Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What You Most Treasure

Ash Wednesday
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

During our midweek Lenten worship services we will hear the Words of our Lord as set forth in the Catechism. I say the Words of our Lord because it’s a misconception to think of the words of the Catechism as the words of a human being. I suppose the reason this is is because the title of the little book we know as the Catechism is Luther’s Small Catechism. The meanings Luther attached to the Catechism are indeed his words. But the words of the Catechism itself are straight out of the Bible, with the exception of the Apostle’s Creed, which is a compilation of phrases that are straight from the Bible or based directly on the Bible.

Think about what the Catechism consists of: The Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. These are all from God in His Word. If we think of them as only human made things it is easy to dismiss them. But if we recognize and believe and take to heart that they are given to us by God then we will hold them in the high esteem they deserve. This is one of the reasons we have Lent. We need times of reflection. We need times where we meditate on God’s Word. We are so inundated in our lives with human words that we may hear very little of God’s Word.

Jesus brings this home with His words in the Gospel reading:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

What do we think of God’s Word? We Christians believe it’s the Word of God. That it’s entirely true and profitable toward salvation. But do we treasure God’s Word? Is it more valuable to us than earthly riches?

This is really brought home when we take a look at a portion of God’s Word such as the Ten Commandments. It’s hard to treasure words like these, isn’t it? Even though we know they’re fully the Word of God. It’s hard to treasure them because it’s hard to hear them. Even harder to take them to heart. It’s impossible for us to obey them perfectly. We try, but we fall short.

Yet treasure the Words of God is what God calls us to do. Even these. The ones that put demands on us. And you know something about God? When He makes demands, it’s as if that’s not even enough to put on us. It’s as if He makes it even harder. How does Jesus describe the kind of life He calls us to in the Gospel reading? When you do things that are pleasing to God, don’t do it in a way that people will know about it. In other words, we’re not to do them so that others can see how good we are. Holiness is not spectacular. It doesn’t seek the spotlight.

The only one getting the spotlight is Jesus Christ. And He set the example for us. He rightly belongs in the spotlight and yet He humbled Himself. He did this for us. He suffered and died so that we may have salvation. That we are called upon by God to be holy is an outgrowth of the salvation He has given us.

In the Gospel reading Jesus summarizes the second table of the Law with His words on helping others. Commandments four through ten describe how this looks. We honor our parents and those in authority. We do not seek harm against others and we don’t hate them. We honor the marriage bond, both in our actions and in our thoughts. We leave other people’s stuff alone and help them take care of it. We honor the reputation of others and do not drag it through the mud. We remain content with what we have and do not look upon the possessions of others as what we should have.

Though these things are hard to do, it’s pretty straightforward. What Jesus is getting at is why we do it. And that extends into how we do it. When we’re good boys and girls that makes us feel good. It makes us feel really good when other people notice. And if that’s the reward we want, that’s the reward we’ll get. But God gave us the Ten Commandments so that we may help our neighbor, not to be well thought of by others.

If there’s one thing the Ten Commandments drive home it’s that it’s not about us. Against the Ten Commandments we see just how much we fall short of God’s will. Do we always treat others the way we want to be treated? How often do we say things about others that are speculation and don’t build up their reputation? And why do we feel that it’s perfectly fine to talk back to our parents? But even if we were to convince ourselves that these things aren’t that big of deal, we are soon brought down to size, because Jesus once again ratchets things up a notch.

After He’s through talking about how we are to love our neighbor, He goes to the first table of the Law. Here is probably where we most see that we would like our righteousness to be known by others. We can do a fine job of convincing ourselves of how good we are. But there is no getting around the one thing that puts to rest our mistaken notions: you shall have no other gods. Ultimately, we want to please ourselves. We so often do not look to God for our highest good but seek to please ourselves. What we most treasure is ourselves.

But God has a treasure, too. He treasures us. He loves us. He has done all things to bring about salvation for us. And it is His gift to us. He offers it freely. He doesn’t demand that we obey the Ten Commandments first. He forgives our falling short of it. He placed His demand on His only-begotten Son. This is the greatest treasure of all. The abundance of blessing He pours out on us doesn’t end just with our salvation but also in the opportunity to serve others as He has first served us. Amen.


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