Civil Religion vs. Jesus – A Sermon on Matthew 22:15-22

October 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In our Gospel lesson today, we get a small glimpse of the political landscape around Jerusalem. The Pharisees were one political group who had a good deal of influence among the people. The Herodians were another who had a great deal of power. Power enough to have the ear of Herod, the son of the famous Herod from the Christmas account, who was crowned a king under Caesar.

Those two groups couldn’t stand each other. The Herodians didn’t like the Pharisees, because they continually taught the people to reject Roman rule. And kept stirring up controversy among the people instead of keeping the peace. The Pharisees didn’t like the Herodians because they were traitors to both their God and their country. Especially since they took part in the Roman civil religion, offering sacrifices at the Roman temples. They were as divided as you can possibly imagine. But the addage is true. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? If Jesus says yes, then he will lose the people to the Pharisees. If Jesus says no, the Herodians will have him arrested for inciting insurrection. But Jesus will say, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” After all, the Lord put civil governments in place for our good. Even the ones that believe in the wrong gods.

Our Old Testament lesson names Cyrus of the Persians before he was even born as one who will rule God’s people. Jesus acknowledges Caesar authority when Pontius Pilate questions Him privately. And Paul in Romans will say, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad…. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

We today pray for our country every Sunday. We pray for our president, no matter who it is at the time. We pray for Congress, whether we agree with what they do or not. We pray for our governor and our legislature. We pray for our judges. A good government is indeed a gift from God.

But what about that Roman Civil Religion that the Herodians joined in with? Not long after Jesus, the Romans clamped down and made worship of the Roman gods mandatory. And Christians had to stand up and say no. We will give you the honor due your position. We will pay the taxes you impose. But we cannot bow down at your altars. A line had to be drawn between the government’s authority and the government’s religion. And in those days, the line seemed to be pretty clear.

How about today? I know the Thursday morning class was surprised to hear this, but we do have an American Civil Religion. Yes, I know the Bill of Rights says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But there has been an American Civil Religion from the very beginning of our country. It has its own liturgy. It has its own holy days. It has its own saints. And it has its own god. And that god is whichever one you happen to believe in. Which explains why so many don’t even realize that the American Civil Religion exists.

The question is what is the line between a healthy patriotism and an unhealthy worship of a false god? That’s not easy. Because the actions between the two look exactly the same. It’s not wrong to have a national liturgy by itself. It can be good to have our patriotic rituals. Who isn’t familiar with a military funeral? Who doesn’t know our national anthem? We all know what the phrase “stars and stripes” stands for. We’re all happy to take the day off for Memorial Day, Veterans Day, the Fourth of July, and even Thanksgiving. We honor those who have served in the military, or as first responders. They’re heroes. Like I said, liturgy, holy days, and saints.

But the god is your own. Whether that’s Jesus, or Allah, or Vishnu, or the Ancestors, or the goddess, or the unknown god, or no god at all. All your god needs to do is dress him or her self in Caesar’s colors, and leave room for everyone else’s god to join in as well. The problem is both that we render unto Caesar the things of God, and that we render unto God the things of Caesar. Because in the American Civil Religion there isn’t a difference.

Don’t you and I join in? Aren’t we far more comfortable with a cross draped in an American flag, than we are with a cross with Jesus hanging on it? Don’t we dream of returning America to being a Christian nation, even though we’re supposed to be part of a kingdom that is not of this world? Don’t we want to sing patriotic songs in church more than we want to sing of the forgiveness of sins through the death and resurrection of our Lord? We want to render to God the things of Caesar, because we think Caesar’s things are better than Christ Jesus’ things. And because that’s what god of the American Civil Religion demands. And we obey our god.

But Jesus in our lesson today says to render unto Caesar the things of Caesar. Go ahead and keep the military rituals. Keep the anthem and the flag. Celebrate our national holidays. Honor our national heroes. And teach our children to do the same. Just remember whose they are. They bear Caesar’s image, and have Caesar’s inscription. And Caesar was put there by the Lord for our good. But we remember that Caesar’s god is not always the same as ours.

That itself is an important lesson, but what of the rest of what Jesus says? Render unto God the things that are God’s? We usually take this to mean that we need to give something to God. Maybe money, since that’s what our text references. But it could be any of that well known trio of time, treasure, and talents. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that.

But I don’t think that’s the point Jesus is trying to make here. Jesus asked for a very specific thing to be brought to him in today’s text. Jesus said, “Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” That makes sense for a coin. But where do we find the image of God and His inscription?

We might say that we are created in the image of God, because Adam and Eve were in Genesis 1. But the problem there is that Genesis 3 happened. The fall into sin happened. And God’s image, while there, has been marred on each and every one of us. A better text to go to is Colossians 1:15. St. Paul tells us flat out, “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God.” Instead of giving ourselves to God, which doesn’t actually accomplish anything, maybe we’re supposed to give Jesus.

Except what about Jesus has an inscription? We might say Jesus is the Word made flesh, but that’s not the same Greek word. We know that Jesus had an inscription over his head when He hung on the cross. But it would be a stretch to say that Jesus had that inscription on Him. In fact, trying to tie Jesus to an inscription in the Bible is problematic, if it weren’t for one thing. These events really happened in history. And history has passed down to us the denarius used in Jesus day. On the coin was the profile image of Tiberius Caesar. And the words inscribed are these: Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the god Augustus.

Payment for sin needed to be made. And what was given was the image of God bearing the inscription, this is truly the Son of God. Jesus on the cross is how the things of God are rendered unto God. He was rendered for the Pharisees. He was rendered for the Herodians. He was rendered for the Romans. He was rendered for all. He was rendered for you. And by doing that, Jesus Christ has paid for every sin. Including the sin of worshipping false gods, and the sin of believing Caesar’s things are better than God’s. They’ve all been nailed to the cross with Him. And left behind in the tomb when He rose from the dead.

You see, we have something better here than we realize. As good as the things our country has are, Jesus is even greater. The forgiveness of sins is bigger than freedom. The cross is bolder than the American flag. The hymns sung of Christ and His sacrifice for us are better than the Star Spangled Banner. And that doesn’t diminish any of those other things. They have their place. It instead shows just how great the Gospel is. And that is what Christ has given to you. Thanks be to God.

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Categories: Sermon

Sacrificial Invitation – A Sermon on Matthew 22.1-14

October 12, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today, Jesus gives us another parable about the kingdom of heaven. This time, He compares it to when a king who was holding a wedding feast for his son. Throughout the course of the parable, two different problems arise. The first is that those whom the king invited refused the invitation. The second is that some who came refused to wear to wedding clothes provided for the celebration. Both had consequences. And both let us know what just what it is that sin does to us.

One thing that I didn’t realize until recently is that wedding feasts in those days had a time limit. In fact, every feast did. Because in oder to have meat for the feast, the animal needed to be offered at the temple. Or if you were far from the temple, exceptions were made. But the animal was offered as a thank offering to the Lord. The fat and internal organs were burned upon the bronze altar. The priests were given a portion to eat. But the bulk of the meat was them given back to the one who offered it to share with family and friends. It was a holy meal unto the Lord. Which is why it mattered who you invited and who you ate with. Because not only were you eating with your guests in celebratory thanksgiving, you were eating with God Himself as well.

But the meat could only be eaten on the first day, and the second day. And any not eaten was then to be burned. On the third day, if there were any left, it was a blasphemy against God who had given the meal in the first place. Because apparently, you care more about keeping meat handy than the Lord. Therefore when we hear the king say to the guests a second time in our text, “See, I have prepared my tdinner, umy oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”  Time is short. The clock’s ticking. Only two days remain.

But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. And the first day ends with the king sending out his troops to avenge the deaths of his servants. The first day ends with no one at the holy feast.

Do we realize just what our sin does? Or do we tend to think of our sin as no big deal? Nobody’s perfect, right? We’ve all been there. You’re doing the best that you can. Don’t be so hard of yourself. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’ll all turn out okay in the end. All because your sin isn’t really that big a problem. Just a little forgiveness from Jesus, and it all gets swept under the rug and forgotten.

But that’s not the way sin works. Not even the small ones. Anytime we try to make our sin manageable, We’re telling God that we don’t need Jesus. We don’t need the death and resurrection of the Christ. We don’t need the forgiveness that won, nor Him giving that gift to us. We can handle it all on our own just fine. All by pretending that we’re actually good, worthy of eternal life on our own merits. When we pretend that our sin is manageable, we achieve a staggering arrogance. An arrogance that it is the same as ignoring the king’s time sensitive, once in a lifetime invitation in order to go do what we do every day. Or worse, to harm and destroy His messengers who come with the King’s message.

If that were the end of the parable, it would not be good news for us. Still true. Still showing just how bad our sin is. But then what? What hope would we have?However, in the parable, there is still one more day. The king sends the servants out once again. But this time, they are to invite everyone they meet, wherever they find them. And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

All whom they found, both bad and good. The original guests were not worthy, as the king says. But if we compare them to who actually arrives, they were the most worthy of all. For they had actually received the first invitation. Now the invitation has nothing to do with worthiness. Because no one is righteous, no not one. No one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. And yet, the feast must be eaten.

We could compare this to the promise coming through the Jewish people, but now it goes out to everyone. That’s certainly how the Pharisees in that day took it, which they did not like one bit. But I think we do better to apply it to ourselves. If we’re to be worthy, to be righteous on our own, then we will never be at the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom that has no end. But the invitation is not reserved for the worthy. The invitation and command to enter comes instead to all.

In this way, sin does still hold all its seriousness. But that is not what determines entrance. Rather it is the king’s generosity, the king’s sacrifice that invites. And make no mistake, it is a sacrifice by the king in the parable to invite all. After all, this is a holy feast. A thank offering. And it both needs eaten, and eaten by those who are ritually clean. But when both are impossible, the king chooses one. And it is the choice of compassion. The choice of generosity. The choice of gift. The king sacrifices his own righteousness for the sake of His new guests.

Which is what Jesus does. He sacrifices His own holiness. Sacrifices His own perfection. Sacrifices His own kingship. All to save you. All to pay for your sins. Even the ones that you think shouldn’t be that big a deal. Because that’s the price your every sin demands. And it’s a price you can’t pay, not even for a single one. But Jesus has indeed paid it on your behalf. And that payment for your sin happened at the cross, nearly two thousand years ago. And that payment comes to you personally when you were clothed in the baptism that He gave you.

That’s in today’s parable too. Every guest was dressed in wedding clothes. They didn’t dress themselves. They were dressed when they entered the feast. Dressed by the king’s gift. But not everyone who was invited to the feast wore the clothes. There was one who refused. One who thought that he was just fine the way he was. That his sin didn’t need to be covered. That he did not need to be washed by Christ’s baptism. It’s a different description of the same problem. True, this one was willing to go to the feast, unlike the first invited guests. But only if he was worthy all on his own. And in that self justification, in that rejection of the forgiveness that Christ gives, the man was thrown out.

Likewise, it doesn’t matter if you’re outside a congregation, or in one, if you think that your sin is any different than everyone else’s.  Only by the forgiveness of sins does one have a place in the kingdom of heaven. And that forgiveness is given out without cost. Without your work. Without your worthiness. It comes solely from Christ Jesus. He has invited you to the feast. He has dressed you in the wedding garments of your baptism. He has sacrificed His own body and blood for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. And it is still today.

As is written in the epistle to the Hebrews, “Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.””

The feast is indeed today. And there is more than enough. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Eat His body given for you at the cross. Drink His blood, shed for your forgiveness. Your sin has been paid for. Your debt is covered. Come, and celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Jesus Under Authority – A Sermon on Matthew 21:23-27

September 30, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We’ve jumped a little further ahead in the Gospel of Matthew again since last week. And in today’s text, we hear a conversation between the chief priests and Jesus. However, when we hear them ask Jesus, “by what authority do you do these things,” we haven’t actually been given the context of what ‘these things’ are.

So what happens in Matthew 21? This is the chapter where we have the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was the start of Passover week. Jews from all over are flocking to the city. And here comes Jesus, riding on the back of a donkey. Now people knew who Jesus was by now. Great prophet, great healer, maybe even a great Roman-butt-kicking Christ, or so they hoped. And as a result, crowds of people shouting Hosanna. Thousands breaking off palm branches. Coats are lining the road through the gates. And the whole city is abuzz with the news that Jesus’s entry was reminiscent of the King Solomon in all his glory. But we’ll get into more of that on the first Sunday of Advent. Suffice it to say that the people were very impressed.

Jesus then kicked all the money changers and those who sold sacrificial animals out of the temple. He created quite the scene there, overturning tables and everything. And after He had chased them all out, all the blind and lame came to Jesus while He was still in the temple, and He healed them all. The kids who were there shouted out again, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Everyone who had come to offer sacrifice that day instead were greeted by Jesus, and got to see Him doing all these great things. Now the chief priests and scribes were not happy about this at all. But what could they do?

The next morning, Jesus was coming back to the temple again. On the way in, he went to pick a fig from a fig tree, but found no fruit on it. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. This was pretty shocking to everyone. But when they entered the temple and Jesus bean to teach there, the chief priests and the scribes were waiting for Him.“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 

What is authority? To have authority is to be given the right to carry out what someone else wants done. We as a people want to live in a land where the law is upheld. So we give authority police officers to hinder or arrest those who break the law. We give authority to judges to carry out penalties on those who have been proven to be breaking the law. We give authority to senators and congressmen to pass laws for our benefit.

But authority is supposed to be different than power. While authority is there for doing what someone else wants done, power is there for doing what I want done. Now, power can be used to do good. A citizen in this country has the power to vote, for example. But power can also be used wrongly. And history is filled with bad examples. After all, even Satan has power, and he does not wield it for our good.

But do we always recognize the difference? How often have we confused authority for power? Used what I was given to do as an excuse to do what I want to do? Parents, pastors, rulers, we all have failed at one time or another. And the chief priests and scribes in today’s text are no exception. They had been given authority by God to forgive sin. But Jesus’ arrival challenged the power they had claimed from that authority.

So notice how they ask Jesus. Who gave you the authority? After all, our authority came from God. Are you going to claim a lesser authority than that, Jesus? Or are you going to claim that God contradicted Himself? No matter how Jesus answered, they would finally have the power to turn the tides on Jesus. However, Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” 

And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. The answer to both the chief priest’s question and Jesus’ question are the same. If Jesus says from heaven they will not believe Him. And if Jesus says from man, then the chief priests would turn the crowds away from the Lord’s Christ. But that’s not what the chief priests and scribes were given authority for.

You would think that Jesus wouldn’t need authority. After all, Jesus has power. Jesus can do what He wants to do, and He’s able to. And we know that Jesus wants to save us. So why bother with authority? Why not just tell these chief priests that He doesn’t need any authority to do these things? Because He Himself is God. He has the power all on His own? He doesn’t tell them that, because that’s now how Jesus intends to save us. Power is the one thing that is going to get in the way. So Jesus gives it up.

Jesus will be one under authority. God the Son, given authority by God the Father. Not able to do whatever the Son wants for Himself. But only the ability to do for others. Matthew 7, “[Jesus] was teaching them as one who had authority.” Matthew 8, The centurion tells Jesus, “I too am a man under authority.” Matthew 9, Jesus forgives the paralytic they lowered down through the roof, and they question whether He can do that. So Jesus says, “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”” Matthew 28, “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore, going, make disciples of all nations….” Matthew 18, from just a few weeks ago, Jesus gives that authority to you. “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Jesus has given us all that same authority. The authority to forgive sins.

And that’s what we’re to do for one another. We forgive. Especially the sins that hurt. And not just the ones they did that are hurting them. But even more so the sins they did that hurt us. So that they can do the same with our sin. Because Jesus was given the authority to forgive all sin. Jesus was given the authority to suffer on our behalf. The authority to be betrayed. The authority to be mocked. The authority to be nailed to a cross. The authority to bear our every sin. The authority to be forsaken by the Father. The authority to die. And to die for all. He could never do any of those things for Himself. Or because He alone wanted to. Jesus can’t just decide to stop being God. But as the obedient Son of His Father, and by the Father’s authority, He could bear it all. And He did. Jesus died on your behalf. For your forgiveness. For your salvation.

We might still confuse power and authority. We might forget that we were put into our vocation for a reason, and think about ourselves. We might not do what we’re called to do, and only do what we want. But Jesus got it right. Jesus came under authority. So that by His obedience, even obedience unto death, we would be saved by His death and resurrection. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Picked Last – A Sermon on Matthew 20:1-16

September 23, 2017 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 Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard. But we skipped all of chapter 19 since last week. And unfortunately, it’s the last half of the chapter that sets the context for today’s parable. So let’s go back a bit. And we find the familiar story of the rich young man who came to Jesus and asked “What good deed must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus lists the commandments off to him, and he responds, somewhat arrogantly, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” This got Peter thinking about himself and the rest of the disciples. He said to Jesus, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Right after saying this, Jesus goes right into the parable of the workers in the vineyard. In this parable, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a master of a house going that day to hire workers to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them one day’s wages, a denarius. He went back at the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours of the work day. And each time promised to pay them a fair wage. When the twelfth hour arrived, the day was done, and he had each worker line up according to when they arrived. But in the master’s generosity, each worker received the entire day’s wage, no matter how long they worked. Not because they earned it, but because they needed it.

However, the workers who had put in the most work were upset. Because they had done far more than the ones who arrived throughout the day. It made it seem like the work they did was not as important to the master as being there. However, as the master points out, he did not cheat them one bit. The price agreed upon was a denarius, and they indeed received a denarius. And Jesus then repeats the words, “So the last will be first, and the first last.

When Christ sits on His throne in eternity, the twelve disciples will also sit. As will the martyrs, the church fathers, and great heroes of the faith. And you know who else? A woman who aborted her child when she was 16. A veteran who lives with the memory of shooting a little girl, because he didn’t know if she was carrying a bomb like the last one had, that killed his team. A man who closed the door of the gas chamber in Auschwitz, because he was following orders. A man who hated God all his life, sinning in every way he could come up with, but who turned to Christ moments before he died. All of whom hoped that somehow the blood of Jesus might possibly be for them too.

But the old Adam in us doesn’t think that it’s right that they get to sin, and we don’t. They get to go have all the fun they want in their lives, while we’re stuck having to be good. It’s not fair, because sometimes, we wanted to sin, and we were told that it wasn’t allowed. We had to bear the the burden of the Law. We worried about being scorched by God’s fiery wrath over even the smallest sin. And then Jesus went and made those who commit the greatest of sins throughout their lives equal to us who have been here the whole time. We are under the impression that it would have been far easier to be brought in at the last moment, and receive the same reward.

And that would be wrong. You have to imagine that those who were hired last faced a great deal of fear. Fear that those hired first never had to face. Would their families eat today? The later the day got, the more sure they were that the answer was no. Likewise with those who don’t get called into the kingdom until later. The shame of their sin. The fear that someone might know. The despair that haunts them at night. The failure of self justification. The emptiness. The grief. Is that sin you missed out on worth all that? No, it is not. Because the sin you currently have is already more than enough to do all that anyways. Why would you want to make it worse than it already is? And yet, any one who sins, is a slave to sin.

That’s why it’s so important that the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a house who went to hire workers to work in his vineyard. Because Jesus goes back again and again, to make sure He brings you into His kingdom. Because in sending you to the vineyard, Jesus takes your sin. All of it. And It’s nailed with Him up on that cross. It dies with Him on that Good Friday. It is buried with Him in the garden tomb. And there it stays forever. While Jesus rises from the dead on the third day, leaving it behind.

Whether you a brought in in early, baptized as a infant. Whether you are brought in as a child, a teenager, a young adult. Whether you were brought in at middle age, at old age, or on your deathbed. Whether your sin is idolatry, or blasphemy, or a refusal to hear, or dishonor, or murder, or adultery, or theft, of false witness, or covetousness, or any and all of the Ten Commandments broken. The blood of Jesus is for all. The blood of Jesus is for you. You are in Christ’s vineyard. You are in Christ’s kingdom. The day’s denarius is yours. The throne next your Christ’s is yours. Eternal life is yours. All apart from works. All as His gift to you. All because of His generosity. That’s who our Lord is.

That’s why the rich young ruler’s question was the wrong question. We do not ask, “What good deed must I do to inherit eternal life?” There is no deed of our own that could ever attain it. And Jesus’ answer made that clear. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have that eternal life. Rather that such life comes from the work of Christ alone.  The impossible is made possible by the gift of God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the first that became last, so that us who are last would be made first in His kingdom forever. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Forfeiting Vengeance – A Sermon on Matthew 18.21-35

September 16, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So, just at first glance, what does Jesus’ parable about the unforgiving servant mean? That our Lord forgives us the big stuff, so we should forgive others the small stuff? That’s not a bad start. But not everything that happens to us from the sin of others is what we would consider small stuff.

There’s a lie that Satan tells us. We know that Jesus says, “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” We know that the law says that we should not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. We know that we should not force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty. We know that the Ten Commandments show us how to love and care for our neighbor. But the lie Satan wants us to believe is that when our neighbor sins against us badly enough, then we don’t have to keep those Commandments anymore.

If you walked into the room, and out of the blue, I purposefully ignored your presence. If I understood your every action as an insult against my person. If I muttered under my breath about how bad you were to others who were also there. If I did those things, I would be wrong, and I would be sinning against you. Those things don’t suddenly become my right just because you may have sinned against me. They don’t immediately become okay just because I was hurt. The Law of God doesn’t change just because I feel like it should.

But that’s what makes this so hard. In Jesus’ parable, the forgiven man’s fellow servant did not owe him a small debt. A hundred denarii is about four months wages. That’s sizable. When people sin against us, it is not a small matter. It hurts us a lot. Those sins sometimes can be really big. Sometimes, they were intentional. And to let them go, to forgive them, feels like a monumental task. Maybe even too big for us alone. Because to forgive them means giving up on getting even. We forfeit vengeance. I don’t get to use Satan’s lie. I have no right to now sin against them as much as I want. Even though that’s what our Old Adam wants above all else. This is impossibly difficult for us. And that’s just to forgive them even once. Peter’s seven times is insanity.

And yet Jesus will say even that is far too few. After all, if our Lord forgives us the greater sins that we commit, we should be able to forgive our fellow human being. But we don’t actually believe that, do we? We don’t believe that our sins before God are greater than the sin of our neighbor who hurt us. Our sins aren’t a big deal at all. Who was hurt by them? What did they matter? I had a good reason behind each of them. We believe that our sins are actually far smaller than those we don’t want to forgive.

But look at Jesus. Look at how He was betrayed and mocked. Look at His blood soaked thorny head. Look at the torn flesh of His back. Look at the nails in His hands and feet. Look at His forsakenness and shame. Look at His death on the cross. See what your sin did. See what my sin did. Did the sin of your neighbor put you through that? It’s you and I who have been forgiven the bigger debt. Not to mention that Jesus on that cross paid for our neighbor’s sin that we don’t want to forgive, as well as our own. That doesn’t make our neighbor’s sin against us small. It only shows that the forgiveness that Jesus has won for us, and for them, is that immense.

Apart from Christ, we have no way to forgive those who sin against us. Because without Jesus, all we see is the pain and the suffering that we have endured. All we want is justice, a way to make ourselves whole. Forgiveness is counter-intuitive. And yet, there is where Jesus works. Take our Old Testament lesson today. Joseph was hurt as badly as you can imagine by his own brothers. They threw him in a cistern. They talked openly about murdering him. They decided that they would get more out of it if they sold him into slavery instead. They took away his loving father. They took away his freedom. They took away everything. Made his life horrible for years. And now they were within his hand to do with them whatever he wanted.

But because Jesus would die for Joseph. Because our Lord forgave Joseph all his sin, Joseph forgave his brothers as well.“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” We want to focus on the part where Joseph got to be second in command over all Egypt. That even though he suffered, because he endured, he got handsomely rewarded. But notice the reason why Joseph doesn’t take revenge. It’s not that Joseph’s life turned out okay in the end. That’s not Scripture’s reason why at all. And it shouldn’t be ours either. Joseph suffered his brothers’ sin so that his brothers would be saved.

Which is exactly what Jesus does as well. Jesus endures our sin. The betrayal, the selling out, the taking away of everything. The horrors of the cross. Jesus goes through it all. To save you and me. Now, look at these two accounts. If that is what the sin against Joseph does. If that’s what the sin against Jesus does. What do you think the sin against you can do, when, through Christ, you forgive your brother? Even when that sin is as painful as you can possibly imagine?

The sin of which you forgive your neighbor might just the very thing that God intends for their good. By it, they might just hear the saving Word. By it, they might just receive the Gospel. By it, they may come face to face with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because when you speak the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s death and resurrection, that’s what they receive. And so do you. And there is no greater good in all of creation than that. Not your being avenged. Not even rule over a kingdom. What you bind on earth has been bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth has been loosed in heaven. Forgiveness is where Jesus is.

If that level of forgiveness makes you squirm a little, you’re not alone. In fact, it might even sound dangerous to forgive like that. Now you know just how strong the Old Adam in you is. And it’s just as strong in me, and in everyone else. Forgiveness sounds great when we’re not actually hurt. Forgiveness sounds great when it is us who have hurt others. But forgiveness doesn’t sound so great when we’re the ones who are hurting. Forgiveness doesn’t sound so great when the debt is owed to us. And we’re asked to surrender what we wrongfully believe is our rights.

That’s where Jesus comes in. That’s where Jesus works. That’s where Jesus drowns the Old Adam in our baptism, and gives us new life. And that new creation is fed through Jesus’ body and blood. The very same body we put on the cross. The very same blood we shed across the ground. Those are the very means by which Jesus has forgiven us for doing that to Him. Our debt is cancelled. Our sin is forgiven. We are saved. Even from the times where we have failed to forgive others. Because the blood of Jesus covers that too. We’re forgiven the big stuff. And as a result, now we can also forgive the big stuff through Christ who lives in us. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Whose Side? – A Sermon on Matthew 18:1-20

September 9, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” Now, I want you to imagine how well that’s going to go over. I wish I could say things are getting worse these days with people. But really, nobody has ever liked being told that they did anything wrong. Yet, when has that ever really stopped us? The whole basis of the Old Adam’s existence is wrapped up in the belief that I am right, and you are wrong. Only, we want that to be public, so the whole world can see.

Of course, that starts with our relationship with God Himself. The First Adam’s excuses are ours as well. “I need the knowledge of good and evil, because I can’t trust God to have that alone. I need to have it to find out if God was holding out on me. I need it for my freedom. So eating the fruit was obviously the right thing to do. And God was wrong to tell me otherwise. God might say that what I want to do is wrong. But He doesn’t know the reason why I have to do exactly that. If He would only take the time to understand my reasoning, my justification for it, He would see that I’m actually right.”

This attitude extends to everyone else we encounter as well. “Any reasonable person can see that what I think is right. And if you can’t come to my conclusion, that proves that you are unreasonable. And only stupid people are unreasonable. Therefore, I am proved to be even more right by your disagreement with me.” This is what self justification is. This is what we do constantly, whether we realize it or not. Sometimes we have it so well practiced, that we don’t even need to tell ourselves anything. We just are right. We have our own righteousness, intrinsic to ourselves. And no one can actually challenge that.

So how then do we deal with each other? Badly. Anyone who sees and acknowledges our own personal righteousness. Anyone who agrees that we’re the ones who are right. Those are the smart people. Those are the people whose opinions matter. And then there’s everyone else. in our own minds, there are only ever two sides. Those who are for us, and those who are against us. Is it any wonder that every conflict the world has ever known, both small and large, can be reduced to one side versus the other? We ourselves insist on it, at the personal level.

What then does going to your brother accomplish? For the old Adam in us, it is the opportunity to show off our self righteousness. The chance to have victory over our opponents. The chance to let them know that the god of myself is better than their god that is themselves. I am the greatest in the kingdom of my own making. And to be fair, we’d rather not go just to our brother who sinned against me. We need to rally the support of everyone to be on my side.

However, if anyone were to ever come to me, and say that I have not done right, that I have sinned, well, let me tell you! Nothing could ever be further from the truth.  And that is all that matters to my ego. Even the kindest of us will at least pity those who can’t be on our side. Feel bad for those who will not see things the right way. If only they had made better decisions. If only they could see things in a different light. If only they would be like us. Wouldn’t that be a far better thing for them? This is how we have learned to deal with people. They’re either for us, or against us. And we will love the people on our side. And we will hold in some level of contempt the people on the other side. Anywhere for pity, to outright hatred, wherever our own conscience will allow us to go. Wherever makes us look the most righteous in our own eyes.

This is not the way Jesus would have us deal with one another at all. Matthew 18 is the goto text to find out how we should treat one another. And it starts by becoming like children. Who is in a child’s world? Mom and Dad? Brothers and sisters? Family and friends? All people who should always be on their side. Part of growing from a child to an adult, part of maturity is finding out that not everyone is on your side. It’s a painful lesson. It’s a lesson that destroys a child’s innocence. But it is necessary, right? Necessary for that child to live, and make it to adulthood? To know that there are enemies out there? And yet, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Turn and forget that there is such a thing as your side and the other. Humble yourself to the point where your side no longer matters. Because that is exactly what Jesus did for you. Make no mistake, sin is a big deal. Big enough that losing a hand, a foot, or an eye would be better. Drowning in the sea with a millstone around your neck would be better. Your sin is that big. Leading someone else into sin is that big. Therefore, what Jesus did had to be even bigger.

While we were creating sides between us an God, Jesus refused to let sides stop Him from saving us from our sin. Jesus crossed over that line. He assumed our humanity into His divinity. He was born. He lived. And He claimed for Himself our every sin. Each one of them individually worse than being mutilated. Each one of them individually worse than drowning forever. And Jesus carried them all. God died on a cross on our behalf while we still thought we were enemies. Making Himself childlike, in that He humbled Himself into not having His own side against ours. It was all for you.

While we were like sheep led astray, Jesus came to find us. While we sinned against Him, He came to us in order that a brother might be gained. While we were still enemies, Christ died for us. And there is nothing greater than that.

Secondarily, Jesus also showed us how to treat one another. And today’s Gospel lesson reminds us how we should act. We don’t go to our brother who sinned against us in order to show that he’s on one side, and we’re on the other. But rather that there are no sides. We go as fellow sinners, redeemed by Christ. We go as allies, ready to bring the wounded off the battlefield, and to our Great Physician, who heals both body and soul. We go with the goal of rejoicing in the death and resurrection of Jesus together. That’s how a child would go about it. THat’s how Jesus went about it. And so should we.

Because Jesus died in order to forgive each and every sin. Including the sin of being right. Because our being right doesn’t come from doing the right thing. It doesn’t come from holding the right opinion. It doesn’t come from having the right knowledge. It doesn’t come from anything that we do. And it doesn’t come from choosing the correct side. The only thing that makes us right comes from outside ourselves. The only thing that makes us right in Jesus dying on the cross. That’s it. Nothing else. And that is enough. Because there is nothing bigger than that. And Jesus is giving that to you today. And every day. Forever. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Not A Winning Plan – A Sermon on Matthew 16:21-28

August 31, 2017 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Get behind me, Satan. You are a hindrance to me. For You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man. When we hear today’s Gospel lesson, these sound like they might be the most difficult words in it. They’re hard to miss. They’re right there in our face. And they’re not words we want to hear. Yet they’re not the most difficult words to hear in our text. The rest are actually so difficult to hear, that we intentionally hear them wrong. We instinctually soften them. We imagine them to be easier than they actually are. We’re so oblivious to them, that we’ll watch Peter get rebuked, and then go and do the very same thing to Jesus that he did.

Because what does Jesus say? If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. And we go right up to Jesus, take Him aside, and say to Him, “Far be it from us, Lord.” or to translate the Greek literally, “God would never let that happen to us. You would never let that happen to us.” You’re the Savior, Jesus. And you save us from suffering and death. Surely we will never face the things you mention. And even if we do, you’ll just take care of it, as if it never even happened, right?

Jesus suffering in Jerusalem at the hands of His enemies is inconceivable. Jesus losing to His foes is unconscionable. Jesus dying because the other side killed Him is unimaginable. And it’s just as inconceivable, unconscionable, and unimaginable that our enemies would have a similar victory over us. If we suffer, it must be for an obvious win for our side. If we lose what we hold dear, it must be plainly evident that our foes are at a loss as well. If we are conquered, it must be a sign that the last day is nearly here. Because God would never let these things happen to us without relieving that pain with a good dose of victory to show the world.

But that’s not the way Jesus puts it in today’s Gospel lesson. Confessing Christ means a cross. And this cross isn’t just the struggles and hardships that everyone deals with. Else there would be no need to take it up. This cross is the one we get for bearing Jesus’ name. Following Jesus means that we endure what Jesus endures. Suffer what Jesus suffers. Lose as Jesus lost. Die as Jesus dies. Sacrifice what we want the most. Let go of our having victory over our enemies. Because the victory that Christ won for us was to let Himself be defeated by our enemies.

But that’s not what we want at all. We want the glory, not the cross. And we will give up anything to get it. When the world threatens us, we will happily give way. We shrink back. Stay silent. Hoping that if we do so, the world will let us go without us suffering. We’ll even go so far as to ask the world what it wants from us, so that we can stay on good terms. You don’t like the preaching of the Law? Fine, we’ll soften up the Law. You don’t like the forgiveness of sins? Fine, we’ll talk about being nice to each other instead. You don’t like Jesus? Fine, we’ll talk all about you. We surrender all, just to not suffer. Just so that we wont lose anything more. All in the hopes that we can bask in a worldly glory, rather than the cross Jesus promised we would have to pick up.

But it never works. We never not lose. I can give you an example from just this last week. You all know Joel Osteen, right? The guy who preaches only what the world wants to hear? He gave up the heart and soul of the Gospel in order to achieve a likability, a popularity, and a wealth that we could only dream of. Well, the world still hates him anyways. They’re tearing him apart out there for his reaction to Hurricane Harvey. What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul? Especially when it turns out that the world wont have him after all? Whatever did or didn’t happen this last week with him isn’t actually the point. Rather that trying to make Jesus less offensive to the world is totally pointless.

So then, what does it matter if we appeal to the world? What does it matter if we get approval? What does it matter if we let the world tell us when life begins or when life ends? What does it matter if we let the world define sexuality and marriage? What does it matter if we avoid suffering? Especially if the world hates us anyways? It will never matter, if we give in. This is what today’s text says that we don’t want to hear. This is why we tell Jesus that this can’t really be what He means. We want that approval. We want that glory. We don’t want that suffering. And we’ll do whatever it takes to get what we want. Even if it means rebuking our Lord.

This Gospel lesson is a text we cannot, and will not understand. Because we live lives that revolve completely around our getting away from suffering. So, how can taking up our cross ever make sense? But what about Christians who face being taxed into poverty China and India? What about the Christian who is forbidden to believe in Jesus in totalitarian countries like North Korea, Columbia, Cuba, and many others. What about to the Christian facing genocide in the Middle East? What does this text say to people who don’t have the luxury of worshipping the idols of safety and comfort? What does this say to people who live every day suffering under the cross of confessing Christ? To them, this text proclaims the greatest of all promises. The one who loses his life for my sake will find it. Because in Christ, to lose to our enemies exactly how the victory is won.

We have a tough time seeing the blessing that their suffering brings. It’s even harder to see our own. It can only be understood through the cross of Christ. The very thing Peter believed could never happen. The very thing he assumed God would never allow. Jesus did it. Jesus went to that cross. And Jesus lost to that cross. Jesus lost to the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes. Jesus lost to our sin. Jesus lost to death. Jesus lost to Satan, and to the world. Jesus lost His life. And in doing so, won the greatest victory that has ever been won. Jesus’ suffering and death there gave life, forgiveness, and salvation to the world. Gave it to you. That was the plan all along. And it was good.

So also it is with our suffering under the cross. We might suffer today on account of Christ. We might be in misery today on account of Christ. We might die today on account of Christ. And that suffering, that misery, that death will be good. It will be worth going through. Not because it will be good for you, or good for me. But rather because the confession of who Christ Jesus is will  go out to the world. The Gospel will be proclaimed. Faith will be created. People will be saved from eternal damnation. And that is a far greater good than our staying out of the world’s way could ever bring.

Have we heard what Jesus says to us yet? He says it again through Paul in our Epistle lesson today. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

And why do we do that to those who persecute us? Why are we good to those who are evil? Why to we feed, and clothe, and love, and pray for our enemies? Because while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That’s why He went to His cross. To save His people. To do the most good by having your enemies be victorious over Him. And by that, you have been made one of of His people. So, it was for you. All for you.

Therefore when we are tempted to tell Jesus what He needs to be doing. When we are asked by the world to give in to their demands. When we are threatened to have our safety and comfort taken away. When our idols are at risk of crumbling before us. When we want to avoid losing to the the enemies of the Gospel. And we want to exchange our souls for the world. Then we need to hear what Jesus tells Peter. And say the same thing to silence the Old Adam panicking in our hearts. Get behind me, Satan. You are a hindrance to me. For You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

Because it’s through the cross of Christ that our Lord does the most good. Even when that cross hurts us. Even when that cross kills us. Even when we lose everything. Because it’s by losing everything, that Jesus saved us all. And if His own suffering and death does this much, then He can certainly do something with mine too. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon