October 25, 2020 Sermon

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Oct 252020
 

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Matthew 25:14-30

A lot Christians hear the word stewardship and immediately think, “here comes the plea for more money.” Stewardship includes the way that we use money, as Jesus clearly indicates by using talents, a measure of money, in his parable. But he also makes it clear that money is not the main issue in stewardship. He makes it clear that how we handle money is only an outward indication of the attitude of our hearts. The main issue in stewardship is faithfulness. As Paul told the Corinthians, now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. Practicing good stewardship means being faithful in the way that you manage everything God has given you.

If we are going to practice good stewardship, the first thing we need to recognize and accept by faith is that we are stewards. That means that we acknowledge every day that everything we have belongs to God. It’s not ours. It belongs to God who made it and who has entrusted it to us for as long as we live on this earth. The ultimate proof of this is that when you die, everything you have is given to someone else. If it were really yours, you could take it with you.

Jesus makes this clear in his parable when he says, the kingdom of heaven is like a man going on a journey. He called his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. Notice it says that he called his servants. That’s us, everyone who confesses that they believe that he is their Savior and that they are his disciples/servants. Notice also that it says that he entrusted HIS possessions to them. He gave them a trust. He trusted them with what belonged to him. He trusted them to use what belonged to him faithfully, to the best of their ability, and to return what belonged to him in the same condition or better whenever he came to ask for it.

Think about it in the same way you do when you lend something that’s yours to someone else. Whether it’s a tool, or a vehicle, or a piece of clothing, you let the other person use it with the idea that it still belongs to you and that you expect to receive it back at a certain time, in the same condition it was when you gave it to them. If they never return it, we consider them thieves. If they return it damaged, without an apology or an offer to fix or replace it, we consider them unworthy of ever borrowing from us again. If we feel justified in thinking that way, what about God?

God makes very clear what he thinks about those who refuse to acknowledge that everything they have belongs to him. He makes very clear what he thinks about those who refuse to provide him with the fruits of his harvest, as we heard in his parable last week. Even the Jewish leaders acknowledged that he would be justified in bringing those wretches to a wretched end. In our first reading he made it clear that those who claim to be his servants and yet do not acknowledge and give thanks to God by bringing tithes and offerings are robbing him. It is required that those who are given a trust must prove faithful.

We might be tempted to think, “that’s a lot to expect. God is expecting more of me than I can give him.” Jesus answers that excuse in his parable. To one (servant) he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to still another one talent, each according to his own ability. Did you hear it? Each according to his own ability.

What a comfort that is! God does not judge our stewardship by comparing what we do to what others do. He is God. He is the one who has given us our mind and all our abilities. He knows exactly what we are capable of doing and what is beyond our ability to do. He is not going to ask us to do something we are not capable of doing with the abilities he has given us and with his help. He entrusts his property to us in proportion to our abilities, and he measures our faithfulness in proportion to our abilities.

As further proof of this, listen to what the master says as he has his servants give an account of their stewardship. The servant who had been put in charge of five talents gained five more, and the one who had been put in charge of two talents gained two more. One gained five and the other only gained two. But what does the master say? ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He says exactly the same thing to both servants. Both were considered faithful because they both managed what they were given in accordance with what the master knew was their ability.  God doesn’t judge our stewardship by what someone else is doing. He judges our stewardship by weighing it against the gifts and abilities he has given us. As Paul says, we have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

The servant who received only one talent was not faithful in the use of his talent. He was not expected to gain five, or even two. His stewardship was not measured by what the others did, but he was expected to do something. His excuse was that his master expected too much of him. He was afraid that maybe he would lose what belonged to his master. So he did nothing. He buried his master’s talent in the ground and returned it to him when he asked for it.

Shouldn’t the master have been happy that at least he received back what he had entrusted to this servant? No, the master saw through the excuses and pointed out the real reason this man had buried this talent. He was wicked. He was lazy. He didn’t want to serve anyone but himself. Why should he work for his master when he wouldn’t get anything in return, the master would get both the principle and the profit? If he was going to do something, he would do it for himself, store up things for his own enjoyment. But the Bible makes it clear where that kind of thinking ends up. Through Malachi he says that if you are thinking of yourself first, that you have to take care of yourself first and then, if there is anything left over, you will give the left-overs to God- he says that he will make sure you never have enough. He reminds us of the rich man who feasted and dressed in fine linen every day, who seemingly had it made in life, but ended up in Hell. He reminds us of the farmer who built new barns and filled them thinking that he was set for life, but all his stored-up grain couldn’t save his soul. The servant showed that he had no interest in anyone but himself because he didn’t even consider putting his talent in the bank so that the master could have earned at least something on his money. He was condemned, not because of what he did, but because of what he didn’t do. He was not faithful in the use of what the master had given him.

Compare the wicked lazy servant’s attitude to the other two servants. The parable says that they immediately went to work. They focused their abilities, their time, and their talents, on gaining more money for their master. And when they are called to give an account of their stewardship they seem filled with joy. “You entrusted me with five talents, see, I have gained five more!  You entrusted me with two talents, see, I have gained two more.” They were happy to return to the master what he had given them, and they were excited to give him everything they had gained by using it.

Stewardship is really all about attitude. It starts when we recognize that our master, our heavenly Father, shouldn’t even consider giving us anything. He knows our nature. He knows our tendency to sin and selfishness. He knows we are not going to be perfectly faithful with anything he gives us. Yet, in grace he sent Jesus who was perfectly faithful with everything the Father gave him while he lived on this earth. The Father starts by crediting his perfectly faithful stewardship to our account. In grace he calls us out of the unbelief in which we were born, to faith in him. He graciously makes us one of his servants. He calls us out of a worldview that says that everything we have is ours, we should use it to make ourselves happy (a selfish worldview), to a worldview that says everything we have is God’s, considering that he has already saved us and has a mansion waiting for us in heaven, we are happy to use what he lends to us on earth to serve him and others, to bring him glory (a selfless worldview). He removes our fears and worries about putting him first with his wonderful promises that he will never leave us or forsake us; that when we put him and his kingdom first he will take care of everything else; that when we put him first with our tithes and offerings he has many ways to sustain us, even preventing pests and diseases from attacking our fields, or maybe preventing expensive repairs or other unexpected expenses from affecting us. He helps us realize that our real treasure lies in heaven and there isn’t anything better than having him invite us to share the joys of heaven with him for all eternity.

When our hearts are filled with God’s love for us in Jesus, we are moved to practice good stewardship. We recognize that all we are and have belongs to God. Everything we have is a gracious, undeserved blessing from him that we get to use only as long as we live on earth. Knowing that Jesus practiced perfect stewardship in our place, that God has credited his perfect stewardship to us and punished him for our unfaithfulness, we are moved to ask ourselves each day, “how can I serve you today Lord? What can I do with the abilities and possessions you have given me that will bring you glory, and that will bring more people to know Jesus and be saved?”

We pray, it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. Lord, forgive me for my unfaithfulness. Lord, let your love and grace motivate me to use all you have given me faithfully, to the best of my ability and to your glory.

 

October 18, 2020 Sermon

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Oct 182020
 

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Isaiah 5:1-4, 7

The vineyard was so beautiful he just wanted to sing a song about it. The location was perfect, just the right soil, just the right angle to the sun, just the right climate. The fact that hour after hour of hard work was put into the vineyard was obvious. All around the vineyard there was rocky ground, but not a stone was found in the soil inside the vineyard. Every stone had been painstakingly located and removed. When it came time to plant, only the best and healthiest plants were used. A tower was built so that watchmen could sound an alarm if any danger approached. A wine press was made on site so that the grapes could be processed immediately without losing any freshness or flavor. It was hewn by hand out of stone. No expense or amount of work was spared. It was amazing, song-worthy.

Isaiah tells us what this vineyard represents. It’s God’s vineyard. It’s the house of Israel, the men of Judah, his Old Testament church. It’s the land flowing with milk and honey that God prepared for and gave to his people, driving out the stones of idol worshipers before them. It’s the fact that they got to live in houses they didn’t build and enjoy crops that they didn’t have to plant. God graciously provided them with everything they needed. He provided them with a tower, a temple where he was always present for them, a place where his name was proclaimed day in and day out. The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are safe. He provided watchmen, prophets through whom he warned them of approaching danger, both physical and spiritual danger. Paul recites some of the great blessings God had showered on his vineyard. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. God planted Israel in a perfect place to display his splendor to the world, for the world power of Egypt was to the south and west, and the world powers of Assyria and Babylon were to the north and east. All the trade between these world powers had to pass through Israel, as did armies that wanted to make war against the other. Israel didn’t have to go to the world to proclaim the glory of the one true God, the world came to them. They were indeed a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

That was Israel, what about us? How do we compare? God has planted us in a wonderful location, in one of the wealthiest nations ever to have existed, where even the poorest among us have access not just to food and shelter, but heating and air conditioning, indoor plumbing, public or private transportation, and amazing communication devices. He has allowed us to enjoy peace and safety, freedom of movement, speech and religious expression like few other people in history have experienced. But more important than any of those things, he has planted his word in our hearts. He has brought us to know that he is the one and only true God, and that he loves us. He proved how much he loves us by sacrificing Jesus in our place and adopting us as his dear children and heirs with Jesus of eternal life. He has provided us with beautiful churches, but more importantly, with watchmen, pastors, teachers, and elders who proclaim and apply his word, help us grow in faith through the word, and warn us of spiritual danger. We are a planting of the Lord. He has showered us with physical and spiritual blessings galore that we are able to use to display his splendor in our homes, our towns and cities, and to the world. Very much like Israel, people from around the world are coming to us, to our schools and to our neighborhoods. We don’t want to stop taking the good news of the gospel to other countries, but we can look up and see that the fields are ripe for harvest right here too. Like Israel, we, God’s New Testament church, are richly blessed by God. We are a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

Whether we are God’s Old Testament planting or his New Testament planting, God is looking for, expecting good fruit from those he has so abundantly blessed. Considering all the hard work that he has done in providing everything needed to produce fruit and display his splendor, how did Israel do? What kind of fruit did they produce?

Instead of clusters of sweet grapes they produced sour, stinky, worthless grapes. What does that mean? Isaiah explains, He expected justice, but instead there was oppression. He expected righteousness, but there was an outcry.

He expected that people who knew his word, were blessed and loved by him, would point out what God calls evil and do all they could to avoid doing what God calls evil. They would heed his constant encouragement to protect the helpless and uphold the rights of the alien, the fatherless and the widow. That would be good fruit. But instead he saw those who claimed to know his word and to be loved by God doing what he calls evil; oppressing those who couldn’t help themselves for their own gain.

He expected that people who knew his word, were blessed and loved by him would treat people right. They would love everyone as God loves them. From a heart that was filled to overflowing with the unselfish love of God for them, they would let that love spill over to others. But instead he saw those who claimed to know his word, to be loved by him treating others wrongly so that the cry of those they abused was rising to heaven.

As a primary example, Jesus used his parable of the vineyard to point out that those God had sent as watchmen to collect his fruit were ignored and abused. And he foreshadowed what was in their hearts in regard to him. He was the son of the owner, but when he came to his own, his own did not receive him. He experienced the injustice of betrayal, false accusation, and finally execution.

You are a planting of the Lord. What more could he do for you than he has done? Not only has he showered you with physical blessings, he has kept his every promise and sacrificed his only son to pay for every debt you owe him. What kind of fruit are you producing? Is your life displaying his splendor, or are you using the blessings he has given you to gain splendor for yourself? Are you doing all you can to point out what God calls evil, or are you joining with those who do evil? Are you showing the kind of love to others that God has sown to you, or are you willing to misuse or mistreat others for your own advantage? In response to all God has done for you are you producing good fruit or sour grapes?

When Jesus finished his parable, the Chief Priests and Pharisees knew he was talking about them. They were the ones who were producing sour grapes. They were the ones who refused to give God the fruit he rightly expected. They were the ones who were planning to kill the son. But unlike David who saw himself in Nathan’s parable, they did not repent.

What about you? If we are honest, we have to ask the question, what more could God do for us? He has richly blessed us. He has given us the greatest blessing there could ever be. He has given us his son who has paid off our debt of sin in full. He has planted us as a vine in his beautiful vineyard through our baptism. He continues to shower us with this life-giving word and sacrament. Yet how often don’t we produce the sour grapes of injustice? How often don’t we move people to cry out to God for help because of our lack of love, because of our unrighteousness? Hopefully, we too see that these parables are talking about us, and with David, we say, “I have sinned. I have not produced good fruit. I have not done a good job of displaying his splendor.”

What a blessing that Jesus reminds us that the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Son who was thrown out of the vineyard and killed didn’t stay dead. He rose from the dead on the third day just as he and the scriptures foretold. He has become the cornerstone. He is the foundation of God’s church, the foundation upon which God’s promise of forgiveness rests. He was righteous and just in our place. He took on himself the just punishment that we all deserve for not always producing the good fruit that God wants and rightly expects. He took on himself the punishment that we all deserve for the times that we have used his blessings to gain glory for ourselves rather than to proclaim his splendor. He took on himself the punishment that we all deserve for the times when we have not let the love that he has shown us flow from us to others. He took on himself the punishment we all deserve for the times when we have not carried out justice or acted in righteousness. He is the one, who as he began to suffer for our sins, called upon the Father to grant us forgiveness.

Considering all that God has done for us he has every right to expect us to produce good fruit. And even when we don’t, even when we produce the sour grapes of injustice and unrighteousness, even when we use what he has given us to gain things for ourselves instead of to display his splendor, he graciously points out our sinfulness, calls us to repentance, and tells us about how he has forgiven us in Jesus.

What more could he do for us! Stay close to God’s word and sacrament so that you are constantly reminded of his great love and goodness to you, and so that he may empower you to produce the good fruit of righteousness and justice; of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,  faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

October 11, 2020 Sermon

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Oct 122020
 

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Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

“It’s not my fault,” says the child who is caught cheating. “They didn’t cover up their answers. If they would have done what they were supposed to do so that I couldn’t see their answers I wouldn’t have been able to copy them.”

“It’s not my fault,” says the thief. “They left the keys in the ignition and the car running. I didn’t have a car and I was tired of walking or taking the bus. If they would have turned off the car and locked the doors none of this would have happened. In fact, if my parents would have treated me better and society would have helped me more, I wouldn’t be so poor, and I could have had my own car.”

“It’s not my fault,” says the adulterer, the adulteress, the porn user. “If my spouse wouldn’t have ignored me, I wouldn’t have had to look other places to satisfy my desires.”

“It’s not my fault,” says the person living a homosexual lifestyle. “God made me this way so it’s not fair for him to call what I’m doing sinful.”

“It’s not my fault.” That’s what the people of Judah were saying when God sent Nebuchadnezzar to defeat them, take many of them as captives to Babylon, including Daniel and Ezekiel, and finally destroy Jerusalem including the great temple Solomon had built. They were saying, “Fathers eat sour grapes, and their sons’ teeth are set on edge”? “We are being punished because of the things that evil kings like Manasseh did – worshiping idols and even sacrificing his children to false gods. We are reaping what they sowed, and it’s not fair because we haven’t done anything as sinful as that.”

“It’s not my fault,” said Adam and Eve when God confronted them in the garden. “It’s your fault, God, because you created Eve and she’s the one who gave me the fruit.” And Eve pointed to the serpent and said, “Don’t blame me, it’s his fault.” By refusing to take responsibility and blaming others, even God, Adam and Eve gave evidence of what sin had done to their heart and spirit. They had lost the perfect image of God. Their children, all of us, are born in their imperfect, sinful image, with a heart that is inclined only to evil all the time and refuses to take responsibility.

So, it’s true then. It’s really not our fault. It’s Adam and Eve’s fault. We can blame them every time we do something sinful. No! God makes it very clear that he holds each person responsible for their own actions and for their own righteousness or lack of it.

The theme of this whole chapter is the soul (person) who sins in the one who will die. God makes it clear, the son will not share in the guilt of the father, and the father will not share in the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous person will be credited to him alone, and the wickedness of the wicked person will be charged against him alone. God is perfectly fair. He will not send anyone to hell because of what someone else did. Nor will he take anyone to heaven because of someone else’s faith. Each person is responsible to God for themselves.

But didn’t God say that he would punish the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation? Yes, but don’t forget the very important end of that sentence. It says, of those who hate me. God is talking about those who continue in the sin of their fathers. He is talking about children who hate God just as their forefathers did.

Through Ezekiel God makes it clear that this is not what he wants. He repeatedly points out that he takes no pleasure in carrying out judgment on those who hate him. He wants people to repent and live. He makes it clear that not only will he not punish anyone for someone else’s sins, he makes it clear that he will not punish those who get a new heart and a new spirit, who take responsibility for their sins in repentance and faith, he will not punish them for their own past sins.

God says, if a wicked man turns from his wickedness that he has done and practices justice and righteousness, he will preserve his life. 28Because he has seen and turned away from all the rebellious acts that he had committed, he will surely live, and he will not die.

The people said, “God is not fair.” That’s true, but not in the way they meant it. They refused to acknowledge their own sins and tried to claim that God was not fair for making them suffer for the sins of their fathers. God said, “NO! Stop trying to blame others. Take responsibility for your own sins. Admit that I would be perfectly just and fair if I were not only to send down fire and brimstone from heaven to destroy you physically, but I would be perfect just and fair if I were to send you to live in the fires of Hell for all eternity. Admit your own sins and call on me to save you. Then you will see me do something that is completely unfair. I will forgive all your sins and remember them no more. God says of the person who takes responsibility for their sins, repents, and turns away from them, All of the rebellious acts that he had committed will not be remembered against him.

God says, throw off from yourselves all your rebellious actions by which you have rebelled, and obtain a new heart and a new spirit for yourselves. The heart and spirit we inherit from Adam and Eve, like them, does not want to take responsibility. It wants to blame anyone and everyone else, including God. But God didn’t accept the blame game from Adam and Eve. He didn’t accept it from the people of Judah in Ezekiel’s day, and he doesn’t accept it from society or you and me today. The person who commits the sin is the one who is accountable to God for that sin. In order to avoid the blame game and take responsibility for our own sins we need a new heart and a new spirit. How do we obtain that new heart and new spirit?

God is the one who has to create that new heart and new spirit within us. He does that through his word. He uses his law to crush our hearts of stone, to remove every excuse and make us realize that we are responsible for our sinful actions and we deserve much worse than anything we can suffer on earth because of them. Through his word he helps us see our rebellious acts and the punishment we deserve because of them. He makes us despair and say with the tax collector in the temple, God be merciful to me, a sinner.

   Through his word and sacrament, he shows us how unfair he is in our favor. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. Instead of punishing us he punished Jesus, his one and only perfect son in our place. Through the gospel in the word and sacraments he assures us that Jesus has paid for all our sins in full. There is nothing left for us to do. And that good news is what God uses to replace our hard, accusing, distrustful heart with a heart that beats with love and thanksgiving for his amazing grace. This new heart and spirit recognizes sin as sin, wants to turn away from sin, is willing to take responsibility and confess when we fail to avoid sin. It turns to God for his gracious forgiveness and strength to will and do only what pleases him.

There is also a strong warning in this chapter about personal responsibility. Not only can you not save someone else because of your faith, there is no such thing as once saved, always saved. God says, if a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and practices unrighteousness, he will die because of it.  All the righteous deeds that he did will not be remembered. If someone becomes complacent. If they fail to take responsibility for their sins. If they think that their sins are so small compared to others that they don’t matter to God. If they begin to think that they can commit sins because Jesus has already paid for all their sins, that God’s grace is a license for sin. If their heart is filled with pride in thinking that they are so much better than others that God must love them more and that they surely deserve to go to heaven, their hearts have turned back to stone. They are in danger of losing the righteousness of Christ and having to answer for their own sins instead of having Jesus answer in their place.

How do we keep that from happening? Luther says, remember your baptism. Drown your sinful nature by daily contrition and repentance. Daily take responsibility for your own personal sins. When you hear God’s law look in the mirror, not at the TV, or your neighbor. When you see all the wickedness around you don’t blame everyone else. Take responsibility for your own sin. Listen to what God says to you in baptism. Listen to what God says to you in his word and in the Lord’s Supper. “You who have taken responsibility and confessed your own sins, look, I have provided a lamb. I have sent Jesus to suffer in your place. Your sins are washed away. His body was given and his blood was shed for you! The Holy Spirit, working through the gospel in word and sacrament has given you a new heart and a new spirit so that you may live. Live for me now. Recognize sin and turn away from it. Live in daily repentance and faith. And look forward to the life that is truly life, eternal life in glory with me.”

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