A Generous Invitation

Text: Matthew 22:1-14

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

This morning in our gospel reading Jesus gives us two very solemn warnings in the parable of the wedding feast. They are warnings that we all ought to take to heart. Beyond those warnings, however, Jesus is also telling us a beautiful fundamental truth about God our Father. Each of these needs to be considered in turn.

First let’s talk about the warnings. In this parable that Jesus tells there is a father who is giving a wedding feast for his son. This father also happens to be a king. That means that this is no ordinary, run of the mill, wedding. This is a royal wedding. It might not quite live up to the big royal wedding a few years ago in England, but that event might help give you some idea what is going on here. It’s a big wedding.

As Jesus tells the parable the big day is here. It is now time for the wedding feast. The king sends out his servants to gather in the guests who have been invited. They had all received invitations, but now they need to be told that everything is ready. It is time for them to come to the feast. So servants go out to bring in the guests, but something strange happens. The guests won’t come to the feast. For some reason they simply refuse to come to the wedding.

The king is baffled by this. Why won’t the guests come to the wedding? Who would reject the invitation of a king like that? Who would turn down such a marvelous banquet? There has to be some kind of misunderstanding. So the king sends out the servants again (different ones this time just in case that might help) to bring the invited guests in for the feast.

Like the servants before them, these servants go out to bring the guests in. “Everything is ready,” they say, “The dinner is prepared. The finest animals the king owns have been slaughtered, prepared, and cooked. A truly remarkable feast is waiting for you. Come.” But again, the guests who have been invited refuse to come in. Jesus says that they “paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized the servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.”

Understandably, the king is angry. Not only have those who were invited to the feast killed the king’s servants (as if that were not bad enough on its own!) but they also continue to refuse to come to his feast. The king has laid this generous offer before them inviting them into his own home to feast with him and celebrate with him the marriage of his son, but they could not care less. So, in response to what his wicked and rebellious subjects have done, the king sends out his army to punish and destroy those who killed his servants and those who refused to come to the feast that he had prepared.

This is the first warning for you and me today: Do not spurn, reject, or shun the generous invitation of the Lord your God. The king in the story is God. God has invited us to His feast, the marriage feast of His Son, the eternal feast in heaven. He has invited us to that same feast and continues to call us, but our sinful hearts are inclined to decline the invitation. Instead, we become preoccupied with other things.

Notice in the parable what the people who rejected the invitation were doing. Aside from the ones who killed the king’s servants, the others were all just too busy to come. Some went off to their farms, Jesus said, and others to their businesses. Farms and business are not bad things, but these other things, day to day life things, seemed more important to them than heeding the king’s call to come to the feast. So the question falls to us, what stands between us and the Lord’s call to come to His feast? Is life too busy? Are other things more important right now? Would we let such trivial things come between us and the great feast that the Lord our God has prepared for us? That would be foolishness. That is warning #1.

Now warning #2. After the first list of guests all refuse to come to the feast the king sends out his servants for a third time. This time he sends them out to the street corners, the gates of the city, the highways and the byways, to bring in everyone that they can find. They catch the attention of random strangers walking by and they invite them in to the marvelous banquet that is ready and waiting. These guests, the ones who were not invited originally, they do come. They gladly come to the feast that the king has prepared. Never in their wildest dreams did they ever think that they would be invited to a celebration like this! Who in their right mind could decline an invitation like that! The wedding hall is filled with guests.

The king, after all of these guests have been brought in from the highways and street corners, comes down to check on how they are all doing and see this motely crowd that has gathered in his banquet hall. But as he looks at the crowd one man stands out from the rest. None of them are wearing the latest fashions, none of them have the kind of fine clothing that the king’s original guests likely would have had if they had bothered to come, all of these people came in from the street, but this one man is different. His clothing is terrible. He is filthy. He didn’t even bother to change into something clean before he came to the feast. The king might have even had clothing ready for these unexpected guests to change into, good wedding clothes, but this guy didn’t bother getting changed. He didn’t think it mattered. To make matters worse, when the king confronts him about it this man has nothing to say. He doesn’t even say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me” or offer to go change. He just stands there. So the king has him thrown out of the wedding feast.

This is the second warning for you and me today: Do not abuse the generosity of the Lord your God who has invited you to His wedding banquet. Let me be perfectly clear about this, this part of the story is not about clothing and what we wear. It is about our lives and how we live. This man understood the generosity of the king and assumed that generosity meant that he did not need to change out of his filthy clothes. We know of our Lord’s generosity as well, His forgiveness that has no end, His steadfast love the endures forever, that generosity and that forgiveness and that love is not an excuse, however, to not change out of the filthy, dirty, sinful rags of our lives and be transformed into the people of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s forgiveness for us, His love for us, is not an excuse to keep on living in sin. We are called to live a new life, to put our wedding clothes on. To put on the new clothes that God provides. To do anything less would be to abuse and take advantage of God’s generosity and love. That is warning #2.

The warnings we hear in this parable are strongly worded. The king’s reaction to the people who do not come to his banquet and the way he casts out the man who entered the feast without wedding clothes might seem harsh and heavy handed. Maybe it seems that God in this parable is just and angry king who hands out punishment after punishment. But there is more going on here than just warnings and punishments.

The most important part of this parable is generous invitation that the king continues to extend time after time to everyone who will listen. After the invited guests refuse his first invitation the king invites them again. The king desperately wants his guests to come enjoy his feast. Then, when those original guests refuse and demonstrate by their actions that they have no love for the king at all, the king flings his doors wide open to everyone and anyone. The good and the bad, Jesus says. Everyone is welcome in the marriage feast that the king is throwing for his son.

This constant, repeated generous invitation is what we learn about God our Father in this story. He invites time and time again. He calls time and time again. He does not desire the death of any sinner. He does not want anyone to be left outside the wedding feast. He come again and again to each and every one of us with the simple invitation to come into his wedding feast.

This invitation, the Father’s invitation for us to come to His feast, is the whole reason that Jesus came into the world. Jesus came into this world to be our invitation into the feast. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, the “bad” people of His day. He ate with Pharisees and religious teachers, the “good” people of His day. He eats with you and me, just as we are, when we gather at His table and eat and drink His body and blood. He came to bring us into the feast. And then, when the world (you and I included) demonstrated most clearly that we had no interest in His offer, when He was sent to be crucified, when He was treated Him shamefully and when He was killed, He was in fact making a place for us at the feast. Covering us with His own blood so that we would have wedding garments (garments provided by Jesus himself, not something we bought or brought from home), so that we would be fully prepared for the feast in the kingdom of God that will have no end.

This generosity, the generosity of a loving, forgiving king who reaches out again and again to lost sinners like us is the real meaning of this story. This king is your King. He is your God. And in His steadfast love He is reaching out to you today with His love and forgiveness for the sake of our Lord Jesus. Thanks be to God in Jesus name. Amen.

Advertisements

Unimaginable Forgiveness

Text: Matthew 18:21-35

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

You don’t become a pastor because you are good at math. I’ve always known that because I am not good at math, but I had it confirmed for me some time ago when I was helping my dad with a project at his house. My dad is also a pastor. We were working on an archway that he was building for their back yard and some of the pieces just weren’t fitting right. We could not figure out the spacing for some of the boards. We were each trying to do the math but kept getting different answers. We’d try each answer out and neither of them would work. Then, thankfully, my sister came home. She is an engineering student. She’s good at math. We told her the problem we were having and in a matter of minutes the boards were all fitting perfectly. Pastors are not good at math. For this reason I am thankful this week for calculators because our gospel reading today is full of math.

Jesus told a parable in our gospel about a man who owed a debt. This man, a servant, owed his king 10,000 talents, Jesus said. For us that number doesn’t mean much because we don’t deal in talents anymore, but 1 talent was equal to about 6,000 day’s wages for the average servant. It’s a lot of money. By my calculations, if an average person working an average job worked six days a week and did not take any extra holiday time it would take them more than 19 years to come up with 1 talent. It would take 6,000 days of work. This man, however, owes much more than that. He owes his king 10,000 talents. He owes 60 million days wages to the king. According to my faulty math it would take more than 190,000 years for him to make enough to pay that debt. I read a few things this week that tried to put this debt in modern terms. One author I read suggested that in today’s economy this man would owe 16 billion dollars to his master. Wow. The first question we want to ask is how did that happen? How could he owe so much money? Why would the king let him run up a debt like that? We’ll, as we are about to find out this king is a little crazy.

The king decided one day that it was time to settle all of his accounts. He was going to call in all the debts. Not surprisingly, this servant who owed 16 billion dollars did not have the money. So, recognizing that he still isn’t going to get all his money back but wanted to at least get something the king orders that this man, his wife, and his children be sold into slavery and that everything that they owe should also be sold for as much as they can get.

Faced with the reality of being ripped away from his family and having all his possessions taken away, the servant is brought to his knees. He begs for mercy, “Give me more time,” he pleads, “and I will pay back everything!” At this point we’ve got to wonder if this servant really understood the magnitude of the situation. Does he know how much he owes? Is he aware of how bad it is? Does he really think that he can pay it all back? Unless he wins the lottery 10 times over it seems pretty much impossible to pay back the debt. And yet, the servant insists that he can do it. He just needs more time, he says.

The king, the same one who just finished ordering that this man and his family be sold into slavery, hears his servant’s plea for mercy and changes his mind. He has pity on this poor, miserable, foolish servant who owes him more money than we could ever imagine. Rather than selling him and his family into slavery he lets them all go. And, most amazingly of all, he forgives the whole debt. In an instant the 16 billion dollar debt that this servant owed to his master is gone.

Imagine what that must have felt like. Imagine having such a massive debt suddenly lifted from your shoulders. Imagine being moments from having your family split apart and all your earthy possessions sold for pennies on the dollar and then finding out that all is forgiven, the debt is gone. It’s unimaginable really.

As unimaginable as it might seem, this story is our reality. That servant’s debt is our debt. We don’t owe 16 billion dollars to anyone and likely (hopefully!) never will, but our debt of sin is of an even greater magnitude. Our sin debt is unimaginable. It is unpayable. It is beyond our understanding. We are 16 billion dollar sinners. Actually, 16 billion dollars would not even be a drop in a bucket against our debt of sin. Our debt is so massive, so overwhelming, that we could never even begin pay it.

That might sound a little over the top. We don’t think of our situation being that bad. Sure we’re sinners, but we aren’t that bad, are we? Part of what Jesus is showing us here in this parable is that we are that bad. Our situation is that bad. We are in debt way over our head.

The mistake we make when thinking about sin is that we think that sin is only the bad things that we do. We look around at our lives we don’t see that many bad things and we start thinking that our problem isn’t that bad. The thing is, though, that sin is not just that bad things that we do from time to time. Sin is a corruption of the very core of our human nature. A corruption we are born with. If it were possible for us to never think an evil though, if we never said an evil word, if we never did anything evil to anyone, if we just sat in a dark room not thinking, saying, or doing much of anything we would still be 16 billion dollar in the hole sinners. We are born with that debt and we only add to it with our sinful, evil thoughts, words, and deeds. Left on our own to pay that debt we would be lost, sold into slavery to sin, unable to pay eternally.

We have not, however, been left on our own to pay. God our Father, seeing that there was no way that we could pay our debt (despite our claims to the contrary) and having infinite mercy and pity for poor, miserable servants like us, forgave our debt in full. He sent His Son our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to pay that debt in our place. On the cross He paid the full debt, every penny of it, for you, for me, and for every other person who ever has or ever will walk on this earth. Our overwhelming, 16 billion dollar debt, was paid in His blood and we owe nothing, not a cent. Your debt is paid, your sin is gone, all by the blood of Jesus.

The story, of course, does not end there. The servant in the parable, having been forgiven his unimaginable debt, himself goes and does something unimaginable. Walking out of the king’s palace having just been forgiven his debt he came across one of his fellow servants who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed that servant by the throat and demanded that he pay his debt immediately. When his fellow servant begged for mercy the servant who had been forgiven a 16 billion dollar debt refused to forgive.

This brings us to the crux of the story. Like that servant we have been forgiven a massive debt. We have been forgiven a debt that we can’t really begin to comprehend or understand. And yet, despite that forgiveness that has been poured out on us we are often unwilling to forgive those who sin against us. We hold grudges, we cling to old hurts, and we refuse to let others get off the hook without paying the price. As much as we know that we ought to forgive others for what they have done our hearts remain unwilling. We know it’s not right, so what should we do?

If we look inside ourselves to try and find the strength to forgive it will never work. Peter, at the beginning of our gospel reading, asked if forgiving his brother 7 times was enough. To Peter and to us 7 times seems like plenty. But Jesus says not 7 times, but 70 times 7. An infinite number of times. Where does the strength come from to do that?

This is where we need to remember that forgiveness is not our strength, but it is what Jesus does best. He came to this world, was born as a child in Bethlehem, and died on a cross for the purpose of bringing forgiveness to our broken, sinful lives.

It is Jesus and His forgiveness for us that will change our hearts to forgive. His forgiveness as it comes to us in our baptism, in God’s Word, in the words of Absolution spoken by the pastor, and in His body and blood in Holy Communion transforms our hearts to forgive. As that magnificent, overwhelming, incomprehensible forgiveness, forgiveness that would cover 16 billion dollars of sin debt, comes to us again and again it changes us. It changes us so that we can forgive. Are there people in your life that you have trouble forgiving? Are there things that people have done to you that you could never even imagine forgiving?  Come to Jesus in His Word and Sacraments, receive His unimaginable, incomprehensible forgiveness for you again and again and therein you will find the strength to forgive.

In Jesus your debt of sin is forgiven, now and always, and by His grace working in your heart you will forgive your brother who sins against you. Amen.

My Brother’s Keeper?

Text: Matthew 18:1-20

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

A number of years ago my wife Leah read a book called “My Sister’s Keeper.” It was a relatively popular book and has since been made into a movie so maybe you have heard of it. This kind of book is not really the kind of book that I am inclined to read, so I can’t say that I bothered to read the book for myself. Instead, as Leah read through the book, I gleaned the important details from her. Here is the basic idea of the story:

The story is about two sisters. The older sister is diagnosed with leukemia as a child. Aware the need for bone marrow transplants and other aspects of their daughter’s treatment, the parents of the girl decide to have second child, another daughter, who will be genetically compatible with the older sister and thus provide the various transplants and donations needed to save her older sister. However, when this younger sister becomes a teenager and is more aware of her own life and individuality she begins to push back against the idea that she should be required to provide whatever organs or tissue her older sister needs. I won’t spoil the ending for you or anything, but the basis of the whole book is whether or not the younger sister ought to be her old sister’s “keeper.” Should she be required to provide everything for her sister? Is she responsible for her older sister’s life?

The ethics and morals of something like that are too complex and too hypothetical for us to discuss at much length here and now, but my reason for bringing this story up is that the title of the book and the main idea behind the whole story is an allusion to a Biblical story. The title “My Sister’s Keeper” points us back to our Old Testaments to the book or Genesis and to chapter 4 of that book, to the story of Cain and Abel. Cain and Abel were brothers. The first two brothers to ever walk on this earth. The first two children of Adam and Eve. Cain, however, murders his younger brother Abel in a fit of jealousy, frustration, and rage. After Cain kills his brother God comes looking for Abel. God comes to Cain and says, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain, trying in vain to hide his guilt, says, “How would I know? Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The implied answer to Cain’s question is no, he does not believe he is his brother’s keeper. Aside from the fact that Cain is trying to hide the guilt of what he has done and wants to deflect God’s judgment away from himself, we see here that in his own eyes Cain does not feel that he is responsible for the life of his brother Abel. Cain refuses to be his brother’s keeper, to be responsible for the well-being of his brother, to care and provide for him. For that reason, Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” has been bouncing around in my head all week as I contemplated our gospel reading today.

Jesus talks in our gospel reading about our “brother” and His words make it clear that we are, to a certain degree, our brother’s keeper. Contrary to what Cain might think and what we might think sometimes, we are responsible for our brother. Unlike the situation with Cain and Abel, however, Jesus is not talking about our biological brothers and sisters. Instead He is talking about our spiritual brothers and sisters, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus says, “If your brother (or sister) sins against you go and tell him his fault…”

What does that have to do with being our brother or sister’s keeper? Jesus’ point is that when someone sins against us we should seek them out in order to restore them through the forgiveness of sins. As brothers and sisters in faith we are responsible to one another. We have a responsibility to encourage one another in faith and especially to correct one another when we go astray. In this way we are our brother’s keeper.

When someone sins against us there are three ways that we typically react. The first way we respond to conflict is to sit back and do nothing. When someone sins against us we are often inclined to think that since they harmed us, since they are the one who sinned against us, that we are not responsible for going to them. They need to come to us and apologize we think. So, rather than going and telling our brother his fault we sit back and wait for him or her to come to us. We could call this the “silent treatment” response.

Another way we respond to conflict when someone sins against us is to go to other people and tell them all about it. Rather than going to the person who has harmed us and restoring them through the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation we often just drag more and more people into the conflict. We could call this the “gossip” response.

Finally, we also respond to conflict sometimes by confronting the person who has wronged us. However, rather than seeking to restore and forgive that person we just want to make them know how much they have hurt us. We confront them in anger and frustration and seek our revenge through angry words and actions. We could call this the “look what you did to me” response.

These are not the kinds of responses that Jesus teaches us in our gospel reading today. Instead, when our brother or sister sins against us Jesus teaches us here to go to them directly. We are not to sit back and wait for them to come to us and we are not to go to other people instead. “If your brother sins against you,” Jesus says, “go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” We are not to drag others into the conflict, we are not to gossip with others about what has been done to us. Only if we have confronted our brother and they have refused to listen to us are we authorized by Jesus to include any others in the conversation and even then the purpose is never for gossip. When we go to confront our brother or sister our intention should never be to bring them down, punish them, or hurt them in any way. Instead our intention should be to bring glory to God in every situation. Our intention in confronting our brother or sister in Christ is to bring glory to God by restore them, by forgive them just as God has forgiven each of us in Christ. This means putting aside the anger and frustration that builds up inside of us and seeking what is best for our brother or sister. As brothers and sisters in Christ this is what it means to be our brother’s keeper. Out of Christian love for one another we are to seek out our brother or sister with the love and forgiveness of Christ.

That love, love that seeks out, is the kind of love Jesus speaks about in the part of our gospel reading where He tells the parable of a shepherd who loses 1 of his 100 sheep. That shepherd leaves 99 sheep behind for the sake of 1. The Father loves each of His little ones so much that He would seek them like that. That is, in one sense, an example for us. We are too seek our brother like that too. But, in a much more significant way, it is a reminder for us that we have a Saviour who has sought us out like that: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

We fail every day at being our brother’s keeper. Our love for our brothers and sisters is often overcome by our love for our self. We are more intent on keeping and preserving ourselves our own interest than we are on keeping and preserving our brothers and sisters in the faith that we share. But Jesus, our Saviour, is our perfect brother and keeper. He, taking on our human flesh, became in every way imaginable our brother; like us in every way. But, unlike us, the singular purpose of His life was not to build up himself or to keep Himself, but to seek out the lost ones like us and restore you as children of God to the family of God. And by His death on the cross He has done precisely that. He has sought you out, a lost sheep wandering far from the fold of God, and brought you home.

Even now, as we are gathered here together as brothers and sisters in His name He is here among us forgiving us, renewing us, and strengthening us so that we can be our brother’s keeper. So that we can love one another with such a love that we would seek out those who have sinned against us so that, rejoining in what Christ has done for us, we can forgive them. In His body and blood given and shed for us that we come to the altar to eat and drink today He gives us this forgiveness, a perfect, total, complete forgiveness for all our sins, and fills our hearts with His love, a love that seeks and reaches out with that same forgiveness that was first poured out on us when we were baptized.

You are your brother’s keeper. You have a responsibility to your brothers and sisters in Christ. A responsibility to love them with the kind of love that you would normally reserve for yourself. A responsibility to seek them out and forgive them. It is a steep responsibility but it is also a wonderful responsibility. It’s a wonderful responsibility because it is not your work or your job, it is the work of your Lord Jesus. He is your bother and He is Your keeper. He will keep you in life, He will keep you in death, He will keep you into life everlasting. Psalm 121 says, “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” The Lord Jesus will keep you. He has forgiven you and made you His own. He paid for you with His life and will keep you for life everlasting. In Jesus name. Amen.

 

Suffering with Christ

Text: Jeremiah 15:15-21

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jeremiah had a pretty rough life. He was a prophet sent by God to the people of Israel. A lot of the prophets sent to Israel by God had a rough life, but Jeremiah might have had the roughest time of all of them. Like most of the prophets in the Old Testament, Jeremiah was sent by God to tell the people that they were sinning, they were not keeping God’s commandments. That kind of message is one that people very rarely like to hear. The people did not like Jeremiah or his message and they did not hesitate to let him know. Here’s just a brief list of some of the things that the people did to Jeremiah because they did not like his message:

  • They refused to listen to Jeremiah and found replacement prophets who preached “better” messages.
  • Some leaders made plans to silence Jeremiah by saying terrible things about him. They thought slandering him might shut him up.
  • Jeremiah’s own family would not talk to him and he was not welcome in anyone’s home for a meal.
  • He was beaten and locked up in the stocks by a priest who was in charge of the temple.
  • He was repeatedly thrown in jail. One day some men tossed him into a cistern and left him to die without food.
  • Some of the leaders made plans to kill Jeremiah and tradition has it that he was eventually stoned to death.

Those are just the “highlights.” A person could find more if they wanted to. Needless to say, Jeremiah suffered a lot.

All that suffering took a toll on Jeremiah and sometimes it was too much. Sometimes the suffering was so overwhelming that he cried out to God in anger and frustration. Our Old Testament reading today is one of those times.

Jeremiah starts out by saying, “O Lord, you know everything that has happened to me. You understand how awful this has been. Do something about it, please! Take vengeance on these people who are doing all of these terrible things to me!” He calls out to God for help knowing and trusting that it is the Lord who can deliver him. So far, so good.

Then Jeremiah says, “Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became a joy to me.” He is saying here that he read God’s word (ate it, took it in) and loved it. God’s word was a joy to Jeremiah. Not only did he love it for himself, he loved sharing it with other too. Not only that, but Jeremiah also “did not sit in the company of revelers.” He didn’t hang out with people who did evil and rejected God’s commands. He did his best to do what is right and avoid evil. Jeremiah says to God here, “I’ve tried my best. I’ve studied the Bible and I’ve lived a good life.”

Finally, Jeremiah concludes, “Why then is my pain unceasing? Why is my wound incurable? Why can’t I be healed? Why won’t my suffering end? Why are you doing this to me? You make great promises, God, but right now those promises are like a brook or stream that dries up right when you really need a drink?” Jeremiah is angry. He’s frustrated. Everything that has happened to him seems so unfair and God seems so far away in all of it. “Why is God letting this happen to me?” Jeremiah wonders, “I’m a good person.” That is a feeling that we can all relate to at some point in our lives, I think.

Anyone who has ever suffered in anyway (body, mind, or soul) knows this feeling. Question like, “Why is this happening to me?” are right there on the tip of our tongues when things are not going well. We might not ask that question out loud, but it goes through our head. And, like Jeremiah, we who are Christians and have faith that God is good and caring can start to wonder why God is letting this kind of thing happen to us. We might even, like Jeremiah, get angry and frustrated with God over what is happening to us.

In his anger and frustration though Jeremiah forgot something. It is something that we often forget or misunderstand too. Jeremiah forgot (and we forget) that the Lord our God works through suffering to bring salvation.

The purpose of our gospel reading today is to remind us of this truth and to assure us that in our suffering the Lord our God is present and working. Our expectation of God is that He would take our suffering away and make our lives better right now, but Jesus shows us here that our perspective is skewed. Instead, through suffering our God is bringing us salvation.

Right after Peter confessed in our reading last week that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus began to teach His disciples that it was necessary for Him to go to Jerusalem, suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed. Essentially, Jesus began teaching His disciples about how much He would need to suffer for their salvation and ours. God the Father did not send a Saviour who would never run into any trouble or suffer. Instead, He sent His own Son to endure the suffering of this world and the suffering of death on the cross. Through the suffering of His Son He would save people through the forgiveness of sins. Salvation would come through suffering.

“If anyone would come after me,” Jesus said, “let him deny himself and take up His cross and follow me.” Jesus’ words here are not that complicated. He is saying that if we are to follow Him as His disciples then we are going to need to be prepared to suffer. Our salvation was won on the cross and the suffering necessary for us to inherit eternal life is finished by Jesus, but as we live out our lives in this world as followers of Jesus suffering is part of our lives. And even in that suffering, our own regular everyday suffering, Jesus is working.

Through suffering and the hardships that we face in life our independence and self sufficiency are torn away and we are forced to rely on the Lord our God who sent His Son into our flesh to suffer in our place for our salvation. Suffering kicks the last leg we have to stand on out from underneath us sometimes so that we fall back into the arms of our Saviour who bled and died for us. Suffering, as much as we want to avoid it at all costs, blessedly draws us closer to Jesus our Saviour. The Lord brought about our salvation through the suffering of His Son and now, through the suffering that we endure in this life, He continues to draw us to Himself. He tears down our sense of independence and self-sufficiency and teaches us to rely on Him.

That is why many times in the New Testament the apostles can say that for Christians suffering is a joy. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says, “we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint.” Our hope does not disappoint because it is founded on Jesus our Saviour who suffered in our place and rose from the dead! James, in his letter says, “My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials.” Suffering can be joy, James says, because it joins us closer to our Saviour. Finally, Peter says in his first letter, “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Having been joined with Christ in His suffering we will surely be joined with Him in His glory. The glory of eternal life.

God heard Jeremiah’s complaint in our Old Testament reading today. The first half of the reading was Jeremiah speaking to God, but the second half is God responding to Jeremiah. God does not ignore His suffering prophet and He does not ignore us either. But God does not respond to Jeremiah by taking His suffering away. Instead, God makes three promises to Jeremiah. First God promises to forgive Jeremiah. God says, “Return to me and I will restore you.” In his anger and frustration Jeremiah had lashed out at God. Jeremiah doubted and even questioned God’s goodness, but for the sake of Jesus and His suffering and death God is quick to forgive even those who speak out against Him like this. For us this is good news. It means that God also offers to freely forgive us for Jesus sake in the times when our pain and suffering leads us to questions God’s goodness or love for us.

God’s second promise to Jeremiah is that He will make Jeremiah to be a “fortified wall of bronze” to withstand those enemies that are persecuting him and causing him to suffer. God doesn’t promise to take all the suffering away, but He does promise to give Jeremiah the strength to endure the suffering and trials set before him. God promises you this strength too. He may not take your suffering away, but He promises you the strength to endure the crosses set before you in this life. In His Word and in Holy Communion He strengthens you to endure life in this world even in the midst of suffering for the sake of Jesus His Son.

Finally God promise to save Jeremiah. He says “I will deliver you.” There will come a day when the suffering will be over. The day when our Lord Jesus Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead. On that day the Lord your God will deliver you from all evil, He will deliver your life up from death, and He will deliver you into life everlasting. On that day there will be no more suffering, no more crosses, no more death. On that day there will be only life, resurrection new life, in the unending Easter of the Kingdom of God.

These promises are what Jesus places in your hand when He calls you to take up your cross and follow Him. The way of suffering is not easy, but He assures us that even in suffering He is with us always and He is working in us to bring salvation. Cling to Christ and His promises in good times and in bad for they lead to salvation. In Jesus name. Amen.

 

 

“Who do you say that I am?”

Text: Matthew 16:13-20

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus opens up our gospel reading today with a question that is just a relevant and timely as it was when He asked it, “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus’s disciples are quick with an answer, they say, “Some people think you are John the Baptist back from the dead, others think that you are Elijah who has come back to bring the end times, and still others think that you are Jeremiah or one of the other Old Testament prophets who has come back.” Those answers are all well-meaning, other people though much worse things about Jesus than that, but they are all wrong.

Just like back then people today have all kinds of ideas about who Jesus is. Some people say that Jesus was a prophet, a teacher sent from God. They believe that He had an important message, but that we can’t believe everything the Bible says about Him. Other people believe that Jesus was a good teacher, a moral example that we should all try to imitate. Still others think that Jesus was just a guy who caused a fuss over in Israel 2000 years ago and died on a cross for it. Today, just like back then, different ideas abound.

But if we spend all our time this morning talking about what other people think about Jesus we would be missing the point entirely. Jesus starts out by asking His disciples what other people say about Him, but He quickly follows it up with another question: “Who do you say that I am?” The first question was just a “warm up” question. This is the one that really matters.

Matthew doesn’t tell us here how the disciples reacted to Jesus’ question, but I imagine that they took a little longer to answer this question than the first one. It’s easy to talk about what other people think or believe about Jesus than it is to talk about what we think or believe about Jesus. I can imagine them all looking down at the ground, shuffling their feet in the dirt, and kicking some pebbles around hoping that someone would speak up soon so that they wouldn’t have to. And finally, after what I imagine to be a period of awkward silence that probably didn’t last that long but felt like an eternity, Peter speaks up for the group and says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

This question, “Who do you say that I am?” is the one that we really need to consider this morning. How would you answer that question? It’s hard to imagine being asked that question by Jesus directly, but what if as you were waiting in line at the grocery store checkout or waiting for your order at the coffee shop or standing there pumping gas into your car at the gas station someone came up to you out of the blue and said, “What do you think about Jesus? Who do you think that He was/is?” How would you respond? What would your answer be?

Five years ago I went to Israel with a group from my seminary. One of the things that stands out if you go to Israel is that we have no idea where most of the things that Jesus did in His life happened. There are churches all over Israel commutating things that Jesus did, but most of them are located where they are based on guesswork. The problem is Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the men who wrote our four gospels that tell us about Jesus’ life, rarely bother to tell us exactly where things happened. When they do it means that it is somehow important for understanding the story.

Today our gospel reading is one of those times when Matthew does tell us where something happened. That means the location is worth noting. This little exchange between Jesus and His disciples happened in a city called Caesarea-Philippi. When I was in Israel we went to Caesarea-Philippi. It’s not called that anymore, but the city is still there. Caesarea Philippi is way up in the northern part of Israel. In Jesus day Caesarea-Philippi was known for two things. First, it had a large temple where people worship Caesar, the Roman emperor (hence the name “Caesarea”). Secondly, it had a grotto or shrine where people worshiped a Greek god called “Pan.” This is not a Jesus friendly city. This is not a city full of people eagerly looking forward to the messiah that God has promised to send. This is a city full of pagans who worship false gods! Remarkably, this is the place where Jesus choses to have a conversation with His disciples about who He is!

That is important for us because the world we live in today is not much different than Caesarea Philippi. We don’t have temples for worshiping Roman emperors or shrines to Greek gods in our cities, but our own cities and communities are not Jesus friendly places. Grimsby, Stoney Creek, and Hamilton are not places filled with people looking forward to the coming of Jesus and eternal life with Him. As disciples and followers of Jesus we are a minority in our own cities and communities.

Jesus had this conversation with His disciples in Caesarea Philippi because we, as His disciples, are called to know and confess who He is in a world that is not a Jesus friendly place. This makes a question like “Who do you say that I am?” all the more important. Who do we say that Jesus is? What do we believe about Jesus? Do we know well enough so that we can share it with others?

Questions like that about Jesus and our faith in Him might seem daunting, but Peter gives us the perfect answer in our Gospel reading today. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus is the Christ, that means He is the one God has sent to be the Saviour. He is the fulfillment of all God’s promises in the Old Testament. He is the answer to the sin problem that has plagued humanity since the beginning. He has come to undo the curse that was laid upon humanity by Adam and Eve’s sin. He has come to defeat death itself.

Jesus is also the Son of the Living God. Unlike the “dead” gods that the people in Caesarea Philippi worshiped and the idols in our hearts that we bow down to He is God of God and light of light. And that means He actually has the power, authority, and ability to carry out that saving work that He has been sent to do. He is no ordinary man who claims the power to save, He is God in human flesh. He is God in human flesh bleeding and dying on a cross and rising from the dead, laying down His life and taking it up again, doing something that only God Himself could do. In His death and in His resurrection Jesus has brought that salvation to you, me, and everyone else who believes and trusts in Him. He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

The best part though is that having the right answers about Jesus and who He is is not up to you. You can’t come up with the right answer on your own. Peter answers Jesus’ question and calls Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and Jesus responds by saying, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah (son of Jonah) for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father who is in Heaven!” Peter didn’t figure out the right answer for himself, he didn’t finally put all the pieces together and get the right answer. God the Father revealed this to Peter and Peter simply spoke what God had revealed to him. God gave Peter faith and Peter shared the faith that God had given to him.

You might never get asked by some stranger about Jesus. You may never get put on the spot like that and have to tell someone who you believe Jesus is. But this same faith that Peter had has also been given to you. Despite your flaws, despite your weaknesses, your Father in Heaven has given you this faith. He has given you faith to believe that Jesus is His Son, the Christ, who has saved you from your sin by His death on the cross. He has given you faith to believe that Jesus is the one who will save you from death because Jesus has risen from the dead. This is the faith that God gave to Peter and He has given this faith to you as well.

The gates of hell, Jesus says, will not prevail against this faith. Death will not put this faith down. You will die some day, but this faith will not die. This faith will continue to cling to Jesus throughout your life and through death and the grave and it will rise up to new life. Your body will rise up too, defeating death just as Jesus Himself, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, has defeated death for you. This is our rock, this is our faith. Jesus is our Christ, the Son of our Living God, and we will live in Him. If anyone ever asks that is a faith that we can confess and know that it is true because that faith comes from God the Father. In Jesus name. Amen.

 

Selling Everything?

Text: Matthew 13:44-52

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

I must admit that I kind of have an obsession with Bible verses like the first verse of our gospel reading today and it’s not really a healthy obsession. Jesus tells us a parable here in the first verse of our reading. It is a parable about a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field. Having found that treasure, he quickly hides it again so that he can make arrangements to purchase the field where the treasure was found. But, this is not a man who has spare cash on hand with which he could purchase a field on a whim. No, instead this man needs to sell everything that he has, everything, in order to raise enough money to make the purchase. And that is exactly what he does. He sells everything, buys the field and the treasure is his.

Jesus tells us right at the beginning of the parable that the “treasure” that this man found is the kingdom of heaven. The man found the kingdom which Jesus has brought into this world and upon finding it realized that it was a treasure beyond any other. It was worth more than anything that he owned or could ever dream of owning. So he sold everything for the sake of acquiring that treasure.

The catch here, and this is where my obsession comes in, is that the implication for you and me is that Jesus is calling us here to give up everything that we have for the sake of acquiring His Kingdom. That is a hard thing to hear. This is not the only place that Jesus says something like that and every time I hear or read things like this from Jesus and I want to explain it away. I know that “sell everything that you have…” is not the kind of thing that people want to hear. Frankly, it is not what I want to hear either. For North Americans like us this might be the most difficult thing that we could be asked to do. I think some people would be much more willing to give up their actual lives rather than give up everything that they have. Even if we don’t think we have much stuff or don’t think it would be that hard to sell everything when it came right down to selling that clothes off your back or the roof over your head it would get pretty tough. Like the rich young man who came and asked Jesus what he must do to be saved, when we hear those words “sell everything that you have” our heart sinks. We know we can’t do it.

It is important, I think, to let those words sink in a bit though. We need to hear these words from Jesus and recognize that our obsession with stuff, with possessions, is not healthy. It is especially not healthy if the things we have in life are coming between us and our Saviour. But, at the same time, we need to realize that Jesus is doing more here than just dumping an impossible heavy load on us and asking us to get rid of all our earthly possessions. There is more happening in this little parable than meets the eye.

In order to really understand what is happening in our gospel reading it is helpful to take a look at our Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy chapter 7. Verse 6 of our Old Testament reading says, “you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession.”

Moses spoke these words to the people of Israel after God had led them up out of Egypt and through the Red Sea on dry ground. Look at what he calls that people. He calls them “His (the LORD’s) treasured possession. You and I, like the people of Israel before us, are God’s treasured possession. We are His treasure.

Notice also that it is not that the people were somehow worthy to be called “treasure.” Moses reminds them that God did not chose them because they were the greatest or most powerful nation. Instead, God chose them because He is faithful to His promise and He loves them. He loves them and has made them into His treasure, His most valuable possession. He has made them His own. In the same way, we are by no means worthy to be called treasure. We especially are not worthy to be called the LORD’s treasure. And yet that is what we are called here. Not because we are worthy or deserving, but because of our God’s unending love and mercy for us. We are His treasure!

If we take that good news and bring it over into our gospel reading today it sheds new light on what Jesus is saying here. Jesus talks about a man finding treasure in a field and selling everything that he has in order to buy that field. We naturally put ourselves in that man’s shoes and take his actions as the lesson we are to learn from this story. But, there is more happening here. What if we are the treasure, just like our Old Testament reading says? If we are the treasure then Jesus is the man who finds the treasure in the field. What did that man do to get the treasure? He sold everything that he owned. What did our Lord Jesus do to make us His own? He gave up everything that was rightfully His, the glory of heaven, His seat at the right hand of the Father, and took on our human flesh. He walked among us and suffered the afflictions that we suffer. He even spent His own life on the cross to pay the full and final price for us. His love for us is so immeasurable that He would pay a price that we can’t even imagine paying. He paid it, He paid it in full, He paid it because you are His treasure.

That changes things, doesn’t it? All of a sudden this is not a parable about what we need to do to make the kingdom of heaven our own, it is a parable about what God has done to make us His own and make a place for us in His Kingdom. This is a parable about the price that God would pay for us.

Does that mean that we don’t need to worry about this whole, “sell everything that you own” business? Not really, no. Jesus says that other places too and we need to grapple with what He is saying. But, it does put what Jesus is saying about our worldly possessions into perspective.

When Jesus challenges us with the words “Sell everything that you have…” he is not calling us to do some great act of dedication or show our commitment to Him with a grand “everything must go” garage sale. Jesus does not need us to sell everything. Instead, Jesus is calling attention to our obsession with earthly possessions and is inviting us to imitate Him. He did sell everything in His possession to make us His own. He even gave His own life. And now, He reigns enthroned in Heaven sitting at God’s right hand.

Jesus does not invite us to sell everything, not necessarily, but He does invite us to recognize that nothing that we could possibly possess on this earth is worth comparing to the treasure that He has prepared for us. In fact, Jesus is telling us that nothing is worth comparing to the treasure that we have right now, the treasure that we have inside of us as He dwells in our hearts through faith. Nothing, not our homes, not our cars, not even the clothes on our backs are worth comparing to the glory of that treasure and what Christ Jesus Himself means for us. None of these earthly things promise treasure in heaven, only Jesus does.

Above all, we ought to see here what a remarkable thing it is to be called the Lord’s treasure. That simple fact alone is beyond comprehension. Our epistle reading from Romans 8 even talks a bit about what it means to be God’s treasure bought with the precious blood of Jesus. It says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” and a bit later, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If we are God’s treasure, if we have been bought with the blood of Jesus, how much more certain can we be that nothing in this life and nothing in the life to come could ever hurt or harm us? We are His treasure. He bought us with a price. Do we need to sell everything that we have to have this assurance? No. But we could if we needed to because we know that all our needs, now and into eternity, will be provided by our loving God because we are His treasure purchased with the blood of Jesus. In Jesus name. Amen

Listening Ears On

Text: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

When I still lived in Edmonton, before Leah and I were married, my sister would often ask me to babysit her kids. She also lived in Edmonton and, as the uncle living in the same city, I was the go to babysitter. When I babysat my nieces I remember my sister saying to one of them right before she left one time, “Turn your listening ears on.”

I did not realize it at the time, but this was an example of the kind of plea that parents make to their kids before leaving them with a babysitter. It’s like a last chance, last hope, begging kind of plea that the kids will behave themselves for the babysitter so that this person might be willing to babysit again. I do it now when we leave our kids with someone. I pretty much beg them to behave and not cause too much trouble for the babysitter.

Anyway, my sister would say this thing to my niece, “Turn your listening ears on.” My niece would respond by kind of twisting her ears, making a “click” sound, and telling her mom that her ears were on now (somehow it eventually turned into a “listening nose,” but I’ve never understood how that happened!). The whole reason for saying this little phrase was that there are different kinds of listening. We can listen to something without paying much attention to it or we can listen to something and really hear it and take it to heart. My niece was good at doing the first kind of listening when the second kind of listening was required. As is often the case with kids (and adults sometimes too), important instructions can be listened to but not really heard. They can go in one ear and out the other without registering in the brain on the way through. In order to really, truly hear we need to “turn our listening ears on.”

In our gospel reading Jesus says his own version of “turn your listening ears on.” Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear.” This is one of those things that Jesus says when He really wants us to pay attention to what He is saying. Often this kind of thing comes along after a parable that might go over our heads (or straight through them) without us understanding what Jesus is saying. Jesus is telling us here to turn our listening ears on.

What does Jesus want us to listen to? A parable. The parable of the sower. Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear,” right after he has finished telling the crowds a parable about a sower who went out to sow seeds in his field. Jesus wants His hearers, you and me included, to really hear what He is saying here.

The parable of the sower that Jesus tells is really quite simple. A sower went out to sow seed. He threw some on the path or road but it did not grow because the ground was too hard. The birds swooped in and ate the seed instead. Some other seed fell on ground that was filled with rocks, there wasn’t much soil there. The seeds had enough soil to germinate and spring up, but the sun quickly dried them out and they died. Still more seed fell among thorns. That seed germinated and grew up too, it lasted longer than the seed in the rocks, but in the end it was choked out by the weeds. Finally, some seed landed on good soil and it germinated, grew to maturity, and bore fruit. Pretty simple.

We need to ask ourselves here though, what does Jesus want us to hear in this parable? Jesus clearly explains to His disciples and to us exactly what this parable means and what pretty much every part of the parable represents. The seed is the Word of God about His Kingdom. The Sower is Jesus. The soil (both the good and the bad) is the people who hear this word about God’s Kingdom. That means that all of us are the soil and it means that as we put ourselves into this parable we need to think about what kind of soil we are.

Are we like the soil on the path or road? Roads in those days weren’t paved like our roads and up in Galilee where Jesus was they probably weren’t paved with stones either. We’re talking about a dirt path kind of road. A road that exists not because someone mapped it out, but because everyone walked there and the foot traffic from people and animals made a road. Are we like that dirt? Are we so beaten and trodden down by life in this world that we aren’t even able to hear God’s Word anymore? Have we become calloused and hardened against God’s Word? Does the seed, the Word of God, just bounce right off of us and sit there on the surface to be eaten by birds? Does the devil snatch away the seed before it even has a chance to take root?

Or are we like the rocky soil, the soil that has no depth? Does the word of God cause us great joy initially, send us on some kind of uplifting, feel good, high but then let us down when the going gets tough? Do we hear God’s Word, get excited about the message, and then wonder where the good feeling has gone? Do we look for the high all over again and not find it? Do we feel let down when the sermons and Bible readings we hear on Sunday aren’t quite as inspiring and uplifting as they were last week?

Or maybe we are the soil filled with thorns and weeds. Do the cares and concerns of life threaten to choke out our faith that the Word of God has planted in our hearts? When we try to listen to God’s Word in church what other thoughts are floating through our heads? Are we worried about work tomorrow or what might happen when we get home? Are we wondering where the money is going to come from for this or that? Are we distracted by other things? What comes between us and reading the Bible at home? Does day to day life seem more important than God’s Word?

Or, finally, are we the good soil, the soil in which God’s Word takes root, grows up, and produces a crop?

One of my favorite little details about this parable is that Jesus says nothing about how to be good soil. This parable is not a “how to” instruction manual. Jesus does not say, “Try your best to be good soil so that you can hear my words more effectively.” The parable doesn’t even say anything about the sower clearing out the field to get the bad stuff out of there or plowing or tilling or anything like that and it certainly does not say that the soil needs to try harder to be better soil. Jesus does not want us trying to figure out how we can be the good soil. Soil doesn’t work like that, it can’t improve itself. He doesn’t want us to try to figure it out because it is not our job.

Many things about us and around us make us like the soil that is totally unsuitable for the Word of God. So much of who we are and what we do makes us an unfit place for God’s Word to take root and grow. And yet, in spite of who we are and what we do, God’s Word, the seed, finds a home in our rock hard, stone filled, thorn infested hearts and takes root and grows. Our Old Testament reading today said this about God’s Word and it’s power:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

God promises here that His Word will do what He sends it to do, it will not come back to Him without doing the thing that He sent it to do. This is the power of God’s Word. God’s Word has the power to break into rock hard hearts like ours and make faith. This is what God’s Word has done in us.

The parable of the sower is not about the soil, it is about the sower and His seed. It is about Jesus and the Word of God that He brings to us proclaiming His coming Kingdom. That seed, that message, bears fruit and produces. It bears fruit and produces because the sower, the one who planted the seeds, Himself bled and died so that even the poor soil could bear fruit. He gave His life so that the rocky, down trodden, thorn infested soil of our hearts might be cracked open, turned over, and cleared of weeds by His blood shed for us so that we could bear the fruit of everlasting life.

“He who has ears, let him hear,” Jesus says, “Turn on your listening ears.” Hear this good news from Jesus, take it to heart, read it, learn it, mark it, inwardly digest it, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). Because this word of God, the Word of Jesus, is a powerful thing. It is alive and active, it changes hearts, it proclaims the forgiveness of sins won for you by Christ on the cross, and it brings you life everlasting. This Word, the Word of Jesus, has created faith in Your heart and will sustain that faith until the day when the sower comes again to reap the fruit of the harvest He has sown. On that day He will gather you in, the fruit of His harvest, and we will live with Him eternally. In Jesus name. Amen.

Rest in a Restless World

Text: Matthew 11:25-30

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I will give you rest. Who doesn’t want rest? For me, as a parent of three young kids and especially with a two month old in the house, even just a little more rest sounds like a great thing. I’m not even the one who gets us most of the time in the night to feed Olivia, but I still feel like I could use more sleep. A couple of weeks ago Leah took the kids up to my parents’ house and spent a Saturday night there. I was on my own at home. Leah probably doesn’t want to hear this, but I got the best sleep I’ve had in months that night. It was great. The only problem is that now I know what I am missing every other night. That one good night’s rest just makes me want more!

It’s not just the kids either. Sometimes my mind just doesn’t want to turn off and rest is hard to find. Instead of resting I’m worrying about this or that, trying to solve a problem, making plans, or even writing sermons in my head. My head isn’t always a very restful place. Maybe you can relate to that too.

I know it’s not just me who wants more rest because over the last few months I keep hearing ads over the radio for some kind of fancy pillow. The makers of this pillow promise that if you just try their pillow you will never lose another night of good sleep again. It seems a little over the top, but it’s what people are looking for, a good rest. Everybody wants rest.

Everybody is looking for rest and, in our gospel reading today, Jesus offers up that rest. “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Jesus said. Of course, Jesus is talking about much more than a good night’s sleep. Jesus is not talking about comfy pillows or sleep that isn’t disturbed by over active brains or restless children. Jesus is talking about a much deeper, much more significant rest than that. The rest Jesus is talking about is a rest for body and soul. It is a total complete rest for our whole being. Sleep is great for the body, but it doesn’t do anything for the soul. Jesus offers rest for the soul. The song we sang at the beginning of our service had a nice way of describing that kind of rest, I think. It said this, “What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease! My comforter, my all in all—Here in the love of Christ I stand.”

When fears are still, when strivings cease. That is real rest. That is wellness and wholeness of body and soul. That is peace. When our fears, the things that frighten us, are stilled like the waters of the Sea of Galilee as Jesus brought the storm to an abrupt halt with His Word. Or when our strivings, the things that we chase after, no longer seem so important like how the disciples who once argued about which of them was the greatest watched as Jesus, their lord and master, washed their feet and the died on a cross. When fears are still and when strivings cease. This is real rest, rest for the soul; the rest that Jesus brings.

We may not realize it and most people in the world certainly do not realize it, but we are all looking for exactly this kind of rest. Every religion in the world offers some kind of inner peace or rest. There are self-help books galore offering you the same thing. Everybody is looking for it, but no one seems to know where to find it.

In Jesus day people were looking for this kind of rest too. And, at least on the surface, it would seem like they were looking in the right place. They looked to God’s Word, to the Bible, to the Old Testament Scriptures, and to God’s commands to try and find this rest. If only they could live out these commands and follow those rules, then they would have this rest for their souls. Or so they thought.

You can’t find rest that way though. It will never work. You can try all you want, but it will never bring this kind of rest. It’s not like there is a problem with God’s commandments or anything though. God’s commandments are good and holy. The problem is in us. We can’t keep those commandments. Try as we might we will always fail. If this is the way to find rest then we will never find it. But there is another way.

The whole point of what Jesus is saying in our gospel reading today is that this is not the way to find rest. You can’t find rest for your soul through trying to keep God’s law with all your might, the way to find rest is by coming to Jesus. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The most important words there are “me” and “I.” “Come to ME,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest. Don’t look anywhere else, don’t try to find rest for your soul somewhere else, come to me.”

The question that confronts all of us today then is, where do we try to find rest? We try to find rest in all kinds of different places. We think things like, “If I only had a little more                                               (fill in the blank: more time, or money, or vacation days, or family time, or alone time, more leisure time, a more understanding family, a better job, a comfier retirement, better health, or whatever else) then I would have rest.” We tend to think that there is something out there that if we had more of it we would have rest. But the more we get the more we want and the rest is always missing. What we really need is the rest that only Jesus gives.

To understand the rest that Jesus gives and how much we need it we need to understand first where our restlessness comes from. Why does rest seem so elusive, so hard to find? Why do we all feel this need for rest?

The world was not meant to be the restless place that it is. God did not create it that way. In the beginning everything was very good. Adam and Eve lived in the Garden, the worked to take care of the garden, and life was not a chore. Their work was not a burden. Life was filled with rest. But then they sinned and the whole thing fell apart. After they ate the fruit God said this to Adam:

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Life changed when Adam and Eve ate that fruit. Paradise ceased to be paradise. Life became a chore. Rest became hard to find. Life would be hard, working the ground would be painful, by the sweat of their faces (their hard work and effort) people would eat something as simple as bread. Rest would be hard to come by. But even way back then the promise was made that God would undo this whole mess by sending His Son who would bring the rest of heaven to His people.

“Come to me,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest.” When Jesus says those words He is pleading with us, begging us, to come to Him for rest. Rather than turning to someone or something else Jesus invites us to come to Him directly and enter into the rest that He has prepared for us. He begs us to come to His table today and receive that rest right now.

Through His death on the cross Jesus has opened up the rest of heaven to you right now. He gives you this rest, the wholeness of body and soul, right now. It comes to us through the forgiveness of our sins. The curse that was laid on Adam and Eve after they sinned has been undone because Jesus has taken that curse upon Himself. He has suffered the reality of life in this world of sin so that we could enter into the rest that He has prepared for us.

Jesus brings rest to you right now. He brings you the rest of knowing that you do not have to work to get right with God. He brings you the rest of knowing that all of your sins, each and every one of them, are freely forgiven. He gives you the rest of knowing that no matter what happens to you in this life, no matter how dark things get, no matter how much anxiety builds up, not matter how much fear seems to surround you that nothing will be able to separate you from His love, nothing. He brings you the rest that comes from knowing that He has died in your place and risen from the dead so that you will never die eternally but with rest with Him in paradise. Jesus brings this rest to you.

Fancy new pillows or a night without kids or some other thing might help you get a good night’s rest, but real rest comes from Jesus. Everything else is just a band aid. Band aids are good, but they just cover up the problem, they don’t bring healing. Jesus brings healing, He offers a cure. He offers rest to you today for free, there is no cost, “Come to me,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest.” In Jesus name. Amen.

 

The Family of God

Text: Matthew 10:34-42

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today in our Gospel reading Jesus said these words: “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Those are kind of hard words to hear. They aren’t the kind of words we’d expect to hear from Jesus. We would probably expect to hear something a little more family friendly from Jesus than this. When we think of Christianity and the teaching of Jesus family values are probably a big part of that in our minds. Shouldn’t Jesus be telling us to love our family no matter what? Shouldn’t He be reminding us that family comes first? Shouldn’t He tell us that the most important thing is that we stick together as family and stand up for one another?

That’s what we want to hear Jesus say about family and other places in the Bible do say things kind of like that, but Jesus says something very different in our Gospel today. “I have come to divide,” Jesus says. “I will divide children against their parents and parents against their children. Your enemies will be the people in your own house. If you love your family more than me you are not worthy of me.” Wow, that is some serious stuff. What could Jesus be getting at here?

Jesus is not advocating family disruption or violence, He is not encouraging you to hate you family or even asking you to leave your family. He is, however, asking you to think about who your real family is.

We have a picture frame in our living room hanging over our couch. It’s one of those collage kinds of picture frames that you put a bunch of different pictures in. It’s filled with pictures from various stages of the growth of our family. We have wedding pictures in there, baby pictures, baptism pictures, pictures from fun times together, and there is always the potential for new pictures to make their way in. We still have to get a picture of Olivia in there. Every once and a while, as I am wandering around our living room I look up and admire the pictures with a certain sense of pride at the family I have been blessed with.

At my parents’ house they have something similar. On top of the piano in their living room there are many pictures of relatives far and wide. Pictures of my siblings, grandparents, nieces, aunts and uncles, cousins, and many more. Again, when I visit I end up there at the piano at least once admiring the family photos.

I talked to someone not so long ago that doesn’t really have that much family. No children, no living relatives. Not many people whose picture would hang on his wall. This man was not discouraged by this, however, because he had different pictures to hang on his wall. He told me he has a large collection of icons. Icons are pictures of saints, Christians who have died in the faith many of them who did remarkable things in the name of Jesus. This man has these icons, these pictures of saints, hanging on his walls at home. He told me, “They are my family.”

That is a profound thing to say and it is not far off from what Jesus is asking us to think about in our gospel reading today. As Jesus says this stuff about a person’s enemies being the people in his or her own family He is challenging us to see that our brothers and sisters in Christ, our fellow Christians, our fellow saints are our true family.

A little bit later in the gospel of Matthew, in chapter 12, we see this reality play out very clearly in Jesus’ own life. Jesus was sitting in a house teaching people and answering questions from people like the scribes and Pharisees one day when His mother Mary and His brothers came looking for Him. They had heard some of the things that Jesus had said and had heard about some of the things that He had been doing and they had concluded that He was out of His mind. They came to the house that day to collect Him and take Him home to Nazareth. When word reached Jesus that His mother and brothers were outside the house looking for Him Jesus responded, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” He look around the room where He was sitting and looked at all the people gathered there listening to His words and He said, “Here are my mother and bothers! Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus identifies His real family with these words. His real family are the ones who believe in Him. They do the will of His Father in Heaven. God’s will is that all people would believe and trust in Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life. These people do, they hear Jesus’ Words and the trust in Him, they are His brothers, sisters, and mothers. They are His family.

We who also believe and trust in Jesus are also His family. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus. We are members of the same family, children of the same Father. This is our real family.

We joined our biological earthly families by birth, but we joined this one, eternal family by our rebirth in the water of baptism. We were reborn through that water and were joined into an eternal family, a family that won’t be ripped apart by death, a family that will endure into eternity because this family is founded on the death and resurrection of Jesus that bind us all together in His love. This family will inherit the eternal life that Jesus has won for us.

The reality of this eternal family is what Jesus is trying to draw to our attention in our Gospel reading today. So many things in life distract us from this family, from the family of faith that Jesus has called us into. Some of those things that distract us from this family are inherently evil like hatred and anger, jealousy and frustration, or pride and vanity. Other things that distract us don’t seem evil at all. Family, earthly, biological families, could be an example of that. If our earthly family is coming between us and our family of faith, the family of Jesus, then Jesus calls us here to lay aside even our family relationships for the sake of following Him and being a member of His family.

That’s still hard to hear, isn’t it? Family matters so much to us that we can hardly even imagine what could ever lead us to think of our own family as enemies. This only makes sense if we understand what a precious thing it is to be a member of the family of God through Jesus.

The story of the prodigal son can help us to understand what a precious thing this family is. The prodigal son asked his father for his share of the inheritance so that he could leave his family behind and go live his own life. He wanted to be his own man, live his own life, and do things his own way. Amazingly, the father listened to his son’s request and gave him what he asked for. The son took the inheritance that he was given, sold whatever he could sell, and disappeared to a foreign country with whatever money that he had. Sometime later, when the money was gone that son realized what a foolish thing that he had done. Being his own man, living his own life, and doing things his own way hadn’t paid off that well. He decided to go back to his father’s home and offer to work as a servant. He knew that he did not deserve to be part of the family anymore. But when He arrived home his father messed up all his plans. His father did not want another servant, he did not need a slave living in his house, he wanted a son. So that father rushed out to greet him, threw his arms around him in a warm embrace, sent the servants to fetch fine clothing and jewelry, and threw a fantastic feast to celebrate return of his son. “My son who was lost is found, he was dead but now he is alive again!”

The same is true of us. We all have wandered in sin away from the family of God. We have all acted rebelliously and taken advantage of the loving, caring nature of God our heavenly Father. We have squandered the blessings He pours out on us by chasing after our heart’s desires. By all rights we have no place in God’s family at all. But now, God our heavenly Father has rushed out to us with a warm embrace to welcome us home. By His arms stretched out wide on the cross as He bled and died for the sin and rebellion of the entire world, Jesus gathered us in as His brothers and sisters, children of the Father who is in Heaven. Though we ought to be treated at best as servants who work for their pay our God has welcomed us home as children through the blood of Jesus. This is a precious thing.

Without a doubt, we rejoice in earthly families and in the brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers that God has given us here on this earth. They are a blessing from heaven. We admire the family photos with pride and joy and give thanks to God for what He has given. But even more we rejoice in the heavenly family, the eternal family, the family of God which we have been made members of through the blood of Jesus. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus. Children of God. And we, with all the other members of the family who have gone before us, will live eternally side by side with our brother and Lord, Jesus Christ, in paradise. In His holy name. Amen.

Take My Life and Let It Be

Text: Romans 6:12-23

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Don’t close your hymnals! If you already closed your hymnal open it up again to hymn number 783 “Take My Life and Let It Be.” Sometimes a hymn can say things about our readings more clearly and succinctly than I ever could. Today is one of those days and we will use hymn 783 to help us understand what our epistle reading today is talking about in just a few minutes. Keep it open to 783. (If you are reading this after the fact the words to the hymn are printed in the text of the sermon)

Our epistle reading this morning is an important reading for us to consider. In these verses from his letter to the Romans the apostle Paul is talking about our new lives as Christians. He talks about how we have been brought from death to life by the death and resurrection of Jesus, how we have been raised up already right now to live and new life. This is the encouragement he has for us as we seek to live out this new life that God has given to us: “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” As new people, people who have been brought from death to life, Paul calls on us not to “present ourselves to sin” and encourages us instead to “present ourselves to God.”

That phrase, “present yourself…” is not part of how we normally speak in modern day English. The word there means to present yourself for service. The idea is something like “Reporting for duty.” Paul is telling us here to “report for duty” to God and not to sin. God is our master, not sin. We are to present our lives and everything in them to God in order to serve Him in righteousness rather than presenting our lives and everything in them to sin in order to serve sin and unrighteousness.

The first thing that might surprise us here is that Paul only presents two options. We might expect a third option, something kind of neutral. There is the good choice to serve God, there is the bad choice to serve sin, and we would expect there to be something in the middle that isn’t good or bad, but that is not what Paul says. There are two options and two options only. Either we serve God or we serve sin.

The obvious choice is to serve God. That is what we want to do and that is what Paul says we should do. The next thing we need to figure out is what that looks like. What does presenting everything that we are and have to God for His service look like? That is where hymn 783 can help us out.

Let’s look at just the first verse for now. “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee; Take my moments and my days, let them flow with ceaseless praise. The first half of that verse lays out this whole idea. “Take my life and let it be…” With those words we are offering our lives and everything that is in them to God and His service. The second half of the verse is where we start to see what that looks like.

“Take my moments and my days, let the flow with ceaseless praise.” So what is it that we are presenting to God here? Our moments and our days. Our time. We serve God with our time by offering up our moments and days to His service. Serving God with our time doesn’t just meaning doing stuff at church. This is not a plea for you to all volunteer more hours at church. Serving God with our time means simple things like praying, reading our Bibles, talking to friends and neighbours who are suffering in some way, spending time with those who need our love and care. It means using our time to give praise and honor to God. This is part of our new lives as Christians presenting ourselves to God for His service.

How about verse two of the hymn: “Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love; take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.” What are we presenting to God here? This time it is our hands and feet. Our actual physical bodies. We offer our hands to God to do the work of His love in this world. To work to provide the needs of others. To show love through the work of our hands. We also offer our feet to carry us out into the world to tell of His love. “How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of Him who brings good news!” the prophet Isaiah once said. Here we offer our feet as “beautiful feet” that bring the good news of Jesus to those trapped in sin. This too is part of our new lives as Christians.

Now for verse three: Take my voice and let me sing always only for my King. Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from Thee.” What part of our lives do we present to God with these words? Our mouths. Our words. Our voices. “Let me sing always, only for my King!” “Let my mouth be filled with messages from You!” Presenting ourselves to God means presenting our words to God for His service. Our words build up, encourage, and proclaim the message from God that sinners are forgiven, that we are forgiven, for Jesus sake.

Now verse four. “Take my silver and my gold not a mite would I withhold. Take my intellect and use every power as Thou shalt chose.” Silver and gold. Money. Possessions. Stuff. That is what we present to God here. Not a mite, not a penny, not a cent would I withhold. Like the time one, this is not a plea for you to give more money to church. Our giving is much more than that. In our new lives as Christians we give to the church to extend the Kingdom of God, but we also give to those in need understanding that whatever we have has been given to us from above. Our money, possessions, and stuff is a gift meant to be used in the service of God and our neighbour.

In just those first four verses we get a pretty good idea what it means to present “ourselves and our members” to God for His service. It covers pretty much everything. But as we think about this more one thing remains glaringly obvious: we can’t do it. We can’t follow through on this, we can’t serve God with everything we have. Sin always hold something back.

Do we really, willingly commit our time to God and His word or do our busy schedules get in the way? Do we really allow our hands and feet, our bodies in general, to be used for God’s glory or do we use them for our own glory? Do we really use our words to proclaim God’s goodness or do we use our words to tear down others and lift up ourselves? Do we really offer up everything that we have, holding back nothing, to serve God and our neighbour?

The answer to all of these questions is no, we don’t. Instead of presenting ourselves to God for serving and serving Him only we often serve ourselves and present ourselves to sin “ready for service.” Sin always hold back.

Thanks be to God that He does not hold back. Though we are unable to serve Him with all that we are and have He has served us with everything. God did not hold back, but gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. In Jesus God did not hold back but gave the fullness of Himself to us so save us from our own sinfulness.

Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Though we often fall short, though we regularly hold back, though we daily serve our sinful selves rather than serving God, Jesus has come to serve us in His death and resurrection. He died serving us. He rose from the dead serving us. Today as we come to the altar and receive His body and blood Jesus is serving us again with His forgiveness. He serves us with life everlasting, life that never ends.

 “Take my heart it is Thine own,” verse five says of the hymn says, “it shall be Thy royal throne.” This is the only part of this hymn that I would change. This verse makes it sound like we give our hearts to Jesus. The problem with that is that our hearts aren’t worth giving to Jesus. Our hearts can’t serve Jesus, sin holds us back. Our hearts are like a rust tin can, not worth anything. We don’t give them to Jesus, but Jesus comes along and takes that rusty tin can at the side of the road, pierces it through, takes it home, and makes it into something beautiful and useful: a forgiven heart that serves Him in love forever.

It is Jesus who does this, not us. He presents us to God for His service now and He will present us, perfect, holy, blameless, righteous, and godly, to our Father in Heaven on the day when He comes again to judge the living and the dead.

Let us pray using the words of verse six from the hymn: “Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store; take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.” In Jesus name. Amen.