The Vineyard of Grace – Sermon for Septuagesima on Matthew 20:1-16

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Matthew 20:1–16

1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Hiring the Laborers in the VineyardIn the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Too often, we forget that Jesus lived in history. Just as we have well-known stories in our day that form and shape our understanding of the world, so did Jesus and the people of His day. Today, if someone says, “I have a Cinderella story to tell you…” you know how the story will go – rags to riches. Well, in Jesus’ day, there was a famous parable that is remarkably similar to this one before us. This parable had been told during the funeral sermon of a well-known rabbi who died when he was only twenty-eight years old. The parable went like this:

A king hired laborers to work in his vineyard. After watching the men work for a couple of hours, he noticed one had a lot more ability than the rest. So, the king invited that laborer to spend the rest of the day with him eating and relaxing while the rest continued to work. At the end of the day, the king lined everyone up to pay them. The one who only worked two of the twelve hours was paid the same as those who had worked all day. The others complained. But the king replied, “This man worked with so much skill that he accomplished as much in two hours as you did in twelve. So, don’t complain; I’m being fair.”

Santa's Nughty ListThe point of this parable at the twenty-eight-year-old’s funeral was that this famous rabbi had done enough good works to go to heaven early. In other words, be good, do good, and get rewarded. Santa Claus anyone?

Now, there is a kernel of truth to that parable. It is right, proper, and just to reward good works. If you tell your kids they cannot play outside until their rooms are clean and one gets it done more quickly, it is right to not make them wait until the other is finished. The same goes for everyday life. Rewarding good works is the expected thing. It is fair and right to pay according to work done. But there is no grace in that.

Jesus’ parable this morning stands that other parable on its head. Our Lord isn’t teaching about fair wages or justice. He is teaching us about grace. Jesus retells the well-known parable, and in Jesus’ version, a bunch of lazybones who show up just before the checks are written get paid as though they had worked all day.

This is how it is in the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, bums who don’t work get rewarded for the work of others. But too often, we complain about this just like those in the parable.

When others are happy or blessed, we grumble and complain. We get covetous and envious. When someone gets a shiny, new toy, we think of all the reasons they don’t deserve it. We murmur to ourselves and others that they must have cheated someone else or gotten it by some undeserving means.

Because of our sin, we like generosity and mercy when we benefit, but not when others do. In our pride, we can even become embarrassed when we receive a generous gift or a simple act of kindness. Think of the rabid feminists who believe that a man opening a door for a woman is an act of micro-aggression.

We are prideful people who are always measuring. We look at our lives and works and compare them against those of the people around us, and somehow, we always end up on top. We keep score and expect God to notice. But then, when things go wrong, when we recognize our failures, our pride causes us to swing into despair. But even in our despair, we keep measuring. We know that we don’t measure up. And our despair makes us wonder if God loves us. Repent.

Repent and see the comfort of this parable. It teaches us that the kingdom of God is not a kingdom of fairness or equal pay. If that were the case, if God’s kingdom was where people got what they deserved, we would all spend eternity in hell. God’s kingdom, God’s vineyard, is a vineyard of grace.

With the Gospel, there is no room for pride or boasting in what we do because there is no doing on our part. Everything has been done by Christ, and we simply benefit because of His work. We who were dead in our sins, enemies of God, and children of wrath are raised, pardoned, and transferred into God’s kingdom.

Rescued from DeathAnd, with the Gospel, there is no room for despair. God’s love has been poured out for you to save you. In Christ, God has won your salvation on the cross. On the cross, Jesus bore the heat of the day, the heat of God’s wrath. And you, believer, get His wages.

Rejoice. The kingdom of heaven is the opposite of the kingdoms of men. You don’t earn. You don’t pay. The goods are given for free. It would drive any man-made business into the ground, but God doesn’t care. God isn’t out to make a living. He is out to give away His kingdom.

In Christ’s kingdom, grace reigns, sins are forgiven, and wretched orphans are made to be beloved children. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Beautiful Savior – Sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord on Matthew 17:1-9

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Matthew 17:1-9

1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

transfiguration-iconIn the name of Jesus. Amen.

Peter, James, and John get to see Jesus in His divine glory. They get to see the dazzling white clothes and Jesus’ face shine like the sun. Peter, James, and John are very blessed to see Jesus’ glory on the mountain of Transfiguration.

John wrote about the glory he saw in the opening verses to his Gospel. “We have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14b).

Peter wrote about it too in our Epistle lesson today (1 Pet. 1:16-21). “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received glory from God the Father, and the voice was born to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice was borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.”

In this text we see why we confess in the Nicene Creed that Jesus is, “God of God, Light of light, very God of very God.” And it is truly awesome.

There with Jesus are Moses and Elijah. We don’t know how the three disciples knew it was Moses and Elijah. Maybe Jesus greeted them by name. But these two pillars of the Old Testament are there talking with Jesus. And Peter rightly recognizes, “Lord it is good that we are here. I’d love to make three tabernacles here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

We like Peter’s idea. We want to hold on to certain pleasant or awesome moments and avoid others that make us uneasy or uncomfortable. There are times when we get caught up in an incredible experience and want it to last forever. We want the glory to stick around and the exhilaration to continue. But whenever we have a “mountaintop experience,” it does eventually go away. We are changed by those moments, but the time comes when the buzz starts to fade. The recollection dims, and we are left with only the memories.

Those feelings and emotions are good things. They are gifts from God, but they are not the most important things. Too often, those feelings become like a drug. Instead of enjoying them when we have them, we start to seek a new high. More adrenaline. More warmth. More rush.

As good as those feelings and emotions are, God gives us better gifts. And Peter tells us about the most important of those gifts, again in our Epistle lesson. After Peter reflects on the awesomeness of the Transfiguration, he says, “We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Peter tells us that the Scriptures, what we have right before us now, are more sure and certain than what he saw in the Transfiguration because those Scriptures show us more than simply who we are in relation to God. Those Scriptures show us who God is in relation to us. He is the God who comes to redeem and save us.

That is what Elijah and Moses were talking about with Jesus. They were talking about how God is toward us. Matthew doesn’t tell us what Elijah, Moses, and Jesus’ conversation covered, but Luke does (Lk. 9:31). Luke tells us that these three men spoke of Jesus’ “exodus which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” In other words, they were talking about the crucifixion.

In the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John got to see who they are in relation to God. They get to see that Jesus is truly God in the flesh. His divinity brilliantly shines through His humanity. And because they see who they are in relation to God, they fall on their faces and are terrified.

But Jesus reaches out and shows them who He is in relation to them. Jesus touches them. Every other time this word for ‘touch’ is used in the Gospels, someone is healed. Jesus heals these disciples of their fear saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And as they lift up their eyes, they see no one but Jesus only.

They behold the Son of God in the flesh. They behold the One whom the Law and the prophets foretold. They beheld the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They behold the One who is their beautiful Savior.

Christ of St John on the Cross Salvador DaliIn the Transfiguration, Jesus is truly beautiful, divinely beautiful. But in there is another beauty that is better than the Transfiguration. The beauty of Jesus is what you see on the cross where God in the flesh dies for the disciples and for you to save you from your sin.

It is good for us to remember who we are in relation to God. Before God, we are unworthy, groveling worms who deserve nothing good and make silly suggestions about tents. But on the cross, we see who God is relation to us. He is the God who offers Himself even unto death to redeem, forgive, and save us.

Jesus’ Transfiguration beauty is great and awesome. But His better beauty is the fact that He is the Savior – your beautiful Savior. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

God Has Options – Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany on John 2:1-11

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John 2:1-11

1 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus Turns Water into Wine John 25 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have become drunk, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

When you think through all the miracles of Jesus, turning water into wine is probably the miracle you think is least significant. Jesus did so many other, more important, miracles. He fed the masses and healed diseases. He made the lame to walk, the blind to see, and the deaf to hear. He cast out demons and raised the dead. Turning water into wine just seems like a nifty party trick especially when you consider that Jesus did this for people who are drunk. (The word that the master of the feast uses in v. 10 is the drunkenness that Scripture warns about [1 Cor. 6:9-11; Eph. 5:18]). And yet, Scripture says this was the first sign Jesus does to manifest His glory.

Jesus, Mary, and the first few disciples are all at a wedding, and the wine runs out. Either the guests were enjoying the wine quicker than respectable people should, or the bride and groom didn’t plan well enough. Mary informs Jesus, “They have no wine.” Notice that she doesn’t ask for anything in particular. She doesn’t offer a solution. She doesn’t ask Jesus to rebuke the drunks. She gives no stipulations and doesn’t tell Jesus how to act. She simply puts the situation in front of Him, “They have no wine.”

But Jesus doesn’t seem too interested. “Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”

But Mary doesn’t give up hope. She tells the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” She leaves every option to Jesus believing that Jesus knows and will do what is good and right. And this is a beautiful expression of faith.

Mary has no idea what Jesus will tell them. Jesus might not tell them anything, or He might tell everyone, “Go home. The party is over.” When Jesus does tell the servants to fill the jars, He might be setting up a purification station. He might start dunking their heads in hot and cold water to sober them up like Fezzik does to Inigo in “The Princess Bride.”

Mary doesn’t know what Jesus will do, but she trusts. She believes that Jesus is compassionate. She knows that God loves weddings, celebrations, and joy. Whatever Jesus tells them to do will be good – even if it is uncomfortable and unpleasant.

This is faith. Faith expects good things from God. Faith trusts God to keep His promises, to be a loving heavenly Father. But faith also recognizes that God has options.

Open Prayer HandsWhen you or a loved one is plagued with sickness and disease you pray for healing. You pray for a clean scan. You pray that the next doctor appointment will show that everything is normal. You pray for a miracle. These are all good things to pray for.

But remember, God has options. Yes, God can heal you instantaneously. But He can also allow the disease to spread. He can allow the sickness to remain. God can even use that disease to be your death or the death of your loved one.

Does that mean that God hasn’t heard your prayer? Does that mean that God is angry with you? Does that mean that God has abandoned or failed you? Does that mean God doesn’t love you? No. Absolutely no!

You look around and see a world filled with injustice. You see people starving. You see nations at war. You see corrupt governments and politicians. So, you pray. You pray that this person would get elected or that policy will be enacted.

But if God doesn’t submit to your solution, if the wicked continue to prosper and the world stays evil, you are tempted to doubt. You start to wonder if God really cares. But does He care? Does God still love justice and hate wickedness? Yes. Absolutely, yes!

Now, should you pray for things you want? Of course. God already knows the desires of your heart. But also, be ready to accept what God gives you because it will be, it absolutely will be, a good beyond comprehension. He is your loving heavenly Father, and He withholds no good thing from His children (Ps. 84:11; Mt. 7:11).

Remember, just before He was arrested, Jesus prayed three times, “Father, let this cup pass from Me” (Mt. 26:39-44). Never in the history of mankind was there a more futile petition prayed to God. Jesus Himself said that it was necessary for Him to suffer and die (Lk. 9:22). Yet, each time He prayed to be delivered from the crucifixion, Jesus also prayed, “Your will be done.”

Let God have His options. He will always do what is good, right, and best. Don’t let Satan fill your head with his lies that God is holding out on you. Remember that God delights in your prayers. And remember that He has answered all the sickness, pain, suffering, and The Resurrectionsin of this world. He has answered them by sending His Own, beloved Son to die and rise again. He has glory for you that is unspeakable and unimaginable.

Remember, you will never suffer anything that the Resurrection cannot fix. Look for that. God has promised it. He who has promised is faithful (Heb. 10:23), and He will surely do it. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Hide and Seek – Sermon for the First Sunday after Epiphany on Luke 2:41-52

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Luke 2:41-52

41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. Twelve Year Old Boy Jesus in the Temple.jpg46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The last two weeks, my wife and I have commented to each other several times how nice it is to have children that behave decently enough that we can trust them to do the right thing when we aren’t looking. They know enough that we don’t have to hover over them and make sure they aren’t playing with grandma’s decorations or sticking objects into outlets – at least until they are teenagers. We can trust our kids, who are sinners, to not get themselves into too much mischief even though our youngest is five-years-old.

How much more could Mary and Joseph trust twelve-year-old Jesus who was perfect? A perfect child is easy to ignore, and that is exactly what they did. They sinned. The guardians of God in the flesh left their twelve-year-old Son alone and unprotected in a big, dangerous city.

If you have been separated from your child even for a few minutes in a store or at a park, you know the angst and fear Mary felt. When a parent finds a lost child, the typical reaction is relief followed by anger toward the child. And yes, I speak for myself. But anger toward a curious child who wanders away is not justified. Instead, you have failed as a parent. You were not attentive enough or gave her more freedom than she could handle.

Now, there is such a thing as righteous anger. Jesus was righteously angry when He cleared the Temple with a whip (Jn. 2:14-16) and when the disciples didn’t allow the children to come to Him (Mk. 10:14). Scripture even tells us to be angry and yet not sin (Ps. 4:4; Eph. 4:26). But more often than not, our anger is an attempt to hide our own self-righteousness.

We think we know better than those in authority over us. We think we are smarter and have more common sense. We applaud our own motives while we judge others to be selfish. There are times when we might be provoked, but that doesn’t excuse us when we sin. We choose our own reactions, and we are accountable for them.

AngerBut as sinners, we never want to own our sin. Instead, we offer excuses and expect others to justify us in our sin. That is why, when someone offends you, you are more likely to tell someone else how mad you are rather than speak to the person you are angry with. Sometimes, we do get approval for our sinful actions from others. But we do ourselves no favors finding approval from others because when we do, we start to think that we can play the same game with God.

When God convicts us of sin, we try to play a deadly game of hide and seek. Adam blamed his sin of eating the fruit on Eve and, ultimately, God. But neither Eve nor God put the fruit in Adam’s mouth and made him chew and swallow. Parents blame their children for their anger when they misbehave. But whose responsibility is it to teach children right behavior? Children blame their parents if they are bored because their tablets and phones get taken away. And this silly game goes on and on.

While we might be able to hide our sin before others, it never works with God. Yes, there are times when we are hurt and are victims. But we add to our own pain with bad responses and sinful behavior. Repent.

Mary increased her sin. She sinned by not making sure Jesus was with them when they started home for Nazareth. And she added sin to sin when she lashed out at Jesus blaming Him for her fear and distress. “Why have You treated us so?” In other words, “Jesus, it’s Your fault that we had all that worry and fear the last three days.”

But twelve-year-old God in the flesh rebukes her gently. “Why were you looking for Me?” In other words, He is saying, “Didn’t you mess up? What went wrong so that I was lost in the first place?”

But even better, Jesus’ response hints at the answer. Jesus is the Savior of Mary and Joseph, and they are lost without Him. But Jesus is exactly where He it is necessary for Him to be – in the Temple. Our translation (ESV) says, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” which is a bad translation. The word ‘house’ isn’t there at all. A better translation would be, “Did you not know that It is necessary that I am among the things of My Father?”

The Temple was God’s house where He promised to meet with His people. But Jesus isn’t referring only to the Temple. There was also the altar, the lampstands, the incense, the sacrifices, and the priests. All the stuff that cleansed God’s people from their sin. It is necessary for Jesus to be among those things. Jesus is, to put it a little crassly, one of His Father’s things. In fact, He is the Thing. He is the Temple destroyed and raised in three days. He is the Priest. He is the Sacrifice. Where else would the Savior be?

Now, the Temple building is destroyed, but the true Temple isn’t.

I mentioned earlier how we play hide and seek with God when it comes to our sin. But God also plays hide and seek with us, and He is as bad at hide and seek as a young child. Bad Hide and SeekIf you’ve ever played hide and seek with a little child, you don’t have difficulty finding her. She will hide in the same three or four spots every time. Behind a door. Under a lumpy, moving blanket on the floor with her legs sticking out. Or lying face-down on the couch with her eyes shut because if she can’t see you then you can’t see her, obviously.

Well, God hides Himself too. He isn’t in a Temple building you can see. He isn’t in the pillar of fire or cloud of smoke. Instead, He is in the waters of your Baptism. He is in the Bread and Wine of His Supper. He is in the preaching of His Gospel and in the Absolution. To the unbelieving, all those things look silly. But Jesus is there because He has promised to be. Jesus has told you where He is so that you can find Him. And where you find Him, you find life. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.