“Outrageous Grace” Septuagesima 2013 – Matthew 20:1-16

27. January 2013
Matthew 20:1-16

You have heard it said that parables are “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” As earthly stories go these parables are often too outrageous to be true. The parable of the laborers and the vineyard is not all that helpful for business advice. No earthly master would run a vineyard paying everyone the same rate no matter how much or little they worked. It’s bad for business, discriminatory, and alienates the workers.  The master doesn’t care about tomorrow and is only concerned about today’s harvest. The master is generous but he’ll shortly be out a vineyard. Jesus’s parable is lousy advice about how to be a business owner.

What about the laborers? Does God promise to reward diligence with a job? Or perhaps work hard and you’ll get paid? Or don’t be lazy or you might miss a decent job prospect? And maybe that God gives higher pay to those who wait? No, those seem off, too. The parable’s application doesn’t seem to have anything to do with business, labor, running a vineyard, or even the character of a decent business owner or worker.

We know these parables to have meaning for us but their point is not to be more like the characters in the story. In today’s story this would involve being a terrible businessman or to stop complaining at work.

The parable’s value to you personally is indicated by the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like…”  Jesus did not say “for the kingdom of the earth is like.” Jesus is describing for you what is true of his church rather than giving you life lessons. He is describing spiritual realities by way of comparison to an earthly setting. When this comparison is made in the parables, we learn how radically different and uncharacteristic God is. No one and nothing in this earth behaves like our God.

The comparison goes like this: God is the master of the house whose vineyard needs workers. We are the laborers in His vineyard. The foremen are the pastors of the church who distribute our the denarius wage. From this earthly comparison what are we to learn about God, his church, his nature, and your faith?

The point is not about the labor. Jesus is not teaching us that our hard work will merit his generosity in this life or the life to come. Far from it. Some came in the eleventh hour putting in only an hour of effort and yet are rewarded with the same pay of a denarius as those who labored all twelve hours. The point is not the labor but the reward. This reward is given equally and generously to all who are brought into His vineyard.

What is the reward for being made a laborer in the Father’s vineyard? You receive the gracious favor of God. Regardless of your laziness, your hard work, your faithful life, or your wickedness, God chooses you. He goes out to the obvious potential Christians and says “follow me into my vineyard!” He goes into the marketplace of ideas and calls all to place their hand at His winepress. He even goes after those who have no regard for His work or His gracious wage and sends them to work. So the Father’s grace is first manifest in His call.

This is necessary. By your sinful condition, you were separated from God. You were outside His high and protective walls. You lacked the sustenance of his fine food. You did not walk with Him in the cool of the day. Thus, grace is to be welcomed again into fellowship with God, to serve Him in righteousness and blessedness. Grace is to be forgiven and welcomed back into the shelter of His home and vineyard fortress. Grace is to taste and see that the LORD is good.

Not only does God call you into his vineyard, His grace gives you the promised reward when your labors are ended. This begins now. The kingdom of heaven begins in the holy church with the forgiveness of sins received in the very voice of God, a washing in His blood, and rich food of His body and blood. The reward is already yours, whether life-long Lutheran or newcomer. You are safely in Christ’s vineyard.

And this reward lasts into eternity. For God your life is but a day. At the end of that day, that is, when you die, he’ll give you the reward for your labors. His graciousness isn’t simply the call to be His servant here in time but also the promise of eternity. Grace begins now with forgiveness of sins, a washing of rebirth, and a foretaste of the feast to come. The promised reward is the feast, the resurrection of the body, and everlasting life.

Thus, the parable is not about the labor but the reward. When He called you He promised you a just reward. Even before you heard the call the promise of forgiveness and eternity were yours. Why? Because God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ to earn this reward for you. This is why the hours of labor are irrelevant. The gracious denarius is yours not for the labor’s sake but for the sake of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He has already earned this reward for you and gives it to you freely as a gift.

God’s kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, is ridiculously generous. Jesus warns us not to begrudge our heavenly Father His generosity. Salvation and the means of God’s favor are given freely as a gift. They are not earned or merited. If someone walks through these doors having heard God’s call, I cannot say as foreman, “these gifts are not for you.” No, they are freely forgiven not for the sake of their effort but for the sake of Christ.

When they ask to be baptized into God’s holy family after being instructed by God’s holy Word and thereby saved, the faithful foreman gives to them this gift as the call agreed upon. If someone young or old—child or elderly—desires the Lord’s body and blood, confesses the one faith truthfully, and will receive the shepherding of your pastor’s care, the faithful foreman gives the gifts and feeds the child of God.

Too often we begrudge God his generosity. We think that forgiveness should only come to those who are sorry enough, pious enough, or Lutheran enough. Yet, none of us are godly enough. Despite the truth of our condition, our heavenly Father in His mercy showers his grace and favor on us in the forgiveness of sins. We are weak earthen vessels to dispense the mercy as his vineyard laborers.

We’re concerned about the baptized, not sure the parent’s heart is in the right place, and worried that the child will forsake this gift. At the end of the day, it is not ours to decide where and when to baptize. What must I do to be saved? Believe and be baptized. At that we give the gift.

The Lord’s Supper has often been polluted by thoughts of merit and worth. So-called “worthy reception” is typically understood as having to once-upon-a-time jumped through all the right Confirmation hoops. But who has received the sacrament worthily? “That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’” Preparedness is not a matter of work but faith. Worthy reception is believing that Christ’s body and blood are given for your forgiveness.

Do not begrudge the Father His generosity. The kingdom of heaven comes without our work or even without our prayers. God will save the whole number of the elect in His time. For some this is the first hour, for others the eleventh, and for others in between. It’s not about the work or the having “done the time” but is about God’s gracious favor to every laborer without any merit or worthiness in them. It’s not about the work but the reward.

How does God’s kingdom come, after all? The kingdom of heaven “comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” (SC, III.2)

While the truth is not complicated it is unbelievable and contrary to our nature. It requires faith to give the Holy Spirit all the credit for making you a Christian and keeping you that way. You’d rather credit the faith of your parents, your Sunday school teachers, your diligent study, or even your pastor(s). All these have a role to play but merely as weak instruments wielded by the Holy Spirit’s powerful hand.

It was not your work that made you one of God’s children, nor the hand of the pastor, nor even the water that washed over you, but rather the Word of God acting through Word and water. It is not your work of stumbling out of bed on Sunday morning, dragging out your Bible during the week, or even going on your knees in prayer that keeps you in the faith but instead the Holy Spirit enlightening you with daily, rich forgiveness of sins.

We confess that it is the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers, and enlightens the Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. The call to be a member of the one holy Christian church comes from God the Holy Spirit. He is the one who gathers you to the feet of Jesus Christ. He enlightens you in all matters of salvation and life by the gift of forgiveness received by the Holy Word and the blessed Sacraments.

The way of salvation is not about the labor but rather entirely about the grace of the Holy Trinity. For the Father sent His Son Jesus to redeem you, to earn your reward in your stead. Now the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit to call you and the world to come into the vineyard, be sheltered behind those walls, washed and clothed in Christ, to be fed and nourished with His body and blood, and to patiently labor until the promised reward of heaven is yours. God might make for a terrible business man and we grumpy laborers but such is the kingdom of heaven. Thanks be to God!

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Triumph in Jesus – Advent Midweek 3 – Luke 24:13-33

19. December 2012
Advent Midweek 3
Luke 24:13-33

We don’t always recognize the need for Christ’s presence. Sometimes it’s the daytime and things are “sunny.” In the artificial light of this world, the need for Christ can be ignored. Yet in the evening, in the darkness, in sickness, and in death… the statement “abide with me” resonates with us. In those times we need the abiding light of Christ. We need His gracious presence.

God’s presence and His grace are bound together. Grace is gift, taking us to bask in the light of the cross. Grace faces down the evil one, the tempter. The glorious grace of Christ crucified defeats the devil. Even when the sun shines and things are peachy, we still yearn for this grace, this light. There is still darkness within us and without in the world. Only Christ can banish that darkness.

The cross is God’s gracious, brilliant defeat of all our enemies. This life’s journey is full of stumbling blocks. Our heart is full of temptations to sin. We walk in danger of slipping all the way. Only the One who goes into the well-fought fight can end the warfare. He is our captain. He leads us through the darkness. He fights on our behalf. The only defeat of Satan is by Christ. He is the victor because he has already won at the cross. We who abide with Him already have the victory in Him.

The beauty of being in Christ is the receiving of His gifts. Every day with Christ is Christmas. We need to be with Him, to be in communion with Him. He gives us Himself. We share in His sufferings that we would also share in His glory. Sharing is giving. This is why we constantly go to church, to hear His word, and receive His body and blood. He is out in front of us in the battle. We know we will stumble and fall. We know we will lose the way. We are haunted by our sins, especially at night and near death. In His service, Christ gives precious treasures. We receive forgiveness. He heals us. He cleanses us. He takes us into Himself. He abides with us.

Jesus is the changeless one and thus His gifts abide. His light shines forever. The brightness of His mercy, forgiveness, blood shed, and what He does banishes the darkness. Not only does this light shine now but it has been shining since before the foundation of the world. The incarnation of Christ, a light shining in darkness, was always the plan of God for you. We are broken people dwelling in the blackness. Christ is the eternal light, brightening even the worst of life’s moments. The child born of Mary breaks through the darkness with everlasting light.

“Abide with Me” is a hymn about death and seeing the light that comes in Christ. It is in death where Christ abides with us. Christians have the capacity to see the sorrow of death and to mourn. There is a loss. Death is not the way God created it to be. Christ has transformed death by His death. It is no longer the end but the beginning. It is the entrance into the eternal reality.

Think of Pastor Henry Lyte and singing “Abide with Me” on the day of his farewell. He never made it to Italy for recuperation. He must have known he was dying. No doubt he suffered pains, tears, bitterness from TB. Even in his weakness, He sees Christ’s triumph. In his suffering, He sees the triumph of the cross. Even in death, he sees triumph. This the heart of the Gospel. The Christ must suffer then enter into His glory. Death has no sting. Grave has no victory. Pr. Lyte had the triumph of Christ even as he lay dying. So also for every saint of God. Death gives way to resurrection and eternal life.

Baptism is when we’re joined to the eternal one. We’re no longer living in a body that simply decays and dies. Our bodies are remade by the waters into what God intended us to be in the beginning. Our bodies are made like Christ’s body. We get death over with in Holy Baptism. That’s why we make the sign of cross upon the dying to remind them they already died at Baptism.

Baptism is when our life becomes part of the life of Christ. This is when Christ began to abide with us. Despite sin sticking to us, the reality is Christ is joined to us. He suffered for the sin we now commit. He forgives by the blood He shed at the cross.

The cross is the moment the heavens opened and light into the gloom. At Christ’s resurrection we see the dawn break and our eternal dwelling open up to us. First at the baptism of Jesus, then transfiguration, and finally at the resurrection this is revealed. Heaven is now on earth in the person of Jesus. The ultimate and final yearning of everyone is to commune with God. To be baptized into Christ. To abide with Him.

Our lives testify to everything but eternity. This hymn captures our emotions and feelings, those of reality. Fast falls the eventide. Other helpers fail and comforts flee. Change and decay all around I see. We long for the presence of Christ bodily. We hope in the friend of sinners, the helper of the helpless. Christ abides with you. In life. In death.

As Christmas approaches, we ask: why did Jesus become man? Why did he take on flesh? The answer?  He would experience everything we experience. For those who are baptized in Christ, we know that everything we suffer He suffered. Every melancholy we have He had. His sadness is shared by us and ours with Him. He was lonely on the cross—why, my God, have you forsaken me? He experienced what it means to be human and yet without sin. Thus sinners who have no idea what it means to be whole and perfect learn as we abide in Him. He conquered loneliness, melancholy, and suffering by His life, suffering, and death. He gives us friendship, joy, patience, hope, and life.

To abide in Christ is to be fully human, to know what it’s like to be holy, to know what it means to be as God created us to be. To be joined to Christ in Holy Baptism is to share with Christ everything including suffering, darkness, evening sadness just as He shares with us every good gift. Jesus is in us and we in Him. In life and in death, it is Christ who abides with us. He is our deepest longing. He is our greatest hope. We have Him now in Baptism and in the Supper and we will have Him finally in the company of heaven.

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Image courtesy of http://bearhollowcreations.blogspot.com/2010/04/road-to-emmaus.html

The Sunday of the Rich Man and Lazarus 2012

10. June 2012
The First Sunday after Trinity – Baptism of Vincent Nowaczyk
Luke 16:19-31

Every single person who walks through those sanctuary doors has the wrong idea. Every single one, every single week. You came this morning with wrong ideas about life. You have the wrong ideas about death. You think wrongly about faith and church. Your mind is confused by the many whisperings of worldly liars. Your heart is torn from its true love to instead lust after guilty pleasures and false idols.

Perhaps you think I’m harsh. Jesus begs to differ. He says, “there is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” (Ecc. 7:20). He also says, “All men are liars” (Ps 116:11). This knowledge is absolutely necessary. Without believing in this real defect, the magnitude of Christ’s grace cannot be understood. “Those who are well have no need of a physician”(Mt 9:12; Mk 2:17). “All the righteousness of man is mere hypocrisy before God unless we acknowledge that of itself the heart is lacking in love, fear, and trust in God” (Ap II 33).

Jesus has some harsh words for you. Yet, just as loving Father disciplines those whom He heals, so Jesus doesn’t leave in the pit, in the Sheol of despair. You cry out “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?” That’s not the wrong idea. That’s precisely the right idea of faith. That’s why you’re here. To have God’s Word wreck, destroy, and utterly demolish your wrong ideas about life, death, church, God, love, and stuff.

How long will You hide Your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” And God, by the way, it seems like its taking an terribly long time. Life sucks. Death stinks. The church is full of hypocrites. I don’t much understand you. I have so little to love. And stuff, well, I ain’t got any.

Wrong. Wrong ideas. The lies of sinful men. The idolatry of yourself. Stop listening to your rotten soul. Stop grieving all the day for the treasures that moth and rust can destroy. Call upon the Lord in the day of trouble. Let Him lighten your heart, to consider and answer you. Let Him light up your eyes with the truth, lest your enemy Sin overtake you, lest Death prevails over you, lest the Devil rejoice that you are shaken. “O Lord, I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” Turn to the Lord and live.

So it goes in our Lord’s parable. There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linens and who feasted sumptuously every day. In other words, the 1%. He’s got it all, not a care in the world. Every luxury provided for. Health–good. Wealth–plenty. Prosperity–abundant. But he is a beggar, utterly poor in the things of God. He does not call on God in a time of need, for he has none. He does not need the Great Physician since he’s seems healthy. He needs not be dressed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness. His purple and fine linen of his own making are comfortable and stylish.

This man is rich in the things of this world and yet poor in the things of God. Who needs to pray for daily bread with the perfect capitalistic market society gives him everything he wants? He trusts in doctors and not in God’s providential and protective hand working through them. And really, when you look as good as he does, why should he even fear what God sees? He’s a beggar without even knowing it.

At his gate was a laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.Here’s the 99%, the suffering majority. Poor in body and spirit. Suffering in his body. Needing even a small bite what the 1% greedily is enjoying in his banquet hall unto gluttony. Poor, miserable, pitiable. He is even despised by men, cared for only by dogs. They are this man’s only friend. Truly a beggar but as history will show, rich all the same.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. This poor worm of man was carried by angels to rest in the loving embrace of his patriarch Abraham. Where is his father Abraham but seated at the eternal feast, with rich heavenly food and a cup overflowing with divine grace. This man who was poor in this life and yet received a wedding garment washed in the Lamb’s own blood. His body was covered with sores for a time and yet received a resurrected body for eternal life. His mouth longed to be filled with the crumbs from the rich man’s table but this hunger was forever satisfied with the crumbs that fall from our dear Lord’s table.

The rich man also died and was buried. His resurrection was unto Hades, and being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. Why? While He feasted sumptuously, clothed himself like a GQ model, and set himself up for a life of luxury he neglected the truth. He was actually a beggar. A rotten sinner. A liar. A hater of God. When it comes to His standing before the judgment seat, he looks little different than the sore-infested beggar laying at his gate.

You and I all come from radically different backgrounds. Some are given much. Some have little. Some have never been sick in their life. Others can’t seem to shake the last sickness before the next one strikes. Some come dressed in fine suits and others with barely the polo shirt to their name. And yet, we do well to heed Luther’s final words: we are all beggars, this is true.

Not one of us has anything to contribute to salvation. Not a good work, an act of charity, a loving embrace, or even a faithful prayer. Not one of us has decided for Jesus, chosen to follow Jesus, or even accepted Jesus into our hearts. We are all beggars, this is true. “How long, O LORD?” is the cry of poor Lazarus. “How long, O LORD?” is the cry of every beggar.

There is not one righteous (Romans 6:3). Everyone of us is a liar. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Sinners. Yet, even sinners are not without good things. Good things? Like what? Clothing? Shoes? House? Home? Nope. Jesus did not build your hotrod. Jesus does not give you your perfect life now. Jesus gives you truly good things—your perfect life into eternity.

Abraham said [to the rich man in Hades], “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” Trust not in princes, they are but mortal. Trust not in wealth which is here today and gone tomorrow. Trust not in health for all men die. Trust not in clothing for it rots just like the flesh. We are all beggars, this is true. Trust in what, then? How are we to know that God loves us?

All you who are unrighteous in thought, word, and deed—liars and haters of God—why are you here? You have heard the Word of God and want to live. You don’t want the just punishment for your sins, the suffering you deserve, nor the death of the wicked. You desire God—His love, His salvation, His grace, and His mercy. You are hear for you know you are beggars; this is true. “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God, light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.”

You know there a great chasm fixed between Abraham, Lazarus, and the whole heavenly host—and the rich now poor man and the whole host of the damned in torment of Hades. You know and fear this righteous judgment. For truly we are all beggars, deserving nothing but the same sort of death and punishment.

Unlike the “rich” man, we know that true joy, true happiness, indeed true love and salvation are in the riches of heaven. There is no amount of health, wealth, or good things in this life that prepares for the life to come. Only the riches of God’s grace given only in Jesus Christ’s shed blood can take even you, poor Lazarus, unto Abraham’s bosom. Only God’s own salvation given can take you into heaven.

All the wrong ideas, the lies, and the idols are confiscated at the font, forgotten by the voice of Christ, exorcised from the pulpit, and healed through the medicine of Christ’s own body and blood. Only by these means of grace, daily and richly received are you rich for heaven. The light of Christ illuminates your heart with the bright radiance of His glory, glory of the only-begotten of God, crucified, dead, risen and ascended for you!

Receive the heavenly riches just as little Vincent. We are all beggars, this is true. Receive the robe of Christ’s righteousness in your baptismal waters. Receive healing of body and soul in the resurrection of the dead. Receive life everlasting in heaven. Receive the rich food of your salvation. Receive, trust, rejoice, and sing!

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana