Video and bulletin here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As Jesus moves closer to the cross, closer to the beginning of a new creation in His own resurrection body, He shines the light of that eternity on the shadows of this creation. And the shadows that creep in on us here are anxiety, worry, fear, and sorrow. Jesus shines the light of His eternity on the shadows of Martha’s anxiety and distraction by pointing her to the one thing necessary: hearing and receiving the words that Jesus speaks. On those who are fearful of losing their physical lives, Jesus shines the light of His resurrection eternity and says, “Don’t be afraid of the one who can kill only the body.” Physical death is not the worst thing that can happen to you. To those who are fearful, and to our brothers and sisters around the world who continue to lose their lives because they bear the Name of Christ, Jesus promises them that God will raise their bodies by the same power by which He raised Christ from the dead. To those who are afraid of what they might say when confessing Christ in this world, Jesus shines the light of His eternity and says, “To the one who acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge one of Mine before the angels of God. Don’t be anxious about what you will say when you are asked for a defense of the reason for the hope that is within you. The Holy Spirit will give you the words of Mine to speak in that moment.”
And on those who are anxious and fearful at the thought of losing money, possessions, inheritance, and material things, Jesus shines the light of His eternity. A man says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” We all know situations where inheritance becomes a point of dispute, of anger, bitterness, selfishness, and greed, and families are divided over who gets what, and what’s fair, and what’s right. But Jesus says, “I’m not here to be a divider of inheritances. But watch and be on guard against all covetousness.” Do not covet your neighbor’s house, or wife, or manservant or maidservant, or ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.” This the command that is like a wall set up around what God has given you and what He’s given other people. Coveting is not being satisfied with what God has given you, so that you want what He has given to other people. It is one of the things that clings to the dead flesh, which we ought to put to death continually. Covetousness, Paul says, is idolatry, because it puts the things that God gives on the throne where only God should sit. So we come back around from the Tenth Commandment to the First. Covetousness is not believing that God will provide everything you need, so you desire what He has given to someone else. It is fearing, loving, and trusting not God above all things, but all things above the God who gives them.
And Jesus illustrates that idolatry in the parable about this rich man, whose fields yielded fruitfully. Who made the man rich? God. Who made his fields produce? God. But instead of being content with what God has given him and serving those who need what God has given him, he tears down his already sufficient barns and builds bigger ones, so that he can sit back, relax, eat and drink, and enjoy in early retirement a life lived only for himself. Fool! God says. Tonight your life is demanded of you, and all this that you have amassed, all that fills your barns, whose will it be? It might end up with these two idiots fighting over the inheritance. His life is completely bound up with the stuff that he has collected and gathered, and that’s it. What is in those barns he built—that is his life. But what good is that life at the point of death? Can that idol of coveting stuff save you? Solomon is at least wise when it comes to the things of this world: he realizes that collecting stuff and gathering is not going to get you very far. But he goes further: it is not only the completely selfish who lose out. It is not only the rich. It is not only the unbeliever. Everyone—rich or poor, young or old, wise or foolish, believer or unbeliever—dies. And that thought, that no matter what you do in this world, your stuff is left behind and who knows who will get it, that thought leads Solomon to despair.
But it’s not even good enough to realize that. It’s not good enough to realize, as unbelievers often do, that material wealth isn’t worth much in the end. So instead of the little barns of material wealth, they build the bigger barns of legacy, or giving away their wealth to worthy causes, or of family, or of experiences and memorable moments. But what will all that get you but people saying nice things about you at your funeral, where, as far as I know, you won’t be able to hear them anyway. If Jesus stops here, we are no further along toward any kind of hope or peace than Solomon in Ecclesiastes. Thank God that this isn’t where Jesus stops on the way to the cross.
He shines the light of His eternity also here, on our anxiety about things and possessions. Do not be anxious, Jesus says, about clothing, food, and what you need for this body and life. The God who clothes the flowers and feeds the birds is your own, dear heavenly Father. And the wealth and treasure of God’s Kingdom is in the gracious rule of Jesus, a Kingdom without borders or end. A Kingdom that your Father graciously wills to give you. Your treasure is not in any of this stuff, that rots, rusts, is destroyed or stolen. Your treasure is in Christ, who has ascended to the Right Hand of God’s power, and so there your heart is. The key is this: that your death doesn’t come when your life is demanded of you and you lose every cent you ever earned: you have died, already in Christ’s death. That’s what baptism is. And now your life cannot be in any of these things that will only, like all false gods, bring despair. The light of Christ’s own resurrection eternity erases the shadows of anxiety with a promise: your life is not here among these things, but it is hidden with Christ in God. Hidden from your sight for now, because you have it only by faith in the promise of Christ; but also hidden from anyone or anything that might try to kill or take that life. If your life is in Christ, who already died and now lives forever, who can take that life from you? Why should you fear the one who can only take your life in this creation, when your real, true life is with Christ? Because the one necessary thing is the life that Christ delivers to you by His life-giving Word. Because He delivers that life to you again today in His own eternally-living Body and Blood. This—He—is your life, and no one can kill it, steal it, destroy it, or separate it from Christ. The Holy Spirit who gives you the faith to believe this is the down-payment of your inheritance, which never gets smaller though it is divided among an uncountable multitude. What you have now by faith, that seems so insubstantial to this world, is everything. And when He, who is your life, appears, then you will appear with Him in the glory of that resurrection light. No more shadows of anxiety, worry, fear, and sorrow. Only the Light of Christ, begun in His own resurrection body and now shared with you forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/29/16