Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Pentecost 20 (October 23-28, 2017)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Romans 3:28 - “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #656 “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”
Hymns for Sunday: 656, 768, 948, 834, 953, 960, p. 198, 617, 556, 733, 824, 645

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Psalm 46
Why is being still and letting God be God so hard? What happens when we do? What happens when we don’t?

Tuesday:  Matthew 22:34-46
Love God, love your neighbor. How did Jesus embody both of these as the Christ?

Wednesday:  Matthew 11:12-19
How is the kingdom of God out of step with the world? Why?

Thursday:  Revelation 14:6-7
Who is the Gospel for? If judgment is coming, what should we do? Why? How?

Friday:  Romans 3:19-28
How is faith different than works? How does the Law help us keep these separate? 

Saturday:  John 8:31-36
How are you a slave to sin? What does that mean? How can you be set free from this tyranny?

The Catechism - The Lord Prayer: The Fourth Petition [part 2]: What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ all children, that they honor, serve, obey, love, and cherish their parents and families.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Board of Elders.
+ the Lutheran Church - Canada, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and provision for our Synod’s Soldiers of the Cross program.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Pentecost 20 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Teflon Jesus?”
Text: Matthew 22:15-22 (Isaiah 45:1-7)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

You gotta give credit where credit is due. It was a good question. It wasn’t a strictly religious or a strictly governmental question - it was both. It had to be both. Jesus was too good. 

The religious - the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Scribes, the Elders - none had been able to trip Him up on the basis of God’s Word. He simply knew it too well. And the rulers hadn’t been able to convict Him either - there was simply no sedition, treason, or rebellion to pin on Him. Today, our media sometimes refers to people like that, presidents or other officials, as “teflon” - nothing seems to stick to them. That was Jesus. Nothing would stick to Him. And with each passing day, each passed test, His opponents were getting more hostile, desperate, and determined.

So finally, they teamed up. The Pharisees and the Herodians, the religious and the government. One question that couldn’t have a right answer. Give a religious answer, one that would please the Pharisees, and get in trouble with the government, the Herodians. Give an answer that would please the Herodians, and get in trouble with the religious, the Pharisees. Surely, they had Him this time.

And a little flattery up front wouldn’t hurt either, to disguise their real purpose . . .

“Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Or in other words, you’re a good guy. We know we can trust you. We are your humble inquirers, with a question we haven’t been able to figure out. Tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 

I wonder how long it took them to come up with this question, this scheme? How many late nights and brainstorming sessions? How many ideas and questions shot down, not good enough? How much thought and energy and effort went into it? Because evil takes effort. To plot wickedly but look righteous. To want evil but look good. To cover up but look innocent. To search for excuses, reasons, loopholes. It’s hard work. You know it. You’ve done it, too. We all have. One lie leads to another and another and you’ve got to remember them all. Finding more and better ways to hide what you’ve done and what’s in your heart and look good on the outside. Smiles covering hate, humility a disguise for pride. It’s hard work, evil. But somehow, we think, worth the effort. But is it?

Tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 

It’s really a good question, even apart from the scheming and plotting. A question many wonder about even today. Because what is Caesar doing with that money, with our tax denarii? How is he ruling? What if Caesar is evil? And using our money against us, against the church, against God, and against His Word? Do you pay Caesar when Caesar is using your denarii to fund things that are horrifying and abominations in God’s sight? Maybe that’s been on your mind, too.

So it could have been an honest question, a good question. That’s what made it so perfect! Plausible deniability.

But Jesus knows what’s going on. Flattery doesn’t work with Him. He knew they were being hypocritical and just trying to trap Him. He knew this wasn’t really an honest Fourth Commandment question - a question of the authorities God has placed over us. And He knew it really wasn’t an honest Seventh Commandment question - a question about money and possessions. 

It was, in truth, a First Commandment issue - a “who is your God?” issue. Who or what do you fear, love, and trust most? Is it money? Is it power? Is it your position in the community or in the church? Is it yourself? Is it praise? Is it pleasure? What do you have that if God took away, would cause you to turn against God? Would cause you to seriously doubt His love for you? Would make you think or say: Fine! If that’s the kind of God you are, forget you!

Well, the Pharisees and Herodians were losing all those things I mentioned - money, power, position, praise, pleasure - those things they feared losing and loved having and trusted for their life. But they weren’t going down without a fight. And Jesus’ answer - so simple - helps us see that the real issue here was, in fact, idolatry. False gods. False loves. False trust. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Now, the Caesar part we get. Mostly. Taxes and such. But what belongs to God? The answer is simple. Don’t try to mess it up! Don’t try to categorize and separate and think what belongs to me and what belongs to God, what is sacred and what is secular, what is this or that - stop. Do you see what you’re doing? You’re making it hard. Because evil is hard. The answer is simple. What belongs to God? Everything

So whatever it is you’re trying to hold on to, whatever it is that if God took away you would get mad at Him, whatever it is that makes you plot and scheme, whatever it is that makes you try to choose between it and God, is a false god. 

Render to God the things that are God’s. And that means everything.

Now, I know what you’re thinking . . . Wait just a second! Jesus said: Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, so not everything belongs to God. Or does that mean I can’t help the poor, and I can’t serve my neighbor, and I can’t do this and I can’t do that because I have to give all my money to God! . . . Stop.

Do you see? You’re doing it again. Making it complicated and hard. Thinking up excuses and loopholes and circumstances. It’s simple. All government and authority is from God (Romans 13). We corrupt it. We don’t do it right. But it’s still His. Even Cryus, in the Old Testament, didn’t know God, but God still used him. His power and authority were still from God. And so by paying taxes, by honoring and obeying the authorities God has placed over us, and also by helping the poor, by serving others, by doing what has been giving us to do in all our callings, you are giving to God what belongs to Him. For as we’ll hear Jesus say in a few weeks: Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40).

You see, God doesn’t want your money. What God’s wants . . . is you. To be your God and for you to be His child. He is God, of course. The only one. But He wants to be your God. Your good. So if money gets in the way, if family gets in the way, if position, pride, or power get in the way, if boyfriend or girlfriend get in the way, if activities get in the way, if grudges or anger get in the way, if pain or hurt get in the way, if sadness or loss gets in the way - whatever it is: Render to God the things that are God’s. If He wants you to have them, He’ll give them back. If they’re good for you, if it’s the right time. Or if you still need to learn, or grow, or let go, maybe not right now. Or if not good for you to have them, He’ll take them away.

But really, when you boil it all down, when you get to the heart of it, it’s a fear, love, and trust thing. What do you fear the most, trust the most, love the most? Want the most, keep the most, hide the most?

The answer is simple, but not easy. And so we prayed today that God would have mercy on us . . . so that we may so pass through things temporal - the things of this world - that we lose not the things eternal.

Think about what that said for a moment. Because that we lose not the things eternal means that we already have the things eternal right now, otherwise we couldn’t lose them. But they have been given to us now, while we’re still in this world and living this life. Jesus has given them to us. The things eternal. Eternal life. A life beyond this one. An eternal kingdom. And (to tie in with the Gospel today) His likeness and inscription - His image - on you. Put on you in Holy Baptism, when He inscribed His cross on you and His name on you and gave you back that image lost in sin. It’s already yours. A gift. Grace. From God to you. You belong to Him.

Because while the Pharisees and Herodians and all of Jesus’ opponents couldn’t get anything to stick to Him, any of their charges or traps, there was one thing that did stick to Jesus: your sin. Because He wanted it to. He came for it. He took it and clung to it and wouldn’t let it go, so that your death, too, cling to Him, and then put Him in the grave. So that none of that stick to you. Because in the end, it still wasn’t the Pharisees or Sadducees or any of the Jewish leaders, it wasn’t the Herodians or the Romans either, that took Jesus’ life. Yes, they put Him on the cross, but Jesus laid down His life for you (John 10:17-18). He did it. He did what we could not: Rendered to His Father everything. The pool of blood that puddled beneath that lifeless corpse the evidence.

But then God gave His life back. For God is not a taker. If He takes, it is so He can give. If He humbles, it is so He can exalt. If He kills, it is so He can make alive. And so to render to God the things that are God’s is not only right and good, it is then to wait for and rely on what He will give. Which will always be more than we give. Always. 

And here: it is forgiveness for our sin and life for our death. It is hope for the hopeless and comfort for the mourning. It is love for the loveless and honor for our shame. It is the Body and Blood of Jesus to eat and to drink, that the Word of God enter not just our eyes and our ears but also our mouths. That we touch and taste and see that the Lord is good. And that blessed are all who take refuge in Him (Psalm 34:8)

So how does this story end? They marveled, yes. But how did it end? Here’s how I picture it: they gave Jesus that coin, a denarius, a day’s wage, to look at. But He didn’t even look at it - He knew what was on it. So He asks them, teaches them, and then when He turns to leave, He tosses it on the ground in front of them. So how does the story end? What do you think? Did they pick it up? Will you?

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Pentecost 19 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Washed, Dressed, and Worthy”
Text: Matthew 22:1-14 (Isaiah 25:6-9; Philippians 4:4-13;
and Introit: Isaiah 61:10)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

His name was Jacob. He was proud of his name. He was named after the venerable Patriarch, the son of Isaac, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. That was special to him, though he was no one special. He was, in fact, about the farthest thing from special. He was a lowly laborer, born to poor parents who were laborers. He didn’t have much, but he was content. He considered himself fortunate to have gotten the job he did - a stone mason. Actually, that was just a fancy name for a rock cutter. But it was good work and enabled him to earn a living, however poor and meager it may have been. There were plenty of folks worse off than him, he reminded himself.

But one day, he noticed, things were different. He was working not too far from the king’s house when he noticed activity had increased. In fact, the place was abuzz. Servants coming and going, decorations and special buildings were being put up, orders being barked out. He wondered what the special event was. A visiting dignitary, perhaps? The king’s birthday? Whatever it was, he wasn’t looking forward to that day - it would be a hassle. Lots of extra security, guards, questions - his work and daily life would be disrupted. Ach! Maybe he would just stay home that day.

Well, the preparations went on for sometime and his curiosity got the best of him. When one of the king’s servants passed by where he was working, he called out and asked him what was happening? What was the special event? A wedding! was the reply. The king’s son! Ah, now it made sense. The king only had one son, whom he loved very much. This was going to be the wedding feast to end all weddings feasts! How lucky would be those who were invited.

And then they day came. The castle looked incredible - better than it ever had before. The magnificence of it all was breathtaking. Jacob had thought about staying home to avoid all the hubbub that day, but the bill collector had just recently stopped by - he needed the money. And he was now kind of glad he was there. This was a sight to behold! 

But . . . it was strange . . . where were all the guests? Where were the crowds? The servants returned as usual, but the guests weren’t with them. That was weird. Then he saw more servants go and come back alone as well. What were they saying? He strained hard to overhear . . . Idiots! Don’t they know the king has spared no expense? This is no day for them to stay home and work, shoveling manure on their farm and balancing the books. Idiots! 

And then, what was this? More servants returned, not mumbling but groaning! They had been beaten, and they were even carrying one who had been killed! Jacob dropped a stone on his foot when he saw that. He never dropped a stone! This day was not making any sense . . .

But then something did make sense - he saw royal troops leave the king’s compound in a hurry. They were out for bear. You could tell it by the looks on their faces and the weapons in their hands. Revenge, no doubt, for what the people had done to the king’s servants. Why hadn’t they come? Why were they so spiteful? A free feast of rich food, well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. Why would you turn that down? Couldn’t the farm work wait? Couldn’t you balance the books tomorrow? He pitied those people doubly.

But before the troops could return, he heard more servants leave the king’s house. What would happen next? What would he see this time? He wished he could leave. It was getting late in the day and he was tired and just wanted to go home. But they didn’t go the way they did before - in fact, they were walking toward . . . him! But they weren’t mad, like the troops - they looked . . . joyful. They came over to him, Jacob, and said . . . what? The king wanted . . . what? Who? Me? No! Yes? Now? But I’ve worked all day! I’m dirty. I think I broke my toe. I stink. I’m not worthy to go.

The king wants you to come, they said. Those others who were invited and refused to come are not worthy. Don’t worry about yourself - we’ll take care of everything. We’ll get you washed up and give you a wedding garment to wear. You’re going to love it! You think it looks good from here? Wait til you see the inside!

Still in disbelief, they grabbed Jacob by the arm and dragged, him, limping, into the king’s compound. He still didn’t believe what was happening. Was he dreaming? They gave him the royal treatment. He had never worn clothes like this before - so soft and new. He almost felt like a son of the king himself. And then they took him into the banquet hall. Oh my! He didn’t know there was that much gold in all the world! And they didn’t seat him in the back - but right up front! Right near the king’s table. And the food started coming and the wine started flowing . . . he forgot all about the throbbing in his toe.

Until . . . he looked up and saw the look on the king’s face. He was not happy. Was the king looking at him? He knew this was too good to be true! How could he have been so foolish to think he could be here. He wasn’t worthy, he wasn’t good, he was now going to get what he deserved - thrown out and killed. 

But no. The king spoke to a person at the next table, not him. It was Simeon. Jacob had worked with him a couple times. He had actually just spoken with him a few moments ago, when he asked Simeon why he was still wearing his work clothes and hadn’t washed, and told him that he stank. Simeon had replied: Aren’t I good enough for the king just as I am? Does he think he’s better than me? I’m not going to play his little washing and dress up game. Jacob didn’t get it.

Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment? the king said. Silence. Simeon, give him an answer! Say something! What are you doing? But Simeon just kept eating and drinking. Well, the king was furious. Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. And before Jacob could blink, Simeon was gone. And another came and took his place. And the king’s joy returned. Eat, my friends! Drink! Dance! Rejoice! Rejoice for my son! 

Friends. Jacob, stone cutter: friend of the king. This had been a strange - but wonderful! - day indeed.

And a day that you, too, will enjoy. Not because you’re worthy, but because God has sent His servants to call you to His feast. And even though your clothes are filthy with sin and you reek of death, you have been washed clean from your sin and death in Holy Baptism and clothed with Christ. And so there’s a place for you. The King of all creation wants you there. To rejoice with Him. His joy cannot be stopped. And to have you there gives Him great joy. 

And not just you. The people you work with, that person you passed by the other day and didn’t even notice; the guy sleeping on the park bench, the girl walking the streets, the gang member, the guy in prison; blue collar, white collar, or no collar; stone cutter, business man, or executive. Doesn’t matter. Come and be washed, be clothed with Christ, and rejoice in the feast of the King. The feast we get a foretaste of here, as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. But the feast we will enjoy forever when we not just die, but when we die and rise with Christ - the Son of God who came and died and rose for us, to give us life, to open the Kingdom of heaven, the King’s feast, to all who believe. To all washed by Him and clothed with Him.

It is sad, though, that some will not come. He sent servant after servant, prophet after prophet, apostles, pastors, martyrs, friends. But work or sleep or golf - or what else? - seems more important . . . maybe even to us, sometimes. And some think they are good enough just as they are, like Simeon. That our own good works and goodness should be enough for God. That they don’t need His washing or clothing . . . maybe even us, sometimes. When we look at ourselves or compare ourselves to others. But it is not so. It’s just that we’re so used to seeing sin that we don’t realize how bad it is, how far we have fallen. And we smell death so much that we don’t realize how bad we smell either. And this sin and death - that we have both inherited and that we have added thereto - disqualify us and make us unworthy. As we are. On our own.

But like Jacob, we are not on our own. The King wants you there. So much so, in fact, that the One who told this parable is the One who makes it possible for you. Jesus provides the washing you need and the clothes you need. Or as the prophet Isaiah put it today: he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness. Your filthy rags have been taken away. The stench of death has been overcome. And in their place you have been given righteousness and life. To feast at the King’s feast! The feast which has no end.

So while in this world and life it may not be possible to do as Paul said today, in the reading from Philippians: to rejoice in the Lord, always, we will one day. For the day of the feast is coming. That day of joy and only pure joy. For the King must share His feast and His joy.

Until then, we do our stone cutting, or whatever your vocations are, wherever God has put you and given you to do. We might even drop stones onto our toes sometimes! And so we come limping to this feast and look forward to the next. We come limping to this feast and know that whatever in this world has hurt us or seems so important to us - work, play, grudges, problems, anxieties, fears, whatever - they really don’t matter. You are washed, you are cleansed, you are robed, and you are fed. The King has taken care of everything. What you do now, here in this life matters and is important - for others. What the King does here matters and is important - for you.

So hear His Word, the message of His feast that He has sent. And come. Rejoice in His forgiveness. Marvel at His mercy. And feast on His love. All for you.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Pentecost 18 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Exalted in Jesus”
Text: Ephesians 4:1-6; Luke 14:1-11

Life often feels like a competition. To have the most friends or followers on social media. To get the closest parking spaces. To outdo your classmates. To be the fastest or the strongest, the prettiest or the most successful. To have the biggest church, the most influence, the best selling book. No one remembers who comes in second, it is said. And that’s often true.

When it comes to the things of this world, you could argue whether or not such competition is good. Perhaps it drives us on to greater excellence. But maybe it is an unhealthy competition that wears us down and wears us out. There’s never time to rest. There’s always another battle to win, another challenge to overcome. And many base their worth or value on whether or not they win.

How different then, the words we heard from the Apostle Paul today in the reading from Ephesians. To walk in humility (or lowliness) and gentleness (or meekness). In patience (or long-suffering). Bearing with one another in love. Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. For in Christ, there is not you against me or you over me or me over you. It is not a competition. We are united, together, one in Christ. One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all

That is the way of it with God. The world thinks of one as an individual thing, and therefore there is competition. My one against your one. For God, however, one is a unity. In marriage, two are made one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Many grains make up one loaf. The church is one body made up of many members (Romans 12:4), but is one body. One is the creative work of God. And one is, therefore, what the devil wants to destroy.

And so the devil is always trying to separate and divide. He turns us against one another. He turned Adam against Eve, Eve against Adam, and both against God. He divided Cain from his brother Abel, and pitted Esau against his brother Jacob. And in the Gospel we heard tonight, the reading from St. Luke, we heard it there, too. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who’s in? Who’s out? Who gets the highest places, and who gets the lowest? Competition, not love. Division, not unity.

The Pharisee liked their places of honor. They worked hard for them. Paul had been a Pharisee. In fact, he called himself a Pharisee’s Pharisee. No one did Pharisee better than him. If he had been at the wedding feast of which Jesus spoke, he would have had no qualms about taking the highest place. He earned it. He deserved it. And everyone there would have agreed.

But now, where is Paul? He’s at no wedding feast - he is, he says, a prisoner for the Lord. But his perspective on things had changed long before this. It had been a hard lesson to learn, but he finally realized that there is a much greater honor than the honor you earn - the honor of grace. The honor you don’t deserve, but which is granted to you as a gift. The honor given to you by Jesus.

That is the honor you have received. 

I have been at a couple of fancy dinners in Washington with some pretty high powered people - Senators and Representatives and government officials. Laurie and I were honored just to have been invited to those feasts. But usually, after being there a few minutes and seeing everyone there, we’d look at each other and say: We don’t belong here! And we didn’t. It was pure kindness and grace that invited us.

But now imagine if one of those important people came up to us and gave us their place. If one of those high powered people insisted that we take their seats and they took ours. That would be extraordinary.

And it’s what Jesus did. For who is honored more than the Son of God? And yet He came down from heaven and took our place - and not just the lowest seat at the feast, but lower than that: He took our place on the cross. He took our place in condemnation. He took our place as unworthy, undeserving outcasts. So that we could have His place. So that we could have His honor. So that we could be called children of God (John 1:12)

It would be enough just to be invited to the wedding feast of heaven, wouldn’t it? But that’s not good enough for Jesus. He wants more for you than that. He wants you to have His place.

And though we do not deserve it, we do belong there. For that feast is not filled with the high powered, the influential, the important people - but with sinners. Really bad sinners. Sinners washed clean in the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All of us one in Adam’s sin, and all of us one in Jesus’ atonement. For Jesus came to be one with us, that we be one with Him, united to Him, Bridegroom and Bride, Saviour and Church. He came down to you who are dead in your trespasses and sins and said to you: Friend, move up higher. And He raised you from your sins and gave you His seat. All by grace. All gift. No greater honor could you ever earn.

And so with this story, Jesus isn’t just teaching us good etiquette, or how to get ahead in this world. You don’t have to win; Jesus won for you. He is teaching us of Himself and what He has done for us. And what we can now do for others. For when you are one - God’s kind of one - when someone is exalted, so are you. It’s not a competition, it’s a unity. And when you humble yourself for another you are and will be exalted. It may not feel like it at the time, but you have Jesus’ promise. And as the empty tomb proves, nothing is more sure than that.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Pentecost 18 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“What’s a God To Do?”
Text: Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 21:33-46; Philippians 3:4b-14
(Psalm 118:1)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

There are two things going on in the readings we heard today: bad grapes and bad tenants.

In the Old Testament reading, the reading from Isaiah, the problem was bad grapes, sour grapes, bad fruit. God had planted a vineyard - that’s His picture of the nation of Israel. He had planted them in the Promised Land, which He called a land flowing with milk and honey. That’s a pretty good place to be. He protected them, cared for them, fed them, and provided everything they needed. But what did He get? Bad grapes, sour grapes, bad fruit. The people turned to other gods. They didn’t walk in His ways. They either forgot about God or took His care and love for granted. Or, maybe this: they tried to have the best of both worlds. Have this God but do things their way. 

But their way - our way - does not produce the fruit, the good, God is looking for. It never does.

In fact, it can lead to the second scenario we heard today: bad tenants. In the Gospel, the reading from Matthew, the problem wasn’t the fruit - it was that the tenants thought it was theirs. All theirs. Once you start doing things your way, once it becomes all about you, nothing else matters. In fact, if anything or anyone gets in your way, tries to hinder your plans or slow your down, they got to go. And so the servants the master sends are beaten, stoned, and killed. They don’t even respect the master’s son. Kill him too. Kill him and we’ll finally get what we want - it’ll all be ours. We’ll finally be rid of that meddling master, trying to tell us what to do and what to give. It’ll all be ours.

Bad grapes. Bad tenants. What’s a God to do?

Now clearly, these two stories were told in a particular context. Old Testament Israel had gone wild, and so God didn’t just allow them to be conquered by the nations around them, He caused it. That’s how He fulfilled the words spoken by Isaiah. Because His vineyard, His people, had gone wild, He had the armies of Israel’s enemies come in, break down their walls, trample them, and haul most of them off as prisoners of war. 

But what, then, of the words that we sang in the Introit today? Twice! 
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
  for his steadfast love endures forever!
If you were Old Testament Israel, marching away from your ruined land under the pointed spears of your foes, it sure seemed like God’s love had an expiration date. That seems to be what Jesus is saying as well: Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.

So is God really good? 
Does His steadfast love really endure forever?

Or maybe we, today, considering these things, should say it like this:
Is God really good for me?
Will He love me forever?

Now, as good Christians, as good Lutherans, you know the answer to those questions here [mind]. But do you know it here [heart]? 

Do you know it when your vineyard, your kingdom, all that you dreamed about and lived for and worked so hard for, is slipping away or being taken away? Is God good? Does He love me?

Do you know it when your enemies seem to be winning? Is God good? Does He love me?

Do you know it when you’re doing things your own way because you don’t believe that God’s ways really work? Is God good? Does He love me?

Do you know it when there are parts of your life that you’re holding onto, where you won’t let God in, because you’re afraid what would happen if you did? Is God good? Does He love me?

Do you know it when you’re life is turning out quite differently than you thought or planned or hoped? Is God good? Does He love me?

It’s easy to criticize Old Testament Israel or the Jews in Jesus’ day when we hear stories like we heard today. But the truth is that there are bad tenants sitting in this room, in your chair. And sour grapes coming from your heart and mind and mouth.

So what’s a God to do?

Because it shouldn’t be, right? What has God done wrong? Oh, maybe you have a list of things you think God has messed up; things He could have done better if He had just listened to you! . . . Really? . . . Ever see a child push their parent aside and say “I know how to do it!” No he doesn’t! So sometimes you let your child try and fail. And sometimes that hurts. You and him. Sometimes you stop your child from hurting herself. Sometimes you try to teach, and that’s hard, too. But all those things come from love, even if the child doesn’t realize it.

So too God. Even more God. Because as human parents we mess it up, we get it wrong, we aren’t always filled with love. Well, too, God has to step in to save us. To save our lives. To save us from our sins, from ourselves, from each other, from our I want it my way bad tenants, sour grapes, life. It may sometimes seem unloving. We might push Him away. It’s my vineyard. Don’t come in here, Lord! 

The apostle Paul was like that. We heard about him in the Epistle, the reading from Philippians. God had to knock him down and onto his butt - literally! - to get him to realize what he was doing. And that all he was doing was rubbish. Did God hate him? No, He loved Paul and had a plan for him.

And you too. I don’t know what that plan is exactly and maybe you don’t either. I don’t know how it’s going to all turn out. But it will probably be in a way we don’t expect. 

Last week at the conference I was at the presenter told the story of a little boy who broke one of the two bones in his forearm. The doctor didn’t cast the bone right away. Instead, he asked the parents to leave the room for a moment, and then he took the boy’s arm and snapped the other bone over his knee - so that the first-broken-bone would heal properly; that both would heal together. When they parents heard what had happened, they asked the boy if it hurt. He said no; it actually started to feel better right away.

In ways we do not expect. That’s how it is all through the Bible. I think we’ve kind of lost that perspective, because a lot of the stories in the Bible are familiar to us and we don’t get so surprised anymore. But if you could read the Bible again for the first time, I think you’d get to a lot of points where you think: Oh, yeah, I know what God’s going to do . . . and then the exact opposite happens. He snaps the bone. And it doesn’t seem right and it doesn’t seem good, and the folks in the Bible wonder: What are you doing God? Have you forgotten us God? Why is this happening, God? God, are you mad?

Maybe you too?

Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Good grief, God! Are you mad? After all that, what makes you think they will respect your Son? 

Well, God was doing something marvelous. Something to marvel at. Something unexpected. Laying a cornerstone. And it’s not just Jesus who is the cornerstone - His gravestone is the cornerstone. His gravestone that once sealed Him in the tomb, but now risen from the dead is that stone upon which He builds His Church. It’s not Jesus as teacher or Jesus as a good man or Jesus as example or Jesus as moral leader, but Jesus thrown out and killed - but now risen and alive again - that is the cornerstone. That a Church can be built on. That our lives can be built on. 

So the question really isn’t: God, what are you doing? Or, God, do you really love me? But this: What is God doing to save your life?

What trouble is He not allowing you to get into? What difficulty is He keeping you in because it’s ultimately going to help you? What trial is strengthening you? What weakness causing you to rely on Him?

Of course, you can go all sour grapes on Him. You can throw Him and His Son out of your vineyard. You can go after a life all your own rather than have His life that will last forever. You can do that.

Or, you can repent of all that rubbish in your life. But don’t rely on your own judgment for that - because maybe you’re nose blind to just how bad your life smells right now and you think you smell good and are doing pretty good. Don’t believe your nose - or your eyes for that matter. Believe the Word of God. That what God says is bad really is bad, and what He says is good really is, too. 

So whatever your life, your vineyard, looks like right now . . . if it’s all dried up, it’s nothing that the water of God can’t make grow. The water of baptism which gives new life. If it’s full of wild, sour grapes, it’s nothing that the forgiveness of God can’t make sweet and good again. And it your vines are all puny and weak and stringy, they’re nothing that food of God can’t strengthen. The Body and Blood of Jesus that change even the worst vines into good vines.

Because you really are, as Isaiah said, God’s beloved. And God really did send His Son to die for you. And He is really working all things to save your life

So maybe the words of the apostle Paul are good advice for us today. 
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Straining. Pressing. Those aren’t easy words. They’re faith words. 

My life isn’t what I thought it would be. I’ll strain forward.

Things are falling apart. I’ll press on toward the goal.

I’m surrounded by sinners and those who hurt me. I’ll forgive.

It’s too hard, too confusing, too much. I’ll rely on His strength, not mine.

I don’t understand. I’ll rely on His Word, His wisdom, not mine.

I can’t do it. That’s exactly right. But His cross which breaks is followed by resurrection. And not just on the last day - but even now. A new life for you now. Just ask Paul. 

This is the Lord’s doing; and it is marvelous.

The stone that the builders rejected [really] has become the cornerstone.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love [really does] endure forever!

And yes, for you.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.