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