<![CDATA[SAINTJOHNLUTHERAN EMPORIAVA.COM - Sermon Archive]]>Sun, 26 May 2024 02:15:04 -0400Weebly<![CDATA[Holy Trinity Sunday]]>Sat, 25 May 2024 13:55:05 GMThttp://saintjohnlutheranemporiava.com/sermon-archive/holy-trinity-sunday​5-25-24
Trinity Sunday
Isaiah 6:1-8, which details Isaiah's vision in the Temple and his subsequent call to serve as a prophet of the Lord, tells an ancient, almost other-worldly story. But it is also timeless and still very relevant for us today. This reading takes us to over 700 years before Jesus was born, obviously a long time ago. But part of the power of God's Word is that it finds ways to continue speaking to people of all generations and people in all places. And this story is no exception.
So, let me set the stage for this reading. It takes place, Isaiah tells us, "in the year that King Uzziah died." So, who is King Uzziah? His story is an interesting one. He became the King of Judah after his father was assassinated and reigned as king for 52 years. He would have been the only king that many people in Isaiah's day had ever known. And he was a good king. According to scripture (2 Chronicles 26), "he did what was right in the sight of the Lord." That is until pride led to his downfall. "He grew proud," scripture tells us, "to his destruction.
Uzziah's pride led him to enter the Temple without humility before God. The Lord immediately struck him with leprosy, and he was leprous until he died. His illness, the consequence of his pride, led to anxiety and uncertainty for everyone throughout Judah. Their king was sick, ritually unclean, and unable to fulfill his public duties. And to make matters worse, the country of Assyria was becoming very powerful and was threatening to conquer them. 
The Lord Sitting on a Throne
So, amid all this uncertainty and anxiety, what did the prophet Isaiah do? He went to the Temple – to pray and to worship God. Isaiah went to the Temple to be reminded of the one singular truth that would accompany him all his days: That the Lord was on his throne. 
Kings come and go. Threats to our nation and our world come and go. But through it all, God is faithful. The Lord is on his throne. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of God's glory. Then, now, and always. 
And if that was true for Isaiah, it is no less true for us. In the midst of whatever is happening in our lives or the world around us, we come here to the house of the Lord to be reminded of this same singular truth, the most important truth that we will ever know: That the Lord is on his throne. God is in charge of this world. He always has been, and always will be. 
Kings will come and go. Threats of illness, war, economic uncertainty, or (fill in the blank) will come and go. But the Lord will continue to be our God – faithful, loving, steadfast, and here with us. And the whole earth will continue to be full of God's glory, just as it always has been. 
The only question for us is, will we see it? Will we believe it? And when we do, how will we respond? 
Isaiah's Vision
Let's dig deeper into Isaiah's vision to get some clues about what God might expect of us. As I said, Isaiah is in the Temple, praying and worshiping God. Always a good idea! While praying, Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on a throne, with seraphs in attendance above him. And one of these seraphs called to another and said: 
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."
Before we get to how Isaiah responded, you may be wondering what a seraph is. What are seraphs or seraphim? (The plural can be either, and we usually use seraphim in our liturgy.) As best we can tell, the seraphim is a type of heavenly being or angel. Along the seraphim, there are cherubim, angels, and archangels. These heavenly beings worship the Lord on his throne long before Isaiah arrives at the Temple. And they are all worshiping God long before we arrive on Sunday morning. What we are doing, what God's people are always doing, is joining with all of God's heavenly beings in this eternal, timeless, and endless worship service. 
But, if you are the practical type, you still might ask: What is the point of all of this? What is the purpose of Isaiah's vision? The purpose of Isaiah's vision, for him and us, is to humble and encourage us. 
It is, or it should be, humbling to think of all these angelic beings worshiping God eternally. We are just one tiny part of this vast universe that God has created. To think that when we worship God, we join in this awesome worship service that has always been and always will be. It reminds us that the world doesn't revolve around us. Not even close. And even a mighty prophet like Isaiah or a powerful king like Uzziah can be humbled to see how small and insignificant they are in the grand scheme of things. 
Isaiah's vision is humbling in this way, but it also encourages us because the angels and archangels and seraphim and cherubim remind us, in this fantastic way, that we are not alone in this world. As our Creed says, we believe in "all that is seen and unseen." The very existence of these heavenly beings teaches us that it is not completely up to us to solve all the world's problems. It is God's world. God is in charge. And God has plenty of beings that can do God's bidding. It is simply our privilege, blessing, and responsibility to participate in God's mission in our own small way. And this is encouraging as well as humbling. 
After Isaiah's vision in the Temple, we get his response. Not his famous "Here am I; send me!" Not yet. First, Isaiah responds to this vision: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.
Think about that: Isaiah's first response to his incredible vision is to confess that he is not worthy. He is not worthy to be in the presence of God. He is not worthy of receiving this vision. He is a sinner. And he is filled with fear.
And that should always be our first response when we enter the Lord's house to worship. We must recognize that we are not worthy to be in the presence of the Lord. It is why we begin our worship every Sunday by confessing our sin and our unworthiness to be here. 
But Isaiah's vision doesn't end there. After he confesses his sin, his unworthiness, God forgives him his sin and makes him worthy, just as God forgives our sin at the start of every Sunday's worship service. Thankfully, not with a live coal touching our mouth! Isaiah is forgiven. And then, and only then, Isaiah is ready to respond to this vision, to this time of adoration and worship. And the same is true for us. 
So, then, finally, after Isaiah is humbled and encouraged by what a small part humanity plays in God's universe, and after Isaiah has confessed his sin and unworthiness, and after God has forgiven him and declared him worthy, then, and only then, does God ask the question that, in one way or another, God asks us all: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?
That is God's question to all who would worship God. To all who worship and desire to serve our Lord, our almighty God asks this question: "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" Because this world needs our help. It is not a perfect place. People who love God need to love the world, too. And our world must be reminded of God's overwhelming love for all of God's creation. 
And with God's help, we can do that. Because God has a mission for us, just as God once did for Isaiah and so many who have come before us. And as long as we remember that it is God's mission, not ours, we have an essential part to play in this mission. And it is our privilege, blessing, and responsibility to do just that. 
Some things never change; in this case, that's a good thing. The Lord is still on his throne; God is still in charge of our world. God's steadfast love for us continues. And we are here today, as people of faith have always been, to worship God, to join with all the heavenly beings in their unending cry, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." We are here to humble ourselves, to remind ourselves that we are not in charge of this world. We are here to be encouraged by this, too. 
And then? We are here to respond in the same way that Isaiah responded those many years ago and in the same way that generations have responded throughout the history of our world. 
"Whom shall I send?" God asks. And we respond, "Here am I; send me!
Here we are, Lord. To worship you, to be forgiven our sin, and to serve you. Send us, Lord, into this fantastic world of yours to share your love and mercy with all. Amen.
 
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<![CDATA[Pentecost Sunday]]>Sun, 19 May 2024 19:22:33 GMThttp://saintjohnlutheranemporiava.com/sermon-archive/pentecost-sunday​5-19-24
Pentecost Sunday
Pentecost Sunday is always a momentous day for the Church. We are gathered together this day to hear the story of the birth of the Church, told in Acts 2: when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles like the rush of a violent wind, with tongues as of fire dancing on their heads; people from all nations hearing the apostles speaking in their language, and more than 3,000 responding by being baptized into Christ. 
It is amazing to hear about the miracle of Pentecost. But don't you wonder a little, when you hear this story, whether we are missing something today? After all, I doubt that our morning celebration will include a violent wind, fire, or miraculous speech. Where is the excitement of that first Pentecost?
Perhaps the better question is: where is the Holy Spirit today? After all, isn't that the point of Pentecost to give us the Holy Spirit? So the question today is not, where is the wind and the fire, but where is the Holy Spirit? 
And if we ask the question that way, we do, indeed, have a pretty exciting answer. Because the Holy Spirit is, without a doubt, here with us today in some fantastic, powerful ways. Let me share three of those ways. 
First, the Holy Spirit is here through the Holy Word – the divinely-inspired, faith-producing, life-changing Word of God – which connects us to all Christians going back to that first Pentecost, connecting us to the God who inspired and guided its every Word. 
The same Holy Spirit who inspired Peter to preach on that first Pentecost is here with us today as we hear his ancient words again. Those who heard Peter that day heard him speak in their own language. And so do we. Just as many Christians worldwide are hearing this in their own language. It may not seem as miraculous, but I think it is incredible to think of Christians around the world today hearing these words in their own language. 
Through my blog, I have met some very interesting people. One of them, Linnea, spent forty years bringing the Gospel to people on the west coast of Africa. The community she was serving speaks Nyarafolo, a language which was not written and so did not have a written Bible. Linnea worked with a team to develop a written language, and just this year they have been able to publish the New Testament, Pentateuch, and Psalms in Nyarafolo. 
Isn't that amazing? The Pentecost miracle continues, and through the Word of God proclaimed here and around the world, the Holy Spirit continues to be poured into the hearts of listeners, producing faith and trust in our God. 
Where is the Holy Spirit today? The second way that the Holy Spirit comes to us today is through the gathered congregation. As Martin Luther put it in his Small Catechism:  
The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.
The Holy Spirit is the reason we are here today. The Holy Spirit called and gathered us here, just as it has done for centuries all around the world. The Holy Spirit brings us together and gives us a variety of gifts, all for the common good. "Now there are varieties of gifts," Paul reminds us, "but the same Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:4). The Spirit has been poured out upon all flesh, as Peter reminds us in his famous sermon, young and old, men and women, all have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we come together to share our gifts and insights, and become more than we can possibly be, on our own. 
The Pentecost miracle happened when the apostles were all together in one place. And it happened when devout Jews from every nation under heaven were present. That's not a coincidence. The Holy Spirit likes us to be together. Something important happens when we are together. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present when we gather in his name, which we do whenever we worship together. The Holy Spirit can come to us when we are alone, of course, but Scripture teaches us that coming together in Jesus' name is the best way to discover the Holy Spirit among us. 
And we come together in Jesus' name, there is another way in which the Holy Spirit comes to us. And that is through the Holy Sacraments. 
When Peter finished his sermon on that first Pentecost, those who heard it asked him, "What should we do?" And Peter responded, "Repent and be baptized … and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:37-38). They will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit not through wind and fire, but through holy baptism. And it is in baptism that we, too, first received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And right after those who heard Peter's sermon were baptized, what did they do? The very next verse says, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). In other words, they gathered as a community to hear the Word and celebrate Holy Communion. 
That is where the miracle of Pentecost continued to be enjoyed and realized in the Church. Then, and now. When we gather in the name of Jesus. Remember our baptisms. Devote ourselves to the apostles' teaching. And to the breaking of the bread, and the prayers. 
We may not have wind and fire today, but we are here, gathered in the name of Jesus. Doing those very things that the Church has done since that first Pentecost. And that means that the Holy Spirit is present among us now, just as it was then.
It's always tempting to think that we need more – we need more excitement, more enthusiasm, more emotion; we need more wind and fire on Sunday mornings. However, Lutherans are at their best when they refuse to believe that the Church needs anything more than the Word, the congregation gathered in Jesus' name, and the Sacraments. We believe, teach, and confess that God gives us all that we need for our salvation through these means of grace. 
The point of Pentecost is not the wind and the fire – it never was. The point of Pentecost is the Holy Spirit who brings to the Church all the gifts of God, all that we need for life and salvation. 
But if the point of Pentecost is the gift of the Holy Spirit, then the result of Pentecost is sharing the good news of the Gospel with all nations. Do you remember what Jesus said right before the Pentecost miracle? He said, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).  
Well, if you are baptized and if you have heard God's Word today, I have news for you: the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you have received the power needed to be our Lord's witnesses, even to the ends of the earth. 
You have everything you need to be the Church, the body of Christ, in the world. Because you have the Holy Spirit, you can now share the good news of Jesus. And you can tell everyone you know where to go to receive all God's promises. You know where everyone can go to receive the forgiveness of sins, salvation, and true, eternal, abundant life. You know where they can go to fill that God-shaped hole in each of our souls. You know, the one place everyone can go to find true joy, meaning, and blessedness. It is the place whose birth we celebrate today – it is the Church. The Church – the body of Christ formed with the gift of the Holy Spirit – is where we are promised to receive all these gifts. The Church is the place where – miraculously! –every Sunday, the Holy Spirit comes again to those gathered in Jesus' name through the great and marvelous miracles of hearing God's Holy Word and receiving the Holy Supper. 
There won't be any violent wind or fire today. At least, I hope not. But we're not here for the wind and the fire. We are here to worship the God behind that wind and fire, to give thanks for the gift of God's only Son, who died to save us and forgive us, and we are here to receive again the promised Holy Spirit, who unites us to our God in ways beyond what we can even imagine. 
Nothing has changed in all these many years. We are here for the same reason the Church has always gathered together. May we continue to respond to the ever-present call of the Holy Spirit, who gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian Church, now and forever. Amen
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<![CDATA[Abiding in Jesus]]>Sat, 27 Apr 2024 23:59:05 GMThttp://saintjohnlutheranemporiava.com/sermon-archive/abiding-in-jesus​Fifth Sunday of Easter series B
4-28-24
JOHN 15:5
 
Apart from me,” Jesus tells us in today’s gospel reading, “you can do nothing.
This may not seem accurate at first blush. After all, many people are doing many good things apart from Jesus – worthwhile stuff for their families, communities, and world. But they are not us. And we are not trying to do good things – we are trying to do Jesus’ things. We are trying to help usher in God’s loving kingdom. What could be more important than that? But we cannot do that apart from Jesus. We cannot be the people that God calls us to be, individually or as a church, apart from Jesus. We cannot do anything worthwhile for God and the world God loves apart from Jesus. 
This is the simple truth we are being reminded of today. Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing that is genuinely worthwhile in God’s sight. Nothing. 
A.W. Tozer, an American Christian pastor and writer, puts it this way: Everything is wrong when we try to serve God until God makes it right.
Martin Luther concludes his sacristy prayer this way: “Use me as your instrument — but do not forsake me, for if ever I should be on my own, I would easily wreck it all.”
On my own, I would easily wreck it all. And so would you. This is the simple truth lying at the heart of today’s gospel reading. 
So, how do we make sure that we are not on our own and that we are not doing anything apart from Jesus? He tells us: “Abide in me.” Abide in Jesus. Just as he abides in us. Those who abide in Jesus bear much fruit. That’s it. That’s the answer. Abide in Jesus. 
But we might ask, how do we do that? How do we abide in Jesus? The answer is not some great mystery – it is what we have always been taught, what the people of God have always tried to do throughout the centuries, to abide in Jesus: 
Daily prayer, spending time with God’s Word, and weekly worship. This has always been how Christians have sought to abide in Jesus. And there is nothing in this world that has changed that. It still comes down to daily prayer, spending time with God’s Word, and weekly worship. Let me say a little more about each of these. 
First, daily prayer. Each day, turn back to God in prayer. Pray in the morning, before meals, at bedtime, and whenever you feel yourself slipping away from Jesus. Pray when you are in trouble. As the writer Isaac Singer famously put it, “I only pray when I’m in trouble, but I’m in trouble all the time.”  
In our Lutheran Service book there is a way of praying each day called the Divine Office. It is an ancient way of praying that can be helpful if your prayer life needs a booster shot.
But you don’t have to pray the Divine Office to pray daily. A short prayer is often enough. A quick little prayer that we send to God. It could be a verse of scripture, or it could be a simple plea for help. Do this throughout the day, and you will be abiding in Jesus. 
It is also essential to spend time with God’s Word. God’s Word feeds our prayers and souls with bread that lasts. We are not meant to live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. And where do we find these words? In the Word of God. Daily manna for our souls. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “Every day in which I do not penetrate more deeply into the knowledge of God’s Word in Holy Scripture is a lost day for me. I can only move forward with certainty upon the firm ground of the Word of God.” There are many different ways to spend time daily with God’s Word. The only wrong way is not to do it at all. 
Daily prayer, spending time with God’s Word, and weekly worship. All three of these are essential to abide in Jesus, including what we are doing right now. We tend to slip away from Jesus. There is just too much going on in this world and our lives for it to be otherwise. By the end of the week, we need to reset ourselves spiritually. And we do this by remembering the sabbath day and keeping it holy. We do this by worshiping together.
These three are the keys to abiding in Jesus. But here is a follow-up question: how do we know when we are abiding in Jesus as He would like us to? 
When you go to a doctor for a physical, a specific number tells your doctor how you are doing physically: your blood pressure, such as your temperature, heart rate, etc. These are indicators of your physical health. 
So, are there indicators of your spiritual health? The answer is yes. We can look at the fruit that we bear when we are abiding in Jesus. And the good news is that we have a list of fruit we bear when we abide in Jesus. Paul gives us this list in Galatians 5, in what he calls the “fruit of the Spirit.” Remember them? They are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The nine fruits of the Spirit are indicators of our spiritual health. They are the fruit that we bear when we abide in Jesus.  Let me take a quick walk through them. 
So, how are you doing spiritually? When you look at these fruit of the Spirit, what are they telling you?
Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. Everything is wrong until God makes it right. On our own, we easily wreck it all. We need Jesus. We can’t bear fruit without him. We can’t do anything in this world that God is calling us to do without Jesus. Individually. Or as a congregation. 
“This glorifies My Father,” Jesus concludes this gospel reading, “that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” 
Let us glorify the Father. Let us bear much fruit as individuals and as a congregation. Let us be known for our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Let us bear this fruit in the only way we can: By abiding in Jesus. Amen. 
 
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<![CDATA[Resurrection Sunday changes lifes]]>Sun, 31 Mar 2024 09:45:47 GMThttp://saintjohnlutheranemporiava.com/sermon-archive/resurrection-sunday-changes-lifes​3-31-24
Resurrection Sermon
Three women went to Jesus' tomb early on the first day of the week when the sun had risen. They expected to find a dead Jesus. But they found that the stone had been rolled away, and the tomb was empty. They didn't know it yet, but it would be the most incredible event in the history of our world. It would change not only their lives forever but the lives of all have lived or are living.
What does Jesus' resurrection mean? For those three women, it initially meant confusion and even fear. When they got up early that day, after the sun had risen, to go to the tomb, they did not think they would find it empty. They were trying to figure out who would roll away the stone so that they might go and anoint Jesus' dead body.
But when they arrived at the tomb, they found the stone had already rolled back. They were alarmed when they entered the tomb and saw a young man in a white robe. This angel reassured them that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead and was no longer present in the tomb.
Their confusion and fear mounted. And they fled in terror and amazement and said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. This is not the reaction we would expect to the joy of the empty tomb, to the joy of that first Easter!
But I wonder whether, in our honest moments, we, too, might find the events of Easter rather disturbing. After all, what would happen to our lives if we put this miracle at the very center of life? We would have to rethink our priorities and commitments if we made this miracle the cornerstone of our lives.
Easter is life-changing. For Jesus' resurrection explodes all of our old assumptions and understandings. And, yes, it is true: Christ died. Christ is risen from the dead. And Christ will come again. And we who believe this can never live in the same old ways again. It is no wonder that so many doubt or question the resurrection! It does change everything! And that is frightening, just as it was for all who responded to the empty tomb.
It is not very hard to believe that God created the heavens and the earth. It is not even so hard to believe that God helped Moses rescue the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. But apparently, it is hard to believe that God's Son, who died for us, really was raised from the dead. Again, why? 
Well, I suppose the main reason is that no one really expected it to happen. Many people were expecting a Messiah. But not a Messiah who would die and rise again. So, it was hard to believe, even for those first disciples. 
But what about us? We live in the time after the resurrection and the ascension. Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after his resurrection, promising to send his Holy Spirit to us. This is wonderful, but it also means we must believe without seeing. We must have faith. Faith that Christ has died, risen and will come again. It can be hard to believe all of that. 
The women who discovered the empty tomb said nothing to anyone, at least at first. But they must eventually told the first followers of Jesus, or we would not be here this morning. The Church would not be here if those who discovered the empty tomb had not let that discovery completely change their lives.
There is no Christian Church without Easter. And there is no Church without people believing in Easter and sharing their faith. The women at the tomb summoned the courage to live out what they had discovered, and the Church was born. 
You and I are invited to do the same thing this morning. We are to live out what we have discovered, the empty tomb, and the good news that Jesus Christ is risen and promises to come again. 
We are here this morning, you and I, because we do believe this. The miracle of Easter is not just that Jesus was raised from the dead. We believe it through the gift of our faith. 
As Lutherans, we believe faith is God's work and a gift of the Holy Spirit. We have been given that gift. It's why we are here. Despite our struggles and doubts, we remain here because of the incredible gift of faith.
Easter matters to us, or we wouldn't be here today. But what about the rest of the world? Does Easter matter to them? Our world needs Easter, that's for sure, because our world needs a Savior who loves and dies for them, who gives meaning to their lives and is still with them. 
Yes, he promises to be with us. And yes, he promises to return. But in the meantime, the only way the world will come to know Jesus is through us. And the only way the world will become convinced that Easter matters is if they see that it matters to us. 
So how do we do that? We can "practice resurrection," as a poet once put it. We don't have to be perfect. Just faithful. And trust that Jesus will one day make it all perfect. 
And since we have the gift of faith, we can do this believing that Jesus will be with us as we practice living the resurrection. That is his promise to us. He will not leave us. And one day, he will physically return to us. We know all of this because of what happened that first Easter morning. 
The angel said to the women that first Easter morning, "Go, tell his disciples and Peter that [Jesus] is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you."
Jesus goes ahead of them, and Jesus goes ahead of us. And there we will see him, just as he promised. And we know all of this because those same women – who left the tomb in fear that morning – did eventually summon their courage and share what they had been told. They lived their lives in a whole new way because Easter changed everything for them. 
They shared their faith. They practiced resurrection. And the Church has been doing this ever since. There is no Church without Easter. And there is no Church without people believing in Easter and sharing their faith. 
The women at the tomb summoned the courage to live out what they had discovered, and the Church was born. And now it is our turn. We do this by living out what we believe. By practicing resurrection. By bringing the risen Jesus into the world, knowing he is already there, just as promised. 
Easter means that he is there and here, now and always. Thanks be to God. Amen
 
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<![CDATA[24th Sunday after Pentecost Series A]]>Sun, 12 Nov 2023 19:30:00 GMThttp://saintjohnlutheranemporiava.com/sermon-archive/24th-sunday-after-pentecost-series-a11-12-23
24th Sunday after Pentecost Series A
Matthew 25:1-13
Are You Prepared?
 
Weddings, wedding banquets, and marriage are exceedingly important to God, not something to be messed with. Marriage is a theme that runs thick and strong throughout the Bible and is the preeminent paradigm that describes our relationship with God. The Bible begins with a wedding – that of Adam and Eve; when everything was very good. The Lord Jesus' ministry begins with a wedding where He turned water into wine at Cana. The Bible ends with the marriage of the Lord Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom, His Bride, the Church, and the eternal wedding banquet with the best of meats and the best of wines. That is one of the few pictures of heaven that we have . . . a wonderful place, with the best of everything, going on eternally, and the Lord God as the host. That is the real marriage that all our marriages are to imitate.
 
Today, as Jesus comes to the end of His earthly ministry, He speaks about the end of the world and our earthly time here. There are three parables in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, all dealing with the end times, a time of judgment and settlement. Today, we have the first, which deals with faithfulness and wisdom. It is not spoken to unbelievers but to Christians, God’s people. Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no extra oil with them, but the wise took procession to the home of his bride to bring her to his home for the consummation of the marriage with days of wedding festivities.
 
And in the midst of all of that are the ten virgins. “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins.“ All the virgins or bridesmaids were in the house. They all had lamps. They all were in the party. They all looked to be ready, dressed with lamps in hand.
 
Now, every parable has a point. And the point of this parable is not extra virgin olive oil but rather virgins with extra olive oil. The point of the parable is preparation. "Watch, therefore,” Jesus says, “for you know neither the day nor the hour." Five out of the ten bridesmaids knew that they needed oil for the hour of the bridegroom's coming. They were prepared . . . wise. The opposite of wisdom is foolishness. The others did not prepare. They had no oil . . . foolish.
 
And when the time came, these ten virgins were to take their lamps and go to meet the bridegroom. When the groom brought the bride out of her home, these virgins were part of the procession with their lighted lamps and had their part in the feasting and the joy of the wedding celebration in the groom's house.
 
Now, when Jesus told this parable to the people, anybody who knew anything about anything at all knew that the bride’s attendants – the virgins of the bridal party with the lamps – would have had oil. That was an essential part of their role, as much as being there in the first place. To forget the oil is bizarre, absurd. Who knows why they completely disregarded the importance of the oil until it was too late? A foolish action has no sensible explanation. That is the trouble with all folly – spiritual folly, too; it cannot explain itself.
 
Parables are always a puzzle, a challenge, and sometimes very tricky. This parable of the ten virgins calls for wisdom. In the Scriptures, wisdom does not mean having a head full of facts and figures. To be wise is not necessarily to be smart. The smart is not always wise, especially when it comes to the things of God. Conversely, the wise are not always smart, particularly regarding the things of this world.
 
So, remember what we learned from the explanations from the Small Catechism of the Apostles’ Creed? How our heavenly Father created us, sustains us, and protects us. How the Lord Jesus "has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness." And how "the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith."
 
And here is where it all comes together. There is that little part we say in the Creed about our Lord Jesus, "He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence, He will come to judge the living and the dead.” Or, with this parable in mind, we could say, "From thence He will come to judge the wise and the foolish.” That is what this parable is about. Jesus is talking to us and about us, the Church, the body of believers of all times and places.
 
And as you hear this parable about the wedding and virgins, about the wise and the foolish, beware lest you become smug and confident. After all, many a one-time faithful Christian has fallen away made a shipwreck of their salvation, and made a mess of it all with no hope in the end. And how did that happen? Some people aren’t happy and content with the Word of God. They want to change it. They don’t like it. They know better and are even offended by it. And then, there’s the church. The worship service is too long . . . the pastor is boring . . . the sermons are not relevant . . . the music is out of date . . . those old-fashioned rituals like Baptism and the Lord’s Supper take up too much time . . . there’s a lack of money and people . . . and the list can go on and on. And all the while, the oil is being used up as a person goes from being wise to foolish. And what will that mean in the end?
 
As the parable says, “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you’.” Right there are some of the harshest and hardest words that Jesus ever spoke as parable and reality meet. They are the people who have despised God’s grace and thought that they could enter glory without grace, thus carrying their original foolishness to its conclusion.
Jesus is speaking with all truth and authority as the great Bridegroom – "‘Truly, I say to you." That would be also to you, to us, to His Church of all times and places. His coming "to judge the living and the dead" will happen. The day draws nigh. But so many carelessly and foolishly let the day of grace pass by until it is too late.
 
This parable is a warning and a sad reality for so many who harden their hearts in their foolishness. But there is also great hope for you right now. For today, this forgiveness of sins and eternal life that we learned about in the Creed is again proclaimed to you. How the Lord Jesus "has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness."
 
And as that word is spoken and heard there, the Holy Spirit is at work calling "you by the Gospel, enlightening you with His gifts, sanctifying and keeping you in the true faith" . . . replenishing your heart and mind with the oil of faith, making you truly wise; so that when that day or hour of our Lord Jesus’ coming takes place you will indeed be ready, and so go “in with him to the marriage feast.” Amen.
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<![CDATA[All Saints Sunday "Blessed are you."]]>Sun, 05 Nov 2023 18:00:00 GMThttp://saintjohnlutheranemporiava.com/sermon-archive/all-saints-sunday-blessed-are-you​All Saints Day
11-5-23
Text: Matthew 5:1–12
Blessed Are You
 
The observance of All Saints’ Day on the first Sunday in November marks a turning point in the liturgical year by signaling that the focus of the long green season is shifting with a view toward the final consummation of all things. We are reminded in today’s readings that in Christ we are all one—the saints of old united with us here in the present who together are one with all those who will yet join that mighty throng.
 
The word Makarios (“blessed”) is used repeatedly in the Old Testament, describing the state of the one who takes refuge in God (Ps 34:8; 84:12), who waits for the Lord (Is 30:18), and whose sin is forgiven (Ps 32:1). The emphasis is not so much on the virtues that are listed as on the promise of salvation. It is never spoken of God; rather, it always about the well-being of people.
 
A fellow pastor shared with me his experience in explaining what it means to be blessed. He had a dear lady in his congregation who attended nearly every Bible class that the church offered, including a 6:30 a.m. breakfast class that gathered each week in a local restaurant. She was always full of optimism and was eager to learn. The only thing, though, was that her questions often betrayed the fact that she also listened to her fair share of religious programs on television and radio.
 
So it was on one occasion when she asked a seemingly innocent question: “Pastor, how do we know if our faith is growing?” Great question, but I was fully aware of the thinking that stood behind that question. I suspect that she expected me to talk about good works as evidence of faith, though she herself probably knew that wasn’t quite the best way to approach answering the question. After all, it’s a very short step from taking stock of my works to putting my trust in my own faith. In other words, faith becoming its own object.
 
So how would I best help this dear saint with her very sincere question? Let’s approach it from a unique perspective. Instead of talking about your faith, let’s talk about your status before God. And so, I continued. Would you say that with each passing day you are coming to a deeper understanding of your own sinfulness, and even an appreciation for the subtleness with which the devil tempts you?
 
She admitted that that was true, and I knew she was totally sincere in that acknowledgment. Well, then, I replied, if each day brings you a deeper awareness of your sinful condition, does it also convince you ever more clearly—and to a greater degree with each passing day—of your need for a Savior?
 
Again, the reply was a sincere nod of the head. In that case, I replied, your faith is indeed growing as each day you learn to cling ever more tightly to Jesus, trusting in his righteousness and not your own. After that conversation had concluded, I seem to recall the feeling that I had been successful in answering what for her was a significant concern, and, more important, avoiding the trap of putting the wrong focus on faith.
 
He continued, as I think back, though, on what seemed to be a pretty good response, it now occurs to me that I could have answered the whole question far more concisely by simply pointing her to the first words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v 3). While Jesus’ words don’t get directly to the point of a person’s growth in faith, they do hit the nail on the head when it comes to describing the truth about us. Indeed, “poor in spirit” is putting it mildly. Implied in those words is the fact that we are utterly destitute, lacking completely any standing in God’s sight and having no resources at our disposal to gain God’s favor.
 
That’s the truth that God would have every one of his saints confess—that we are poor, miserable sinners who are incapable of freeing ourselves from our sinful condition. And yet, wonder of wonders, what does Jesus have to say about us in our pitiful state? “For theirs is the kingdom of God.”
 
That’s the reality you need to hold onto, just as you cling for dear life to the words of the absolution spoken at the beginning of the service—a declaration as valid and certain in heaven also as if your Lord Jesus were dealing with you himself. For in truth, he is dealing with you himself, fully and freely giving himself to you, as his kingdom is continually breaking into your life.
 
Perhaps you noticed one of those “now” but “not yet” tensions in these words of Jesus that makes them a perfect reading for All Saints’ Day. We’ve already heard the “now” perspective in that opening beatitude: “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”—here, right now, in our own time and space. And so will we hear the exact same declaration near the end of the Beatitudes: The kingdom of heaven is theirs! But in between, we experience the “not yet” reality of our life in Christ.
 
Though the kingdom of God is indeed ours, with Christ reigning in our midst even now, bringing us life and salvation, the truth is that the saints of God are, you could say, in a holding pattern, waiting for the return of Jesus.
 
When Jesus talks about those who mourn being comforted (v 4), the lowly inheriting the earth (v 5), those hungering and thirsting for righteousness being satisfied (v 6), the merciful being shown mercy (v 7), the pure in heart seeing God (v 8), the peacemakers being called sons of God (v 9), you can’t deny there awaits those who trust in the Lord a glorious day of redemption at his return. This will be the final day when we will know comfort beyond all bounds and will be fully satisfied by God’s perfect righteousness, a day when we will see God face-to-face and will receive our full identity as sons of God. That glorious day indeed is ours, just not yet.
 
For the present, the Beatitudes perfectly describe the followers of Jesus. Though God’s reign has come among us even now, we nevertheless mourn, not in the sense we typically speak of, as in mourning someone’s death, but mourning our sinful condition and the corrupt world in which we live. We are the lowly ones, not in some sort of self-humbling condition, but in that we are oppressed by Satan and unable to save ourselves and thus must rely fully on the Lord. We are the peacemakers, not in the mold of a peace delegation to those in conflict, but in the biblical sense of those who bring the good news of peace to a broken and dying world—whether that be the work of a pastor who hastens with beautiful feet to sound forth the good news of peace with God, or a parent or grandparent telling in simple words of the Savior who died for them.
 
That dear saint whom I mentioned earlier was one of those peacemakers. She possessed a childlike faith that was, I must admit, deeply profound, and found unassuming ways to bring the lasting peace of Christ to those around her. It’s been a few years now since she was granted her eternal rest. Like so many of God’s faithful warriors, her fight had at times been fierce and her battle long. Yet even during the strife of life, she heard the distant triumph song, the song of the Lamb in his kingdom that makes hearts brave and arms strong, the song she—and we—sang week after week in the Divine Service, and the Lamb whom she received on her very lips.
 
“Rejoice and be glad,” Jesus tells us. Great is their reward. Great is your reward, for the kingdom of heaven is already yours. Amen. 
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<![CDATA[Reformation Sunday series A 10-29-23]]>Sun, 29 Oct 2023 17:30:00 GMThttp://saintjohnlutheranemporiava.com/sermon-archive/reformation-sunday-series-a-10-29-23​Reformation Sunday 10-29-23 Series A
Romans 3:19-28
Grace is God's riches at Christ's expense
 
There are some days when life is just complicated and confusing.  I don't know if this problem runs in cycles or if that is just how life is, but I see or hear too many conflicted things in life.  A return to something simpler would be a delight.
 
Wouldn't that be good?  We can.  This clear and comforting way is a wonderful thing called living in faith.  I'd like us to sit in this peace of faith today, on this Reformation Sunday.  If you don't have it yet, you need to get it.  For faith is a gift that God wants to give to all of His people – including you.
 
Martin Luther, this man who is important to us Lutherans and important to the world, was in a complicated, confusing, and conflicted mess.  But, in time, with the help of God's Holy Spirit and the clarity of what Jesus Christ came to do, he was able to sit in the peace of faith eventually.  This word from Romans 1 assured him, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'" 
 
If the righteous live by faith, it is essential to know what faith is. Most people would say that faith is having knowledge of Jesus and his saving work. And in saying that, they would be only partially correct, for faith according to God's Word in Hebrews 11:1, is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
 
This faith is faith in who our God is, what He has done, and how we can live in peace now and security eternally.  In Mark 9, we see a real-life situation unfold: A young boy was possessed by some evil spirit.  When Jesus came near, the spirit threw the boy into a convulsion.  After explaining the ongoing problem, his father said to Jesus, "But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."  (Mark 9:22b).  "If you can?" said Jesus.  "Everything is possible for him who believes."  The man was embarrassed about what he had said and spoke, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief."
 
Faith in God's grace is a great gift.  For faith allows us to live confidently in the work of Jesus for us.  Faith says that God truly loves me.  Faith acknowledges that we would be lost forever in our sins unless Jesus Christ came to pay our penalty upon the cross.  Faith says that Jesus Christ is both Savior and Lord.  In our reading from Romans 3, we are told about this living faith, "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe."  Then, a few verses later, Paul asks, "Where then is boasting?  It is excluded.  On what principle?  On that of observing the law?  No, but on that of faith.  For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law."  (Romans 3:21-22, 27-28)
 
Where will your heart find its hope?  How will you know that sins are gone, and cleansing has happened?  How will you be confident that when life is done, no sin will be on your record when you stand before God in His judgment?  Without faith in God's grace toward you, you can't. Faith!! 
 
To cement this basic thought that we are not saved by works but by simple faith alone, Paul gave the example of the life of Abraham, the father of the Jews.  "What shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?  If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God.  What does the Scripture say?  'Abraham believed God, in other words, had faith in God's promises, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'  Now, when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift but as an obligation.  However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness."  (Romans 4:1-5)
 
Faith takes God at His word.  Faith believes all His promises.  Faith then lives in peace even though one's personal life or the world lives in turmoil. Next week, on All Saints Day, we remember three members who lived their lives in Faith: Johnnie, Bettie, and Pastor Plvain.  Each of them trusted in God's promises and were welcomed into Jesus' arms.
 
All people need to be people of faith because all people sit under the curse of sin.  In this chapter Paul says, "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin."  (Romans 3:19-20)  A few verses later we read, "There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  (Romans 3:22b-23)  We all have the same problem: sin. 
So God has given all of us the one and only solution – Jesus.  Paul, again, about our confidence in Jesus, "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification."  (Romans 4:25) 
 
Faith in God and his promises is not only necessary for salvation, it is also comforting, and strengthens you in life turmoils. Faith is eternal. There is no salvation without Jesus being involved in your life.  There is no heaven if you don't have Him and He having you.  Think of that.  There has to be a connection between you and Him.  And that connection is faith in Him. Paul says, "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."  (Romans 10:9-10)
 
On this Reformation Day, may you always keep in mind the hallmark of the Reformation and the New Testament: "Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura": "By Grace Alone, By Faith Alone, By Scripture Alone." Three "Solas," all pointing to one Lord, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is what the Reformation is all about; still today, after 506 years, it's still all about Jesus. Jesus for you, dear friends!
On Christ alone,
Our cornerstone,
The Church's one foundation–
On Him we build,
As God has willed,
Heirs of the great Reformation.
Upon this Rock,
Though men may mock,
We'll take our stand
In ev'ry land
With joy and glad celebration!
Grace' G R A C E' is God's riches at Christ's expense. Amen. 
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<![CDATA[Nineteen Sunday after Pentecost 10-8-23 series A]]>Sun, 08 Oct 2023 19:04:49 GMThttp://saintjohnlutheranemporiava.com/sermon-archive/nineteen-sunday-after-pentecost-10-8-23-series-a

There is no written sermon today.  Please go to our homepage and click on Facebook or YouTube.  The title is "To know God is to know His Word as it is written in the Bible. 

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<![CDATA[Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost Series A 10-1-23]]>Sun, 01 Oct 2023 17:30:00 GMThttp://saintjohnlutheranemporiava.com/sermon-archive/eighteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-series-a-10-1-23​LWML Sunday
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost  series A
Matthew 11:25-30
10-1-23
 
In the 1800’s, people began hearing about a wonderful place far off to the West with cheap and fertile farmland, a place called Oregon. Like people are prone to do, many families packed way more than was necessary or even practical. So when animals died or were injured, and wagons broke down, families were forced to lighten their loads to continue. Scattered all along the Oregon Trail were discarded dressers, tables, and dishes.
I can imagine the heated and emotional discussions when the question was asked, “Why? Why did we bring it?” At the time, it was an important question of survival, so many special things, things that were part of their family history, were left behind. All these years later, the interstate has replaced the Oregon Trail and moving trucks have replaced the prairie schooners, but the question is still relevant, so I ask you, “Why are you still carrying it?”
Now you may be asking yourself, “Why am I still carrying what?” Maybe you don’t think you have anything that needs to go. You may be the only one in the world with nothing to let go of, but it’s not very probable. In the Gospel, Jesus talks about the wise and understanding and how certain things are hidden from them. They don’t see, or don’t admit, that they’re carrying something they really should leave behind. The wise think they can keep carrying on with no problem. They’re capable of handling it themselves. They suck it up. They put their shoulder to the wheel and just power their way forward. Others pretend they’re not carrying anything. Some blame others for what they’re carrying, so they push what they’re carrying off on to others. But it doesn’t work that way; what you carry is yours.
If you’re carrying something too big to handle on your own, you get a friend to help. But be honest, how often do friends let you down? They get tired of helping so they drift away. They have their own things to carry so they can’t give you the help you need. It happens, right? And even if someone sticks with you and helps you all they can, there’s only so much they can do. In the end, you’re left to carry on by yourself.
If you’ve ever carried something really heavy, you know the relief you have as soon as you put it down. The strain on your arms and back is immediately relieved. You stand up straight, stretch your back and take a deep breath. If only it was that easy to drop the weighty things we carry. Early on, you may have wondered what I was talking about when I was asked “Why are you still carrying it?” but I hope you’ve realized what I’m referring to by now. What you’re still carrying is probably different than the person next to you, but be assured that we’re all carrying something.
Some of you may carry a troubled conscience because of some past sin: a baby aborted, a divorce, an arrest, an uncharacteristic outburst of anger and violence, things done and left undone. Maybe you feel like King David did, “For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.” (Psalm 38:4)
Some of you might be carrying the weight of a heart broken by betrayal or abuse. Do you carry the weight of the Devil and his temptations; the temptations that could ruin your life or your marriage or your career?
Some of you might be carrying a thirsty soul, one that aches for God to show you His presence, one that needs Him to banish your doubts.
Some of you may carry the weight of need; it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s still heavy. Do you carry fear? Fear of your illness, fear of death, fear of growing up, fear of growing old, fear of being alone, fear of the future, fear of losing God? Do you carry something else? Something I didn’t mention? Something only you know?
Wouldn’t it be a relief if you could just put down all these feelings, sins, emotions, hurts, and sorrows. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful if you could just drop them and walk away? Well, you know what? You can!
In the Gospel Jesus says, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father” and this means you and all that you carry! Jesus says to you, “Why are you still carrying it?” “Why are you still carrying it when I want to take it from you?” He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
 This is a gracious invitation that comes from God Himself, from Jesus your loving Savior. Jesus said that God revealed hidden things to little children, and this is the great revelation, you don’t have to carry on by yourself. You don’t have to labor under all that weighs you down. He promises you that you can come to Him with whatever it is that you’re carrying and He will give you rest. Someone once said, “Sleep doesn’t help when your soul is tired.” I can’t argue with that, but I promise that the promises of Jesus are for you and He will give you rest. As King David sang, so can you, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” (Psalm 62:1)
When you give Jesus the burdens that are wearing you down and wearing you out, He gives you relief in the form of another yoke. This sounds like a contradiction, but listen to what Jesus says. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The yoke Jesus gives you isn’t heavy. It’s the knowledge of why Jesus does what He does – that He is gentle and lowly, that He is not cut off from you but close by.
If you’re carrying the weight of past sins, Jesus says, “I came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Tim. 1:15).
If you’re afraid of God, if you fear His wrath, Jesus declares, “I carried, and drank, the cup of God’s wrath in your place.” (Luke 22:42)
If your heart is bruised and broken, Jesus promises, “I am near to you. I will heal your broken heart and bandage your wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
If the Devil constantly attacks you, forcing you to carry the weight of temptation, Jesus assures you, “Know that I defend you as the Lion of Judah.” (Revelation 5:5)
If you carry a thirsty soul, one that needs to hear from God, one that needs His presence, Jesus says to you, “Let me quench your thirst with myself, the Living Water.” (Matthew 5:6, John 7:37)
If your conscience is distressed and troubled, Jesus pronounces, “I am Great Physician. I will pour the heavenly comfort of forgiveness over it.” (Matthew 9:12, Luke 10:33).
If you are in need, Jesus promises, “When you call to me, I will answer; I will be with you in trouble; I will rescue you and honor you.” (Psalm 91:15)
If you’re carrying something else, something only you know, Jesus promises you too, “Cast your burden on me, and I will sustain you; I will never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22). These promises are the yoke that Jesus gives to you and you can rest in them.
It had to be hard for those on the Oregon Trail to leave things behind, but they had to if they were going to survive and finish their journey. It’s hard for us to leave our burdens behind as well. But we do so because Christ has promised to take them from us. What a great exchange: we give him the heavy loads of our lives, and He gives us the feather-light load of peace, forgiveness, hope, comfort, and everything else He promises to us, His little children. So don’t carry it anymore! Jesus is here so you don’t have to, and now you can find much-needed rest in Him. Amen.

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<![CDATA[Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost Series A]]>Sun, 24 Sep 2023 17:30:00 GMThttp://saintjohnlutheranemporiava.com/sermon-archive/seventeenth-sunday-after-pentecost-series-a​9-24-23
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost A
"The Generous Landlord"
 
(Start the sermon by telling the story of Dad picking up day workers at a particular site in the city. Dad had, during the depression, stood in similar circumstances hoping that he would get hired so he could feed his family )
 
The parable we heard earlier is titled - in most Bibles the Parable of Workers in the Vineyard. I want to suggest to you that it could have a different title, that it could equally well be called The Parable of the Generous Landlord. Whatever one calls this parable, however, it is, for many of us, one of the
few parables left in the Bible that still have the power to disturb us, even, depending on our circumstances the power to anger us.
 
Something about this parable offends many people and if you think about it with me for a minute or two, you can see why. Jesus tells his disciples that the kingdom of heaven is like a landlord who hires help at various times through the day so that some work twelve hours, some nine, some six, and some, the last ones hired, work for only one hour.
 
So far so good,  a normal situation that we can all relate to -but what follows next is, according to some people,  not quite as good. What happens next is that at the end of the day  when the boss pays off his workers,  those he hired last receive not one hour's pay but a whole day's pay
 
Now that's great for them, but what happens after that, according to many people, doesn't seem quite fair, what happens is that those who worked all day long in the heat of the sun only get a day's pay. Is it fair? Many people do not think so.
 
Certainly, the workers who slaved all day in the heat do not think so, and they grumble and then complain to the landlord.
 
    "These men who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day" It is an interesting point.
 
Has something like this ever happened to you?  Has it ever happened that
you have had to work hard to get something - and then some Johnny-come-
lately, breezes in and gets the same thing without all the effort? Maybe not in working, but in school or college, or maybe in the office. If it has then you can understand where the laborers who worked all day long are coming from.
It is an upsetting parable - especially if you look at it from the point of view of someone who believes that those who work harder and longer deserve more than those who work for less time and without as much difficulty.
 
The problem in looking at the parable that way is that we have failed to see what Jesus was trying to teach. The grace of God toward all people no matter if they are lifetime Christians or accept grace on their deathbed.
 
Remember that those workers who were hired first had a great privilege: - they knew from the very beginning of the day that they had work and they knew that they would be paid fairly for it.
 
Now, let us look at the parable from the point of view of those hired last. All day they stood around in the unemployment line landlords came and went,
but they were not hired. At home they had family and nothing to feed them with, hope disappeared for them  as the sun cut its course across the sky.
 
They longed to be in the fields under that hot sun, working for someone and at the end of the day being paid a wage that would feed and cloth their family.
 
And finally, just as their last hope is about to set with the sun someone reaches out to them and tells them that they will receive whatever is fair. And they go, and they work with the hope of bringing home something, a small portion of a day's wage, enough - maybe - to survive another day  and maybe not. And so you can imagine just how those hired last felt when the time to be paid came. T
 
But then - the landlord does something completely crazy, completely wild, completely unexpected, completely, and totally generous something beyond their wildest dreams. He gives them a full day's wage even though they haven't earned it. But that is what happened. And my friends, that is what the kingdom of heaven is like.
 
They are so used to the certainty of their salvation so used to being part of God's work and being guaranteed their reward that they can no longer remember or imagine what being outside is like. what being without God is like. They forget, and they begin to complain, and their complaints are based the worst of all things they are based on comparisons, and selfish ones at that.
 
I've worked harder, I've been here longer, I've done more. I had to go through this - so should you. All sense of their own blessedness disappears. How sad it is. But praise God, my friends, praise God because the kingdom of God does not work that way. - the kingdom of God works on the basis of God's love and not on the basis of what we deserve.
 
And a good thing too - for those who labored all day could have been those who were not hired until the very end, they could of been those, who as in so many of this world's markets never get hired.
 
I believe that if the people who are now working in the vineyard, would only remember how blessed they are, they would stop grumbling and complaining about other people. Look at the parable in another way - look at it in terms of someone you love - who dies...
 
Sometimes a person dies full of years and honor, with his days' work ended
and his task completed.  Sometimes a young person dies before the doors of
life and achievement barely open.  The parable of the Generous Landlord teaches us that from God both will receive the same welcome. Christ is waiting, for neither, in the divine sense, has life ended too soon or too late.
 
The Landlord looks at us, our God looks at us, and he sees our needs and he
meets those needs.  The question in God's mind is not 'How much do
these people deserve?'; but rather, 'How can I help them?  how can I save
them before they perish?'
 
And that is God's right - and God's pleasure, just as it is a landlord's right and pleasure to be generous with his help, to give them more than they deserve, to make their hearts glad if he or she so chooses.
 
It is all grace and blessings my friends. It is grace to be hired in the morning, it is grace to be hired at noon time, it is grace to be hired near the end of the day.
 
Jesus said "The last will be first, and the first last." not to tell us how things are in the world, but to warn those who are first about the dangers of forgetting how we got to be first, the danger of being so comfortable in our position of being first that we dare to question God's love for others who happen along after us.
 
But for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear
the parable is glorious news about God's love for us all,
   
Indeed it is a source of hope and strength for everyone who is called to
Labor in God's field rather than left to perish in the marketplace with
those who have not been chosen.
May our prayer to God be this:
 
    O thou who hast given so much to me,
    give me one thing more,
    a grateful heart,
    and help me Lord to remember that
    while it is possible to give without loving,
    it is impossible to love without giving.  AMEN
 
(Close by having the congregation sing the “Doxology page 805    ]]>