Sunday, September 25, 2011

Matthew 21:23-32 - “Repent and Be Welcomed”

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21) (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, September 25, 2011

• So I just did a Children’s Message on the word “Repent.”
• It’s not usually one of those warm fuzzy words made perfect for a warm fuzzy children’s message.
• But did you catch how “repent” is an invitation to come back to God?
• It’s not an invitation to come back to God so that God can punish you.
• It’s an invitation to come back to God so He can share His love with you.

• Where’d we ever get the feeling that the word “repent” is meant to be yelled?
• I mean, I did a Google Image search for “repent” and it came up with signs like “Repent or Die!” and pictures of people pointing their fingers and slamming their fists and yelling “repent”

• Is it meant to be a scary word?
• Is it meant to be a word decorated with flames?

• I mean, on the one hand, it’s a word about our sin, a word about taking our sin seriously,
• so it is meant to bring us to our knees,
• it’s meant to cause us to confess our sins to God

• But on the other hand, on the extremely important other hand, we’re called to turn back to God, to make that U-turn, to go back to Him so that He can forgive us and love us and show us mercy.
• We don’t need to be afraid to repent.
• We can rejoice that when we repent there’s hope and comfort and open arms.

• Look with me at the parable of the two sons, the second half of today’s Gospel reading. It’s about repentance.

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

• Who is the father? (God)
• What is the vineyard? (Kingdom of God)
• But then who are the two sons?
(chief priests/elders and tax collectors/prostitutes/sinners)

• Now typically teaching about preaching would counsel the pastor never to compare the congregation to the chief priests
• You are the redeemed, baptized, believing children of God; so to call you chief priests/elders/Pharisees, well, that’s just wrong

• But look at the two sons. . .don’t you feel like you might be either one at different times?
• I mean, there’s plenty of times that I’ve refused to do what God wants, but in the end, I follow His will
• I think I’ll refuse to do His will, that I’ll look out for number one instead of loving my neighbor, but in the end, His Spirit works in me, and I show love to my neighbor

• Yet there are also times when I commit to God, I commit to doing His will
• And then I slink around, sneak around, and just simply never get around to doing His will
• I vow to love my neighbor, but I end up ignoring that vow, ignore my commitment to love others

• I could be either son
• But that means that the message of repentance, that message is meant for me

• John the Baptist’s message: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near”
• The message of Jesus: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near”
• The message of the disciples when they are sent out and preached a message of repentance
• That message of repentance is the message I need to hear

• What does it mean to repent?
Changed his mind so changed his action
• Who repented in the parable?
• Who was repenting when it came to hearing the words of Jesus?
• Tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners
• Who is repenting now when it comes to the words of Jesus?
• We are if we are changing our minds so changing our actions

• However you understand the parable, however you want to line up the parable, we’re the ones who need to repent.

• A year ago, after Matthew Harrison was elected as the president of our denomination, he wrote an article for the magazine, The Lutheran Witness, called “Beginning with Repentance.” In other words, he began his presidency with repentance. He would lead with repentance, an acknowledgement of sin and the need to return to God, the need for forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Harrison said,

• The Reformation began the same way. The very first words of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses declare: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ says ‘Repent,’ he wills that the entire life of the Christian be one of repentance.” The Reformation began with a divine call to repentance—with a confession of sin and a rejection of the delusion that human activity can in any way, whole or in part, bring about salvation or divine favor.

• Harrison continued in talking about the things that the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod might need to repent about, the things we as members of the Missouri Synod churches might need to repent about. He said:

• Why have we lacked missionary zeal? Why have we been so divided? Why have we failed to love each other? Why have we struggled financially? Why have we failed to convince both those within and outside our fellowship? Why have we been unable to listen to our brothers and sisters? Why has our preaching so often lacked urgency and biblical depth? Are we preachers therapists, or are we prophets of God with a clear message of Law and Gospel? Are we still the Church that preaches Jesus’ own message of repentance? As I write these things, I am thinking above all of myself, of my own sins.

• Harrison continued with a very direct statement: There is nothing for any of us in the Missouri Synod to be smug about.

• But Harrison didn’t stop there. Repentance doesn’t stop there. It’s not just about turning away from sin, shamed by our actions, and trying to fix our lives. Repentance is about turning to the Gospel. Harrison said:

• The good news is that the Lord delights in having mercy upon sinners, just like us. In fact, “Christ dwells only in sinners” (Luther). That means that Christ dwells only in a Church made up of sinners—people and pastors just like us. Jesus has given us an astounding gift. May the Lord grant us repentance, all of us, that the Gospel not pass from us and that we poor sinners—yes, the Missouri Synod—might be His own tool to preach repentance, forgiveness, and faith in His name—even now, even today. (September 2010)

• So indeed, may God grant us repentance today. In fact, that’s another reminder about what repentance is: it’s God’s action in our lives
• it’s God working in our hearts to turn us away from sin
• It’s God helping us to see that He will welcome us back into His family even though we are sinners.
• Repentance is God’s action.

• Not every Christian will teach this.
• You won’t always hear this.
• You’ll get the idea that repentance is our action and God meets us there.
• We do a little, God does a little, and that’s salvation.
• But instead, looking at Scripture, we believe that salvation is completely God’s action.
• So that even my repentance, even my turning away from sin, is the action of God, His Holy Spirit working in my heart.

• So definitely, may God grant us repentance today. May God work that repentance in our hearts.
• May we be the son who repents.

• And when we repent, when God turns us around,
• We find God coming to us, coming to us with forgiveness and love
• It’s a message of hope and grace for us who have been crushed by the Law.
• It’s a message of hope and grace for those who have been turned around by God.

• So think of a time when you turned away from sin,
a time when you repented
• That may have been a difficult time
• That may have been a time when you felt guilty, sad, ashamed, scared

• But as you remember repenting, turning away from the sin, turning away from that action,
• Remember this:
• That was God’s action—praise Him for it
• God was working in your heart—give Him the glory
• And remember what you found when God brought you, when you returned to the Lord, when the Lord drew You to Himself, what did you find?
• You found forgiveness and love
• You found Gospel.
• You found Good News.

• So when you hear the word “repent,” now you don’t need to just hear it as a scary word of shaking fingers
• Now you can hear it as God intends it—
• A word of God turning you to Himself
• A word of God bringing you back to Himself
• A word of God returning you to His love and grace

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Isaiah 55:6-9 - "86"

14th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20) (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

These are the notes from this sermon. No manuscript available.

• I want you to remember two numbers: 86 and 11.
• And for those of you who feel the need to add those numbers, they add up to 97 but that doesn’t really have anything to do with this.

• Let’s take 11 first. Where’s that show up in today’s readings? (Gospel)
• What does it mean that the workers showed up at the eleventh hour? (What time of day? 5 p.m., last hour of sunlight)
• What did the workers receive after working for an hour?

• How does that connect the Gospel reading, the parable of Jesus, connect that with Isaiah 55?
Seek the LORD while he may be found; 
call on him while he is near. 
Let the wicked forsake his way 
and the evil man his thoughts. 
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
• God allows Himself to be found right up to the last moment of someone’s life, and right up to the last moments of this world, this present age
• God allows Himself to be found and He offers the full salvation to people who seek Him, who call on Him

• Isaiah – call to all people who are wicked

• Who are all the wicked people?
• “seek the Lord,” stepping up to where God is, but it’s not really about our action
• It’s about God’s willingness to be found
• And now is that time!

• What do we find when we seek the Lord?
• Us wicked people, what do we find according to Isaiah?
• How does this happen? (Jesus)

• What was the other number I wanted you to remember?
• What’s the significance of that number usually?
• Food industry – 86’d means it’s gone or spoiled or whatever, 86 something on the menu means cross it out, get rid of it, don’t offer it anymore
• Starbucks – whiteboard

• God is not 86’d.
• Seek Him while He may be found.

• Makes me think we have to make Jesus be found
• I get this image of needing to get people’s attention
• Hold up signs that say “Jesus”

• Funny thing is, that’s not very effective

• Randy Gifford and I attended the Regional Outreach Conference, hosted by Lutheran Hour Ministries and Northern Illinois District,
• learned about what ways to reach out, do evangelism, share the faith
• Didn’t include standing on the corner with a “Jesus” sign
• Instead, you be the sign, you be the sign that says “Jesus”
• Mike Mast, “hands and feet of Jesus,” like our Bethel t-shirts remind us

• God is not 86’d yet
• But it’s the 11th hour
• Sense of urgency for our neighbors
• How does that change the way you view the people around you?
• People are headed towards hell, separated from God for eternity
• Do I take that seriously?
• Remember the numbers: 86 and 11

• God is not 86’d yet
• It’s the 11th hour, there’s still time
• No one you meet is too far beyond God’s grace
• Have you ever met someone you figured was too far beyond what God could do?
• Remember the numbers: 86 and 11
• Remember Isaiah 55
Seek the LORD while he may be found; 
call on him while he is near. 
Let the wicked forsake his way 
and the evil man his thoughts. 
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

• It’s the 11th hour for some people, coming to Jesus relatively late in their lives, compared to being born into the Church
• Still offer them complete salvation in Jesus Christ
• Can’t treat people as second-class citizens if they haven’t always been Christians or if they’ve wandered away from the faith and are coming back
• Remember the numbers: 86 and 11

• Earlier I asked: us wicked people, what do we find when we find the Lord according to Isaiah?
• How does this happen? (Jesus)
• New question: what do we need forgiveness for when it comes to thinking about 86 and 11?
o Thinking God is 86’d, beyond some people
o Forgetting the urgency
o Keeping God to myself
• And what does God say to all of those sins?
o Seek the LORD while he may be found; 
call on him while he is near. 
Let the wicked forsake his way 
and the evil man his thoughts. 
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
• The message has an impact on us first
• God is not 86’d in your life
• God is here with forgiveness, grace, and mercy in Jesus
• Then we realize that it’s a message for all of the people around us.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Psalm 32:1-7 - “Rushing Home”

12th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, September 4, 2011

Read Psalm 32:1-7 and the divisions of the psalm (see picture). Then say, “Here’s a story for Psalm 32. See if you can line it up with the parts of the psalm. The story is a picture of what happens when we come and confess our sins to God.”

For what I was about to do, I had hidden my bike in the weeds in the backyard. Then when the hour came, around 11:30 at night, I got up, put on the clothes I had stashed in the corner for the excursion. Then I slowly, quietly snuck out of my room, went down the stairs, and out the back door.

In the dark, I retrieved my bike—a Raleigh Rampar BMX bike, by the way—retrived it from the weeds in the backyard where I had also hidden a backpack with a flashlight and as many toilet paper rolls as I could dare take without causing my mom to catch on.

You see, I was in seventh grade, and two “friends” had told me to meet them on Friday night to go TP another friend’s house. The plan was that we’d meet near my old elementary school at midnight. I needed to get there without getting caught, but it was about 3 miles away by bike.

I grabbed the bike and headed down the sidewalks and roads, holding the flashlight on my handlebars so I could see as I went down a completely dark bike path that winds through the woods. I was going as fast as my Rampar could go; I didn’t want to be late.

After a nerve-wracking moment of crossing a major intersection, I arrived out of breath near Poplar Bridge Elementary School. That’s when it dawned on me that we really hadn’t worked out the plan more than that. My two “friends” hadn’t really said where they’d be. They just said we’d meet near the school. I rode around the school, but everything was quiet. I rode near our other friend’s house to see if they had already started TPing without me, but everything was quiet. I went back to the school—nothing.

Deciding that they were late, I rode off the direction I guessed they would have been coming from. Mind you, this meant I was going farther away from home. I rode down 84th Street—relatively quiet at midnight, but still the main road through the neighborhood. I kept looking down every side street wondering where my “friends” could be.

I got another half mile down the road and came to France Avenue—a major road with plenty of traffic still a midnight. I saw a police car speed past on France Avenue, and that’s when it dawned on me how much trouble I could be in. Out past curfew, the police would pick me up, throw my Rampar in the trunk, take me home, and I’d have a lot of explaining to do. No, it was time to abort the mission, head home, and figure out what happened to my “friends” later.

I turned my bike around, started off in the direction of home, and that’s when I noticed a car going slowly on 84th Street, kind of keeping pace with me. I was on the sidewalk, but clearly this car was keeping pace with me. I biked a little faster, and the car sped up—but still keeping pace, not going as fast as car should be going but instead going only as fast as I could go on my Raleigh Rampar one-speed BMX bike on the sidewalk. Something was wrong; I was being followed.

Fearing the worst, I kept going as fast as I could, thinking that if I could just get back to another major intersection that I’d be safe under the streetlights and where more cars were—but that was still a half a mile away.

Fearing the worst, I kept going as fast as I could, but it was getting tough, because I was starting to panic, I was starting to cry, and that car was keeping pace, staying just behind me.

I got back to the school, and the bike was flying now as I came down the sidewalk to the cross street, the tears flying, too. Just then a car coming towards me turned the corner in front of my path. I threw on the brakes to skid to a stop as the car blocked my path. I was in complete panic mode when the driver rolled down his window and said, “Are you OK?”

I glanced over to see that the car that was following me gathered speed and kept going. I glanced back to this driver that was blocking my path. Through my tears and panic, I said I was fine.

“Are you sure? You’re out awfully late. Do you want a ride home?”

Yes, I’m fine. Yes, I’m out late. Yes, I’m headed home, but no, I don’t want a ride.

That driver may have saved me from the predator following me, but I wasn’t about to get in a stranger’s car. I just wanted to get home, away from the midnight crowd, back safe at home.

The driver hesitated, expressed his concern again, but then just urged me to get home quickly.

I didn’t need any reminders to go quickly. As soon as the car was out of my path, I pedaled so fast. Those three miles home flew by. The tears kept streaming down my face, but I wasn’t going to slow up. I was going to get back home.

I got into our backyard, threw the bike down in the yard, and went running into the house. Without even really thinking about what I was doing, I went right up into my parents’ bedroom, crying, sobbing, panicking. I woke them up, told them in between sobs the whole story. I needed to know that I was safe. I needed to know they would protect me. They let me cry and then helped me get back to my bed and go to sleep. We’d talk about it in the morning.

Come morning, and it was early morning because I had a swim meet that day, come morning, my parents were clearly upset and trying to think of how they’d punish me. We went to the swim meet in silence. After my event, I found them in the stands, they told me I had done well—when really I was pretty slow that day considering my excursion and losing sleep—but then mainly just looked disappointed in me.

I don’t really remember what the punishment was, because mainly I just remember how disappointed they were in me. I don’t really remember what the punishment was, because what I mainly remember was how they had comforted me when I was so scared, comforted me, showed me that I was safe, and showed me that they still loved me even after I had just told them that I had snuck out of the house. That’s what I remember: the flood of emotions standing at the foot of their bed in the middle of the night, telling them that I had snuck out of the house and had been followed and was scared for my life. The flood of emotions as they comforted their panicked, afraid, crying child, comforted me so that I’d know that they still loved me.

I tell this story, because it makes a good picture for what happens in Psalm 32:1-7, a good picture of what happens when we confess, admit our sins to God, and then receive His forgiving love. On the green sheet in your bulletins, you have an outline of these verses from Psalm 32. Let’s walk through them, and then try applying the sections to my story. In the process, I want you to see that the story of rushing home is a lot like what it means to come to God with our sins.

The rest of the sermon I engaged the congregation in a discussion about the story, the parts of the psalm, and the reminder that coming to God in confession and absolution is like throwing down your bike, running inside, waking up your parents, and telling the whole story because you need their love, comfort, and forgiveness.