Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Playing Dress Up Before God?

Text: Matthew 22:1-14

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

In today’s Gospel reading it makes sense why the King sends out his army to destroy the city.  You see, the King graciously invited guests. The wedding banquet was all set.  However, the guests paid no attention to the invitation.  If this was not bad enough, these guests seized the King’s servants, mistreated them, and then killed them! 

What a bunch of jerks!  They snubbed the Kings invitation and killed the messengers to boot.

And so, the King’s response makes sense.  The guests got what was coming.  Justice was served; they were destroyed. 

But things do not make sense when we hear about the man who was at the wedding celebration without a garment.  You see, after the city was destroyed, the invitation went out far and wide, which resulted in all sorts of people at the great wedding feast.  However, the King noticed a man who was not wearing a wedding garment.  This was problematic because all of the guests who came to wedding feast were given robes.  Therefore, this man was a hypocrite.  He accepted the invitation to come to the wedding but did not wear the wedding clothes of the King.  He was straddling the fence. 

And so, this man who came to the great feast ended up bound hand and foot and taken away because he wasn’t wearing the wedding garment.  He was cast into the darkness outside – away from the laughter, food, joy, and warmth of the celebration. 

So, what does all this mean? 

Well, this parable – this story of Jesus – seems to be pointing us to the importance of the wedding garment.  That is to say; we can understand why the King destroyed the guests who refused to come to the feast but where our attention gravitates towards is the wedding garments. 

Dear friends, today’s parable indeed wants us to focus on the wedding garments.  Without the garments, the man was thrown out into the darkness.  With the garments, he would’ve been safe and sound inside – feasting and celebrating.  Again, it seems that the wedding garments are important when one stands before the King.  What a person wears and how they present themselves before the King matters. 

Now, this garment in the parable should remind us of our first parents – Adam and Eve.  Way back in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve sinned, we read that they sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness and shame. Yes, after they rebelled against the Lord, Adam and Eve realized their nakedness and felt shame.  So, they covered their shame with garments made of fig leaves, and we have been acquiring fig leaves to cover our shame ever since.

You see, that is how it works with the fig leaves – garments.  We invent and manufacture garments to cover our nakedness and shame.  Just like Adam and Eve, every one of us creates and sews together garments to cover our shame. 

So what are your fig leaves?  What garments are you wearing to cover up your shame and disobedience before God?  What do you wear and dress up with? 

Do you dress up in money and think those little pieces of paper can cover your shame? 

Do you dress up in working out to keep a fit and beautiful body to offset the sinful heart? 

Do you try to cover over your sin and shame by trying to please everyone so that they all really like you? 

Do you put on the garments of gossip, thinking that if you invite others to always see somebody else’s shame they won’t notice yours? 

Or, do cover yourself with medals of achievement and certificates of merit – all the good things that you have done? 

Dear friends, we all play dress up – don’t we? 

Unfortunately, though, the things that we dress up with are not effective.  They do not cut it.  When God came to Adam and Eve, He saw right through their garments that they had sewed together.  He saw their shame.  He saw their sin.  And the same is true for you and me.  The Lord see through our dress up clothes – the facades that we create.  The Lord knows that we are a bunch of naked, shameful, and rebellious sinners who are scurrying around trying to cover our shame – worried that someone else will see through our cover-ups and know that we are fakes.  . 

In the Garden of Eden though, God did not let Adam and Eve wear their manmade fig leaves.  But instead, the Lord shed blood.  He shed the blood of an animal – maybe a Lamb – and the garments of the animal covered Adam and Eve.  Indeed, the Lord covered their shame.  An innocent animal was sacrificed in their place, and the garments of the animal clothed their nakedness. 

As we look back at today’s parable in the Gospel of Matthew, it might start to make sense to us.  You see, to understand the anger of the King, we have to understand that the King is the one who supplies the wedding garments as a gift.  And since the King in the parable represents God the Father, we realize that providing a wedding garment is not an easy task.  God the Father doesn’t order a bunch of wedding garments from Amazon.com, but rather, these wedding garments are provided through the death and resurrection of Jesus – the shed blood of Christ.  They are not cheap garments but purchased at the blood of the Son of God.       

At the cross of Calvary, Jesus nakedly died for your shame and rebellion.  There He was stripped of His garment to provide you the seamless garment of His very own holiness. 

And so, to appear at that great wedding feast – which is heaven – before God the Father without the garment of Jesus’ holiness is foolish! 

And what is even more foolish?  What is even more foolish is to stand before God the Father with our dress-up clothes.  God not sees right through our dress-up clothes.  Anything other than the garments of Jesus’ righteousness is disrespectful.  Yes, it shows disrespect for the priceless garments that the Father has provided for us in Christ.  To stand before the Father dressed up in our silly clothes is to insult the free gift of Christ’s righteous garments. 

Make no mistake, dear friends, standing before God the Father without any garments or with our dress-up clothes will arouse the Father’s anger – in fact, it is the only thing left that does arouse it.

So what are you wearing today? 

Are you wearing dress up clothes?  If so, repent. 

Do you think that you will be o.k. without any garments?  If so, repent! 

Yes, repent and hear the good news! 

When you were baptized, the Great King not only invited you by name to His banquet, but He gave you the wedding garment.  He put on you the holiness of Jesus  He wrapped you in the glory of Jesus’ own perfect life of love.

He gave it to you as your very own for time and eternity, and He invites you to wear it with joy and gladness all the days of your life. 

This is why we wrap the newly baptized in a white garment after Baptism.  This is why we wrap our caskets with a white funeral pall.  This is how we show that we are wrapped in the garment of Christ’s righteousness.  This is how we show that we ready for the great banquet! 

We also show this by clothing the pastor in a white alb.  The white albs that pastors and acolytes wear are not showing some intrinsic holiness in the person but point to the robe of Christ’s righteousness. 

Dear Baptized Saints, you’ve got to wear something to live in this world; you’ve got to wear something when you appear before the Lord on the Day of Judgment.  And you do!  You are clothed in Jesus Christ’s righteousness.  You are baptized into Christ’s death and life.  You have been wrapped in His life.

Never take Him off; never be found without Him.  But be clothed in Him, knowing that you have a seat before the King at the great banquet and that you never have to fear the darkness, for you are clothed in Jesus. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Monday, October 8, 2018

Rest In This Ever-Changing World

Text:  Matthew 11:25-30

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Are you tired?  Are you worn out?  Do you have anxiety?  Are you terrified by sin and death?  Are you burdened from the load that you must pull?  Then take comfort, for Jesus bids you to come to Him.  Yes, we hear Jesus desiring that all people should come to Him and let themselves be helped. 

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we hear that those who labor and are heavy laden are called by Jesus.  In other words, those of you who are exhausted and tired due to trying to work out perfection by dotting every ‘I’ and crossing every ‘T,’ you are the ones that Jesus has in mind.  And those of you who are burdened by sin, death, the devil, and the world?  Well, …you are included as well. 

Now, in case you think that you do not need the Savior, keep in mind that there is no relief for you apart from Christ.  Apart from Christ, you are most certainly in a trap that only leads to depressing despair.  And beneath that despair?  You will find death, hell, and condemnation.  

And so, the more you attempt to meet perfection in your own strength, the more you will toil and work. The more you toil and work, the more you will exhaust yourself. And the more you exhaust yourself, the more you will despair. And beneath that despair is the dark abyss.  What this means is that there is no end to this trap; there is no bottom to this ploy.  And sin, death, the devil, and the world?  They never let up either.  They are against you, not for you.  They are a constant heavy force that must be reckoned with. 

And so, we do our best.   We labor, we attempt, we plan, and we strive.  But, we end up exhausted.  Trying to achieve perfection is like trying to get that carrot on the end of the stick, with sin, death, the devil, and the world on our backs. 

As already stated, this leads you and me to exhaustion.  It leads to shame.  It leads to us torturing ourselves with anxiety and restless thoughts. 

Jesus though, says, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

Yes, those of you who feel the pressures of the yoke of the Law pressing down upon your hearts and minds, are the ones that Jesus has in mind.  Those of you who feel the weight of sin and death, are the ones that Jesus has in mind.  Those of you who feel the endless demands of the world and are tied in knots from all the conflicting messages of the world, well… you are the ones that Jesus has in mind as well.

My friends, the truth of the matter is that we human beings spend so much wasted time striving after peace, contentment, happiness, and rest.  Whether we are trying to silence our guilty conscience or whether we are trying to run from the attacks of the devil and the world, the result is the same.  We make things worse. Yes, all that striving after peace?  It makes things worse.  And all those supposed wise spiritual gurus and clever self-improvement tricksters, who come to you offering you relief, peace, tranquility, and rest?  They make things worse too, for they have nothing to offer but deceptions – deceptions that don’t make things better but only load you down more.  To the point; rest from your wearisome hearts, a break from burdens, and forgiveness of sins, neither comes from nor is found within us as individuals.  Looking to ‘self’ to overcome the tired soul, the burdened mind, and the pressures of the devil and world, will only result in more suffering, more unrest, more trouble, more fear, more grief, and more pain.  Looking to yourself essentially adds more labor and a bigger load to your own spiritual and emotional checklists. ‘Self’ is not the solution, but one of the main sources of our troubles.   

Indeed, all of your striving, all of your efforts to overcome the guilt of sin, all of your endeavors to fulfill the Law’s demands, all your expectations to fulfill the demands of others and offset the pressures for the devil, become like a heavy yoke.  They are like a yoke, which is placed over your shoulders and your souls.  It becomes heavy and constantly weighs down upon you as its sheer weight drives your face into the mud, thus suffocating you and making your soul weary and burdened.  There is no escape from this yoke as it seems to be cemented to you, clinging to your hearts and minds.

Jesus though, says to you, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

You, who have ears, hear!  Jesus bids us in these Gospel words to come to Him and bring our heavy load, give over all to Him.   He then says to take ‘His yoke’ and learn from Him. 

This sounds like exchanging one load for another, does it not?  This sounds like Jesus takes our yoke and we get Jesus’ yoke.  Yes, this is exactly what happens.  Jesus’ Gospel words are bidding us to come to Him – a gracious invitation – so that Jesus can relieve us of our yoke, that which we cannot bear. 

Hear the good news of the Gospel: what you cannot bear, Jesus bears for you.  He carries that yoke for you.  He fulfills the Law for you.  He suffers death for you.  He overcame the devil for you.  He overcomes the world for you.  He bears the condemnation and wrath of sin for you.  He is the sin-bearer for you, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

But there is more!  Jesus then promises to give you His yoke.  This is not exchanging one burden for another burden though.  This is a happy exchange.  Jesus takes and bears all of our sins and then gives us His yoke.  But unlike all the weight of sin, death, the devil, and the world, Jesus’ yoke is no yoke at all.  It is a yoke that is easy and is light.  You see, Jesus’ yoke is an easy and light burden because He does all the work.  We love because He first loved us.  We are committed to Him because He was first committed to us.  He paid for all our sins and set us free.  He fights the battle for us.  He equips us with His mighty power, the full armor of God.  He provides our escape from temptation so we can stand. Jesus is our relief, our rescue, our rest at every turn.  Our rest does not rest on us at all.  Our rest rests only on Jesus, who broke the yoke of slavery and removed its burden on the cross.  He daily lifts us and carries us on eagle’s wings.

In Jesus, you have a great exchange of yokes.  And with the yoke of Jesus placed upon you, as a complete and sheer gift, you will rest in the unforced rhythms of grace, as you learn to live freely and lightly. 

And when those temptations to earn righteousness by your will-power emerge – that need to self-justify – you can be sure that this is not from Christ’s yoke but evidence that you and I have crawled back under the old yoke as if it is still ours to bear.  And when the weight of sin, death, the devil, and the world press down upon your heart, soul, and minds, do not attempt to overcome it by your strength for you will surely fail.  Do not be deceived, this old yoke is not yours to carry, for everything has been crucified unto Christ.  You do not belong to sin, death, the devil, and the world.  The life you live, you live by faith in the Son of God who loves you and give Himself for you. 

Yes, in Christ there is no heavy or ill-fitting thing laid upon you. 

He does the verbs of salvation. 

He is your Shepherd, King, Master, Substitute, Savior, and Lord. 

Thus, whatever comes to you, whether good or bad, you can face it under Christ.  With Jesus, we can only be crushed if He is crushed too.  Ah, but keep in mind that He has already been crushed, and He was resurrected; therefore, in Christ, there is no condemnation of sin, no fear of death, no scheming of the world, but only forgiveness, life, and salvation with Him.  

Blessed Saints, Jesus is your rest – real rest.  Rest in Him.  Take, trust, and feast upon the Gospel for your souls knowing that it is not by your might or power, but by Jesus’ power and might that you live, walk, and breath.  Indeed, the yoke He gives in exchange is easy, and His burden light.

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

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