September 12, 2021 A+D
St. Matthew 6: 24-34
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We rarely worry about whether or not we will starve or go about the city naked and die of exposure. We worry about other things, like whether or not our beloved will love us back, what our neighbors will think of us, and maybe the future of our church or our nation. We also worry about small comforts and inconveniences. Worst of all, we sometimes give little thought to what we are doing to ourselves and to our loved ones with our sins, but without repentance or a desire to change, we worry about being caught.
Repent. Jesus rebukes us for our worries. Worry comes from unbelief. We do not fully trust in God to know what we need or to provide it.
The hymn of the day is a remarkable antidote to this malady. What God ordains is always good. The opposite of worry is confidence. The hymn teaches us to praise God in the midst of earthly sorrow and uncertainty. What God ordains, whether we like it or not, is always good for us. It is not simply that God is Himself good and powerful and wise, though that is true, but our confidence is that He is working out our salvation and working all things together, including our sorrows and various evils, for our good. We yield ourselves to Him who yielded Himself to the Father’s wrath in order to obtain our salvation. We trust His mercy. We expect His goodness. We look with eagerness for His approval and love during rebukes and Law preaching, during hardship and sadness, as well as during His beneficence and Gospel preaching.
This is the essential exercise of faith. It looks to God as the source of all good and trusts Him for the sake of Christ. This does not come by observation. If all we had was what nature alone could reveal to us by sight and experience, we might come to the false opinion of Epicurus. There must not be a god worthy of the name for either He does not have the power to stop evil or He does not care to do so. Lilies are thrown into the fire and forgotten. Life and suffering is meaningless.
But we have more than observation. We have God’s Word. God speaks to us in Holy Scripture. He reveals that He has willed our salvation from the foundation of the world in the sending of the Son. He has become a Man to redeem us out of sin and death. This life, including both its extreme pleasures and its excruciating pain, is not all there is, and it is not meaningless, but finds meaning in yielding to God.
Jesus gives voice to the Father’s joy in lilies and birds, to the Spirit’s almost playful providence for them. They are good and beautiful, not meaningless. “But, you,” He says, “are worth more than they. I didn’t become a sparrow. I became a human, and that, to be your Brother, a fitting sacrifice and fulfillment of the Law for you.” Jesus, Himself, God of God and Light of Light, born of Mary, one of us, came to be thrown into the fire of His Father’s wrath on our behalf, treated worse than a lilie. Therefore, do not worry.
This is no denial of suffering, sorry, and need in this. Nor should suffering be belittled. The world is evil. It is full of injustice and pain. Where we can resist this or bring some relief for those suffering, we do. Yet the hymn, in explicating Scripture, would teach us that this suffering comes from God, not as the author of evil or as its source, but that God directs evil and is always in control. He uses it as a Father to teach His children. This world’s sorrows guide us to virtue through discipline and practice. God uses them to strengthen our faith and set our priorities.
The third and fourth stanzas of the hymn are especially pointed in this regard:
What God ordains is always good.
His loving thought attends me;
no poison can be in the cup
That my Physician sends me.
My God is true;
Each morning new
I trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.
The cup without poison which Our Physician sends us is not the Cup of the New Testament in Jesus’ Blood. This is the cup of the Father’s wrath. It is the same Cup that Jesus asked to be removed from Him and which wasn’t. Yet the Father does not pour His wrath out on us as a punishment, rather it is medicine. It is bitter. It causes pain. It might well remove some pleasure of this world as a most unpleasant but necessary amputation. This taste of the Father’s wrath is meant and is used by God for our good, as a surgeon uses a scalpel. These are necessary rebukes and chastisements. He uses them to remove us from the delusions of this world’s fleeting pleasures, teaching us where to look for lasting help and comfort, driving us to Himself and His cross.
This certainly looks to the world like poison. To some degree, it tastes like poison and often seems to have the same effect as poison. That is because the cross is foolishness to the world and to our old Adam. But we look beyond observation and the complaining of our fallen flesh. We trust God’s Word. If God gave us this cross, this pain, this difficult circumstance, then it is good for us. He is our Physician. He knows what He is doing. Moreover, He is moved by compassion and pity, not by cruelty or justice. He is all-wise.
He is not the God of double predestination, who glories in damning some. That idea is blasphemy. He is the God of compassion. He gave His life for the sins of the whole world. He desires all men to turn and be saved. No poison can be in the cup that He gives to us. His loving thought attends us. He has custom made these medicinal crosses for us. He has faced this wrath and drank this cup Himself before us. What He ordains is always good. We yield to Him.
Thus the next stanza:
What God ordains is always good:
Though I the cup am drinking
Which savors now of bitterness,
I take it without shrinking.
For after grief
God gives relief
My heart with comfort filling
And all my sorrow stilling.
If Jesus lives and God is for us, then who can be against us? What is death but a passage? He works all things together for good to those who love Him. Why worry? You can’t add any cubits to your life. You don’t know what is best or what the future holds. Without rebukes and crosses, you would leave the path. But God loves you. And you know that Jesus died for you and is risen for your justification. You know that He chose you in the waters of Holy Baptism, that He has made a promise to you. Those are objective realities. They don’t change because you are happy or sad or because the world is failing all around you. You know to whom you belong. You know what is eternal and what eternity holds for you.
Drink a different cup this morning, the very cup forbidden to Moses which is given to you as the sons of God: the Cup of Jesus’ Blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. If He is for you, if His Name is upon you, if His risen Blood is poured into you and courses through your veins, almost as though you were God, Christ Himself, then who can be against you? Look here Moses! God gives us His Blood! Imagine that! What can separate us from His love? Nothing. And no one.
What God ordains is always good. To Him, we gladly yield.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Thanks to Rev. Sean Daenzer’s commentary on the Hymn What God Ordains is Always Good in Lutheran Service Book: Companion to the Hymns, ed. Joseph Herl, Peter Reske, and Jon Viker (CPH, 2019), 1108.