HOLY LIVES: ST. MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, 11 August 2019
A Sermon on Luke 12:22-40 by Samuel Zumwalt, STS

Luke 12:22-40 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

HOLY LIVES: ST. MARY, THE MOTHER OF GOD

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Imagine a world in which girls were married just past puberty, sometime around the age of fourteen. Each girl had been raised to bear children and to raise a godly family. Each girl had been raised to keep the faith and to say her prayers. Each girl had been raised to manage a home. Now that was the world in which the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, was raised.

But hardly more than 100 years ago in agricultural communities formed by Lutheran immigrants, many a Lutheran young woman was wed at fourteen to a Lutheran young man of seventeen or eighteen. She would have completed the eighth grade and was the more educated of the two. He would have begun working full-time on the farm after completing the sixth grade. Two world wars in the 20th century changed that world irrevocably. Even many of the living veterans never really came back home from the wars.
Today, a young woman of fourteen and a young man of eighteen would be prevented from marrying. Someone would say, “They are only children.” A promiscuous culture that acts as if sexual activity is inevitable, desires unmanageable, and fertility a curse to be controlled by drugs or abortion thinks itself superior to the world in which the Virgin Mary was raised. A greedy culture that equates education with great earning power and thinks of children as a hindrance to career and wealth thinks of itself as having progressed far beyond the agrarian culture that was still vibrant in the United States hardly more than 100 years ago. What would that world have thought of once great cities filled with people living in tents, using drugs and excreting publicly?

Driving through southern Ohio and Indiana on my recent continuing education trip, we saw beautiful rich farm land with for sale signs. Beside beautiful fields of corn and grain sorghum were new subdivisions of cheap houses. A large new factory was providing good paying jobs that took workers away from the land. Doubtless elderly parents had died and now the kids were cashing out without a thought of what was being lost. Doubtless developers and builders were throwing up houses on rich arable land without a thought of from where future generations would acquire their food. This was not progress. This was a death-denying culture in decline.

At the hotel breakfast table, a semi-retired man in his early 70s sat down beside me and struck up a conversation. He was traveling with a son and the son’s family. I asked how he had made his living. “I was a plumber working for myself for years. I did new construction only and made enough to raise my family. Now, I’m a building inspector overseeing the work I used to do. There are young people still training to be electricians, but there are no young fellows training to be plumbers in my area.” We agreed that plumbers earn a better living than most people with a four-year degree, that not everyone needs to go to college, but everyone needs a trade. As with disappearing farm land and fewer farmers, who will plumb homes yet to be built and repair the plumbing of existing homes? Is our promiscuous, greedy culture really progressing?

The Brevity of Life

How brief is life? It depends on your perspective, doesn’t it? A small child wonders if a 1600-mile trip is almost over one hour after having left home. A young girl understands how long two days takes and knows that she must occupy herself on the trip. An older boy wonders why he must go on a trip with his parents and miss so much. Adults know what a trip costs and what preparations must be made before the trip and all that must be done after. It’s exhausting. In old age, one looks back over a lifetime’s journey and understands that time has flown. Both historians and students of the Scriptures look back over the preceding centuries to see the rise and fall of empires and civilizations. The grass withers. The flower fades. The Word of the Lord endures forever. So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

If you hate your life fifty-one weeks out of the year and live for that vacation for which you have saved, what’s wrong with that picture? If you slave away doing work you hate with people you don’t like for forty years, so that you can have ten or more years of alcohol- or drug-soaked leisure. What kind of life is that? If you acquire thousands of dollars in educational debt on the way to a profession that will kill your soul and perhaps your body, what kind of life is that? If you can afford houses and cars and toys you don’t have time to enjoy and don’t have time to have or raise a family, what kind of life is that? On your deathbed, how will such a life look?
The cynical half-believer may sniff the air and ask, “What can a man who lived 2,000 years ago and was executed at thirty-three teach anyone about life?” If Jesus is only such a man, then his perspective might be interesting, perhaps instructive like the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed at 39, but, finally, a brief human life is only that. One life among billions of dead.

When you go to the cemetery as much as a pastor does to say prayers over caskets and bags of ashes, you understand that every life, however short or long, is brief when seen from eternity. The Lord Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, is truly God and truly Human. He is not merely a man who lived thirty-three years once upon a time and then died. This Lord Jesus reminds those anxious about this life that His Father is a gracious Provider of needs. He reminds those obsessed with having things more than people and money more than God that this life is brief. Eternity is long. Health and wealth are fleeting. The grass withers. The flower fades. The Word of the Lord endures forever. So, we must ask what disgraced multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein thought of his sixty-six-year-old life before he took it in his jail cell last night? And each one of us, however young, old, or in-between, must ask: “How does my life look to the God who will be my Judge?”

Life-Giving or Life-Taking

What kind of whisper campaign did the Virgin Mary’s neighbors conduct against her? Did only a few suspect that she was pregnant outside of wedlock? How many wondered in a so-called “knowing” way whether Joseph were really Jesus’ father? Certainly, those who did not believe Mary was still a virgin at Jesus’ conception and did not believe Jesus is the Son of God offered their smirking critiques even then: “Virginal conception? Son of God? Really?!!!”

Even among some clergy and some laity today, the Christian faith is reduced to little more than political activism and casting off the theological and cultural shackles of the capitalist past on the way to a Marxist utopia. In other places, the clergy simply trade faithfulness to God’s Word for a somewhat comfortable existence as they make sin comfortable while amusing people to death. What will the Lord God say to these at the end? Do not glibly suppose: “Well done!”

Contrast the life and witness of the Virgin Mary with that of Margaret Sanger. The Mother of God was a life-giver who said to the news that she was chosen to bear the Savior of the world: “Let it be to me according to your Word.” Margaret Sanger was a life-taker who founded an organization whose primary business is the murder of the unborn in the womb. The Virgin Mary’s Son died for the sins of the whole world, even those of Margaret Sanger and those who kill babies. The Virgin Mary’s Son and, yes, God’s Son, Jesus, loves and gave His own life on the cross for red and yellow, black and white and brown, because His Father wanted no one to be left out and none to be lost… not even a man like Jeffrey Epstein… not even the many young girls and women that man used and threw away like so much dirty laundry. This world ends in the death of everyone, young, old, or in-between, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. And everyone can have forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation through Jesus Christ alone!

The only way to be joined to the death and resurrection of God’s Son Jesus is through Holy Baptism. That is what the Scriptures teach. Baptism saves, because Baptism is God’s gracious work of taking those born dead in our trespasses and joining us to His Son’s saving death, so that our Lord Jesus can exchange joyfully His life and righteousness for our death and sin. In Baptism, our lives are made holy, set apart for God’s purposes, so that freed from the fear of death and the anxious chasing after fool’s gold that will pass through our lifeless fingers, we may be life-givers like the Mother of God instead of life-takers like Margaret Sanger.

Today, the baptized will come to the Lord’s Table to receive the Lord Jesus’ true Body and most precious Blood, and, in so doing, we will receive the Medicine of Immortality. As our Lord said in John 6 to those who only wanted free bread that would grow stale and rancid: “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life within you” (6:53).

Dear ones, believe the promise of the Crucified and Risen Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary. He will come to serve you with His own eternal life and love. Believe His promise. He is not speaking metaphorically or symbolically. The Lord Jesus is promising that in the Host and Cup you are receiving the eternal life and love of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

If you leave this place with Jesus flowing into your mortal body, you leave knowing that even if your body dies, and it must, yet you will live forever with God and be raised in an immortal body that can never grow sick, wear out, or die. If that knowledge does not change you little by little, then nothing can. You are not here to be life-takers. You are here to be life-givers. You are here to glorify God and serve your neighbor with all that you have and are.

To those who want to live briefly and die like Margaret Sanger and Jeffrey Epstein, may God have mercy on their souls. That is not who and Whose you are. God has chosen you, like the Virgin Mary, to bear His Son into a dying world that needs to know Jesus and be saved by Him!

God has made you and chosen you to be life-givers. Please go home today and see your life through God’s eyes. Have you been more life-taker than life-giver? Confess your sins and ask the Holy Spirit’s help to amend your life and shape it into the likeness of the Servant Son of God.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt
szumwalt@bellsouth.net
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin Insert
Holy Lives: St. Mary, the Mother of God

Praying

“O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 1524).

Listening

Luke 12:22 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life….”

St. Cyril [early 5th century Patriarch of Alexandria]: “How carefully and with what great skill he brings the lives of the holy apostles to spiritual excellence. And with them he befits us too, because he desires all humankind to be saved and to choose the wise and more excellent life. For this reason, he makes them abandon unnecessary anxiety and does not allow a careworn and frenetic diligence that would make them wish to gather what exceeds their necessities” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke, 209).

Luke 12:31 “Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”

St. Ambrose [4th century Bishop of Milan, Italy]: “Jesus indicates that grace will not be lacking for the faithful in the present or in the future, if only those who desire the heavenly do not seek the earthly. It is unseemly for the soldiers of the kingdom to worry about foo. The King knows how to feed, cherish and clothe his household, and therefore he said, ‘Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you’” (211).

Luke 12:32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

St. Peter Chrysologus [5th century Bishop of Ravenna, Italy]: “The flock is little in the eyes of the world, but great in the eyes of God. It is little – because he calls glorious those whom he has trained to the innocence of sheep and to Christian meekness. The flock is little not as the remnant of a big one, but as one which has grown from small beginnings. This little flock denotes the infancy of his newborn church, and immediately he promises that through the blessings of heaven this church will soon have the dignity of his kingdom” (211).

Luke 12:40 “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria: “We should look for Christ’s coming again from heaven. He will come in the glory of the Father with the holy angels. He has taught us saying that we must be like those who wait for their lord to return from the banqueting house, so that when he comes and knocks, they may open the door to him immediately. For Christ will return as from a feast. This plainly shows that God always dwells in festivals that are fitting for him. In heaven above there is no sadness whatsoever since nothing can occasion grief. That heavenly nature is incapable of passion and of being affected by anything whatsoever of this kind” (214).

Reflecting

1. Do I pray when I am anxious? Or do I give in to the anxiety?

2. Do I stay away from the services of God when I am anxious? Or do I hasten to receive Jesus?

3. Do I take courage from Mary’s prayer, ‘Let it be to me according to Your Word?’”

Learning

(Read this aloud daily until everyone in your home can say it from memory.)

Christian Questions with Their Answers

Prepared by Dr. Martin Luther for those who intend to go to the Sacrament.

After confession and instruction in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments of Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, the past may ask, or Christians may ask themselves these questions.

12. What are the Words of Institution?

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: ‘Take eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also, He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: ‘Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’”

13. Do you believe, then, that the true body and blood of Christ are in the Sacrament?

Yes, I believe it.

14. What convinces you to believe this?

The word of Christ: take, eat, this is My body; drink of it, all of you, this is My blood (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Doing

1. Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.

2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.

3. Join us at 9:45 a.m. in Room 117 for “The Benedict Option” discussion group. Mark the date for Rally Day on August 25 in your calendar!

4. Hang a crucifix or cross opposite your pillow so that the last sight you see before turning out the light is your Lord’s cross and the first sight of the new day reminds you to pray.

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”