Sunday, September 25, 2005

19th Sunday after Pentecost, Aug 25, Matt 21:28-32

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 25th, 2005

St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City

Matthew 21:28-32, ESV

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

So, I wonder, which “son” are you? That is what Jesus is getting at here isn’t it? To ask the question that Jesus asks. “What do you think?” Are you like the son who insults his father, refusing to do what he is obligated to do, but has a change of heart and goes out and works? Or are you more like the son who eagerly answers his father saying he’ll go, but then changes his mind blows off the work and does something different? Isn’t that after all what Jesus is asking us? Isn’t he asking us to choose which of the two sons is the best one? Wouldn’t he like us to be more like the “better” one? So even more importantly than the doesn’t Jesus use this parable to tell us how to live?

Let’s look at it a little closer: The father didn’t ask his first son to do something difficult. He simply asked him to do what he was obligated to do. “Go work in the field today.” He said. It was like any other chore a father would ask, take out the garbage, wash the car, and walk the dog. It was a request just like you received from your father. It was perfectly with the bounds of fatherhood to ask the work be done. But the son answered, “I will not! I don’t want any chores. I want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it! and to heck with you, Dad.” Later on this son thought better of his words, changed his mind and went out and worked as his father asked.

Now the old German in us will quickly point out that at least the work got done. And that’d be fine but God our Father never just wants the work done. He wants us to have the right attitude. He says for things to be good, for good works to be acceptable to him, our heart has to be in it, we can’t just go through the motions. The folks standing around Jesus understood the boy wasn’t living up to expectation. There’s nothing good in what the son says to his father. He may as well have said “Father I want you dead!” So what if he changed his mind and went. The parable doesn’t say anything about being sorry for the way he treated his fatter. It says nothing about doing the work because he had a sense of obligation, or even that he felt guilty. Jesus asked who did the father’s will. Well, not this guy. It’s true he got the work done but it doesn’t look like his heart was in it.

Well, doesn’t that put us in our place as well? How many times do we end up working for God out of guilt? How often do we grudgingly drop the envelope in the collection plate? God loves a cheerful giver, He tells us. But what if you can’t be cheerful? God demands more of us than going through the motions of worship. He wants our whole heart. This father didn’t have his son’s whole heart. That were we often fall short of God’s will, too. So very often our bodies are here but our hearts are out in the bean field…

The second son was also asked to go and work. The father’s request was the same. And this son answered right away that he’d do what his father asked. I’m sure the father was happy with the answer. At least one of his sons was listening, and obeying. Later on, though, this son also changed his mind. He didn’t go out to work as he said he would. He found something more important to do.

I don’t know if the boy really wanted to help his father or not. I don’t know if he was feeding him a line. But the fact is he didn’t do what his father asked. Either he lied, or he was lazy. It really doesn’t matter. At the heart of it is not obeying his father. Now it’s very hard not to see ourselves doing that very thing with God, too. God asks us to defend all life, especially helpless children, like those who have yet to be born. God asks us to feed the poor without regard to how we’ll be repaid. God asks us to visit the sick and the lonely, even the ones who are not members of our families. God asks us to speak about Jesus at every opportunity. We gladly say we will. We brightly make promises. But often we just don’t follow through. Other things crowd out our willingness. Things like fear, and pride, or just plain laziness. And the work our Father has asked us to do goes without being done.

Well, now you’ve done it pastor. You’ve taken away both choices. Jesus asked which one did the will of the father. You’ve made it so that neither one is any good. You’ve made them both out to be scoundrels. You’ve taken away our real lesson for today. Doesn’t Jesus want us to be like the son show actually gets the work done? Isn’t that what he’s getting at, get the church work done?

Well, as important as getting everything done around here is, that’s not Jesus point. What he wants is for people to see the real problem of sin. He tells us parables like this one so we find ourselves painted into the corner. The best answer to Jesus question is neither. And that’s exactly the point here. He paints people into corners where they can’t see any way out but him.

He first spoke this parable to the chief priests and elders. He gave them a question that they couldn’t He had done the same thing before. When Jesus was preaching and healing in the temple they questioned his authority to do all the things he was doing. “Who says you can do the things you are doing, and say the things you are saying?” And Jesus confronted them. He asked them a question to answer their question. Speaking about John the Baptist,

Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Matthew 21:24-27, ESV)

Since they had answered, “I don’t know” in front of everyone before they didn’t dare not give an answer to Jesus’ question about the sons. But, to be sure, they were hardly happy with the answer they gave. And Jesus sharply turns their answer against them. He pronounced God’s law and convicted them of their sin by comparing them to the second son. The very one they said was the worst of the two. They claimed to be living in God’s will, but they refused to listen to John the Baptizer’s words about God coming into the world in Jesus. They refused to admit their sin. They refused to believe. They changed their minds about God and turned away from His Word and the promises given in Jesus. And then as if to pour salt on the wound, Jesus told them that the people chief priest and elders considered lost forever because of their sin, were closer to God than they were. The sinful hearts of tax collectors and prostitutes were changed by John’s preaching, and they believed. They repented their sin, believed in Jesus and found forgiveness with their Father.

This text, this parable of Jesus isn’t about how we should live at all, but it does tell us about how we do live. We make bad decisions. We hid our true motives. We fall short just like both sons. The will of God is not to do what either son did, but to say, “Yes, I will,” and then actually carry out what we say we’ll do. Anything less is sin. Anything less is not God the Father’s will. Anything less deserves punishment.

But I wonder if you’ve seen the third Son in the parable. There is another. There’s a Son who isn’t like either of the other sons. He obeyed the His Father’s will. He says He’ll go and do the work, and He actually goes. And not only that, He does the work fully and completely, perfectly. The Third Son is the one telling the parable. There’s a hymn by Martin Luther that tells it so clearly (LW 353, Dear Christians, One and All)

God said to his beloved Son:
"It’s time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of my crown,
And bring to all salvation;
From sin and sorrow set them free;
Slay bitter death for them that they
May live with you forever."

The Son obeyed his Father’s will,
Was born of virgin mother;
And God’s good pleasure to fulfill,
He came to be my brother.
His royal power disguised he bore,
A servant’s form, like mine, he wore
To lead the devil captive.

"Though he will shed my precious blood,
Of life me thus bereaving,
All this I suffer for your good;
Be steadfast and believing.
Life will from death the victory win;
My innocence shall bear your sin;And you are blest forever.

That’s what this parable of Jesus is about. Jesus doing God’s will. Jesus coming in human flesh to take away the sins of the world. Jesus removing the guilt of God’s sons and daughtgers with poor attitudes and lazy hearts. Jesus taking the punishment for forgetful and prideful sons and daughters.

That’s just it, too. Sin backs us into corners. We find ourselves painted in with no where to go. God plucks us out of the corner and saves us. Through the Holy Spirit’s work in Word and Sacrament, He gives us new lives and hearts that want to do His will. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives He makes good on our promise to do what He has asked, and get the job done. And most importantly through His Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit works in our lives to offer us forgiveness when we fall short. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

18th Sunday after Pentecost, Sepember 18, 2005, Matt 20:1-6

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 18, 2005 (Listen to the MP3)

St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City

Thanks to Rev. Edward O. Grimenstein (Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol 15, part 4)

Matt 20:1-6

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ

Bob was an unemployed man. He had a terrible time finding work. It really wasn’t his fault the economy was tough. But he had children to feed, house payments to make, and living expenses. But work was hard to come by so he hung around the employment offices every day hoping to get lucky. He went early, the early bird, tying to be hired for a full day’s work. But there was no who would hire him. As the day dragged on hour by hour he felt that full day’s work slip away. At noon hope faded, and by late after noon he was so sure that there would be no work for him, he sat down in despair. Today would be an unproductive day. His children would be hungry tonight. Then a man came and hurriedly called out for workers. “It couldn’t be much,” the Bob thought, “but an hour or two would be better than nothing at all.” So he went. When he got to the field he was shown what to do, but he had hardly worked at all when the foreman told them all it was quitting time. What a waste of time, Bob thought. The little bit I’ve earned won’t even buy bread for the table. But even with his down spirits he lined up for his pay. And then the most amazing thing happened. Instead of pennies, Bob received a full day’s wage.

“This can’t be right,” he meekly protested. “I’ve only worked a few minutes. I don’t deserve this wage.”

“That’s right,” the owner answered him, “You don’t deserve it, but I want to give it to you anyway. It’s my gift to you. I want to be generous. Take it. Go home. Feed your family. Sleep well.” The puzzled worker quietly said “thank you” and left for home.

Well, that’s not the kind of story you hear everyday, is it? That’s not the way things work in the real world. This kind of naive boss isn’t going to stay in business very long. His generosity isn’t very smart, that kind of thing goes against the nature of the world. It even goes against what how we think bosses should act. In fact, we probably think the owner is rather foolish. People should be paid fairly. The should get a check just for what they earn and not a penny more. A full day’s pay should come after a full day’s work. This kind of charity just makes for lazy people. Just think about how angry you’d be if you were among the people who had slaved all day and gotten the same wage as the slacker. At least the full day people earned what they got. That’s why God invented time clocks. Everything in life should be fair. Your employer shouldn’t short you. And he should dole out cash to people who don’t earn it. The next guy should paid for what he works. Everyone should get paid what they deserve to get paid.

Once again Jesus parable tells us something different. It stand up in our face and tells us that God doesn’t work the way we think He should work. It says that God’s ways aren’t ours ways. It was in the first reading for today, God spoke to his people through Isaiah:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Jesus says the same thing in the parable about the workers. It doesn’t seem fair that people should receive a full day’s wage for a very short day’s work. But, Jesus tells us that that’s the kind of God we have. And if we don’t listen to what He says carefully, if we don’t understand what He’s talking about it will certainly rub us the wrong way.

In this parable we usually put on the all-day-worker’s work boots. We stand in the place of the “good guy, hard worker.” “That’s me!” We say. They deserved the pay. We think somehow that we deserve the things we receive from God. We’re faithful lifelong members of the church. We sit in the pews Sunday after Sunday even if we don’t like the preacher. We’ve sat on boards, and faithfully maintained the church property. We’ve slaved and sacrificed just trying to make sure the doors stay open. Isn’t that worth something? Isn’t that a fair day’s work? We sit down and calculate it all out and think we’ve got a pretty full time card. And after all that good work, isn’t God obligated to pay us something? If I’m faithful, God has to be faithful, too. And it must be working too, because I’ve got lots of good things going in my life.

Well, if we balance out the time card with the rest of our life we’ll see that we don’t deserve anything at all from God. As far as God is concerned we’ve blown it. We’ve left God’s Word out of our lives. Our bibles set on the bookshelf collecting dust. God asks us to live our lives by His Word, we are lazy enough to think Sunday morning is enough. We’ve dropped the ball when it comes to helping our neighbor. We are selective with our help, looking for those who seem to deserve it. Or those who will appreciate help. And if we’ve missed one opportunity to tell the good news about Jesus we’ve missed a thousand. We speak more about what we really believe in a few seconds of silence, than if we spoke an hour. We are far from that. We hold on to what we think is important, trying to balance the church books, instead of caring for the lost and hurting people who live in this very town. You see, our works, the things we are so proud of are not much in God’s eyes. They are corrupted by our selfishness, pride and laziness. And worse than that God demands that we be perfect. Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:48, ESV). If we set our hearts against all that we think we’ve done, we see very clearly that we don’t deserve any wages at all from God, let alone a full day’s wage.

Fortunately! God doesn’t use our time card. He doesn’t compare our thoughts and our deeds and our actions. He doesn’t do a yearly employee evaluation. God gives us exactly what we don’t deserve. God’s gifts to us are just that, gifts. And we receive them they are a surprise. When God gives and we compare His gifts with our sinful lives, we stand before God with our mouths hanging open. “God, I don’t deserve the life you’ve given me. I’ve sinned in thought word and deed by what I have done and by what I have left undone… I’ve done terrible things in my life. I’ve been poorest example of a Christian, especially for the people who know me. I haven’t treated my husband, as I should. I’ve cheated my boss. I’ve horded the money you given me instead of caring for the people nearest to me who need it. I’ve really blown it… I don’t deserve anything from you…” We hold out our time card to God with a shaky hand. Knowing that the balance what we’ve done is nothing worth any kind of payment, except punishment.

But, God takes your time card and says, “This time card is unacceptable,” and he tears it up in little pieces. And then, instead of giving you what you deserve, punishment for your sinful life, anger at offering your meager and corrupted works to Him, he gives you what exactly what you don’t deserve. And it’s more than a day’s wage. He pays you with something you could never afford, something you could never earn. It’s not just life that ends in death, either. He gives eternal life instead of eternal punishment. It is a completely full life. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10) that abundant life begins in faith in Jesus Christ. Faith given with the pouring of water and the placeing of His Name on you. I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God says, “New life begins with the giving of my name and it goes on and on forever. God gives us his very life. Jesus says, “Here is my life for yours. You didn’t earn it. I did! You don’t deserve it. I do! It’s my gift to you because I love you.” And He points to the bloody cross, where He died to cancel out all the lousy work that you and I have done. He points to His perfect life, all the good and perfect things He did; His complete love for his neighbors; His perfect compassion for the sick; His over abundant feeding the hungry; His perfectly even and fair treatment of all people regardless of social status and gratefulness; His speaking the truth clearly when it needed to be spoken; His condemning of sin and error; and His love for his enemies even those who killed him; His whole life lived in complete perfect obedience to God the Father’s will, even though it meant the cross. God shows you Jesus’ time card. It’s full of good work and overflowing. “This is what I’ll use to determine what you deserve. Jesus worked out this time card for you. Your wages are not death, but eternal life.” Wow! Just think how Bob the worker in the parable felt, blessed. That’s you and me, blessed beyond our deserving.

Well, does that mean we don’t have to do anything? Should we resign our boards, quit sending money to the Food Pantry? No! God says clearly that faith goes hand in hand with works. Think about the passage I read to you a couple of weeks ago:

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:15-18, ESV)

Notice that the passage doesn’t say that we give the good stuff we do to God. We can’t earn the gifts He gives us by helping our neighbor. The point of doing good works, the point of punching the time card, is helping our neighbor. We don’t need to impress God by working hard. We work hard to show our neighbor the wonderful God, who supplies them with what they need. God blesses us with wonderful earthly gifts, so that we can be a blessing to others. We do it through faith, that God has given us all that we need and more, eternal life through Jesus death on the cross. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hurricane Relief - September 10, 2005

St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City

You know, I’ve been paying close attention to all the mess down south. Maybe you too have been glued to the TV pictures, and 24 hour CNN coverage. My heart goes out to the thousands of suffering people. In a way it reminds me so much of those old UNICEF commercials, that have the starving child, with flies buzzing around their heads. We don’t like this view of our country, after all this is the United States of America; we are unique in time, blessed by God to be a blessing to the whole world. This just makes us look bad, like the third world, unable to care for ourselves. You might have even said to yourself, “This isn’t my country.”

And another thing I’ve been thinking, I can’t help, I don’t want to think it, but it keeps rolling around in my brain. Why didn’t those people just listen to the government and get out of there when they had the chance? What kind of a person breaks the window of a mom a pop store to carry off a big flat screen TV, when they don’t have a dry bed to sleep in? Don’t those people understand that shooting at rescue workers is only making matters worse? In other words, “How foolish can you be? What kind of fools are living down there in all that water?

I know, well at least I’ve been told, that they really aren’t to blame with the storm and all. There were lots of breakdowns in planning, there should have been more done on all levels of government. Certainly it’s hard to blame someone who has never had the means to get the good stuff in life from taking the one-in-life-time opportunity to have it. But, you’ve really got to wonder what those people are thinking. You saw the pictures just as I did: people wading through filthy waist high water floating tiny barges of potato chips and coke, and TVs. I just wanted to scream at them, “Wake up! You’ve got to get out! Forget that stuff, you need fresh water and real food, you need clean clothes and a warm dry place to sleep.” But there they were, grinning at me from their muddy water walkway. It was almost as if they were saying to me, drop me some MRE’s so I can steal another computer. Well, it’s just isn’t very Christian of me is it… but it’s the way I felt. The world is full of foolish people. If they want to shoot at the rescue workers the world is better off with out them. These aren’t the heroes of the Trade Center are they? They aren’t easy to love. Who would want to give anything to “fools” like these? Who would want to help people who don’t seem to understand a basic American idea like a hard day’s work for a fair day’s wage? Who wants to waste their hard earned money on foolish people?

It kind of takes all the compassion out of it, doesn’t it. After all, why would we want to be seen taking care of those people, why would we want to be seen in the company of “Tax collectors and sinners?”

Oops! What did you say? “Tax collectors and sinners?” How did you get there? Well, that’s the people that Jesus was caught hanging out with and helping. That’s the people the weren’t liked, that’s the people that were seen as foolish in those days. They foolishly ignored the social rules of the day. They foolishly cooperated with the Roman government to bilk money out of their countrymen. The crippled and the sick were foolish enough to sin in a way that drew God’s attention, how else do you explain their disease? So when the Pharisees asked Jesus disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matt 9:11) They were really asking, “why does he spend his time on foolish people? Why does he hang out with people who aren’t worth the trouble? Why does he speak to them and care for them? They cause their own troubles, let them live in them. They are just foolish people who don’t know what’s going on.

And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:12-13, ESV)
Think about the faces of the “foolish” people you’ve seen on TV. Think about their greed and selfishness, think about their blindness to the reality of the danger, think about their wonton destruction of property, and whatever else you saw that you hated about them. Then think about Jesus hanging on the cross. He shed his blood for them, in their need. He suffered the nails through his hands and feet and the thorns on his head because of their sin. He had the ones who shot at rescue workers in his eyes as he closed them in death. These foolish people are the very people Christ shed His blood to save. And now look in your heart and see the sin of self-superiority. See the blackness of racism. See your the unhealthy attitudes toward the poor. Jesus says, if you call your brother “You fool!” you will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matt 5:22) You’ve done it. I’ve done it. We’ve let our compassion bleed away into contempt. When Jesus wants us to show mercy, we give a sluggish response. It seems that we too are in need of a Savior. It seems that you and I are foolish in our own way. But the Good News it that we are not left out. His blood was shed for you. His blood was shed for me. We need the Physician because we are sin sick. And Jesus is ours.
What a wonderful thing it is to say to our God, “Have mercy!” and know that our sins are forgiven, even our foolish thoughts and lack of action. What a wonderful thing it is to confess our sins to each other by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault… and hear the forgiveness of Christ spoken right to us. What a wonderful thing it is to receive the forgiveness we need through the very body and blood of Christ that hung on the cross for foolish people everywhere. That’s me, I need the blood of Jesus very much. That’s you, you need the blood of Jesus very much. What a wonderful thing it is to be able to share the Good News of Jesus with those who really need it. That’s the foolish people you’ve seen and heard about in the hurricane ravaged south. They need the blood of Jesus, very much. They need Good News about a Savior, and now, they have other needs, too. St. James said it like this,

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:14-18, ESV)

They need food and water and dry places to sleep and live. In the end they’ll need jobs and permanent housing. We are always in danger of being Lazy Lutherans. We are saved by faith alone without works. And that’s very true. But as James clearly tells us where there is faith there is also works. They go hand-in-hand. It’s a useless corn stalk that never grows an ear, useless beans never flower and put on pods. The opportunity for us is to live out our faith and live it out right now. There are many ways to help. Right now the most urgent need is cash. You can serve by giving money to organization that will bring them much needed supplies…

LCMS World Relief Video

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.