Ash Wednesday - Matthew 6:16-21 - February 10, 2016

Order of the Confessional Service - Pg. 46
Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn #329 From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee
Hymn #347 Jesus, Priceless Treasure
Hymn #324 Jesus Sinners Doth Receive

Isaiah 59:12-21
Joel 2:12-19
Matthew 6:16-21

Collect for Ash Wednesday
Almighty and Everlasting God, our Father, Who hatest nothing that Thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent, create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of Thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with the Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Collect for the Beginning of Lent
O Gracious God, Who retainest not Thine anger forever, but delightest in mercy and pardonest iniquity, Who wouldst be gracious to Thy people rather than pour out Thy wrath upon sinners, we beseech Thee, forgive us all our sins, and enable us by Thy Holy Spirit to go and sin no more; for the sake of the bitter sufferings and death of Thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 

Sermon on the Holy Gospel 
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen,

1)         Jesus teaches us that the Christian is not to rely upon mammon for every good thing when He says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” Jesus is not teaching that worldly possessions and wealth are to be despised, neglected, and hated. He’s not teaching that personal property is evil. The Seventh Commandment shows us that private property is a gift from God when it says, “Thou shalt not steal.” If one’s property and possessions were communal property, if what you had in your pocket and in your possession belonged to everyone then it wouldn’t be stealing when someone decided they needed it or wanted it more than you. There would be no reason for the commandment. Jesus gave the commandments from Mount Sinai. He will not say something against them in the Sermon on the Mount for He cannot contradict Himself.

2)         There is nothing wrong with having worldly treasure. There is nothing wrong with gaining, saving, and using worldly wealth. Abraham possessed great wealth. So did King David. Solomon asked the Lord for a hearing heart, that is, wisdom and the Lord replied, “wisdom and knowledge are granted to you; and I will give you riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings have had who were before you, nor shall any after you have the like” (2 Chronicles 1:12). If the Lord did not want His Christians to have wealth and worldly treasure then He would not have so graciously bestowed these things upon the patriarchs and kings of the Old Testament. It’s even worth pointing out that Jesus had a money box which Judas held. St. John tells us in John 12:6 that Judas was a thief who “used to take what was put in it,” helping himself because He loved money. He demonstrated this again when he betrayed the Lord for a mere thirty pieces of silver. In the eyes of God there is nothing wrong with wealth and worldly possession. To make Jesus’ words today tell us this would make Jesus contradict Himself and the Holy Scriptures.

3)         But then what do we do with Jesus’ words, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth?” Hear them translated another way. “Do not treasure for yourselves treasure on earth.” The word often translated “lay up” or “store” is the verbal form of the noun for the Greek word “treasure.” Jesus forbids treasuring earthly treasure. Just as Jesus does not forbid fasting but forbids it so to appear righteous before others, so here He does not forbid possessing earthly treasure, but treasuring it. When a person treasures earthly treasure they worry over it, they fret over its safety. They imagine that as long as they have their earthly treasure then their future is secure. Since the future is never secure in this world and nothing is guaranteed, the heart that treasures earthly treasure will always be looking out for ways to increase its earthly treasure. Earthly treasure easily becomes an idol in the heart, a false god, something from which we expect all good things to come. That heart then believes that wealth will provide for it. Money will secure its future safety and freedom. Earthly treasure will make life better, more comfortable, more secure against the changes and chances of this life. This worship of mammon, this reliance upon wealth, this treasuring earthly treasure is a sin that infects all men and women. We see an example of it in children who are continually dissatisfied with one toy when they visit the toy store and see a whole aisle of toys they don’t have. Then the “gimmies” ensue. So it is for all mankind. The Christian must be mindful lest he find ourselves treasuring his earthly treasures.

4)         How do we tell when we are treasuring our earthly treasures? Luther wrote in the Large Catechism that this is easily seen. If you feel secure because of your worldly treasures then you treasure them. If you feel despondent when you lose them, then you are treasuring your worldly treasure. He writes in the Large Catechism: “Many a one thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and, possessions; he trusts in them and boasts of them with such firmness and assurance as to care for no one. Lo, such a man also has a god, Mammon by name, i.e., money and possessions, on which he sets all his heart, and which is also the most common idol on earth. He who has money and possessions feels secure, and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. On the other hand, he who has none doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God. For very few are to be found who are of good cheer, and who neither mourn nor complain if they have not Mammon. This [care and desire for money] sticks and clings to our nature, even to the grave. So, too, whoever trusts and boasts that he possesses great skill, prudence, power, favor, friendship, and honor has also a god, but not this true and only God. This appears again when you notice how presumptuous, secure, and proud people are because of such possessions, and how despondent when they no longer exist or are withdrawn. Therefore I repeat that the chief explanation of this point is that to have a god is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts.” There is no safe secure enough, no treasure indestructible enough, no earthly treasure that can truly provide every good thing for you. So do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth. Do not treasure for yourselves treasures on earth.

5)         Jesus tells you instead to “lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal,” or again, translated another way, “treasure for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Earthly treasures are eaten by moths, destroyed by rust, or whisked away by thieves. Heavenly treasures are just what they sound like, treasures that are in heaven. These are the things which we are to treasure in our hearts and prize as the highest and most valuable things we possess in this life. It is as St. Paul tells the Colossians, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.” What are these things you are to treasure? The unseen promises of God, those things which we confess in the Creed such as the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. When you believe the promise of the Gospel, that Christ is merciful toward sinners, His perfect righteousness is credited to you. Christ’s perfect righteousness, His merits won in His life by His perfect life under the Law of God, that righteousness and merit is promised to all who repent and believe the Gospel. Whenever you believe the Gospel Christ bestows a new verdict upon you, the verdict of “not guilty.” He confers a new status upon you in Holy Baptism, “Son of God,” because the son is the legal heir of the inheritance. St. Peter calls this “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5), for it is located with God the Father and only promised to those who believe the Gospel, so that no moth or rust can destroy. Neither can any thief break in and steal it away.

6)         All these heavenly treasures are part of the chief treasure which is Christ Jesus Himself. He is, as we just sang, “Jesus, Priceless treasure.” He is to be treasured above all earthly treasures, for He alone acquires salvation for humanity and applies it to all who believe the promise of the Gospel. Trusting in Christ for every good thing we have a true God, who is able to give us every good thing in this life and the life of the world to come. Possessing this treasure gives us true confidence so that we believe as we sang a moment ago in the 4th stanza of that hymn, “Hence, all earthly treasure! Jesus is my Pleasure, Jesus is my Choice. Hence, all empty glory! Naught to me thy story told with tempting voice. Pain or loss, or shame or cross, shall not from my Savior move me since He deigns to love me.” That Christ has been crucified for our sins and freely bestows that upon us, this is our treasure which we are to treasure in our hearts, hold dear as our most prized possession, so that we rely upon it for our security and our future, both in this life and the life to come. No matter what happens to our earthly treasures the Christian can say with Job, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). If we possess Christ as our treasure and through Him enjoy the promise of mercy and the forgiveness of our sins, it matters not what happens to us in this life because He who has graciously provided all things for salvation will so graciously provide all things suitable for this life.

7)         Today the church enters into the hallowed season of Lent, the Quadragesima, meaning “the forty days.” During this season the church bids you to examine your life, your thoughts, your words, and your deeds so that you might see your sins for what they are, repent of them in godly sorrow, and have them absolved through faith in the Gospel. It is also in this season that we examine ourselves to better see our temptations so that we can better fight them with the help of the Holy Ghost. Lent is a time of fasting in this way, if not physically, so that we learn to deprive our flesh of its desires, starving out our Old Adam by fighting sin in our mortal bodies. As we enter this holy season and begin our self-examinations, let us consider first and foremost the first commandment, and continually find that we often make a god out of all sorts of earthly treasures that cannot provide eternal, or even real temporal benefit. During these forty days ponder your life according to each of the Ten Commandments, but most certainly the First, which invites faith in the true God, that we fear, love, and trust in in Him above all things, that is, that we treasure Him and His Word, His absolution, His baptism, His Supper, and His mercy, above all things. It is from this commandment that the following nine commandments spring. May you contemplate the passion, sufferings, and death of your Lord Jesus Christ as your treasure, because it was all done by Him not for Himself, but you, to be the treasure in your heart and the confidence of your faith before God’s throne of judgment. Do not treasure for yourselves earthly treasure. Rather treasure for yourselves heavenly treasure where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen,

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