Wednesday, February 25, 2009
"What's Your Motivation?"
“What’s your motivation?” This can often be a joke, teasing about out-of-touch actors that make bizarre choices in their portrayals. But this evening it is no joke. It is at the heart of Jesus’ words for you. In this question: “What’s your motivation?” we might hear hurting, crushing, damning Law, or we might hear soothing, healing, saving Gospel.
“What’s your motivation?” Many Pharisees were motivated by public opinion. Do I look good? What will people think? I need to stand in the right place, say the right words, and perform the right actions to win public favor that I am a good and religious man. Their works were not necessarily done out of love and compassion, but done for keeping up appearances.
“What’s your motivation?” Or think of an organization such as the Boy Scouts, who have a slogan to “Do a good turn daily.” Yes, all sorts of wonderful blessings can come from millions of youth doing good for others, but is it motivated by a rule, or out of loving thanks to our Savior?
The holy season of Lent, for centuries, has been a time of fasting, giving alms to those in need, and increased devotion and prayer. But as our Father in heaven looks at us, even if He witnesses such good and holy behavior, He is asking: “What’s your motivation?” You see, it makes all the difference in the world!
If you abstain from meat or eat smaller meals as a way to train your body in joyful thanks to the Lord who has redeemed you, it is a good thing. However, if you do it hoping to be noticed and applauded, or you think that God will see your effort and cut you some slack, then you join the ranks of the scribes and Pharisees. “What’s your motivation?”
If you increase your charitable giving for a better tax return, or choose your donations to be placed only for things that will last and not simply on the day to day bills of the church, school, or other organization, and you really would prefer a nice brass tag to let everyone know that you bought it, you are treading on thin ice. Yet, if you are humbly moved by our compassionate King, who gave up everything for you and shed His blood and died for you, so that now you truly want to help anyone you can, it is a beautiful expression of faith. “What’s your motivation?”
If your prayers are long and wordy, just because you think God will like them more, you have another thing coming! But if you are asking Him as dear children as their dear Father, and are speaking in faith, our loving God hears you! “What’s your motivation?”
Did you come forward for ashes this evening simply because you did not want people to think wrongly of you, or you wanted to show how religious you are? Or did you refrain from coming because you thought the others were being ridiculous and showy? In either case, you received them for the wrong reason. Or did you come forward, knowing that you are a poor, miserable sinner, who deserves nothing good from God, and will someday return to the dust and ashes that we are? “What’s your motivation?”
The problem is, we all suffer from wrong motivations. Whether pride, or advantage, we often desire to benefit from our works. We want credit. We want a good grade in God’s book.
Dear friends in Christ, it doesn’t matter how good you seem to other people, you will never be perfect. Your motives will constantly fail to be pure and holy. There is no hope, even if we were all to change our clothes and put on sackcloth, and sit in ashes like the people of Nineveh.
But tonight our Lord has Good News for you. He does not leave you to despair in sackcloth and ashes. He does not leave you to your own devices. He does not leave you to rot in a pool of mistaken self-congratulations.
Jesus sinners doth receive! Our precious Savior has come down from the Transfiguration mount and gone up to Jerusalem. There, His perfect motivation to save the world was brought to fulfillment. There, His perfect motivation to pour out His love from His Five Holy Wounds was completed. There, it is finished!
And now, He continues His saving work. Now is the day of salvation! Our merciful Jesus with perfect motives has redeemed you on His cross. And now He delivers that redemption!
He has delivered salvation to you in the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism. Tonight, by the mark of the ash, He reminds you of that continuing, lasting effect of Baptism, that He cleanses you of your flawed motives and failed intentions. He purges all guilt and blame with the powerful flood of the font.
Your sin is confessed. Your forehead bears an ashen cross to remind you of your mortality and the cleansing of Christ. And yet, not because of your actions or words…or even motivation, but because of Jesus’ Words and deeds, you are saved! You are released from your sin. You are unshackled from death. You are freed from the devil.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord Jesus is laying up treasures for you in heaven – right now! He is building you up in hearing His Gospel, delivering salvation. And in a matter of moments, our Eucharistic Lord will enter your bodies, as He places His Body and Blood in your mouths. In His perfect, self-less, loving motive, Jesus prepares that place for you even as He prepares you for that place!
At the funerals of those who depart in the faith we pray: “As You have nourished our bodies with the holy body and blood of Your Son, raise our bodies from the dead and seat us with You at Your heavenly banquet.” Our Transfigured Lord Jesus transforms us as well, when we receive His Flesh and Blood. He prepares us for the day when we will be transfigured to enter His heavenly courts and feast with Him without end.
Yes, dear friends in Christ, our Savior takes you from being a heap of dusty ashes to a transfigured, glorified reflection of Him. And He does so with His own perfect, holy, godly motivation. Even in the midst of sorrow over sin, rejoice. Rejoice that He has perfect motives, and that He loves you, has mercy on you, and lays up treasure in heaven for you!