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Stranger Things

Isaiah 40:1-11    
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13    
2 Peter 3:8-15a     
Mark 1:1-8    
Advent 2
December 10, 2017
Stranger Things
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    When we say scripture today, we are usually referring to the entire corpus of the both Hebrew Bible which we commonly refer to as the old testament and the Christian Canon we call the new testament. Around 1600 years have passed since the all 80 books of the Bible have been collated together to form one book.  In the 1500's, the Bible went through another edit as Martin Luther and the other reformers decided whether or not to keep certain books in the Bible leaving protestants with only 66 books.  But before councils and religious icons decided what our biblical canon would look like, scripture meant something completely different to the church.  

    Scripture was the words of the Hebrew Bible and nothing else.  When St. Paul quotes scripture in his letters, he does not use the gospels or his other letters but rather, the Hebrew Bible.  Christians turned to these pages, these words, these writers to find inspiration and God's direction for sending Jesus Christ.  

    Many of these early Christians turned to a Bible called the Septuagint- a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. Legend has it that 77 rabbis came together to translate the Hebrew texts into Greek, but they did it all separate.  After they had all finished, they came back together to find that every, single one of the translations was exactly the same.  I highly doubt that happened, but what did happen was that you no longer had to read Hebrew in order to read scripture.  

    Gentiles now could read about God creating the heavens and the earth, how Jacob wrestled with God, how Abraham and Sarah were faithful, how Moses led the people from slavery into freedom, how the kings failed, how the Israelites were removed from their land and thrown into exile, and how God redeemed them after many years of waiting.  And they would have known the very last lines of scriptures that say:

Malachi 4:5-6:  Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

Now cue St. Mark and his words:  The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
    Mark might be short, but the gospel incredibly deep.  We go from the final words of Malachi that have God promising to send Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord; and here in the gospel of Mark, we get a guy who matches the description in every way to Elijah, except for his name and diet.  St. Mark says, "John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey."  2 Kings 1:8  ‘A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.’ He said, ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite.’

    Mark is making a powerful theological claim - God has kept his promise.  God has sent Elijah ahead of the Lord.  John is preparing the way, making the path straight for the Lord.  John is calling his followers to repent, to turn around and be redirect,  to radically reorient themselves to God through a baptism of repentance for the Lord is coming, and he is not going to baptize with water but with the fire of the Holy Spirit. This is some good stuff, but it gets better. 

    Tucked away in these beautiful words of Mark, is an even more powerful message.  A message of hope in a world where all hope has been taken away.  As we talked about last week, The sun has been darken, the moon no longer gives its light, the stars have fallen from heaven, the powers of heaven have been shaken  for the Markan community when the temple, the holy dwelling place of God on earth, was destroyed in 70 CE by the Roman army.  After this major conquest, Rome produced a message as they almost always did after a major conquest.  They started off by saying  they have some good news, euangeliou, to share.  The same phrase used by Mark to start his gospel, the Romans have been using for years to tell of their conquest.

    Mark stole it.  Mark took their good news and he reframed it.  He took their words of hate, their words death, their lies and deception and said, "No more!"  That is not Good News.  This is the good news.  This is the real good news.  This is the good news of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  

    And how does God share this good news with the people?  By keeping promises.  By not letting the people down.  By assuring them that only good news worth hearing comes from our Lord, who keeps promises and takes down tyrants.  
   To understand Mark, we have to understand that the gospel is wrote in a very circular fashion.  This is a great example.  We are here on the circle and in these very few words, Mark has thrown us backwards into the last thing we would have read...i.e. Malachi.  It's like, we are suppose to read verse 1 and go, "Wait, what?"  I think I missed something.  Let me go back and read this again."
   Mark is connecting the past to the present.  Mark wants us to have the words of Malachi in our heads.  Mark wants us remember the promises the prophet has said, "See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch."   What does John promise?  ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.  See the circles that Mark is drawing.  Jesus is the answer to Malachi's prophecy.  Jesus will take down all the evildoers leaving neither root nor branch.  That is how powerful Jesus is; this is why John cannot untie even his sandals.  Jesus is about to bring a big wake up call to all the wicked who have abused their power and influence to gain even more power.  

    First century listeners hearing this gospel, hearing this message of euangeliou, of Good News, might have some questions.  Is this Jesus going to conquer like Rome has conquered, which always leaves losers (typically those we were Mark's readers) in a bad predicament.  Malachi goes on to say, "But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts."  

    John prepared the way for Jesus by speaking truth to a world not willing to listen to the truth.  Those whom the wicked have scorn, God will redeemed and scatter the wicked ashes on the ground.  That is a hard truth to hear but a necessary truth in a world that so many Christians were living.  This is not the reality for us today.  So, maybe the best approach we can to this text this day is asking, "what truth do you need to tell this day?" What truth do you need to hear?  

    You need to ask that question for yourself this day.  For the church though, our answer is that Christ our Lord is coming again.  Not in the form of a baby as we first knew him, but coming in the flesh.  Are we ready?  Are we scared?  Have we given up on waiting?  Or more importantly, who have we told of this day?

    How have you shared the good news?  The real good news.  The only news that matters.  We say we are evangelical - St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, have we lived up to this name?  
We might not have lived through the temple being destroyed and a ruthless government determined to do us harm because of our faith.  But there are many in our world, in our community who need to hear some good news.  Let's be the good news someone's life this day.  Let's be the light in the darkness. Let us be the leaders of hope in this town and community this day by living up to our name and bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to the people.  

    In the name of the father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Spiritual Insomnia

Isaiah 64: 1-9    
Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19    
I Corinthians 1: 3-9     
Mark 13: 24-37    
Advent 1
December 3, 2017
Spiritual Insomnia
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence, was when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil--to make your name know to your adversaries so that at the nations might tremble at your presence."  Man, I love Advent.  You don't get readings like this in Christmas. 

    This is some terrifying stuff that Isaiah (and Mark) is laying out before us today.  Fire, earth quakes, landslides (that is what I think when I hear mountains quake) and the heavens being torn apart.  I think many of us can relate to the words of Ricky Bobby, "I like the baby version the best..."  I think this is why Advent is not all that popular outside of mainline denominations.  We don't like to think about the reality of Christ's return.  We rather think of him as "Eight Pound, Six Ounce, Newborn Baby Jesus, in your golden, fleece diapers, with your curled-up, fat, balled-up little fists pawin' at the air..." We don't like to think of him as the man who promised that the sun would be darken, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken."

    We start Advent off each and every year with a similar readings like this from Mark and Isaiah.  We hear about the return of Christ and maybe we ignore it.  Maybe we don't like to think of Jesus in this way.  We instead, choose to return back to our homes where Hallmark will paint this beautiful, Christmas picture of a world so far removed that none of us can relate but that we all wish was our reality.  We can return home and forget what we heard and seen here today.  But I hope that instead of ignoring or forgetting about today, we can embrace the words of Mark, and voice of Christ - and embrace this idea of spiritual insonmia. 
    To understand the words of Mark's gospel today, I think it would be best if we talk about five prevalent themes throughout the gospel of Mark.  These themes are not only going to be present today but through this next year as we journey our way through the gospel of Mark. 

Mark sees God's works in terms of incursion, deliverance, and mercy.

"Mark depicts Jesus’ mission as an invasion of territory held by an enemy." In this land that the disciples  are sent out into, tyrants live very well while the least are oppressed. "For the reign (“kingdom”) of God to become realized, it must displace other kingdoms. Sometimes this means the eradication of old relationships and values. Sometimes it means conventional assumptions about greatness must be discarded. Mostly it means that mercy must spread far and wide."

Mark sees a new kingdom emerging in the breaching and redefinition of boundaries.

Jesus loves to make us all wonder how permeable are the lines that we draw to separate the insiders from the outsiders.  Jesus will travel and cross boarders "that have ethnic, cultural, and economic significance." He will tend to the needs of those who neighbors "have deemed to be a threat or a nuisance." And Jesus will crosses the greatest divide -- the one between life and death by first raising the daughter a leader of a local synagogue leader named Jarius' and then himself at the end of the gospel.  

Mark sees a deliver who often eludes easy definition.

Jesus will present us with parables that confuse us, will  get upset with his followers when they don't understand him, and will demand that his followers keep his identity a secret.  Mark loves to keep us, the reader, off balance throughout the gospel. 

Mark sees outsiders who have insights.

Throughout the gospel, outsiders embarrass insiders often. "No one should arrogantly assume that they have seen the full picture." Yet, the good news still comes and changes the world for both the insiders and the outsiders.     

Mark sees discipleship defined by crucifixion.  

"Mark is a story about Jesus’ self-giving and his solidarity with the suffering. He calls his disciples to play a part in efforts to aid those who are “like sheep without a shepherd”...This Gospel knows what it looks like when the poor are compelled to contribute to the luxuries of the rich. When it comes to living as a disciple, Mark will not allow indifference. Discipleship is, in part, resistance to such tyrannies. Resistance makes way for wholeness to enter."

    We just spent a year with Matthew who presented more a manual for discipleship.  Matthew offered us insights into how it was best to live as a follower of Jesus by giving us stories and parables that teach us about the intricacies of discipleship.  Mark is much simpler.  You want to be a disciple - then you must be willing to go all the way to the cross.  
    Because this is what Mark's community is experiencing.  How do you preach the good news when the world you know has been destroyed?  Jerusalem has been destroyed by the Romans after a failed revolt in the year 70 CE.  The whole world that Mark's community has come to know and understand is no longer a reality.  It is gone.  The sun has been darken, the moon no longer gives its light, the stars fell from heaven, the powers of heaven were  shaken when the temple, the holy dwelling place of God on earth, was destroyed.  This is the world's narrative that Mark is writing into.  What are we going to do in the face of the world we know and love disappearing?  How are we going to be disciples? What is the church going to do?  
  • Are we going to hide in the hills and hope that it passes?
  • Are we going to take up arms and fight for liberation?
  • Are we going to proclaim a different way of understanding how God is present in our midst.  
Are you going to hide away--stay sleep  when the world is falling apart or are you going to keep awake by preach the gospel?  

    Choose the gospel.  My brothers and sisters, choose the hope that can conquer all despair and all fear.  For the one who has come in history will come again in majesty and that is the good news in the midst of some pretty awful, worldly news.  May you be spiritual insomniacs meaning, may you find rest for your bodies but may your spirit never sleep.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

Why does Jesus Hate Goats?

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24    
Psalm 95:1-7a    
Ephesians 1:15-23     
Matthew 25:31-46    
Christ the King
November 26, 2017
Why does Jesus Hate Goats?
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    It would appear that our Lord has a thing against goats.  Clearly our Lord has never spent a lot of time with sheep or he would have changed this parable. Being a Rural pastor for 4 years, I learned that there is a big difference between sheep and goats.  Sheep are dumb, require constant supervision, will walk off and get lost, and are not that tasty.  

    Goats are smart, almost too smart at times.  Most goat farmers will tell you the way you keep goats in a field is that you put them in the field that you don’t want them in so that they will jump the fence and go into the field you want them to be in.  Goats are sometimes known as a sacrificial animal.  Those fainting goats were actually bred to stay in the field with more expensive livestock so that when a wolf would get into a field, they would go after the easier of the prey, I.e. they would faint so that the cattle could get away.  They were useful in more ways than one.  And speaking of cattle, ideally it is one cow per acre of land so if you have a 500 acre farm, you can only have about 500 heads of cattle.  But imagine how much hay and grain you have to grow to feed them in the winter.  You need a lot more than 500 acres to grow all that feed.  You can put goats a lot of goats on a 30 plot acre of land and when they graze, they eat all the bad grass like thistles and weeds.  And they taste good.   Personally, I think goats are the wave of the future.  They are more ecological friendly and more cost effective.  Yet, it seems our Lord has cursed them as God cursed the snake in the garden.

    Goats get the raw deal, or so we think.  One thing that I have come to learn about Jesus is that he hates it when we draw lines.  A Gettysburg Seminary Professor (I believe it was Robert Jenson) is quoted as saying, “Whenever you draw a line in the sand to say who is on the inside of the kingdom and who is on the outside of the kingdom, Jesus is on the outside - Jesus is always with the outsiders.”  
So, I think we need to be careful when we say, “Jesus hates the goats; the goats are on the outside” because Jesus always goes to the outsiders.

    The parables are set up this way to show favoritism to the last, lost, least, little and lifeless - essentially the outsiders.  This parable from Matthew 25 illustrates this quiet well.  And quiet frankly with Advent right around the corner - the parable also does a great job explaining Jesus birth name - Emmanuel, God with us.  After the angel tells Mary and Joseph to name Jesus Immanuel, nobody ever calls him that but yet the entire gospel has been structured to show what it means to have God with us.  

    Christ is with us in the hungry beggar that we walk by on the street, Christ is with us in the child thirsty for a drink of clean water, Christ is with us in the visitor who beckons our door for the first time, Christ is with us as we visit the sick in the hospital room or at home, Christ is with us when we visit the prisoner sitting on death-row awaiting his or her fate.  These are all activities that we most certainly avoid.  We might not think twice about giving a child a glass of water in our neighborhood but think about developing countries where many walk miles to get water for the day.  Imagine the freedom that could be given to everyone, children included, if running water could come to their villages.  Imagine children no longer having to choose between daily substance and education.  Every time we ignore pleas from these countries to help in bringing aid in the form of running water, we ignore an opportunity to meet Christ in our midst.  

    This is what eschatological living looks like.  We talked about this two weeks ago.  Eschatological living means we are are ready for Christ’s return, we are watchful for his coming and we are prepared for the day when world will cease to exist as we know it and the Lord’s day is ushered in.  Eschatologically speaking then, being ready for Christ means we watch for his return in the most minuscule ways, we watch for Christ in the most unlikely places, we prepare for Christ by caring for the least of our brothers in sisters.  Because here’s the thing - Christ is not absent as we might think he is absent.  Christ is present, he never left us.  For Matthew, the kingdom of God is not as distant as we might think of it.  God is present with us.  Emmanuel doesn’t mean that Jesus was here and then left us.  Emmanuel means that Jesus is here now, with us.  Jesus never left us.  That is very much a Matthean theological claim that none of the other gospels make and that we so often forget.  

    This parable is more than just a plug for social justice ministries.  Living out your faith is far more than just charitable actions.  This parable highlights the need for us to be in relationship with all of God’s people.  Not just those sitting next to us in the pew but in those sitting outside our four walls.  John Chrysostom once said, “If you can’t find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will never find him in the chalice.”  How are we in relationship with those around us?  
As Jesus asked in the parable, “Do you know me?” Are we simply just serving our neighbors when we feed them or are we suppose to get to know them on a more deeper and spiritual level?  I think the parable argues for more than just care.

    This is what it means to be a king.  A king is not just someone who protects the people but gets to know the people whom he or she is charged with serving.  Real, Christly leadership means we remember that those whom we are called to serve have names and stories.  We are called to feed, care, and comfort those least in our society, but we also are to know them because Christ is present in their lives, in their faces, in themselves.  And we are also not tasked with separating out the good from the bad because when we do this, we almost always fail at seeing who is really blessed and who is really cursed. We are not called to separate but to love.

    And we fail at this every day.  None of us live up to what Christ our King has asked us to do in this parable.  I have been listening to a book called, “The President’s Club.” Every, single President has had real strengths and real failures.  None of them have been able to be a great president - none of them have ever been a savior to the American people as Christ was a savior for us.  We fail at recognizing Christ in our midst every day; every, single day.  What we can do, what should do is strive each and every day to not draw lines.  We recognize the power of having the last, lost, least, and lifeless in our midst.  Because in welcoming all who cross our door in from the cold, we will see Christ is not distant but is present in the faces of all people.  

And if I see the Christ in you, and you see the Christ in me, and if we see the Christ in each other - imagine what this world would like.  The kingdom of God would become a reality. In a world where dictators and tyrants, kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers fail at being true servants of the people - we should see that none of that really matters. What matters is that Christ is present right now, right here, in the flesh; changing lives, changing hearts, changing minds—Changing the world.  
See, the world will never change by people simply coming to church.  You can’t just check the day off the list. The world will change when the church no longer sees sheep and goats, but sees Christ as the ultimate head over all the world, that we not attempt to divide them or judge others but welcome all the sheep and all the goats to the table.  Because that is what our King did for you and me.  Unworthy, miserable creatures that we are, we found forgiveness from the king over all the universe.  

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Dividends of Justice


Amos 5:18-24   
Psalm 70    
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18     
Matthew 25:1-13    
Proper 27
November 2, 2017
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    For the next three weeks, we will hear parable after parable of Jesus preaching judgement and God's wrath to those who do not heed the warning of Jesus.  "Keep awake!"  "For you know neither the day nor the hour."  It seems Jesus is teaching us what it means to have the Son of Man coming back at unexpected hour.  These parables, therefore, are really preparing us for what eschatological living looks like for a Christian.  

    But before we get too ahead, lets talk about what the word eschatological or eschatology means.  Webster dictionary defines eschatology as the "branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind; a belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind; specifically any of various Christian doctrines concerning the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, or the Last Judgment." Other terms associated with Eschatology is Parousia.  It is actually a Greek word that referred to an official visit of a head of state.  Christians took the word and changed the meaning so that it would refer to the second coming of Christ.  Paul uses the word a lot in his letters, particularly in 1st Thessalonians.  In the Hebrew Bible, the phrase "Day of the Lord" is used to talk about God showing us.  When Christians hear this phrase, our ears hear something different but for Amos and the other prophets who use this phrase, it is not referencing the second coming because the first coming hasn't happen yet.  I don't see a problem with us Christians hearing the return of Christ when reading Amos, but we should have in the back of minds that Amos never intended his words to be understood in that way.  And I should add, God showing up might not be all that of a good thing...perhaps it means there will be some reckoning for past actions.

    So now that we know what eschatology is, what does eschatological living look like for the Christian?  I really see three marks according to this parable:  readiness, watchfulness, and preparedness.  But do any of us live this way?  Do any of us live with the reality that Christ's return is eminent?  We might say that Christ will come again, but what does that mean for you?  How do you live your life differently knowing that Christ will come again at an hour nobody knows.  Maybe you don’t. After 2000 years of waiting, you really can’t blame the average Christian for no longer living this way; yet we read, “keep awake...”

    There is the old joke about the lutheran pastor who is running around frantic because he heard Jesus had returned.  He ran up to his bishop and asks, "Bishop, what should I do now that Jesus is here?"  The bishop responds, "Just look busy..."  I think that is how most of us live - we know Christ will come again but it doesn't mean anything to us.  We are told to just look busy until the time does come.  Church feels like busy work.  We are like the pastor searching for something to do because we have heard Jesus is coming and I feel like the bishop who just says, "Look busy..." We run from one activity to another.  Youth group, Christian Ed, WELCA, Choir, Soccer, baseball, track, football - trying to do it all in the hopes that we might get it all done before Christ returns.  In living this way (running all around to look busy), the only thing that truly worries me is not knowing if we are acting like the wise bridesmaids or the foolish bridesmaid?  

    Matthew's gospel shows clear favor to the last, lost, least, little and lifeless.  We see this most evident in the beatitudes (read last week as a part of our All Saints liturgy).  Jesus calls the least of the world blessed and has systematically throughout the past 20 chapters has called out those who oppressed the least as no longer being included in God's inheritance.  When we read this parable, what is it teaching us about God's kingdom?  What does this reveal to us about how God's dominion is for the last, lost, least, little and lifeless - are foolish people not included in the kingdom?  Because if that is the case, I'm a little worried.  

    I am not sure I am all that wise.  Sure, I know some things about the Bible and being a pastor, but I don't consider myself to be all that wise.  Do you feel the same way?  Often we equate wisdom with age though science has said that after a certain around around 30 or 40 years old, most adults have a hard time learning new things.  It is why technology is so easy for younger people to pick up and harder for those who are older than 40.  But I think the wisdom that the Bible speaks of is different from how science might understand wisdom.  Wisdom is not the same as IQ points.  Wisdom is more like knowing a tomato is a fruit but would not go well in a fruit salad.  

    Biblical wisdom is this passage is probably best understood in that same way - some people will not be ready for the return of Christ because they expect the moment to look like something else. A wise person is someone who just ready - ready for whatever the day might bring.  "Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."  But sleep is so good.    

    Later on in Matthew's gospel, actually in the very next chapter, Jesus goes to Gethsemane to pray and said to his three most trusted disciples, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’  And what do they do?  

Verse 40:  Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 

It is easy to say, "Oh yea, I am one of the wise bridesmaid. I am ready for Christ's return; I am watching for all the signs; I have prepared with food in a bunker, water to last me for day, a Bible and an open heart ready for Christ to return."  But just remember, the best of the best could not keep awake.  The best of the best failed Jesus - one of them even denied knowing him at the hour of his trail, yet Jesus still welcomed them all into God’s kingdom through forgiveness.  

    The kingdom of God is like a bridesmaid who was ready for the bridegroom.  The kingdom of God is like a bridesmaid who ran out of oil.  "To act as wise bridesmaids is to affirm our faith in the coming Christ. Doing so shows our trust that our God is a God of justice and mercy. The eschaton encapsulates the ideals of God’s reign. It is the vision against which we judge our efforts in the meantime to live according to God’s principles. It is a vision of God’s ultimate justice and righteousness without which our world appears very bleak. The wise bridesmaids keep the vision of Christ’s return, and all that it stands for, alive through their faithful waiting in the midst of delay. By preparing for the day, the timing of which no one knows but God, they proclaim that God’s promises are true. They act out their hope for that day when God will establish justice and righteousness and peace." 

    Let us be wise then.  For wise men and women act with love for the least, the last, the lost, the outcast.  Wise men and women recognize those who are the blessed among them because they remember the words of their savior, of the son of man.  Let us rest but remain watchful, let us be vigilant but let us also be loving,  because in remaining watchful, vigilant and loving, we proclaim our Lord's death until he comes.  And that day will come.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy spirit.  Amen.  

Always go the Funeral

Revelation 7:9-17    
Psalm 34:1-10, 22    
1 John 3:1-3     
Matthew 5:1-12    
All Saints Sunday
November 5, 2017
Always Go to the Funeral
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    When I sat down to come up with sermon titles back in August, I had a different idea of in mind for this message.  Last year, Heather shared a story on NPR call “Always go to the funeral.”  It was a beautiful story and I highly recommend it.  But as I started to write this message today, the Holy Spirit led me away from this story and more into the book of Revelation.  So, I commend you this story from NPR as it is good and holy and right.  It just didn’t fit today.

    We Lutherans don't like the book of Revelation all that much.  Even though 96 of our hymns in the ELW are based on Revelation texts, even though we just sang verse 12 in our hymn of praise today and most weeks, even though there are some wonderful texts that we use in our funeral rite - we really don't like it.  Martin Luther thought the book should not be included in the canon.  Perhaps that is why don't like talking about this book and that is unfortunate, because a lot so-called Christian groups have taken this book and abused it - giving us fear instead of comfort, encouragement and hope.  

    There is a wonderful book out by Dr. Barbara Rossing called the Rapture Exposed.  It has been out for over 10 years now.  In the book, she describes how the book of Revelation was written in two parts.  Part one is a description of how things will look if the people do God's will and part two is what will happen if the people do no do God's will.  Most Apocalyptic books in this genre are set up in this similar fashion.  We are in part one of Revelation this morning.  But it is not all bells and roses.  To understand how we got to this scene in chapter 7, we have to go back to chapter 5.

    In chapter 5, John sees a vision of the one seated on the throne holding a scroll with 7 seals.  An angel says with a loud voice, "‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’"  John says that "no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it" and he begins to weep. But than an elder said to him, "‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’"

    Then the whole company of heaven breaks out into song, praising God for the one who can break the seals.  They sing in great song throughout the remainder of chapter 5, but then the lamb open one of the seven seals.  First came out a white horse and "its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering and to conquer."  Then another seal and out came another "horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another; and he was given a great sword." Another seal broken and another horse.  This time "a black horse! Its rider held a pair of scales in his hand.  John says he heard a voice say, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s pay, and three quarts of barley for a day’s pay, but do not damage the olive oil and the wine!’  To me that sounds like paying taxes, which is scary unto itself.  Another seal and another horse.  A "pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him."  John says "they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth."  Another seal but this time no horse.  Instead, all those who had been slaughtered "for the word of God and for the testimony they had given.”  They cry with a “loud voice, ‘Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?’” But John says that “they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer..."

    The sixth seal is broken and it gets even worse.  "There came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks."

    But then the vision stops and we get a different image.  

    I cannot imagine what an emotional rollercoaster John must have been going through.  Seeing so much destruction from the horses, then seeing his very own lying dead underneath the Altar - wanting justice and not being able to get it.  Then seeing the world tormented by earthquakes and the leaders, who should be offering help and assistance to those who lost everything, cower in fear in the caves.  It is from this vision of fear and hopelessness this that we get a different vision in the beautiful words of chapter 7 in Revelation.

    "After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands."  Can you picture that?  Picture that with me, my brothers and sisters.  Imagine all those who we have lost standing in the aisles, around our throne for God, standing in the choir loft, standing in this pulpit, seated right next to you - imagine all our loved ones standing and sitting with you saying, "‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’  And now look up and see the angles above and around the throne, they fall on their faces as they sing, "‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’"

    We don't have to imagine this scene, we see it every week, right?  As we gather around this table, all the saints including the ones both living and those who lie sleeping in their graves, they stand before the throne of God, worshiping him, singing his praise, feasting on his Body and blood.  This is not a hard picture for any of us to imagine, or at least it shouldn't be as Christians who confess each week in our creed that we believe in the communion of Saints.  John isn't just describing the future but is describing what he saw each week as the congregation gathered to worship our Lord.  

    This is why we go to church.  Witnessing what John describes in Revelation, seeing that God's plan for the world is not destruction, and being in communion with the faithful saints who made our faith possible - this is why we go to church - this is what we encounter when we enter into this holy place.  
   John says in the book of Revelation that those who gathered around the throne and wearing white robes are the ones who have been through the great ordeal.  The great ordeal that John is specifically talking about is the breaking of the 6 seals.  But look at our world and everything that seems to happen on a daily basis:  lack of peace, people slaughtering each other, famine, those persecuted for their faith, earthquake and other natural disasters, leaders more worried about themselves then the people they are appointed to serve.  We are living through the great ordeal.  But instead of being stuck in this hopelessness,  we know that this ordeal will end.  That is the message of Revelation - we will not endure this pain for all eternity.  We will not have to endure this much longer.  We glimmer just the beginning of this when we gather here each week.  When the end of time comes, it won't look like that world of the left behind and dispensationalists, it will look like us going to worship with all those blessed saints who have gone before us, who we remember this day and whom God has never forgotten.   

    We will gather before the throne of God with all the angels, robed in white robes, washed in the blood of the lamb. We will stand before the throne of God day and night and our king will shelter from all evil and pestilence that empires have tried to bring upon us.  We will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike us, nor any scorching heat;  for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be our shepherd, and he will guide us to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’  But until that day, we gather here every week with all our saints and will witness this beautiful vision from John, confident that whatever ordeals we face out there, God will bring us through just as God has brought the blessed saints through - and we will stand with them once again.  Until that most blessed day, we will gather here and witness a glimmer of that which is to come.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Stop with the Nails

Jeremiah 31: 31-34    
Psalm 46    
Romans 3: 19-28     
John 8: 31-36    
Reformation Sunday
October 29, 2017
Stop with the Nails
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    The practice of commemorating the Reformation reaches back almost as far back as the nailing of the 95 Theses itself.  According to some sources, this day began to be commemorated in 1567 but it wasn't made official holiday until the 200th celebration.  For probably over 300-400 years, Lutherans have gathered together on the day before October 31st to rally the troops.  There use to be commemorative items such as coins and coloring sheets.  The pastor would regale the congregation with talk about how we should "celebrate" Luther's ultimate act of defiance when he challenged the pope and his use of indulgence.  The church has talk about Luther being fearless, and reminded congregants of our Lutheran battle cry: "Here I stand, I can do no other.  God help me."  We talk about the fallacy of the pope and how we should never allow ourselves to ever look, act, or smell like the Roman Church.

    We all know the story of Luther or so it seems we do.  Legend has it that Luther, in the middle of the night after completing his 95 theses statements, goes to the Castle Church's doors and nails his document there so that everyone in the town can read them.  But some recent scholarship has uncovered a few problems with this.
  • So you nailed something to the church door and I don't like it...what do I do?  Rip it down and tear it up.  I am one of those skeptics that wonder if Luther ever nailed the document.  Posted could have meant sending out a letter to the faculty.
  • Though, is was one of the rules at the university.  If a faculty member wanted to debate a topic such as indulgence in an academic forum (this is what Luther wanted to do), he would have had to post it to the church's door, but would have used wax because, you would ruin your doors.  And to be honest, Luther was a faculty member, he probably handed this task off to one of his students or assistants.  
What most likely happen was after Luther posted the 95 theses, one of his students or even more likely, one of his fellow professors saw these 95 theses as a way to get their small university on the map. They use this new piece of Social media called a printing press and the document widely circulated. This legend of Luther nailing the 95 theses to the door started around the 1600's when Lutherans and Catholics were nailing each other over theology.  Political cartoons began to circulate portraying Luther with a hammer in his hand and the document in the other.   And we have been nailing each other ever since...

    We often forget that the 95 these were never directed at the pope because Luther couldn't believe a man such as the pope could never endorse a sort of thing and certainly not be the mastermind behind the indulgence. He hoped that after realizing what was happening in the kingdom, would put a stop to it.  So often we equate Leo to the modern day papacy, which is just not right.  For one thing, Leo was elected pope around the age of 38 when he was elected pope.  He was a named a cardinal-deacon at the age of 14 (against canon law at the time).  Could you imagine someone a little older than me with that much power?  Emperor Charles V was elected Emperor at the age of 19.  The world was really being run like a frat house with no adult supervision.  

    The Reformation should have never happened, but it did and because it did, and because of it, the gospel message was opened to thousands of individuals. And the reason it happened was because Luther opened his Bible and thereby, changed the world.  By opening his Bible, Luther saw a different dominion laid out by God which was being hidden by the church.  He read and taught on passages from Roman 3 that say, "For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law." He and many other reformers saw that this was counter to the sale of indulgences; the sale of forgiveness.  You know how I said Luther was an awful liturgist but a wonderful pastor and an amazing theologian.  He knew as a theologian, the power that God's forgiveness for the people in bondage to sin.  He knew as a pastor that so many of his flock would spend their very last penny to buy an indulgence to feel God's forgiveness and would forgo food for their children and family.  The pastor in Luther couldn't let his people go on living in this way.  The theologian in Luther could not stand by while the church spread this false gospel.  Luther opened his Bible and changed the world. 

    Can you imagine living your life wondering if you have been made right with God?  We take it for granted, 500 years later.  Imagine the church telling you that the only way for you to be assured of a place in heaven was to purchase it yourself.  There would be no need of a cross.  No need for Jesus.  Just your pocketbooks and wallets.  What if you don't have enough?  What will you give up?  Food?  Shelter? Luther, Pastor Luther saw his flock living in bondage to sin and they could not free themselves from it.  

    Look at what Jesus says in John 8.  Jesus says, "If you continue in my word..." The Greek is better translated, "if you Abide in my word..." and if we flip back to the first chapter, we know the word is Jesus - the Word of God became flesh and pitched a tent among us.  "If you abide in my word" does not mean we must read your Bible (a work mind you), but it is about living in Jesus. Jesus' true disciples will pitch a tent in their Lord, not just read about him in a book.   

    Jesus goes onto to say, "you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."  This truth is not something you can find like in the Bible - Jesus is the truth.  Not dogma, or doctrine or even interpretation of the scripture - salvation can be found outside of the church, just not outside of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the truth and that truth alone will set you free.

    But what are enslaved too?  Sin, right?  But Sin in the eyes of John was referencing the broken relationship between us and God.  If we abide in our Lord, we will know the truth (i.e. Jesus...I am the way, the truth, and the light) and the truth alone will set us free and restore our relationship back to God.  Freedom then, in the eyes of John, is committing yourself to Jesus and living within the confines of our Lord.  Freedom is anything but autonomy, according to John.  Freedom is about having our relationship with God restored and trusting in Jesus Christ alone for the healing of that relationship.  The Church can't fix that relationship, the pope can't fix it, Pastor Luther can't fix, I can't fix.  Only Jesus Christ alone can restore that relationship.  

    I am firmly glad every day for the Reformation and the continuing reforms we make as Lutherans in the church.  I am forever grateful for Luther being bold in the care of his flock and putting the gospel into the hands of all us, not just the religious elite.  I am forever grateful to know that my freedom from sin does not lie in my hands or in the church's hands, but in the bloodied and bruised hands of Jesus Christ.  But I also know the reformation has cause disunity and broken relationships that have taken many, many years to mend and heal.  

    500 years have gone by and much has changed between our churches.  We are so close to having a eucharistic agreement with our brothers and sisters in the Roman church.  Pope Francis is no Pope Leo.  Pope Benedict, John Paul I and II, or Pope Pious is no Pope Leo. The papacy is not what it use to be.  My brothers and sisters, we have got to stop with the nails.  You know, just because our Catholic brothers and sisters do something, doesn't make it evil.  I have heard, "Well, Pastor that is too Catholic..." What does that even mean?  Why is that bad?  We got to stop with the nails.  We have got to stop making them out to be the devil.  It is time for us to start a new reformation.  A reformation where we work to settle our differences.  We can't keep running away, distancing ourselves from each other.  We are a church, yes a divided church, but a church shares so much in common.
 And we have the job of proclaiming this wonderful and life-changing message of the freedom found in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ gave up his life so that we might know freedom from that broken relationship.  Let us make Luther's battle cry, “here I stand, I can do no other. God help me...” no longer a battle cry.  For never even was a battle cry when Luther said it at his trail in Worms, Germany. Let us use these words from Luther to no longer cry for war, to cry for continued hostilities, to cry for brokenness till the other side gives in. Let us use these words from Luther as a way to bridge the gap, bridge the divide between us. Instead of using these words in defiance, let us these words as a way to say, “Here we stand with you. We can do no other because the gospel won’t allow us. God help us all stand together.” 

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Taxes and Amazement

Isaiah 45:1-7    
Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]    
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10     
Matthew 22:15-22    
Proper 24
October 21, 2017
Taxes and Amazement
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    Taxes and Amazement - two topics that should never go together.  I feel like channeling my inner Admiral Ackbar when he says at the beginning of the Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi during the empire battle scene - "its a trap."  They tried to trap Jesus.  They were upset because every, single parable that Jesus has just said, was targeted and directed to them.  Jesus has called them out and has opened something that cannot be closed. 

    The Jesus in Matthew's Gospel does not mince words.  Matthew has an understanding that those who were once considered outside of the kingdom are now on the inside.  Or so it would appear.  I think Matthew is far more deeper than just that simple that understanding.  But to the people hearing this parable in the context of the temple, their blood is boiling.  Jesus has come into their house, their space, and has disrespected them.  

    Arch-rivals appears to be working together.  The Herodians and the Pharisees plot together to get Jesus in a trap.  I did some research into this group called the Herodians.  Outside of the New Testament, they are not mention anywhere.  There is a slight reference in Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews but they aren't even called Herodians but rather Essens.  They are only mention in Mark twice (3:6, 8:15) and once in Matthew (22:16).  Luke and John leave them out of their gospel completely.  My gut is telling me this is weird.  You got the Pharisees who do not like Rome and then you got what appears to be this sect of Judaism that is in cohoots with Rome.  Why are these two groups working together?  Many scholars wonder if they even existed as a sect in Judaism or if they are just a literary tool being used by Matthew and Mark to tell the story of Jesus.  It is hard to imagine any ANE Jew who liked Herod, but Herod did build the temple and we know how Matthew feels about the temple.   Let’s assume they do exist - why are these two groups working together?  

    And another question - what exactly is Jesus saying in his answer to their question "Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor?"  From what I can tell, there are three possible answers.  The first way of interpreting this parable is saying that each person has a Political Sphere and a Religious Sphere and never shall the two meet.  We each have obligations in each sphere and we should keep it that way.  But I don't think Jesus has ever made that claim...the idea of repentance as radical reorientation (to turn around and be redirected), just doesn't seem like it fits into this two spheres model.  Be good on Sunday and then do whatever you want the rest of the week? Maybe Jesus is saying that it is all very one sided to God - God owns everything so therefore we are to give nothing to the emperor.  But I don't think that is correct interpretation then why didn't they haul Jesus off right after he gave his answer and charge him with treason?

    The third option is that Jesus is not answering them at all but was calling out their complicity in their own question.  Open your celebrates and look at verse 19:
Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?"  That last part...whose title? From the coins that archeologists have discovered (and these coins are not all that common), they have Emperor Augustus picture (Augustus was the Emperor at the time, but all the emperors were called Caesar) and would have read on the front - Son of God or Son of the deified Augustus; on the back of the coin, Pontifax of the Rome or the High Priest of Rome.  

    Who remembers what the first commandment is - You shall have no other gods... These great law keepers of Judaism have just broke the first commandment - they brought a blasphemous coin into the temple with a blasphemous claim - Augustus is God, Augustus is the high Priest of Rome.  The Pharisees and the Herodians are working together because they see Jesus as a threat to their religion.  These two groups go about their faith very differently but in this case, Jesus is a threat to both of their identities - this is what brought them together; a threat has entered their house.  Yet they can't even see that they are breaking their very law, law number one.  Jesus has called out their complicity to the true threat - They are complicit to the reality of the world and can’t see the new reality God is bringing about.

    We talked about this a few weeks ago.  When pilgrim-goers came to the temple, they had to change their Roman coins for temple coins called Shekels so that coins that make the claim that Augustus is God would not be brought into house of God and therefore avoid breaking the first commandment.  Yet in this place, these two groups have not changed their coins and have brought a form of idolatry into that holy place; and they don't even realize what they have done.

    Thankfully though, we are so different from the Herodians and Pharisees, right?  Sarcasm folks.  We are no different from these Pharisees and Herodians.  Times have not changed all that much.  We idolize leaders to the point where they are right next to God and when these leaders such as pastors/teachers/doctors/elected officials/etc fail us, we either deny/ignore their failures (because gods don’t fail) or we completely write them off as pure evil.  We might not call them Sons of God, but we do it it in more subtle ways.  There is no way to escape the complicity of sin in our world.  We put people who we make out to be a god first rather than putting Christ first in all that we do.  We put things first and make them gods all the time. I am first and foremost guilty of doing this every, single day.  I know I have let people elevate me to same level of a god and I did not stop it.  I know I have said bad things about families who have their children involved in sport leagues that meet on Sundays and I know I have gotten angry at businesses being open on Sunday, yet I do enjoy watching a Sunday afternoon baseball/football game and I did have to stop at Dunkin doughnuts on the way into church this morning.  I know I have not done a good job at showing why church should matter more.  I am a hypocrite just like the Pharisees and Herodians.  We’re all hypocrites.

    Everyone is guilty of being complicit.  It is why Jesus calls his accusers hypocrites. We talked about this last week with the parable of the intruder at the wedding banquet - before we go and point the finger at someone else, there are four pointing back at us.  Before we go and point the finger at people who is not here in worship, lets look at ourselves.  How many of us carry a god in our pockets? How many of us do not put Christ first in all we do?  
    I think what this gospel today is meant to call us all to task, not just the ones who we think are wrong, but all of us are fall very short of keeping the very first commandment.  We are all hypocrites, just the Pharisees and Herodians.  We are all hypocrites.  We are all guilty.

    But we are also all forgiven.  You know, Admiral Ackbar was right - this was a trap but it was a trap set by Jesus. It was a trap set for us and we fell right into it.  But instead of death for us, we get a second chance - its called forgiveness.  You might have failed at putting Christ first this week or even this day, but its okay - you are forgiven.  Your sin has been removed.  You have a second chance to go back out these doors and try it all over again.  Have the same grace that Christ has had for you this day for your neighbors who might commit the same sin.  I know it so easy to point the finger, why not try hold out your hand for your neighbors and bless them because that is what disciples do.  They say in life there are two certainties:  Taxes and Death.  In discipleship it is Taxes and amazement. You still have to pay your taxes AND you get to see amazing things happens, like Jesus forgiving a hypocrite like you and me.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

When the King invites you, Show Up

Isaiah 25:1-9    
Psalm 80:7-15    
Philippians 4:1-9     
Matthew 22:1-14    
Proper 23
October 15, 2017
When the King Invites You, Show Up
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    It is very tempting to preach on Philippians today.  It's a good text.  I wrote my epistle paper on that passage.  20 page exegetical paper, a sermon, a website and a hymn.  I know a lot about that Philippians text and I would have only need to spend maybe an hour on the whole message.  Dr. David Lose wrote, on his website, a letter addressed to preachers for today.  He says, "“Let’s just admit it: this is an ugly parable. No amount of generalizing about God’s hospitality or vulnerability or invitation is going to do away with that. In fact, I think that straying into generalities is a huge mistake, as it glosses over the serious nature and inherent danger in passages like this. So I would urge you either to preach this parable in its distinct and unattractive particularity or to choose one of the other three far more attractive and certainly more edifying passages appointed for this day.”  So that is what I am going to do - we are going to dive into this very ugly parable and hopefully, we will come out on the other side and see the good news, the beautiful news of God.  

    We find ourselves still in this Holy Week narrative that we have been in for the past three weeks.  Jesus is still in the temple and just when you think he has said all that he wants to say, he comes back around again for another blow against the temple and its leaders.  Each parable gets more and more outlandish; over the top.  What king, after all his friends stood him up for his son's wedding, would then go out and invite all the peasants? Yeah, let's call everyone’s attention to the fact that the most powerful people in all the land have just shamed the most powerful man in the whole kingdom.  It is outlandish to think this way, but it is really no different from the other over-the-top parables where the man went out and hired workers at 5pm and paid them the exact same wage that the people who worked all day have received.  

    We also have this strange, Matthian phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  So far, Matthew has said it three times before today's gospel and will say it two more times before the gospel ends. This very vengeful phrase is used a total of six times.  To put this in context - Mark never says it, John never says, and Luke says it only once.  There is a fear of the imposter that dominates the second half of this parable, and arguably the whole parable.  

    This parable is in its very DNA is unpleasant, vengeful, angry, violent, extreme and down right weird - yet it is the Good News.   The most important thing we need to remember is that we were never the intended audience for this parable.  This is not our situation by any stretch.  This was a parable for Matthew's community - a small, minority group in the Roman Empire, living in a time soon after the temple has been destroyed.  They are a community that has been persecuted by Rome and probably the temple as well.  They have no political influence and worshipping Jesus Christ is probably very dangerous.  

    This is whom this parable is written.  The idea of an intruder getting into our community and doing any kind of damage to us is very rare.  We need to take ourselves out of the picture, take yourself out of the parable and ask, "What does this have to do with the coming dominion of God?"
   So what does it have to do with dominion of God?  A king who gets stood up?  The kingdom of God is like a king who had his messengers either ignored, killed, or mistreated.  A King is not use to feeling shame.  In this honor/shame system - he would not know the latter.  So in a last ditch effort to recover his honor and not have an empty wedding for his son, he sends his servants into his kingdom and they invite everyone in - both the good and the bad.  That is a strange dominion to encounter, but it does match what Jesus has already said.  This description resembles the beatitudes in the fact that these people would never have been invited into the King's court, yet here they are, at a wedding banquet thrown in the honor of the King's son.  The least have become blessed.  

    It also resembles Matthew 28, the great commission where Jesus send out the disciples - Go therefore to all nations.  It really is a beautiful image here that Matthew is painting.  A king who invites those who he has been called to serve into a highly coveted place in his palace.  A king who invited everyone, both the good and the bad.  A king who gave up on those who he thought was his friends and choose to welcome those who he didn't even know their name.  I can get behind that message of God's dominion.  

    I can almost picture it.  But their is a problem.  See, Matthew's community has been tortured by outsiders, by people whom they did not know their names.  They have been infiltrated, in prisoned, and mostly likely killed because they did exactly what this king did.  They tried to live out the Good News in the hope that they would get to see a glimpse, a glimmer of God's dominion but it appears to have bit them.  It bit them pretty hard.  

    Don't allegorize this parable.  Jesus is not the intruder that we have thrown out.  This man was not the unsung hero of the party who dared to redefine social standards.  I think Matthew wants us to read this story as him being a dangerous person.  I think this intruder serves as Matthew's ultimate questions, "Will God ever take offense to things?"  Will God ever take offense to those who don't show up - who shame God by ignoring the messengers whom have been sent out with invites in hand? Will God take offense to people improperly dressed?  This parable does answer these questions with a resounding yes. Yes, God will take offense and will deal with these problems.

    God will find out these persons who disrespect God's name and God's invite.  God will take these retrenched people down with swift action and throw them into the outer darkness where their will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  God will take down those retched and despicable people who send Nazi Swastikas to Jewish bakeries. God will take down all those hate groups that use God's name to justify hatred and murder of innocent people. God's grace is not to be taken lightly.  Don't take our God as someone who you can easily push around and used for your own twisted message of hate. 

    Where the parable before with the generous landowner and the landowner who acted out of vulnerability show us God's grace in a particularly good light- do not confuse God's grace with God's ability to not remember.  God will remember.  

    For Matthew, God does hold a grudge - but before we get too ahead of ourselves, remember whenever we point the finger at someone else, there are four fingers pointing back at you.  We get so caught up in the vengeful part of this parable that we miss the very good news - you have been welcomed to the banquet because others have ignored the invitation.  You have no right to be here, yet the king has invited you and you showed up.  When the king invites you, you show up.  But there are still a lot of good and bad people outside our four walls who haven't gotten the invite.  They need to show up too.  They need to be given a chance to come into the fabulous banquet.

    What we do today is but a foretaste, it is the appetizer course for the wedding banquet to come.  
God wants there to be everyone, people from all nations, people whom God calls blessed.  Invite the good and bad, our God knows how to separate them out and is very good at it.  In a way, the honor of the king lies in our hand.  So when the king invites you, show up. But you the messenger - you gotta bring them their invite.  Today is not the wedding banquet but the banquet is about to begin.  You are one of King's servants so you got bring our neighbors their invite to the King's wedding banquet. 
And when you do this, when you bring both the good and the bad into the wedding hall, your reward is seeing a glimmer of the coming Dominion of God.  My brothers and sisters, when the King invites you to a wedding banquet - show up and bring friends and see the dominion of God is at hand.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.  

Parable of the Foolish Landowner

Isaiah 5:1-7    
Psalm 80:7-15    
Philippians 3:4b-14     
Matthew 21:33-46    
Proper 22
October 8, 2017
Parable of the Foolish Landowner
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    As we talked about last week, this gospel text is right in the heart of Holy Week and it seems Matthew has painted this image for us of Jesus walking to the cross using this parable.  He has predicted three times already in the gospel that Jesus would on a cross.  And so, it is very easy to read this parable with that cross in mind.  It seems that is what Matthew wants us to think Cross.

    I was listening to a podcast this week and the one scholar said, "you shouldn't allegorize parables...except this one." And maybe that is true.  It would break one of our parable rules, but we are Lutherans and we know the rules are meant to be broken - sin boldly.  

    I mean, this parable does give us a unique insight into Jesus' Christology.  Why did God send Jesus? Because nothing else was working.  The prophets were being murdered, stoned, or just plain ignored.  That makes sense, right?  But here is the thing, here is the problem with this very simplistic understanding of Jesus and cross - it doesn't paint God in the best of light.  It shows us a foolish God - why would God send his only son to a world that would kill him?  Frankly, it paints the ones who sent Jesus to the cross in a better light.  They knew exactly what they were doing when they handed Jesus over to be crucified.  Judas knew exactly what he was doing when he kissed Jesus in the garden.  Ciaphas knew exactly what he was doing when he sentenced him to death.  Pilate knew exactly what he was doing when he sentenced him to cross.  Humanity was in charge which brought salvation, not the other other way around.

    See, if we follow this mindset here, we remove the very notion that the crucifixion was a divine necessity.  Back on September 4th, we heard from Matthew 16, one of those passion predictions about his death on a cross.  And Peter rebukes Jesus and Jesus says, "get behind me, Satan."  Jesus tells all the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem.  "He must" - It is necessary that Jesus go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  It is a binding agreement that can't be broken.  It has to happen in-order to fulfill all righteousness before God.  There is nothing that Jesus can do to change this binding agreement.  The Divine necessity of Jesus going to the cross is real and therefore cannot be ignored or explained away as this parable might lead us to do.  In a way, this parable really isn't about the cross at all.  Well I mean it is, but isn't, you know it kind of is, but its not quiet (Don't you just love theology?).

    Parables function as metaphors challenging or inviting the audience into a new or deeper understand of God's dominion - a dominion identified with the last, lost, least, little and lifeless.  The parables open to us an image of God's dominion - they are not about predicting future event to come but rather, give us a gateway into seeing what it means to live under God's dominion and not under the world's dominion. 

    I like us to approach this text with instead of asking "why the cross?", we ask "why did the landowner send your only son and what does that have to do with God’s dominion?"  What does this parable teach us about the foolish/desperate/crazy landowner?  I see a vulnerable landowner.  I see a landowner who tried to send others to his tenants in the vineyard to collect what was rightfully his and the tenants wanted no part of it.  I see a landowner who is at his wits ends with his land and tenants, who realizes violence only leads to more violence.   It was out of this realization that the landowner doesn't form an army to take back what was rightfully his but realizes he is in fact very vulnerable.  Nobody likes admitting that they are vulnerable.  It makes us feel week.  The Landowner is honest about his predicament and decides to act within that vulnerability.  He sends his Son because the landowner believes tenants will respect the landowner's vulnerability; he will be reminded the tenants of their humanity and empathy, and hope that they might feel the same in the presence of his vulnerability, repent and come around. Instead, they kill the son. They reject the landowner's vulnerability because that is what the dominion of the world does.

    Jesus asks, "Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’"  The people say,  ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’  Wrong answer.  That is how the world responds.  How does God respond in God’s dominion.  Violence begets violence.  

    "Have you never read in the scriptures..." how God brings about forgiveness instead of destruction?  “Don’t you remember how God brought the people out of exile and back into their land.  Don’t you see that God sent me instead of another flood to destroy all the earth.” Yeah, the parable is about the cross but it is about so much more.  This parable teaches us that our God never intended to meet the world with violence but with vulnerability.  

    When do we meet violence with vulnerability?  When do we send our only sons and daughters to an unruly and angry people?  We normally don’t.  I think this parable reminds us that in God’s dominion, people stand up for what is right, and just, and holy in the world.  They speak as the moral authority and remind our leaders that violence only leads to more violence. The world’s dominion demands strong leaders who will stand up to other leaders and threaten mass destruction.  God's dominion meets violence with people willing to lay down their life for God's harvest - a harvest that is plentiful and needs to be picked before it spoils.  God's dominion has a vineyard bursting with fruit that needs to be picked, but their are some scary people standing in the way.  What do you do?  Are you going to take up a sword or take up a cross?  You going to meet them with violence or vulnerability.  Sword or cross? Your choice really.  Choose wisely.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
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