The Parable of the Master – A Sermon on Matthew 25:14-30

November 15, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text today is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus gives us the parable of the talents. Oh, not this parable again. This is the parable where the pastor always gets up and tells you about stewardship. What are you called to do with you time, talents, and treasures. Because apparently, the Church needs all three of them from you in order to survive. This is the text where you get told all the stuff that you have to do so that the Church can grow, or get bigger, or get younger, or explode in some fashion, or just not close her doors, or take care of some other desperate need. Because let’s face it, there’s always something that we need.

And if you will just take care of that need, it’s like magic! Five talents gets you five more. Two will double just as well. Just give what you can, and everything will work out great. You’ll get the growth, youth, or agenda item you were looking for. But if you don’t give, oh no! What you have will be taken away. Because apparently God is a big jerk about these things. I mean seriously. The master in this parable comes off sounding pretty horrible by the end if you’re not a giver. And wouldn’t you rather have a pat on the back instead of being thrown out into the utter darkness? I know I would.

This is why I hate today’s text. Not because of the text itself. But because this is the kind of garbage that ends up being preached from it. So then, if this text isn’t about giving everything you can, what is it about? It’s about a master going on a journey. But before He goes, he leaves everything to His servants. Property, in our English translation is not a strong enough word. He leaves his entire livelihood, everything he has to live on to these servants. Not as a loan. But as a gift. That’s different. It’s almost as if the master expected that his journey would end with his death.

Because what a valuable gift he gave. A talent of silver was equivalent to nine to ten years wages. So to one servant, about 50 years worth, another 20 years worth, and to another about 10 years worth of wages. He gave to each servant according to their ability. Now does that mean the most able got the five talents? Or does it mean the most able got the one talent? I don’t know.

But as soon as the master had given away everything he had to live on, he left. And immediately after he left, two of his servants began to invest their gifts. Notice, that no where does the master demand of them to do this. But that’s exactly how they respond. And they do so precisely because the gift is so great. They cannot help but go out and put this tremendous wealth to use.

The third servant, however, refuses his gift altogether. He knows the master went out with nothing. Therefore, he figured the master would likewise return with nothing. And having nothing, that master would surely demand back the gift he gave. If the money was all tied up in investments when he returned, then what would his master do? If that money had been spent, what would his master do? He knows what he would do if he were the master. So, this isn’t a wonderful gift. This is a terrible burden. And the only way to not leave it all to chance was to reject the gift altogether. And make his own way until the master returned. So the talent of silver was buried, and the servant’s believed his life to now be safe from the master.

However, when the master does return, we find that wasn’t what was going on at all. I know our English translation reads that the master came to “settle accounts.” But the Greek literally means “to take up a word with.” The master’s not looking for his money. He’s not looking to take back the gifts he gave. He’s looking to see how his servants are. And to give them even more, now that his journey is done. After all, the master who had given everything he had, now was giving once again. And giving even more than last time. “Well done good and faithful servant, You have been faithful with little, I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

But when the third servant saw his master, he returned the original gift. And he returned it with all the pent up anger and resentment that had built over all that time. The master, who had been so generous as to give everything he had away was now told that he was a “hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you sowed no seed.” He was told that he was a man to feared, and that his gift to this servant was no gift, but a curse.

The master wasn’t looking to get his money back. Even if that servant would have come up and said, “the talent you gave me is gone. It fed me when times were tough. It kept me alive when disaster struck. But I have nothing else to show for it but my life.” The master would have still said, “Well done good and faithful servant!” Because that’s what the gift was for. To live. And now the gifts could be given again.

But to reject the gift was to reject the giver. The servant wasn’t wicked because he didn’t invest the money. The servant wasn’t slothful because he didn’t earn a profit. The servant was evil because he hated his master’s gifts. And therefore, he hated the master. And so the master’s response is fitting. “You [“]knew[”] that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested the money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” In other words, the master is saying, “If I really were this way, I would’ve expected a lot more than I have. If I were really this way, do you think I would have ever entrusted this to you? But I’m not this way. Because, look I’m still giving it away.” Give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given.

This parable is a picture of Jesus. He takes on the role of the master from the parable. Jesus has a journey. A journey to the cross. Not just because it sounds like a nice vacation. But because there is where Jesus goes to give you even more. And to go there, He gives up everything. Not just possessions, but even as much as His own body. Not just livelihood, but life itself. As His lifeblood is shed. Poured out. All for you. And He gives even this to you. In fact, He’s giving here today. Saying to His servants, saying to you, take and eat, this is My body. Take and drink, this is My blood, shed for your forgiveness. This is a treasure worth more than any amount of silver.

Every other gift pales in comparison to this gift of Jesus. Because this gift, Jesus’ own death and resurrection, given at the cross, is everything. And not only is it given at the supper. Not only is it given in its proclamation. This gift from the cross also given in baptism. And we’ve seen that gift today too. The death and resurrection of Jesus came today to Landon, and Kaytie, and Jeff. Today they were clothed with Christ’s righteousness. Today their sins were washed away. Today they are children of God, brought into God’s own family. All through that journey to the cross that Jesus has made. All through that gift that Jesus has given. Not a loan. Not a burden. A glorious, wonderful gift.

It’s the death and resurrection of Jesus that gives life to the Church. The Church doesn’t need your time, talent or treasures in order to exist. Because Jesus gave His time, which is as long as eternity. Jesus gave His talent, to create what is good from nothing, and then living a sinless life on your behalf. Jesus gave His treasure, His own life. His own existence. And through these things the Church will always live. Because those are the only things that give her life. Those are the only things that give us life as well. And they’re given through her.

And you know, because we have this gift of Jesus, our faith cannot help but grow. When we give, it’s because Jesus has already given to us. When we help, it’s because Jesus has already helped us. When we love, it is because Jesus has already loved us. And even as that gift of Jesus keeps growing, He still has even more to give to us. For to everyone who has, more will be given. There is the resurrection coming. The resurrection of all flesh is coming on the last day when Jesus, our master returns. The last day will be exactly like Easter Sunday. Only instead of just one being raised from the dead, all will be raised.

Now, it is true, that not everyone will be happy on that day. Our text does make that clear. But it’s not because Jesus hasn’t been giving. Because here He is, with all His gifts. Because Jesus wants you to live. That’s the goal. Not that you multiply your own faith. Not that you even reach others with that faith. Now those things might happen anyways. And thanks be to God when they do. But the goal is to make sure that you live. And that can only happen through the death and resurrection of Jesus. That is what God gives. That is what we proclaim. Because that is the power of God unto salvation. That is good news. And with that good news comes the words, “Well done good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your master.” Not because your time, talent and treasure did anything. But only because Jesus has already done it all for you. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Parable of the Merchant and the Five Foolish Virgins – A Sermon on Matthew 25:1-13

November 6, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text today is the Gospel lesson where Jesus tells the parable of the ten virgins. It’s a pretty straight forward parable. The moral of the story is to be prepared when the bridegroom comes. Be wise, and stock up on extra oil. Or stock up on the gifts God is giving right now. Because you don’t know how long it will take the bridegroom to arrive.

The analogy makes even more sense when you take into account the wedding traditions in Jesus’ day. On the wedding day, the bridegroom leaves his parents’ house in order to go and pick up his bride. And that may be across town, or over in the next village, or quite a ways down the road. But once he has picked her up, the whole party intentionally takes the longest path home, so that everyone on the way can congratulate them on their happy day. So when exactly the bride and groom were to arrive at his parents’ house to start the wedding and the party was anyone’s guess. Five were ready for the extra late hours with additional oil in flasks for their lamps. Five were not. And the five who weren’t were stuck outside when the door was shut and the wedding begun. So be ready and don’t get locked out.

That’s a good thing to be prepared for. And that’s a valuable point that Jesus makes. Getting in the wedding is more important than any other thing that could be going on. Getting into heaven is more important than anything else that happens on this earth. So be prepared with the Gospel. Always receive more of the gifts Jesus gives. So that you will never starve your faith. So that your lamp never goes out. So that when Jesus arrives, you are welcomed in.

Is that the end of our parable? Looks wrapped up pretty clean. Not a whole lot else to say about it. Which is a problem. Because the people who heard this parable in Jesus’ day were still waiting to hear what happened at the door with the five foolish virgins. That parable is not yet finished. You see, we missed so much context, that you can drive a truck through it. Not because we were dumb, but because we didn’t live that life. What was the significance of having ten virgins waiting? What did it mean to have no lamps in the dark? How could anyone buy more oil that late? And was the doorman’s word final?

That there were ten virgins total was no accident. Weddings in those days were required to have ten witnesses. Ten being the number in that society representing completeness. Everyone knew that about the number ten. Just like people today know that ‘cool’ is the word for something you like. Therefore ten witnesses was the right number. Now, those witnesses were all male. And likely accompanied the groom on his journey. However, ten virgin women waiting was a peculiarity Jesus added. They too were numbered with that number. They too, in Jesus’ eyes were critical to the wedding. As in the wedding party could not be considered complete without them.

When the bridegroom arrives with his bride, we miss another critical element. Did you ever wonder why those without oil didn’t just follow those whose lamps were still lit? It’s because finding their way in the dark wasn’t the problem. In that society, women didn’t go out after dark without a lamp held up to their face. So that people could see who they were. To go out without a lamp was to try and hide your identity. To be found without a lamp was to be suspected of adultery or fornication.

Maybe we might judge that as wrong. Maybe we might call it a relic of a bygone patriarchal era. But that is the way it was. Because you know what? Adultery and fornication was just as popular then as it is now. But they at least recognized the shame in it. So for those five to show up with no lamps would have been the modern day equivalent of hiring five hookers to be bridesmaids at your wedding. So when they ask for oil from the five who brought extra, foolish virgins risk humiliating the entire wedding party, not just half of it.

Therefore the five foolish virgins must go buy more oil while the five wise virgins are let into the wedding. Now, it’s not the problem you think. There was a wedding going on in the village. The local merchant is probably smart enough to be open for business, because someone will run out of something. Which means, someone will be looking to buy. And these five are certainly willing to buy. But they still have the same problem as before. To have not one, but five anonymous women show up at night is a scandal most people who have good reputation would avoid at all costs.

But this is where our parable best shows us Jesus. Not in the bridegroom. But in the merchant. Because the merchant obviously does sell these five foolish virgins the oil they were looking for. Or else they would never have tried to get into the wedding after the door was shut. That these women end up with oil tells us more about the merchant than is ever mentioned about the bridegroom in this text. He was willing to bear their shame. Take for himself the accusations that would have been theirs. Be seen by the whole community as an adulterer and fornicator. Give up everything. So that these foolish women would have their place at the wedding.

That’s exactly what Jesus does for us. Jesus takes all our sin, all the things we’re too ashamed to admit. All the things we hoped no one else would ever see. Jesus bears them all. We stand accused. Satan is the word translated as accuser, and he knows exactly what to accuse us with. He’s kept track of every sin, and is ready to relate them all in detail to God. All so that we would be destroyed. But Jesus steps in and takes all those accusations instead. And He dies for every one of them. Jesus hangs on the cross as the worst adulterer, the worst fornicator, the worst sinner of all time. Not because He did those things. But because we needed those sins taken away from us. Jesus gave up everything. His honor. His Lordship. His freedom. His perfection. His very life. All for you. So that you have a place at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Jesus gives you the proverbial oil. He gives you the gifts of the Gospel. Jesus gives forgiveness. He gives life. He gives salvation. He gives resurrection from the dead. He gives hope for today. He gives you His kingdom. He makes you a part of His family. He feeds you. He gives you faith. He washes you. He clothes you. He makes you holy, so that you stand before God. Jesus gives you His own place. And no one can take that away.

But in our parable there is one more thing we need to know. Because we’re left standing at the door, with the door keeper claiming to not know who we are. What we don’t know is that the doorman doesn’t frame this as a final answer. In this society, this response was not the end of a conversation, but the beginning. The doorman can’t let just anyone in. But the number of virgins is not yet complete. The wedding cannot begin. Five more need to come. And not just any five. He needs to know that these are the five he’s looking for.

That Jesus ends his parable here is no accident. Because this is the point where it goes from parable to reality. There is only one way to enter the wedding feast. And that is to have the light of Jesus shining on you. For the doorman in the parable, he needs to see the faces. He needs the lamps lighting them up. It’s the same for us. Jesus on more than one occasion has told us that He is the light of the world. And that light shines on us. No matter the shame our faces have had to bear. No matter the sins our faces have faced. We are the ones the wedding is waiting for. And the light is the one thing that can change the doorman’s answer from no to yes.

We don’t know exactly when Jesus is coming back. So watching is a good thing to do. Do not neglect the gifts Jesus gives you through Word and sacrament. But also know that Jesus is with you, and for you, even in those times you’ve let the oil run out. Even in the times you fall into sin and shame. Even when the darkness surrounds you on all sides. He is there, gladly sacrificing Himself on your behalf. Because His wedding feast can’t start without you. You are part of the wedding party. And Jesus is of the opinion that you’re worth waiting for. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

The Resurrection of Jesus Appears – An All Saints Day Sermon on 1 John 3:1-3

November 1, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This Sunday is the day we observe All Saints Day, where we remember those who have died in the faith, especially in the past year. From our congregation last year, Bob Brewer and unborn Ruth Davis joined our Lord. But we also take today to remember also those outside the doors of Our’s Saviour’s Lutheran Church of Caruthers, California. Because we have lost fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, children, family, and friends. This last year, death has taken so many loved ones. And not just last year. But every year.

There’s no doubt that death hurts. And the closer we are, the more we love, the more painful those deaths are. And that’s true for every single person in the world. That’s a pain we’re all desperate to have taken away. A pain too much to bear without some comfort. So we try to comfort ourselves and each other with words. Hoping that those words are true. We say things like, “At least they’re not suffering any more.” “They’re in a better place.” “They still live on inside our heart.”

Everyone in the world can say those words, and mean them in one way or another. No matter their religion or non-religion. And sometimes, these are the only words we share to comfort those who grieve. Sometimes, these are the only words we hear ourselves. If only they worked.

What do you mean, Pastor? We do believe that they’re not suffering anymore. We do believe they’re in a better place. After all, Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you’ll be with me in paradise.” Paul said that [his] desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. Our first reading from Revelation this morning shows us the blessed dead, standing before the throne and the Lamb. Singing the very same ‘This Is the Feast’ that we sung this morning. Blessing, honor, glory, and might be to God and the Lamb forever, Amen! So why not comfort ourselves with these words? Why not with these words comfort our loved ones who are stinging from the pain of death?

Because these words don’t work. They don’t say enough. They may all be true. But these aren’t the words that overcome death. At their heart, these are the world’s words. And the world is not willing to go any farther than this. End of suffering? Okay. A better place? Sure. Remembering them fondly. No problem. But resurrection? A resurrection like Jesus’? No. That’s just silly. That can’t be real. The world will not go any farther. So don’t expect the world to understand us when it comes to death. Our text from John’s first epistle today states this very fact. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

So then why do we get so worried that the world wont understand. We’re embarrassed by our liturgies. By our rituals. By the very things that proclaim the Gospel. We think if we strip all the embarrassing, confusing parts away, the world will love us, and join us. And that is exactly right. They would. Because what the world finds embarrassing and confusing is Jesus, His death and resurrection, and His promises given through His gifts of Word and Sacrament. If Jesus is gone, only then will the world be happy. Unfortunately, true worship will always be strange to the children of this world. Just as proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus at funerals will also always be strange.

However, in Christ Jesus, we are no longer children of this world. These things should no longer be odd. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared. We are God’s children. Adopted into His family. Clothed in His baptism. Given a place at His table in the Supper. Forgiven. Loved by God. And looking forward to what has not yet appeared. The resurrection on the last day.

You know who else God’s children are? Those who have died in the faith. Our fathers and mothers. Our sisters and brothers. Our children, family, and friends. Those who have been given God’s promises, just like we have. Also received the gifts He gives. They have been baptized too, just like us. Been fed Christ’s own body and blood at the same table. Been forgiven as we have been forgiven. That their bodies are currently separated from their souls doesn’t change God’s promises. What they will be, and what we will be has not yet appeared. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him. 

And how is He? How is Jesus? He is risen. He is risen indeed. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. And when He appears, all the children of God will be like Him. Risen. That’s the hope we have that no one else has. The hope that one day death will no longer have dominion over us. There will be no more need to ever say “At least they’re not suffering any more.” Or, “They’re in a better place.” Or, “they still live on inside your heart.” There will be no more need to use hollow comforts. Because true comfort is coming. Body and soul reunited. Alive again. All through Jesus. That’s His promise. That’s our hope, even in the face of death.

Now, maybe those things don’t sound all that different to you. Maybe what I’ve called the world’s comfort and what I’ve called Jesus’ comfort sound like exactly the same thing. If so, I would like to point out one big difference. And that is with how we look at death from these two perspectives. From the world’s perspective, our only comfort is to call death good. Treat death as the great healer, able to put an end to suffering. Death is a gateway to heaven, taking people to a better place. Death is the key to being even closer, in our very hearts.

But this is to lie about what death is. Death is no healer, it is the the very cause of so much suffering. Death is no gateway to a better place. Because the best place is to be with the ones you love. Death cannot bring anyone closer, because it takes our loved ones away. As far away as it can. And it has no intention of bringing them back. Death is our enemy. Death is worst possible outcome. Death brings even God to tears. Therefore, as it is written, the last enemy to be destroyed is death.

This is what makes the difference. Jesus is with us even now, proclaiming that death is our enemy, not our friend. Proclaiming that death has an end. Proclaiming the resurrection. You see, Jesus’ death and resurrection is the blessing for all those who mourn. Because that is our comfort. That is where we find our hope. That is Jesus, letting us know that no matter what death does, He undoes.

Only in Jesus can we ever say “O death, where is your victory, O death, where is your sting?” Because even though death beats us every time. Even though death leaves us hurt, and in tears whenever it strikes. Even though we can’t do anything. Jesus is here right now. Not with words that do nothing to help our grief. Nor words that lie about the true nature of death. But with the very Word declaring death’s defeat. Jesus gives you His resurrection both now, and on the last day. They are yours. And we shout that resurrection to the whole world. Whether that world understands it or not.

This is why the best funeral hymns are Easter hymns. Where we sing of the very hope that Jesus gives. This is why the best funeral sermons are Easter sermons. Pointing us to both the cross and the empty tomb. And this is why after every committal service we speak that Easter greeting. Because in it is the only answer to our death  and the death of our loved ones. He is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Categories: Sermon

Paying My Own Dang Way – A Reformation Sermon on John 8:31-36

October 25, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this Reformation Day morning is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus has some bad news. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

I get what you’re saying Jesus. I really do. But isn’t that kind of a hyperbole? Aren’t you overstating the case, just a little bit? I mean, a slave to sin? Really? Now I know, I do sin. And sometimes I make some mistakes. Sometimes I feel hurt and angry and things beyond my control. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by life, and confused by everything that’s going on. Sometimes I don’t always communicate the way I need to, and get stressed out with worry over things. But those are all pretty minor in comparison with slavery. No, all those things mean is that I need to try harder to be a good Christian. And if I can just get those things under control, my life is going to run a lot smoother. I’m a Christian, Jesus, a child of God, and have never been a slave to anyone.

And yet Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” But that can’t be right. The Jews in Jesus day weren’t slaves to sin. They bought their own way out of it. They took their sacrifices to the temple and paid for their own sin. The monks in Luther’s day also paid their own way. trading their penance and works for God’s forgiveness. The papists in Luther’s day even found a way to literally pay for their own forgiveness in cash through the sale of indulgences. A practice of the papists which still exists to this day in one form or another. We can’t be slaves to sin. Because we can take care of those sins ourselves.

Oh, pastor, surely not. We’d never do that, would we? After all, Jesus took care of all our sin already. All we have to do is…. If we can just…. We just want to…. You see, we do try to take care of our own sin. Because we will not believe that Jesus has done enough Himself. There’s always something we want to add. And we add it because we are indeed slaves to sin.

We say things like, “All we have to do is accept Jesus into our hearts.” “If we can just do what God wants, He’ll bless us.” “We just want to do what Jesus would do.” And we make those actions conditions of our own forgiveness. Conditions of our own salvation. Because somewhere in this process, we feel the need to assert our own free will. Feel the need to tell God we’re not slaves to sin. We try set our own selves free with our own two hands. Because we believe that Jesus didn’t do it all.

And our arrogance knows no bounds! Not only to we put our very salvation in our own hands. We believe we can save others with what we do. All we have to do is speak our culture’s language, and they’ll believe. If we can just form better relationships, the church would be full. We just want to be Christ’s people in our community, so that by our works, they too will decide of their own free will to give their hearts to Jesus. We will win people with our own strength, rather than simply letting Jesus speak and the Holy Spirit do His work. We are no different than the Pharisees, the monastics, the papists, or any other slave to sin. The slave had no free will. We only speak what our master gives us to speak. And we are slaves to sin. Even worse, as Jesus says, “the slave does not remain in the house forever.”

Those words make us shudder. We don’t want to leave that house. Where could we ever go? You see, sin is a far bigger deal than we give it credit for. Sin is a whole lot more than just the mistakes I’ve made or how hurt and angry I am. Sin is a whole lot nastier than just being overwhelmed or confused. Sin is a lot deadlier than just a failure to communicate or stressing out too much. Sin is far darker than just not living up to my title of Christian. Sin is an utter rebellion of the will against God. And we are in that sin. We are enslaved to it. And our very thoughts betray that fact. So we should shudder at those words, “the slave does not remain in the house forever.” Because in those words are our condemnation.

But those words also give us hope. For the house we’re in is the house of sin. And if a slave does not remain in that house forever, then that’s good news. But what son from a house of sin would ever set us free? This is exactly why Jesus became flesh. Why His lineage comes from Adam who first sinned. From Abraham, who thought it was up to him to make God’s promise a reality through Hagar instead of Sarah. From Isaac who was willing to pass his wife of as his sister to save his own life, just as his father did before him.

This is why Jesus’ lineage comes through Jacob, who was willing to deceive his own father to take a birthright from his brother. Through Judah, who impregnated his own daughter-in-law, Tamar. Through David, who had a man killed to have his wife. Jesus is born into the house of sin. And by taking on all their sin, all our sin, He can truly be called a Son in that house. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Jesus has set us free from sin. Not because we have sufficient willpower over sin. Not because of anything we have ever done. But because of everything He has done on our behalf. Born into the house of sin, Jesus died for all sin. And with the heir dead, the house crumbles, and is left to its own ruin. But Jesus set us free. That house’s fate is no longer ours. That is the truth that sets us free. It set free the Jews listening to Jesus words. It set free a German monk wondering how to do enough work to free himself. It set free the whole church, no money necessary. The truth has set us free indeed.

And that truth also includes the resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead. Not as an heir of the house of sin, but an heir to a new house. A new creation. A new heavens and a new earth. New through that very resurrection of Jesus. It’s that house, the house of our God, into which Jesus has brought us slaves. No longer as slaves, but as heirs. Clothed in baptism. Given a place at the table in the Lord’s Supper. None of it by our own will. All of it instead by Jesus’ work.

Those sins we wanted to pay for ourselves, they’re gone. The sins so great that we had no way to pay are taken away too. Not because we worked hard enough. Not because we bought our own way. Not because we gave Jesus our hearts or anything else. Not because someone else pulled the right evangelism levers. Not because we chose to. We are free from sin because of Jesus alone. He has done it all. He has set us free indeed. Making us sons and daughters in the house of our Lord forever. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

So, What Does Belong to God? – A Sermon on Matthew 22:15-22

October 18, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus encounters another trap. “…[T]he Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?””

If there were ever two groups of people who didn’t get along, it was the disciples of the Pharisees and the followers of Herod. The disciples of the Pharisees were very public in their outcry of Caesar, especially when Caesar demanded that he be treated like a god. To these pharisaical disciples, there was only one God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This God, and this God alone deserved all praise, and honor, and thanks, and sacrifice. This God’s laws were the only ones that needed to be followed. Peter’s rallying cry in Acts was very familiar to these disciples. “We must obey God rather than men” was the motto they lived by. Especially when that man was a pagan ruler who thought himself a god.

The Herodians, on the other hand, were were loyal to King Herod. A King put in place by Caesar. Maybe they were loyal because they got something out of it. Perhaps they were loyal because they were afraid of what would happen to them if they weren’t. Maybe it was some of both. But Herod was King. And to be friends with a king was rewarding place to be.

Since the king was charged with keeping the peace in Judea, it was in their best interests to make sure that peace was indeed kept. And keeping the peace meant making sure everyone did what Caesar commanded. When the people needed to worship Caesar, there they were, enforcing that rule. When Caesar’s authority was questioned, there they were, asserting it. And when Caesar’s taxes needed collected, there they were, making sure people paid.

The Pharisees sent both their disciples and the Herodians to Jesus. A veritable tinder box, waiting to go up in flames. The flattery they gave to Jesus wasn’t to soften up Jesus. They themselves acknowledge that’s a thing that can’t be done. No, the flattery is to invest both their disciples and the Herodians in the answer. A man who is true? Who teaches the way of God truthfully? A man who is bold enough to answer anyone? Who considers himself the equal to any great man? Surely he, of all people, will tell those Herodians off. Or tell those Pharisaical disciples off. And if he will not, then he’s going to have eat all those bold words in the form of a knuckle sandwich. Into this tinderbox, the Pharisees put the lit match. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” And from there, they wait for everything to burn to the ground.

Of course, Jesus makes it look easy. When they show Him the coin used for the tax, with Caesar’s image, and Caesar’s inscription, Jesus simply says, “Therefore render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus stays true to God, unswayed by men’s opinions or appearances. And both sides are satisfied. There will be no fire today. So everyone can go their way.

Is that what we do too? Go our own way after hearing Jesus’ words? Figure what we were doing all along was really the right way? Because the question that we should be asking right now is “What belongs to God?” The Herodians would answer this by saying Caesar is god. Therefore rendering unto Caesar and unto god are the very same actions. The disciples of the Pharisees would say that everything is God’s. Therefore once you have rendered unto God what is His, there’s nothing left to give to Caesar. And perhaps we might sympathize with that. But clearly, that’s not what Jesus meant.

What belongs to God? Thanks and praise? Obedience? Honor? Glory? Time, talents, and treasure? Sure, all those things belong to God. And should be given to God. Have you given them? Eh, …sometimes? That’s the problem in asking a Law question. You always get a Law answer. And the Power of God in the Law is not salvation, but condemnation. Sometimes isn’t a good enough answer. Or is it?

When we ask what belongs to God, it inevitably leads to some self-justification on our part. Sure, I give God thanks and praise. When I have things to be thankful for. When I remember that I’m better off than that other guy. That I don’t have to deal with the things he deals with. So I thank you Lord, that I am not like other men… Dang!

That inner disciple of the Pharisee comes out so well. That inner Herodian is convinced. That part of us is practiced to near perfection. As long as I can measure myself against someone else who is worse than me, I can self-justify myself out of having to do all the Law. Because I do enough. At least by my own measure. But that doesn’t make the Law go away. The Law still condemns us. Because we’re not measured by the parts of the Law we choose, but the whole thing.

However, despite the fact we cannot do the Law, that question is still implicit in our text. What belongs to God? And it needs an answer. Simply saying we’ve done it, or saying we haven’t, doesn’t answer the question. Reducing it to what we have to give doesn’t answer it either. Because what if it isn’t a Law question? We ask it like it is. So why should we be surprised when we come up with a Law answer? But what if we ask what belongs to God as a Gospel question?

What belongs to God? You do. Because you have been purchased with a very different kind of coin. Not a dollar, or a denarius. Not a coin bearing an image of some earthly authority. Nor the inscription of some ruler of this world. But this coin “Purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.” At least that’s how Luther says it in his Small Catechism. “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 with Him in His kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”

Jesus is a different kind of coin. But he has all the qualities of a coin listed in this text. Jesus bears an image. Paul writes in Colossians, “He is the image of the invisible God, [and] the firstborn of all creation.” Not Caesar’s image, God’s image. Likewise, there is an inscription. You know it. Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. That inscription hangs over His head at the one time it really matters: The cross. Not Pilate’s inscription, Jesus’ inscription. Jesus is indeed a different kind of coin. But He still purchases you. You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price.

And that price is the very life of God Himself. While we stand around and argue about what Caesar deserves, Jesus has already purchased us with His death and resurrection. While we ask Law questions about what we’re supposed to do for God, Jesus does everything God was looking for. Our God tax has already been settled. Our Herodian tendencies have been forgiven. Our well intentioned Pharisaical attitudes have been overcome. The burning inferno of our sin has been extinguished. Even our most terrible sins, the ones we hoped would never come due, have been paid in full. What we could never pay, Jesus paid. And now you belong to God.

And that is good news. Because now there is nothing in this life; Nothing that this world, nor all its Caesars can throw at you; Nothing that Satan, in all his power, can do to you that will ever separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Because you are paid for. Paid by the image and inscription. Paid by the strangest coin ever used. Paid by the body and blood of Jesus on the cross. Given for you. Shed for your forgiveness. There for you every time this life, and this world, inflict their worst.

For there is a resurrection. Already paid for. Already yours. Both now, and the day Jesus returns to hand it to you. And not even death can stop Him from giving that resurrection to you. You belong to God. You belong to Jesus. And that means the world will set its trap for you. Just as it set a trap for Him in today’s text. And those traps will be too big for you to handle. Too much for you to buy yourself out of. But while you will always be given more than you can handle, you will never be afflicted with more than what Jesus has already handled on your behalf. Because death itself has been beaten. And the resurrection of Jesus is yours. You belong to Him. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

An Unsafe King to Be Around – A Sermon on Matthew 22:1-14

October 11, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson where Jesus gives us another parable. Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding for his son.

But as Jesus is telling this parable, this king He mentions bothers us. He is not a safe king to be around. His mood seems to change at the drop of a hat. So from one minute to the next, we’re not sure if we’ve got the inviting king, or the angry one. The patient king who sends out more servants, or the outraged king who is putting people to death. The generous king who has the wedding dinner ready, or the king who burned cities to the ground. The king who dresses all his guests, or the king who throws his guests out into the darkness. So this whole parable sounds ominous. And Jesus saying, “Many are called, but few are chosen,” doesn’t help.

Now, maybe we can mitigate some of this. Remember that the people who refused the invitation were quite offensive in their own right. They were invited multiple times. And killing the king’s servants is a pretty serious act of rebellion. Refusing to wear the clothes the king provided, which is what the original language implies, is a brazen act against the king’s generosity as well. So perhaps the king’s not all bad. But that doesn’t really give that much reassurance. Because who knows when someone else will offend the king. And who knows if that someone might be us.

This king doesn’t quite match our personal picture of God, does he? We like the parts that are patient, generous, and giving. Which God certainly is. But those other parts? The putting to death, the burning the cities, the throwing out in to the darkness. We don’t really want that in our God. That God sounds a little too Old Testament. Just give us that nice, friendly God back. That who we want to hear about. And the Jesus who has all that patience. Who would never hurt us in any way. I can deal with that God. This other one in today’s text is a little too wild. Reacts a little too strongly. Is not quite tame enough.

Is that what you really want? A god who has only patience for you? A christ who is generous with comfortable gifts? A lord who will always smile and pat you on the back? A king who will never say anything that would make you uncomfortable? Such a king could never put to death the sinful old Adam living in you. Such a lord would leave you in your sin forever. Such a christ could never save you from yourself. Such a god could never say no to the others who would hurt you. What a useless god that would be.

It’s uncomfortable to have a God who’s not tame. But this is the only God to whom you can cry out Kyrie Eleson! Lord, have mercy! Because our God will wildly charge in His anger into battle. Against sin, death, and the devil. And He’ll do it for you. Is that safe? Not at all. Because in that battle, our Lord must put to death the Old Adam in me.

That’s kind of scary to think about. But that’s exactly what we need God to do. We need God to destroy that murderous sinner in us. We need Christ to burn down the cities in which our sinful flesh sets up its temples. We need to have our sinful selves thrown out into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. We need the Old Adam dead. And our Lord is the only one who does that.

The very parts of our King that make us uneasy are the very same parts of Him that conquer sin, death, and the devil. That anger and outrage is for you. Jesus fighting on your behalf. Even when it’s you who have rejected God’s invitation, abused God’s servants, and refused God’s gifts. Because that sin in you absolutely needs to die. Come against me, O Lord. Because even though you kill, you also raise the dead.

Today’s parable is once again a picture of baptism. In all these weeks, Jesus has yet to leave the subject. We are the unworthy invited guests in the parable. And in baptism, we die with all the fervor the King can muster. But in that baptism we are also raised. We are also clothed. We are also prepared for the wedding. For many are called, but you are chosen. You, who have been given God’s promise through water and His Word. You, who have through this washing of regeneration received the Holy Spirit. You, who live a new life. The King may put to death, but He also gives resurrection.

And that kind of resurrection takes Christ’s resurrection. Because without resurrection, there is no good news. Without resurrection, God putting our sinful selves to death would not be good news. Without resurrection, not even the death of Jesus is good news.

But Christ is risen, just as He said. Therefore since “[w]e know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” And if death no longer has dominion over Jesus because of the resurrection, then death will no longer have dominion over us in our resurrection. And neither will the sin which leads to death. Nor the devil, who accuses us of our sin.

Jesus’ resurrection is the foundational event of our faith. Not just an oddity in the way things are. Not just a footnote in history while everyone else dies. No. The resurrection of Jesus is where everything changes. A new reality breaks into our world.  God raises the dead. And once raised, they… we can never die again.

Now that Old Testament God makes sense. Now that unsafe King who destroys the cities and people of His kingdom makes sense. Now the invitation to anyone passing on the road, whether good or evil makes sense. Because through resurrection, sin can be left for dead. Through resurrection, the wedding hall can be full. For our King doesn’t kill for vengeance. But rather so that our own sin would die. And we live in Jesus’ resurrection.

Resurrection undoes the power of death. And starts something new. Is it safe? Is it tame? Not at all. It’s a wedding. Complete with a feast. And a groom. And a bride. For many are called, and you are chosen. Marked by a promise. Dressed for that wedding through your baptism. And waiting for the wedding feast to come on that last day. The day you are given resurrection from the dead. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Getting New Tenants – A Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46

October 4, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus utters the most frightening words He can say. The kingdom of God will be taken away from you.

That’s the last thing we ever want to hear. Those are the words that chill us to our very soul. If those words are true, then everything is over. These are the words that put wretches to a wretched end. Whether in parable or in life. That’s why it a big relief to hear the very end of our text. “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.”

Whew! Oh good. Those chief priests and Pharisees totally deserve what’s coming to them. Because Jesus was right after all when He gave His parable. Their forefathers had been rejecting all the servants God had sent to them. Beating the tar out of them, stoning them, killing them. They did it all. And as the fathers did, so did the sons. They were the ones who rejected John the Baptizer. They were the ones who tried Jesus at night and falsely convicted Him. They were the ones that demanded Jesus be crucified. So yes, Jesus was talking about them. Therefore, this parable can’t be talking about us now, can it.

Can it? All we have written here is the perceptions of the chief priests and the Pharisees. What if Jesus intended it for more than just them? What if Jesus intended for you to hear this parable? What if Jesus was telling you that it’s you who have not treated His servants well? That it was you who killed the Son? That it was you from whom the kingdom of God would be taken away?

I don’t like the sound of that. In fact, that thought is downright repulsive. How dare anyone say that about me. How dare anyone say that to me. Those are lies. Because if I were there, I’d treat God’s servants with respect. I’d listen to what those prophets had to say. Because their words are from God Himself. I’d treat God’s Son with respect. Listen to His words diligently. Follow Him wherever He might lead. I’d happily give God the fruit he was looking for. And be content as a worker in God’s vineyard.

We say that. But we don’t do that even now, when we’re given the chance. Because we are sinners. Just as bad as the chief priests and Pharisees. Just as bad as the tenants in the parable. And although we might assuage ourselves by saying we never beat up or killed God’s servants, each sin is just as bad as another in the eyes of God. So whatever condemnation comes to them, is the same condemnation that comes to us. “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.”

No. Not that. Anything but that. God, we’ll do anything. Anything you ask. We’ll be in your word more. We’ll do more good works for our neighbors. We’ll be involved in church so much that people will think we live there. Whatever it takes to make up for all this, just say it, and we’ll do it. But we can’t keep any of those promises. We can’t work ourselves out of our own sin. We are wretches, and God puts us to a wretched end. “The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” The stone is here. We are to die. And that death in us started with these words: I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And that death continues with these words: In the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Didn’t expect those words to kill you, did you. You see, this parable isn’t just about the wicked tenants. It’s about a master of a house who does things a whole lot different than we ever would. A master of a house, who, after putting those wretches to a wretched end, hired those same tenants as new ones. Tenants made new through the mercy of the master. Tenants raised to new life.

This is exactly what happens for every Christian. Whether they were crying out “Crucify Him!” against Jesus two thousand years ago, or are sitting here today. Or anywhere in all the history of creation, past, present or future. The master both puts you to an end and makes you new. That sinner in you is put to death through the cross of Christ. And a new creation is raised from Jesus’ grave. “This is the Lord’s doing,” our text says, “and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

The kingdom of God is being given to a people who cannot help but produce it’s fruits. Because the fruit of God’s kingdom is faith. Is repentance. Is resurrection. And that resurrection is in you even now. Luther put this verse from Romans in his Small Catechism for a reason. Because it cannot be made any clearer than this. We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

In baptism, we are there when the Son is killed by us tenants. And yet we still receive His inheritance. Because that inheritance is to die with Him. And share in His resurrection. Because we are both saint and sinner at the same time, the kingdom of God is both taken away and given at the same time. Taken away from the sinful part of us. That sin has no resurrection on the last day. It is buried in Christ’s tomb forever. However the new creation in us is given the kingdom of God. The whole thing. We are co-heirs along with Jesus. Given eternal life through Him.

Likewise when we are forgiven, the old sinful self in us dies. In the exact same way it does in baptism. Our lives here in this world are the constant death of the Old Adam, and the raising of the New Adam. Over and over again. Because both of those are with us in this world. And that is always a struggle. But when we do die, when we are put in our graves from this life, only one of them is there for the resurrection.

Jesus has already told us the outcome. And it’s right here in this text. You are a people producing God’s fruits. Producing because you have Jesus with you even now. In baptism. In Absolution. In Supper too. After all, here in this text we have the fruit of the vine and the blood of the Son in the very same place.

This parable, then, isn’t as frightening as we fear. Jesus did intend for you to hear this parable. Because this is what being a Christian in this world is. Death and resurrection. The sinful tenant dying. The new tenant rising to life. Every day, then you are new in Christ Jesus. Every day, you are His people. Every day producing His fruits. Inheriting His kingdom. Baptized in His name. Forgiven your sins. All because our Master does things differently than you or I. All because our God has mercy beyond anything we could ever do. All because Jesus shares His death and resurrection with you. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

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