The Onion Stem
First Lesson: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12
Responsive Reading: Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17
Second Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 2: 1-8
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 22: 34-46
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The Russian novelist Dostoyevsky tells the following story. Once upon a time a woman was residing in hell. The woman longed to escape her suffering. She began to cry out to God in response. God heard this woman’s cries and was deeply moved. God calls down to the ask the woman “Why should I save you?” The woman begins recalls one time that she gave a starving neighbor an onion. God sensing the woman’s faith then produced an onion with stem for the woman to grab onto. The woman grabbed, and God began to pull her out of hell. The others residing in hell saw this scene and began clutching at the woman hoping to escape also. Here’s the thing about the onion stem, it was strong. The stem was in fact so strong that it would have been able to support not only the weight of the woman but every single resident of hell. The woman though didn’t like all these people grasping at “her” onion stem, so she began kicking and screaming for them to let go. Finally, the onion stem snaps sending everyone including the woman back into the depths of hell.
Think of the tale of the Onion Stem as this morning we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. The big event associated with this anniversary is Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses at the Wittenberg Castle Church. This morning to understand this historic event, it would be helpful to look at what the 95 Theses were and weren’t.
The legacy of the Reformation is that Luther studied for years and years as to why Christ shall need to die. Christ appeared to have committed no sin. Luther’s awakening happened when he came to believe that Christ upon the cross-claimed our sins as his sin.
The Lutheran Reformation is known for its five solas. Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and cross alone. When we speak of these things they are not things that can merely grasp by Luther scholars, both Luther and Paul understood all these believes being centered in faith as trust alone. A belief that God’s presence shall never leave us no matter what obstacles the Devil places before us in this lifetime.
Bill Butters was a hockey-playing Defenseman for White Bear Lake and then the Gophers. Bill as a pro would go on to play for the Minnesota Fighting Saints and eventually the North Stars. Bill Butters was a small guy, only about 5’10. Bill Butters though looked to be the last guy who should confidently start a fight on the ice. Bill Butters though was never going to back down from anyone regardless of his size. Bill Butters had a bad tendency to start fights on the ice. Bill Butters never lost a fight. Bill had a best friend as a pro hockey player named Jack Carlson of Virgina. Jack Carlson was Bill Butters opposite in every way; Jack was 6’3 and regarded as one of the toughest hockey players ever. Anyone who ever crossed Bill Butters would be dealing with Jack Carlson instead. So Butters’ potential enemies would always back down from him.
Luther fought his own battles for years of life. Luther’s foes though were not hockey players, but rather spiritual enemies in Sin, death, and the Devil. The meaning of the Reformation is Luther believed that in the face of all his enemies believed that he had a personal protector named Jesus Christ. All battles through which Luther would be called to engage, Christ promised to stand in his place even until the cross. Like Bill Butters, Luther came to believe that his protector named Jesus Christ would never abandon him even in the toughest of situations.
Bill Butters eventually gets on the straight and narrow. Butters like Martin Luther knew what it was like to know someone was always on your side. Today, Bill Butters is a minister at Eaglebrook Church down in the Twin Cities. Bill Butters through his experiences playing hockey came to understand the meaning of the Gospel just like Luther.
One last story to drive home the central teaching of the Reformation, when I was down in Lamberton, I had a seminary classmate who was from the area fill in for me when I was on vacation. The task was given to the young seminarian on this morning to deliver a children’s sermon. The seminarian had not given many children’s sermons. The seminarian knew that he needed props and to ask questions. The seminarian was struggling though on this morning. The problem on this morning was that none of the children knew the answer to any of his questions. To which the seminarian whispered to the kids “Just say Jesus, the correct answer is always Jesus.” Jesus being at the center of our faith is the true legacy of the Reformation.
You see the Reformation is not about differences in belief between Lutherans and Catholics; the Reformation is not about the proper role of the pope within the church, the Reformation is not even about whose interpretation of scripture is the “best.” The Reformation is about finding certainty in the midst of uncertainty. Luther struggled for years of whether God could save a vulgar, temperamental, even depressed monk like him from the fires of hell. Luther’s came to believe that God’s grace was more powerful than any sin he could commit. Jesus promises the onion stem sent to rescue us will not snap. You see the onion stem is in the shape of a cross.
Today, we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. We are unlikely to see the 600th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, yet the Lutheran Church shall still stand regardless the faith of any individual believer or congregation. God’s promises shall indeed endure forever regardless of what the devil or the world throws at any of us.
I close this morning with Luther’s words from A Mighty Fortress
“Though hordes of devils fill the land, all threatening to devour us. We tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot overpower us. Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle, we’ll engage his might is doomed to fail, God’s judgment must prevail. ..His Kingdom shall be ours forever. “ Amen
 Zingale, Tim. “Smile.” Sermon Central. 24. Oct.2005. Web. Oct.24.2017.
 Taylor, Justin. “Looking at Wittenberg in the Time of Martin Luther.” Gospel Coalition: Evangelical History. 31.Oct.2016. Web. Oct.24.2017. Taylor’s article contains an interview with Reformation historian Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary.
 “Johann Tetzel.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 19.Oct.2017. Web. Oct.24.2017.
 Taylor, Justin. “Looking at Wittenberg in the Time of Martin Luther.”
 Tranvik, Mark. “Commentary on Romans 3:19-28”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. 28.Oct.2012. Web. Oct.24.2017.
 Tranvik, Mark. “Commentary on Romans 3:19-28”.
 “Bill Butters.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 20.Sept.2017. Web. Oct.24.2017.
 Molin, Steve. “The Roman Road.” Sermon Writer. 2005. Web. Oct.24.2017
 Molin, Steve. “The Roman Road.”
 Molin, Steve. “Everybody Needs an Advocate.” Our Saviors Lutheran Church. Stillwater, MN. 9.May.2010. Web. Oct.24.2017.
 Strand, Bruce. “Butters reflects on hockey, ministry.” White Bear Press. 29.Nov.2016. Web. Oct.24.2017.
Why Lutherans Believe in Alien Invasion
First Lesson: Exodus 33: 12-23
Responsive Reading: Psalm 99
Second Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 22: 15-22
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The year was 1947. The place was about thirty miles north of Roswell, New Mexico. A sheep-rancher named William “Mac” Brazel found some unknown debris in the pasture. Officials from the Roswell County Sheriff’s Office and local Army Air Force base quickly came out to investigate. What made Brazel’s discovery so interesting is locals had reported seeing unidentified flying objects or UFOs above the Roswell sky. Days later an Air Force official seeking to discredit the rumors proclaimed the remains found by Brazel to be nothing other than a crashed “weather balloon.” People were skeptical as the ballon’s description was unlike any other ballon people had ever seen: “ultra-lightweight and ultra-strong metals, fiber-optic cables and fireproof fabrics .“ Interestingly enough the Army officials were so interested in this “balloon” that they flew it from Roswell to Fort Worth, Texas for further investigation.
The story would seem to end here only it didn’t. In the 1950’s the Air Force would frequently conduct secret “tests” over New Mexico fields which involved dropping “dummies” from high altitudes as a means of evaluating future military safety. What did the dummies look like? Latex skin with aluminum bones appearing to look like “space aliens.” So the whispers kept spreading. The decades after brought all sorts of further rumors as to what exactly did happen at Roswell. Many people claim that the UFO found by Brazel was an alien spacecraft whose contents have been hidden by the U.S. Government. Government documents have since revealed that the remains found by Brazel weren’t, in fact, a “weather balloon” but rather a top-secret project involving “surveillance balloons.” These surveillance balloons which possessed the ability to travel in high altitudes with the intent of picking up soundwaves from thousands of miles away (hence the unique materials involved). The project went by the name of “Project Mogul” had nothing to do with aliens but rather everything to do with spying on the Russians.
Due to people doubting this official explanation, the Roswell Crash Site remains a popular tourist destination for UFO Seekers from all over the world. What happened at Roswell? While I cannot say anything for certain, I can say this Lutherans believe in an alien invasion. Lutherans don’t just believe in alien invasion, understanding Lutheran beliefs about alien invasion are one of the key tenants about the Lutheran Reformation whose 500th Anniversary we celebrate next week.
You see the Lutheran Reformation’s central question is “How are human beings made right with God?” What exactly do people need to do? Do people need dramatic conversions? Do people need to live such clean, wholesome lives that they may make many a preacher blush? Do people need to give a certain amount of money, pray a certain amount of prayers, or dedicate a certain amount of time to various “holy” causes?
Martin Luther addressed this question in 1518 sermon titled “Two Kinds of Righteousness.” In this sermon, Luther describes “salvation” as being a process of alien invasion. Only when I’m talking about Lutherans and aliens, I’m not talking about little green men, rather for Luther salvation comes purely from heavenly sources outside the world. According to Luther, We have as much power in the salvation process as we do in calling down Aliens to appear in Roswell, New Mexico. Our relationship with God is made right not because of our actions, but rather because of Christ’s actions. We are passive bystanders in the alien invasion process of salvation.
We are made “right with God” because Our Father chooses to invade from Heaven to Earth in Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world. ((Eph. 1:3-14). So Christ’s alien salvation ultimately becomes ours also.
John Piper gives another way to look at this. Picture the following scenario; A sixteen-year-old son has a “dirty room.” The father gives an order “Clean your room before going to school or else you won’t be able to go to the game tonight.” The son being sixteen years old has more important things to do on his iPhone than to clean his room before school. The son is bothered by this all day as he sits in school, he dreads not being able to go the evening’s game. He fears Dad’s reaction upon seeing his room. What dad does though is interesting. Dad doesn’t get mad. Dad proceeds to clean his son’s room until the room is spotless. The son is stumped when he goes home and sees the seeming Alien Invasion of his room. Finally, the dad admits doing it for the son so that he would be able to go to the game. Such a story illustrates the meaning of “alien righteousness,” Salvation is pure grace. All we ultimately bring to the Salvation table is “our imperfect faith” then the Cross cleans our rooms, and changes everything forever more.
Yet no one wants just to say alien forces will clean your room and you can forget about everything else. No one wants too-many stray raccoons wandering through the house. People often criticize Luther for not paying enough attention to how people should live. Yet Luther did have a vision for us as Christian people to follow once the alien invasion changes everything.
Today’s Gospel Lesson comes to us from Matthew the 22nd Chapter. It’s a passage about paying taxes and whether Christian people should do so. Now people in Jesus’ day didn’t like paying taxes to the hated Romans. They had a list of everything that was wrong with the Romans they occupied land that wasn’t there, they worshiped political leaders as gods, and the like many government officials weren’t exactly stingy with other people’s money.
Now the Pharisees who Jesus encounters in Today’s lesson weren’t big fans of his ministry. They thought the Aliens were too lax in who they were choosing to save. So they decide to try to trap Jesus.
“Is It lawful to pay taxes to Caeser or not?”
Here’s the trick to the question, if Jesus says “no,” the Pharisees and Herodians charge him with being an “enemy of the state. On the other hand, if he says “yes,” then he’s just another hypocritical religious sell-out. A normal politician would be sweating at such a question with the potential to sink one’s career.
Jesus’ response was to the point “Whose likeness and inscription is this on the coin?” he asked “Caeser’s? They answered. So Jesus says his famous line “Render, then, to Caeser that things which are Caeser’s and render unto God the things that are God’s.”
Jesus’ answer is making a profound point. It was the same point that Luther was making in his sermon “On Two Kinds of Rightness or Righteousness.” We as Christian people live both as citizens of this world while also being citizens of heaven at the same time.
Jesus’ point is that these citizenships will often have dual obligations. We should pay taxes (proper righteousness), but we are not saved by paying taxes (alien righteousness.)
We must not confuse our dual citizenships nor their obligations.
A few months back, I was heading down to Superior to watch summer league basketball driving down the hill out of Silver Bay. Now the speed limit on that hill is “30”, I was driving like “42” or something on this day. Noticing this was Silver Bay’s Honorable Police Chief Doug Frericks, Chief Frericks turns on the siren on me, pulls me over. Chief Frericks in the act of grace walks up to my car and says “This time it’s on me, next time it’s on you” and walks away.
Now was I in the wrong? “Yes.” I could have been a better citizen driving down the hill out of town, yet my careless driving has nothing to do with my status within the Kingdom of Heaven.
You see Lutherans do place a lot of emphasis on “Christian living,” our emphasis is on being a good neighbor, parent, grandparent, spouse, friend, or driver. These things are what Luther called proper righteousness. We don’t do these things because they make us right with God, but rather because they keep us right with each other. The following understanding of our callings is the difference between “alien rightness” which comes from above in receiving salvation versus “proper rightness” in being a good citizen. We must never confuse the two.
These two types or rightness like Jesus’s proclamation about paying taxes to Caesar are in reality two sides of the same coin. Our Lord establishes both the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdoms of this world. They are both sustained by his work in governments, families, communities, and churches. We cannot control “Alien Rightness” or “Alien Invasion” of how and when God chooses to save yet we do have power over whether we ultimately obey the speed limit.
One last story told by Ed Markquart for this morning, John D. Rockefeller was born in “1839”. Rockefeller was born into modest means in Upstate New York. Rockefeller’s genius idea is that the future of the American economy lies not in oil drilling, but oil refining. Rockefeller is a millionaire by age 23. He finds Standard Oil at age 31. By the age of 50, Rockefeller is the richest man in the country. The story would seem destined for a happy ending at this point; only it isn’t.
At age 53, John D. Rockefeller grew seriously ill. He began losing all the hair on his head and began dropping weight like crazy as his body could only handle milk and crackers. Rockefeller was known for being unable to crack a smile. Doctors believed Rockefeller would be dead within a year.
One night though Rockefeller while unable to sleep distinguished between being a “citizen of this world” versus “a citizen of heaven.” Rockefeller knew he couldn’t take anything he owned into the next world. So John D. Rockefeller established The Rockefeller Foundation which supported all sorts of medical and missionary causes. Rockefeller’s new outlook eventually leads to the discovery of Penicillin.
Something interesting happened to John D. Rockefeller once his priorities shifted in life. He didn’t die within a year. In fact, he lived to the unbelievable age of 98 before dying in 1937.
Rockefeller’s story shows us how God works not only through the sacred (alien invasion) but also through the secular of our seemingly normal lives.
Next week is a major week in the history of Lutheranism. We will celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Aliens will be present! Only the aliens take the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. These aliens will promise not only to maybe clean your room but also bring gifts unto you of forgiveness, and life everlasting, even if we don’t find any proof of UFOs afterwards. Amen
 “Roswell UFO Incident.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 3.Oct.2017. Web. Oct.16.2017.
 Roswell”. History Channel. Web. Oct.16.2017.
 “Roswell”. History Channel.
 “The Two Kinds of Righteousness.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.1.July.2016. Web. Oct.16.2017.
 Piper, John. “Faith and the Imputation of Righteousness.” Desiring God. Given at Bethelham Baptist Church in Minneapolis on 17.Oct.1999. Web. Oct.17.2017.
 Matthew 22:15-22.
 Matthew 22:17.
 Markquart, Edward. “Paying Taxes to Caesar.” Sermons from Seattle. Series A. Pentecost 22. Web. Oct.17.2017.
 Matthew 22:21.
 Thompson, Erick. J.. “Commentary on Matthew 22:15-22.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul. 22.Oct.2017. Web. Oct.16.2017.
 Thompson, Erick. J.. “Commentary on Matthew 22:15-22.”
 Schwedes, Richard. “God's At Work Restoring Our Perspective: Everything Is Sacred.” Sermon Central. 21.Oct.2008. Web. Oct.16.2017.
 “John D. Rockefeller.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 15.Oct.2017. Web. Oct.17.2017.
 Markquart, Edward. “Paying Taxes to Caesar.”.
 Markquart, Edward. “Paying Taxes to Caesar.”
First Lesson: Exodus 17: 1-7
Responsive Reading: Psalm 19
Second Lesson: Philippians 3: 4b-14
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 21: 33-46
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
David Dykes tells the following story. Back in the days when the Old West was being settled, Pioneers flocked via wagon across the country to the promised lands of California and Oregon. But on the Eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains right in the middle of trail lay a large dirt-covered, ugly rock. Many a wagon wheel broke on this rock. Men who walked by it tended to trip over it. The rock appeared to be nothing but an inconvenience, so it was rolled off the road to a nearby stream. For years, it was used a stepping stone so people may cross the creek. Finally, a settler built his cabin near the stream, moved the stone once again and made it into a doorstop.
The years would soon pass. Railroads and towns quickly sprang up nearby. Eventually, the old settler’s grandson started to study geology. The grandson upon visiting the cabin began studying the old, dirty rock. What the grandson found inside in the rock was stunning. Inside the rock, was a gold nugget. The gold nugget was the largest one found east of the Rockies. The stone had been passed over for three generations without anyone recognizing its great worth. Some saw this stone as an annoyance, others as merely a stepping-stone, others as just a big, ugly rock, whereas the Grandson saw the true value of the stone in being one of the most valuable pieces of gold in the world.
Now picture the story of the Grandson discovering Gold and let’s talk about Our Gospel Lesson for Today. Jesus tells a story. A landowner has a vineyard. The vineyard has some of the finest produce around. The landowner lived far away, so he would rent the land to some tenants. The tenants would farm the land and then upon completion of the harvest the tenants were expected to pay the rent.
While a lot of landlords have stories about unruly tenants, these tenants took the cake. To collect the rent, the landowner would send some of his employees to collect. The first employee sent they beat him up. The owner though keeps his cool. He then decides to send a second messenger who the tenants proceed to kill. The owner keeps sending messenger after messenger only to hear of them beaten and killed continually. The owner wants a resolution to the tenant issue, so he sends his son to represent his interests. The owner thinks “They will respect my son.” The owner’s judgment is wrong as they proceed to kill the son then, thinking now they will inherit the land. They believed the way to rent-free property was to kill every representative of the landowner. What’s the landowner eventually to do? He’s going to come with his forces, drive the unruly tenants off the land, and find “new” tenants to farm the landowner’s vineyard.
Breaking down the Parable goes like such. God is the landowner. The vineyard is the Kingdom of God. The tenants are the people of Israel. The messengers are the prophets: Elijah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah and rest. The son is Jesus. So once the Son is dead, God is going to give the “vineyard” to new tenants in Gentiles, Tax Collectors, and Sinners.
Jesus in our parable Today is telling the religious leaders of Israel that the Vineyard they think they possess, will soon belong to someone else. What God is saying to us today is “We are merely leasing the land.” We never want to claim like the unruly tenants “That we actually own the land that belongs to someone else.”
What we are being called to do on this day is manage the Vineyard by reaching out to the people that God places in our care. We are the leaders of the Kingdom of Heaven until someone else replaces us. We are being called to discover Gold within not only our congregation but also our community.
Earlier this week, I was reading a book called Who Broke My Church. Who Broke My Church speaks of there being two different types of churches out there. The first type of church is the preference centered church where people’s ideologies are central. The second type of church is the kingdom-centered church where believers are always looking for new ways to engage in the world around them to glorify our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here’s one thing that makes a kingdom-centered church different than a preference-centered church. It has to do with how they understand each other’s gifts. Preference-centered churches tend to ask whether an obligation is something that you have the interest to do. Kingdom-centered churches tend to ask whether an obligation no matter how uncomfortable, maybe a calling of God to advance his kingdom for Jesus’ sake as unlikely as it may be.
Susan was unemployed and forty-seven years old. When she was a child, she was bullied at school for not being very smart; the other kids called her “Susie Simple.” Susan wasn’t a pretty woman never having had a boyfriend. Susan wasn’t a successful woman working merely a few dead-end jobs. Susan’s dream was to be a musical star. At the age of 34, she tries out in a reality show called My Kind of People, the host proceeds to make fun of her appearance while ignoring her singing ability.
The following years of Susan’s life were spent signing at her local Catholic church. Friends and her mother encourage her to try out for one of Britain’s most popular T.V. shows The X Factor. Susan believed such an idea was silly as such shows seemed to showcase the young and beautiful. Susan then loses her biggest supporter and best friend in her mother. Susan stops wanting to sign in public after this until deciding that trying out for Britain’s Best Talent would honor her mother’s memory.
Susan appears on the main stage, proclaiming she wanted to become one of Britain’s most famous singers. Everyone looked Susan up and down, judges and audiences members rolled their eyes upon hearing Susan’s hope. Susan began to sing. The audience's jaws dropped. Within a few moments of her signing, it was quickly evident that despite everyone’s impressions of Susan that she was one of the best singers in the world. Susan Boyle’s debut album became the top-selling debut in United Kingdom history.
Susan’s story reminds us that where we might see failure lays the greatest pieces of hidden gold. Susan’s story reminds us of the gifts to advance God’s Kingdom that might lie deeply hidden inside all of us.
222 players were taken in the 1994 NFL Draft Kurt Warner wasn’t one of them. The Green Bay Packers cut him from training camp. Kurt Warner gets a job stocking shelves at Hy-Vee in Cedar Falls, Iowa for $5.50. Warner’s downfall was the beginning of making his Christianity the core tenant of his life. No NFL Teams wanted Kurt Warner, so he bounced around in lower leagues for a couple of years. Warner eventually lands as a third-string Quarterback on the Saint Louis Rams.
After the 1998 season, when other teams could have gotten him, no one wanted him, so he stayed with the Saint Louis Rams. Due to trades and injuries plus having an established Starting QB in Trent Green, Kurt Warner becomes the back-up for the 1999 Saint Louis Rams. Trent Green’s ACL gets shredded in a pre-season game. Kurt Warner was now getting his chance. When announcing the move making Warner the Rams new starting quarterback, Warner’s head-coach Dick Vermeil is in tears at the press conference because of how devastated he was at the other Quarterback’s loss. The 1998 Saint Louis Rams were not a good football team going 4-12, now with Kurt Warner the new QB the odds in Las Vegas were 200-1 that they would win the Super Bowl. The longest odds of any team in the NFL by far.
What happened to Kurt Warner in 1999? The Saint Louis Rams become the best team in Football. They go “13-3” the offense is nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf”. The Saint Louis Rams win the Super Bowl. In August of this year, the former shelf-stocker for whom God had bigger things planned was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Lumps of Gold often do lie in the most unlikely places within life.
As we hear the stories of Susan Boyle and Kurt Warner Today, our focus turns back to the Kingdom of Heaven as described in our Parable of the Vineyard/The Landowner/ and The Tenants. We reflect on what hidden talents might be inside us to help ultimately advance God’s kingdom. We ask how can we plant seeds today, so the Kingdom can exist a generation from now once we no longer possess it. We take confidence that God’s plans as in the cases of Susan Boyle and Kurt Warner are often much bigger than our own. It doesn’t matter how old, weak, unconfident that we have the ability change other people’s lives, the Landowner has given us more than we can even see on this day. How will we rent Sychar Lutheran Church, Silver Bay, and the whole wide world with the talents that God has given us? Where might the Hidden Gold lie in our lives to help proclaim Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and a great eternal hope to a world that longs to know him?
 Dykes, David. “The Rejected Stone.” Sermon Central. 20.Aug.2012. Web. Oct.4.2017.
 Dykes, David. “The Rejected Stone.”
 Dykes, David. “The Rejected Stone.”
 Matthew 21:33-46.
 McLarty, Phillip. “Whose Vineyard Is It, Anyway?” Sermon Writer. 2005. Web. Oct.4.2017.
 Markquart, Edward. “The Wicked Servants.” Sermons from Seattle: Series A. Web. Oct.4.2017.
 Lewis, Karoline. “Caring for the Kingdom of Heaven.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul. 1. Oct.2017. Web. Oct.3.2017.
 The book is authored by Kent Hunter published in 2017 by FaithWords.
 “Susan Boyle.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 15.Sept..2017. Web. Oct.4.2017.
 Susan Boyle.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
 Susan Boyle.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation
 Higgins, Scott. “Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent. A Video of a Singer Defying Expectations.” Stories for Preaching. Web. Oct.4.2017.
 “1994 NFL Draft”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 26.Sept.2017. Web. Oct.4.2017.
 “Kurt Warner.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 19.Sept.2017. Web. Oct.4.2017.
 Kurt Warner.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
 “1998 NFL Season.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.4. Aug.2017. Web. Oct.4.2017.
Back Row Pews
First Lesson: Exodus 17: 1-7
Responsive Reading: Psalm 78: 1-4, 12-16
Second Lesson: Philippians 2: 1-13
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 21: 23-32
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The Reverend Henry Maxwell tells the following story. Once upon a time, as soon as Dr.Maxwell finished his sermon. A man stood up from the very back pews of the church. The man proclaimed “I have something to say.” No one in Dr.Maxwell’s congregation knew the man. Some had seen him sitting in the back row pews a few times during the last several months. The man proceeds to get up then walk to the very front of the church. He begins his speech by saying “I want you all to know that I’m not crazy, nor am I drunk. I’m perfectly harmless.” “I just want to say my what I need to say before a crowd such as this one.” People were too stunned to respond really; not even Dr.Maxwell tried to stop him.
Everyone was expecting some sort of personal testimony; instead what they got was much different. The man started telling how he had lost his job as a printer about ten months ago. He explained how technology had made the only job that he had ever known obsolete. He had spent the last ten months, trying to find work, only to have door after door shut in his face. The man began telling how there are more people out there than anyone here can imagine. The man began to explain how he was by no means the best Christian there ever was, his list of sins was long and predictable. There was something that he was trying to figure out about Christianity. He always heard Christians talk about following in “Jesus’ steps.” He couldn’t figure out what exactly this means?
You see the man described his job search throughout the city, his Sunday morning visits to the church, and how in all this time people were constantly looking to get away from him, rather than offer any sympathy. The man described how many of these people had no doubt read their scriptures, prayed their prayers, and yet deep down something was missing. The man described he wasn’t angry, just merely stating facts.
The man understood everyone had bigger problems in their life than his job search, yet he couldn’t quite figure out what Christians meant when they sang the song “What a Friend We Have In Jesus.” What does it mean “To do what Jesus would do to those most in need?”
At that moment, the man passed out. He was taken to the congregation’s parsonage and then died a couple of days later. The man from the back pew had heard plenty of religious talks but seen from his Christian neighbors very little religious action.
Now as you picture the man from the back pew of the Church, we come to Today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 21. In our lesson for Today, Jesus tells a parable. Jesus tells a tale of a man who had two sons. The man owned a vineyard. The man asked the first of the two sons, to go work in the vineyard. The son decides to insult his father by declaring “He won’t do so.” Anyone that has ever had a rebellious child can probably picture the attitude of this son. You had a young man with whom the Father had given everything, declaring that he didn’t care about any of this “I will not work in your vineyard.” Something interesting happened though with the first of these two sons. Hours later minus any big scene, he actually went and worked in the vineyard.
Now Jesus tells of a second son. The second son was quite a bit different from the first. The second son seemed to have a better attitude “He declared that he would cheerfully and joyfully go work in the vineyard.” He told his father, “I will jump however high you want me to.” The second son would appear to be perfect. The straight a-student, who never got in any trouble whatsoever at home or school. While the second son talked a great game, he proceeded to talk a good game only to do nothing in return. Certain other matters were more pressing than working in the vineyard.
So after Jesus tells this story, he gets to the point “Which of the two (sons) did the will of his father?” Everyone agreed that it was the first son who did the will of the father? The first son’s actions mattered ultimately more than his words.
Jesus’ point was the following the first son represents the sinful, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and all those who would at first glance appear to be enemies of his kingdom. As bad as they had been in the past, they possessed the ability to acknowledge their need to change their ways and seek a savior.
The second son represents the religious authorities of Jesus’ day. They had money; they had political power, they could quote scripture way better than the first sons ever could.” Something was missing. Just like in the case of the congregation who encountered the man from the back row pews.
Jesus’ point is it doesn’t matter how good a game a person talks in comparison to their neighbor if it doesn’t advance God’s kingdom.
One of the big news stories in the past week involved President Trump, NFL QB Colin Kaepernick, and the debate whether kneeling before the National Anthem is an act of peaceful protest or a sign of egregious disrespect to our country. People shouted their convictions loudly. The extremely passionate called for boycotts. Everyone wanted to say their piece like the man from the back of the church to let others know how right and virtuous that they truly are in the debate. Like in the story I told earlier of the man from the back row pew, we often tend to miss what’s truly important.
Perhaps what Jesus is getting at this morning can be illustrated by the story of another back pew type in Daryl Davis. Daryl Davis is a jazz musician who has spent countless nights playing in seedy clubs where many a good Christian person dare not venture. Daryl Davis is an African-American from Chicago.
Daryl Davis one night in 1983 was playing in a Country-Western bar. Davis was probably the only African-American in the bar that night. A patron was impressed not hearing piano-playing like Davis’ since Jerry Lee Lewis. The men strike up a conversation. The patron admitted it was the first drink he had shared in his life with a “black man.” Davis inquires further finding out that the man is a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
What did Daryl Davis do after this? He decided to become an expert in the Ku Klux Klan interviewing members all over the country. All this leads Daryl to appear on The Geraldo Rivera show. Daryl encounters a twelve-year-old girl named Erin Puig who brags about her parent’s involvement with the Klan and her desire to join when she gets older. So after the show, Davis finds out something interesting about Erin Puig. Her father is in prison for ten years. Daryl Davis proceeds to call Tina Puig (Erin’s mother), once he reveals himself, he is called every nasty name in the book. Daryl Davis though does not slam down the phone; he instead makes an offer. He is going to be in the area; he offers to drive Tina and Erin Puig to visit their Ku Klux Klan father in prison. The Puigs are shocked. No one from the Ku Klux Klan had ever offered such a thing. Five years later, Daryl Davis, Tina and Erin Puig would stand together on Martin Luther King Day speaking on the need for racial reconciliation.
Here’s what makes Daryl Davis’ approach so remarkable. He doesn’t condemn or shame his opponents. He is patient looking to win victories in the future rather than the present. Over 200 members of the Ku Klux Klan have handed their robes over to Daryl Davis in the last thirty plus years. The road hasn’t always been easy, Davis has had guns and knives and fists put up to his face. Daryl Davis, every day of this unique ministry, is guided by his faith.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”-Romans 5:8.
Not every activist cares for Daryl Davis’ approach. He’s been called foolish for believing the supposed wrong people can change. Daryl Davis believes like in Today’s parables that one’s words or even one’s actions don’t necessarily tell their whole story.
Jesus tells us a parable Today with a similar message. The parable is about two sons. One son looks like he belongs in the back pew of the church (wanting to sneak in and out without much notice or fanfare for whatever reason), yet it is this son who ultimately does the will of his father. The other son walks around with his chest sticking out, yet his beautiful words don’t ultimately match his results.
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind, our sins sweep us away.”-Isaiah 64:6.
Jesus’ point doesn’t have to do with the nature of the sons, but rather the nature of the father. Both sons despite their outward appearances, despite their various sins, both needed Jesus to enter the Kingdom of God before them. Now both sons (the front-row pew sitters and back-row pew sitters) are being called to come together just like Daryl Davis to work in their Father’s vineyard.
 Zingale, Tim. “What Kind of Sinner Are You?” Sermon Central. 19.Sept.2005. Web. Sept.21.2017. Reverend Zingale found the story in Charles Monroe Sheldon’s In His Steps.
 Zingale, Tim. “What Kind of Sinner Are You?”
 Zingale, Tim. “What Kind of Sinner Are You?”
 Zingale, Tim. “What Kind of Sinner Are You?”
 Matthew 21:28-32
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. Print. P.445.
 Molin, Steve. “Trick Questions.” Sermon Writer. 2002. Web. Sept.21.2017.
 “Daryl Davis.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 19.Sept.2017. Web. Sept.21.2017
 Brown, Dwane. “How One Man Convinced 200 Ku Klux Klan Members To Give Up Their Robes.” NPR. All Things Considered program.. 20. Aug.2017. Web. Text Transcript. Sept.28.2017.
 Zahl, David. “Why I Invited Daryl Davis to Speak in DC.” MBird (Mockingbird Ministries). 1.Sept.2017. Web. Sept.21.2017.
 Zahl, David. “Why I Invited Daryl Davis to Speak in DC
 Zahl, David. “Why I Invited Daryl Davis to Speak in DC.”
 Chason, Rachel. “A black blues musician has a unique hobby: Befriending white supremacists.” Washingston Post. 30.Aug.2017. Web. Sept.2017.