Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Rom 3:19-28, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We don’t see it very much these days… It really seems to be a picture from the past… I mean this picture of a young man (like Martin Luther) struggling to be good enough so that God won’t send him to hell. In fact, we all may look at that picture and think that it’s rather old fashioned. We may ask ourselves why anyone would ever be afraid of such a thing. Certainly few of us have had any fear about that kind of thing. We are an enlightened mature society. Religion is about love. If it’s about god at all it’s a god whose great love for people would never allow him to send anyone to punishment forever. It is often expressed in phrases like this: “The god I know would never punish people that way.” Or “How can a loving god deal out eternal punishment?”
I mean, if hell isn’t a reality for people then the question of being good enough to avoid it is really a non-issue. Isn’t it? It all kind of makes the Reformation that began with the struggle of a young German monk over sin and hell, a mute point. After all Luther’s struggle was against God, wasn’t it. He looked at himself and saw an imperfect person who didn’t “love God with his whole heart and soul and mind.” He looked at God and saw a judge who demanded perfection, not just in the way things were done, but in the motive and the thought too! His thorough study of scripture led him to the unmistakable conclusion that he was hell bound. That was then, this is now. The whole fear-of-hell thing seems like a leftover from a previous time when people thought differently.
The way it is now, the way we actually prefer to look at the world, and life, and God is completely different. We’ve made up a god of our own that doesn’t match with what the Bible tells us. Our new god is a doting grandfather that gives us whatever we need and want, and he simply ignores our shortcomings and failures. It could even be said that he doesn’t really even care that people don’t believe in him or even out and out reject him. “They’re only human,” He coos, “and nobody is perfect.” This god looks lovingly at struggling humanity and with a twinkle in his eye says, “They try so hard… that’ll be good enough.” It’s the picture of god giving an “A+” for effort, regardless of the results and regardless of the motives that lie behind the actions. He gives people a purpose in their lives and rewards them as long as we live in that purpose.
It’s no wonder people don’t fear the consequences of their sin anymore. The god we’ve invented acts and sounds just like one of us. He sweeps sin under the carpet just like we like to do. That’s just the way we live, as if sin wasn’t a problem, sweeping it quietly under the carpet. Letting it stand where we find it.
Just think a moment about these issues since 1973 in just the United States alone we have killed well over 40 million helpless children through abortion. (Note these stats include all abortions for any reason, even those where the child has already died.) It’s a staggering 1 in 4 pregnancies that end in murder. And don’t forget that you and I actually pay for three out of every 10.
We’ve defined marriage to be anything we want it to be. Men and men; women and woman; Adult and child; why not a man; a girl and two dogs and a donkey. It’s not just that, we participate in the degrading of the institution. How about how this issue hits closer to home. We all have it in our families. You know that that 90% of young couples (both Christian and non-Christian) live together before marriage. They ignore the stats that show those who do have an 80% higher risk of divorce. We ignore that God calls this a sin that affects the whole body of Christ.
God, the true God, speaks clearly about these issues. Killing humans beings at any stage of development is murder. He says sex outside of marriage is wrong, that means it is wrong for couples to live together before they are married, no matter how good the reasons seem. Test yourself on these issues: How many people know you are Pro-Life? Do you consider unborn children when you stand in the ballot box? How many young couples have you told that living together before they are married is wrong? We spend a lot of time and effort saying that God’s will for our lives is whatever we want it to be. And that God’s standards for living are quite flexible, more like suggestions that can be set aside when they are inconvenient or don’t match up with our “feel good” philosophy of life.
Luther’s struggle was about the difference between God and human beings. God is holy. People are not. God is perfect. People are not. God knows everything. God is able to look into the very depth of the human heart. When Martin looked honestly into his own what he saw there frightened him. It frightened him because he didn’t find an inner core of good. He saw an inner core of evil and darkness and hatred of other people and even of God. And when he realized that God saw that same heart, he knew that he was lost. With the law comes the knowledge of sin. St. Paul said to him. It was just like Jesus said, For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Mt 15:19, ESV) Martin Luther discovered that was accountable to God not just for his outward acts but also for what was in his heart. God said it also in the Old Testament. “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Sa 16:7, ESV)
That’s the real problem isn’t it? It’s what’s in here that we can’t get rid of. We can only ignore it or pretend it isn’t there. Or invent a god that doesn’t care about sin, a god of our own making that hides his eyes to what we know is there. Because the real God, the one we learn about in His Word does care about sin. That same Word tells us all the truth we already know: For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. No amount of keeping the law is going to fix what’s in here. The more we try to do what is right the more we see how we don’t do it perfectly, “with our whole heart.”
But it is precisely because the true God cares about sin that we are here today. It is because God really does love human beings beyond our understanding that He doesn’t just sweep sin under the carpet. He sees what sin does to us, how it tears our relationships apart, how it makes a mess of everything we try to do. And he knows above all how we are powerless to do anything about it. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That’s what the law makes very plain to us. But God goes beyond that he also says that we are justified by his grace as a gift… Well, it would have to be a gift wouldn’t it? We can’t scrub it clean, we can’t work it out on our own, and we can’t end sin in our hearts by any other way. We need a righteousness that we don’t have. Righteousness is exactly what God has. It is what God is. In fact the best definition of righteousness is Jesus.
St. Paul used that unusual word propitiation. He wrote the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood. What he is really talking about is a peace offering. When a wife is angry at her husband he scrambles to find a florist and shows up at the door with a big batch of flowers. That’s propitiation. And Jesus is just that, a perfectly righteous peace offering to God. Jesus offers himself to God as the object of God’s just anger over sin. He suffers the punishment that all human beings deserve because of the sin in their hearts. In Jesus heart, even though he fully human, there wasn’t any of the blackness that is in yours and mine. He didn’t make excuses for not following God’s law. Not only did he not sin, he confronted sin everywhere he went. He called sin, sin and pointed out its consequences. He didn’t struggle against God’s will for His life, even when it led him to a brutal execution. You see, everything He did was perfect, and not just in the things he did, but the motives and the thoughts, too! That’s because Jesus was not just good guy, he was human but he was also God, perfect and holy… You might say Jesus is the very heart of God’s.
Now when we compare Jesus heart to ours we know that what we need is His…
It’s the most amazing thing… it’s really beyond our understanding… it’s so utterly different than anything our experience can understand… But Jesus is exactly what God gives to us. Our sinful prideful mind and heart immediately jump to the conclusion that we must have earned it, somehow. “I must have done something good!” But the God’s law is right there to show us that there is nothing we can do. Its real purpose is to show us our sin, because we will not believe in Jesus, we can’t have true faith, until the law shuts us up, and puts anything we would do out of the picture. We get this wonderful totally free gift of Jesus righteousness, God’s perfection, by faith. What Paul means by that is seeing that Jesus righteousness is now yours. In Paul’s words: we receive the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
That’s where that young monk’s struggle ended… in faith. When Martin Luther saw that the righteousness that he needed was his as God’s free gift he did what faith does. Be believed… he received… he hoped… and he lived in faith every day of his life from that moment on.
My dear Christians friends, it is just so for you and me. The very same gift is ours. We can’t earn it, we can work our way to deserve it. It is a gift. It is the most amazing thing in the whole world. Our sin, both the things we do, and the things we think and feel, that blackness and evil in the deepest part of our heart is covered up by righteousness of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. We do what faith does… We believe… we receive… we hope… and we live in faith every day, from this very moment on. For we hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
The issue of abortion is again prominent in our current political situation. It was addressed decisively by the Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945) who lived during the period when the National Socialist Party of Adolph Hitler ruled Germany (1933 – 1945) and was executed for his involvement in the resistance to Hitler. Although his opposition to National Socialism is well known and admired, his opposition to abortion is not widely known. It provides substantial support for confessional Lutherans.
Here are his statements on abortion as found in his book Ethics:
Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question of whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of its life. And that is nothing but murder.
A great many motives may lead to an action of this kind; indeed in cases where it is an act of despair, performed in circumstances of extreme human or economic destitution and misery, the guilt may often lie rather with the community than with the individual. Precisely in this connection money may conceal many a wanton deed, while the poor man’s more reluctant lapse may far more easily be disclosed. All these considerations must no doubt have a quite decisive influence on our personal and pastoral attitude towards the person concerned, but they cannot in any way alter the fact of murder.
Further information on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Resistance is available at GermanResistance.com
Christ and the German Resistance
Charles E. Ford, Ph.D.
Although Pr. Nour is addressing a South Dakota ballot issue his article ABORTION IT IS A SPIRITUAL ISSUE AND NOT A POLITICAL ONE hits home. Here's a sample.
Abortion is not an “election issue.” Abortion is a grave sin. Abortion assaults God’s Word of truth about the sanctity of human life and, therefore, assaults the Word Himself Who became flesh that we might have life and have it abundantly. Abortion is a sin against God who is the Author and Redeemer of Life. Abortion is not an “election, choice, or political issue.” Because abortion destroys human life–a life created in the image of its maker–the Lord Almighty. Abortion is a SPIRITUAL issue.
You can read the whole article here. http://www.afootwasher.org/2008/10/abortion-it-is-spiritual-issue-and-not.html
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle [Jesus] in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 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.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15-22, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Well, there it is, isn’t it? A text about politics. And very fitting so close to the election too. I struggled a lot about which text to preach today. And frankly, I just didn’t have the guts not to use this one. You’d all go home wondering what I would have said. So here we are, contemplating this text. But, if you’re expecting me to tell you who to vote for in a few weeks you’re going to be disappointed. I will tell you that there are some issues you should deeply consider. I for one, would find it very difficult to vote for any candidate who isn’t pro-life. It says something to me about the basic character of a person when they take a stand for protecting the rights of those who are the most helpless among us. But, this text really doesn’t talk about that.
At first look it looks like it talks about taxes, more specifically, paying taxes. The question you all want to know is, “Does God require us to pay taxes?” Actually, what you are looking for is a good reason NOT to pay them. Well, truthfully, I’m looking for a good reason NOT to pay taxes. But actually, this text isn’t really so much about that either.
You see, these guys who ask Jesus this question have thought it out ahead of time. They’ve set up the question very carefully. Note the word at the beginning. They “went and plotted how to entangle Jesus.” The Lutheran Hour preacher this morning said they were out to nail Jesus against the wall. The two groups of folks involved here are the Pharisees and the Herodians. Now these guys aren’t allies in any sense of the word. In fact, they are normally at odds. But they’ve come together to oppose Jesus. The enemy of my enemy is my friend kind of thing. The Pharisees hate Jesus because he’s got the people behind him. The Herodians hate Jesus because the Herods hold power as long as things run smoothly. Jesus threatens them both. So they plotted this question. To set up the context, it seems that there was a controversy about some of the coins that Pilate had made. It had an image of Caesar on it and an inscription that implied that he was a living god. This was very offensive to Jews and Pilate was already in hot water with Rome over some other issues. He made a new coin that was less objectionable. So this question is intended to entangle Jesus in a current controversy. The question? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Is designed to be a got-ya no matter how it is answered. It is a question to nail Jesus to the wall. If Jesus says, “Pay taxes.” He’s promoting the paying of taxes to the occupying force. This stand isn’t going to be very popular with the masses. If he says, “don’t pay taxes.” The Roman government is going to be very interested in him. But Jesus answers the question and gets out of the trap at the same time. He asks for a coin. “Whose image is on it? Whose name is on it?” “Caesar’s” is the answer. Then Jesus says something that is a very deep and important answer. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Jesus enemies “marvel.” I think you can say they were disappointed. Jesus has wiggled out of they’re trap. They have to find another way to get him. Actually, trying to nail Jesus to the wall is about like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.
So what about this response, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”?
Actually, Jesus response nails us to the wall. Now look at the back of the LWML insert. This is my favorite cartoon. It’s called Agnus Day. It’s a comic strip written by a Lutheran pastor and it goes along with the regular Sunday readings. (You can read it yourself on www.agnusday.org) These two sheep are named Rick and Ted. Rick is the sheep with the coffee. He always has coffee. He always has answers. Ted is the guy with all the questions.
Well, it is true isn’t it? Human beings were made in the image of God. If we are to give to God what is God’s then we should give ourselves to him, shouldn’t we? I like Ted’s last statement. Sounds just like we expect a stewardship committee to be like isn’t it? And Ted’s response is just like us. We don’t mind giving to the church but we sure don’t want to be told what to give, how much to give, or when to give. And this “giving ourselves” idea just sounds a bit cultish, a bit fundamental. The real problem is Jesus statement about giving to God nails us to the wall. We don’t want to belong to anyone. It’s counter to our culture. It goes against the American Dream. We have the flawed idea that what we are and what we have is ours. After all, we work hard to earn the money we use to buy the stuff we have. Sometimes we sacrifice to get ahead. We scrimp and save to get what we want. Or some of us just over spend our future on credit to get our stuff. If I’m gonna pay ten times what something is worth just so I can have it now I’m sure gonna call it mine. And here Jesus says we aren’t even our own. That’s just counter to our culture. Sometimes Jesus just rubs us the wrong way, doesn’t he? Sometimes we just don’t understand or even like what he says.
That’s kind of the reaction Jesus’ enemies had too. They got a bit tired of getting nailed by Jesus. They got a bit tired of being told they were the problem. They didn’t like the idea of being told how they were wrong about their religious ideas. And they certainly didn’t like Jesus. In fact, they hated him. Finally Jesus answers to the questions that were designed to get Jesus, got Jesus nailed to the cross.
You know, there is something else about this idea of giving to God what is God’s. We talked about being in God’s image, and that’s true. But also just like Caesar’s name is on the coin, God’s name is on us. He put it there with water. Holy Baptism is God claiming us as his. We belong to him. His name is right here, on our forehead and upon our hearts. Receive the sign of the cross both upon your forehead and your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified. (Rite of Holy Baptism, LSB p. 268) You’ve been marked with God’s name. And where his name is, God is with all his promises. It’s funny, in a way, because we don’t always like the idea. Sometimes we’d rather belong to ourselves. We’d rather give what belongs to God to ourselves. We think that we’ve been put here on earth to serve ourselves. St. Paul says it in 1 Corinthians:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV)
The price was Jesus nailed to the cross. Jesus crucified dead and buried to put to death the nature in us that wants serve itself. That’s what happens in Baptism. Luther says it like this:
What does such baptizing with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
When St. Paul says Glorify God in your body. He’s saying the same thing Luther says here and Jesus says. Give to God what is God’s.
And here we are right back to what Jesus said. When he says, give to God what is God’s he’s talking about living your life as a Baptized Child of God, a Christian. So what does that look like? Actually, there’s a way that that ties back to the first part of Jesus reply. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Jesus could very well be saying, do what you’ve been given to do when you’ve been given to do it. Pay taxes when you’ve been given taxes to pay. Work for the church when you’ve been given that work to do. Really, giving to God isn’t always about what happens here in this building. It’s also about you serving your neighbor in what you do every single day. Moms change diapers, teachers teach, truck drivers drive and factory workers make things. Each of these is both giving to Caesar and giving to God. Serving your neighbor in what you’ve been given to do every day to the best of your ability is living before God in righteousness and purity and serving God with your body.
And yet that old sinful nature pops up again and again, changing our work for our neighbor to work for us. Well, drown him again in Baptism. Jesus Christ died on the cross for that sin. It is washed away, drowned dead. You can serve God instead. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus . Amen.
Thanks Pr. Snyder for a clear discussion on "Baptismal Regeneration" and the Lutheran teaching on it.
Baptismal regeneration isn’t mere ancient tradition nor is it an invention of the Lutheran, Catholic, or other churches. The saving nature of Baptism is solid Lutheran doctrine based on the clear word of Holy Scripture. Peter plainly says, “Baptism ... saves you.” In 1 Peter 3:18-21, the apostle used the example of salvation by water “in the days of Noah (v. 20)” to illustrate the saving power of Baptism: “Baptism, which corresponds to [the Noahic Flood], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.... (v. 21, emphasis added)”
Read the whole article http://xrysostom.blogspot.com/2008/10/baptismal-blessings.html
Thanks to Gene Veith. Read this article Surging Amish Spreading Out from the Washington Post.
Apparently in spite of their rejection of modern conveniences the Amish are growing. Why? Bedroom evangelism and continuing catechesis. This is were mainline denominations are breaking down.
Dr. Veith comments:
What we need to work on is KEEPING young people in church. One of my students told me recently that of all the kids in his youth group–which focused on emotionalism and superficial games–he is the only one who is still in the faith. He credited his interest in apologetics and his realization that Christianity is TRUE. We need to admit that what I have called the stupid youth group tricks have failed and that we need to give our teenagers and young adults a Christianity that stands up to their lives. A good model is Higher Things.
With the elections coming Uwe offers some important thoughts. He speaks about what is really important in this year's election.
From the Article:
Some future day Americans and Western Europeans will be asked why they allowed their children to be slaughtered. They would even have less of an excuse than Germans of my grandparents’ and parents’ generation. In Germany, you risked your life if you dared to come to the Jews’ rescue. In today’s democracies the worst that can happen to you is being ridiculed for being “a Christian.”
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. And 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 forever; 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.” (Isaiah 25:6-9, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It will happened again. Sooner or later we’ll have to deal with it. Death will visit Trinity, Creston, sticking its bony fingers into our business. Members of this congregation will have to gather, with friends, and family around a loved one who has died. Death will come, and we will be left, sad, afraid and lonely. We don’t like the intrusion. We would just as soon be left to go about our regular business without having that visitor. We don’t want to suffer the separation from our loved ones; we don’t want to have to deal with the pain, and the loneliness. Most of all we don’t want to take the time to deal with our own mortality. Sooner or later, and we all hope later, that ugly visitor will be knocking on my door. And sooner or later, he’ll be at your door too. It doesn’t console us at all to know that death only comes to those who deserve it. We only need to look at ourselves to see that each and every one of us deserves it. “The wages of sin is death.” The bible shouts at us. The more we look at ourselves the more sin we see. From that little white lie that we told last week to the selfish lustful desires that come and invade our thoughts. The sin is present, unavoidably, unmistakably present. Yes, we see it and we know that when death comes we deserve it.
But, hey, we each come from a long line of deserving people. Deserving parents give birth to deserving children. When those cute little babies are born, we press our noses to the nursery glass, hoping to see ourselves in their features. We hope our best traits have been past on. “Oh, look at that adorable little baby, she has her father’s eyes. Oh look; she has her mother’s nose...” The comment we never hear or say is “Eck, she has her parent’s sin.” But parents deserving death always pass on their least attractive trait. She has her parent’s sin. She deserves death too. She will live her whole life in that dark shadow. The dark shadow of death cast by her unavoidable inheritance. She takes her place in a very long line of deserving people.
“Oh, Pastor.” You are saying, “I thought today’s theme was party, party, party. You sure know how to kill a party. What happened to the party?” Well, the truth is this, Death has crashed the party, and he’s out there, rattling around in our lives, stalking us at work and lurking about in our house. Death is a real part of our everyday lives and that’s exactly why we are here today. It’s exactly because God had done something about death’s shadowy intrusion that we have a reason to have a party. In a sense, all the things we do here are a party. Worship is a party. Each time we gather here on Sunday we have a victory celebration. We revel in Christ’s victory over death on Easter Sunday. We sing joyful songs of praise, and gather around party food, a feast of bread and wine at the Lord’s Table. Today is a party to remind us, that even when Death seems to have the victory, Jesus Christ is the true victor. Death doesn’t stand a chance before the one who faced death, a brutal, horrible, bloody death, but broke through death and rose again to live again.
Isaiah is a true artist; he paints us a picture of a party. He calls it a “feast of fat things.” He didn’t worry about cholesterol. Isaiah knew the best parts of the meat were the fatty parts and the marrow, where all the flavor is. “… the stakes were this thick!” He might say today. “and the wine…” Isaiah says rolling his eyes for effect, “it’s the best wine that there is. It’s the oldest and clearest; it’s the stuff that’s left on the dregs (the stuff in the fermenting vat), extra long. It’s the wine that has the most flavor. Every drop was to be savored. The feast, the party that Isaiah is describing is the kind that was reserved for only the most special occasions: Marriage and other very important events in a family or victory over enemies. “This party,” Isaiah says, “is because the LORD has done something about death! There is a mountain,” Isaiah says still painting a picture for us, “and on it he is going to destroy the thing that we all live in fear of; the burial shroud that covers us, death itself, is going to be destroyed. The Lord will remove it tear it to pieces and it will not bother us any longer! Then on that mountain we are all going to have a party!”
Where is the mountain that Isaiah was talking about? It’s a mountain that we all know about, is a “green hill far away.” It’s the mountain where Jesus Christ destroyed the shroud of death that covered us. He took that shroud from our sin burdened shoulders and placed it upon his own sinless body. He wore it for us, wrapped up in it as he bled and died on the cross. It clung to him for three days, tying to hold him. But, Jesus Christ is the master of that shroud, he his more powerful than death, and he broke free from its power removing it from us forever. That is the victory celebrated that Isaiah was celebrating, that is the victory that we are celebrating today again. It’s Jesus victory that removes the curse and the power that death holds over us. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin… Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Sin causes death, death is out there but the resurrection of Jesus Christ proves his victory over it… proves it’s powerlessness in our lives as well, because God has promised us that same victory when he called us his own, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That’s our promise that we too will be raised. Death will take us, but just like Jesus, it cannot and will not hold us, because our Savior has proven that he is stronger than death.
And some day soon, our strong Savior will return, he has promised that, too. When he does, death won’t even be able to stalk us any longer. It has now already lost its power. It is now already nothing to fear. On that great day, it will be no more. There will be no death to bring separation from our loved ones. There will be no death to cause pain and loneliness. There will be no more death, period… its cold dark shadow will be obliterated by the Light of the Living Son of God.
Now picture the party again, the feast on that day. There are long tables as far as the eye can see. They are stacked with food. There are huge dark crusty loafs of hot bread. The steam rises off each one, fresh from the oven. The smell is more than you can stand. The tables are so crowed with serving dishes, the plates hang off the edge… if you try to push them so they don’t; everything else moves. There are giant goblets, full of dark red wine; the tablecloth has pink spots from the great red drops that have fallen from each and every one. You are sitting there, elbow to elbow, with your family and friends; your plate has never been empty. And is seems as if there are children everywhere… well you all feel like children anyway. That pain in your back doesn’t bother you any more; you don’t even remember what it felt like. It is noisy and happy. There is singing… you join in from time to time, because you know each and every word, they just come flowing out of you as natural as breath. And the center of it all is Jesus. Standing, arms open wide. You’ve already been with him, leaned upon his breast and cried tears of joy. You saw the marks in his hands and feet and side. He is the reason you are there. His love lights the whole feast. It will never end… the joy, the singing, and the feasting… with the resurrected Savior.
That is what our worship is all about. It is a little party to remind us that the great party, the mother-of-all parties that is coming. Today we sing praises to the host of the party; at the great party there will be unending songs of praise. Today we feast on bread and wine, Christ’s own body and blood; these are the seal of the promise of the great feast to come. Look around you and see your brothers and sisters in Christ, they’ll be seated around you at that party, too. I can’t wait!
Yes, death is still out there. It still claims its victims, one by one, and it will claim each of us. Today’s feast… this great party… is a reminder that death’s visit is not a cause for fear. Death’s sting is gone. Jesus, our Savior, has swallowed up death and destroyed it forever. Today, at our little party, we repeat the wonderful words of Isaiah, and we will say them again at the great feast, “This is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation." Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet. (Matthew 21:33-46, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
For like the third Sunday in a row, we’ve got Jesus confronting the scribes and Pharisees with a parable. Last week he trapped them into a corner with the parable of the two sons, telling them that the lowest folks of society were way ahead of them in spiritual matters. Before that he asked them where John’s the Baptizer’s Baptism came from. Today he makes them out to be deadbeat tenets only looking out for their own self interest. This should put to bed any notion that Jesus was always meek and mild. He confronted those who held false belief and he did it directly, so much so, that they wanted him dead. But they couldn’t get it done because they were afraid of the crowds. What Jesus does here in this parable is nothing less than a direct confrontation. He takes a well known passage from the prophet Isaiah and he drops it right in the laps of the scribes and Pharisees. The problem they had was that they didn’t seem themselves in the story. Listen again to verse one and two of Isaiah Chapter 5.
Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. (Isaiah 5:1-2, ESV)
These religious leaders saw the fault of the vineyard somewhere else. They looked at the sinful folks around them, the folks who didn’t keep the regulations they set up for themselves and they saw them as the sour grapes, the ones who were the cause of God’s anger. They said to themselves, “at least I’m better than those folks over there.”
But Jesus changes the plot. The owner of the vineyard took great care in making a vineyard that would produce the best wine there could be. He put renters in charge of it and went away. So far everyone is comfortable. The scribes and the Pharisees listening to Jesus are sure they know where the story is going. The vineyard is going to produce sour grapes. In their eyes the issue is the bad fruit; bad fruit, bad people. In their eyes there was nothing worse than the folks that were hanging around Jesus. They were sinners; broken people with broken lives; not keeping God’s laws. But the enemies of Jesus have fallen right into Jesus trap. They certainly don’t see themselves as bad fruit. They live their live according to all the rules. They are the renters who are trying to get good fruit. But the trees keep making bad. They probably looked over the crowd around Jesus with a certain look of satisfaction.
Jesus continues the story. When the time came to pay the rent, the renters revolted. The owner sent servant after servant to collect what was owed. But they beat them and killed them. This is a twist that the scribes and Pharisees didn’t see coming. Jesus has lured them in to a false sense of security and lowered the boom. There is no mistaking what Jesus is saying. These religious leaders are just like the ones in the past that beat and killed the prophets that God had sent before. The bible is full of example after example. This is an ugly turn for the scribes and Pharisees they are used to being the heroes, but Jesus has made them the villains. Everyone knows it. Jesus knows it. The crowds of low life people around Jesus know it. And most importantly, the scribes and Pharisees know it. Jesus carries the story one more unbelievable step farther. He tells the scribes and Pharisees exactly what they are going to do with him. Finally the vineyard owner sent his son. The tenants saw their opportunity to be free from the owner once and for all. If they kill the heir they’ll have the vineyard for themselves. The owner won’t have anyone to give it to when he dies. So they kill the son. They throw him out of the vineyard and kill him. Then Jesus turns again and asks these guys a question. They are in trouble again. “When the owner comes back what’s he going to do?” The scribes and Pharisees have to answer. Everyone is looking at them. Everyone knows the parable is about them. What they have to say is self condemning. “He’s gonna kill them and give the vineyard to someone else.” There must have been some kind of mummer in the crowd, some chuckling, some guffaws’, and maybe even a bit if light cheering. Jesus has really knocked these guys down to size. And in a final pounce he finishes them off. Don’t you guys read your bible?
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? (Matthew 21:42, ESV)
They want Jesus dead. In public he accuses them of being sinners. He embarrasses them in front of the people. He made them out to be the bad fruit. They are sure they are more faithful than the average sinner on the street. They did all the right stuff. They worked hard at keeping all the rules. They were convinced that God loved them more because of what they did. Jesus simply says no. He points out their sin. They think what they do is more important than what God has done. God prepared the vineyard with great care to produce fruit. He did everything necessary. They were there to tend it turn it over when the time came. They have failed to take care of the fruit. But Jesus confrontation is really a call for repentance. Jesus has convicted them of their sin. He offers free forgiveness to all. They should bow at his feet and receive it. Instead of repentance they wanted Jesus dead.
Well, we aren’t the scribes and Pharisees. We haven’t outright rejected Jesus. And so this parable doesn’t speak directly to us in that way. But we can see Jesus’ call for repentance here for us as well. As the church we don’t always live up to God’s desires for us do we? All you have to do is look at all that God has given us. Just like that vineyard, where our Lord did everything necessary for there to be good fruit, he does the same for us here. We have his word every week, and even during the long time without a pastor, God provided for us here. Even though at times it was discouraging, you can clearly see God’s hand a work, his love for his people, showing through the work of all those who faithfully carried out the tasks necessary to keep the church up and running. You know I can’t help thinking about our church when I read the Isaiah passage. The church on the fertile crest of a hill, the rocky ground behind us, a watchtower, and the choice vines; it just sounds like us. God doesn’t call us to be anything other than faithful tenants.
To be sure, we aren’t going to live up to God’s perfect expectations. And be sure God only expects perfection from people. We’ll miss opportunities that are laid right in front of us. We’ll make mistakes in caring for each other. We’ll have disagreements that will drive us crazy. We’ll mis-communicate and misunderstand. That’s because we are sinful people. Sinful people do sinful things. That’s one of the things I’ve been telling you as I visit with you in your homes. The church is a family. We’re going to have the same kind of issues you have in your families. You see, God should march in here with his army and cast us all out, and put us to a miserable death. But that’s not what happens, is it? The Son of the Owner is cast out. He is put to a miserable death. Jesus dies on the cross for us because we misunderstand each other, drive each other crazy, forget to do what we should do, and mistreat each other, and miss opportunities to serve. Not to mention our reluctance to bring the message of God’s love in Jesus to those folks around us every day. God calls us to be faithful. So how are we faithful if we are such poor tenants? The question isn’t weather we sin or not, the question is what happens when we do. In the church, in this vineyard we always deal with all sin in the same way. Jesus calls us to repentance. He takes the law and puts it in our face. We see clearly that we should come to a wretched end. Then Jesus assures us of the forgiveness He has for us. He was cast out, punished, and put to death, for us.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are a family. We are stuck together. You and I are the baptized children of God. We are going to struggle with each other just as any family does. The cause is sin, and we are all sinful. It isn’t a question of if, it is a question of how. How do we deal with issues when they come? Just like Jesus, we offer forgiveness. That baptism you’ve received is God’s way of connecting you to Jesus forgiveness. Your brothers and sisters in Christ here are connected to it also. When we have trouble here, we point to Jesus, we forgive, we fix, and we find a way to move forward. Guess what, that brings us back to where we started. The vineyard, perfectly prepared with all we need. Baptism that connects us together in Jesus; God’s Word to guide; The Lord’s Supper to feed and forgive; and brothers and sister to keep us accountable and give us encouragement. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.