. We are literally engraved on the hands of God, his great love for us has gouged his flesh, pierced and deformed it. He cannot forget us, he remembers us every time he looks at his own hands. In the passion of Christ, the death, the resurrection, the great incarnational event, God has transcended all the rules we have been discussing for the past several weeks in the Sermon on the Mount. God does not go Calvary as a rule keeper or some i-dotting legalist. He goes out of his great love for a creation and people whom sin and death have terribly deformed. He makes himself like us so that in his restoration we may be united with him in his perfection.
Unfortunately they have not included the second half of the verse. I can see why. The whole idea that somehow the geopolitical unit called Israel is the fulfillment of this prophecy is problematic and they don’t want to go there. But then I think we need to preach and teach that, not hide from it in the parsing of verses in the lectionary. The idea that Jerusalem’s ruined walls are before the eyes of God was potent for the reader of that day and remains potentially potent for us as well. The ruin which is our own lives is always before God. He does not forget, even when we have grown used to it, acclimated ourselves to sins degradations.
Psalm 115:(1-8) 9-18
1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
2Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” 3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. 5They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. 6They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. 7They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. 8 Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.
9O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield. 10O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield. 11You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.
12The LORD has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron; 13he will bless those who fear the LORD, both the small and the great.
14May the LORD give you increase, you and your children! 15May you be blessed by the LORD, who made heaven and earth!
16The heavens are the LORD’s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man. 17 The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence. 18But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the LORD!
I Corinthians 4:1-13
1This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. 3But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
6I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
8Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9For I think that
God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.11To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless,12and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
The occasions for the letter to the Corinthians were varied. The divisions in the Church manifested in a number of ways, one of which was a factionalism and division under the names of the various leaders, including Paul. This meant that if you were in one group, you attacked the other group by attacking the leader under which they had coalesced. That meant Paul himself had come in for some abusive language from the members of the congregation.
Paul does not really get defensive or angry about this, but uses this as an example or symptom of a deeper problem which both sides in the dispute were facing. They thought that they had arrived at truth, they thought that they were somehow better than the folks in the other party. They were proud. Both those who claimed Paul and the ones who claimed Apollos suffered from this. Paul is not in this to gain followers for himself, but he is doing this to gain followers for Christ. He, the other apostles, and Apollos are all the examples of how this works.
“That you may learn not to go beyond what is written,…” This is the critical phrase in this lesson. Paul is speaking here of a particular sort of humility, another fruit of faithing in God. He begins the discussion with a judgment about himself. It seems that part of the problem in Corinth was that the folks there were judging one another, and dividing along factional lines which seem to have been according to leaders, some claiming Paul’s authority, other’s Apollos’. But Paul sees behind this all a certain amount of misplaced pride and arrogance, as if any of them are right and beyond reproach. The apostles surely are not. Neither are the folks who are suggesting that they are right because they follow these fallible men whom Jesus has sent.
The result of this pride is that the body of Christ is divided, and that needs to be kept in mind as the real object of Paul’s discussion here. I think we often miss the message of verse 7 here. Paul uses words in this part differently than we are used to using them, but it can still make sense in English. The point is that everything which is really important the Corinthians and Paul have received as a gift from God. It is not because they somehow attained to this or earned by merit. Then why are they acting as if they have earned it, boasting as if they have faith through some dint of their own effort.
Paul is enjoining them to remember who they are and that God has given them each the really important things. That means while I can certainly notice that I am smarter than this fellow, or richer, or something else, I cannot puff out my chest and therefore say that I am closer to God or somehow better than the next man. My worth is not established that way, but by God. My relationship to God is always a gift, never a matter of merit.
And so Paul gets rather sharp with them in verse eight and following. I think the only way to read this is ironically or sarcastically. Paul says, “But you are kings.” He doesn’t mean that they are, but that they are saying that they are, but in fact this emperor has no clothes. He says he almost wishes it was really so, then at least poor old Paul who is camping out on some missionary journey at this point far from home, relying on the help of others, and risking his very life, he might have a little benefit from knowing such important people. Instead he, and the rest of the apostles, the real giants in the Christian world, are treated like slaves. The word “exhibited” in our text is what happened to condemned criminals before their public execution in the arenas of the empire. It was not pleasant. These are the lowest of the low. The Apostles are getting stomped on, and these guys are fighting over who is the strongest or the best Christian. The answer to that question is found in the scars on Paul’s back from his many beatings and floggings for the faith.
Such humility allows Paul to look more and more like Christ. He is not affronted when he is publicly shamed, but he blesses the one who reviles him, he prays for his enemies, he smiles in the midst of is persecution, for he knows that this is not about him, but about Jesus. Jesus has occupied the center of his universe and that means that even if they kill him, the object of his love, the sun in the middle of his solar system will still shine, even if the little planet named Paul is snuffed out.
For the person who last week had his self-righteousness crushed out him, there is a much more dangerous pit on the other side of the road. Knowing that I cannot please God by my works, can turn into a terrible pride in my own humility. As I note above, it would be comical if were not so common. I used to have a woman in a congregation who smugly told me at least once a year that she never worried, she always trusted God. I don’t think I ever was really able to convince her that she sounded to me much more like someone who was trusting her own trust. She certainly thought that God ought to pat her on the head for her goodness. But now we are getting into the next reading.
24 “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 money.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much
more clothe you, O you of little faith?31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Are we just back to more rules today about how we are supposed to live? It would seem so at first reading here. After the climactic words of chapter 5 about being perfect, Jesus will not let this rest. Does he need to grind us into leprous dust?
Perhaps he does. After all our penchant for holding onto the false dream that we can somehow please God by our deeds without Christ is powerful and our enemy constantly holds it before our eyes.
But I actually think Jesus is doing something more and different with these words for us, and I think Matthew wanted his first century Jewish audience to hear these words differently, at least somewhat differently, than they did chapter 5. It retains that strong sense of raising heaven’s bar beyond the reach of the listener. The whole idea of not worrying like a flower sounds great until you try it. It is great to be the robust zinnia in all its glory in the middle of my flower bed, but what about the poor seed which fell on the sidewalk or in the cracks between the landscaping rocks? I look at the birds flying freely through the sky and am envious until I see them huddled under a sodden branch on a frosty morning when the wind blows fiercely. Then I am glad I worried a bit and secured a home and a warm dry place to sleep at night.
I think this is not about getting rules right, however, it is about trust and especially the object of our trust. Where the prior commandments about murder and hating a brother, or adultery and lusting after another person, were all found in the second table of the law, chapter six has brought us into the first table of the law. If you skim around in it, you will find that we are encouraged to worship God for worship’s sake, not to gain approval. We get the Lord’s Prayer with its “our Father…” beginning.
This chapter is about the first commandment preeminently. We keep the first commandment when we fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Today is a day about trusting God.
Here I would remind you of the fundamental lack that English struggles with. We don’t really have a verbal form of “faith.” Greek does. Faith is also a verb in Greek. When John writes in chapter 20 of his Gospel that blessed are all those who “believe.” The word there is actually “all those who faith in me without seeing me.”
Doesn’t believe work? Not really. In English believe is more propositional. The best illustration comes from Luther. I can stand on the docks of some sea port and you might point to a ship that is getting ready to set sail. You might tell me that ship is heading for London. I can believe you. But I start to “faith” you when I but a ticket and entrust myself, my very life, to the captain and
crew of that ship to bring me to London. (Assuming that is where I want to go!) I can believe all sorts of things that don’t matter to me one whit. But I can only “faith” something that is important, which is significant to me and my life.
For most of us this has come to be experienced in the whole idea “I believe in God.” But when you push such a statement with most folks, they don’t actually have a whole lot behind these words other than the idea that there really is a God. They seem to imagine that if they simply assert that there is a God that is somehow faith. It is not. As James tells us even the Demons acknowledge that much and they tremble in fear. It is faith when you trust the God you acknowledge to rescue you from sin, death, devil and all the enemies who confront us.
We also spoke of the impediment of worry. If I am worried about my budget, does that worry actually solve the problem? Or is it in fact, being anxious, actually an impediment to me getting a good night’s sleep so I can go to work tomorrow and do something productive about the hole in my checking account? Does Jesus suggest that resting in his engraved hands means that I can get that good night’s sleep and he will be there to bless the morrow. I cannot tell you that it means a pot of money will fall into my lap, but I can look forward to his blessing with hope and expectation. Worry or anxiety doesn’t help that. It binds me, it traps me, and it sucks away my hope.
Law and Gospel
1. Running the human race is hard – there are lots of pretty miserable realities, and then you die. This seems rather unavoidable. Is the best I can do really to get a few coins in my bank account, enjoy life as well as I can and then that’s it? Hardly! God has come with a great and glorious promise that this life and its troubles are only a small part of my existence. He has promised eternal life without such suffering and he has given meaning to this day’s woes as well. Trusting in Jesus’ promise gives me hope to face any situation. He cannot forget me or have my ill in mind, I am engraved in the nail holes in his hands. God remembers me.
2. It seems, however, that there are so many things that could go wrong. My life is filled with risk and jeopardy and I am not talking about the games, but the real and present danger which threatens me. I consider the fragility of my current situation and I am anxious. Jesus says, “Trust in me.” He has the whole thing in his perforated hands. I don’t know if that means wealth or poverty, but I know it means Jesus. I don’t know if it means health or sickness, but I know it means Jesus. And he will see me though this. I am at peace.
3. Now that I trust God, I know what my job is and I am sure glad I got that figured out. Makes me rather sorry for the poor schmucks out there who are still screwing up. Wait, did I just say what I thought I said? Have I really turned God’s great gift into something that I am proud of? God has ways of bringing me down a notch, and my own foolishness
can no more keep me from the kingdom than my ability can get me in. Jesus offers me not on a model how I should be, but also the new life which really is humble.
1. Engraved on his Hands (OT and Gospel Reading: That the Holy Spirit would give the hearer the hope and joy which come from God’s everlasting love for us.)
This sermon is the sermon which would relieve some of last week’s tension. Looking toward the strong relational terms which we find the OT and Gospel lesson, we count on the fact that God loves us. The Law development here might simply build on the lingering Law from last week’s lesson and the unspoken, basic fear we all have that when Judgment day comes we will somehow be found lacking.
This sermon will assure the anxious hearer with the reassuring message that God has come into the flesh, born the cross, risen to new life just for you. God cannot forget about you nor can he reject you. You are precious to him.
The climax of this sermon will be the image of Christ’s hands which bear the marks of His love for this broken world and all its people, including you. The preacher will want to hit baptism on this one, the adoptive language which can tap into the paternal language of both Isaiah and Jesus.
The implications of this are that no matter how bleak our current situation may be, his light shines in the darkness, he has conquered the grave itself in his quest to restore us to himself. This is not a recipe for a life without trouble, but it is a recipe for a life with hope.
2. Not Beyond What is Written (Epistle Reading: That the hearer would know and embrace the true humility of being God’s redeemed child.)
This sermon addresses the pride which might be the result of last week’s sermon. Our foe hates to hear that we are saved by Grace, and he will work in many ways to pervert that message for us. One of his most effective way to do this is to plant the seed in our minds and hearts that somehow we are different than the damned. We got something right. And while it is true that faith distinguishes us from the unbeliever, it is not the case that we can take some credit for this.
The folks in Corinth seemed to struggle with this, and it caused them to look upon others, even the apostles with prideful scorn. But that was the symptom of a much more significant problem which afflicted them: Pride. They thought that they somehow were distinguishable from the other, not by a gift but by something which they had done. This led them to think that they were more than they really were. Paul himself will heap scorn and sarcasm upon this attitude while he shames them into seeing that he is in fact much more genuinely a follower of Jesus because he looks like Christ in his humility.
The Law for us will be sharp. We cannot think that we are somehow more loveable to God because we are sitting here, have the right attitude, or believe the right thing. It is not that God has loved us more than he has loved even the most vile of human beings. The Gift of His Son which God gave to this world, he gave to all. We dare not think that any of us needs him more or less or that we somehow have more or less of him because of ourselves. It is wholly by God’s gift of faith, a gift from his hand, not a reward from his account.
But that very law is then the good news as well. We are gifted, we have received that most valuable of gifts. God does love us. Look at the way that Paul describes himself at the end of this text. Jesus is living in him! These words describe the true humility and grace of Jesus in his passion as he prayed for those who persecuted him and died for their sins, a crucified man, exhibited, the very scum of the earth. Now I can look at the neighbor not as some competitor for God’s love but as a fellow recipient of that love, a partner in the greatest gift of all, even when I don’t get along, even when we disagree. We are all on the same team – the team defined by God’s love.
3. Serving the True Master (Gospel: That the Spirit of God would convict the hearer of his/her self-reliance and self-service that God might replace this with his true peace.)
This sermon will continue the tension from last week in another way. The failure to love the neighbor, the failure to avoid the lust, the imperfections in our life ultimately all boils down to a singular problem, a first commandment problem. The only way to break commandments 2-10 is first to break the first commandment. We have another God. Today Jesus illustrates that with folks who are in the rat race of this life, chasing after wealth which will never satisfy them. Poor people can be just as fixated on money as the wealthy. They work so long and hard to gain the treasure that they are too old and weary to enjoy it when it finally comes. Armenio noticed a certain affinity with the Old Testament lesson last week, the whole bit about God is holy and the LORD, and that means we act and speak in certain ways, particularly as we deal with the little, least, and lost folks of the world.
A failure to do this is simply idolatry and it is marked by a singular lack of peace in their lives. But idolatry is not only found in money, it is most often found in the self-reliance which we believe money will give us. For idolatry is defined as trusting something other than God to solve our problems. It could be money, but most of us actually believe that I will be my own best friend in a day of need.
Truly, many of us have convinced ourselves that what makes us stand apart from the great unbelieving majority of the world’s population is that somehow I got something right. I am here, after all, worshiping the true God on a Sunday morning, perhaps even
singing the only sorts of songs that he really likes, whether I believe that to be hymns at least 100 years old or the heartfelt praise songs of the moment.
Alas such thoughts make us anxious as Jesus notices. The worship can always be a little more pure or heartfelt, the bank account could always be a little fatter, and if it is fat, then it is all the more in jeopardy.
Jesus points us today to a way of peace from such anxiety, but it is a way which is utterly closed to us without his help. We can trust him. It sounds easy enough, but it makes perfection look like a light and trifling thing if you have ever tried it.
But notice what happens when Jesus finishes these words. He walks down this hill to encounter a leper. A man whose whole life had been consumed by his problems and anxieties. For the ancient Jew it was as if all his inner sin had shown up on the outside of the man. Helpless before an incurable disease he simply kneels before Jesus and begs for help.
Do you suppose he would have ever done such a thing without his leprosy? I rather doubt it. Through his affliction God had led him to a much more important thing than even life itself. He had led the man to Christ Jesus.