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Sermon for October 25, 2020, Reformation Day (Observed)

Romans 3:19-28 (Reformation Day—Observed)

“Righteous Through Christ Alone”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

October 25, 2020

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

Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in Romans 3:

19Now we know that as much as the Law says, it speaks to those who are in the sphere of the Law, with the result that every mouth might be silenced and that the whole world might become accountable to God. 20Consequently, from works of the Law every fleshly person will not be declared righteous before Him, for through the Law is the recognition of sin. 21But apart from the Law, a righteousness of God stands revealed, while having been testified to by the Law and the Prophets, that is, 22a righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe. For there is no distinction. 23For all sinned and are falling short of the glory of God 24while being declared righteous undeservedly by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God displayed publicly as an atoning sacrifice, through faith, in his blood for proof of his righteousness on account of the passing over of sins which had occurred previously 26in the delaying of God, toward the proof of his righteousness in the present time, with the result that he is righteous and the one who declares righteous the one from faith in Jesus. 27Then, where is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of Law? Of works? No, but by the Law of faith. 28For we conclude that a person is being declared righteous by faith apart from works of the Law.

          A stone hits a glass window in only one place, but it shatters the entire window. A chain may be broken in only one link, but it renders the entire chain worthless, no matter how good the other links are. Even in our courts this general truth applies. When a person has done a wrong, the judge doesn’t ask how many right things he has done but condemns him for the wrong. You don’t have to touch an electric wire in several places to get a shock; just one will do. So it takes only one sin, one breaking of God’s commandments, to make us guilty of breaking the whole Law.

          Professor Martin Luther, lecturing in 1515 on the Book of Romans, taught this truth to his students: “The Law asserts that all are unrighteous, so that all because of this assertion may recognize that they are unrighteous and may cease considering themselves righteous and cease boasting, keep silent about their own righteousness, and become guilty in the face of God’s righteousness.”[1] And so we who are human flesh and blood are accountable to God. This means that we are under a legal process, a judicial sentence, which makes us liable to the penalty: “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23 ESV).

          Oh, but is it really all that bad? Aren’t people really good deep down inside? Let’s back up to Romans 3, verses 10 and following and see what God says as the apostle Paul offers six readings from the Old Testament: “None is righteous, no, not one;no one understands; no one seeks for God.All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”“Their feet are swift to shed blood;in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:10–18 ESV). Again, Professor Luther in the lecture hall: “If we examine ourselves carefully, therefore, we shall always find in ourselves at least vestiges of the flesh by which we are afflicted with self-interest, obstinate over against the good, and prone to do evil. For if there were not this kind of remnant of sin in us and if we were seeking only God, surely this mortal man would quickly be dissolved, and our soul would fly to God. But the fact that the soul does not take to flight is a sure sign that it still clings to the filth of the flesh.”[2]

          “For through the Law is the recognition of sin. . . . For all sinned and are falling short of the glory of God,” the apostle writes by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And so it is that each time the mirror of God’s Law is held up to us, we see that in and of ourselves we are lacking the glory of God. Any sliver of honesty in us will prompt us to realize sin is a problem that affects us deeply. Just as the bathroom mirror reveals all our facial flaws and out-of-place hair, so it is that the Law of God as we have received it in the Ten Commandments reveals all of our flaws before the Lord. We see our idolatry and our pride. We are shown our hypocrisy that we’ve tried to cover up and the gossip we’ve worked so hard to keep quiet. The Law reveals to us the embarrassing lying, cheating, and manipulating we hoped no one else would notice. The Reverend Professor Luther: “Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. This knowledge through the Law comes in two ways, first, through contemplation, . . . second, through experience, that is, through the work of the Law, . . . For in this way the Law becomes an occasion for sinning, since the will of man which is prone to evil . . . becomes disinclined toward the good and tired of trying to do good, because it hates to give up what it loves, and it loves evil, as Scripture says. But yet, if it works and does what it is unwilling to do, compelled by the Law, then man understands how deeply sin and evil are rooted in him, which he would not have understood if he did not have the Law.”[3]

          Sin and evil are deeply rooted in each one of us. That is the fact. It is not an opinion. It is reality. And this reality places all humanity squarely under the divine justice of the Triune God, the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord (Is. 6). We are fleshly people, lacking the glory of God, failing to keep His Law according to the Commandments. We are brought before the Divine Judge, but as the defendants, we have nothing more to say in response to the charges brought against us. We have sinned against God. Some of the sin we know, the thoughts and words and deeds of which we are ashamed. But some is known only to the Lord. We can only cry out, “Lord, have mercy.” And it is then that we are able to hear, “It is finished.”

          No, the verdict is not, “We are finished; we are doomed!” The verdict is a declaration of righteousness, a pronouncement of “Not Guilty,” which is completely undeserved. With Jesus’ cry from the bloody cross, “It is finished,” the complete payment for our sins had been made. Jesus was for all time the One-for-all sacrifice that cleanses us from our sins, redeems us, and makes us sinners to be accounted righteous before the Holy, Holy, Holy God. The offering of Jesus’ blood, like that of a lamb without spot or blemish, atoned for our sins (1 Peter 1:19). The shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross gained God’s gracious acceptance of us unclean sinners. That’s what the big word “propitiation” means. By Christ’s blood, we sinners have also been pardoned and cleansed from our sins. That’s the word “expiation.” Also, through the blood of Christ, you and I now have beneficial access to God’s holy presence. That’s “reconciliation.”

          Dr. Luther, writing the Smalcald Articles in 1536, stressed the importance of the work of Christ alone that we sinners receive by grace alone through faith alone. The Reformer wrote, “The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 4:24–25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works or merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23–25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law, or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us. As St. Paul says: For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:28) That He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls [Mark 13:31]. For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12) And with His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5) Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends, in opposition to the pope, the devil, and the whole world. Therefore, we must be certain and not doubt this doctrine. Otherwise, all is lost, and the pope, the devil, and all adversaries win the victory and the right over us.”[4]

          Either Christ has died to save us from our sins through the shedding of His blood and is risen from the dead so that we are declared righteous by God’s grace or we are lost eternally. There is no middle ground. It’s either Christ alone or Christ is nothing. You know which option the world chooses. The world sees no need for Jesus. The world fails to see its sin and need for the Savior. The world isn’t interested in God’s grace or in much of anything that has to do with God. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ continues to be proclaimed by the Church because that’s her mission.

          As Lutheran Christians, we stand on Scripture alone as the inspired and inerrant Word of God. We teach the Law of God—the Ten Commandments. We teach the truth of sin and humanity’s falling short of God’s glory. We instruct about the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh fighting against the Gospel and the new life of faith that God delivers to people through the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Because the Word of God says so, we teach that the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper really do offer, give, and seal the forgiveness of sins. Baptism saves! Baptism delivers personally to us, through the Word of God in and with the water, the very blood of Christ that washes away our sins and delivers saving faith. The Lord’s Supper is truly Christ’s Body and Blood, in and with the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation as the blessings of Jesus’ cross come personally to us in this Holy Meal.

          And this is fact. It’s not an opinion. It is reality. And the reality is that, with Jesus’ death and the shedding of His blood, people are cleansed from sin and reconciled to God. With His resurrection from the grave, people are given the victory over death. Jesus Christ places all humanity squarely under the grace and mercy of God. The Holy, Holy, Holy Lord of heaven and earth loved humanity so much that He gave up His One-of-a-Kind Son into death so that Jesus might shed His blood for you, me, and all people. Because the Savior has shed His blood and atoned for the sins of all, God declares you “not guilty,” “forgiven,” “reconciled.” You are declared righteous undeservedly by His grace through the redemption which is yours in Christ Jesus.

And that’s the message that we Lutherans boldly share with our community and with our world. What we do and what we say and how we say it as the Church matters—and it’s all about Jesus! So we will continue to be faithful to the Scriptures and to our Confessions. We will preach and teach Law and Gospel according to the Word of God. And we will give the world Christ in Gospel Word and Sacraments so that many might believe in Him as their Savior, receive His forgiveness, and rejoice with the whole Church in heaven and on earth in the mercy of our great God and Savior. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 25: Lectures on Romans, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 25 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 233–234.

[2] Ibid., 245.

[3] Ibid., 240.

[4] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 263.

October 18, 2020, Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 22:15-22 (Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)

“The Things of God”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

October 18, 2020

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

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 22:

15Then the Pharisees went and took council in order to entrap Him in speech. 16And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and you teach God’s way in truth, and you do not care about what anyone thinks, for you do not pay attention to people’s opinions. 17Therefore, tell us what you think: Is to give the tax to Caesar lawful, or not?18Now Jesus, knowing their evil, said, “Why are you tempting me, hypocrites? 19Show me the coin of the tax.” And they brought to Him a denarius. 20And He said to them, “Whose is this image and inscription? 21They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Pay, then, the things of Caesar to Caesar and the things of God to God.” 22And when they had heard, they marveled. And they left Him and went away.

The whole conversation is a set-up. The Pharisees had heard Jesus’ parables. They knew that Jesus was speaking about them, warning them that rejecting Jesus would ultimately result in their exclusion from the reign of God. They wanted to arrest Jesus, but they were afraid of the crowds. So they try a different tactic. The Pharisees stay out of the picture but send their disciples along with the Herodians to trap Jesus in His words. This is an act of desperation because the Pharisees and the Herodians did not get along; they were enemies. Now, even enemies are joining together against Jesus whom they both despise.

          The trap comes in the form of question of which they don’t really want to know the answer, “Is to give the tax to Caesar lawful, or not?” If Jesus answered that it was not lawful according to the Law of Moses to pay taxes to Caesar because Caesar claimed to be a god and that would be an affront to the one, true God, then the Herodians would arrest Him for treason against Caesar and the Romans who ruled the land of Palestine. On the other hand, if Jesus answered that it is lawful to pay tribute and tax to Caesar, the disciples of the Pharisees would report Him for lack of loyalty to Israel and Israel’s God because Jesus supports Caesar, a false god, as well as the Roman overlords. It’s a cleverly devised question with no answer that Jesus could possibly give to evade trouble. Yet, Jesus’ answer is perfect in every way so that the inquirers could only walk away saying, “Wow!”

          Now, Jesus knew of their trap and so He sprung the trap with His words: “Pay, then, the things of Caesar to Caesar and the things of God to God.” Jesus distinguishes between two realms in which believers live—the civil and the heavenly. Our first allegiance is to God, but we are also bound to obey the legitimate civil authorities God has established. As we read in Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

          As Christians, we owe loyalty and obedience to God, but also to the human rulers that God Himself as established. Civil authority and good governmental leaders are beneficial to us. They are means whereby God blesses us. But they are not the only means of God’s blessing. I want to return to the description of the coin. “Now Jesus, knowing their evil, said, ‘Why are you tempting me, hypocrites? Show me the coin of the tax.’ And they brought to Him a denarius. And He said to them, ‘Whose is this image and inscription?’ They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then He said to them, ‘Pay, then, the things of Caesar to Caesar and the things of God to God.’”

          We learn from our text, in part, that, as Christians, we can rightfully honor the Lord as we honor the legitimate governmental authorities whom He has placed over us. But I want to spend most of our time this morning looking at the main thrust of Jesus’ words in our text. It addresses the issue of what actually belongs to “Caesar” (and to us) and what really belongs to God.

          Paul writes in Romans 13 that we pay taxes to whom taxes are owed. We pay revenue to whom revenue is owed. But whose money is it? If you took a look at a Roman coin, you would see Caesar’s face and Caesar’s inscription. Does that mean it is Caesar’s coin? Pay, then, the things of Caesar to Caesar and the things of God to God. Before we do any paying, don’t you think it would be a good idea to find out what belongs to whom? I wouldn’t want to give what belongs to God to Caesar or vice versa. What, then, belongs to God?

          Everything, even Caesar’s stuff. Everything belongs to God. Let’s put some flesh on the word “everything”: time, relationships, talents, money, the earth, opportunities. Luther’s Explanation to the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed helps further define this “everything.” “God has made me and all creatures; . . . He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses. . . . He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.” If these things didn’t belong to God in the first place, He would have no right to give them to us. But the fact is that everything belongs to God, including you and me.

          Does that make you a little uncomfortable? It’s probably easier to talk about what belongs to Caesar, what belongs to me, or what belongs to you because it is so easily identified. If it’s in my possession, it probably mine. The books on the shelves in my office I say are “my” books. The minivan parked in the driveway is “my” van. This is “my” hair, “my” eyes, “my” clothes. We can’t forget this one, what’s in my wallet is “my” money. That’s just the way things work in this world. There is “mine” and there is “yours.” But then God enters the picture with His holy Word and says, “Not really. You have a misconception here. You are not owners. I have put you in charge of My possessions. All these things that you have I have placed into your hands for a period of time, but ownership has never been transferred to you.” Starting to squirm in your seat yet? I am. This seems such a very radical way of thinking.

          But check out the Garden of Eden. Whose world is it? God’s. He is its Creator and Lord. And what does God tell Adam and Eve? That they can have it? That it now belongs to them? No. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’  And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food’” (Genesis 1:27-29).

          Adam and Eve and their children and their children’s children—you and me—have been created to be part of God’s world and to take care of His creation on His behalf. That means that God expects us to use His stuff the way He would use it. Your front yard is several feet high with lovely brown leaves. Your rake is busted. Your neighbor has a super-duper mega-sized leaf blower. You ask to borrow it. In letting you use it, how does your neighbor expect you to treat his super-duper, mega-sized leaf blower? The same way he would, so that it keeps running and isn’t misused. That’s what we do with God’s possessions—we use them as He would use them. It is mind-boggling, isn’t it?

          Actually I think that it is more eye-opening and heart-opening to realize that God shares His created goodness with us, that God trusts you and me to act as He would act, to respond to the opportunities of life as He would respond, and to handle life’s treasures and talents as He would handle them. So whatever it is that we would pay to Caesar, we know that it is first God’s gift to us. It is God’s money that we use to buy the things we need for life in this world. It is God’s money that we use to buy the milk and the bread at the store. It’s His milk and bread that we buy. He gives it to us to nourish our bodies. It is God’s car that we drive, enabling us to go places for work and recreation, to help others, and to give Him glory through what we do. It is God’s house that we live in, provided by Him to shelter us. Once we discover and rediscover that everything belongs to God, a whole new, wonderful world of responsibility and accountability is opened up to us.

          You and I are responsible and accountable to God for what we do with His stuff—how we use His money, His time, His food, His clothes, and His talents given to us. But we are not responsible and accountable to Him as some hired hand. We are accountable and responsible to God as His children. Yes, we are God’s creation, but more than that, we are His redeemed children. He sent His only Son Jesus to win that status for us. Jesus died to free us from the power of our sins, from the misconception about God’s things being “my things.” Jesus’ forgiveness won for us on the cross frees us from our greed and guilt to serve God and to use His blessings in ways that are truly God-pleasing. Jesus’ death and resurrection won for us the new life of faith that frees us to see everything as belonging to God and how we, as His beloved children, can use God’s gifts to His glory and to benefit others, as well as giving thanks and praise for what He allows us to use on His behalf.   

          The Psalmist asks in Psalm 116:12, “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?” Today this same question is put before us as God’s redeemed and forgiven children in Christ Jesus. What are you and I going to render to the Lord from the bounty of His gifts to us? When you make a commitment for the year as far as offerings to the Lord’s work goes in this congregation, how does the Lord want you to better use His money? When you are asked to volunteer in the congregation or in the community, how does the Lord want you to better use His time and abilities given to you? How will you better use the Lord’s things in your homes, in your school, in your workplace, in your everyday lives?

We are God’s much-loved children who are accountable and responsible to Him. Yes, I have blown it as far as always rightly using God’s things is concerned. I know you have too. But the good news is that Jesus died to save us from those sins. We are forgiven of our sins and our failures to rightly use God’s treasures, talents, and creation. Yet, as much as we have messed up over time, God still trusts us to use His creation and His gifts as He would use them. And God the Holy Spirit continues to empower us through the Word of the Gospel to pay to God the things that are God’s and to use His gifts to us the way He would use them—for His glory, for helping and serving our neighbors, as well as for our blessing and enjoyment. Amen.

Sermon for October 11, 2020, Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 22:1-14 (Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)

“A Life that Honors the Son”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

October 11, 2020

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

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 22:

1And Jesus answered and again spoke to them in parables, saying: 2The reign of heaven is like a certain king who gave a wedding feast for his son. 3And he sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, but they did not want to come. 4Again, he sent other slaves, saying, “Say to those who have been invited, ‘Behold, my meal is prepared, my oxen and calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’” 5But they were not interested and went away, one to his field and one to his business. 6But the rest seized his slaves, insulted them, and killed them. 7Then the king became angry and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding feast is ready, but those who had been called were not worthy. 9Therefore, go into the outlets of the roads and call as many as you find to the wedding feast.” 10And those slaves went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both the evil and the good, and the wedding feast was willed with those who were reclining at table. 11Now when the king had entered to look at those who were reclining at table, he saw there a man who had not put on a wedding garment, 12and he said to him, “Friend, how did you enter here even though you do not have a wedding garment?” But he was silent. 13Then the king said to the servants, “After you bind his feet and hands, throw him out into the outermost darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there” For many are (the) called, but few are (the) chosen.

          “The wedding feast is ready, but those who had been called were not worthy.” The pointedness of Jesus’ teaching against the chief priests and Pharisees continues in the Gospel of Matthew with yet another parable. The reign of heaven is like a certain king who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, but they did not want to come. Again, he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Say to those who have been invited, . . . ‘Come to the wedding feast.’ But they were not interested and went away, . . . . But the rest seized his slaves, insulted them, and killed them. Then the king became angry and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those who had been called were not worthy. Therefore, go into the outlets of the roads and call as many as you find to the wedding feast.’”

          The religious leaders’ opposition to Jesus has been apparent as we have read Matthew’s Gospel the last few Sundays. In light of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, the religious leaders questioned Jesus’ divine authority and denied it. By means of parables, Jesus told the religious leaders that they should have repented and believed John the Baptist when he proclaimed the way of righteousness in Jesus—Matthew 21:28-32. As a result, the chief priests and Pharisees wanted to kill the vineyard owner’s son—Matthew 21:37-39. They will reject the stone whom God the Father will marvelously make into the head of the corner by raising Him from the dead—Matthew 21:42.

          In the parable before us this morning, the religious leaders are identified as those who were called but were not worthy. To be “not worthy” means to dishonor and reject the king and the wedding feast he has prepared for his son. The king stands in for God the Father. The king’s son? Yes, it’s Jesus, the True Son of the Father who had come to do His will and bring salvation to the whole world through the forgiveness of sins.

But in Jesus’ parable, there is another who is found to be “not worthy.” He is the man dining at the wedding feast without a wedding garment. This was probably a normal, clean, festive garment of some sort. At the very least, dress casual if not “dressed up.” This man in Jesus’ story had come to the feast honoring the king’s son lacking that garment. In the context of the parable, this suggests that he was there deliberately dishonoring the king and his son. This man, like those who had previously been invited, considered the wedding feast as something to be treated lightly.

To be “not worthy,” then, is to oppose, hate, and seek to destroy God’s Son. To lack a wedding garment is to oppose the claims of the True Son of God and to resist His ministry of making known the reign of God that brought Him to Jerusalem to be rejected, to suffer, to be crucified, and to rise from the dead.

To summarize Jesus’ parable, I share with you these thoughts from Dr. Jeffry Gibbs from the Concordia Commentary:

Two realities about the present reign of God in [Jesus] emerge. In the first place, the parable reveals that God’s plan to have guests who will honor and worship his Son will not be nullified or set aside. Those who hated and dishonored the Son in his earthly ministry and thus showed themselves to be unworthy of the feast cannot stop God’s plan; divine judgment will surely come upon them. Nevertheless, the gracious divine invitation goes out again with a prodigal and wasteful plenitude. All who can be found and invited will be.[1]

But Jesus’ parable also contains a warning. Participation in the wedding feast is not automatic, just because others have rejected it. The person who takes the reign of God in Jesus lightly and as having little to no significance for his or her life will find himself or herself, on the Last Day, in the outer darkness, where torment and hatred for God the Father and for His Son become the reality forever. “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there.”

          Aren’t you glad this section of Jesus’ parables ends today? Wow! These last few Sundays have been tough to work through as Jesus teaches against the chief priests and Pharisees because of their rejection of the reign of God that has drawn near to them in Jesus Himself. Remember, all this takes place during Holy Week, during Jesus’ final days before His betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. This is our Lord’s final opportunity before going to cross to lead the chief priests and Pharisees to repentance and trust in Him as Lord and Savior. This is serious business, indeed.

          But what does this say to us here in 2020? We’re not first century Israelite religious leaders. Is there something about the reign of God in Christ that we can learn? Most certainly! By virtue of our Baptism into Christ, you and I have been called and invited to the Son’s feast. Revelation 19:9, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” However, Jesus’ parable teaches us that our place at the feast is not a guarantee that we won’t face the spiritual dangers that could harden our hearts and slowly draw us away from a life of honoring the Son. Remember the man who was kicked out?

          Luther in the Large Catechism instructs us about these real spiritual dangers: the flesh, the world, and the devil. The sinful flesh that still clings to us on this side of heaven “encourages us daily to unchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, greed and deception, [and] to defraud our neighbor.”[2] We are tempted and fall and so live a life contrary to God’s Word. We dishonor the Son who died so that we might live a new life. We return to the old ways of sin and become unworthy, unclothed in the garments of the feast to which we have been called. Our sinful actions tell others that the reign of God is not that important because we choose to live contrary to the ways of God. We are found, in our sins, opposing the King and His royal Son.

          There are also the spiritual dangers with which the world attacks us. We are driven to anger and impatience. From the Large Catechism, “In short, there is nothing but hatred and envy, hostility, violence and wrong, unfaithfulness, vengeance, cursing, railing, slander, pride and haughtiness, with useless finery, honor, fame, and power. No one is willing to be the least. Everyone desires to sit at the head of the group and to be seen before all.”[3] Again, this is a life that dishonors the Lord. It is a life that rejects the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to us in Baptism. Instead of loving other people with the reckless love of Jesus, we despise, hate, and belittle them because of their political leanings, because of their skin color, because of their economic standing, or simply because they disagree with us.

          Behind all this lies Satan, the devil. He pushes and provokes us in all directions that go against God and His Word. He tempts us to dishonor the Son by the way we speak and by how we act toward God and others. Again, Luther: “[The devil] leads us to despise and disregard both God’s Word and works. He tears us away from faith, hope, and love, and he brings us into misbelief, false security, and stubbornness. Or, on the other hand, he leads us to despair, denial of God, blasphemy, and innumerable other shocking things. These are snares and nets, indeed, real fiery darts that are shot like poison into the heart, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil.”[4]

          Jesus gives us a realistic picture of life in the reign of God now. He wants us to be aware of these spiritual dangers so that we arm ourselves against them with the power of His Word and Spirit. The Stone that the builders rejected is now the Head of the Corner! The Christ who was crucified has defeated sin and death by His death and resurrection. His shed blood covers our sins. The Gospel in Word, Baptism, and Supper delivers to us forgiveness for each time we fail to honor Christ and our Father in heaven. There is bountiful forgiveness for you and me in Jesus, the Son, so that we will not be left without a wedding garment, so that we will not be declared unworthy. To further enable us to stand against our spiritual enemies, Christ puts on us the whole armor of God: Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:14–18 ESV).

          Through faith, by the power of the Word and Spirit, we now respond to Christ in joyful praise and honor. We submit to Him, declaring and confessing, “Jesus is Lord.” When we fall into temptation and sin, it is this Lord Christ who restores us to the favor our heavenly Father by washing us clean in His blood through the Good News of Absolution. With sins forgiven, by the power of the Spirit at work in us through the Gospel and Sacraments, our lives honor Christ. We love the Lord in faith. We love our neighbors. We love our enemies, too. We demonstrate the graciousness of God to all we meet in person or online. You are sons and daughters of the reign of God. You are equipped to fight against the spiritual dangers that you face in this life so that you honor Christ.

As you do, look forward to the day of feasting at the Son’s wedding banquet that will have no end. In Christ, you are declared worthy. Come, receive today a foretaste of that eternal feast as you dine at the Table of Christ. Eat and drink of the fruits of His cross and resurrection so that you may be strengthened in your faith and live the life of faith toward God and the life of love toward other people. Amen.

[1] Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 21:1-28:20, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2018), 1110.

[2] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 420.

[3] Ibid., 420.

[4] Ibid., 421.

Sermon for October 4, 2020, Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 21:33-46 (Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)

“The True Son Is the Head of the Corner”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

October 4, 2020

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

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 21:

33Hear another parable. There was a man who was the master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, built a tower, and rented it out to farmers and went on a journey. 34When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his slaves to the farmers to receive his fruit. 35And the farmers took his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again, he sent other slaves, more than the first, and they did the same to them. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38But the farmers, when they saw the son, said to themselves, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and let us have his inheritance.” 39And when they had taken him, they threw him outside of the vineyard and killed him. 40When, therefore, the master of the vineyard should come, what will he do to those farmers? 41They said to him, “He will severely destroy those evil ones and he will rent out the vineyard to other farmers who will give back to him the fruits in their seasons.” 42Jesus said to them, Have you never read in the Scriptures, “The stone which the builders rejected, this one has become the head of the corner; this happened from the Lord and it is marvelous in our eyes?” 43On account of this, I say to you, the reign and rule of God will be take away from you and it will be given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be dashed to pieces and the one upon whom it falls, it will crush him. 45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parable, they realized that He spoke concerning them. And they were seeking to arrest Him, but they were afraid of the crowds since they held Him to be a prophet.

          Jesus had cleansed the temple by the authority of God Himself. But the chief priests and elders of the people would not recognize Jesus’ divine authority even after they saw it in action. “By what authority do you do these things?” they demanded to know. “And who gave you this authority?” To put it a little differently, “Who do you think you are, Jesus?”

Two weeks ago I was flipping channels and ran across Jesus Christ, Superstar, Tim Rice’s and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s rock-opera, ever so loosely based on the Gospel of Mark. The question Jesus Himself is portrayed as having to answer is, “Who do you think you are?” The famous chorus asks, “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Who are you? What have you sacrificed? Jesus Christ Superstar, Do you think you’re what they say you are?” The crowds regarded Jesus as a prophet, so the religious leaders were afraid to arrest Jesus in front of them. But as for Jesus, He is no clueless Messiah. He is no mere man trying to figure out His place in life. Jesus is the God-Man, the True Son of God who came to do His Father’s will. This is again illustrated in Jesus’ parable spoken to Israel’s religious leaders who wanted to know, “By whose authority?”

Unlike the parable of the “yes-no” kid and the “no-yes” kid that we worked through last Sunday, the parable before us today presents us with a real strangeness. This is no ordinary story about everyday life. No ordinary vineyard owner who leased out his vineyard to tenant farmers ever did such a thing as portrayed in Jesus’ story. If his tenant farmers wouldn’t give him his rightful due of the fruit, he would have outright evicted them and punished them severely for the horrible abuse and murder inflicted upon those servants sent to do their master’s duty. The tenant farmers “beat one, killed one, and stoned one.” That should have been the end of it. The householder should have had these tenants arrested and punished according to the law, just as the chief priests and elders answered Jesus at the end of the story, “He will severely destroy those evil ones and he will rent out the vineyard to other farmers who will give back to him the fruits in their seasons.” But this crazy vineyard owner doesn’t do so at this point. He sent more servants to collect the fruit that belonged to him, hoping that the tenant farmers would have a change of heart. But they didn’t. The same fate met these servants, who numbered more than the first! Again, it should have stopped here, but no! The vineyard owner chooses to be patient and to have mercy. He would send his son because, “They will respect my son.”

As we look at the parable of our Lord, we understand the vineyard to represent Israel. The tenant farmers represent Israel’s religious leader—the chief priests and elders. The groups of slaves sent to collect the fruit stand in for the Old Testament prophets. The vineyard owner is God the Father and the Son . . . Jesus Himself. And this strange, out-of- -ordinary-life story spoken by Jesus ends with the Son of the Father dead. The chief priests and elders of the people have already rejected Jesus. They do not see in His words and works the divine authority of God. They will arrest Him. And they will kill Him.

Jesus appropriated the words of Psalm 118 to Himself. He is “The stone which the builders rejected.” He was, in the words of Isaiah, “despised and rejected by men” (Is. 53:3 ESV). The religious leaders denied that Jesus’ ministry was carried out in the power of the Holy Spirit. They persisted in the sin of unbelief. Just days after hearing Jesus’ parables and knowing that “He was speaking about them,” Jesus was arrested in the privacy of the Garden of Gethsemane in the middle of the night, far away from the crowds that they so feared. Jesus was condemned to death under Pontius Pilate. The religious leaders got their way. Jesus was led “outside the vineyard,” outside the city of Jerusalem, to Golgotha. There He was put to death on a cross. He died. He was buried.

Jesus’ parable had ended with the death of the vineyard owner’s son and with the announcement of certain punishment for the son’s killers and with new tenant farmers chosen to care for the vineyard (ironically spoken by the religious leaders themselves). There would be vindication and exaltation for that rejected stone, the rejected Son. He would receive the highest place of honor—the head of the corner—despite the rage of His foes. On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. He is the Victor over sin and death. What the religious leaders refused to believe, what they rejected, was that Jesus, the True Son of the Father, was giving up His life into death by the authority and mercy and grace of God to save them and all people from their sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. From the cross, our Lord prayed, “Father, forgive them.”

That’s the blessing of the reign of God come among people in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The blessings of forgiveness and eternal life, the gift of salvation that Jesus brings—that’s the reign of God. Jesus brought that reign and the blessings of the reign of God to the religious leaders and to the people whom they were supposed to shepherd and care for faithfully. Before their very eyes, the Christ, God’s True Son, worked miracles and preached the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. But these religious leaders rejected Him and God’s reign. And so they rejected its blessings, too.

As then, so also now. There are those who willfully reject the reign of God in Jesus Christ and there are those who receive it by grace through faith. To reject Christ and His saving work, His forgiveness, and eternal life means to lose the blessings of God’s reign and rule. Those who reject our Lord will be rejected and will fall short of the blessings that Jesus longs to give to everyone. Those who reject will fall in unbelief on this stone and they will be crushed. As Jesus said to the religious leaders, “On account of this, I say to you, the reign and rule of God will be take away from you and it will be given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be dashed to pieces and the one upon whom it falls, it will crush him.”

On the other hand, those who receive the reign and rule of God in Christ by faith apprehend the blessings of His reign and then produce its fruit. In Jesus Christ alone is found your salvation from sin and death. Through the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, you receive by faith the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This is the gift of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, who delivers to us in body and soul the blessings of the reign through Word and Sacrament. With His grace and mercy, God continues to be patient. He spares people the judgment of our Lord’s return so that many more people who have not heard, and those who have rejected, might come to know the True Son of the Father by faith and, by believing, have life in His name (John 20:31). By the Gospel, you have this life, the blessings of God in Christ. By this Gospel, you produce the fruits of the reign of God in your lives.

To say it another way, as we live the life of faith under God’s reign, we are “living sacrifices” to our God. By the help of the Holy Spirit, we dedicate our lives to the Lord as we love and serve our neighbors. Each member of the Church, Christ’s Body, serves with his or her particular gift or gifts. We share with others the blessings of the reign—forgiveness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and gentleness. We proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins so that more people may hear this Good News and that the Holy Spirit might use that Gospel message to create saving faith when and where He pleases.

Jesus’ strange and terrible story spoken against the chief priests and elders is certainly God’s Word of Law. It is spoken to show us how dangerous and serious it is to reject the reign of God that Jesus brings to all people. But more than that, this parable tells us that we have a God of mercy and grace who desires, not the death of the sinner, but that the sinner be brought to repentance and faith in the Son whom the Father has sent to be Savior of all. Our Father has loved us so much that He sent His One-of-a-Kind Son to die for us on a cross and rise again from the grave so that, by grace through faith, we might receive the blessings of His reign and rule in the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting. The once-rejected stone, Jesus the Son, is now the Head of His holy Church. And He has made us members of His Body so that we might produce the fruits of the reign of God and return them to our Father in heaven as we show love and mercy to others in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Sermon for September 27, 2020, Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 21:23-32 (Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)

“The True Son Brings Us Forgiveness”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

September 27, 2020

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

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 21:

23And when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, saying, “By what authority do you do these things? And who gave you this authority?” 24And Jesus answered and said to them, “Now I myself will ask you one thing, which if you should tell me [the answer], I also will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25The baptism of John, from where was  it? From heaven or from people?” So they began to consider [the one thing] among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why, then did you not believe Him?’ 26And if we say, ‘From people,’ we fear the crowd, since all consider John as a prophet.” 27And so they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.” He Himself also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 28But what does it seem to you? A man had two children. And he came to the first and said, ‘Child, go, work today in the vineyard.’ 29And he answered and said, ‘I don’t want to.’ But later, after he repented, he went away [to work]. 30And he came to the second and said the same. He answered and said, ‘I [am willing], lord,’ but he did not go away [to work]. 31Who of the two did the will of the father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and the prostitutes will go ahead of you into the reign of God. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. But you, even when you saw [this], you did not even repent later so as to believe him.”

          Well now Jesus had really done it. Immediately after being acclaimed the Messiah by the crowds as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest,” Jesus further provoked the Jewish leaders by driving merchants and money-changers out of the temple’s “Court of the Gentiles.” This area of the temple precinct was the only place that Gentiles (non-Jews) could go and offer prayers and sacrifices to the one, true God. By converting this area into a trading post, the religious leaders where blocking God’s design. The Lord promised through the prophet Isaiah, “These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is. 56:7 ESV).

          So it was that Jesus “entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.He said to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers’” (Matt. 21:12–13 ESV). The next day, when Jesus returned to the temple courts and was teaching the people, the religious leaders—the chief priests and elders of the people—wanted to know by whose authority Jesus had done these very things.

          The answer to the religious leaders’ question, “by whose authority?” was really a no-brainer: God’s authority! Jesus is doing the will of His heavenly Father. What’s more, Jesus is God, God-made-flesh and dwelling among His creation. He brings the reign and rule of God into the world as He does a new thing, creating a new people. And it’s the tax collectors and the prostitutes that have figured that out and not the religious leaders!

John the Baptist came into the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He came in the “way of righteousness,” Jesus said. John came as the forerunner and participant in the new righteous deeds of the reign of God in the person and work of Jesus. John proclaimed that God was beginning to put the world right with the arrival of the Messiah. In believing John’s proclamation about, and His pointing to, Jesus, tax collectors, prostitutes, and many others would be led to become disciples of Jesus. These “outcasts” and “sinners” were able, by the grace of God, to recognize divine authority when they saw it. They saw it in John the Baptist. They saw it in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of David, whom they praised with shouts of hosanna!

          If the religious leaders couldn’t recognize divine authority when they saw it in action, no amount of argument would convince them. So Jesus spoke a parable. “What does it seem to you?” He asked. Two kids, both asked by their father to do his will. We have the “no-yes” kid and the “yes-no” kid. The “no-yes” kid told his father with complete disrespect, “I don’t want to go work in the vineyard.” Later, he repented and went. The “yes-no” kid said, “Sure,” but then didn’t go. Which did the will of his father? The religious leaders answered that is was the “no-yes” kid because, eventually, he went to work in the vineyard. But in reality, neither kid did the will of his father. Each kid is only partly obedient which means he is also disobedient.

Now we take a look at ourselves. Is it better to be a “yes-no” individual or a “no-yes” person when it comes to the will of our heavenly Father? By the power of the Holy Spirit, we have been made children of God by the Gospel in our Baptism. But the sinful nature still clings to us. At times, we joyfully say “yes” to doing God’s commandments but then fail to do them. We say we will, but we don’t always do the good we should. We don’t always love other people the way God loves us. At other times we flatly tell God to His face, “I don’t want to,” but later, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word, we repent and follow through on our Father’s good and gracious will for our lives according to His Word.

You and I are not perfect children of God. You and I remain saints and sinners at the same time. But we truly are children of God because we have been adopted by Baptism into the family of our heavenly Father through faith in Jesus. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1 ESV). And the reason that God receives us sinners as His children is because of the saving work of His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus alone is the true Son of God who perfectly did His Father’s will. We read n Psalm 40 and Hebrews 10, “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me:I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.’I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD” (Psa. 40:7–9; Heb. 10:7 ESV). Although He is true God, Jesus willingly became fully human in order to keep God’s Law perfectly, without sin, so that He might gift to you and me His perfect rightness. Jesus became true man so that He might be able to suffer and die in our place and purchase our complete forgiveness by means of His blood shed for us on the cross. Through the gift of saving faith, we receive Christ’s forgiveness. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe the Gospel message of John and Jesus. By the Means of Grace, the Gospel and the Sacraments, you and I are brought to repentance and trust in the True Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who brings the Lord’s righteousness, forgiveness, and reign to us in the Gospel.

The earthly ministry of Jesus was to gather sinners into the family of our heavenly Father. John began that ministry by preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and by pointing to the True Son of God—Jesus Christ—who would purchase and win that forgiveness for all people: for the religious leaders, tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, and outcasts. God’s “way of righteousness” means that He offers forgiveness to all people through the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. He offers, gives, and seals this gift in Holy Baptism, bringing you into the family of faith, making you children of the heavenly Father. The Lord’s Supper is the “visible word” of forgiveness for the family of God in Christ to eat and drink by faith, receiving Christ’s true Body and Blood under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and the strengthening of faith.

Jesus, the True Son of God, did His Father’s will perfectly. By the authority of His heavenly Father, Jesus cleansed the temple. By the authority of God, Jesus took on human flesh, lived among us, fulfilled God’s Law because we couldn’t, and suffered, died, and rose again to make us the forgiven children of God by faith in His Son. This is the will of God—to save sinners. This is the Gospel that we continue to receive and to share. Our Father in heaven takes “yes-no” people and “no-yes” people and leads them to repentance and faith so that they might receive forgiveness and life eternal in the family of God. He empowers us to recognize in the Gospel and Sacraments of Christ His authority to bring you to repentance and faith, to give you forgiveness and eternal life, and to send you out into the world to show love and mercy in Jesus’ name to neighbors near and far. Amen.

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