Sunday, November 28, 2004

First Sunday in Advent, November 28, 2004, Matthew 24:37-44

Advent 1, 2004, November 28, 2004
St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savor, Swea City
Matthew 24:37-44 (ESV)
(From a sermon by Rev. P).
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Well, today we can sigh a sigh of relief. After the last few Sundays of talking about the end of the world, we can finally look forward to Christmas. Finally, we can stop talking about the “end times”, we can stop talking about being ready because we don’t know when the end will come, and talk about the cute little baby in the manger… or at least getting ready for him. When the altar turns blue we know what to expect. So, here we are ready to talk about Christmas and Jesus. But wouldn’t you know it, here comes today’s Gospel lesson, and Jesus talks about… being ready because we don’t know when the end will come. Well, since it’s always good to talk about what Jesus talks about we’ll dive in again, we’ll take our cue from Jesus.

The first thing you notice about what Jesus is saying is that he compares the end of time to the days of Noah. But to find out exactly what was that like, we go back to Genesis: The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5 (ESV) And Jesus adds, For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away. (38-39). You see, back in Noah’s day, they didn’t have a clue that there was any problem. They didn’t know the flood was coming, it took them by surprise. Eating and drinking, getting married, those are regular every day events. Before the flood came and swept them all away everything seemed normal.
That’s the warning Jesus gives to us. ‘Be ready, because everything will seem normal, then the end will come.’ Oh, I know we’ve all been conditioned to think that things have to get much worse in the world before the end comes. But if we take seriously Jesus description we’ll soon, take a quick breath and take note of how it’s so very much the same today as it was before the flood. Back then, God says the evilness was in their hearts and in their thoughts. But when you add Jesus words it doesn’t sound like the picture we might have in our minds because of the movies. It wasn’t out-and-out evil running rampant in the streets. Everything seemed normal. There wasn’t the idea in their minds that something terrible was about to happen. The picture we are given is, rather, of a whole society that has turned against God; people doing what ever they wanted apart from God. And most importantly as far as they were concerned everything was going ok. It was a great time to be alive.
But Noah knew better. He had been given the job of building an ark, and preaching. The two things don’t seem to go together. It’s not often you see a preacher with a hammer in his hand. Yet, Noah and his family lived a life that was in sync with God. Noah was told of the up coming disaster, at least 80 years in advance (that’s the amount of time it took to build the ark). All that time he spoke again and again in warning of what was to come. But in spite of all Noah’s preaching no one was convinced, not one single person, except for the 8 of Noah’s family, was saved from the flood. No one believed that Noah knew what he was talking about. Well, everyone except God. In fact, Noah is called a great preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). If we go by human standards, human measurements we’d say that Noah failed in his task. But God knew better and saved him and his family.
All the time while Noah was preaching and the world around him was ignoring him, they had no idea; no idea of the form God’s anger would take. They were living normal everyday lives, marrying and giving in marriage, eating and drinking, everything was normal. But the flood came and took away all those who refused to believe, all those who didn’t listen to Noah, and it all happened without warning on a very normal day, like today.
Yes, I mean a day like today. If you think about it that description of Jesus matches today very well, too. Marrying and given in marriage, eating and drinking, some of us are still fighting off the tryptophan daze, that stuff in turkey that makes you sleepy. In spite of all the dangers in the world, the average life expectancy continues to rise; it’s all the way up to 77.2 years (see And we aren’t just able to live longer; we have a better quality of life than any generation before. I think, in fact, that there should be a new index on the quality of life based on the amount of time it takes you to get from your house to a Best Buy. Last week in Burt, ours just shot up by 30 min. Other good things going on around us: Our society demands we respect one another. Hate isn’t just a four letter word it actually a crime. And we owe it all, it is said, to advancements of science and technology. Really, from that perspective it’s a great time to be alive.
Of course there are other things we should recognize about the time in which we live. These things fall right in the category of what God’s Word calls the wickedness of man and the every intention of the thoughts of [our] heart[s is]only evil continually. It is legal in this country to kill and unborn child, for any reason and at any time during their development before they are born. And there is a strong movement to make it legal to kill other helpless people, the elderly, the disabled, the terminally ill, and others that are considered to not be living “quality lives.” (for example see and We are told that we must tolerate all kinds of sexual immorality, and to speak against it is quickly threatening to become a violation of the law. And we are told that God is not allowed in Public Square, either in our schools, or government, or even regular public discussion. Well, we should qualify that by saying that god is allowed in public schools many gods and religions are discussed freely as a matter of diversity, only Christianity seem to be excluded. The only acceptable discussion about human origins is that which includes millions of years of evolution. And unfortunately very many Christians have given in to the idea. Really, we live in a society that has turned completely against God. We live in a time when people do whatever they want apart from God. It seems it can tolerate anything but the truth from God’s Word, and especially the fact that Jesus is the only way that God has provided for salvation.
So right now we have a lot in common with the people who lived before the flood. Eating and drinking our way through life, marrying and giving in marriage, optimistic about the future, unaware that everything is just as Jesus said it would be at his second coming. Today is a day very much like the days of Noah, and the Lord could return at any time.
If God’s judgment is working on you… if you are cut to the heart about the condition of our world, it would be easy to be discouraged. But there is Good News in Jesus words, too.
You see, Noah and his family were saved from the flood. They were left behind as everyone else was swept away in judgment. It seems like an insignificant number of people, but God didn’t destroy the 8 people who trusted in him. As promised he placed them safe from the flood of destruction in a boat, an ark.
And this is where Advent comes into the picture. As we prepare to celebrate God’s coming in human flesh, we remember that God is always faithful, and always keeps his promises. Jesus, our Savior, was born of a virgin to secure a place for you away from the flood of God’s judgment that is coming. Instead of letting you be destroyed, God himself was punished, as Jesus endured the pain and suffering of the cross and the eternal torment of hell for you. He bent God’s anger away from you and suffered it, so you and I won’t see it when Jesus comes again.
In case you never noticed before, the baptismal font has 8 sides. That’s not an accident, that’s not just an artistic notion; it’s all about being saved from the flood. It’s all about being saved from God’s anger. It’s all about being left behind as the flood of punishment washes over everyone else. Just like the flood destroyed an evil world and saved the righteous, Baptism does that very thing for you. Your old evil self, your sinful nature, was drowned to death, and you were saved from death all at the same time. Jesus puts you in the ark, the big boat of his church. He puts his name on you, and declares that no matter what the world tells you, you are his. So that when Jesus comes again and sweeps away the whole world and all those who reject him, with a new wave of destruction of God’s anger, you will be left behind.
The words of the world are still out there, they still impact us every day. They say that God isn’t real. They say that there are other ways besides Jesus. They say that sin isn’t sin. But God gives you a different Word. His Word is truth. His Word is dependable. God has staked his life on it. Jesus gives you new life through it. Here in the ark of his church we hear the words of God’s promise. God speaks his Word to you to keep you faithful, to keep you awake and alert for the day that Jesus is coming again.
While the world goes on eating and drinking oblivious of God, he has provided a meal for you that also keeps you alert and ready. When we open our mouths and receive the forgiveness of sins through the body and blood of Jesus, we are kept mindful that that same Jesus is coming at a time when we don’t expect. And that that same Jesus is the one whose birth we celebrate and prepare for in Advent.
We live in the days of Noah. All around us are the signs. The Day of Judgment is coming. We also live in the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ. Just as he saved 8 from the flood, he promises to save you. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Friday, November 26, 2004

December Newsletter Cover - Isa 9:6

…a child is born… (Isaiah 9:6, ESV)
The busy time is here… again! With Thanksgiving turkey still on our breath we look forward to Christmas green, a white blanket of snow on the ground, and brightly colored packages under the tree. There is always a lot to do. Just look at the calendar for the church; advent services every Wednesday night (It all adds up to 10 church services this month!), Christmas luncheons, Christmas eve program practices (Saturdays!), bible classes, budget meetings and elections, etc. And that’s just the church schedule. Most of us have school events, work events, family events, and maybe even a few other things folded in just for good measure. Wow! No one can say we don’t get the most out of the holiday season. Now, it’s a great time of the year, and there’s nothing wrong with getting the most out of it. There’s nothing wrong with Christmas lists, and shopping, and parties with family and friends.
But we know what the season is really all about. It’s really all about those four simple words from Isaiah …a child is born… It even sounds simple. Children are born every day. Families grow. It’s the way things work. We often put out of our minds that child birth is a messy business. We forget that in years past it was down right dangerous. Only a few hundred years ago a woman giving birth had a one in four chance of dying. Really …a child is born… is not as simple as it sounds, actually it’s extraordinary. On a dark night, in a dark stable, in a far away land, there was an extraordinary event …a child is born… everything was pretty normal as far as normal goes, for child birth. There was pain and blood and a nervous father. It was another extraordinary birth of a human baby. But there was something else that made this extraordinary event something different. In the middle of all that was normal, there was something very abnormal, because that completely normal baby boy was more than just extraordinary because he was born. He was much more than normal and even much more than extraordinary. He was God. That night God was born as a baby boy. …a child is born… doesn’t begin to grasp the significance of God suckling at his mother’s breast. …a child is born… doesn’t begin to explain the Creator of the Universe wrapped in diapers. That must be why Isaiah says more: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6).
That’s what the busy time is really about. God in human flesh, born of a virgin, wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. But also let’s remember that that’s not the whole story. Being born is only the beginning. That same extra-extraordinary baby, lying in diapers, also hung naked on a cross. …a child is born… also fails to grasp what it means that God himself paid the awful price, the eternal consequences of human sin. That baby that was born in the normal extraordinary way, died in a very extraordinary way, as the complete and total payment for sin. It’s the gift that all the giving is about, God taking your sin and killing it by dying himself.
So, keep busy, celebrate fully, but remember the baby, remember the cross, and what Jesus, that extra-extraordinary child, has done for you.
God’s Peace.
Pastor Watt.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Thanksgiving Homily - 11-25-2004

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, (2 Ti 2:8, ESV)
Even though our thanksgiving service today is structured around the Liturgical Church Year; remember that today, Thanksgiving Day, isn’t really a church holiday. Really it’s a Federal Holiday, established first by Geo Washington, and restarted by Lincoln as a way to remember that our nation only survives because of God’s blessing. And you might think that this year this has been a strange Thanksgiving Service, because usually for this day we focus on harvest and the gifts, the blessings of home and family, and food and work, that we’ve been given. Usually, we talk about all that and how we should be thankful for them, and how we should share with those who are less fortunate. You may have even come today to get that little tweak, the twinge of guilt that sounds like your mother scolding you for leaving food on your plate, “There are starving children in China who would love to eat that food!” Sometimes I think thanksgiving is all about appeasing our guilt so that when the afternoon turkey sleep comes over us we can sleep better. Well, Thank God, we do have physical blessings. Thank God, we had a plentiful harvest. Thank God we have family and friends to enjoy today, because there are people who don’t have any of these things. In other words, there are starving people who would love to have just what you and I throw away every day.
While we do at times take all these things for granted, today’s service is set up to remind us of something else we sometimes take for granted. And it is, in fact, the greatest gift from God. It is the one thing that if we are missing everything else we have been given doesn’t have any meaning. Today we are doing exactly what St. Paul told Pastor Timothy to do. Remember Jesus.
On this day, that we have set aside to thank God, we remember that we have a God who loves people so much that he made a world that provides all that is needed for living every day. If we are to truly to thank God, if we are really going to celebrate thanksgiving, then remembrance must be front and center in our celebration. So today, we remember and give thanks to God for the most important gift we have ever received. Today, we remember Jesus and give thanks to God for what he has done for us through him.
Well, even if the federal government hadn’t set aside today for Thanksgiving we Christians are obligated to give thanks to God. We don’t do it because a president says so, but because we are moved by God’s goodness. God gives us gifts and we respond in prayer, praise and thanksgiving. As Christians we live a liturgical life. That’s what’s reflected in our regular worship services here. That’s what’s reflected in the way we remember Jesus throughout the year.
And yet, we are hardly as grateful as we should be. In fact, a lot of the time we are down right selfish. Especially as we look forward to the gifts that come at Christmas time, we think more about what we can get than the one from whom we receive everything. “Give us our daily bread” becomes a self absorbed prayer, a selfish prayer, a self-worshipping prayer, rather than an acknowledgment of where all our gifts come from. It’s not “it’s better to give than to receive.” It’s “It’s better to receive than to give thanks.” So at least on this one day, maybe it’s good that the government has set a day to remind us to be thankful. But when we think about it even this day has turned into a day of self-indulgence. So we must confess, as we clearly see, that we are sinful people. Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean…
And yet again, we confess something else. We confess God’s greatest gift, the one we are most thankful for today. It is the gift of God’s one and only Son, Jesus. He came into this world to take our sins upon Himself, to become our sin, and pay with His very life the penalty we by our sins have deserved, giving His body and shedding His blood for the forgiveness of all our sins. Today in a few moments we will share together that same body and blood in the thanksgiving meal that Jesus gives us. The Lord’s Supper is the Great Thanksgiving, because in it we receive what He won on the cross for us, and we in turn give thanks. We thank our Lord for first loving us, for dying for us, and for rising from the dead for us, that we will, through faith, one day feast with Him forever.
And that puts it all in perspective. Remember Jesus… and give thanks. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understand keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Last Sunday of the Church Year, Rev 22:6-13 - 11-21-2004

Last Sunday of the Church Year, November 21, 2004
St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City
Revelation 22:6-13, ESV
(From an outline by David S. Smith, Concordia Journal, October 1992).
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Maybe we say it too often to really understand what it means… like we do when we ask people how they are doing but don’t really expect an answer. “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest…” we say before meals. Come and be with us as we eat, “let these gifts to us be blest” come and give us what we need at this moment. Come, Lord Jesus,” we say, but maybe we really don’t mean what we are saying. Maybe we don’t really know what we are saying…

That well know part of the “not-so-common” table prayer “Come Lord, Jesus” is from the book of Revelation just a few verses after our reading for today. Jesus has been speaking to John through an angel, and then he says directly, “I am coming quickly.” John answers “Come, Lord Jesus! Come… soon.”
I’m not sure we would all echo John’s prayer. We think about all the things that we are sure will end when he comes and we’re not sure we want that to happen. We think about our property, our education, our life, raising children… all the things we haven’t done in life, all that we haven’t accomplished, and we don’t want all of that to end. We don’t really know what it’s going to be like for us when Jesus comes, so we’re not sure we are ready. It just wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t get to see my grandchildren grow up, or my children graduate from college, or even just another harvest season. We do love this world, and in many respects we should because it was really created for us. And yet, all the stuff of the world, all the things that grab our attention and our affection, can turn us away from Jesus. They get a hold of our thoughts, and we worry and fret, plan and prepare, scheme and deceive, first to get them and then to keep them. There are times when we forget all about God and his love for us. We fall in love with the creation and forget about the creator. Even we Christians know that it’s not easy to worship only our Lord, Jesus in this world.
We also might not echo John’s prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus!” because we know what our lives are like. Unannounced guests cause you to scurry around the kitchen to push the left over food down the disposal or throw the dirty laundry in the closet. Our lives are full of dirty laundry. Even we Christians know that it’s not easy to live righteous and holy lives. After all there are a lot of un-righteous things going on out there. And the people who are doing them all seem to be having such a good time doing it. There’s also a lot of unrighteous things happening right here in our heads and our hearts. “It’s not so bad!” we are told, and we are inclined to believe. And Jesus knows. He knows our desperate desires. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Mt 15:19, ESV) We can’t hide them from him. We can’t push our sins into the closet. “Come, Lord Jesus!” means showing our sins. When Jesus words say, “I am coming soon… to repay everyone for what he has done.” It doesn’t really sound like a time to look forward to.
We might not think much about our prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus” for other reasons, too. After all, lots of times God doesn’t seem to be very active in our lives, at least not in the ways we want him to be active. We wonder why we have to suffer with troubles that never seem to end. We get over one hill of trouble just to see that we still have a mountain to climb. We pray for healing and we are still sick. Death visits our homes, unwelcome. With trouble come doubts; doubts about God’s love; and doubts about the forgiveness that he promises us. And yet, not everyone looks to be in the same boat. People who declare their independence from God look to have it easy. The justice system allows obviously guilty people to walk away free, and crime does pay. Even for us Christians, it’s hard to believe the word and promises of Jesus, when the world doesn’t seem to work a promised. “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Re 22:7, ESV) “Life is hard, and then you die.” Better describes most of our life. That’s hardly the blessing that we think we should see.
So why should we say, “Come, Lord Jesus?” Why should we want him to come soon? The key is right there in the middle of the text. It actually comes to us in words that at first seem like a reason for us to not want him to come. “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. (Re 22:12, ESV) It’s in that word recompense, the NIV translates it as reward. We might understand that word a little bit better. We know what a reward is. The owner of a lost dog might offer a reward to the one who finds it. Parents offer rewards to their children for doing extra chores. Employers often offer rewards for work well done. A reward is given to someone who deserves it, someone who does something great and beyond expectation. So just why is that Good News for us? We don’t have to examine ourselves very hard to realize that we don’t deserve any reward from God for our behavior, and especially for what we know is in our hearts. We have doubts about God. we know the sinful desires that live there. We know how we put things before God. We don’t deserve a reward. Listen again, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my [reward] with me.” It isn’t a reward that we have earned that Jesus brings. It’s his reward, what he was given for his perfect life. It is the reward that he earned. It’s his prize. He has done the extraordinary things necessary to win it. His was the life that deserved reward. God’s perfect son, “With him I am well pleased.” God himself said at Jesus baptism. He won the reward for all that he did, including giving up his own life for the sake of others. And his reward was life after death, not some ghostly life either, Jesus, God from before all time, rose from the dead in a complete and perfect human body. The reward that he brings is life. Changing death to life, was the very reason God became man. He came to do what we are unable to do. He won the reward and he comes to give that reward to you and me. Jesus says, I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (Jn 10:10).
When we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” we are praying about that abundant life. We are praying that it would come to us. That Jesus would give it to us. When we pray in the Lord’s prayer, Thy kingdom come. We are praying the same thing.
What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.
How does God's kingdom come? God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.
That is Jesus promise to us. The abundant life, the new eternal life, that Jesus won, he also bring brings he gives to you and me. I know I refer to this passage a lot, but I haven’t found one that describes what Jesus will do when he comes, and what Jesus is doing right now in our lives better than this one:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Ro 6:3-11, ESV)
You see, the reward that Jesus brings he gives to you through faith, through the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism. That new life is all sealed up, that promise is all assured to us, because of Jesus, because of his death for the forgiveness of our sin, but even more important, the life given to him in his resurrection is given to us too, through faith! That means that even though we struggle with doubt, that Jesus’ reward is ours. That means that even though we suffer through trouble and pain, Jesus’ reward is ours. That means that even though we sometimes think of ourselves first, Jesus’ reward is ours. It is ours because Jesus earned it and he gives it to us, free.
That’s life without doubt. Life without the unwanted visitor, death. Life without trouble and pain and suffering and sorrow. It is life without sin; without the desire to sin; without the consequences of sin, life without desperation. It is life where nothing is missing; a life of perfect relationships with our family, and other people, and most importantly a perfect relationship with God. In that life, nothing is more important to us than Jesus. And that’s what we pray when we pray “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Am I saying that we should just hold on and suffer through because the new life that is coming for us is so much better? Well, that is partly true. But Jesus gives you that new life now! While we face today we don’t face it alone. “I am with you always,” Jesus promises, “to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20, ESV) As we live and breathe today and tomorrow, Jesus is right here with us. I mean right here and right now. That abundant life is already ours. You know how it is when you are troubled and a friend stops to visit you. That’s Jesus at work, especially when that friend prays for you and speaks God’s Word to you. You know when you have doubts about forgiveness for your sin, but you hear your pastor speak God’s forgiveness to you, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus, I forgive you all your sins.” And even more powerfully give you the very body of Jesus that was raised to new life, for your new life… as a physical reminder of your sins forgiven. That’s Jesus at work with you, giving you his reward. And it’s just a taste of what is to come when Jesus appears. “Behold I am coming soon.” He says. Come, Lord Jesus. Come. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Second Last Sunday of the Church Year - Luke 19:11-27 - 11-14-2004

Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 14, 2004
St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City
Luke 19:11-27, ESV
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, that parable ends on quite a harsh note. Doesn’t really seem to match the words we said right after it does it, “This is the Gospel of the Lord?” It just seems a little too hard for our ears. But, Jesus means it to be harsh. He’s talking about serious business. It’s not just a quaint story with a hidden meaning. It’s about a reality that is in the future for all human beings. These last few Sunday’s before Thanksgiving, before Advent starts we think about that reality. We mull over and think about the fact that someday, sooner than any of us may really think, Jesus is coming again. We have a tendency to not think about it too much; and even not want to think about it. But there it is in the creeds we speak every Sunday, “from thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.” And “he will come again to judge the both the living and the dead.” There are those harsh words again. Jesus is coming to judge… to judge us.

That thought might not be very comforting to you. When I think about God judging me, I get a little chill that runs up my spine. I know that most of the time, I can hide my faults from the people that I come into contact with every day the people who don’t know me very well, occasionally I can even hide my faults from my wife, but I can never hide them from God. He is a hard judge that doesn’t need any witnesses. He demands perfection from us and He knows the truth. He sees right into our hearts and he judges according to what he finds there. And what does he find… well our hearts fall far short God’s demands.
Most of the time when we read this parable, when we think about what it means we are drawn to the idea that it’s about stewardship of what God has given us. We might sum up that idea like this: “God gives us talents and abilities; if we use them wisely he will reward us. If we don’t we will be judged.” Because we don’t want to be connected with the last servant, the one who just put the king’s mina in a napkin, we are pretty quick to point out what we’ve done with the minas that God has given us; after all our church gives a great mission offering every year. We remind ourselves and anyone else that will listen that we strive to give our employer what he is due for our paycheck. We take care of our land, making sure to conserve it so that it continues to produce a crop every year. We work hard to raise our children and give them all the advantages a good education can offer. We make sure they have opportunities that that we never had. All that sounds pretty good. It’s a good stack of minas that we’ve built up from the one that God has given us.
And yet, while all of it may be true, do you see what we’ve done? We’ve turned the focus of the parable onto ourselves and the things we do. We’ve gone from God giving gifts to our using them. It’s only natural. That’s who we are, that’s what we’ve been raised to be.
It’s my mina! It’s my life! It’s my money! It’s my house… land… car… tractor… I worked hard to earn them I’ll do with them what I please. I get to decide how I will live and when I will die. I’ll eat, drink, sleep… and shop… after all there’s only 40 shopping days till Christmas. That’s the American Dream, to be successful, self-sufficient and independent. While we are pursuing wealth and our own self-interest, we forget that there is a King who owns it all… And that King is coming here to judge us, to see how we’ve used his minas. In reality, this parable isn’t so much about stewardship as it is about ownership.
Let’s look at it again. Jesus talks about a nobleman who is going to a far land to receive the right to rule over a kingdom. There are three different ways that the people in it react to the new king. There’s a group that outright rejects his right to rule. They send a delegation ahead of him to try to prevent it. There is a second group, called the king’s servants. They are each given some of the would-be-king’s money. “Do business until I return.” Most of these servants are faithful with what they’ve been given. That’s the second group; the faithful servants. The third group is the servant who puts the money in a napkin, and doesn’t do what he’s been asked.
The first group, Jesus says, “hates” him. Since Jesus is clearly telling this parable about himself, we can see that this is people who completely reject God’s rule over their lives. It’s easy to find examples of this around us. And although we sometimes resist God in our lives, Jesus isn’t using this group to describe His people. True Christians, those who have been claimed by God, and have faith in Jesus don’t “hate” him. Our sinful nature always struggles against God’s law for our lives, and causes us to continually fall into sin. But we are also God’s saints; purchased by Jesus’ blood. Washed and made clean in Baptism. Feeding on the food of Jesus perfect body and blood, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” While we sin daily, that sin doesn’t separate us from God because Jesus took the necessary punishment for it. The people who reject God face what Jesus describes at the end of the parable. “Bring them here and slaughter them in front of me.” For you and me, and all those who have faith in Jesus, that isn’t our fate.
Jesus is talking about us when he talks about the king’s servants. Look at the difference, instead of rejecting him, they serve him. When the king comes back they report what has happened while he was gone. Look again at the strong contrast. “Lord, your mina has earned ten more.” The first says. He doesn’t say, “Look at how good I did with my money.” He takes no credit at all but gives it all to the king. Your mina… has done this. The servant’s job is to serve and he does what he’s been given to do. His relationship to the king is never in question. The second example returns to the king only half the amount that the first did, and yet the king’s response to both is the same. “Well done good servant!” Both receive rewards that are far more than is deserved. The king’s concern isn’t the amount of their return but their love for him and their willingness to serve. The servants served because they love the master. Jesus is saying the same to us. We are given much from Jesus, but the question isn’t weather we are faithful enough with what we’ve been given. The question for us is “Do we love the master? Do we have a relationship with him?” We do! So we serve.
The last example in the parable really puts a fine point on the idea. The final servant isn’t faithful with what he’s been given. But it’s not because he wasted his time or because he was lazy. He himself says he does nothing with the king’s mina because he was afraid of the king. But he is mistaken about the king; he is gracious to those who are faithful. The unfaithful servant has no relationship with him. He doesn’t think the king has any right to rule over him. “You reap what you did not sow.” He’s saying, “You get what you don’t deserve to get.” Just like those who sent the delegation to prevent the king from becoming king, he hates his master. That’s what his unfaithfulness shows plainly. He doesn’t lose everything because he was unfaithful. He was unfaithful because he refuses the master’s place over him. When he rejects the king he rejects everything the king would give him. And again notice that the amount of the return isn’t important to the master at all. Even the smallest of interest that would come from the money being on deposit would have had a reward. It’s not that the servant wasn’t faithful enough; this servant wasn’t faithful at all, because he rejected the king.
So how does Jesus want us to react to this parable? Does He want us to be faithful with the gifts He gives us? Does He want us to “do business” while he is gone? Of course He does. The gifts He gives aren’t just our wealth and land. Naturally these gifts should be used faithfully. We should give in our abundance to support the work of the church. We should care for those around us who don’t have all they need. But the gifts He gives also include those that we receive right here. It’s easy to receive God’s Word about our forgiveness, give a sigh of relief and leave the wonderful message here in the pews, instead of taking it with us out the door into our homes and work places. It’s easy to remember the blessing of God in our Baptism and wrap it up in that napkin and never mention it again. How easily we take the Lord’s Supper for granted. Opening our mouths to receive forgiveness and not forgiving those who sin against us. Does our relationship with the King, Jesus, lead us to be faithful with these “minas” that he has given us here? If you are like me it all raises the question again of my own faithfulness, and my own faults. I certainly don’t live up to God’s standards. It seems that lots of times I’m a lot like the guy who put the mina away for a rainy day. And I’m sure you feel that way sometimes, too. There’s that little chill again, that realization that what God wants is perfection.
But, that’s not the point of the parable. It’s not about stewardship, it’s about ownership. The point is the relationship between the king and his servants. You see, the servants in the parable are already his servants. They already have a relationship with him. There love for the king shows in their faithfulness, they don’t have a relationship because of their faithfulness.
We have a relationship with God, our King. We are not going to be dragged in front of Him for slaughter. Jesus has suffered that fate for us. God called for His enemies to be killed in His presence, Jesus was crucified instead. When God demanded death for those who hate Him, Jesus cried out “it is finished!” When that was were we should be, Jesus stands and dies there for us. All the sin that separates is blotted out by the blood of Jesus. It is Jesus’ death and His great victory over death that binds you and me to God. He makes us His servants, and really so much more than that… We are guaranteed a reward, not because we are faithful, but because we are His.
That makes all the difference for us. Instead of looking at the King’s return and being afraid, we can look for the reward He promises. Weather the minas He has given have been very productive or only slightly productive. Our relationship with Him assures us that we have been faithful. We are not going to be slaughtered. We are not going to lose everything but we will gain it all. We are the faithful servants of Jesus. Saved from death, saved from punishment, saved to be with Jesus forever! When He comes again to judge the living and the dead He will say to us, “Well done good servant!” Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.