Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Lord God heavenly Father, we lift up our souls to You in prayer, asking that You would remember Your mercy and steadfast love and grant us those things that are for our good, that serve our neighbor, and that give glory to You.
We ask You to pardon our guilt, for it is great. From the days of our youth we have wandered from Your ways. Forgive us by the blood of Your Son Jesus Christ and teach us to walk in Your ways.
When we wrestle with some issue in our life—some worry that we cannot shake—some sin that we cannot conquer—some burden that we cannot bear—remind us that it is really You that we are striving against and lead us to trust in You and rest in Your forgiveness and cast our burdens upon You.
We thank You that You have declared that we are right in Your sight through faith in Your Son Jesus Christ. Grant us that peace that passes all understanding, knowing that we stand in Your grace and empower the witness of Your people as we share this hope with others.
Help us to know that the hardships and difficulties of life serve Your gracious purpose for us—that you desire to make us better, more faithful people by giving us endurance and character and hope.
Continue to pour Your love into our hearts as we receive absolution and hear Your Word preached and receive the body and blood of Your dear Son Jesus Christ so that our faith would be strengthened like that of the Canaanite woman.
Your Word says that “blessed are those who observe justice”. Bless and prosper those who work for justice in our government and enable them to do what is righteous in Your sight. Protect our military men and women and show Your favor to the citizens of this land.
We pray that You would redeem us out of all our troubles and bring us out of distress. Give work to the unemployed. Comfort those who mourn. Heal those who are ill. Deliver those who are addicted. Abide with those who are lonely. Strengthen marriages and families that are conflicted.
All of these things and whatever else You see that we need and yet the wisdom to ask for, grant to us dear Father in heaven for the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Monday, February 27, 2012
Lent 2, Series B March 4, 2012
Lessons for The Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16 – God promised Abraham and Sarah that their descendants would become nations.
Psalm 22:23–31 (Antiphon: Psalm 22:22)
Romans 5:1–11 – God has made peace with us through the cross of Christ, even though we were His enemies.
Mark 8:27–38 – Jesus embraced the cross to restore us to God; now it has become our way of Life, too.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: People of the Cross
As God’s people, marked by the cross of Christ in Baptism, we know and share the good news that even while were still enemies of God, Jesus gave His life to reconcile us to God. We take up our cross and follow our Savior when we live by that Gospel, reaching out to heal broken relationships in spite of suffering deprivation or ridicule because of it. We are people of the cross and children of Abraham because God has called us to trus7 & 8 are near duplicates.t His promise and live by His covenant.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Gracious God, You love me not for what I was, but for who I might become when touched by Your grace in Christ Jesus. Grant me perseverance, character, and hope so that I may endure suffering for the sake of Your redeeming power. Finally, let me know the glories of heaven when Christ returns with the holy angels. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: How we use the gifts and opportunities God has entrusted to us will reveal whether we live as His friends or His enemies and tempters.
OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, You have made us Your dear friends
Through the cross of Christ our Savior.
Bless these gifts for Your kingdom’s ends;
May they be used to show Your favor.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: It is not just Jesus' identity, but also his mission that impacts our lives. With Peter we can identify Jesus as the Christ of God, but often would deny him the cross by which the messianic work has been accomplished. Because we were enemies of God, we must have Christ's work on the cross to reconcile us to God. Embraced by the cross of Christ, we are enlisted in his mission. We live by his covenant of grace as children of Abraham and take up our cross of suffering for the Gospel as we live in service to his message of peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
And immediately, the Spirit cast out him (Jesus) into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by the devil. And He was with the wild beasts, and angels were caring for Him. (Mark 1:12-13, my translation)
The Gospel texts for the season of Lent detail the baptismal life, and today's was no different. We don't live in a vacuum, but in the midst of fallen world among a fallen race and in fallen flesh.
And, in this life, we are surrounded by temptation. Martin Luther is reported to have said, "Where God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel."
In this life where we fail to withstand even the most basic temptations, there is but one place to flee. We flee to our Lord Jesus, the one who withstood temptation in perfect obedience to His Father. In our baptism, joined to His death and resurrection, the devil has no accusations to level against us.
Lord Jesus, in Your holy wounds we find a refuge in the midst temptation. Bring us in repentance and faith to the foot of the cross to see our salvation - You, crucified and raised. AMEN
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Before I get on with this week's news, I wanted to give a report on Lordz Kidz. For an inaugural event, this was great. Six or seven children, a couple of good leaders (and they even asked me to participate, too), and it was a great fellowship event. Praise God!
Now, to this week's activities.
Elders will meet Monday evening at 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday is the regular Lenten schedule of Midday Prayer at 12:15 p.m. and Evening Prayer at 7:15 p.m. Before the evening service, a meal will be served, beginning at 6 p.m. by the Sunday School teachers and Sr. Youth.
Marilyn Hamer, John and Rita Murphy, Becky Chamberlain, Frank Jennings
Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Charlotte Birnbaum
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney, John Sorensen
The holy Christian, Apostolic Church as she journeys to the cross in Lent
The Church in our nation and around the world as she makes a bold confession of Christ crucified
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, February 27
Zumba Aerobics (Fellowship Hall)
Board of Elders (Overflow)
Wednesday, February 29
Bible Study (Revelation 17)
Hymn sing and Evening Prayer
Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
From the moment we were baptized and became God's children through faith in Jesus, we have been targets in the devil's sights—him trying to wrench us away from God and destroy our faith in Jesus by leading us into some great, faith-destroying sin.
That's the way it has been for all people from the beginning. Adam and Eve faced temptation and failed. The children of Israel faced temptation and failed. The great heroes of the Bible faced temptation and failed. So it went until Jesus entered the battle.
Jesus was not defeated by Satan’s temptation. He was the new Adam who got it right because he listened to his Father’s words. He was the faithful Israel who walked with his heavenly Father in holiness. The Bible says that: He was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin—and that because of him we can with confidence draw near to the throne of grace and find mercy and help in time of need.
What we're going to learn today from God's Word is that Jesus’ holy obedience and steadfastness in the face of temptation is the best possible news for us—because God counts it as our own through faith! We are going to learn how Jesus remained steadfast.
The Bible says that: Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. I want you to realize that you are not being tempted because you are a bad person or because you are weak—anymore than Jesus was tempted for these reasons.
You are being tempted because you are a child of God. The devil does not have you-- and he wants you. Being tempted doesn’t mean that you have lost your faith—it’s the struggle against temptation that means you are still a believer.
There is a spiritual battle that rages against us- and in us- and each of us must fight against temptation. From the very beginning, Satan and his evil angels have done everything in their power to destroy mankind--to wreck the fellowship that were created to have with God--and that certainly included tempting Jesus who was not only a human being like we are--but also the heaven-sent Savior of us all.
Right before his temptation, Jesus had been baptized--the Spirit had descended on him--the Father had announced his pleasure in him, identifying him as his Son--and yet immediately Jesus faced temptation from Satan.
Jesus did not seek this out--he did not put himself in harm's way--he wasn't looking for a fight--it simply came to him because he was filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit. It came to him because he was God’s Son.
In the same way, we should not intentionally put ourselves in harms way spiritually. If we have a problem with alcohol we should stay away from places where it's served. We should be circumspect in how we interact with the opposite sex. We should avoid TV and movies that undermine Christian faith and morals. And so on.
But even when we do all that we can to avoid it, temptation will still come to us because Satan is a robber and a thief and we are his prize. The Bible says that:
After fasting forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
If you remember the stories of Israel wandering in the wilderness, you know how they struggled with trusting God to meet their physical needs--how they grumbled about God’s provision and would have gone back to being slaves in Egypt just for the food.
Now please understand--being hungry is no more a sin than being thirsty is a sin or desiring companionship is a sin. God made us physical creatures with physical appetites. But on account of sin, our physical appetites have become distorted and misdirected and the devil tempts us to meet them sinfully.
Adam and Eve ate the one thing they were forbidden to eat. Noah served God and kept mankind from complete annihilation in the flood by building the ark but got drunk to celebrate. David sinned sexually with Bathsheba. The list of people sinfully satisfying their physical appetites goes on and on and includes us--but not Jesus.
There was no sin when Jesus became hungry in the desert. There would be no sin in turning a stone into bread. Certainly it was within his divine power to do so. But what he would not do was take his cue from Satan on how to meet a legitimate bodily need.
Jesus was the faithful Adam who listened to his heavenly Father and said "no" to Satan. He was the faithful Israel who was satisfied with his Father's provision no matter what it is. He was the faithful person that God wants all of us to be.
Jesus' faithfulness is our salvation and his method of remaining steadfast is something that every child of God can make use of. Jesus responded to every temptation in only one way: by saying “It is written” and taking his stand on the Word of God.
The Bible says that we are to take up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. This doesn't mean that we simply quote some verse of the bible when we are tempted—though there is power in that. What it does mean is that who we are and what we desire and the direction and purpose of our lives is to be drawn from the Bible.
The devil and the world want us to believe that we are nothing but biological creatures--merely animals-- who are at the mercy of our appetites-- and our flesh wants us to believe that lie. But we are much more than that. We are God's children for we were created in God's image and we find our life in his Word. The Bible says that:
The devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
I don’t think that any of us would consciously put the Lord to the test—which implies that we doubt his word and demand some kind of tangible proof of his existence or promises. We wouldn’t do in consciously…
But how often do we say or think to ourselves: “Well, if God really loved me…then this or that would take place”.
Who we are in God’s sight and what his attitude is towards us is certain! His Word tells us of his love-- and the sacrifice of his Son is the enduring sign of it. But Satan tempts us to seek certainty in some external sign.
Satan tempted Jesus to put God’s promise to the test and cast himself down from the pinnacle of the temple with the promise that the angels would catch him-- as a sign to himself- and a testimony to all looking on- that he really was God’s Son. But at his baptism, Jesus had already heard God’s Word concerning his identity.
The same is true for us. When we were baptized God said to us: you are my child. He has not changed his mind. We can return to God’s baptismal promise again and again no matter what is going on in our lives—no matter how we are being tempted-- and be certain that it is true and unchanging.
We need to lay claim to that promise again and again because Satan is not going to give up on us and we face temptation every day in this world. The Bible says that:
The devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
The really sinister thing about Satan's temptations is that truth and lies are always twisted together. When he tempted Adam and Eve with the forbidden fruit, he promised them that they would be like God—knowing good and evil. And so they did. But what they discovered was that they were evil and God was good and they weren't like God at all but had lost the image of God and become subject to death.
That's the way it always is with temptation--Satan shows us the pleasure in some sin--but hides the spiritual danger. The glass of wine with a meal that becomes an early death and a ruined family through alcoholism--the innocent friendship at work that becomes a destroyed marriage through an affair—the work ethic that becomes a cover for greed--and so on. Spiritual danger in some good thing that Satan ruins.
That is how Satan tempted Jesus. He showed him what was rightfully his: kingdoms and glory and power and honor--the kings of the world casting down their crowns before him--every knee bowing before him in submission--and all he had to do was one small thing--to render one act of worship to Satan.
Who would ever know--they were all alone--why go through the rejection and suffering-- when what is rightfully yours-- can be yours-- right now? Why go to the cross and die when you can have it all right now?
This temptation cut to the very heart of Jesus' mission. He had come to die. This was his work--to offer up his own life upon the cross as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world--to do what we have failed to do in giving our whole lives to God.
But Jesus did not fail--he did not abandon the way of the cross. He set his face towards Jerusalem and the cross and never looked back. After his death and resurrection he ascended to the Father and took his rightful place at the Father's right hand. The ceaseless worship of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven sing his unending praises BECAUSE the way of glory went through the cross. The Bible says:
The devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
This is one of the most tender, poignant moments in the Bible. The great evil angel has left Jesus alone in the wilderness and the good angels come to his aid. The whole scene was set before their eyes: would this second Adam go the way of the first and fall victim to temptation? No! This time there was a great victory for mankind in Jesus Christ and all the hosts of heaven rejoiced in it.
The Bible says that there is a spiritual battle that rages around us--that:
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Each one of us has our own part to play in that spiritual battle. The devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh are allied against us. They are mighty foes—but they are not greater than Jesus Christ.
Throughout his public ministry the devil was right there beside him trying to undermine his mission and destroy his purpose. But Jesus was faithful each step of the way—going to the cross—laying down his life—rising again and descending to hell to announce—not only his own victory—but ours as well.
What we see before us in God’s Word today is that Jesus’ faithfulness at the devil’s temptation is God’s promise to us -of our own victory over Satan -as we put our faith in Jesus- and take our stand on his Word. Amen.
Monday, February 20, 2012
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
I'm in Austin, helping my mom and dad at home. I'll be back Tuesday evening. A few important reminders:
LWML meets Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m. As part of the program, a pancake supper is being provided. Ladies are asked to provide their favorite sausage (already cooked), as well as any specialty toppings desired.
Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. Divine Service is held at 12:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. There will be a light meal served before the evening service.
Next Sunday, February 26, is Lordz Kidz Sunday! Beginning at 3 and lasting until about 5 p.m., it's a youth outing for those in Kindergarten through 5th Grade. Make plans to attend!
Finally, yes, there will be Bible Study on Wednesday morning - still in Revelation 17.
Marilyn Hamer, Rita Murphy, Frank Jennings, Brandi Baker
The Church throughout the world as she prepares to enter Lent.
Lent 1, Series B February 26, 2012
Lessons for The First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 22:1–18 – God counted faithful Abraham righteous and spared his son.
Psalm 25:1–10 (Antiphon: Psalm 25:14)
James 1:12–18 – God has given us spiritual birth to guard us against the temptations of our evil hearts.
Mark 1:9–15 – After Jesus was baptized and tested by Satan, he returned proclaiming the Good News.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: "In the Hour of Trial"
Put yourself in Abraham's place: aside from the painful prospect of losing his son of promise by his own hand, he faced the difficult task of explaining his actions to Sarah when he returned home! God spared Isaac, Abraham's son, but He did not spare His own Son. The steadfastness of God's protecting love is seen in Jesus' temptation in the desert and His subsequent proclamation of the Kingdom of God present in His person. While desire, full grown, gives birth to death, God’s Word of truth in us bears the first fruits of the crown of life.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Merciful Father, temptations and trials come upon me every day, but yet You hold me with the love of a father for his child and the new birth into faith that You have given me shields me from the temptations of my own heart. Let that knowledge make me strong to resist evil and to rejoice in Your care always beside me. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: When our desire for things is greater than our love for God, the temptations of Satan find easy prey in our old sinful hearts. The Good News of God’s Kingdom is that Jesus has broken the hold of Satan over us; we are free to trust God’s promise of Life instead bowing to Satan’s death claim on us.
OFFERING PRAYER: O Lord, when we try to trade promises for blessings
remind us that You have blessed us with Your promise.
Bless the gifts we bring today that they may carry Your promise of Life
to those who don’t yet know Your blessing in Jesus Christ.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We are tempted in many ways every day and by ourselves are powerless to stand against Satan’s onslaught, but God holds us with the love of a father for his child. The new birth of faith that we have through our baptism shields us from the temptations of our own hearts. Our relationship to God in Christ makes us strong to resist evil and to rejoice in His care always beside us.
BONUS: Abraham: Priest of Moriah – Gilbert A. Franke, 2000
(May be sung to “Let All Together Praise Our God” LSB 389)
God called on Abraham to make
A dreadful sacrifice,
But in His mercy would not take
The dear son, Isaac’s life --
The dear son, Isaac’s life.
Instead the Lord chose to provide
A ram as substitute;
An angel stopped the knife and cried:
“I know your faith is true --
I know your faith is true!”
O God the Father glorify,
Who did not spare His Son,
But willingly gave Him to die
To win us as His own --
To win us as His own!
Sunday, February 19, 2012
This week one of the circuit pastors called me to talk about what he was doing for Lenten sermons. He said that he was thinking about doing a series on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “The Cost of Discipleship” and what did I think about it.
I told him that it was an important book—definitely worth reading—but it wasn’t really what I thought a Lenten series should be—that the purpose of Lenten meditations is to walk with our Lord as he journeys to the cross—just exactly what we see our Lord doing on this last Sunday before Lent. The Bible says:
Taking the twelve, Jesus said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.
Over the course of his life Jesus traveled up to Jerusalem many times to fulfill the religious requirements of the law—but this would be his final journey and he wanted his disciples to go with him.
That is still the purpose of our Lenten services—that we would travel with the Lord to the cross.
Jesus wanted the disciples with him so that they could see what he was doing for the salvation of the world and for their own salvation. In the old King James Version Jesus says: “Behold”! In other words: “Pay attention”! “Feast your eyes upon this”! “Look at what I am about to show you”! And then Jesus tells them what to look for:
He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”
What would they see as they made that journey to Jerusalem one last time? They would see the words of the prophets accomplished.
They would see Jesus ride into Jerusalem, not as a mighty warrior, but as a humble King mounted on a donkey just a Zechariah had promised. They would see Jesus pierced for our transgressions and wounded for our iniquities just as Isaiah had foretold. They would see Jesus spit upon and ridiculed as David had prophesied. And they would see Jesus stand victorious over death just as Job had looked forward to in faith.
Jesus wants us to know that he is the fulfillment of all of the promises of God—that is why he took his disciples on this final journey to Jerusalem and its why we travel with Jesus to the cross each Lenten season—so that we can once again feast our eyes of faith upon the promises God that have been fulfilled in Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection—so that we can understand what it all means for our lives. The Bible says that the disciples:
…understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
That Jesus was handed over to the Romans—that he was mocked and shamefully treated—flogged and crucified-- is a matter of the historical record—it happened. That Jesus rose again on the third day is a matter of the biblical record that hundreds of people bore witness to—they saw him alive.
There was nothing difficult in the words Jesus spoke about what would happen to him in Jerusalem—he had said them before. There was nothing unusual in the crucifixion scene he described-- it happened every day in the Roman world.
And so what was the difficulty the disciples had in understanding these things? Why couldn’t they grasp what Jesus was telling them?
At least part of the problem is that they didn’t want to believe what their master was telling them—to think that this terrible thing would happen to someone they loved, was unbearable-- and there had been other occasions when they tried to deny it.
People still shy away from the scandal of the cross—even in the church. Many Christians are perfectly happy with a cross in the sanctuary but a crucifix is a little too graphic. That the bread and wine of Holy Communion are actually the broken body and shed blood of Christ is a bit over the top for many churches who deny the very words of Jesus. Countless sermons are preached every Sunday where the suffering and death of our Lord have no place whatsoever. Then and now the death of Jesus on the cross is a scandal.
The other reason that they couldn’t get a handle on what he was saying is that they really didn’t see the necessary connection between Jesus the Messiah and the cross.
They were perfectly willing to accept Jesus as the Messiah because they thought that was about earthly things like position and power. But to accept that the Messiah of God HAD to suffer and die—they struggled to believe it.
But the fact of the matter is that if we are to live a life with God—it can only come through the cross of Jesus Christ and the death he suffered there.
That is why he invites us to go with him to Jerusalem so that we can understand that salvation and wholeness and new life are only found in what he accomplished in Jerusalem in his death and resurrection. The Bible says that: As Jesus drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.
At the beginning of their journey to Jerusalem we heard the Lord tell us and the disciples: “Behold”! “Feast your eyes on this”! And yet they couldn’t see the truth. But as they traveled on, they met a blind man who could see what they couldn’t see because the truth about Jesus is discerned by the heart-- not the eyes.
Can there be a picture of anyone so helpless as a blind man in the ancient world? No social agency to help him. No vocational training to give him some place in life. Nothing for him to do but beg for pennies from other peasants, hopeful that his basic, human needs could somehow be met by their mercy. That was his life until Jesus walked by him on his way to the cross. The Bible says that:
Hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
This little exchange really is the key to understanding what the Holy Spirit is telling us this morning about Jesus’ journey to the cross—it’s why the disciples and the crowd didn’t understand what Jesus was about-- and why the blind man did.
When he asked about what was going on, the crowd said that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by—and so he was—the humble man of Galilee.
The crowds of that day and the crowds of this day are perfectly content to confess the same—to recognize and accept the historical facts that Jesus of Nazareth was a good man- who said wise things- and died a terrible death.
But that was not the confession of the blind man. He said: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Not Jesus of Nazareth—but Jesus, Son of David.
There are great confessions of faith that are found in the Bible. Peter says of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God”. The centurion at the cross says of him, “Surely this man was the Son of God”. The confession of the blind man was just as great. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.
This was the confession of a faithful child of Israel who recognized by faith just exactly who Jesus was—that he was the Messiah that they had been hoping for and praying for—the One who would make EVERYTHING right that sin had destroyed. It is in that faith and hope that he cried out for the Messiah’s mercy. The bible says:
Those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Things really haven’t changed that much in the last two thousand years have they? There are still those in the crowd who try to shout us down as we confess that Jesus is the Savior of the world. There are still those who want to silence the witness of Christians that we have in Jesus a God who is merciful and willing and able to help.
The blind man shows us the way to respond to the unbelieving crowds of our own day when he refused to be shouted down or ridiculed for his confession and instead cried out all the more: Son of David, have mercy on me! The Bible says that at these words: Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him.
The blind man couldn’t come to Jesus by himself. He couldn’t find him in the darkness. He didn’t posses what was necessary. All that he could do was recognizes his own great need and cry out for mercy. And that is what he received.
Jesus commanded others to bring him to him just as he has commanded us to bring others to him by carrying our children to the baptismal font and inviting people to church.
There is a world full of people who need what only Jesus can give and yet they lack the ability to make it to him on their own. Jesus has commanded us who can see the way, to bring them to him to be healed of all that is broken in their lives. The Bible says:
When the blind man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight
700 years before this moment the prophet Isaiah promised that through the Messiah’s work “the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; and the lame shall man shall leap like a deed and the tongue of the mute sing for joy”.
Jesus of Nazareth—the Son of Man and David’s Son accomplished every one of these messianic signs just as the prophets had written. And the benefits of his saving work are received today in the same way as they were that day: by faith in Jesus.
Jesus told the man that his faith had made him well. And so it had—not because the power rested in his believing—but because the One he believed in was able to do what was promised of him: give forgiveness, salvation, and wholeness.
So it is for us. Faith is necessary to receive what Christ has done for us. His saving works were done for all but to receive the benefits of forgiveness, life, and salvation-- and the wholeness that will come on the Last Day—it is necessary to have faith—to recognize that we have no claim upon the Lord but our great need for his mercy-- and to come to him in faith for the new life he gives—just like the man did that day.
The Bible says that the man who was healed: followed Jesus, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
This is the life of faith! That we who have received the Lord’s gifts follow him as his disciples—that we praise God and give him all the glory for the great things that he has done for us—that our lives bear witness to the goodness and mercy of Jesus Christ.
The man who was healed that day was a man reborn. He had a brand new life ahead of him. And that life was dedicated to the glory of God. Many the same things be said of us, who are also the recipients of our Lord’s saving work! Amen.
Monday, February 13, 2012
Series B, The Transfiguration of our Lord February 19, 2012
Lessons for The Festival of the Transfiguration
2 Kings 2:1–12 – When Elisha saw Elijah go into heaven, he knew God’s Spirit would power his ministry.
Psalm 50:1–6 (Antiphon: Psalm 50:2)
2 Corinthians 3:12– 4:6 – Only the glory of God in the face of Christ removes the veil of unbelief and doubt.
Mark 9:2–9 – As Jesus prepared to go to Jerusalem and the cross, the Father affirmed His mission in glory.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: A Light along the Way
The disciples did not want to believe that Jesus was going to die. They would rather have stayed on the mountain in the presence of God’s glory. Like the disciples, we need the light of God's glory to lead us through the darkness of the cross. Elisha was strengthened for dark days ahead by watching as Elijah was received into heaven. St. Paul tells us that we do not lose heart in our witness to our Savior; rather, we are being transformed by the Spirit to reflect God's glory in our lives.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Dear Lord, there are many crosses and trials around me and before me. I need to see your glory and your love supporting me through all difficult times of my life. Thank you for showing me your glory before your cross. Help me share your love with those who are hurting. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: A double portion of Elijah’s spirit empowered Elisha for difficult days ahead of him as the Prophet of the Lord. He used this blessing wisely, investing it in proclaiming God’s judgment and His grace. We have many blessings in our lives – time, talents, and treasures – all to use wisely for God’s mission.
OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, with Your love supporting us and Your blessings supplying us,
we can survive the trials and difficulties of this life.
May these gifts that come from the bounty of Your goodness
bring blessings to others as they come to know Your grace.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Like Peter, we are impressed with connections to important persons, like Elijah and Moses. Sometimes we think having the right contacts will give us privileges and exempt us from the tedious tasks of life in this world. The voice from the cloud requires our obedient response to God’s presence in our lives in the person of Jesus. Jesus’ caution to the disciples reminds us to interpret our message with the fact of His resurrection and victory over sin and death. Even when we get hung up on giving the right impression and making the right connections, it is the knowledge of Jesus, our Savior, crucified for us and risen from the dead, which leads us through the confusion of this life.
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
In You, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!
In Your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline Your ear to me, and save me!
Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; You have given the command to save me, for Your are my rock and my fortress.
Rescue me, O God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.
For You, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon You I have leaned from before my birth; You are He who took me from my mother's womb. My praise is continually of You.
Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, help us ever to seek You and to seek others for You, that Your harvest may be full and we may join those from every tribe and nation at the heavenly feast, where You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN
This Week at Mt. Olive
This week includes a couple of events, some important happenings in the week come, and a cancellation.
First, the events of this week:
Monday, 13 FEB, 7 p.m. - Church Council meeting
Saturday, 18 FEB, 9:30 a.m. - YOUTH PLANTING
Sr. and Jr. Youth, it's your hour to shine once again! After such great work on the flower beds at the church, weeding and mulching, it is time for planting. Planting begins Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Bring work gloves, tools, and something on which to kneel. Also recommended are sunscreen and a good hat.
Now the Cancellation:
LWML for this week has been postponed until next Tuesday, February 21. On that evening, a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper will be provided.
Now the Happenings:
Sunday, February 26, 3-5 p.m. - LORDZ KIDZ Get Together!
For upcoming young people in the Church, ages Kindergarten through 5th grade. Crafts, songs, some food, and some games will be the order of the day. I'm really jazzed about this new opportunity for young people at Mt. Olive! If you have questions, please contact Lori Stacy or the Church Office.
Wednesday, February 22 - Ash Wednesday (I know, out of order)
Divine Service at 12:15 p.m. and at 7:15 p.m. A light meal is being provided by the LWML before the evening service. This also begins the Lenten midweek services and meals at the same times each Wednesday in Lent.
Rita Murphy, Frank Jennings (my dad)
Bob Whitworth, Doris and Burt Nelson, Charlotte Birnbaum
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney, John Sorensen
Our Homebound: Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston)
The Church, as her celebration of the Epiphany of our Lord draws to a close
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, February 13
Wednesday, February 15
Bible Study (Revelation 17)
Lutheran Book Club (Tobit)
Saturday, February 18
Youth Flowerbed Planting
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Over the course of six days, he spoke his almighty and powerful Word and called this world into being from nothing. He created the stars and the planets. He created the oceans and dry ground. He created the plants and animals. And he created mankind.
And not only did he create man—he established a relationship with them. Man was made in the image of God—male and female he created them to have fellowship with him. They knew God face to face. They walked with him and talked with him. They ruled over the rest of creation and their love for one another created new life.
Day after day, God spoke- and what he spoke- came into being. At the end of each of the days of creation, God looked out upon all he created and called it good. And on the seventh day he rested.
God did not rest because he was tired. He did not cease from his creative work which continues to this day as he speaks that ongoing “yes” that sustains the universe.
The seventh day was a day in which he took a step back to admire the perfect world he had brought into existence and the loving relationship he had established with man. Can you picture that scene in your mind where all is right in the world?
If you can, you know what a tragedy it was when man rebelled against God and destroyed the world he created and the relationship he established with man. And yet God promised that he would re-make what man’s sin destroyed and re-establish that right relationship that existed between God and man in the beginning.
From then on, the Sabbath Day was set aside by God for man, not only so that man could rest from his labors, but so that he could feast his eyes of faith on that first, seventh day vision of a perfect creation and a right relationship with God—set aside so that he could worship and praise God for his goodness—set aside to lay hold of God’s promise that he would make things right, just like they were in the beginning.
Every Sabbath day existed for that purpose: to give thanks for what God’s Word accomplished in the beginning and to be renewed in faith and hope at what God’s Word promised was still to come. And yet, the Bible says: There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. In other words, there was still more than those Sabbaths.
For thousands of years God’s people observed the Sabbath—that seventh day of remembrance and promise. But as joyful and hopeful as those celebrations were, there was still a shadow over them. They remembered something that no longer existed because of their sin. They looked forward to a promise that had not yet been fulfilled.
But that shadow disappeared when the Light of the World took on human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible says that the Sabbath days were “a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” What the Sabbaths longed for and hoped for was fulfilled in Jesus.
Jesus Christ re-established the fellowship that existed between God and man in the beginning. He did away with the sins that keep us from God by washing them away in his blood on the cross. And his resurrection was the beginning of a new creation in which death and sin have no part.
Jesus Christ is the true Sabbath-rest of the people of God. He is the certainty that there will be a new heaven and a new earth just like there was in the beginning. He is the guarantee that we will once again dwell in God’s presence.
All of this has been accomplished by the saving work of Jesus and to enter into his Sabbath rest—to take our own place there—it is necessary to rest from our labors and receive in faith what he has done. The Bible says: Whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
Let’s go back for a moment to that first, seventh day Sabbath—the one from the beginning. What did God see as he looked out upon his world? He saw a creation that was perfect. He saw a world in which there was only life. He saw mankind as his children. He saw that his work was complete.
To enter God’s Sabbath rest is to look to Jesus Christ and know that the same is true for through faith in him. Once again we are counted as God’s children. There is a life for us that death cannot end. And there is nothing that needs to be added to Jesus’ work-- by our own work.
How foolish and faithless it would have been for Adam and Eve to look at the beauty of the creation around them and regard it as the work of their own hands!
They were the creatures—God was the creator. They were the recipients of his creative work. They had status as children that God simply bestowed upon them of his grace. So it is with us and Jesus!
How foolish and faithless to look at Jesus’ holy life and bloody death and glorious resurrection and count even a part of our salvation the result of what we have done. How sinfully presumptuous to believe that our status as God’s children is anything other than our identity in Christ that the Holy Spirit has bestowed on us in Holy Baptism!
Jesus has done it all and when we gaze upon his re-creating work all that we can do-- is what God did in the beginning when he looked upon his original creation—call it good. The Bible says: Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
That we are to strive to enter the Sabbath-rest of God may seem like a contradiction when we can do nothing but receive what he has done—but it is not.
God speaks these words about striving to enter his rest because throughout salvation history, there have been countless millions who did not enter his rest because they rejected what he had done.
In the verses before our text today, the author reminded his congregation about the people of Israel who came out of slavery in Egypt—how they were delivered and set free—how they saw their enemies die in the waters of the Red Sea—how they were led by God and fed by God and received his Word at Sinai and yet when it came time to believe in what he said and trust in his promise to take them safely into the Promised Land, they refused to go—they would not enter his rest.
They fell in the wilderness because of their lack of faith. Their enemies seemed more powerful than their Savior. They didn’t like the hardships of the journey. They preferred the life they knew as slaves over their freedom as God’s children.
The same thing can happen in our life of faith. The dangers of failing to complete our faith journey are real. The temptations to return to slavery to sin are powerful. To adopt the values of the unbelievers around us is easier than holding fast to God’s ways. The hardships and challenges we face seem much more real than God. We face the same temptation as God’s ancient people to fall back and turn away rather than trusting in God.
That is why the Bible tells us we are to strive to enter the Sabbath-rest God has provided in Jesus Christ by believing the promises of his word and trusting the guidance of his Word to lead us to heaven. The Bible says that:
The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
From the very beginning of the Bible we see clearly the power of God’s Word. God said let there be light and there is light. God called this world into being by the power of his Word and where before there was only darkness and emptiness, when he spoke-- there was light and life.
God’s Word has the same power when it comes to spiritual life and light. When Jesus says “Father, forgive them” from the cross we are forgiven. When Jesus says “take, eat this is my body, take drink this is my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins”—so it is and so we are. When the Bible says that we have died with Christ and been raised with Christ in Holy Baptism—so we have. The Bible says that we have been born again by the living and abiding word of God.
Just as Adam and Eve received their life from God calling them into existence- and just as Lazarus was raised from the dead at Jesus’ word- so we have been given spiritual life by the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word.
God’s Word is living and active and has accomplished the saving purpose for which God sent it by bringing us to faith in Jesus who is our Sabbath rest.
But the Word of God has not only brought about our spiritual life, it is the enduring source of that life—the word is means by which God works in our lives to sustain our faith so that not only do we begin in faith but we finish our life in faith.
God speaks to us in his Word as it is read and studied and proclaimed and received in the Sacrament. It speaks into those deep places in our lives where there is sin that needs to be confessed and fears that need to be confronted and a faith that needs to be strengthened so that we can enter into the fullness of what Christ has won for us. It lays bare the truth about our life of faith. The Bible says:
No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
When Adam and Eve sinned, it wrecked their relationship with God. They realized they were naked and experienced guilt and shame for the first time and hid from God in fear. But God sought them out—calling out to them so that they could acknowledge their sin and receive his forgiveness and have their guilt and shame covered by his bloody sacrifice.
So God continues to do. His powerful words of law tell us the truth about ourselves—that we have sinned and fall short of his glory. His powerful words of the Gospel tell us that there is forgiveness for us in Christ. He calls us to himself again and again so that we can acknowledge our sins and have our guilt and shame covered by Christ’s bloody sacrifice on the cross. That is our true Sabbath rest and we enter it by believing in Jesus. Amen.
Monday, February 6, 2012
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
What Does God Say of All These Commandments?
He says: I the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.
What does this mean?
God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. He also promises grace and every blessing to all who love Him and keep His commandments. Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.
This morning, we recited these words in the Divine Service. I'm sure most of us remember reciting them either in Lutheran Day School or in Confirmation classes several years ago. Indeed, these words are frightening, for they threaten punishment on those who break the commandments.
But, for those who brought to love God through Christ by the Holy Spirit, life is a little different. Yes, we are still accused by the Law. Yet, what is the delight of all who are in Christ? It is to do what God wills. Where is the list of things God has given us to do? It's the 10 Commandments, especially the Second Table, involving the love of the neighbor. Reading the Catechism, it is God's delight that we take care of our neighbor's bodily need, live a sexually pure and decent life, help our neighbor improve and protect his possessions and income, and protect our neighbor's good name. Why do this? God has no need of our good works, this is true. But, our neighbor does. Thus, we serve God by serving our neighbor.
Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven.
This Week at Mt. Olive
Lent is rapidly approaching, beginning February 22 (Ash Wednesday). This year, Mt. Olive again offers light meals before each Lenten evening service. The dates of February 22 and 29 are already planned, but dates in March abound. Please sign up your group, board, committee, or group of families if you wish to provide a meal. The normal attendance is about 30.
Zumba Aerobics continues this week on Monday and Wednesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. This will shift in Lent - keep an eye on the calendar!
Next Sunday is an LWML Bake Sale! Fire up those ovens and get those forks ready to start baking and eating!
Finally, all youth mark your calendars - February 18 will be a flower bed planting day beginning at 9 a.m.
I will be out of the office Tuesday for Circuit Conference.
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney, John Sorensen
Those who are sick or hospitalized: Doris Nelson, Bob Whitworth, Charlotte Birnbaum, Burt Nelson
Our homebound: Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston)
Thanksgiving for the rain received
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, February 6
Wednesday, February 8
Bible Study (Revelation 16 and 17)
Lutheran Book Club - Tobit
Sunday, February 12
Divine Service, 8 and 10:30 a.m.
Sunday School/Adult Bible Class (Exodus 7), 9:15 a.m.
LWML Bake Sale!
The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Series B February 12, 2012
Lessons for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
2 Kings 5:1–14 ~ Naaman was cured of his leprosy only when he submitted to Elisha’s command in faith.
Psalm 30 (Antiphon: Psalm 30:2)
1 Corinthians 10:(19–30) 31—11:1 ~ We curtail our freedoms for the sake of our weaker neighbor’s faith.
Mark 1:40–45 ~ The man with leprosy came to Jesus in desperation and left with great joy.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: How Far Will You Stoop?
Naaman only consented to washing in the dirty water of the Jordan river when his servants pointed out that he would have attempted any great, challenging task to be rid of his leprosy. St. Paul urged that we be willing to make concessions to our own consciences for the sake of calling the unbeliever to faith. When a man with leprosy fell to his knees begging for cleansing, Jesus commanded, “Be clean!” How far will we humble ourselves to admit that we need God’s healing? Surely our Savior who was willing to touch an unclean leper comes to our level to claim us as his own!
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord God, if you are willing, you can make me whole! You have shown your desire that I be cleansed of sin; continue working a humility in me that accepts your will in all things and reaches out to all those you have redeemed through Jesus Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: The sincerity of our love is shown in our giving. If you don't think so, see what happens if you forget to give your Valentine a gift!
OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, You have given us great gifts;
In them we see Your great love.
May our love for You, in all we say and do,
Be shown to all by these gifts we bring. Amen.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: These texts expose our doubt and cynicism. We think our only hope lies in tasks too difficult for us to complete. We think if God is able to help us, there is a good chance He won’t want to. We expect those who have the upper hand to use their strength of position against us. Those are the ways we would respond to requests for help! Imagine our surprise when we learn that Jesus really does want to help, that God has chosen to rescue us in a way that takes no effort on our part! Then we respond by giving up our rights in order to help those who are weak.
Sunday, February 5, 2012
To understand what God is saying to us today through Jesus’ parable of the generous master, it is necessary to set it in context. A rich young man came to Jesus and asked him how to have a life with God. The way he asked that question was revealing. He said, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” That is the way that the world approaches this question of life with God—it depends on what I do.
Having asked his question that way, Jesus answered it in the same way: Keep the commandments and you will have eternal life. The young man replied that he had kept them all. (I wish I could have seen the Lord’s face when he said it!) Fine, Jesus said, if you want to be perfect (which is what God requires after all), go and sell all that you have, give it to the poor, and come and follow me and you will have treasure in heaven. The Bible tells us that the young man went away sad for he had many possessions.
Listening in to this exchange were the disciples. When they heard Jesus’ words about giving everything up to follow him, Peter spoke up for the group: “We’ve done that very thing Lord, what will we have?” In other words, what we will we get out of it?
And so Jesus told them that everyone in the kingdom who had given up something to follow him would receive it back a hundred times more. There were blessings from being a part of the kingdom!
But it was there that Jesus added these words: Many who are first will be last, and the last first. And when he finished telling this parable about the generous master he repeated those same words: many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Well, that’s the context. But what does the parable mean and who is Jesus talking to? The words of our text are not spoken to the rich young man—he rejected the invitation to come and take his place in the kingdom.
Instead, these words are spoken to those who have accepted the Lord’s invitation to come and take a place in the kingdom—spoken to the disciples who answered the Lord’s call to come and follow him--spoken to us who have also taken our place in the kingdom. They are spoken to remind us that our life with God is by his grace alone.
The unbelieving world wants to know what they have to do to have a life with God—it is a question deeply rooted in fallen humanity. But even we who have a place in the kingdom because of God’s gracious invitation still struggle to remember that our life with God depends only his grace—not on what we do—not on what we give up.
And so the rich young man’s question about what he had to do to have eternal life- and Peter’s question about what those followed Jesus would get out of it -were really not all that different because they both saw their life God in terms of work and reward-- instead of grace and blessing.
We are made of the same stuff as the rich young man and Peter and so we need to hear these words spoke to us and learn the lesson of the generous master. Jesus said:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
This is a parable about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is telling a story about how life with God works. And that begins with his call. He is the master. We don’t storm our way into his kingdom or dictate the terms of our life with him. We don’t have any claim upon him. He is the One who comes to us and invites us to take a place with him.
The vast, vast majority of people in Jesus’ day lived on their daily labor. They worked a day and received a day’s wage and in that way they and their family were cared for. How glad, how thankful, how joyful they were to hear this call to come and take their place in the vineyard—how grateful to the master!
So it is for us in the Lord’s kingdom. We are completely dependent upon his call. What we need for life and eternal life is found in him. And that he has called us by the Gospel to come and take our place in his kingdom, that he has graciously made a place for us where before we were on the outside looking in, how glad and thankful we are for the master’s generosity that not only extends to us—but to all! Jesus said that the master:
“…going out about the third hour, saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 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?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’
From the day that Jesus called Andrew to come and be his disciple (the first-called of the disciples) to this day throughout the church where children are baptized and sinners hear the Good News and come to faith, our Lord has been graciously calling people to come and have a part in God’s kingdom. His kingdom is overflowing with grace and blessing and he wants all people have a part in it.
During our Lord’s earthly ministry, it was Jesus who issued that invitation to come and follow him. Then it fell to the disciples who were commissioned by the Lord to take that invitation to the world. Today that invitation comes through you and me and Christians throughout the world.
But it is still the Lord’s invitation to all those who do not yet have a life with God—an invitation that comes from a heart that is generous and merciful and full of compassion for human need.
The master in the parable seeks and calls again and again—whether those called can do much or little—whether they have a lifetime to serve him or just a few hours—he does not want anyone to miss out on his gracious invitation to come and take their place.
Each day is day of God’s grace—a God –given opportunity to hear Jesus’ call to come and have a part in his kingdom with the promise of blessings to come. And that day of grace will continue until this world comes to an end. Jesus said:
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.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.
The Bible teaches that there will be a final judgment--a day of reckoning—a day of strict accounting. The day of grace and opportunity and invitation will be over. That is the moment we have before us in these words of the parable.
At the beginning of the sermon I mentioned that there was a saying of Jesus that provides “bookends” for this story that he tells. He says: “Many who are first will be last and the last first.” Now we begin to see what that means as the workers line up to receive their pay.
The last called, those who only worked an hour or so, were paid first and they received a denarius. And then those who worked three or four hours were paid and they received a denarius, and then those who worked six hours or so were paid and they received a denarius, and then those who worked all day were paid—each of them receiving a denarius. It’s important here to…
Remember the context. Peter wanted to know what’s in it for him and the other disciples who had been with the Lord from the beginning—who sacrificed and labored in his vineyard. And so the question is, if our relationship with God is only about what we can get out of it, what do we have a right to expect?
Closely connected to that question is a another question: what does the denarius represent? It’s not salvation. The Bible never teaches that we get salvation as the payment for what we do. It’s not eternal life. That is a gift from God.
Instead, the denarius is all of those earthly benefits that come from being a part of the visible church: People around us who can help us out in time of need--a set of friends who share the same values and lead decent lives--the respect of others that comes from being known as a decent, upright Christian.
All of these are blessings that come from sitting in these pews and they are just as available to the new member as they are to the old. There are temporal blessings that come being a part of the church and so that is the answer to the first question as well: if our focus is on the material blessings that we get out of being a member of the church—the Lord is perfectly just and will give us those blessings.
But if that is where our heart is, we will never really be satisfied and we will miss out on what matters eternally. The Bible says that those who were the first-called:
Grumbled at the master of the house, 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.’
Did you catch the change that happened to these men over the course of the day? When they were graciously called into the master’s vineyard how happy and thankful they were—how glad they were to have what was needed for life! But after the labor of the day they were no longer glad-- but grumbled against the master. Why the change?
It’s because their focus shifted from the graciousness and generosity of the master to themselves and others. Can you imagine how light their labor was at the beginning—to have a purpose—to be productive—to have what was needed to sustain life-what a blessing to have been called! How glad they were to take a place in the vineyard!
But they no longer saw their relationship with the master that way. All they could see was the hours they worked and the burdens they bore and the scorching heat that beat down upon them. What made it even worse was that not only were they focused on themselves (instead of the generosity of the master) they were focused on others.
The others hadn’t worked as long. They hadn’t done as much. They spent part of the day in ease. And yet they have same blessings as we do? That’s not right, just, fair!
Dear friends in Christ, where is the focus of your faith this morning? Is it on the generosity of the master who has called you into his kingdom? Do you still have that thankfulness and gladness that you had at the beginning of your life of faith? Do you count it a privilege to work for the Lord and trust his generosity?
Or is your focus on yourself and how hard you have it? Is your focus on others and how good they have it?
Jesus knows that this is a temptation for us. The disciples fought and argued over who was the greatest among them. Peter wanted to know what he would get out of his life with God. That is why Jesus warned him with the words of the first being last and the last being first--so that all of us would understand the dangers of making our life with God about justice rather than grace. Jesus said that the master:
“…replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go.
On the last day there will be countless people who will say: Didn’t we preach in your name and didn’t we heal in your name and didn’t we do miracles in your name—look at what I did! And Jesus will say to them: depart from me, I never knew you.
This is what the master says to those whose eyes were fixed upon the hardships they endured and the blessings of others instead of the master’s graciousness and generosity. If we demand that our life with God is about what we deserve—if we demand justice from him—Jesus will give it--but nothing more.
Take what belongs to you and go. You see dear friends in Christ, if we demand it, Jesus will give us what belongs to us. Judgment. Material things that end with our death. Separation from God. This is what we deserve. This is what is ours by right. But what Jesus wants to give us is what doesn’t belong to us. The master said:
I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Our life with God—from beginning to end—is based upon his generosity—his undeserved grace. The gift of his Son—the Spirit’s calling us into the church—the forgiveness that have in Christ’s death and the hope of the life to come we have in Christ’s resurrection—all of it is God’s gift.
We have deserved none of it—all of it belongs to the Lord as the fruits of his saving work--and yet God graciously gives it to us. Do we begrudge the Lord his generosity? It’s easy to do when the focus of our faith shifts from his grace to our works.
If we count ourselves first—if we demand a strict accounting from the Lord—if we make our life with him about what we get in this life—God will count us last.
But if we humbly confess that we are last—that we deserve none of the good things that we receive from the Lord—if it is gladness rather than grumbling that fills our hearts, we can be confident that God will make us first, blessing us in time and eternity with his good gifts. Amen.