The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity – Historic Lectionary – Matthew 9:1-8 – October 22, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
In last few years the phrase, “Consumer Christianity” has overtaken churches and pastors, the shelves Christian bookstores and church worker conferences alike.
It is both one of the most popular topics among pastors and Christian authors, as well as one of the most frightening nightmares that churches everywhere are trying desperately to avoid.
If you’ve never heard the phrase “Consumer Christianity”, then it is simply the idea that in our present culture, Christians and non-Christians alike are asking entirely selfish and self-centered questions about the church.
Asking at the end of a church experience, things like, “What did I get out of the sermon, was it interesting? Was it moving? Did it impact my life? What kinds of programs does this church have to offer my children? Will our needs be met in its ministry?”
Bloggers, authors and pastors have been trying to answer these so-called selfish questions, where they come from and how we change them, for almost a decade.
And the basic answer that every book and church conference offers is that through preaching and teaching and bible class and the life of the church, the pastor and congregation should be about the work of retraining and reforming our faith from being ‘selfish-consumers’ to becoming ‘faithful-producers’.
In some ways this answer channels a kind of churchly JFK, preaching, “Ask not what your church can do for you, but ask what you can do for your church.”
I find all of this terrifying and tragic, especially when it comes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Because the simple fact of the matter is that God Himself, in all of Holy Scripture, speaks of you and I as ‘consumers’.
And that is not just a preaching of the Law, it’s not just who we are as sinful people, that we seek to take and steal and grab and keep for ourselves, but it’s how our Lord describes even the goodness and the God-given design of creation.
It’s why we are bold to pray in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
That is, give us right now, that which we need, for we cannot live apart from the good and gracious hand of God. Everything that we have, from the food on our dinner tables, to the energy given to get out of bed in the morning, is consumed by creation, and given by God.
And again, this is not just true of this earthly life, for in Holy Baptism, our Lord never speaks of us in any other way than as that of consumers, those who wait in faith upon the Lord who is good and will make us alive in Him.
His glory, just as we explored the words of the Offertory a few weeks ago, His glory is that we take and receive from Him, that which He gives.
What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? How shall I thank Him?
I will take more from Him. I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.
The glory of God is that we would consume and keep consuming that which He is and that which He gives.
Indeed we have no other life, no other calling, no other being than to live in Him, and by Him and through Him.
It is not a bad or selfish question to ask, “What did I get out of this?” That’s an incredibly important question, and in faith, you should ask it.
You should ask it after every Divine Service, after every Bible Study, every devotion in the home, and every time that you spend hearing and reading the Word of God.
Our Lord promises to deliver His kingdom, to give Himself, to raise the dead and give life to the Church. Indeed, we should rightfully ask whether or not this took place.
The only reason and the only time this question becomes truly problematic, is when we fail to actually hear the Word, when we fail and refuse to believe in who Jesus claims to be, when we cast aside what our Lord has actually come to do.
Therefore, asking “Was the sermon funny? Did it speak in a profound way? Did it give me an interesting thought to take home?” is in fact, problematic.
For our Lord does not promise to come in this way, or to deliver as the life-giving things of God, a funny story or an interesting thought. Indeed those things might happen, but it isn’t the real question, and it’s not the real answer.
He comes to give life, to comfort broken sinners, and to preach truth into existence and deliver it.
However, asking “Was the sermon true? Or did it deliver Christ and Him crucified? Or was the absolution given in the liturgy?”
That is not only the ‘right’ kind of question, but it is more than that, it is in fact a question wrought in you by the Holy Spirit Himself, it is yet another gift, another thing of God that our Lord has come to give that we might consume, that we might take and ask and be filled with His faith.
It is simply to ask if Jesus is given here – in His church, by His pastors, by His Word – as He Himself is promised.
So how do we ask the right kinds of questions? How do we move from disappointment in the Divine liturgy to wisdom, discernment and faith? Do we study more? Do we teach ourselves the right questions and force our mouths to speak the right answers even if we don’t believe them?
Do we try to make church interesting, life-changing in our own way? Or…do we imagine that the disinterest and discomfort that we feel in this place is part of the work, part of what we do, part of how we become Christians?
Thanks be to God, our Lord does not leave us to answer these things on our own. He does not try to retrain us as faithful producers who do something for the church and stop depending so much on what He gives. He does not brow-beat us for being needy, for not knowing why we come, or what we’re doing, for not knowing the right questions or the right answers.
Rather He simply provides. He is what He has promised to be. The giver of Life, the Lamb of God lifted up to be consumed, to be taken, to be depended on, and to be given.
This is why the first words to the paralytic are the words of Absolution.
It is clear to Jesus what the friends of the man are expecting. But He gives what is needed, and not only forgiveness, but the true face of God.
This is what these words accomplish.
The Lord is not angry. He does not come for those who deserve Him. He is not so cold as to help us along for the day only abandon us in the night.
He is merciful, and His kingdom comes to bring you fully into life. Into His grace, His forgiveness, His resurrection.
These are simple words, but by God’s grace, they are given to constantly be fed into our ears, mouths and hearts, for by them we behold the truth of the Kingdom of God.
The Lord is not angry. He has taken your place. He is taken up your flesh. He has finished the work, and set you at peace.
Without these words, our consumerism, which is good, which is the glory of Christ Himself, instead becomes a guilt trip, where we would falsely imagine that there is something to do, something to give back, some become.
The Lord provides. He gives what you did not expect, what you were not looking for, and what might even sound a bit disappointing, but it is everything, it is forgiveness, and it covers even your disappointment, even your doubt and bitterness, anxiety and frustration.
The Lord is not angry. He has mercy and compassion. He goes to Jerusalem for you. He brings you not empty words, but a body lifted up, and blood poured out.
There is truly nothing else to the Christian faith than that of the forgiveness of sins.
It is in this peace that you can live with difficulty, perhaps even with paralysis, it is in this hope that you can suffer, and care for the neighbor, and be about the good works of the kingdom of God.
Not because you are producers, not because you have outgrown the consumerism of Holy Baptism, but precisely you are those who take and eat, you reach for the cup salvation, who are blessed to come in the name of the Lord.
Rise and walk, your sins are forgiven. You have more than just something today, you have Christ Himself.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.