Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sermon for 2/25/15: Lent 1 midweek (Wounds series)



The Wound of Betrayal

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

The “sore abuse and scorn” that paled our Lord’s head “with anguish,” as we sang, actually began long before the physical abuse. It began with the actions of a friend, of one whom He loved, a companion with whom He had traveled many miles and shared many meals. Here was a wound that weighed down our Lord’s sacred head and brought Him sorrow and grief that only compounded the weight of sin He bore on the cross.

“One of you will betray Me,” He said at the table that night. And they became sad, and one after another they asked, “Is it I, Lord?” We, too, need to ask that question of our Lord. Have I sold you out, Lord? Have I lived for this world and its pleasures and bought into them, rather than wanting you, rather than spending time with You, rather than hearing Your words of life? Have I lived as if I mattered most and You mattered not at all? Is it I, Lord? Jesus makes it pretty clear, doesn’t He? The wound of betrayal is not inflicted by those who are distant from Him, from those who are not His companions, His friends. No. This is a pain that comes from those nearest to Him, from those whom He held in special love. “He who has dipped His hand in the dish with Me will betray Me.” Not someone distant and unknown, but someone near, and dear, and loved.
But note the love of the Lord! Do not think for one moment that the Lord’s love for Judas, His betrayer, was in any way altered by betrayal. Of our Savior, the Psalmist spoke truly: “The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made.” He loved this man who would go his faithless way. Jesus loved this man who would first despise and turn from His love, and then despair of what he thought he had lost forever. For Judas, the betrayal was so big a sin that he was convinced he could never be forgiven. The betrayal by Judas was a horrible sin, to be sure, and it is a horrible sin in us. What on earth could ever justify handing over the Creator of all, who has shown us only kindness and love, into the agony of torture, crucifixion, and death? What madness is it that would lead the creature to betray the Creator? What folly it is to chase a few dollars in this world, spurning, all the while, the gift of a life that never ends.
“The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” That had to be the most terrifying word our Lord uttered. But do you see, people of God, that Jesus did not say those words out of hatred or anger or any such thing? He spoke from the depth of His sorrowful compassion. He saw, as is His way, where Judas would end his life, that in the end Judas would despair of the mercy of God and go to his grave believing that his sin was greater than God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. And that broke our Lord’s heart even more than the betrayal itself.
How little Judas understood the Son of Man whom he betrayed! For it was also for the sin of Judas, and the sin of all us Judases, that Christ stretched out His hands and let them pound in the nails. It was for our sin that Christ pleaded, “Father, forgive them.” It was for our sin that the Lord of life let “grim death, with cruel rigor” rob Him of His life so that sin and death would lose their claim on us forever.

The pain of betrayal is great, and it wounded our Lord’s heart. But it could never turn that heart to bitterness. In that heart lives a love too great, too strong, too mighty for bitterness and hatred to ever conquer it. Although betrayal hurt, like the pain of hell itself, Jesus went on loving Judas, even as He goes on loving you and me.
And so, in the wounds of the crucified One we find a love that sets us free to love as we have been loved. Our Lord spoke often of taking up our cross and following Him. Do you see, now, what your cross is? You are betrayed when you love others. Instead of your love being returned, it is rejected. Such betrayal hurts and wounds you in terrible ways; you may be crushed and even reduced to tears. Then that old sinful nature inside rises up in indignation and anger and eagerness to get even. But by the strength of the cross of Christ, by the power of your baptism into His love and mercy, you nail that old sinful nature to the cross and say, “By the power of Him who forgave me, even when I have betrayed Him so many times, I forgive. By the power of Him who loved me, even when I sold Him out, I will love you, the one who has hurt me.” This is the cross we are often called on to bear. And when we do, it will mean torture and death to that old sinful nature. But to the new man, who has arisen in Holy Baptism, it will mean life and joy. You will be partaking of the very life of your Savior.
We have not begun to love with the love of Christ until we have come, by God’s grace, to love those we thought were our friends but who have betrayed us, hurt us, brought us sorrow. When we go on loving them and seeking good for them and their blessing—a feat impossible for fallen human nature, but possible through the love of Christ—we begin to taste something of the joy known by the martyrs of Christ across many centuries who loved and prayed for the very people who brought them to death.
As often as the Church gathers to hear God’s Word and to receive the Holy Sacrament, she celebrates the love that is in her Savior, which is stronger than all our betrayals; a love that He freely gives us in His body and blood, that won forgiveness for Judas, for you, for me, and for all. It is our experience of such love that frees and strengthens us to bear the wounds of betrayal ourselves, following our Lord with joy. May He give us the grace to do so. In the name of the Father and of Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sermon for 2/22/15: Lent I




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

What is temptation? Temptation is anything that causes you to doubt that you are a child of God. Your baptism declares that you are a child of God. At the baptism of Jesus, the Father declared the same thing of Jesus: "This is my beloved Son." So the devil comes along and tries to convince Jesus that He's not God's Son. After all, God’s Son wouldn't have to go hungry after forty days. He could just turn stones into bread. God’s Son could jump off the temple and let the angels catch Him. The Son of God could kneel, just this once, to get all the kingdoms of the world back from Satan. But Jesus clings to the Word of God. The Word declares that He is the Son. The Father said so. Jesus knows it and believes it. He trusts the Father, and He holds fast to God's Word. He drives the devil away. But none of this happens for His own sake. Jesus undergoes these temptations so that you don’t have to question whether you are God's child.

You are baptized. When the water and the Word was poured upon you, the Lord Himself says, "This is my beloved Son!" All that Jesus the Son has becomes yours at that moment. Every right and privilege and honor of being the very Son of God becomes yours. From that moment the devil will stop at nothing to cause you to doubt it, to deny it, to ignore it, to not believe it. Satan whispers in your ear: "Are you really a child of God? If you were, you would give up that favorite sin of yours. If you were a child of God, you would stop holding that grudge. If you really were a child of God, you'd act like it instead of being the selfish person you. Oh, you don't do any of that? Well just bow down by telling me how good you really are and I'll be more than happy to tell you that you're God's child!" So the devil lies and tempts and accuses. His one desire is to declare to you that you are not God's child. You are nothing but sin and death. But by the power of your baptism you can reply, "Listen, Satan. You can say all you want. But I am a baptized son of God. I am a child of God because Jesus is the Son of God. And if you want to tell me I am not God's child, you have to first prove that He is not the Son of God."

Everything that goes on in the wilderness? Jesus does that for you. He overcomes temptation for you. He does not give in to doubt for you. He doesn't believe the devil's lies for you. But that is not where the defeat ultimately happens. Jesus is the Son of God most clearly, most powerfully, when He obeys his Father's will by being arrested, condemned, and crucified. He is the Son of God the most when the Father acts most as if He's not. He is most plainly and profoundly the Son of God when He hangs on the cross in your place: in the place of every sinner, each of us who are born orphans and enemies of God. And on that Good Friday, the Lord who went toe-to-toe with Satan in the wilderness, declares, "It is finished!" Temptation is overcome once and for all. The devil can no longer question whether you are God's child since the Son of God gave His life to make you just that. Now then whenever the evil one comes calling, to try to lie to you, to make you doubt, to make you uncertain—then you simply throw your baptism in his face. You rub the words of absolution in His ear. You open your mouth for him to see the body and blood of Christ on your tongue. With those gifts of Christ, backed up by His own death and resurrection and His being the Son of God, you can proclaim, "Away from me, Satan!" And he must run away, for the Father has claimed you as His very own, and Jesus won't let anything undo that. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

ACELC Presentation

As you know by now if you are a regular reader of my blog, I wrote a book called Lutheran Purgatory: Pastors Without Calls. Late last year, I was asked by the Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations (ACELC for short) to present a summary of the first few chapters of my book at their annual free conference, which this year dealt with the topic of the Unbiblical Removal of Pastors. 

While they have not yet made available the transcripts of the presentations, the audio has already been posted online for all the presentations and sermons during the conference. To listen to my presentation, right-click here and save it to your computer. Or I suppose you could just click on the link to listen without saving it to your computer. As you can tell, I have a face for radio and a voice for newspaper. Anyhow, I hope you find my presentation and the others (which I highly recommend) to be edifying and useful.

When they post the transcripts, I will update this post.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

PARODY: Blogged Assurance

After the recent exoneration of Dr. Matthew Becker, a blatant false teacher on the clergy roster of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, a collective roar of disapproval rose up from the Bible-believing people of the LCMS. The Southern Illinois District in Convention voted to urge Dr. Becker to repentance and to urge his district president to begin or continue doing his duty as Becker's ecclesiastical supervisor to bring the false teacher to repentance.

The Council of Presidents, seeing the uproar from the congregations and clergy of the LCMS, released a "Statement of Assurance" regarding their role as ecclesiastical overseers. 

Having seen the dark side of ecclesiastical oversight in my own experiences with certain district presidents and former district presidents, I don't find such assurances to be very reassuring. Their pleas to be mindful of the Eighth Commandment are heartfelt, I'm sure, though I've given up on receiving their aid in restoring my own reputation, which was heavily damaged with the help of at least one of their number. Anyway, as I read the statement, I found myself fighting the urge to make bold statements about its veracity and sincerity. I fought the urge and won, thankfully, but I could not defeat the urge to jest about the subject. With that in mind, here's my parody.

Blogged Assurance
(Parody to the tune of "Blessed Assurance")

1. Blog-ged assurance, statement divine!
The CoP says that everything's fine.
We're in agreement! We walk as one,
Sipping our Mai Tais in Southern sun.
(refrain) This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!
This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!

2. Blog-ged assurance! What we say goes!
Heretics teaching right under our nose
Can teach for decades, nothing to fear,
While faithful men get kicked in the rear. 
(refrain) This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!
This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!

3. Blog-ged assurance! What's all the fuss?
Better think twice before questioning us!
We here affirm the integrity
And oversight of the CoP. 
(refrain) This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!
This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sermon for 2/18/15: Ash Wednesday (Wounds series)

This is the beginning of the Lenten sermon series "Wounds," based on the Gerhardt hymn "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded." 



Wounded Savior for Wounded People

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

We have all heard it, perhaps on another Ash Wednesday, perhaps at a grave side: “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes for which this day is named are a symbol of death, the reality that lies before us all, old and young alike. Dust we are, and to dust we shall return. Such is the wages of sin.

As we begin our Lenten journey this evening, we look in amazement on One for whom those words should have no meaning. We see Him and cry out: “O Sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down, now scornfully surrounded, with thorns Thine only crown!” If ever there was a head that did not call for the ashes of this day, it is His sacred head! Why thorns, when it should be a crown of gold? Here we see in flesh, that One who formed us from the dust at the very beginning. Here is the One who in unfathomable love for our fallen race became dust for us. And now He will even lay down His head in the dust. But there is no sin in Him! In Him there should be no death! How, and why, will He die? We will spend this Lent pondering, in awe, such questions.

When Joel declares a sacred fast, when he urges the trumpet to sound and the people to gather, we discover that the occasion is one of return. Lent is always about a return. Of course, we so often think of Lent in terms of turning away from something—what we are giving up, what we will fast from. And make no mistake about it, fasting is a good thing. Didn’t our Lord assume that His disciples would do so in our Gospel reading; “When you fast...” When, not if! But by itself, fasting can be nothing more than an empty religious exercise. The Lenten fast goes much deeper than your decision to deny yourself some tasty treat. Rather, it invites, it summons, it urges you back to someone, to the Lord. “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” A Lent that is anything less than a return in faith to the Lord is only a religious game and worth less than nothing.

Rather than play games with God this holy season, hear His summons to you to come back to Him, to return to Him now. He does not want some piece of you, some outward display, like torn garments, or a few minutes tossed His way one day a week. No, He wants you! That is why Joel says: “Rend your hearts, and not your garments.” 

Lent is not for pretend sinners. Lent is for real, honest-to-God sinners who have failed in their love of God, who have failed in their love of neighbor, who see this reality, and who, by God’s grace, despise their sin and ache for His forgiveness and for strength to do better. And to such sinners the invitation rings out as refreshment: the invitation to return and see the sacred head of your Savior, now wounded. He is the One who knew that we, on our own, could not come to Him, return to Him, or even find Him. So He came to us, returned to us, and found us, and by His cross draws us to Himself.

And we marvel this Lent at how far He went to find us. It is a marvel indeed that the eternal God should take on human flesh and blood, as He did in the Incarnation. That, all by itself, is enough to leave us astounded forever. But He went further than that. Not only did He take on our flesh and blood, not only did He become dust for us, but He also went so far as to lift from us the burden of our sin, to bear it in His own body to death, to take all our failures to live in love as His very own. Indeed, in the words of St. Paul: “He who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” He not only died, but He also died as the greatest sinner of all time, with the sin of the world upon Him, all of it; yours, mine, everyone’s. In this way the Lord revealed that He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Look to the cross and see! He bore your sin to death that neither death nor sin would be the end of you. Such is the measure of His love.

During Lent, when the Church calls us to return, she is calling us to return to Christ, to draw near to this Savior who was wounded for our transgressions, who was bruised for our iniquities, upon whom was the punishment that brought us peace, and in whose stripes we find healing. She reminds us that only real life in this whole world is fellowship with Him, and that every time we have settled for something less, we have allowed ourselves to be deceived and cheated of that great gift of which our baptism has made us heirs. And as often as she sets her table, the Church calls for all her children to return, to come to this wounded Savior who bore our wounds in His own flesh, shedding His blood for us, so that His flesh might be our living bread from heaven and His blood the blotting out of our every sin.

Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” But the cross reminds us that we have a Savior who became dust for us, whose sacred head was laid in the dust of death, that the dust of our corrupted being might become incorruptible in Him. It is no wonder, then, that, pondering such love, the Church raises her voice to that sacred head and rejoices to call it her very own, her greatest treasure. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sermon for 2/15/15: Quinquagesima



Opened Eyes

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

Lutherans always seem to be preaching repentance for our sins and the suffering and cross of Jesus. Lent is coming! And we think about more these things more intensely in Lent, not because they are somehow more important then, but to remind ourselves what is most important: Jesus suffering for our sins. The world doesn't want that kind of Jesus. When the blind man is crying out to Jesus, begging for mercy from the Son of David, the crowd tells him to shut up. No, Jesus isn't supposed to be paying attention to beggars. Jesus is the King who will get rid of the Romans. The world doesn't want to hear about the suffering of Jesus because then the world would have to repent of its sins which brought our Lord to suffer. The world will say plenty about Jesus until you say that Jesus was handed over to be mocked, spit upon, and killed. Once you start talking about the Jesus who suffers, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—well then forget it. The eyes of the world narrow with skepticism, the ears of the world are shut, and the preachers are told to shut up.

Jesus speaks of His coming suffering and death and Luke records: "They understood none of these things, and this word was hidden from them and they did not know what He was saying." His own disciples don't get it. Those to whom it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God don't have a clue what our Lord is talking about! All this suffering and dying and rising talk makes no sense. And it would not make sense until the Lord was risen from the dead, until the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, until repentance and forgiveness began to be preached in Christ's name. We're the same way. We hear that Jesus suffered, died and rose again. But we like to think that our sins aren't really that bad as to need the Son of God to die for them. We like to think we're smart enough and wise enough that we don't need to live by every last word that comes from the mouth of Jesus. Repent, dear Christians, of only hearing the bare facts of salvation. Hear again that this suffering and dying and rising is done for you and your salvation. The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the Lord having mercy on you, just as He had mercy upon the blind man.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, God has no mercy for you, no salvation, no forgiveness, no love, apart from His Son who is handed over, mocked, spit upon, humiliated, killed and raised the third day. That is our salvation. All of our enemies—the devil, the world, and our sinful nature—are defeated by that very Jesus who takes our place on Calvary and suffers at the hands of sinners. It is Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, who fulfills all that the Scriptures said about Him, from the very first promise of a Savior in the Garden of Eden to all that Moses and the Prophets and Psalms promised about Him. The salvation and forgiveness of sins won by the Lamb of God are no good to you unless they are for you.

When the blind man is healed, we see that Jesus is for you. The blind man cries out for the Lord to have mercy upon Him. Jesus answers this prayer by doing exactly that: He saves this man. What is mercy? It is Jesus delivering to you the salvation He earned. The answer to the prayer, "Lord, have mercy!" is Jesus doing and delivering His saving work. The mercy of God in Christ is given through His Word in the water, read and proclaimed, in bread and wine. By these very means, the Lord opens our eyes of faith to see Him and behold Him and to receive His salvation accomplished for us.

The blind man knew that, in order to be saved, Jesus had to be for him. So he cried out the prayer for mercy. The world tried to shut Him up, but the crowd is silenced as Jesus stops to save this man by His Word and open the man's eyes so he could see his Savior. Brothers and sisters, learn to pray like the blind man. Learn to cry out to the Lord that begging prayer, "Have mercy upon me!" Then hear the words of Jesus to the blind man: "Be seeing! Your faith has saved you." Let His Word open your eyes, and see to Lent and beyond. See Jesus, lifted up for you, coming to you in His gifts in His church. Then do as the crowds did when they learned the Good News: give glory and praise to God. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

HYMN: Lord Jesus Christ, Your Love Has Covered Sin

The Southern Illinois District of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod is meeting this weekend for its 57th Regular Convention. The theme is "Above All Love One Another," drawn from I Peter 4:7-11. I was asked to write a hymn based on that theme, and this text is the result. Though this was written in November of 2014, I didn't want to post it until it was premiered at the actual convention for its intended audience and use. Now that it has been used for its intended purpose, I'm ready to make it public here. 
Click here for an audio recording of the assembly at the convention singing the hymn.

Lord Jesus Christ, Your Love Has Covered Sin 

1. Lord Jesus Christ, Your love has covered sin.
You bear in mercy all that we regret.
Teach us to love. O Savior, enter in,
So we ourselves forgive our neighbor's debt.

2. Upon the cross You bore our sins to death.
Mercy poured out in water and in blood.
Teach us to watch until our final breath
And cling alone to Your redeeming flood.

3. You call Your Church to serve in every place.
You give us gifts of love for word and deed.
Teach us to serve as stewards of your grace,
To honor You and fill our neighbors' need.

4. Lo, now the end of days is close at hand.
Flesh turns to dust and time will flee away.
Teach us to pray that all in faith may stand
As we await that great and glorious day.

∆5. Jesus, in love You died to cover sin.
Father, in love You gave Your only Son.
Spirit of life, You dwell as love within.
All glory, Triune God, while ages run.

© 2014 Alan Kornacki, Jr.

And click here for a link to an alternate tune by the Reverend Robert Mayes.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Sermon for 2/8/15--Sexagesima



Sown Seed

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

Not all end up in heaven. It’s the sad truth. The desire of the Father is that all would come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. What is more basic to our Christian faith than this? The Son of God did not come into this world to condemn the world; He came so that all who believe in Him would be spared the Father’s righteous wrath which has been spent on Him.
That being the case, the Sower sows. He sows with reckless abandon. He sows with generosity, casting that life-giving seed into the most unlikely and unreceptive of places. That is the call of the Gospel; it is available for everyone. He scatters this life-changing seed, His holy Word, without regard for where it lands. He knows that it is needed by all, even those who will refuse Him. Because of this, it may seem as though much is wasted. In truth, there is no soil worthy of this seed, no heart truly worthy to receive it. Still, He sows. The seed is His to do with as He pleases. And it pleases Him to offer up His life for hateful, rebellious men who will reject Him. He who sets men free sows the seed of His forgiving Word. It pleases Him to offer salvation to all men without cost, that all men might be saved.
That is the call of the Gospel. But still, few are chosen. The Word goes out, and for the most part it is ignored, hated, and even mocked. But where and when it pleases God, the old sinful man is drowned, and the demons are driven away, and the new man, a Christian, is born where no birth seemed possible, in a heart of corruption, now alive out of death, light in the darkness. This seed, God’s Word, reveals to men His heart of mercy. It accomplishes the impossible.
This is a mystery. The kingdom of heaven does not follow the rules of men. It is a mystery, incomprehensible to our feeble minds and a stumbling block to our foolish ideas about how things should work. It is a mystery that God loves those who treat Him as the enemy, those whom He has every right to hate. He sows His seed. He offers forgiveness and life. He dies and rises in our place, simply because that is how He is. We have not deserved it or earned it. There is nothing in us. It all comes from Him.
And that is why we are neither alarmed nor troubled by the great many times the Word is rejected and mocked. It is what we have been told to expect. We rejoice and find comfort in those moments of miraculous intervention, when His Word moves among us and does what it says: when, at the Baptismal font, God makes alive an infant dead in sin; when He enters our sanctuary, crucified and raised from the dead, now borne on lowly bread and wine for us to eat and drink; when His Word goes out and, by its own power and strength, creates and sustains faith in those whom He chooses. And those whom He prunes in suffering and affliction, those who bear the fruit of patience and confession, are those whom He loves.   
Without the world noticing or even caring, the Word, the good seed, has been cast. It has, by the grace of God, made a home for itself in our unworthy hearts. It has intervened. It has borne the fruit of faith. It has provided bread for the believer. In us, who have no merit or worthiness in which to boast, who were the worst soil imaginable—sought out by treading feet, snatching birds, and worldly weeds—in us sinners whom He came to seek and to save, whom He chose to love, the Lord of the harvest has caused a miracle to occur! He has created faith. He has comforted and consoled, redeemed and restored, forgiven and forgotten our sins. He has fulfilled His promise. His Word has not failed. It never does. It never will. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.   
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Sermon for 2/1/15: Septuagesima



Rejoicing in a Generous God

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

To read Scripture faithfully, every text of the Bible must be read while keeping in mind what the Bible as a whole teaches, especially keeping in mind God’s will and His work of salvation. Much of the confusion caused by differing interpretations of the Bible occurs when texts are pulled out of their context and made to say something that don’t actually say. Seldom has context been more important than with this parable of the grumbling workers. What had just happened in the verses immediately preceding this text was that a rich young man had come to Jesus, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him that he must keep the commandments; and when the young man responded that he had done so his whole life, Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Jesus was showing how this young man had a god besides the true God; he worshiped and treasured his wealth. Jesus watched this young man walk away, saying to His disciples: “I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And can’t you imagine Peter’s face clouding over with a mixture of doubt and irritation as this sinks in? “Wait a minute! We have left everything to follow you. Doesn’t that count for anything?” But Jesus assured them that they had not lost a thing; they had only gained. And then Jesus launched right off into the parable that is our Gospel for the day.

Do you see it? This parable is aimed at the sin that dwells within us all, when we are inclined to think too highly of all that we do for the Lord, and yet not highly enough of God’s grace. This parable is a poisoned arrow aimed straight at our hearts of pride. It speaks to that horrible temptation to think that God owes us because of our work in His kingdom. It speaks to that temptation to anger that God would actually grant the same eternal life to those who haven’t sat through hours of tedious church meetings, or who haven’t taught Sunday School, or who haven’t endured the anxieties of caring for church property; who haven’t “borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat,” to use the words of the Gospel.

God brings in some notorious sinner who has squandered his whole life in open rebellion and sin, and enjoyed all the pleasures this life has to offer, and, in the last hour, God saves him and gives him the same eternal life. This parable is like a nuclear missile aimed straight at our grumbling and complaining, our arrogance and our self-chosen piety. And we are right there with Peter and the others, imagining that God owes us. What delusion!

And the answer the owner of the vineyard gives to the grumblers is one that stings, as well. “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” No one is good, no one except that gracious owner of the vineyard, who loves to give! He is good! We are all in the position of being debtors before God. If eternity for us depended on our perfect keeping of the commandments of God, we would all be instantly destroyed—especially those who think they have fully kept the Law. If we haven’t been serving God freely and joyfully, gladly doing what He commands—and none of us can consistently say that—then we have only been offering God begrudging service, complaining about having “borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.

Not so, however, with Jesus! He kept all the commandments with joy and gladness. He did not only outwardly conform; His heart desired to keep them and to please His Father. He is the One who is good. And this good One is also immensely generous. He gives to us who grumble and complain His own goodness to wear, to live in, to grow in, to cherish. That is the goodness He wrapped around you at the Baptismal font. That is the goodness He places in your mouth at the altar, where, to quote the Psalmist, you “taste and see that the Lord is good.” That is the goodness that sounds in your ears from His Word. That is the goodness of the One who is generous to all who believe in Him, who will set aside claims of what they think God owes them, and simply receive from Him the gift of eternal life.

This parable puts us all in the same place when we stand before God. We have all failed the commandments of God, and yet we are all offered the gift of eternal life, a gift received only by faith, through the generosity of Him who tells this parable. Speaking once more of the importance of context, remember this: as these words were being spoken, Jesus was only days away from Calvary where, on the cross, He assumed a debt He did not owe. And He gladly paid that debt so that His generosity might cover our sin and reshape us as people who simply and humbly rejoice in the mercy and generosity of God. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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