5 March 2014
Text: Matt 6:1-6, 16-21 (Joel 2:12-19, 2 Pet 1:2-11)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Our Lord Jesus Christ warns us: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In this regard, we Americans are worse off than people living in third world countries. We citizens of the United States are at risk in ways that do not affect much of the rest of the world. They struggle with their want, while we struggle with our abundance. Even in times of economic distress, of inflation and unemployment, we still have one of the highest standards of living on the planet.
And that is our greatest danger.
For where is our treasure? Where do we invest our precious time and our hard-earned money? Do we give sacrificially of our first-fruits to the church for the ongoing mission of this outpost of the Gospel, or do we spend more time and money on entertainment and luxuries? For this is our greatest temptation, dear friends. When Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, he is talking about us. Every person in this sanctuary lives like a king even compared to the richest people on the planet a century ago. We have running water. We have heat and air conditioning. We have indoor plumbing. We have television and computers and cell phones and cars and spare time to take up hobbies and sports and extracurricular activities. We go on vacations. We eat, drink, and are merry.
And again that is our weakness. That is where Satan attacks us.
Our Lord says: “When you give to the needy...” He is not talking about once a year writing a check for twenty bucks. He means that giving to the poor is an ongoing way of life for His people. Charity is not something to be done at special times of the year, while tooting our own horn about it. Rather, it is as natural to the Christian life as breathing, sleeping, and eating, and we certainly don’t call attention to doing those things.
Is this how you live, dear brother or sister? Do you regularly commit to support of the needy? Could you do more? Or does greed get in our way?
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Our Lord says: “When you pray...” He is not talking about once a week (or once a month, or twice a year) in church. He does not mean every few years when we have a brush with an accident or a health scare. He means daily and continuously. Fathers, are you leading your families in prayer? Mothers, are you teaching your little ones the prayers of the church? Parents, are you making sure your children are at Divine Service week in and week out, as well as at Sunday School? Or are other things more important?
Again, prayer to the life of the Christian is like breathing is to any organism. When you stop doing it, you are dying, minute by minute, cell by cell. Prayer connects you to the Lord, the Giver of life. Prayer binds you in communion with your Master and Creator. Prayer unites you with your Savior and Redeemer.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Our Lord says: “When you fast…” Many Lutherans actually brag about how they don’t fast, and ridicule those who do. But our Lord says: “When you fast…” He doesn’t set out a complicated schedule of when you can’t eat meat, or drink milk, or eat eggs. There is no absolute prohibition against eating meat on Fridays. But our Lord says: “When you fast…” To give up meat (or dessert, or facebook, or any other pleasurable thing) on Friday is a reminder of the Lord’s cross, of Good Friday. He does, after all, invite us to “take up your cross and follow me.” If we can’t even turn down a helping of tiramisu or a t-bone as a discipline, what kind of disciples are we, dear friends?
Our Lord says: “When you fast…” And again, He says: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
And this, dear friends, is why we have ashes on this first day of Lent. It is not to show your neighbors and friends how pious you are, but rather to confess how sinful you are. You are marked with the death that you deserve. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Remember, O man, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
But remember, O man, that the ashes are stuck to your forehead with oil, which we use to bless the newly baptized, which we use to anoint those who are confirmed into the faith. The name “Christ” means “the anointed one.” The oil that binds the ashes to you is the anointing of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the one and only one who died but never even began to return to dust. For His treasure is in pleasing His Father. And that is where His heart – pierced by the Roman spear and exuding blood and water – is also.
And remember, O man, that the ashes are stuck to your forehead in the form of the holy cross, the sign traced both upon your forehead and over your heart when you were baptized into Christ unto your redemption and salvation. For though the cross is a symbol of death and suffering, the Lord Jesus Christ bore our cross, suffered our passion, and died our death to pay for our sins and to deliver eternal life, forgiveness, and everlasting righteousness and blessedness to us. He has transformed the cross into a symbol of life and fulfillment.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, take this body of death that has been corrupted by sin, imposed with the dust to which you will return because of sin, and remember, O man, that Jesus went to that cross, that Jesus, who was anointed Messiah and Savior of the whole world, has died for you.
It is in His name that we ponder our own sinfulness and are called to repent and turn away from the evil one, to change our hearts and minds to reorient them away from the broad way that leads to death, and to place them firmly on the narrow way of life.
Let us treasure the Word of God and the preaching of the Gospel! Let us treasure every opportunity to be in His presence and to be in fleshly communion with Him! Let us treasure the chance to be called to repentance. Let us treasure every moment the Lord grants us to serve Him in His kingdom. And let us treasure His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation.
For our Lord Jesus Christ promises us: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Amen.
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