Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!


Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Doing the Father’s Will - September 27, 2020 - Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21) - Text: Matthew 21:23-27 (28-32)

Last week we were reminded by Jesus Himself that He came to save all people of all places and especially at all times, even up to the point of death. What follows our reading from the Gospel last week and the events that come before our reading this week are the following: Jesus again predicts His suffering and death and immediately after Salome, the mother of James and John, requests that her sons be allowed to sit at Jesus left and right in His kingdom, in other words, she is seeking places of honor for her sons. Jesus then heals two blind men on his way Jerusalem. Continuing on His way to Jerusalem, at Bethphage, Jesus arranges for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and after His triumphal entry He cleanses the temple, throwing out the money changers. Now, in the first part of our text for this morning we have Jesus’ authority being questioned and His response that He will reveal from where He gets His authority if the Pharisees and teacher of the Law will tell from whom they believe John the Baptist got his authority. I know that is a long way to go to get to the second part of our text for this morning and the part on which I would like to focus our attention, but I believe these events are not random events, but that they fit together to help us get a better understanding of what is happening.

All during His time of public ministry Jesus has had to deal with the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. The second half of our text, where I want to focus our attention this morning is the parable of the two sons, and Jesus tells this parable right after His authority is questioned. I believe it is significant that this parable comes at this point because of the fact that the Pharisees would not answer Jesus’ question concerning John’s authority, because they did not want to admit that Jesus’ authority might be from the same place as John’s authority that is from God. If John and Jesus had the same authority, if their authority came from the same place, from God, then that would mean that they would be left without authority and that did not fit their paradigm of life.

The parable is this, Jesus begins by asking the question of the Sanhedrin, picking up at verse twenty-eight, “28‘What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” 29And he answered, “I will not,” but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, “I go, sir,” but did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him’” (v. 28-32).

Jesus begins by asking their objective opinion. What do they think? He gives two different scenarios. In the first scenario we have the father asking his son to go and work and his son rudely answers that he will not go, but later he repents and does go. Is this son doing what his father asked? In the second scenario we have the father asking his other son to go and work and his other son kindly answers that he will, but he does not go. Is this son doing what his father asked?

Again, the question Jesus asked is this, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” Notice that the father wanted the same thing of both his sons. He wanted both of his sons to go out and work in his vineyard. Which son did what his father wanted? The answer given by the Sanhedrin is that the first one did what his father asked. Now, before we go on to Jesus explanation, I would ask you to think about this, which son are we?

Jesus’ answer to the Sanhedrin is this, “‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him’” (v. 31b-32).

The objective answer is that the first son, even though he refused at first to go and work, did do what his father asked, because he repented and went out to work. The subjective application of this parable is this, those who are considered to be the outcasts of the Jewish society, mostly by the Pharisees and teachers of the law, and those who repent will be included in the kingdom of heaven. They are the ones who appear to refuse at first and yet repent and believe in the end. Those who refuse to repent, because they believe they are doing the “father’s” will and are not, namely the Pharisees and teachers of the law will miss out. A mere head and mouth Christianity is really no Christianity at all. To confess Christ with your lips and yet to refuse Him with your heart is actually denying Christ.

God the Father’s will is that we all believe and respond living lives of faith. His will is that we say what we mean and we mean what we say. We come across this constantly in our world today. When I speak with someone who has decided to absent themselves from divine service, at times I get the “right” answer. “Yes, pastor, I know I have not been in church lately. I have every good intention to go. I promise I will be there next week.” And then they fail to show up. How often do we volunteer to help serve on a board or a committee, or to serve in some other way and then fail to do what we have said we will do. Unfortunately, if we do this often enough then people will begin to know us as a person who does not keep our word. I believe there is a saying that goes something like, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

God calls all people to Himself. His will is that all people are saved. He keeps His Word. He kept His word in that He sent His only Son Jesus to give His life for all people. He kept His Word because His Son gave His life for ours, so that we might have forgiveness of sin, so that we might have eternal life. There are some who do not have a part in God’s kingdom and it is not because it is someone else’s fault or even God’s fault, rather it is because they refuse and reject the gifts God gives, only paying lip service to Him. Have you ever thought about how your excuse for missing divine service sounds before God?

“Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” And just because someone goes to church does not necessarily mean they will go to heaven either. Being religious does not save a person. It does matter, not only that you have faith, but in whom you have faith. The object of faith is important. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were a very religious bunch. They did a lot of religious things. They said, “yes, father we will work in your vineyard,” and yet, their hearts were far from the Lord. They did not go and work instead they did their own thing. Their faith really was a faith in themselves, not in God. They had become their own gods.

The “tax collectors and prostitutes,” on the other hand were not very religious. Why should they be religious? They were chased out of the temple as being unworthy. They felt and believed themselves to be shunned and looked down upon, even judged by the likes of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They said, “no, father we will not go and work in your vineyard.” Yet, they repented for their sins. They believed in Jesus. He was the object of their faith and the reason for their repentance and Jesus says, they will enter the kingdom of heaven ahead of the religious leaders.

Jesus continues to remind these religious leaders that they had a chance. They saw John the Baptist, the one about whom they were not sure of from where he received authority and yet they did not believe and repent.

Again, the question, “who are we in the parable?” Are we the son who says that we will go and work? Do we say that church is a priority, that our faith in Jesus is the number one priority in our lives and yet, live otherwise, letting the things of this world get in the way of our regular divine service and Bible Class attendance? Do we wear the name Christian, and act like a Christian, yet have our hearts far from the Lord? Do we tell others we are members of a church, but fail to attend? Do we make excuses and blame others for our lack of attendance?  Do we say “Yes Lord,” with our lips, but live “No Lord,” with our actions?

Or are we the son who, at first seems rather rebellious, saying “no” we will not go and work and then repent and do what is asked? Do we quietly live our faith and show through our lives, our actions and our words that our faith in Jesus is what is most important to us? Do we strive, with God’s help, to live lives of faith, attending divine service and Bible Class as often as we can, not making a big deal about it, but simply living our faith?

The Old Testament reading for this morning reminds us that we will be held accountable for ourselves, if we do not repent or if we do repent and God’s desire is that we do repent. In the Epistle reading Paul reminds us of from where our forgiveness comes, it comes from Jesus “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

Forgiveness is ours. Jesus came to pay the price for sin, for all sin, for your sin and my sin, for the sins of all people, of all places, of all times. Jesus even paid the price for those sins we have yet to commit, those sins we will commit as soon as we walk out those doors. Yes, Jesus forgives our sins even when we act like the second son, even when we fail to live according to our faith. All sin, all our sins, the price for all our sins has already been completely paid, not that this fact gives us a license to sin, but that gives us the motivation to repent. Our only option is that we might refuse and reject the forgiveness He has earned and paid for and we do that, we reject forgiveness when we fail to repent and confess our sins, when we refuse and reject the gifts He gives through the means of grace He gives especially in divine service. To fail to repent is to reject Jesus’ forgiveness, which has already been paid for and given to us. Yet, as the Holy Spirit works in us and comes to us through the very means He has given to come to us, namely as we have been given this morning, through our remembrance of our baptism, through confession and absolution, through His Holy Word, and in a little bit through His body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine in His Holy Supper, through these very means the Holy Spirit works in us to be given all the gifts and blessings our Lord has purchase and won for us, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

Last week Jesus reminded us that salvation is a free gift, neither earned, nor deserved, but certainly a gift we might refuse by thinking we have somehow earned or deserved it, or are somehow entitled to it. This week Jesus continues to remind us that salvation is a heart issue which shows forth in our lives through our thoughts, words and actions. Thus, we are once again pointed to Jesus, just Jesus. Jesus has earned forgiveness and through the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace He gives forgiveness, faith and eternal life. Our only response to the gifts God gives is gift refusal, or rejoicing in the gifts He gives. My prayer is that as the Lord calls, He will stir in our hearts to answer, “here am I, send me, send me,” and then also stir in our hearts to do the work that He gives us to do. Finally, may the Lord also stirs in our hearts to do His work to the praise and glory of His holy name. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Generosity - September 20, 2020 - Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20) - Text: Matthew 20:1-16

We pick up our Gospel reading from Matthew a few verses after last weeks’ reading. In our text, Jesus ends his previous words, from chapter nineteen, with the statement: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” His words come in connection with His discussion of salvation and in particular with His words with the rich young man. The rich young man had asked the question, “what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus’ answer to him was to keep the commandments, which he believed he had done. Jesus then suggested to him that he sell everything, give the money to the poor and follow Him. After which we are told, “when the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possession.” The disciples then became concerned for their own eternal life and after reassuring His disciples Jesus ends His words with the statement: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” At the same time with these words He continues His discussion of salvation and moves us into the next parable which is today’s text.

The parable in our text is often called the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard and, although this parable convicted the Pharisees and teachers of the law in their thinking, it also, very often convicts us in our thinking even today.

The parable begins at the first hour of the day, probably between six and seven in the morning. The landowner went out into the marketplace and hired some workers. Now, right off at the start, there is something different about the hiring of this first bunch of workers and the hiring of the rest of the workers through the day. Verse two of our text says, “After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.” There was an agreed upon contract for these hired first. It was a verbal contract, but it was a contract nonetheless. The agreement was that the workers would work for a set wage, a denarius for the day.

The parable continues at the third hour of the day, about nine in the morning. The landowner went back to the market place and found some others standing around not hired. These also he hired to go and work in his vineyard. This time, notice what is their agreement. They agree to work for “whatever is right.” Their contract is open ended as far as how much they would be paid.

The parable continues at the sixth hour of the day, that is about noon and again at the ninth hour of the day, that is about three in the afternoon. Both times the landowner finds those who have not yet been hired and again, notice the contract, the verbal agreement which he makes with these later workers. They agree to work for “whatever is right.” Their contract is a verbal agreement based on an unspecified amount of payment.

The parable tells us that even up to the eleventh hour, about five in the afternoon, about an hour before quitting time, more were hired for “whatever is right.” Now, so we get the picture of what is going on, remember that the very first ones hired were hired for a specific amount, an agreed upon contract of one denarius for the day, that is for their work from between six and seven in the morning until six in the evening, about a twelve hour day. And remember, even though theirs was a verbal contract, it was still a contract. The rest of the group, those hired from nine in the morning until five in the afternoon, those who worked anywhere from nine hours to one hour, were hired for an unspecified amount, namely, “whatever is right.” Their’s too was a verbal contract which was a contract.

The work is done, the day is over. The second part of the parable is the part of making compensation, that is the part of paying the workers. The paying part begins at evening, about six o’clock. Rather than pay those who were hired first, the landowner instructs that those who were hired last be paid first. Interestingly enough, if those who were hired first would have been paid first and had gone on their way they may never have seen that those hired last received the same pay. It almost seems like a slap in the face the way they had to watch as the others were paid as much as they were paid and for a lot less work. But let us look at the parable.

Those who were hired last were paid first and they received a denarius for their one hour of work. In other words, they received a day’s wage for their one hour of work and I am sure that they were quite pleased with their pay. Would we not like to be paid a days wage for working only one hour. Those hired second to last received a denarius for their three hours work and down the line the paying goes. Here again, if we were one of the ones hired later in the day we would appreciate the wage of “whatever is right,” because that would mean we would be getting more per hour than those hired before us. And even for those being paid a little less per hour than the ones hired last, those paid first, they had no beef, no hard feelings toward those being paid a little more per hour. As a matter of fact, everyone hired, except those hired first, were very pleased at their pay, no matter how much per hour it was.

But, those who were hired first, those who were hired and contracted with the agreement to be paid a specified amount, a denarius for the days work, when they were given only a denarius, they expected more. And why should they not expect more? They worked the longest and in the heat of the day. The ones who worked less hours were given a denarius. If we were one of those hired first we would certainly expect more, but they received the same as everyone else, a denarius. They grumble because they believed that they were being treated unfairly.

The question of those hired first is a question of fairness, at least it was a question of fairness in their own eyes. Yet, the answer they get is one of generosity and inclusion. According to the account of the events of this parable, they do not realize that they are not included in the grace and generosity of the landowner. As a matter of fact, they exclude themselves from the grace and generosity of the landowner because they believe that they are entitled to what they have earned. And they believe the others should not have been given that to which they were not entitled. Here is where we see that this is a parable of grace and generosity. The others are included by the grace and generosity of the landowner. Those who were hired first for an agreed upon contract are not included but are really the outsiders.

The last statement at verse sixteen brings us back to these words, “So the last will be first, and the first last” (v. 16). The question I will now ask is this, “where do you and I fit in this parable?” Are we a part of those who were hired first, second, third, or last? To help you decide, I want to introduce you to several people and yes they are fictional, made up people.

Grandma Schmidt has been a member of the same Lutheran Church for all of her life. She has been a Sunday School teacher for many of those years. She has been a member of the LWML and served in various positions of the LWML. She has always been available to help and serve in any and almost every way possible. According to our calculations, if anyone deserves to be acknowledged and rewarded, she is greatly deserving.

Harry has been a Christian only for about ten years. He has served on a couple of boards and committees. He helps out around the church as much as he can. Sometimes he is unable to be a part of what is going on, but again, if anyone deserves some recognition, everyone would agree that it would be Harry.

Mr. Evashephski is sixty and he became a Christian just last year. He likes to attend divine service and some of the social functions as well as carry in dinners, but he feels he is not sure of himself enough to serve on any board or committee. Everyone agrees that he is a nice person. Certainly everyone agrees that he is a deserving person.

Carla became a Christian on her deathbed. She came from what some describe as a pretty well to do family, but no one ever told her about Jesus or her need for forgiveness. Last fall, when she was taken into the hospital she met a pastor while he was visiting one of his members there. The pastor visited Carla and after a while she asked if she could be baptized. Not too much later she died. While not everyone agreed that she should have a church funeral, the pastor assured everyone of her faith and of God’s gift of eternal life for her.

Now, what do these people have to do with our parable, everything. In His parable Jesus reminds us that just as the landowner went out to hire workers for the vineyard and especially as he went out several times in the day and even up to the last hour of the day, so it is that God calls all people at all places and at all times to be a part of His kingdom. Yes, there are some who feel that they have contracted with God to be a part of His kingdom, that they have earned their spot, but they are unaware of the fact that they are the ones who have excluded themselves because of their refusal of God’s free grace and favor. God’s gifts are free and are freely given. To believe that one is entitled to what God is giving, that is to expect to earn what God is giving is to refuse His gifts.

Most important of all is the fact that God has given His Son for all. Jesus came. He humbled Himself. He put Himself last so that others might be first. He lived the perfect life for us then gave His life for ours. He gave His life so that we might have forgiveness of sins and life, eternal life. God is the great gift giver. He gives and we are given to. He calls all people to Himself and as we said, at any time in life and at any place in life. His call has nothing to do with our being deserving or undeserving. As a matter of fact, we are the ones who are undeserving and yet He calls us anyway.

The difficulty in the parable is the question I asked earlier, where are we in the parable? Are we those hired first and think we are deserving of heaven, is this something to which we believe we are entitled, or are we those hired after those hired first and appreciate God’s grace? Do we begrudge anyone who comes into the church at a later time in life thinking that they are not as deserving of God’s gifts as we are, that they really are not a part of God’s church like we are, or do we rejoice, as the angels in heaven, when anyone is brought to faith? My prayer is that we are the second, that is that we rejoice in those who are brought to faith at anytime in life. My prayer continues with the prayer that we are also the ones who are out and about sharing the Word of God with others so that they too might be a part of His kingdom.

Although God might allow us to be witnesses of all His good gifts and blessings, we are in no way entitled to nor deserving of any of them. It is only by His grace, through faith, which He has given to us, that we have forgiveness and have a part in His Kingdom. He is the one who earned everything for us, through His life, suffering, death and resurrection and He is the one who freely gives everything to us.

God is gracious and giving of all His good gifts and blessings and we are thankful for all He does and gives. When the landowner comes to give us what is actually Jesus’ reward I pray that we might all together stand and rejoice as He counts us worthy, by His grace, through faith in His Son, to be given a share in His kingdom and that we might respond and say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Forgiveness - September 13, 2020 - Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19) - Text: Matthew 18:21-35

Last week we listened in as Jesus explained to His disciples and to us how we are to love each other and live with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, as members of His family the Holy Christian Church. We are not to be judgmental nor intolerant, which means we are not to overlook sin and temptation and those things which work to draw us away from our fellowship with those who are tempted by the temptations and sinful behavior of this world, rather we are to call sin what it is, sin. We are to be intolerant of sin. We are to call our brothers and sisters to be accountable for their sins. The loving thing is not to let our brother or sister continue on in their sin lest they be lost from the Christian faith and be doomed to eternal death, rather the loving thing is to confront our brother or sister concerning their sin, or unbelief or false belief, so that there might be repentance and forgiveness.

Following this discussion, we move immediately to our text for today where Peter asks for some clarification. Leave it to Peter to be the one to ask for clarification. Well, if it were not Peter, I am sure one of the Pharisees or teachers of the law would have eventually asked the question, if nothing else, at least in an attempt to justify themselves. We begin at verse twenty-one, “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’” (v. 21). Now understand, Peter actually thinks he is being generous in asking if as many as seven times is okay to forgiven our brother. And I do not know about you, but I think after six times I would be annoyed enough to not want to forgive someone. But Jesus response is, “Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven’” (v. 22). Jesus’ response is that there truly is no limit to how often we are to forgive one another. Then, to help His disciples and to help us to understand exactly what He means, Jesus goes on to tell a parable.

“23Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (v. 23-27).

Perhaps Jesus is giving us a glimpse of Judgement Day with this parable, a reminder of how much we are indebted to Him, or perhaps not. In this parable we are told about a king who set out to settle his accounts. The people of his kingdom owed him money and he was going to try to get that money back. Maybe we are reminded, by this parable of Jesus, of the debts we owe. Some we might not even want to think about or admit. One debt we owe is the debt to our parents for raising us, for feeding, clothing and sheltering us and especially for bringing us to the Lord’s house, bringing us to the waters of Holy Baptism, bringing us to the Word of God through which we were given faith and through which we are strengthened in faith. And of course I am sure that many of us have financial debts, loans to pay for a house, a car, education and the like. Or maybe we do not have any debts now, but we have had some in the past. Anyway, we all understand indebtedness.

In our Old Testament Reading for today we see, really, how much Joseph’s brothers owed him after all they put him through, selling him into slavery which lead to more slavery until he became second to Pharaoh, yet Joseph understood that God worked through all the things that happened in his life for his own good and for the good of his family. In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that “very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die” (Rom. 5:7). Jesus tells us “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Anytime we hear stories about someone risking their own life for another we understand that these are what we call stories of heroism and that the person who is the object of such risk, the one being saved, has a great debt toward the one who is taking the risk, the hero.

In our text, the debtor, fearing the wrath of the king, begged for mercy. The debtor owed, what in our world today would amount to millions of dollars. He knew that he could be thrown into jail for what he owed and so he did the only thing he knew he could do. He begged for mercy. Perhaps he was hoping to bargain with the king in order to work out a plan whereby he might be able to repay him for what he owed. He was not looking, nor was he asking for the king to forgive his debt. He simply wanted time in order to work out his own debt.

As we relate this parable to our own lives we understand that we are in debt. We are in debt, especially to God. We are conceived and born in sin. We daily sin much and add to our sinfulness. If you want to know how indebted we are, think about it this way, if we only sin three times a day, which means we are really pretty good, because we have kept seven of the ten commandments, which is a 70% and we might think a passing grade, if we only sin three times a day, times 365 days in a year, that amounts to over a 1000 sins in a year. Now multiply that 1000 times how old you are and you will get a round number which is more than likely considerably less than how sinfully we really are and how in debt to God we really are. If we were honest with ourselves and with God, I suppose we would have to admit that we sin more along the lines of thirty and more times a day and even here, I use this number for illustration purposes, because it makes the math easier. 30 times 365 days is over 10,000 times per year, times how old we are. Thus, for some our sins of indebtedness runs into the 500,000 or 600,000 and more.

Recall as well that God demands perfection from us, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). So we come as the debtor in our text, begging for our heavenly Father’s mercy. We come, not expecting Him to forgive all our sins, but asking if there is a way for us to work out our sins, to work out our salvation. That is how we approach God from our human nature. We  want to bargain with God with an offer to pay back what we own Him. We think we can bargain with God, that we can somehow work off some of our sins. We do not realize their enormity nor do we realize our inability to do anything that would pay for our sins, the cost of which is our life.

And yet, the king does not hold the servant accountable for his debt, just as our Lord does not hold us accountable for our debt. The debt we owe God is blood, our life. The king, our Lord, tells us that our debt is forgiven. And please understand, when it comes to our sins, they do not just vanish. The cost, the price for our sins, which is blood and death, had to be paid and it was paid. It was paid by Jesus suffering and death on the cross. When the King, when our Father in heaven forgives us it is for Christ’s sake, it is because of Jesus suffering and death on the cross. But the parable is not over.

“28But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (v. 28-35).

In this second part of our text we come to find out that the servant, instead of rejoicing the in the king’s forgiveness, refuses that forgiveness. You see, the servant immediately left the kings presence and went out to find a fellow servant who owed him a few dollars, really what the other servant owed was nothing compared to what this servant had owed the king. Yet, how often does it happen in our own lives. We go to church. We confess our sins. We hear those most beautiful word, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then we go out and refuse to forgive our brother or sister who has sinned against us. Or, we pray the Lord’s prayer. We pray the fifth petition, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And then we fail to forgive those who have sinned against us. That is gift refusal, that is refusal of forgiveness.

We have a debt we owe to God. That debt is a great debt. We owe Him our life. And we cannot and never will be able, in and of ourselves to pay Him back the debt we own. We also have debts to each other. We continually sin against each other, sometimes not on purpose, other times on purpose. We sin against each other and we try to get back at each other. We think that revenge is something that we must do. But if we compare our debts, if we compare what we owe to God, which is our life, to the debt with which we owe each other which is really nothing, there is no comparison or as in the parable in our text, the difference is between millions of dollars and a few dollars.

Or, perhaps we do forgive each other, but how often is our forgiveness a conditional forgiveness, “I will forgive, but I will never forget!” We have Jesus’ warning in our text that as we do to others, so His Heavenly Father will do to us, in other words, just as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, if we do not forgive others, we ask that He would not forgive us. This matter of forgiveness, as the matter of sin, has to be from the heart. Sin is not sin only if we do something, sin has its beginning in our heart and in our mind, in our thought and in our intent. So as we forgive, forgiveness has its beginning in our heart and in our mind. We forgive as we have been forgiven. If we refuse God’s forgiveness, then this is seen in that we are then not able to forgive others. But as we are given God’s forgiveness, then we are able to forgive others. Joseph was able to forgive his brothers because God forgave him and gave him the ability to forgive them. We forgive each other as God forgives us and as He gives us the ability to forgive each other.

Jesus’ words which we quoted earlier, again, “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), were really a foretelling of His great love for us. He is the one to whom we owe our very lives and yet that is not what He requires of us. Instead, what He did was to give what we owe. He was born in perfection and lived the perfect life demanded of us. He gave His life, He suffered and died, He shed His blood, in order to pay the price, the cost, the wage for our sins, which was eternal death and hell. He rose from the dead, defeating sin, death and the devil. And then He announces to us the most precious, the most beautiful words we need to hear, “Your sins are forgiven.” Every Sunday morning we come here and we confess our sins and we hear those most beautiful words, “Your sins are forgiven.” And, with His forgiveness, with His help, by the power of the Holy Spirit we, then, go out and we forgive those who have sinned against us. We love because He first loved us. In loving and forgiving others as He first loved us and forgives us, in so doing we give Him glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Steps of Action - September 6, 2020 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) - Text: Matthew 18:1-20

Last week we sat in and listened as Jesus laid out for His disciples what it meant that He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. In other words, Jesus began to explain to His disciples that being the Messiah, the Savior of the world meant being mocked, ridiculed, persecuted, even suffering and dying on the cross, however, the cross and the grave would have no hold over Him, because on the third day He would rise again. This morning we skip a few verses to where Jesus speaks to us concerning how we are to treat each other as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, that is in the Holy Christian Church.
We live in a world which likes to quote or rather misquote the Bible. How often do we hear someone say something like, “My god is not like that,” and then they go on to describe, not the God of the Bible, which is what they are implying that they are describing, but they go on to describe, what I call their own, “god in a box,” which they have created. But, let us go back in time a little. I have to begin in the sixties, because that is where my memories begin, some of you can remember further back and I think you may have similar memories. Anyway, I remember the so called sexual revolution of the sixties and the outcry that came when anyone suggested that what was happening was not right. The outcry was a misquote of the Bible, something like, “Well, the Bible says you are not supposed to judge other people.” The meaning of that misquote was to suggest that anyone can do anything they want, and it was often added, “as long as they are not hurting anyone else,” and we should approve, otherwise we are accused of judging. Today the outcry is one of, “Well, we should be tolerant of other people,” and with that phrase we imply, once again, that we should not say anything bad about anyone or anything they do, and again, “as long as they are not hurting anyone else,” only approve, otherwise we are accused of being intolerant. And let me take that one step further. If you listen carefully, you will notice that the world is to be tolerant of everyone except those of us who have a different view of the world, or to be more blunt, the world is to be tolerant to everyone except true Christians who understand that there is a right and a wrong, a good and a bad.
But, what does the Bible really say? The Bible really does say to not judge other people, but it also says we are our brothers keeper, we are to recognize sin, and the Bible even gives us ways to recognize sin, such as the ten commandments. Even our Old Testament reading for today tells us that we are to warn the wicked, that is sinners of their sin, lest we become responsible for their failure to repent. The problem is that in an attempt to get by with “doing as we please” in the name of the Bible, we have put up a false definition of “judging” and “being tolerant.” To judge someone according to the Bible is to say that they are “damned to hell.” That is what we are not to do, but we are to recognize sin and call it what it is, sin. Think about it this way. Is it more loving to let someone go on sinning and doing something that is not good for them, such as abusing alcohol, drugs, or others or themselves, or is it more loving to confront them with their destructive behavior? Is it judging a person to call into question their self-destructive behavior? The Bible says “no.” The Bible also says that we are to be tolerant of others, but not at the expense of breaking the loving commandments which are given to us by God. When we sin, God is not tolerant of us, so when others sin, we are not to be tolerant of them. So, how do we go about, not judging, but calling one to account for their actions? That is what Jesus lays out for us today.
Step one, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother”(Matthew 18:15). The first thing we are to do is not go tell everyone else, but go to our brother, or sister, who has sinned against us, or against whom we have sinned, or just to the one to whom we have seen sin, just the two of us. This is not a time to judge, “you are going to hell if you do not repent and mend your ways,” rather this is a time to simply share our love and concern for that person and help them to see what they have done or are doing wrong according to what God tells us. If our brother or sister repents, we have won them over. We rejoice and pray a prayer of thanks. We do not tell anyone else of the incident, it is over.
If our brother or sister does not repent, we are to keep trying. Interestingly enough, most of the time when we hear this passage of the Bible we hear something like, “do step one and if that does not work, move on to step two.” Actually, what we are to do is to do step one and continue to do step one until we are totally convinced that step one is not working and is not going to work. In other words, do step one and if it does not work the first time, do it again. The goal is to get our brother or sister to see their sin, not to advertise their sin, not to judge, but to gently get them to see their sin. Before we move to step two we are to exhaust step one.
Step two, “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses’”(Matthew 18:16). Step two is to take a witness, another friend. This is still not to make this a public spectacle, but to show our friend and help our friend to understand our sincerity and the severity of their sin. Again, our brother or sister is to be approached in love, gently and with kind words, in other words, we go and speak to them recognizing our own sin and imperfection as well. And again, if he or she repents, it all stops, no one else needs to know, the matter is dropped.
And again, if he or she does not repent, we do not go directly to step three, instead we do step two over again. We continue to do step two, over and over again, we and our friend, until either our friend repents, or we believe we have exhausted the whole situation.
Step three, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17). At step three, and only at step three do we take it to the church. But even here, this is not something which becomes a smear campaign. This is shared only with the church, the members of the congregation and this is done in the utmost of confidence with the best construction put on everything, as much as possible. If we win the brother or sister over, if they acknowledge and repent, then there is forgiveness and the matter is dropped.
And again this is not something which is done once, but this process is repeated until either the person repents, or there is no resolve. If, and only if, there is no resolve, then we move on to the final step which is excommunication. And again, the whole point in this exercise is to win the brother or sister over to repentance and forgiveness.
After He outlines these steps, Jesus again reiterates the giving of the office of the keys, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:18-20).
The office of the keys is judging, so that whatever is not forgiven on earth will not be forgiven in heaven. And, whatever is forgiven on earth will be forgiven in heaven. As a church we have the duty, the right, the privilege, the obligation, and the responsibility to lovingly recognize sin, to call it sin, to confront sin and to seek ways of winning the sinner over to Christ and forgiveness. We have the awesome responsibility to say, “you have sinned and unless you repent, you will remain in sin and your soul is in peril.” Not because that is something we say, but because that is what God says, that is what the Bible says, that is how we are to love others. What we are talking about is not judging and intolerance, rather that is love and care. The other option, which is the option that is truly judging and intolerance, is to let them go on sinning and let them die and go to hell. And again as I mentioned earlier, we are warned against this in our Old Testament Reading for today. We could let our drug addict friend go on doing drugs and they will kill themselves. How much greater is our need to confront someone with sin because sin has to do, not so much with physical death, but with spiritual life and death even eternal death and hell. And yes, God is a just God, lest we forget this fact.
The goal of Christian discipline, of confronting our brother or sister with their sins, is to win the sinner, to get them to repent so that they might hear those most precious words, “Your sins are forgiven.” The most loving thing we can do is to not be tolerant of sin, to not let our family and friends go on doing the things that are harmful to them, but to confront them so that they might repent. If you had charge of a child who liked to run out into the busy street to play, would the most loving thing be to let your child do as he wished, or to discipline them so that they would not harm themselves? And, just as little children do not like to be disciplined and just as it is difficult as a mother or father or guardian to discipline, because it does not “feel” good to do so, so it is even harder when it comes to doing the things of God.
Jesus’ final words are a reminder of what is the church. The church is “where two or three are gathered together in His name.” We are the church. We have the duty, the responsibility, the privilege to rightly preach the Gospel in all its truth and purity and here I am speaking of the Gospel in its broad meaning, that is proclaiming what is sin and proclaiming what is forgiveness. We have the duty, the responsibility, the privilege to rightly administer the sacraments. And we have the duty, the responsibility to rightly say, “your sins are not forgiven” and unless you repent and change your ways, your sins will remain unforgiven. And we when there is repentance, when there is a change of behavior, when there is faith given through the means of grace, we have the privilege and joy to say, “your sins are forgiven” and go out and sin no more.
Today we are reminded that there is a right and a wrong. We live in a world, even in a country which is so intent on tolerance that it often refuses to make any distinction between right and wrong, or for that matter between religions, whether one is more valid than another. As Christians, as believers in Jesus, as followers of His Word, we are reminded this morning, by our text, by Jesus Himself, that there is a right and a wrong, that there is only one way to eternal life as Jesus Himself tells us that He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and that there is no other way to eternal life than through faith in Him and in His death and resurrection for us. How much more is it important that we first remain true to the Word of God, that is that we ground our faith and our lives in His Word, and I do not mean in our own understanding or misunderstanding of His Word, but in His Word whether we like that word or not, and that we ground our lives in His Word, living our lives according to the way that He would have us to live. Our text for this morning reminds us of the importance of caring for one another, which flows out of the fact that God first cares for us, because, yes, we are our brothers and sisters keepers.
Again I am reminded of the fact that we get it right and we know we get it right when we get our focus right. When our focus is on ourselves, we get it wrong. When our focus is on Jesus and His cross we know we get it right. May the Lord guard, guide and direct us so that we might always focus on Him. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.