24th Sunday after Pentecost Series A
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.
All Saints Day
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.
Reformation Sunday 10-29-23 Series A
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,
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.
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.
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost series A
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.
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
Have you ever heard this warning: Be careful what you pray for – you might get it. Watch out – you just might get what you are after. Here's a prayer many of us pray at least once a week – forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Is that what we really want? We know we want God's forgiveness. Of that, we are quite sure. However, we are unsure about the second part, about how we forgive others. We know that we are not nearly so quick to forgive others as we hope and pray that God forgives us. The Psalmist says, "The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness." Great news. We mess up. We ask God for forgiveness. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, and so God forgives us. And we are thankful. But when someone does us wrong or dirty, we say, "Not so fast." We are not so full of compassion and mercy. We are not so slow to anger and of great kindness. We may be quick to anger and full of colorful language. And yet, this is how Our Lord taught us to pray – forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Be careful what you pray for – you just might get it.
In our Gospel lesson, Peter comes to Jesus and asks, "Lord, if someone sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?"
Peter always asks the questions that we would like to ask. He is so earnest and so eager to do the right thing. But Peter also always seems to be getting it wrong. Maybe it's this fallible humanity that makes Peter an exemplar for us. He had heard Jesus talk about forgiveness, so he wants to know more. And Peter must have done his homework, too. An ancient rabbinic tradition says a person should forgive another who has sinned against him as many as four times. So, earnest and eager Peter tries to be even more extravagant than the rabbis, and he adds three more times. He asks, "Should I forgive a person even up to seven times?"
Seven times is a lot. It's three more than the rabbis. It is a lot of times to turn and forgive someone who has sinned against you. Perhaps Peter was expecting Jesus to praise him for even suggesting such extravagant forgiveness. Perhaps Peter was hoping for a pat on the back, a gold star for the day, for an A+ on his forgiveness exam.
This doesn't happen. Rather, Jesus turns and says, "No, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." New Testament scholars debate whether the Greek text means "seventy-seven times" or "seventy times seven times." But that is beside the point because either way, Jesus is holding up an enormous number so big that we can't begin to calculate it in terms of forgiveness. Peter wants a rule, a measurement, so he holds his hands wide and says, "This much, Lord? Should I forgive even this much?" And Jesus says, "No, much more than that. You're not even using the right scale. As far as the east is from the West, that's how much you should forgive." It's such an enormous amount of forgiveness that it would be senseless to calculate how much or how often.
One instrument designed to assess our forgiving character is known as the "Forgiveness Likelihood Scale." It gives ten scenarios of wrongdoing and then asks participants to indicate their likelihood to forgive on a scale from very unlikely to very likely. Here are a few of the items:
You share something embarrassing about yourself to a friend who promises to keep the information confidential. However, the friend breaks his promise and proceeds to tell several people. What is the likelihood that you would choose to forgive your friend?
A family member humiliates you in front of others by sharing a story about you that you did not want anyone to know. What is the likelihood that you would choose to forgive the family member?
A stranger breaks into your house and steals a substantial sum of money from you. What is the likelihood that you would choose to forgive the stranger?
How are we doing so far?
I take it that Jesus is not saying that Peter needs to recalibrate his Forgiveness Likelihood Scale. Rather, I think Jesus' response is a way of saying the question, and what it is trying to measure is not quite right. The Psalmist says, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us." It's hard to put a number on that type of forgiveness!
And, yet, many of us may still sympathize with Peter. It seems to us that following Jesus ought to make some difference in our lives. He tells us to forgive those who have sinned against us. He tells us to love our enemies. He says our righteousness ought to exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. Okay. We want to follow and we are trying the best we can.
But, perhaps like Peter, we would also like some benchmarks to know how we are doing. We may think Peter asking Jesus if he ought to forgive someone as many as seven times is a reasonable request for some practical guidelines. For most of us, sometime in our walk with the Lord, we have probably asked ourselves: Am I doing this right?
Unfortunately, that question may be part of the problem. The spiritual danger is that when we focus on our virtue and character strengths, we may become a bit too preoccupied with ourselves. And the real danger happens when we start thinking of our character strengths as accomplishments of our noble, virtuous, righteous selves. Here, we can too easily slide into self-righteousness, the smug attitude that knows what real forgiveness is, who is a truly forgiving person and who is not, who deserves forgiveness and who does not, and maybe even the extent and limits of forgiveness: "seven times seems about right."
Here, we can easily forget that, while our character strengths and virtues may indeed glorify God when it comes to the Gospel, our Lord doesn't just deal with parts of us, the noble bits that we would like to put on display, but rather God seeks a relationship with whole human beings, every thought, word, and deed, everything, absolutely everything, that we are and we do. And when we remember this, none of us, saints or sinners, people who are off the charts on the forgiveness scale, and those of us who still struggle to forgive, have a leg to stand on. We are all utterly dependent on Christ's unconditional, unmerited grace and mercy, who has removed our sins as far as the East is from the West.
Perhaps that's why Jesus tells Peter the story about the unforgiving servant, a story where the numbers don't add up, because the numbers can't be added up when it comes to what Jesus has done for us. A servant owes the king ten thousand talents. Now, this is a crazy number. A single talent was more than 15 years' worth of daily wages. So, when Jesus says this servant owed the king ten thousand talents, he's effectively saying he owed him a bazillion dollars, a sum he could never pay back.
The servant, no surprise, couldn't pay back the debt, so the king orders him and everything he has to be sold off. So, the servant falls on his knees and begs for an extension and promises that if he gets some extra time, he will pay everything back. And, we don't know if we are to laugh at him or to pity him, because there is no way the servant will ever be able to pay back the king. Maybe the king was amused, because he responds to this ridiculous request with an amazing act: Since there is no way the slave will ever be able to pay back what he owes, the king just forgives the debt, every last cent, and sets the slave free.
Yet, when the servant, who has just been forgiven a debt of a bazillion dollars, runs into a guy who owes him a hundred denarii – which amounts to a few bucks in comparison to what he owed the king – what does he do? Well, he grabs the guy by the throat and demands that he pay up. And when the king finds out that the servant for whom he had just forgiven an unimaginable amount wouldn't forgive the pittance that was owed him by another, he had the servant thrown into prison.
Jesus reframes the whole question about forgiveness. When it comes to forgiveness, we are all like servants who owe our Lord and King more than we can imagine. Try as we may to repay our debt through our character strengths, virtues, or willingness to forgive as many as seven times, we will never be able to pay back all that we owe to God. But the good news is that despite our inability ever to give back to God everything we ought, God forgives us anyway, completely. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has taken upon himself all our burdens, sins, and debts and has forgiven them. Completely, irrevocably, utterly forgiven and healed by Jesus. God is the God who forgives.
We forgive, then, because God forgives. The forgiveness that we are to pass on to others is the forgiveness we have in union with Christ. Not because we are moral heroes or seek our own well-being, but because we are forgiven sinners desperately needing forgiveness.
Forgiveness may very well be a character strength and virtue. It probably does contribute to leading good and happy lives. Saints like Peter probably do score more highly on Forgiveness Likelihood Scales. But, Jesus reminds us, when it comes to our ability and need to forgive, we are all of us, those of us who have great character strengths and those of us who do not, debtors kneeling at the foot of the cross.
This morning I am going to talk to you on the Old Testament Text. “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.”
Today a watchman or a security guard is in not a very well-paid or esteemed position at all, but in those days it was. In fact, the Watchman was the key figure in the defense of a city. It was his job to station himself high atop the city wall and act as a sentry, scanning the horizon for any would-be attackers who might attack the city. When he saw anything suspicious, he was supposed to immediately take out his ram’s horn and blow the warning signal so that the citizens in the field could retreat to the safety of the city walls and the men could prepare for battle. Any failure on the part of the Watchman would often result in death for many or all the members of his city or his own death because he had not done what he was supposed to do, that is, warn the city of the approaching enemy army.
However, we must remember that Ezekiel was called by God not to be a military watchman but a spiritual one. He didn’t have to stand atop a wall and blow a ram’s horn. Instead, he had to stand firmly on the Holy Scriptures and proclaim the truth of God’s Holy Word.
In many respects, that’s an even more weighty responsibility. Being a spiritual watchman is a very serious endeavor – so much so, that God gave Ezekiel the following caution:
“If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your [own]soul.”
According to these words, Ezekiel as the spiritual Watchman would be held accountable by God. He was not just looking out for the people’s physical welfare, but for their spiritual welfare, which, in many ways, was more important. It is an extremely serious matter because his failure to warn would not just result in people’s physical or temporal death but their spiritual or eternal death in hell, which was and still is much worse.
Ezekiel took on the job of spiritual Watchman for the House of Israel. And by the power of God the Holy Spirit, he did what God gave him to do. He made it his business to warn the wicked to turn away from their sinful ways, to repent and to believe and trust in the Lord God of Israel so that they would not surely die, but live eternally with Him.
Now some of you might be thinking, “He ministered some 2,600 years ago, so what do these words have to do with me here today?” Well, I’ll tell you God still needs watchmen today, just as much as he did back then.
As baptized believers in Christ, as members of the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church, you are all Watchman too. You’ve all been drafted and like the old song went, “You’re in the army now.”
My friends the danger is still there, so if you are not currently involved in Bible study here at church or at home, I earnestly ask each of you to prayerfully consider doing so, so that you might be a good and faithful watchman as God calls us all to be. We need to be constantly reminded not only of our own faults and short-comings but of the beautiful gospel, that God, in His limitless love, sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to save us all by obliterating our enemies of sin, death, and hell.
He was appointed by the Father to be the ultimate and perfect Watchman, watching out for our eternal welfare. And He did so, not by climbing up on a wall, but by climbing up Calvary with a cross. He didn’t sound the alarm by blowing a ram’s horn, but by shedding His holy blood to wipe out all our sins. He took the full onslaught of Satan’s attack, all his charges and accusations and indictments against us, so that you and I would be spared, so that we could all be free from blame. He did it all, so that we might retreat within the shelter of the city walls, the safety of His everlasting kingdom.
As a matter of fact, in a beautiful way, Ezekiel’s name is a picture of that. It’s a Hebrew word that means: ‘God strengthens.’ It comes from a verb that means: ‘to harden, to make firm.’ And that’s precisely what God has done for us through Jesus Christ, our almighty, all-knowing ever-present Watchman. He continually strengthens us in our faith through His Holy Word and Sacraments, so that we can be forgiven and saved. He has made us hard and firm so that we can withstand all the assaults of the evil one. Be assured that we will prevail because Jesus has prevailed. May the Good News equip and encourage us as we serve as faithful watchmen for Him and one another all the days of our lives. In Jesus Name. Amen.
14th Sunday after Pentecost Series A
Sunday before last, I talked to you about what it means to have great faith. I am sure every one of you would like to have if not a great faith, but at least stronger faith. We discovered that to have great faith, you need to have a great need. Secondly, we learned that to have great faith, you need to know who can meet your great need. Thirdly, to have great faith, you must be persistent in approaching the one you know will meet your great need. Last but certainly not least, to have great faith, you need to understand that your worthiness or unworthiness has nothing to do with God meeting your need.
You might think you don't have a great need to be met. If you believe that, you must remember that the greatest need we need met is forgiveness of our sins, which keeps us from entering God's kingdom. Satan and our sinful self, the old Adam, will tell you that you are okay, for God is love, but that is an old trick to get you away from God. That is why, each Sunday, we publicly confess our sins.
We need to ensure that the person we turn to meets our needs is the correct person. That is why last week's sermon looked at the crucial question that Jesus asked his first disciples: "Who do you say that I am?" This is a question that all followers of Jesus are called to answer. Is Jesus a true God and true man, or is he not?
Today, I want to look at another crucial question of great faith: What does it mean to follow Jesus? In today's gospel reading, we get a statement from Jesus that answers this question in a very clear, simple, but challenging way. Jesus says: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
So, today, I want to unpack what Jesus is teaching us about being a baptized Christian.
First, Jesus teaches that we must deny ourselves. This is not a popular teaching in our world today! It never has been. It won't win you an election. It won't make you famous. And we don't hear it anywhere else but in church. So, what is Jesus talking about here? He means that there are times when we must say "no" to ourselves in order to say "yes" to God. It's really that simple. Let me repeat that. He means that there are times when we must say 'no' to ourselves in order to say 'yes' to God.
And maybe you even did that today. You attended the worship service this morning when you could or maybe even wanted to do something else this morning. If that is the case, you denied yourself. I also think that, on a deeper level, Jesus is saying that we must deny our false selves in order to be the person God created us to be. What is our false self? It is the self that is governed by the world's standards. It is the self that equates success with happiness. The self that believes that the one who dies with the most toys wins. The self that thinks that things like more money, more power, and more pleasure are what will bring more peace. We will never discover who we truly are until we deny the false self that we all have.
If denying ourselves is unpopular these days, how about taking up our cross as Jesus tells us we must do in this verse? And what does that even mean?
If there is one thing I have learned as a pastor, it is that not all crosses we take up are voluntary. Sometimes, a cross is placed on our shoulders that we did not ask for. Such as an unsettling health diagnosis, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job; all are crosses we don't ask for.
Then there are crosses that we take up voluntarily. For example, we know a certain task will be difficult but choose to do it anyway because we believe God wants us to take it on. Whether it is an involuntary or voluntary cross we take on, when we trust God through faith to be with us through them, we can begin to see God at work in them.
Whether you are to be given a cross to bear involuntarily or voluntarily, we are to accept them gracefully, humbly, and courageously. Accept the cross, trust Jesus, and follow him, for he will ease your burden. When you do this, you will often be telling those around you, especially nonbelievers, more about what you believe than any words you might say.
Paul's Letter to the Romans this morning offers us some specific suggestions on what it might mean to take up our cross. Here are three of them.
In verse 12, Paul writes: "Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer." If the cross you are being asked to take up is involuntary, this verse might just speak to you. Can you find a way to rejoice in hope despite your suffering? Can you find joy in the hope of the gospel and in the promise of eternal life? Can you be patient in your suffering? Can you persevere in your prayers?
In the next verse, verse 3, Paul writes, "Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers." Maybe your life is going very smoothly right now, but you have a nagging sense that you are being called to do more. Since there is no end to the needs in our world these days, maybe your cross is sacrificial giving to meet the needs of those in need.
Skipping down to verse 18: "If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." Could this be your cross? And isn't this more challenging than ever as we approach the election season? What might it mean for you to decide to live peaceably with all right now? Insofar as it depends on you? Can you disagree with someone and still live peaceably with them? I certainly believe so!
I don't know what cross you are being asked to bear right now. But I do know that there is a cross that is yours and no one else's. There was a cross that was only for Jesus. There was a cross that was only for his first disciples. There is a cross that is only for me. If we want to follow Jesus, we must take up our cross.
In doing so, remember that you are not bearing it alone, for Jesus takes it up with you. And that makes the cross bearable, for while the cross feels heavy, he, through his gospel message of love, forgiveness, and the certain hope of life with God, gives you the strength to bear your cross.
And the only way to find this life is to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. So let us do so, to the glory of God. Amen
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost series A
Title: Lord, help me.
Text: Isaiah 56:1,6-8 and Matthew 15:21-28
In the Old Testament reading this morning, we see God at work. I do not know if you picked up on it, so before I start talking to you about the Matthew text, I want to share some insights with you on the Isaiah text, for it will help you understand the Matthew reading better.
The first thing we see is that God gathers outcasts, foreigners, and others, those referred to as dogs by the Jewish people (remember the word, dogs), into his chosen people. The second thing we see in the text is that God gathers them on his holy mountain, where they are people of prayer. We see that not only are they people of prayer, but they are also joyful in their worship and good works. Last but certainly not least, God says he will gather others to his holy mountain.
Keep these four things in mind; First, God chooses who will be his people; people like us, people not like us, and people we would consider society's outcasts. Second, God gathers those he chose to be on his holy mountain, his church. Third, his chosen people are prayerful people. And finally, his chosen people are joyful in their words and deeds.
Fast forwarding to today's gospel reading, we see that Jesus has taken his band of followers, who, by the way, for the most part, are people who would probably never have anything to do with others if it were not for Jesus calling them to be his disciples. Judas turns out to be a crook and betrayer. Matthew, the hated tax collector. Simon the Zealot, who was all about overthrowing Roman rule. Luke, the doctor, an educated man, plus some fishermen, who were more than likely hard workers but probably not educated to the region of Tyre and Sidon, pagan port cities.
It is there that we read of the encounter between Jesus, his disciples, and a Canaanite woman, a hated people by the Jews. The disciples want Jesus to tell the woman to go away, to quit bugging them. While it is not recorded for us, I wonder if the disciples were, if not calling her a dog, were thinking it.
Jesus, of course, was not going to send her away, for he came to save the lost. As we read the account of that day, we need to notice that Jesus never calls the woman a dog. He starts out reminding her that his intent, his purpose for living, is only to save the lost people of Israel. She continues to beg, getting down on her knees. She cries out, "Lord, help me." Jesus replies, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." If this event happened today, I would imagine the day's headlines would be "Jesus calls a woman, a dog."
As it is written down for us, she responds, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." "Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly."
While there are many topics I could talk to you about this morning, it is the woman's great faith and what we could learn from her. What made her faith great? First, she had a great need, a daughter possessed by an evil spirit. So, I would say that if we don't have a great need for Jesus, how can we ever have great faith in him? Throughout the New Testament, there are examples of people in great need who showed great faith. Great faith comes by being 'poor in spirit,' as Jesus pointed out, 'for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' Thus, great faith requires us to realize that we cannot fix ourselves, our families, and our world alone. We need Jesus.
Secondly, great faith requires knowing who will fill our need for help. There are many people in our world, maybe some of you hearing my message today, who know they need something. But don't know what they need. They try this and that, but nothing seems to satisfy their need. The truth is that each of us has what I call a hole in our heart that can only be filled by Jesus. We try to fill it with all kinds of things, but in the end, nothing works. We need Jesus.
Thirdly, great faith requires persistent trust. Did you notice that this woman who had a great need, who knew who to turn to for help, would not be deterred by the disciples or Jesus? Jesus ignored her. He doesn't answer her, at least at first, but she keeps trusting that he will help her in her time of need.
Even in the silence of Jesus, she did not give up but persisted. She does not turn away. Instead, she kneels before Jesus and says, 'Lord, help me.' Great faith does not give up even in times of silence from God. I wonder if Jesus intentionally ignored her, not just to see how strong her faith was, but to show his disciples and us some 2000 years later what great and persistent faith looks like.
Great faith, as this account teaches us, requires a great need. It teaches us to trust in Jesus alone to meet our needs. It teaches us to keep trusting in Jesus when he does not seem to be responding to our prayers the way we expect him to respond. You know those times when we decide that since God of the universe, who is all-knowing and all-wise is not doing what we want of him when we want it done, we need to take care of our needs ourselves.
There is one thing that great faith does not require. We find it in the strange twist in this account of Jesus and the Canaanite woman. Jesus gives her an answer she does not want to hear. He tells her that she is not worthy of Jesus answering her prayer. But then he answers it. Her daughter is healed.
We learn in this twist that great faith does not rely on our worthiness, but it is also not stopped on our unworthiness. Great faith depends upon the grace of God toward us. Nothing more. Nothing less.
This account, as it is recorded for us, might not be the most important reading in the Bible, but think of all the people who are hearing this scripture reading today about the encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman whose name we don't know, who showed us what it means to have great faith.
Christians from all over the world. People of all races and nations. Young and old, believers and unbelievers, sick and well, people like you and me who might be overwhelmed by the events in their lives, families, and world. All people in need of Jesus. I am thankful that I have heard it today. I hope you are thankful too. Amen.