Sermon for October 22 2017 Rightly Render Matt. 22:15–22

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.16 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.[a] 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.[b] 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marvelled. And they left him and went away.

The Pharisees try to entangle Jesus and with a few words Jesus teaches us about true discipleship.  Following their final conclusion to try to eliminate Jesus, Matthew states that the Pharisees try a sneaky rhetorical trick to try to catch Jesus, and perhaps give them opportunity to have him arrested.  It’s the same kind of trick employed when people ask if you if you have stopped beating your wife.  No matter if the response is “yes” or “no” you have found yourself on the conversational hot seat.  The Pharisees however are playing a very serious game, the consequences of which are intended to be deadly for Jesus.  Notice they begin with flatter hoping to catch Jesus off his guard, in fact trying to trick Jesus with the flattery which they openly admit has no effect on him.  Having poorly laid the foundation for their attempt they ask Jesus a seemingly simple question,  Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Should Jesus answer yes, the Pharisees can easily charge Jesus with collusion with the Roman oppressors and discredit him in the eyes of their fellow Jesus and possibly motivate them to kill him.  Should Jesus answer no, the Pharisees can charge Jesus with sedition against the Roman Empire, a charge that would lead to his arrest and probable execution.   Matthew writes that Jesus is aware of their little scheme and responds “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

 

Interestingly Jesus asks them for the coin necessary to pay the tax.  Such a coin, holding a person’s image, especially the image of the Emperor, who was considered to be a living god, would have been forbidden to the Pharisees from even possessing because it violated the first commandment. With this Jesus demonstrates the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  Then by pointing out the likeness on the coin Jesus indicates that anything which bears the image of a person, belongs to that person, thus WE ARE TO RENDER UNTO CAESAR WHAT IS CAESARS AND UNTO GOD WHAT IS GOD’S.

 

But what does it mean to “render unto Caesar” in our context today? Well, though we may not like the government, we are to honour and respect those in government, for government is a gift of God for our good.  We are to treat police, emergency personnel, military personnel with respect and honour as those who serve and protect us. We are to obey the speed limits rather than complaining about cameras, and follow copyright laws, even for one little copy. We are to pay taxes, not because the government needs our money, rather so that the collected taxes can be used to care for the well-being of ourselves and fellow citizens, that roads, healthcare, education and the like might be provided for all. Therefore, in all of these things we are to render unto Caesar that things that are Caesar’s.

 

Yet we often wonder why?  We question what should motivate us to do these things, especially when we don’t want to.  The easy answer is that as good citizens is it both our duty and privilege to do these things.  The more realistic answer is one of self-preservation.  Do you want to rebel against the government, do you want to flout the laws of your town, province or nation?  Do you think that it is your right to live and act however you desire free of any responsibility or consequences?  Well hold on to your hats!  Caesar’s response will be swift and sure, 10-20 years may change your attitude, a $1000 fine might give you a new perspective!  Don’t like paying your taxes for better roads, then perhaps you would rather pay your mechanic for new suspension.  Don’t like the idea that people are living off your taxes, I encourage you to secure a solid retirement plan so that you can pay for your long-term care expenses.  You see, while you may not desire to render unto Caesar, you can and will certainly be compelled in a manner even less to your liking!

 

But what does it mean to render unto God what is God’s? Beloved in Christ, just as the denarius which bore the image of Caesar belonged to Caeser and was owed to him, so also all who bear the image of Christ, belong to him.  All who have been marked as ones redeemed and who have been baptized into him, are his and are owed him.  This is what it means then to “the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” to render unto God yourself, for you are his.  Therefore Almighty God is owed your every thought, your every moment, each one should be entirely devoted to him. Your focus should be on serving him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  Your every penny is not yours, but his and therefore you are to give him every cent.  Your will and your life are his and are to be rendered to him every instant, as the hymn writer says, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee; take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise.”  This is what it means to render unto God what is God’s!

 

Again however we would ask why, what is our motivation to do so.  The easy answer is to avoid God’s wrath, to avoid “being bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That of course is the easy answer, though not motivation that Almighty God would seek for you.  Instead you are reminded that YOU are not your own, you have been bought with a price, your freedom from sin, your possessions, indeed your life itself, are gifts to you given through the blood of Jesus, shed for you on the cross.  Having been purchased and having been freed from bondage to the law you are now free in Christ, to render yourself unto the Lord.  You are free now to devote your time and energy not to the busyness and distractions of the world, but to gather in God’s house, hearing and meditating on his word, and receiving his blessed gifts.  You are free to give unto God the largest portion of your money, time, and talents, in the assurance that he who has given them to you, has far more to pour into your coffers.  You are free to serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all your days.

 

Beloved in Christ, by your baptism into Christ’s death you are restored to the likeness of God; you bear his image, therefore you are his.  So while you ARE TO RENDER UNTO CAESAR WHAT IS CAESARS remember also that you are God’s possession and are to render yourselves unto him.  Amen!

 

 

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Sermon for October 15, 2017 The Wedding Feast is Ready Matthew 22:1-14

22 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants[a] to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ 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. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 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. 11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent to prepare for the day.  The finest chefs had been hired to cater the meal, the best wedding planner had ensured that every was designed and executed as well as possible, the bride and the groom were both dressed in the finest clothing, eager to share their special day with their loved ones.  But as the bride prepared to walk down the aisle to meet her beloved, there was something missing. The guests!  No one was seated in the pews, the cushions were empty and the silence was deafening.  This of course is every father’s nightmare, preparing a lavish wedding for his beautiful daughter only to see every penny spent seeming to go to waste.  Now of course it isn’t the preparations that are the center of the wedding, but to see such a rejection of his daughter by her supposed loved ones, to see the rejection of the opportunity to celebrate this special day, would quickly and rightly invoke the wrath of any daughter’s daddy.

This is the kind of scene of which Jesus speaks in our parable this morning.  Jesus parable is rife with illustrations taken from the wedding practices of the day, illustrations which demonstrate both the wrath of God and his mercy. Yet Jesus is not simply comparing the reign of heaven to a wedding, he is describing the very real reality of the impending day of Jesus, the bride groom and his church. Jesus begins his parable stating the reign of heaven may be “compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.”  Notice the past tense in this statement “who were invited”?  Weddings in Jesus day would have two announcements; the first was to let them know that there would be a wedding taking place, however, because the time of the wedding was not set until the father was satisfied with the son’s preparation of his new home, the second invitation would be given (sometimes on short notice) that all was ready and y’all come!  Therefore those who were invited were already aware that a wedding was impending and ought to have been ready at a moment’s notice to drop everything and come. Yet they steadfastly refused and the servants returned alone.

Yet the father would not be denied, he sent his servants back to them calling them to “come to the wedding feast”. Instead Jesus says that those invited guests refused to come, even knowing the awesome feast which assuredly would have been laid before them,  “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.”  In response to such a rejection and treatment of his messengers, The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”  Notice the wrath of the king was far greater than their treatment of him and his servants.  Having been rejected the King “ said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 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.”

The parallels between Jesus’ parable for the Jews of Jesus day are of course profound.  Chosen as his people, invited to the wedding feast, they were to be prepared to receive the news of the wedding feast, the Messiah was coming, yet from the time of the prophets many they had rejected, beaten, and killed the men of God sent to them to proclaim the coming Messiah.  Now that the messiah has come, they have also rejected him and will soon kill him.  They who were invited have now been called to the wedding feast and have paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business.  Yet even after Jesus ascension, his apostles, will go out with the same message, Come to the wedding feast, and will be arrested and killed.  For this reason then just as the Jews rejected the invitation, the invitation has now been rescinded, the new invitation has gone out to the gentiles, and it is they who would be gathered into the wedding hall.

Lest we think that Jesus parable only applies to the first century church, the comparison can rightly be made concerning those who would call themselves “Christian” today.  In holy baptism, the first invitation has been made, Christ himself inviting you by his own word, to gather weekly for a foretaste of the wedding feast to come.  Yet many do not heed the call, many parents refuse to bring their children to God’s house, refuse to teach them his word, rejecting the very promises of God.  Yet Jesus continues to call out to them, he invites them again and again to his house, to receive the forgiveness of sins, to receive his very body and blood, to cling to his word.  Yet many pay no attention and go off, one to his farm, another to his business, telling themselves you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.  Some even reject his servants, the pastors he has sent for teaching sound doctrine and guarding them against the false Christianity of the world, treating them shamefully, and seeking their removal.  The king’s response to them will surely be as profound as we hear in the parable, all who have rejected his invitation will be cast out, their Christianity in name only will be of no use to them when the final initiation goes out. Jesus illustrates this best at the end of his parable,

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The one without the wedding garment is the one not clothed in Christ, the one who names himself a believer, though in reality is not.  This one will be cast out, both of the temporal wedding feast and the eternal wedding feast, condemned to eternal separation from God.

Now for those who have answered the invitation, brought by the word to faith, and gathered here in this holy banquet hall, your Lord indeed has a glorious feast laid before you, indeed Isaiah says, On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples  a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,  of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” In fact, here before you today your Lord lays before you a feast of rich food, Christ’s own body and blood, given and shed for you on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.  Surely this is a feast worth attending!  For this is indeed the foretaste of the feast to come.  Jesus, the heavenly bridegroom has bought the church, his bride, with the very price of his holy and precious blood and innocent suffering and death that she might be his own.  Having bought her, he has gone away to prepare her heavenly home, and now only awaits the day when He can go forth and gather her to himself. On that day, Isaiah reminds us that

“he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.   He will swallow up death for ever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,  and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,  for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Therefore beloved of Christ, once again the Lord himself sends forth his servant saying “tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner…and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast!  Amen!

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Sermon for October 8, 2017 Giving thanks for God’s Abundant Gifts Deuteronomy 8:1-10

“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Having been recently rescued from their slavery in Egypt, one would think that God’s people would have been so overcome by gratitude that they would have spent every day thanking God for their freedom and his blessings.  Instead almost to a person they whined at every opportunity about every little thing, food, water, even God himself was the focus of their complaints, yet in every instance God cared for them, for their needs, all their needs of body and soul.  So to prepare his people to enter into the land of milk and honey, the land of Canaan promised to them from the time of Abraham, Almighty God reminds them of all that he has done for them that they would remember the whole way that the Lord led them those forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble them, testing them to know what was in their hearts, and whether they would keep his commandments or not.

It’s hard to recognize good in the midst of troubles.  Our own weakness, our despair, our fear, is so bold before our eyes that we are often blind to the joy and blessings that are all around us.  The people of God learned this the hard way throughout their forty year sojourn in the wilderness.  Their ever present thought was that they just wanted to go “home” to Egypt.  Sure it was hard, but it was what they knew.  They may not have good food, but they had food nonetheless.  They may not have had palaces, but even a ramshackle house is better than a tent.  These types of thoughts stood before them preventing them from paying attention to all of the blessings God was providing.  In the face of what they perceived to be suffering, God provided  every material blessing that was needed,

“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years.”

In doing so they were taught not to trust in themselves, but in God alone for their every need. This was especially important because they rejected God time and again, worshipping the Golden Calf, grumbling against Moses and Aaron, and even at times God himself.  So as a loving father, he not only provided for their physical needs, but he also taught them what it meant to be his people, disciplining them out of love that they might walk in his ways and fear him.  He had mercy upon them and forgave them, he provided faithful men in whom he entrusted their care, He watched over them even condescending to dwell in their midst indeed establishing his own house among them that they would not be alone.

As though all of this wasn’t enough, Almighty God was gracious in fulfilling his promise made to Abraham and to their forefathers,

“7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.”

In his mercy, God’s people would never be in want for the land into which He was bringing them was so abundant in resources that the physical needs of all would be met. He would protect them for when necessary he would go before them into battle.  In the same way, they would never want spiritually because He, their God would dwell in their midst, when discipline was necessary, he would as a loving father provide it, yet he would forgive them their sins and bestow on them his mercy. His very presence would be among them, he would be there for bless them and keep them, to make his face shine on them and be gracious to them, and to look upon them with his favour.  And in thanksgiving for the Lord’s blessings and mercy, his people were to keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.

On the surface it might seem that we have very little in common with God’s people in our text this morning, however, the truth is that we have more in common that we might care to admit.  Consider the country in which you live; it seems a lot like the land of Canaan described in our text doesn’t it. In his mercy your Lord has placed you in a land of such great abundance that no one should ever be in want.    Consider also that throughout your own lives sojourn, though you may have complained about what little you may have, your Lord has still provided for you out of the abundance of his mercy.  It is true that you may not live in a palace, you still have a roof over your head.  You may not feast at fancy parties but you still have food set before you.  You may not dress in designer duds, yet you still have clothing to keep you from the elements. Though you may not have a large family, your Lord has blessed you with brothers and sisters in Christ who are to be there for you when they are needed.  Odds are if you look back throughout your life you would be able to see the many times that the Lord God has rescued you in times of weakness and times of sorrow.

Yet there have been times of discipline haven’t there? Times when you have needed to be humbled fed with manna (in a sense) that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.  In those times of need your Lord had mercy upon you through the hands of another that you might learn again to delight in his will and walk in his ways to the glory of his holy name.  For all, like ancient Israel, this it is your duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him.

In the same way your Lord has also provided for your spiritual needs, at times chastening you, disciplining you by suffering or by word “that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.”  In those times of temptation and of sin, he did not abandon you, but rather he walked with you in the spiritual wilderness seeking to lead you out of your despair and guilt.  In his mercy, he took dwelling with his people to a new level, taking into himself your flesh, enduring the same weakness, suffering, hardship, and sorrow, yet not yielding to temptation and sin.  Having done this Jesus also endured the ultimate discipline by his death on the cross, suffering the wrath of the Father which is rightly yours so that you would not be condemned to an eternal wilderness without him.

Being  raised from the dead, He continues to provide for your spiritual needs, abiding with you, gathering you not into a ramshackle home, or tent, but here into his palace where he provides for you food greater than manna, drink greater than water, in his own body and blood given and shed for you.  He reminds you that you do not live by bread alone as he makes you alive by every word that comes from his mouth.  He gives to you the robe of righteousness which shall never wear out that you might be clothed in his grace for eternity.  He does this that you may be His own and live under him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.

Beloved in Christ this Thanksgiving weekend, you indeed have a lot for which to give thanks, for the Lord your God has abundantly given you all you need for body and soul. One day soon he will return to gather you his people that you will go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers, the true promised land, the Holy City Jerusalem.  Amen!

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Sermon for LWML Sunday Living our Faith, Loving our Neighbour Mark 12:29-31

29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Vocation, Vocation, Vocation! This is a word that is often mis-understood in Christian circles. The secular understanding of vocation implies the job that you do.  Such a perspective then separates vocation from our spiritual life.  But this is not how Christians are to view it.  Vocation for the Christian is how God serves your neighbour through you. Therefore vocation is how our spiritual life is actually lived.  What makes this all the harder to understand is that many Christians view God similar to a pagan deity who must be appeased and placated in order that the believer might gain physical or financial blessings.  But this isn’t how the scriptures understand things.  Instead, Almighty God calls you to serve him not by appeasing or placating him, but rather to serve your neighbour, for it is not God who needs your good works, but your neighbour, therefore this is the ultimate expression of your love of God.

Our verses this morning are carved out of an important context where Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is.  Jesus answer is profound because he combines what seem to be two commandments into one; “there is no greater commandment than these” therefore how we love our neighbour reflects our love of God.  Thus vocation finds its place.  When we look around in our world today there are many “good works” to do.  Many people would understand that as being like Mother Theresa, or some others, and therefore say, well I can’t do that, so I won’t even try.  But you are not called to be like Mother Theresa; vocation is God caring for your neighbour through you according to his or her needs.  Therefore changing the diaper of a child or an adult in need is living your faith and loving your neighbour.  Being a faithful caring wife and mother is living your faith and loving your neighbour.  Providing for the spiritual needs of your family as well as their physical needs as a husband and father is living your faith and loving your neighbour.  Gathering in God’s house, meditating on his word, receiving his gifts together with your brothers and sisters in Christ is living your faith and loving your neighbour.  Looking out for your brother or sister in Christ, confronting them in their sin, and speaking Christ’s word of forgiveness is living your faith and loving your neighbour.

 

Granted these things are often hard to do, they require sacrifice on our part, and humility that is challenging.  Therefore you are reminded that, you are god’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God has prepared in advance for you to do.  Living your faith and loving your neighbour then is a natural response of the Christian, he or she cannot but help serving the neighbour because it is truly Christ serving through him or her. It is this that separates the good works of the Christ from the works of the unbeliever, for The sinner cannot make himself to serve his neighbor because he cannot change what he is. “Good works are excluded . . . precisely because human nature (that is the moral self) is powerless to perform them.”

 

This living our faith and loving your neighbour finds its ultimate meaning in Matthew 25 when Jesus says, Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[f] you did it to me.’  Notice that the sheep are not saved because of their works, rather their works demonstrated the faith lived out in them through Christ.

However, lest we return to that idea of loving our neighbour as something we do to please God let us consider the very source of how and why we CAN love our neighbour.

The good things which we have from God flow from one onto another and become common, so that everyone puts on his neighbor and thus clothes himself in his neighbor, as if he himself were in [his neighbor’s] place. From Christ, who has put us on as if he were what we are, they have flowed and do flow onto us The Christian man’s good works derive from, and ultimately express the Gospel, because the Christian man only possesses what is received from Christ through the Gospel.

 

Jesus himself demonstrates this in his parable of the Good Samaritan, as the supposedly righteous ignored the person broken by sin, where as Jesus, the rejected one, saves the sinner and promises to return and gather him home.  This is precisely what Jesus has done, “for while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

 

This then is what living your faith and loving your neighbour truly means, living in the grace and mercy of Christ, rejoicing in this same grace and mercy and serving your neighbour with the same grace and mercy, not to appease or placate God, not because he needs your works, but because through your works, God serves your neighbour.  Amen!

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Sermon for September 24 2017 An unfair day’s pay Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for a denarius[a] a day, he sent them into his vineyard.And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market-place, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the labourers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Growing up, most of us learned the maxim, a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage.  The idea of course is that an employee should work hard to earn their wage, and the employer should pay what has been earned.  This allows both persons to hold up their heads as being fair and honourable people who are worthy of respect.  A wonderful example of this is a program run by the Mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, whose conversations with the homeless of his city, led him to create a program where the homeless are given work for a full day, cleaning up the city, for an hourly wage better than the minimum, and as well as a meal and bed for the night.  The homeless are afforded the dignity, respect, and material needs that are so important, and the town is kept clean and beautiful.  In the end each party is able to hold up his head knowing that he has fulfilled his obligation.

Looking at our Gospel reading this morning we might wonder if the Mayor also had it in mind when setting up such a program.  Jesus has been addressing the very real need for sinners to humble themselves before Almighty God and depend upon him alone for their salvation.  Shortly before this parable Jesus confronts a rich young man, who was unable to humble himself, for his “god” was his possessions.  This encounter was quite shocking for the disciples who like many in our world, indeed our town today, assume that worldly blessings are signs of the Lord’s favour, and that their material possessions must be signs their faithfulness to God.  In response Jesus says, “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[c] and will inherit eternal life…” again showing that only one who recognizes that the only things that truly matter are forgiveness, life, and salvation, and are found only in Christ.

To illustrate this Jesus presents the parable of our Gospel reading this morning.  Jesus says, that a master of a house goes out to hire laborers for his vineyard.  Several things about this are quite interesting.  Rarely does an owner every hire workers, most times the foreman or manager would go out to get workers, but not the owner.  Also, the master goes out early in the morning.  He goes out before any of the competitors would go out to find workers.  Also, he does not have a staff of servants who live in servants quarters and are cared for by him but rather seeks out the truly needy, those who have no marketable trade, or no steady employment.  Therefore he is not going to them to address HIS needs, but theirs.

Therefore as the master goes out before them he meets a group of early risers, with whom he arranges payment, these are the disciples, those of whom Jesus says in prior verses “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.” Yet even with this saying, this is not the agreed payment.  For the agreed payment is eternal life.  What is more amazing is that the Master doesn’t stop there.  He continues throughout the day to return to the market place to gather more and more needy workers to serve him in his vineyard. Even up to the end of the day, when all of the workers were getting ready to be done, the Master is still seeking workers for his vineyard. Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t address any agreed payment with them.  In fact, it isn’t until all of the work has been completed that payment is made.

Even here the Master is going against the norm, for he has the last ones hired being the first to be paid.  Normally this wouldn’t be done, for those who had been working all day would be those who were paid first that they might return home to their families and rest.  But the master has the last workers paid first, and what is more amazing is that the payment is the same as that agreed upon with the first workers.  Jesus shares that the first workers are indignant that the last workers are receiving equal wages, but it is here that the point of the story, the father’s generosity, is made.

Beloved in Christ, the first workers are Jesus disciples, his hand-picked followers, whom he promised forgiveness, life, and salvation.  But just as he went out among them to call those needy men to work in his vineyard, he has continued to do so throughout these 2000 years, going out among the work, through his word calling people into his vineyard.   What’s more is that in his blessed generosity you who are his followers today, receive the same forgiveness, life, and salvation, as Peter, James, John and the rest.  Jesus does not treat you in a lesser fashion than they, you won’t receive only long life, but eternal life, you don’t receive purgatory so that you can work off some of your more  vile sins before you are allowed entry into heaven, your sins are forgiven NOW.  The salvation which belongs to the apostles is also YOUR salvation, for Jesus died once for all. Therefore Jesus could rightly say to the thief on the cross, today you will be with me in paradise, even as his apostles would also receive eternal life.  There are no more sacrifices needed, no more payments that need to be made.  Therefore it doesn’t matter if you are a 1st century Christian or a 21st century Christian, Jesus, the master has gone out among you who are in need and called you into his vineyard, and in his mercy, he grants you the same blessed eternity as all others who are his. So it is that the last shall be first, and the first last.

In much the same way we are to consider those after us, whom our Lord has called, or will call, into his vineyard for though the time is near, the eleventh hour has not yet come. Even now our Lord is going out with his word into the world, into this congregation, and into your homes with his word, calling others into his vineyard.  He calls grandparents, parents, and children, into his own holy community, for he has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

These things he does out of his own generous mercy, that that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

 

Beloved in Christ, Jesus calls you into his vineyard that he may be merciful to the needy, that he may care for your needs of body and soul, that he might grant you unearned generosity, and this he does without any merit or worthiness in you.  Amen!

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Lutheran Foundation Estate Planning Seminar

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Sermon for September 17 2017 “Debt Forgiveness” Matt. 18:21–35

“I just can’t forgive him!”  How often have these words, or ones like them tumbled from your lips? Perhaps they have been uttered, unmeant, in response to some minor infraction like someone taking that parking spot you’ve been circling the parking lot for an hour for.  More likely though these words are a declaration spoken in reference to a profound sin; an extramarital affair, physical abuse, murder, theft, misuse of funds, and the like. What is more challenging is when these things have occurred because of the actions of one who called him or herself a fellow Christian for this hurt at the hands of a supposed friend, doubles the pain. Our declaration in these words is easily understandable, and all who hear them sympathize with our declaration, for we wouldn’t forgive that person either.  Though understandable, this declaration as sincere as it is, is also pronouncing sentence, not on the individual who harmed you, but on yourself, for as Jesus says, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Our Gospel reading comes on the heels of Jesus’ discussion of caring for the greatest and church discipline from last week.  Upon hearing Jesus teaching, Peter asks the obvious question, the question that is on minds of Jesus hearers then, and here today, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Notice that Peter has bought into Jesus discussion of caring for the greatest, the humble, weak, struggling brother or sister.  Yet Peter like we ourselves, assumes that there has to be a limit to forgiveness.  After all, you just can’t keep forgiving someone who sins against you, if you do, then pretty soon, they will just keep sinning, knowing that whatever they do, you will forgive them.  While Jesus recognizes this very real concern hsi response to Peter is surprising, ““I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” The truth of the matter is that we are to forgive those who sin against us.  Notice that Jesus doesn’t differentiate between those who just say their sorry and those who really mean it as we do.  Jesus simply calls on us to forgive our brother or sister unceasingly.  While it is true that some may be forgiven sins for which they are not sorry, it is not your place nor mine to determine their sincerity.  In fact we are called to forgive those who sin against us unrepented.  Now you might say, but I’m not going to forgive them if they aren’t sorry.  But let us consider what this means.  If you are unwilling to forgive, or if your forgiveness is dependent upon the sincerity of their repentance, pray to God that he does not treat you the same!  For an unforgiving heart is one that lacks faith in the forgiveness and faithfulnes of Almighty God.

Are you concerned that the one who has harmed you will not pay a penalty for their sin? The Lord says  35 It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.”  Therefore beloved do not hold on to your anger for such anger will blind you to God’s forgiveness and you will eventually wander away from it.  Thus Jesus tells you “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Your forgiveness therefore must not be dependent upon their repentance nor sincerity, rather your forgiveness is based solely upon the forgiveness of God, purchased for you upon the cross.  Consider Joseph’s mercy and compassion upon his brothers from our Old Testament reading this morning.  Joseph had been abused by his brothers and sold into slavery by his own brothers.  In our perspective he would have had every right to use the full power of his position as Pharaoh’s right hand man to mete out harsh punishment against his brothers for their sin against him, yet his Joseph’s mercy came from his trust in God who not only brought Joseph through his trials but used them for Joseph’s benefit.  In joyful gratitude for the Lord’s mercy, Joseph had mercy upon his brothers and not only forgave them but used his power and authority to care for them until his death.

Jesus’ parable therefore points out that we are to have mercy even upon the unmerciful. 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Notice Jesus creates a scenario that points us to the reality of our own sin. The first servant owes an incredible sum, an amount of money so large no one could pay it in several lifetimes.  Initially the master orders the selling of the servant and his family.  When the servant pleas for mercy, the master takes pity and doesn’t simply give the servant time to pay off the debt, he cancels the debt entirely.

Sadly, the servant doesn’t show the same compassion with a fellow servant whose debt while large pales in comparison with the debt the first servant owed.  He immediately abuses his fellow servant and when the plea for mercy comes he ignores it and throws his fellow in jail.  When the master finds out what the servant has done not only is the debt is restored and the servant thrown into prison until the unpayable debt is paid.

Thus Jesus says, 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”  For no matter how horrible or costly are the sins of your neighbour against you, they pale in comparison with your own sin against God.  Therefore as one who has been forgiven such a great debt, how can you refuse to forgive or hold a grudge against your fellow debtor.  Consider thus our Lord’s prayer, as the King James bible puts it, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” and how Luther explains this petition “We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.  So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.”

Your insurmountable, unpayable sin has been forgiven, Christ himself paying the price, taking into himself all of your debt and marking it out with his own bloodshed for you upon the cross. And while Jesus died once for all your sins, he continues to announce his forgiveness of your sins, again and again and again. He does not look upon you and say, “three strikes and you’re out”, rather he continues each and every time you come to him, to pour out lavishly his forgiveness and then as did Joseph care for you until your death.

Therefore it is your privilege to forgive as you have been forgiven, to show mercy as you have been shown mercy.  As you do so, Your Lord’s mercy to you will be shown that your brother might also be restored.  Amen!

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