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September 19, 2011 @ 9:36 am

Pentecost 14 September 18 2011

When I was in school my summers were spent the same as any other poor college student – I worked. I found whatever minimum wage job I could find, hoping I could find something that would pay a little better and offer a little extra cushion come fall. I worked a few summers for Landmark Lawncare – a landscaping out fit in East Lansing Michigan. I spent my days with a mower and a weed wacker tethered to my hands. Landmark had an employee incentive program. I suppose it was an effort to motivate the less than motivated students with lackluster work ethic that he tended to hire. He did a 30 day review. If your performance was up to snuff he gave you a $.25 raise. When it was time for my first review, I got only $.20 per hour – was told that my overlap between passes had to be narrower, but rest assured, there was another review coming and I could make up that nickel. I was unimpressed. I thought he was being a cheapskate; especially in light of the other guys who I found myself working with. Would have been nice if he paid me the whole amount. I am sure the other guys felt the same. But what kind of a boss does that? Who pays extra when he can get away with paying less? No earthly boss. But God does. That’s the point of the parable for today. God is generous. He pays, not just what we deserve – he goes above and beyond. He pays what we don’t deserve, what we haven’t earned, for work that we haven’t done. God is generous and lavish in his rewarding of us – so much so that you can’t even call it a reward. God is so generous and giving that when he pays us for our work we can only say it is a gift. In the parable, Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a landowner who is hiring workers, day laborers to come work in his field. The landowner, the rich farmer is God. Jesus tells us that he is hiring workers for his fields, calling them from the market place to come work in his service and agreeing to reward them. This is a picture of the life of a Christian. We were on our own and unemployed. But God came to us and found us. Extended to us an invitation, “come work for me and I will reward you.” Those who answer the call to come and work are Christians. Each one of you as believers in Christ, has been hired, in a sense by God. You work for him, in his service, out in his harvest fields. And he has promised that he will reward you for your service. Back in those days a day laborer was paid a denarius. Jesus pays you, he rewards you with the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. We might think of our reward in terms of all those things we confess in the third article. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. In our Catechism, Dr Luther reminds us what this entails for us specifically. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, This is the gospel call. Back when you were an unbeliever, back when you were like a day laborer waiting around in the market place for someone to come and hire you, God came to you and invited you to come work for him with the promise that He will reward you. So you answered his call, accepted his invitation, and entered his service when he called you by the Gospel and enlightened you with his gifts. Luther goes on… [God has] sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. And here Luther describes the reward, the payment that we are given from our heavenly Father, the rich landowner, who oversees the kingdom of heaven. We have the final hope that when all our work is done we will receive eternal life. But more than that, we are not merely working for an eternal reward – somewhere off in the unknowable future. God rewards us daily, just like in the parable, with his gifts of love and mercy and protection and forgiveness. Remember the catechism. He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. Our wage is a daily wage. Paid out in full. With no questions asked as to how well we have performed on that day to deserve it. God gives, God pays generously. So God is generous. God is giving. But sometimes, we find his payment to be unsatisfactory. Jesus sets it up like this: He tells us that the farmer went out to hire a crew. He hired his crew for the day in 4 different shifts. The first crew clocked in about 6 am. The second crew hired on about 9. The third crew started to work at noon and the last crew began at 5 pm. They all quit at 6:00. So some worked 12 hours, some worked 9, others worked 6, and still others worked only an hour. Each group was paid exactly the same. This sounds like a story problem, doesn’t it? A math assignment. Maybe we should have our school kids get back together to figure this problem out. But before we ever got started with our pencil and paper, we pause and think to ourselves that this just doesn’t make sense. The math doesn’t add up. This would never happen. We are doing the math backwards. They should all get the same hourly rate. This should be an addition problem. Or perhaps a multiplication problem. How many hours worked times the hourly wage equals the final payment. Instead, Jesus starts us out with the final payment. Assumes we all get the full amount and then figures the math from there. It doesn’t work like that! No boss, no corporation would pay you a full salary when you haven’t earned it! But God does! And that is exactly the point. But that is exactly what gets us so bent out of shape. God doesn’t prorate his forgiveness based on how much work we have done. He doesn’t adjust our salvation or our slice of heaven according to how productive we have been. He doesn’t reduce our forgiveness each day. He doesn’t subtract from the holiness and sanctification that he gives to us in the Divine Service based on how much we have earned it. He doesn’t step back and evaluate our work so that he can prorate the help and care that he offers to us in this life day by day. He just simply gives the whole thing! Mathematical nonsense! And we should be happy about that. But we’re not! We are not happy about it; not happy at all. We want God to measure. We think He should measure, he should prorate his rewards based on good behavior. And we have determined the scale he should use. The scale God should use to judge everyone else is ME. Myself. We want God to judge everyone compared to us, because that’s what we do. God look at me! Look at how good I am and how good I have been! See what a good Christian I am! See how I read my bible! See how many books I bought at the Christian book store! See the radio station I listen toin my car. See the cross I wear around my neck, not to mention the one nailed to my wall at home. I even have a fish sticker on my back bumper. God look at me. Measure everyone else according to how good I am. We think that because of our goodness, because of our work, because of our sacrifice God should reward us. We get all bent out of shape when he doesn’t. When he doesn’t give us things we deserve, or when he does give us things we think we don’t deserve. Then we want to know why. Why God? What have I done? Why did you do this to me. Haven’t you seen how hard I have worked to serve you? I don’t deserve this. Satan loves to exploit this weakness in us to fill us with pride. To puff us up and inflate our view of ourselves. To make us feel cheated and wronged when we don’t get what we think we deserve. But this comparison game can work the other way too. And this is the other weakness that Satan exploits – despair. We compare ourselves to someone else, see that we have not measured up and then feel like we are un-savable. God can’t forgive me. God won’t forgive me. I have been too bad, too sinful. It’s all up for me. And so we give up. The problem with this measuring game that we love to play is that it gives Satan the opportunity to dislodge us from the gifts of God. God is generous, he deals with us according to his love and mercy, according to what we don’t deserve. When we play these mathematical games with God we either start to think that we are so good that we don’t need God, or we think that we are so bad that God won’t want us. Either one is wrong. And either one is bad. Notice what happens in our parable. This sin here is mathematical, measuring and counting and adding and subtracting. We do that here in school every day. We don’t do it in Church. There is no need for it in the Kingdom of Heaven. When the workers came to the landowner with their tally sheets he was insulted. He was angry. He let them have it. Here’s your wage, take what I promised and get out of my sight. Christians we should not anger our God. So what should we do? Stop it. The nature of the world is that we need math. When you go out to get a job you need to know how to add and subtract and multiply and divide. You need to know how to figure your salary, your wage, how much you have earned and deserve to be paid. But when you come to church put down your pencil and paper. Put down your calculators, your spread sheets, your invoices, and your receipts. Instead just look to Jesus. See Jesus. See that in Jesus the Lord has paid in full the price for your sin. He has covered every last penny. There is nothing that is owed on your account any longer, it has been stamped paid in full, your account has been closed. And now, instead of owing God a debt he has hired you as his own worker. He has offered to you the protection of serving him in his employ. And he pays you. Things that you don’t earn, wages that you haven’t deserved. He pays you each and every day. Every day he opens his treasury and he passes out to you the thing you need the most. He gives you forgiveness so that your sins are clean and your tally sheet is clear. There is nothing that he counts against you. But then he also adds to you blessing upon blessing. Gift upon gift. Reward upon reward. Nothing in your life is punishment. It all is for your good. Even the hard things, even the sad, God promises that he will help you and strengthen you as you struggle to endure them. And then he promises that he will turn those things, even those hard things into good, into blessing, into joy. Dear Christians, God is a god of love. He is a generous God. He gives us things we don’t deserve. He adds to us joys that we have not earned. This day let us celebrate the goodness of our God. Amen.

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September 6, 2011 @ 10:23 am

Pentecost 12 - September 4 2011

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, The disciples came to Jesus asking the question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus gave them an answer, but it’s not who you would think. That question is one that is one our minds all the time. The College football season kicked off yesterday with teams taking to gridiron, squaring off against one another so that they could answer that very question: who is the greatest. There are all kind of awards that are given out to prove it. National Championships, the Heisman Trophy, The Vince Lombardi award, individual teams play for bragging rights in a given rivalry. It’s all about who’s the greatest. But it’s not just in sports. We do that in life as well. We want to be the best and claim we are the greatest. Mommies at a play date will brab about how advanced their son or daughter is. Kids compare grades on assignments, Dad’s and farmers brag about their tools and their machines. Everyone is looking to be or prove that they are in some way the greatest. The disciples wanted to be the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. We want to be the greatest is our own little corner of the world. Jesus tells us we’ve got to change. “Who is the Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” “Unless you turn and become like children you won’t even make it in.” That was a bit of a shocker. After all, the disciples were talking about being the greatest – thinking one of them would be in line for second in command. They were assuming they were in, they were assuming they were going to be big shots in Jesus’ kingdom, they were assuming that greatness was theirs and they just wanted to know who was greatest among the great. And here Jesus pulls the rug completely out from under them and tells them that if they even want to make it in to heaven they will have completely change, completely reorient their way of thinking and completely rearrange who they are. “Turn and become like a child.” In an adult world Children are not great. We love our children. We cherish our children. But our children have not yet learned the wisdom of the world. There are many things that they do not understand, so in an adult world, children don’t have a voice. They can’t vote. They can’t sign a legal contract. They can’t decide who will be their legal guardians. They are small, legally we call them “minors”. Personally adults look past them when they make their life’s decisions or set their life’s goals. Jesus says we must turn and become like this, we must change who we are with our continual quest for the self. We must empty our selves and make ourselves minor, little, small, of little importance and then we are beginning to think in the right direction, then, maybe then we might make it in to the kingdom of heaven. Usually when it comes to greatness, the idea of being great appeals to us because of all the attention it will earn for us. Wealth and honor and fame and fortune – those things all go along with greatness. Jesus tells us that in the Kingdom of Heaven there are those who are great. There are those who we should consider as worthy of greater attention and greater honor. But again, it’s not who we think it would be. In our frame of reference, and according to our worldly thinking, the greatest and those most deserving of honor have earned their greatness. They are great because of what they have done. Not so in the kingdom of heaven. The greatest is the least. The most humble, the most down and out, the lowest, the least, the smallest, the most insignificant. The one who is hurting the most, suffering the greatest, this one is the one most deserving of honor. Paul the Apostle says this very thing. In 1 Corinthians 12 he uses the metaphor of a body to describe the Church. We are the body of Christ, with Christ as the head and the rest of us as those parts that work together to form the body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:21-26) You see, life together in the body of Christ is not like life together out there in the world. Life together as Christians is a life of service and sacrifice and love. And so in our text Jesus teaches us what it means to live that life together in the body of Christ, in the Church of God, in the Kingdom of Heaven. Life together in the Kingdom of Heaven means that we look out for one another. You look out for one another. Look around you. This is the Kingdom of Heaven. These are the people you are responsible for. In our text, Jesus tells you how to treat them. The first thing he says is don’t lead any one of them into sin. Temptations to sin will come. They are inevitable. But don’t be the source of the temptation. Don’t be the sticking point, the fly in the ointment, that makes someone say, “Christians are awful people.” “St Paul Chuckery is an awful place. And here’s why… And then someone goes on and tells a story about you. Sometimes it happens that Christians suffer for doing good. Sometimes it happens you do the right thing or say the right thing and that is what causes the offense. That’s one thing. What Jesus is talking about here is doing the wrong thing, sinning against someone, being rude or offensive by your words or behavior and causing someone to stumble. There will be stumbling blocks in the path of any Christian. Don’t you be a stumbling block. Don’t cause a weak and suffering brother or sister to sin, don’t make the suffering worse or greater, don’t drive someone out or away from the Kingdom of Heaven because of your bad or sinful behavior. The second thing Jesus commands us to do is to watch out for those who are weak, those who are stumbling or have stumbled, and when they fall away, it is our duty to go get them. It is your duty to go get them. Again, back to 1 Corinthians 12. “If someone says ‘because I am not a hand I am no longer a part of the body.’ They do not cease to be a part of the body.” (1 Corinthians 12:15) Christians can’t amputate themselves from the body of Christ. They get sick. They get injured. But if you smash your thumb with a hammer, the rest of your body hurts and the rest of your body bandages and tends to that injured thumb. In the very same way, when one of the members of the body of Christ is injured, you don’t let her amputate herself, you go after her, you tend to her, you care for her, you nurse her back to spiritual health. Or, in the words of Jesus, “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray does he not leave the 99 on the mountains and go in search of that one who went away.” Go find the lost and the wayward sheep. Go tend to the injured members of our body. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. It’s your job. You do it. The third thing Jesus tells us has to do with restoring your brother. Christians are sinners. We are sinful people and Christians sin against each other. It is our duty to go after them. Often it happens that the first thing people think to do is to tell the church, tell the pastor, tell the elders. Jesus says that the first thing to do is to go talk to that person, the one who has wandered. The one who is weak, the one who needs to be restored. The first thing to do is to go talk to him alone. Go in love and gentleness the way you would tend to your injured thumb. Show him his fault. Do your best to gently steer him back and win him back. This is a far cry from what we often will do, criticizing him, sharing his faults with others, publicly running him down. That is how the world handles sin. That is how the world keeps people in line or addresses faults and issues. There is a pecking order. There is a hierarchy. There is a chain of command. Great, greater, greatest. Jesus says no. The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one who has the greatest need, who is suffering, who is grieved, who is lowly, who is least. This is the one we treat with the greatest honor, the greatest love, the greatest care. This is the one we devote our attention to. Why? Because Jesus has devoted his attention to us. Heaven is a kingdom. A kingdom has a king. The king of heaven is Jesus. And Jesus has made himself your servant. Jesus who is the greatest has made himself the least, suffering for his subjects by dying for them on the cross. Jesus has suffered for you, for your sin. When you were weak, when you were most in need of saving he came to you to call you to faith and to cover your sin so that you could receive his grace and his mercy and his forgiveness. He has covered your sin with his sacrifice and he has given to you his perfect righteousness. The way of the world is to strive for greatness. Be better than anybody else, be the biggest, the best, be a star. The Kingdom of Heaven throws that model out the window. The least is the greatest, the most shamed is treated with the greatest honor. The broken, the wayward the erring, these are the ones Jesus has come to save. Jesus has saved us. He has honored us with his love and compassion. Let us likewise honor each other. Amen.

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September 6, 2011 @ 10:17 am

Pentecost 12 - September 4 2011

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