Martin Luther begins the Large Catechism:
“You are to have no other gods…to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart. As I have often said, it is the trust and faith of the heart alone that make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true one. Conversely, where your trust is false and wrong, there you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.”
So says Luther, whose words we ponder, as we join Jesus who calls out our false gods.
Some are statues, others are addictions. But what do they expect and command of us? Maybe we should question the authorities. That is what Jesus does? And Jesus does it in a palm procession that heads straight to heart of the Temple, clearly questioning the authorities.
And doesn’t his behavior in the Temple, the tossing of tables and such, indicate that the business of having the right offerings or the right sacrifices, the business of getting it done right or as we’ve always done it, is what the Temple crowd is all about? And this is what Jesus calls false! For with every tossed table Jesus makes it ever more obvious that what is offered in the Temple is to be offered for free.
The Temple is no sorority, no fraternity, where one pay dues. It’s the modeling place for God’s grace, the place where God is celebrated as the ultimate giver, giving it all away for free.
No wonder Jesus runs ’em all out. Their practice doesn’t show God’s grace. Jesus executes judgment on the falsity that makes you think that if you work harder that you’ll gain more of God, or more of God’s grace. How does one work for what God has already given for free?
Time passes and Jesus returns to Temple on a teaching tour. And, not surprisingly, the ones who’d set up the whole money-changers gig are waiting on him with a question, “By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you that authority?”
It’s a loaded question that Jesus bypasses, replying, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”
Tossed tables are now tables turned. Jesus offers his own loaded question.
The Temple crowd is bumfuzzled. How do they rebutt, “was John’s baptism from heaven or from people?”
Say that John’s baptism is something one does to earn repentance from God. That’s no good.
Say that John’s baptism makes some sort of belief profession to garner God’s grace or favor. That’s no good, either.
Say that John’s baptism is something that one does as a sign of obedience to God. Nope, that’s still no good.
Why is saying any of these things “no good?” Simple—because saying any one of them, is saying that John’s baptism is from people.
And saying these things is calling Jesus wrong! And, in calling Jesus wrong, by default we’re calling the Temple crowd right.
And we don’t want to do that, do we? So, we’ve another option to explore, the probability that Jesus is right.
And, if Jesus is right, then John’s baptism is from heaven, and if John’s baptism is from heaven, then what does this mean for those of us who have been baptized in the name of the Triune God?
Doesn’t this mean that God is the ultimate giver, giving it all away for free, and that baptism is God’s good gift, and that 1 Peter 3:21 is spot-on when it says, your baptism does save you, and so what Peter preaches in Acts 2 is true, that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, and comes with the gift of the Holy Spirit, so baptism clothes us in Christ as it is written in Colossians, and that baptism buries us with Jesus, as St. Paul says in Romans, and raises us with Jesus as well?
So, if any part of those scriptures is true, and they are, then Jesus is right.
And, thanks be to God Almighty, Jesus is right, and God is the ultimate giver, so baptism is from heaven and not from people.
Baptism is God’s good gift, and since it doesn’t come from you—and it doesn’t—then it must come for you from your God, right?
And there it is—-Jesus exercises authority—not the authority to take, take, take, but instead, the authority to give, give, give.
Now there’s a different kind of authority for you—the Giver who gives all their gifts away for free.
Maybe the Temple crowd found the receipt of so free a gift too easy to believe.
Maybe that’s why they embraced money-changing, turned the place of giving into the place of taking, hard to count grace, easy to count cash.
Baptism is God’s good act of giving, and when we pitch it for our own works, we exchange God’s good giving for our not-so-good taking. And make no mistake, we will take. We take when our obsession with living a holy life drives us into comparing ourselves with others, claiming wealth as God’s special blessing sign, acting like we own favored nation God status, and what’s more, turning God’s Church into an entitlement club that collects its dues by using our own faulty sliding scales to treat people as inners and outters, and by being more focused on how things are done than on how hearts are changed.
Live those ways and you embrace the false god of sin. You can know this false god has duped you if you think you have something more to do for God, than God does for you on the cross, in the font, and on the Table. If you think you have something more to offer to God in exchange for what God has freely you given in Jesus, then what’s that about?
‘Cause if that’s how we believe grace works, then aren’t we turning worship into an open-air market?
This morning, are we in our open-air market breathing prayers, psalms, and praises hoping to get from God what God already freely gives?
Are we living by rules while legislating other rules into being to make ourselves more assured that we are going to get more from God than God has already given freely in Jesus?
Are we treating God as our customer, trying to sell God off on not-so-spiffy us?
Aren’t these the sum of our thoughts, words, and deeds? The roots of what we have left done and undone? Are they at the heart of what is really going on here?
And aren’t those the practices at the heart of the Temple crowd?
And into the heart of the Temple that is us walks Jesus, flipping our tables, driving us out of all that legislative business, breaking our hearts, turning our hearts, and saying to us, as Jesus says in Matthew 28, “‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
Jesus issues a command promise.
And where is the promise you ask? It is there in the word, “Go.”
Who brought the promise of grace, mercy, and hope in Jesus to you by honoring the command promise of Jesus to, “Go?” Who brought Jesus to you? Was it your mother? Was it you father? Did you call them Memaw or Pepaw? Were they Nana or Pop-pop? Or was their name altogether different?
And when Jesus sent them to you, wasn’t that sending of them, in and of itself, all a gift? And, they weren’t in it for gain, were they? Didn’t they freely give as Jesus freely gives? And when we’re sent, aren’t we sent out much the same? Sent to freely give as it has been to us freely given?
And by the authority vested in Jesus as God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus makes you a disciple. And in so doing you become a pupil, a pupil under the teaching authority of Jesus. And while all that is in us cries out that we are super-mega-spiffy, all on our own, the truth of the matter is this, we are nothing apart from the freely given wisdom, insight, and knowledge of our teacher. And there it is, we are ones taught by Jesus, simply taught, so that we might learn to receive what God the authoritative Giver so freely gives. We are recipients, nothing more.
Through the authority given to the Son by God the Giving Father, Jesus saves you in baptism. It is a gift, nothing earned by you, just a gift freely given. And in the watery splashy grace offered through baptism you are given the Triune Name. And by that name you ARE—for you are baptized into the great I AM. Eternal life begins in the drippy water of the font and continues through the Meal of “new and unending life,” a freely given gift all for you.
You can’t put a price on what is freely given. And you can’t get more of it with Visa and Master Card, can’t even exchange or enhance it through your works, either. By the authority vested in Jesus, it’s all a gift. And with the full force of God’s authority backing it, there’s no fear of some reversal of fortune, or backsliding ponzi scheme.
God promises, God’s authority delivers. And then comes the best gifting promise of all: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
A freely made Jesus promise, freely given, nothing to be worked on, worked at, or worked out. A blessed freebie given through the authority to give, freely exercised by God.
Nothing more to be done. It’s all a gift, freely worked on the cross, freely rendered in baptism, freely offered at the Table; all promise, no payment due, all through Jesus—no wonder it “lifts up our hearts.” No wonder Luther calls this teaching the Happy Exchange.