Shrouds with Pockets
We're preparing for our death these last few Sundays of the Church Year. I don't believe this is true, but supposedly Alexander the Great ordered that his hands be left hanging from the liter that carried him to his cremation so all could see that you can't take it with you (Ency. Of 7700 Illustrations, 1547). It is true that funeral shrouds don't have pockets, except yours.
You funeral shroud has pockets because you can take it with you. All that Jesus left in your charge when He ascended into heaven to get His kingdom, you can take with you. Let's see; what did Jesus leave all His slaves in equal portions? We ask the question based on the parable. All 10 slaves get exactly the same thing, 1 mina, which was about 3 month's wages. Does Jesus leave us with all the same mental or physical abilities? Nope. How about earthly riches? Nope. How about equally long lives? Nope.
The mina the man in the parable leaves all his slaves doesn't stand for time, talent or treasure. It stands for the Means of Grace, Word and Sacraments, forgiveness, life and salvation. No Christian has more or less of these. These are the only things Jesus left His household when He ascended. He left Bread and Wine and said do this to bring Me back to you for forgiveness, life, and salvation. He left Water and said apply this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for rebirth and renewal. He left the Word and said forgive sins in My name.
Jesus told the parable "because He was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once." He told the parable to explain why there is a delay. The kingdom will not appear in glory certainly not on Good Friday but not even on Easter. Jesus will have to leave them in order to receive the kingdom for them.
This is an important point. Jesus as true God begotten of the Father from eternity always had the kingdom, cannot be given the kingdom, has no need to win the kingdom. But Jesus wants us to be in kingdom of God, us sinful, fallen, men. We have no right to the kingdom of God. Our sins make it impossible for us to even enter it. So God the Son descended into our flesh and blood to win the kingdom for sinful flesh and blood. He did this by taking our place under the law of God that convicted us of sins and banished us from the kingdom. He kept all those laws perfectly. There wasn't a law that He didn't keep; there wasn't a law that the Devil, the World, or others could point to and say: this broken law proves you must remain outside the kingdom.
From Jesus' first moments in the womb all the way to Calvary's cross, Jesus was actively keeping all the Laws that can only accuse, convict, and shame us. Being kept by Jesus they could no longer be used against us. But what about the penalties God's law requires sinners suffer? There's no going into the kingdom for you until that misbelief, that unbelief, or that great shame and vice of yours is paid for. That's why Jesus was headed to Jerusalem. To make the last payment on the world's mountain of debt. He did that on Good Friday, and God the Father stamped "Paid in Full" by raising Jesus from the dead on Easter.
But Jesus didn't stay here. He ascended into Heaven. He took the flesh and blood He shares with us and was enthroned as Lord of the Cosmos. He received the kingdom as a flesh and blood Man, so that you might know the kingdom of heaven belongs to you. He leaves us behind to do His business. Do think His business is making buildings? Then He should have left us plans and material. O I know. His business is building the kingdom. O that's right; He left to receive the kingdom. He doesn't need us to build it. O, O I know. His business is feeding and clothing the poor. He didn't leave me anything but my daily bread and the promise to clothe me as He does the flowers of the field. How about you?
Jesus' business is forgiving sins, bringing sinners to faith, strengthening and preserving people in the true faith. For doing this He left us Baptism, Absolution, and Communion, and you most certainly can take these with you whether your world ends tonight or the world does tomorrow. In fact, you had better take them with you. I say this because not all do.
The Haters don't. They want nothing to do with Jesus being their king. While He is away receiving the kingdom for sinful men, they are opposing Him. You can do that you know. As long as Jesus operates through Word and Sacrament, He can easily be resisted. He can be made fun of. "He's not the boss of me," a person can boldly proclaim and not be struck dead. "He has no right to tell me what is and isn't sin," say billions, and nothing happens to them. The Buddhist keeps his idol; the Muslim prays to Allah; the majority thumb there nose at going to church; the teen thinks honoring his father and mother is a joke; the doctor murders the unborn; the living together prosper in their fornicating, and the homosexual is gay in his homosexuality and nothing happens to them.
While we're doing our absent King's business of baptizing all nations, of teaching them to observe all that He has commanded, of absolving the penitent, of condemning the impenitent, and of celebrating the mystery of our King's Real Presence in Bread and Wine, the Haters are sinning boldly and prospering. The King who is only present in Bread and Wine, who only rules with the Word, is easily resisted. But when He returns these Haters will not be able to resist the summons into His presence, and those who wanted no part of His rule of grace will get the full measure of His wrath.
You can take your mina with you when King Jesus returns for you or for us all. The Haters have no mina because they want nothing to do with an absent King's reign or rule. But there are others who have been given a mina, but they act like they haven't. They don't return to their Baptism daily to die in repentance and be reborn in faith. They live as if Baptism was just plain water. When they're bothered by their sins, they don't flee to the Absolution; no, they make excuses; they promise to do better. Absolution is of no more use to them then a mina laid away in a rag. When age, sin, or sickness preaches to them of their mortality, they find no hope or comfort in the Body and Blood of Communion; they find only bread and wine.
King Jesus will hold every one of us accountable on our last day or the Last Day. What shocks us is that loving Lord Jesus summons the Haters and commands they be slaughtered in front of Him. But that's not what shocks the bystanders. What shocks them in the parable is when the slave who didn't use his mina has Baptism, Absolution, and Communion taken from him and given to the slave who has 10 times more of these. You don't use the grace, mercy, and peace Jesus won for you, and you will loose it. You put these to use and they don't run out, they don't diminish, they multiply, and King Jesus gives you even more of them.
You Christian, have a funeral shroud with pockets. You can take the mina your absent King has entrusted to you with you. We've seen you had better take it with you, and I am here to assure you that you will.
You've got this all wrong if you think being given and using the mina is a burden. The two faithful slaves report, "Your mina has earned;" neither say I earned. No all the power, all the effort comes from the mina. When we view remembering our Baptism or using the Word or worse going to Communion as something we have got to do, we're treating them as powerless things. Unless we add our effort they are nothing. They are deadweight. Who wants to carry deadweight around with them? Who wants deadweight in a funeral shroud? Better to wrap it up in a sweat cloth and leave it at home.
But that's not you. Baptism is not deadweight to you; it's a life-giving water rich in grace; it's a washing of actual regeneration by God the Holy Spirit. So daily you go back to it. You take your sin stained body and soul back to the font and dive in, and those waters drown that old Adam that can only despise and distain King Jesus and His gifts.
Absolution is not deadweight to you; it's not something you want to go weeks, let alone months, without ringing in your ears. Absolution is the breath of the Holy Spirit in the mouth of a man. Absolution is the application of the forgiveness of sins paid for on Calvary and announced on Easter to you personally. Absolution is the actual sending away of your sins from you. It's not you carrying them away and leaving them some place where in moments of fear or guilt you can go get them. No Absolution takes your sins away from you as far as East is from West never to be joined to you again.
The Body and Blood of your King certainly is not deadweight to you. It is how your physical body and blood partakes of the forgiveness, life and salvation won by His Body and Blood. While our bodies physically break down and corrupt the earthly food we partake of, the heavenly Food of Jesus' Body and Blood builds up and glorifies our bodies. Each Sunday you hunger and thirst for more of this building up, for more of this glorifying. You no more what to go without this Bread of Life everlasting than you want to go without physical bread. You no more want to go without this Medicine of Immortality than you want to go without mortal medicine.
You will take the mina Jesus has entrusted to you with you when you die because you're going to have it in the pocket of your funeral shroud. Why? Because you never leave home without it. Your Baptism, Absolution, and Communion are like your cell phone, keys, and pen. You check for these without even thinking about it. You pat your pockets faithfully in a somewhat liturgical fashion. Cell phone, keys, pen got them; I'm ready to go. Baptized, absolved, communed you're ready to meet your King any time He comes for you. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year (20131117); Luke 19: 11-27