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,
Today we are supposed to celebrate the most famous moment in the Lutheran church in Martin Luther supposedly nailing The 95 Theses to the castle door at Wittenberg. In just a few minutes, we will sign Luther’s hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God as a symbol of pride for being members of the church that Luther discovered. As we gather on this Reformation Sunday, it causes to us to reflect upon what was really going on when The 95 Theses were posted. Perhaps more importantly we ask ourselves whether The 95 Theses posted by Luther are event to celebrate or an event to mourn.
Before we begin this morning I wish to begin by addressing three misconceptions about The 95 Theses.
1. The 95 Theses started the Lutheran church-
I think as we consider Luther’s legacy this morning an important thing worth noting is that Luther never wrote the 95 Theses with any intention of breaking from the Roman Catholic church. Luther addressed the 95 Theses to the local Archbishop Albert of Mainz, within the theses Luther wrote comments concerning what a great job that the Archbishop was doing.
The 95 Theses original purpose was to serve as an academic debate on the question of “Whether certain indulgences should be sold?” Indulgences were pieces of paper that one could buy as a way to get out of writing on the chalkboard, saying your Hail Marys or whatever earthly punishment was when you did something wrong.
Luther’s main motivation for writing the 95 Theses wasn’t indulgences themselves, but rather one man named John Tetzel, who Luther believed to be misrepresenting Catholic teaching on indulgences. Luther honestly believed that Pope Leo would agree with his critique of John Tetzel. Any Catholic scholar would tell you that Luther’s criticisms of Tetzel misrepresenting Catholic teaching on indulgences were right. In Luther’s later years, he said at the time of posting the 95 Theses that “He would have murdered anyone who denied obedience to the pope.”
2. Luther posted the 95 Theses as a good Lutheran-
It should said that many of the beliefs that Luther had when he posted the 95 Theses were much closer to modern Catholicism then modern Lutheranism. Luther believed in Purgatory. Luther still prayed to the Virgin Mary and Saints in Heaven. Luther also tended to hold the Roman Catholic position on the Mass or Lord’s Supper. If one is to look back at Luther’s life, you would be struck by the whole hosts of issues on which his positions evolved as his break from the Catholic church became more defined.
3. Luther understood the consequences of his actions-
Initially, when Pope Leo X heard about the 95 Theses, he didn’t consider them to be all that significant. For three months after their publication, Leo ignored them.
What ended up happening though is that supporters of Luther eventually came in contact with the recently invented printing press. So Luther’s theses began to spread throughout not only Germany but all of Europe.
Most of the initial uproar within Germany over the 95 Theses had to do more with grievances regarding the Pope’s heavy-handedness in German politics rather than any agreement with Luther’s statement of belief. What should also be said is that Luther was also tapping into a widely held sentiment in his day that the Catholic church was in need of internal reform. So eventually Pope Leo X decided to call a scholar to respond to Luther’s objections over indulgences.. Luther was not convinced. Luther then met with a papal delegate at the Diet of Augsburg. Luther was asked on what authority could he question the pope?
Luther then invoked a story from Galatians the 2nd chapter where the Apostle Paul rebukes the supposed first Pope Peter because he refused to dine with Gentiles.
It was at this moment when the central question which would define the Reformation was really raised for the first time whether the church is a human institution capable of error (Luther’s view) or a divine institution (the Roman Catholic view) incapable of error.
Perhaps even more important is the question of “What makes a church true?” Whether a church is true because it adheres to the traditional structure of having a Pope or whether a church is true because it possess the Gospel in the form of Word and Sacrament.
Luther after several debates and meetings with Roman Catholic officials could not be convinced that his position was in error. Further public stands led to Pope Leo X issuing a Papal Declaration called The Papal Bull calling for people to burn all of Luther’s writings. Luther at this point received sixty days to either recant his beliefs or face death as a heretic. When Luther received The Papal Bull, he burned it in the Town Square all the while being cheered on from adoring Germans in Wittenberg.
Luther’s burning of The Papal Bull took place three years after posting the 95 Theses. This event was the beginning of the Lutheran Church as Luther had won quite a bit of support among German Princes and Nobility during this time.
What we must always stress is that the Lutheran church formed only after Luther went through great emotional distress at the possibility of being kicked out of the Catholic church. Luther also made pledges to his followers not to divide the Church. Luther never intended to form a new church until he came to believe that the issues of division could not be resolved.
So what this tale of the beginning of the Reformation indicates is that Luther was by no means anti-Catholic nor anti-Pope as people would understand the terms. Luther vowed to kiss the Pope’s feet if the Pope would proclaim the Gospel. Luther had every intention of staying within the Catholic church and reforming it from within until circumstances forced him to do otherwise.
Even nearly a decade after The Papal Bull was presented as a sign of Luther’s banishment, the Protestant Reformers put together the chief teaching document of their faith in The Augsburg Confession they wrote it in such a way that it highlighted their areas of agreement with the Catholic church as a means of seeking to foster an eventual reconciliation.
Luther’s burning of The Papal Bull would set the stage for a long period of religious warfare between the catholic power of Spain against a loose confederation of Swiss and German states. Warfare would not end until the resolution of the Thirty Years War, more than a century after Luther’s death.
What then should we say on this day about the division that remains between Lutherans and Catholics?
I think one of the great misunderstandings that exist in the Church today is the relationship between Lutherans and Catholics. We have a lot of commonalities. We both recognize each other as Christian. Both churches recognize each other’s Baptisms as valid. Lutheranism and Catholicism are not in direct opposition to each other, but in many ways similar branches of the same tree of Christianity. For example, both churches are liturgical churches that confess the historic creeds of the faith (Apostles, Nicene, and Athansain). We both make common use of such things as stained glass, organs, candles, robes, and banners for the means of edifying the believer. The greatest theological unity that exists between Lutherans and Roman Catholics is that we’re both sacramental churches. We both believe that God gives us new life and forgives sin through Baptism. We both believe that God sustains and strengthens our faith through the Lord’s Supper. We do not exclude Catholics from Communion for this reason. We both believe that Confession is sacramental whether done in public or private and a true treasure of the church. Lutherans and Roman Catholics are in agreement on plenty of other issues such as the End Times, the Trinity, and the development of scripture.
The Churches have grown even more together in recent years as the Second Vatican Council adopted Luther’s ideas about the need for worship to be in the language of the people.
In fact in the year 1976, Joseph Ratzinger who is best known as the former Pope Benedict XVI expressed the possibility that the chief teaching document of the Lutheran Reformation in the Augsburg Confession could one day be accepted as a universal statement of faith. There are plenty of Lutheran pastors today who hold out hope for a reunion with the Roman Catholic Church to occur sometime in the future.
We must be honest though plenty of areas of division still remain on this day with the Roman church. We disagree regarding the role of the Bishop of Rome or Pope this is a complicated historical question which led to the first prominent church split in the Great Schism of 1054 between the Orthodox East and Catholic West. We disagree on the question of what happens to believers in the period between one’s death and resurrection. We disagree regarding the role of Saints mediating in our daily lives. We disagree regarding the question of whether Women can serve in ministry. Ultimately the true issues lie with the matter of salvation. Everything boils down to the question of “What is the Gospel?” While we both believe in salvation by grace, what this means is still a matter of dispute.
Today’s epistle reading from Romans 3 gets to the very heart of the scriptures. What this passage reminds us of is the power that sin maintains over us all. Sin is so deeply rooted in the human psyche that we cannot control it. Sin’s depth is why it is too easy for any of us to misunderstand the Gospel. We inevitability think God has done his part, now we need to do ours. We come face to face all too often with the truth that even our best works can be a cause of sin. Too often good can cause us to fall away from the truth about ourselves that we are ultimately sinners.
In the words of Mark Tranvick “When Luther first studied the Bible it became for him a great puzzle as to why Christ should have to die. After all, sin is punished by death (Romans 6:23) but Christ was not guilty of sin. When he came to see that Christ himself actually became a sinner (compare 2 Corinthians 5:21) the mystery dissolved.” If there was any other way to salvation than Jesus wouldn’t have hung on a cross.
We celebrate Reformation Sunday 2014 with mixed emotions. Rest assured that we do grieve. We grieve that so many have sought to bring Christianity beyond Luther’s very modest initial goals in posting the 95 Theses. After Luther church group after church group would rise up claiming to have re-discovered New Testament Christianity. The Reformed would soon rise up in Switzerland, the Radical Reformers in Germany, decades later the Baptists in England, a couple centuries later would spring up John Wesley’s Methodists. Almost four hundred years after Luther, Pentecostalism rose up in America claiming to have rediscovered the “Holy Spirit” and quickly became a world-wide phenomenon. Luther’s modest initial goals resulted in a widespread schism throughout all of Christendom. Soon every man, woman, and child would claim to be the arbiter of religious truth.
Peter Leithert writes “Renouncing Rome’s one Pope, Protestantism has created thousands.” This is not something to celebrate.
We do celebrate on this day; we don’t celebrate necessarily Luther himself. Luther would have been the first person to admit that he shouldn’t have a church named after him, nor even followed. What we instead celebrate is the central conviction of all of Luther’s action that no matter how futile our situation in this day may be, God set out to solve the problem in Christ Jesus. We celebrate that salvation is determined by God’s action, never our own. We celebrate that our eternal life is not dependent on any institution or even ourselves; we celebrate rather that the promises of salvation belong to Christ Jesus alone. The ultimate legacy of the Reformation is that humans are broken and will remain divided until Christ returns to settle it all out. Our great hope for today is that God saves us outside of us, in spite of us, God saves us on a Cross against every human instinct for moral improvement. God doesn’t save a pure church; God rather saves an imperfect church. Amen
 It’s somewhat debated whether Luther actually nailed The 95 Theses to the castle door. The evidence of this is a letter from Phillip Melanchton where he mentions it. Melancthon though doesn’t describe the event till after Luther’s death. Heiko Obermann makes the cast that posting academic disputations was common practice. So in conclusion, it’s probable that Luther did nail the theses to the castle door, yet possibly a legend also. The Outlaw Monk wrote a really good article on October 24,2013 on this subject.
 The Wikipedia Article on Johann Tetzel has an excellent explaination from German Catholic Historian Ludwig von Pastor on this matter.
 Luther wrote this in a preface to The 95 Theses shortly before his death. This is taken from the Christian-History.Com article on Martin Luther.
 Galatians 2:11-14
 This Papal Bull is techincally called The Exsurge Domine in Latin. A Papal Bull is a letter or declaration made by the Pope (Bishop of Rome). Hundreds of Papal Bulls have been issued throughout the history of the office. For the sake of brevity and clarity, I just refer to Luther’s notice of excommunication as The Papal Bull.
 Tranvick, Mark. “Commentary of Romans 3:19-28”. Working Preacher.com. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 28.Oct.2012. Web. Oct.21.2014
 Poteet, Mike. “Reformation Sunday: A Day To Celebrate?” Ministry Matters. 20.Oct.2014. Web. Oct.20.2014
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,
I want to tell you the story this morning of a church. It’s the story of one of the first churches. The reason I want to tell you about this church is because it had a lot of members that were asking similar questions to people in our church. The church was located in a town called Thessalonica.
I suppose I should begin by telling you a bit about Thessalonica. Thessalonica was and is one of the most important cities in the country of Greece. Thessalonica was the primary port city in all of Northern Greece. Thessalonica was a vitally important city because it was the city where the great road of its day connected Rome with all the people north of the Aegean Sea. Thessalonica was the city at the crossroads of east and west, north and south.
Because of this a man named Paul wanted to start a church in Thessalonica. Paul had been traveling around planting churches left and right (Rome, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, and Thessalonica).
What Paul along with his right-hand men Silas and Timothy were going around Thessalonica claiming was that a man named Jesus had risen from the dead nearly twenty years before. Jesus would then promise salvation and eternal life to all his followers. Paul had spent about three weeks in Thessalonica converting both reaching both the previously religious and non-religious alike.
One of the interesting things that happened during Paul’s preaching is women were especially drawn to this new Christian church. Paul had looked at women’s role quite a bit differently. A woman named Dorcas was one of the earliest Christian disciples. Priscilla and Aquilla were missionaries in converting a man named Apollos. Chloe was the owner of a house in Corinth where the church met. Paul would later say “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.". Women, in fact, made up the majority of Paul’s congregations. Another interesting thing about the early Christians is that they insisted on their marriages being one wife to one husband. The early Christians were no longer going to treat women as property or possessions, but rather as complimentary parts of the family unit.
Paul had made quite a few enemies during his brief stay in Thessalonica. Members of the local synagogue were especially upset as they had been losing members to this new Christian church. Paul had felt such strong heat for his actions that he needed to sneak out of the city in the middle of the night for his safety. Paul would then journey a little over three-hundred miles to Athens to work with another church down there.
With none of the church’s first leaders in Paul, Silas, or Timothy around a leadership vacuum emerged within the Thessalonian church. A man by the name of Jason took the reins. Jason was a relatively new Christian himself, so he had to try his best to lead the Thessalonian community. While the Thessalonians were eager to embrace the faith, they had a lot of unanswered questions. Jason did not know how to answer their questions. The Thessalonians had recently experienced a rash of funerals amongst their initial members. The problem with all these funerals though is the members didn’t know how to interpret them. Many within the Thessalonian church believed that Christians would not undergo death. They believed that Jesus would return within their lifetime to establish his kingdom on earth. Many of the Thessalonians believed that the afterlife would only be available to those who lived to see Christ’s return. Jason not knowing where to turn to try to alleviate the Thessalonians fears got word back to Paul of the problems. Paul decides to write a letter to the Thessalonian church to be read by Jason in response to their questions. Paul had never written a letter like this to a church before. Within a few hundred years, thirteen of Paul’s letters to either various churches or individuals such as Timothy, Titus or Philemon would make up a good portion of the Christian’s holiest book.
Over a thousand years later, Paul’s letter would be broken up into five separate chapters. Paul begins by establishing the personal warmth and affinity that he feels for the people of Thessalonica. Towards the end of the letter, Paul begins to get into the meat of the issues. Paul’s letter said to the following.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord,[d] that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”
Paul wanted the Thessalonians to think of death as a form of sleep. Referring to death as a form of sleep was a very biblical idea. Death was referred to as sleep over fifty times in the Old Testament. A short while before this at the time of one of Jesus’ greatest miracles in the raising of Lazarus, Jesus describes Lazarus as not being dead but rather asleep. Paul didn’t say these words to give the Thessalonians any definitive answers about what their loved ones’ existence would look like between their death and their resurrection. Paul rather uses the word “sleep” to remind the Thessalonians that upon Christ’s return that the body of their loved ones would rise as casually as one awakens within the morning. Paul uses the term “sleep” to remind the Thessalonians that even as they lay their loved ones in the ground, this will not be the last that they see of them.
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Paul wanted to remind the Thessalonians how Christ’s return would exactly look. The dead will rise from the grave first. At this point, those that are living will get caught up or “raptured” to meet The Lord within the air. The key words that Paul speaks has to do with assuring the Thessalonians that they have no reason whatsoever to mourn the death of their fellow Christians.
Paul’s words about the rapture would get misinterpreted in later years. All sorts of ideas started spreading such as Christ would return secretly to whisk away the true believers before great hardship came upon the Earth for seven years. I think the key thing to know about Paul’s letter is that he wished to let the Thessalonians know nothing that wasn’t clearly told elsewhere within the scriptures. Instead, the Greek verb for rapture literally means “meet”. What rapture literally means is believers will meet Jesus in the clouds then journey with him all the way to the earth. Paul never meant to describe an event where Christians just randomly vanish off the face of the earth. Paul had heard about some words that Jesus had spoken during his ministry regarding the end of the world. Jesus would talk about the last days comparing it to the time of Noah. Jesus promises that it is at the end that all evil be swept away, whereas God’s chosen ones just like Noah’s family would be left behind to be with the Lord.
When Paul was talking about the Rapture, he was describing an event that took place on the last day rather than before the last day. When Paul mentions the Rapture, he wished to let the Thessalonians know about the promises of God’s grace. Paul wanted them to look towards the last days of not only their loved ones’ lives but time itself guided by a fear of God. Paul wished instead to give them an assurance of God’s promise given to them on the cross. Jesus Christ was indeed coming soon, and his Kingdom would have no end.
The Thessalonian church was not out of the woods yet though after receiving Paul’s letter. Within a few months, a popular rumor would emerge that Jesus had already returned in secret. The rumor was so widespread that Paul had to write another letter in response to it. Paul assured the people of Thessalonica once again that Christ’s return would not occur in secret. Paul then reminds the Thessalonians not to focus so much on the actual date of Christ’s return or the day of their loved one’s eventual resurrection. Paul believed that this day will come down the pike as unpredictably as the Thief arrives during the night. Paul knew the Thessalonians were probably going to endure some tough days coming up. Paul didn’t want them though to obsess about any specific details regarding the end. Paul instead wished for them to go forth guided by a promise that Christ promises salvation unto them even as the world around them may crumble down.
The story you heard today is the story of Paul’s First and Second Letter to the Thessalonians. Amen
 Acts 17:1-9
 Acts 9:36-43
 Acts 18:18-28
 1st Corinthians 1:11
 Galatians 3:28
 Paul’s journeys after Thessolonica to both Berea and Athens are detailed in Acts 17:10-21
 Jason is mentioned as influential in the Thessolonian church in Acts 17:1-9
 My mentor Dr. Joe Burgess recommended to me a book by Canadian scholar Lee Micheal McDonald entitled The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority published by Baker in 2007
 Chapters were added into the Bible with the Wycliffe Translation of 1382. Verses were added by the Geneva translation in 1560 then confirmed within the pages of the King James Bible.
 1 Thessolonians 4:13-15
 Intresting commentary by Dr. Richard P. Bucher at the website for Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Lexington, Kentucky (LCMS). Dr. Bucher’s article is entitled “Where Does the Soul Go After Death? (Paradise or Soul Sleep?)
 John 11:11
 1 Thessolonians 4:16-17
 Great comment on this issue by Rick Mason made on May, 31, 2011 for an article written by The Lutheran entitled “The Rapture: Does it Square with Lutheran Theology?”
 Matthew 24:36-44
 1 Thessolonians 5:2
First Lesson: Exodus 32: 1-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 106: 1-6, 19-13
Second Lesson: Philippians 4: 1-9
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 22: 1-14
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”-Matthew 22:13-14
The next two weeks during services will consist of a very brief sermon series in preparation for the Afterlife Conference to take place at New Life Lutheran in Duluth on Saturday October 25th. I invite you all to attend. The background of the Afterlife Conference is as I have been in the ministry for over a half-decade now the most basic question of every Sunday morning worshipper that I ever encounter is “What happens when I die?” Similar themed questions pop up along with this big question such as:
“What will my reunion with family members look like?”
“What happens to us both before and after Christ’s final resurrection?”
These are the most basic and ultimately important questions of the Christian faith. With these things in mind, I want to talk this morning about one of the most confusing questions that we attempt to answer in relation to the nature of a loving God and Hell? What I want to talk about today is how we should think about Hell as Christians.
Let me begin with a common misconception about Hell, it’s one of the greatest misunderstandings of the entire Christian Faith. One of the great misconceptions of Hell is that Satan is the ruler of Hell. This idea is not a Biblical idea but rather comes from a very popular book in the 17th century called Paradise Lost. Milton begins Paradise Lost by describing a scene where Satan and other Fallen Angels awaken after enduring defeat in the War in Heaven.
Paradise Lost describes Hell as the living place of Satan and his minions. Milton’s ideas about Hell seem to influence nearly every popular portrayal of Hell ever since from Disney’s Fantasia to the video game Mortal Kombat to Gary Larson’s The Far Side cartoons to the popular TV show South Park. The problem with Milton’s ideas is they don’t mesh with the scriptural ideas of Hell.
For example, the Book of 2nd Peter describes Fallen Angels as not dwelling in Hell, but rather being cast down into Hell where they are thrown into chains and tossed into prison.
Revelation 20 deals with the theme of Satan’s role in Hell. Revelation 20 mentions perhaps the most famous image of Hell in the Lake of Fire. Although the interesting thing about Revelation 20 is that describes Satan not tormenting people within the Lake of Fire, but rather Satan’s final destination being the Lake of Fire upon Christ’s Second Coming.
The great misunderstanding about Satan has to deal with the extent of his power. Scripture never describes Satan as maintaining any degree of power within Hell. Satan and his minions' only real power exists here on Earth through their ability to make sin attractive and beautiful. The ultimate reality of Satan is that he maintains no power in either Heaven or Hell in either the face of death or the power of the Gospel.
So with this misunderstanding of Hell cleared up, we should now move on towards how Christians should understand Hell. Occasionally, you will run across Christians who seem to delight in the list and types of people that will burn in Hell.
As we consider Hell this morning, the first thing that I should say is that Christians should be uncomfortable with the idea of Hell.
Writer C. Michael Patton describes it best when he says “I have often said that the doctrine of hell is simply the most disturbing doctrine thing known to man. If I could get rid of one of my beliefs, this would be it. Hands down.”
For as we consider the famous images of Hell from eternal fire, bottomless pits, and the great weeping and gnashing of teeth, these images remind us of the great pain that is caused by a separation from God for all eternity. The eternality of it all is probably the scariest part about considering Hell. Some church groups such as the Seventh Day Adventists try to deal with this scary notion by holding to the idea that instead of Hell, unbelievers merely cease to exist after the Second Coming.
Yet one would have to deny the clear words of Jesus to not hold to the belief of Hell’s eternity for the unbeliever:
“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”- Matthew 25:46
As we consider Hell on this day, we have a few things to remember. The first thing to consider is the nature of God.
“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”-1 Timothy 2:3-4
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”- 2 Peter 3:9
For as we begin a discussion about Hell what we must remember is that our God’s desire is that all people shall come to salvation that no man, woman, or child shall end up cast into Hell.
To inform our discussion about Hell let us consider a parable for this morning in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet from Matthew 22. It’s a parable that deals with our themes for this morning of Heaven, Hell, and unbelief.
Our parable for this morning is another one of Matthew’s parables that Jesus tells during the last week of his’ life. Jesus is telling this parable to the religious authorities of his day, within this parable; he is seeking to confront their misunderstandings about salvation coming to the whole world. The parable about the nature of God as told about a benevolent king.
The King has a Son who is about to get married. The King begins by sending out invitations. The first people that the King invites are the type of people you would expect a king to invite: the powerful, the beautiful, the popular, the winners, the rich and the famous. The King desires that this be a wedding feast beyond what the human mind could ever begin to imagine. The King sends his servants to invite all the Big Shots personally throughout the land. The Big Shots’ reaction though is not what the King expected; the Big Shots just didn’t seem to care.
Now most people would get mad at such blatant disrespect being displayed towards them. Many of us know people who always get on our nerves, by never being able to make time for the most important events in life. How often do we hear other people say that they will only forgive, after someone repents for how they wronged them?
The King’s attitude is different though; he did not take personal offense like most other people would, instead the King decides to send his servants again to re-extend the invitation. The Big Shots though were annoyed by the King’s persistent offers at this point, so their attitude towards from one of indifference to one of vengeance as they kill the King’s servants.
The King was not going to let this behavior though spoil his good time, so the King decides to pursue a different tact. The King is going to send his servants out instead to invite anyone they could find. This scene probably produces some people that you wouldn’t expect to see at a royal wedding. The servants invite outcasts, losers, failures, and the servants even dared to invite those who could not afford a decent shirt to wear to the wedding. The King looked over this moteliest crew of guests and just didn’t care. The King was going to see to it that this crew would look like a million bucks before the night was over. Some people didn’t want to come to the party; this was a failure on their part rather than the king.
Perhaps the greatest misunderstanding that we have of hell is best-summed up by Robert Farar Capon. Hell is not the place for sinners; Hell is rather the place for people who can’t believe in the seemingly absurd terms of God’s grace. The people that can’t believe that Christ’s cross is enough, so they instead desire to pursue their paths to God. Hell is the place for those who can’t come to terms with the power of the Gospel to raise the dead.
When I was in high school, My Dad invited me to attend an event put on by the Chisago Lakes Chamber of Commerce where the keynote speaker was former Minnesota Viking and broadcaster Joe Senser. The thing to know about my Dad is he is very rarely on time for anything. A while back when staying at the parsonage right next door, he couldn’t even make church on time. So my Dad and I were late to hear Joe Senser speak, by the time we got there only two seats sit empty in the room. Both seats were in the presence of the honored guest Joe Senser.
People would rather sit by those they knew and felt comfortable then encounter someone whose experiences were so foreign to their everyday existence. I was embarrassed to go sit down by the honored guest after showing up late, yet my Dad has no shame. He marched us over there as being as worthy to sit there as anybody else. Whatever people in this room think of Joe Senser due to his wife Amy’s legal troubles, what I remember is one of the greatest meals of my life. Joe Senser told story after story along with quite a few jokes in my presence because others did not want to encounter someone on unfamiliar terms.
As we think about Hell this morning. Consider the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. In the 19th Century, C.F.W Walther, who was one of the founders of the Missouri Synod, wrote a book called The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.
Walther’s book dealt with the idea that there are only two words that a Christian can speak to another Christian. They can either speak a word of judgment or a word of forgiveness. What we need to remember is who needs to hear the following words.
Whenever Jesus spoke words of judgment, it was too the religious crowd like the Pharisees who thought they had a leg-up when it came to the Kingdom of God, yet it is often the religious who can’t come to terms with the nature of belief. Whereas within the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, we hear a word of grace, a word that those who one might not expect to see will be the ones who got invited to the Wedding Banquet purely according to the King’s terms. The key thing to remember about every one of Jesus’ parables is that winners often turn into losers with losers turning into winners. Jesus is all about extending grace to those who down on their luck, and those who are uncertain that the grace of God could be true! Jesus tells these people this parable to let them know that this grace extends to you.
So how should we understand Hell and how a loving God could allow such a place to exist? I think what we must remember is that God’s ways are often hidden from us.
What we remember this morning is the following truths:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son. God does not wish for one person to fall into Hell. God’s love is why he sent his son. We take comfort in the fact that God revolts at the idea of Hell as much as anybody in this room. The only difference in this case is that God’s control is such that he can do something about his disgust. We remember that Christ’s death was about rescuing people from Hell, so that the Resurrection of God becomes a promise to all who believe.
What we must remember about Hell this morning is that God is not to blame. C.S. Lewis describes Hell best when he says “All that are in hell choose it.” “All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want.”
We cannot put the blame for God on Hell any more than we can put the blame on the firefighter for seeking to put out a fire that someone else started. Hell is a reality of human sin that separates from God. God is the not cause of hell; God is rather the solution to Hell as evidenced by his resurrection. Amen
 Revelation 12:7-13 describes this War in Heaven. The difference between the Biblical description though and Paradise Lost is that the time frame for the event. Paradise Lost describes the War in Heaven as occurring before the Fall of Man. The Book of Revelation though is centered on the future event of Christ’s Second Coming. The War in Heaven occurs at the end of time, rather than the beginning.
 2 Peter 2:4
 Revelation 20:10
 C. Micheal Patton. “A Word About Hell”. Credo House Blog. 17. May.2010. Web. Oct.9.2014
 Capon, Robert Farar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. Print. Pg.464.
 This is a common statement by Capon throughout his previously mentioned book.
 John 3:16
 Lewis makes these statements in his work The Great Divorce.
First Lesson: Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Responsive Reading: Psalm 19
Second Lesson: Philippians 3: 4-14
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 21: 33-46
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Pastor Steve Molin tells the tale of a Crazy Old Fool. This man was not crazy for the reasons we often think of people being crazy. The Crazy Old Fool was a very successful businessman. He specialized in building fine homes in an upscale suburb. People would praise his work as a craftsman and businessman far and wide. The reason people thought of this man of as crazy was because of how he treated others.
He had a reputation for paying the most generous wages to his workers of any building employer in the area. The Crazy Old Fool was also charitable to nearly everyone he encountered. He would constantly give his wealth to others who had done nothing to deserve it. He gave away tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars to people even those who seemed out to scheme and con him, yet the Crazy Old Fool just didn’t care. People would snicker behind the Crazy Old Fool’s back but give him the respect he was due when they met him face to face. The Crazy Old Fool had become an old man; he desired to spend his winters down in Florida, so he approached his top building superintendent and told him he was retiring.
Before the Crazy Old Fool retired, he had one more request for his Superintendent. The Crazy Old Fool said “I want you to build me a home, let it be the finest home this company has ever built. Do not even think of sparing any expense, any dollars you need are yours, use the finest materials, employ the most gifted tradesmen, and build me a masterpiece before I come in the spring”
The next day, the Superintendent set out to build this home, but not exactly to orders. If the Crazy Old Fool was retiring, this meant that the Superintendent was going to lose his job. The Superintendent knew that he was never going to find another job as good as the one he was about to lose. The Superintendent like many people when faced with an uncertain future had developed a nasty cynicism about it. So in spite of the Crazy Old Fool having been the best boss this Superintendent could ever dream to have, this Superintendent was going to use this home project to pad his savings account. The Superintendent vowed this would be his last opportunity to avoid the poor house.
Inferior concrete blocks would set the foundation of the home, but the Superintendent would charge the Crazy Old Fool for premium blocks, and the Superintendent pocketed the difference. When it came to hiring workers, the Superintendent hired the cheapest carpenters, plumbers, landscapers, roofers, and electricians he could find. The Superintendent then charged the Crazy Old Fool wages that would be paid to master craftsman, so he could keep further padding his bank account.
The Superintendent then outfitted the house with cheap appliances, and lighting, insufficient isolation, inferior carpet, and drafty windows. When spring came, the home was finally finished. The house looked spectacular; it was the best looking home in the neighborhood. The Superintendent’s scam had worked to perfection; he was now hundreds of thousands of dollars richer. When the Crazy Old Fool returned home, he was thrilled as he saw the house. At this time, the Superintendent handed the Crazy Old Fool the keys to the house that he had built.
But what the Crazy Old Fool did next was unthinkable. It was the kind of stunt that you would expect a Crazy Old Fool to do. As soon as the Crazy Old Fool receives the keys, he turns to the Superintendent, the one who had scammed him out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the one who had blatantly disobeyed him.
The Crazy Old Fool proceeds to shock the building superintendent as he says “I want to give you a gift for all that you have done over the years.” It was at this moment that the Superintendent was handed the keys to a brand new home.
Today’s Gospel comes to us from the 21st Chapter of Matthew. It’s a Gospel Lesson that picks up right where up last week’s Gospel in the Parable of the Two Sons left off. Our lesson further highlights the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees that was raging during the last week of Jesus’ life.
This conflict was nothing new; in fact, four whole chapters of the Gospel of Matthew (21-24) contain thirteen straight parables or incidents that deal with conflict between Jesus and the religious Pharisees. These incidents include Jesus flipping tables and money-changers out of the temple as Jesus denounces the religious leaders by declaring “You have made my house a den of robbers.” Jesus offends the Pharisees in last week’s Gospel when he proclaims “Tax Collectors and Prostitutes would enter the Kingdom of Heaven before you (the Pharisees)”. Later Jesus denounces the Pharisees as a brood of vipers and hypocrites who would never escape God’s judgment.
At the center of all these arguments between Jesus and the Pharisees was the question of “What do you consider the point of the scriptures to be?” The Pharisees thought like plenty of people who sit in American churches Sunday after Sunday. The Pharisees looked at the Old Testament Scriptures where they see “law after law” “rule after rule”, so the Pharisees thought this was the means by which God interacts with his people. So the Pharisees did their best to follow, and they were inevitability disappointed and disassociated with those who failed to do the same.
In Today’s parable, Jesus is seeking to point how the Pharisees need to understand the scriptures in a new way. To do this Jesus tells the story of the Owner of a vineyard. The Owner had outfitted the vineyard with everything it could need a winepress, a fence, and a watchtower. This Vineyard Owner was like the Crazy Old Fool that I was talking about earlier as he was the epitome of generous.
The crazy Vineyard Owner had rented out some land to his tenants. A tale such as this would have made sense to the Pharisees since Palestine was under Roman control in these days, so most landowners lived thousands of miles away. Vineyard owners would only occasionally visit their land because of this.
Here’s where this story gets all crazy, the Vineyard Owner sends a representative to collect the rent. The Renters were annoyed by this request as they figured they were the ones doing all the work, so they deserved to keep money and the land as their own. So as the Owner’s Representatives come to collect the rent, the Tenants beat him up and throw him off the land.
How does the Land Owner respond to such unruly tenants? He does something crazy. He doesn’t do what most normal Land Owners would do in hiring mercenaries or calling upon the Roman Army to drive these hooligans from the land. The Land Owner instead chooses to send another one of his servants to collect the rent, only for this servant to be stoned and thrown off the land.
Surely at this point, the Land Owner will lose hope that his tenants will change their ways. The Owner’s patience has to be no more. Nope, he sends a third representative to collect the rent. Only to see his tenants kill this representative. So at this point these tenants had beaten, robbed, and killed every messenger the Land Owner had sent their way. The Land Owner’s patience surely had run out by this point.
But no, the Land Owner attempts his craziest stunt yet as a way of collecting the rent. He sends his own son to do it, yet as the Owner’s Son came to the land to collect the rent. The Tenants could still only think of themselves, so they kill the Owner’s Son.
To understand this parable remember that it serves as an allegory. The Land Owner is God; The Vineyard is the people of Israel, the Tenants are the Pharisees and the Jewish Religious Leadership, the Landowner’s Servants are the Prophets of Israel, and the Son is Jesus.
For what the aim of the parable is how the Pharisees missed the point of God’s interaction with his people throughout the Old Testament.
Let me cite a few prominent examples: Noah drank too much, yet God saw to it that Noah built an Ark to rescue humanity from death and destruction. Jacob lied and tricked his elderly Father into receiving an inheritance yet God saw to it that Jacob was one of the fathers of his chosen people. Joseph was an annoying little brat with such a big mouth his brothers wished never to see him again, yet he saved the people of Israel and Egypt from a great famine. Moses was a murderer, yet God saw to it that he set the nation of Israel free from the bondage of Egyptian slavery. Gideon was afraid and doubted God’s promises; God saw to it that he was able to bring down an army of 30,000 men just by blowing a trumpet. Rahab was a prostitute; Samson was a womanizer, King David an adulterer, Jonah ran from God at every opportunity, yet God saw to it that he would not abandon them from his plan of salvation.
Throughout the Old Testament, it is not just great prophets like Elijah who speak to God’s grace, how God’s grace is instead is made known through the lives of normal, flawed people. The point of the Old Testament wasn’t just rules and regulations that people inevitability fail to keep like the Pharisees thought it to be. Instead, the point of the Old Testament was rather how God keeps pursuing the people of Israel in spite of their sin, idol worship, and unbelief. How no one (and I mean no one) is outside the possibility of God’s grace and to prove this God sent his own son.
The parable for today is meant to drive home the point of how necessary God’s Grace is in even the lives of the self-proclaimed pious and good.
My former Preaching Professor David Lose describes this parable best when he says:
“So where does the bright idea come from to send his son, his heir, alone, to treat with these bloodthirsty hooligans? It's absolutely crazy. Who would do such a thing? No one...except maybe a crazy landlord so desperate to be in relationship with these tenants that he will do anything, risk anything, to reach out of them. This landowner acts more like a desperate parent, willing to do or say or try anything to reach out to a beloved and wayward child than he does a businessman. It's crazy, the kind of crazy that comes from being in love.”
What this parable does is showcase to us the desperate, crazy love of God. God does not offer this love merely once, or twice, but God gives his love a million times or more to all who receive it. For like the tale of the Crazy Old Fool there are no limits to God’s generosity even as much as we try to take advantage of it.
We can leave today with a simplistic understanding of this parable that Jesus thought the Pharisees were bad and judgmental; this is a partial point but misses the bigger point. The thing about every other person in the Tenant's situation is they would do what they did. They would blame the messenger as a way to avoid the truth about ourselves.
German theologian Helmut Thicke describes the parables of Jesus best when he said we will never understand the parables until we see ourselves staring in them.
We are the Wicked Tenants, We are the failed disciples, we will never pray like we should, we will never study the scriptures like we should; we will never be generous towards the world around us like we should. We give every good reason for the Land Owner to give up on us, yet He doesn’t. He gives us chance after chance. The Land Owner even gave his son’s life to save ours. The reality of Christian living is we will never pay the rent. We will never show the gratitude towards God we should; we fail to embrace the blessings that he gives. Yet our Crazy Old Fool of a God keeps giving us the keys to his kingdom through his own Son.
 Molin, Pastor Steven. “Speaking of Us: A Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46”. Lectionary.org. 2008. Web. Oct.3.2014
 Molin, Pastor Steven. “Speaking of Us: A Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46”
 Molin, Pastor Steven. “Speaking of Us: A Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46”
 Molin, Pastor Steven. “Speaking of Us: A Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46”
 Molin, Pastor Steven. “Speaking of Us: A Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46”
 Molin, Pastor Steven. “Speaking of Us: A Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46”
 Molin, Pastor Steven. “Speaking of Us: A Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46”
 Molin, Pastor Steven. “Speaking of Us: A Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46”
 Matthew 21:33-46
 Matthew 21:23-32
 Matthew 21:13
 Matthew 21:31
 Matthew 23:33
 Matthew 21:33
 Matthew 21:34
 Matthew 21:36
 Matthew 21:37
 Matthew 21:38
 Genesis 9
 Genesis 27
 Genesis 37
 Exodus 2:11-15
 Judges 6
 Joshua 2
 Judges 16
 2 Samuel 11
 The Book of Jonah
 Lose, David. “Crazy Love (a.k.a Preaching Matthew Against Matthew). Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 25.Sept.2011. Web. Oct.3.2014
 Taken from Molin, Pastor Steven. “Speaking of Us: A Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46”.
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,
Immediately after services today, I will drive down to Minneapolis to watch my beloved Vikings play as I have nearly every fall Sunday afternoon for almost thirty years. The thing about the Vikings is they stand a pretty good chance to lose today and a pretty good chance to lose nearly every game for the rest of the season. For the Vikings’ season fell apart a few weeks ago when some troubling news came out about arguably their best player Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson had beaten his four-year-old child with a switch, and legal authorities had issued a warrant for his arrest. Reaction to this news was swift. Some commentators called for Peterson to be thrown off the team forever. When the Vikings were going to led Peterson play, sponsors got up in arms about his presence on the football field being damaging to their brand.
What can we say about the downfall about someone who has brought me so much joy for the last several years? What can we say about someone who had previously done all sorts of good in the community who was the biggest sports hero in Minnesota on one Friday afternoon turning into its biggest villain?
It reminds me of a story as told by Pastor Tim Zingale. One time there was a church, not unlike this one in a town, not unlike this one. Within this church, a prominent member was having an affair with a married woman that carried on for a number of years. What made this so interesting is that this man was serving on the Church Council, active in helping to lead the youth group, and helpful in every way. Eventually, this man’s guilt got the best of him. He decided he needed to break off the affair and come clean with those around him. He first went to his wife to confess how he had sinned against her. He then told a few friends in confidence of what he had done only for his friends to be a bit looser with whom they were going to talk. By the time this man went to talk to his pastor, word of his affair had spread around town. This man soon became the center of conversation during coffee in the morning. Pretty soon, this man began to realize that people were starting to treat him quite a bit different. They would always look at him strange when they met him on the street. They would try to keep their conversations with him as short as possible. Supposed friends didn’t seem to return his calls. So as this man finally sat down in his Pastor’s office to confess his sins, he admitted he had no idea “How he could ever come to church again”. He felt too many eyes would be upon him. His secret was out in the open in front of the whole town, and he wasn’t quite sure to respond. There is no lonelier feeling than you against the world, yet when this man looked at his church; all he saw was law, judgment, and condemnation; all he heard was back-biting and gossip. It was for these reasons that this man had lost sight that the church with its promise of the forgiveness of his sins was exactly the place he needed to be.
The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Everyone who encountered this adulterer was able to justify their actions by pointing to their disgust at his adultery. They could point towards their disgust over him pretending to be something that he wasn’t. They could articulate their disgust over having someone like him and supposedly unlike them sitting inside their church. We all know people like this adulterer, yet do any of us know what we would say if we saw him on the street?
CS Lewis is one of the most famous authors of the 20th Century. The Chronicles of Narnia being his most famous work, which became a series of movies that has made like a billion dollars. But another famous CS Lewis work is entitled the Screwtape Letters, which deals with the theme of Spiritual Warfare. The battle each of us wages with Satan on a daily basis. The Screwtape Letters is a series of 31 Letters written by a Senior Demon named Screwtape as he seeks to instruct his young nephew a Junior Demon Apprentice named Wormwood. These letters contain a discussion of the most effect ways to destroy the faith of a young believer named The Patient.
But what is so noteworthy about the Screwtape Letters is that it addresses many of the misunderstandings we have about Satan's work in the world.
The Junior Demon named Wormwood only wanted to tempt the Young Believer into dramatic, specular sins such as murder or adultery figuring this would be the most sure-fire way to destroy a believer's faith. Dramatic sins are how many people like to think of Satan working only in spectacular ways like 9-11, the Holocaust, or the Rwandan Genocide. Whereas the Senior Demon Screwtape believed the most effective way to send someone to Hell was through gradual and subtle temptation. Screwtape did this through confusing a person's motives, intentions, and pride like those who sought to condemn the adulterer rather then tempting someone to give into what society considered a great evil.
For put a frog in boiling water, he immediately jumps out. But put a frog in tepid water and slowly turn up the heat then frog will not notice and will surely die.
The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions. When Martin Luther was reflecting upon the question of whether someone could possibly be good enough to help get them into heaven. Luther theorized that all of our actions on some level (even those which seem good) are motivated in some way, shape, or form by the love of self or sin).
If we do good for the sole purpose of not being Adrian Peterson, if we do good for the sole purpose of being able to thumb our nose at our neighbor Reckless Rick then our motivations are not love of God but rather sin. Human pride is why Luther believed that no matter how noble that we convince ourselves that we are that we are unable to contribute anything of benefit to our salvation.
The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The theme of good intentions going awry is made evident in today’s Gospel lesson that comes to us from Matthew the 21st Chapter. This lesson occurs during the last week of Jesus’ life. What Jesus says within our lesson is so unpopular that it contributes to him being sentenced to death just a few days later. Jesus is in the midst of a series of discussions with the Pharisees. The Pharisees obsessed about their own good intentions and religious commitment.
In spite of the Pharisees intentions, they were often Jesus’ chief protagonists throughout the Christian Gospels. Jesus knew the Pharisees could look religious. Jesus knew they could talk religious. He knew they could act religious. He knew they could smell religious, yet what was missing is that Pharisees couldn’t see the need for God to change who they were deep down inside. The Pharisees thought of themselves as the embodiment of God’s kingdom and anyone who wasn’t them the Pharisees spit on as they lied in the gutter of life. For the Pharisees in spite of all their good intentions, they could not see their need for God’s Grace.
So Jesus tells a parable today that is intended to serve as a condemnation of the Pharisees attitude and shake up their views about the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus tells a tale of two sons. The First Son we will call Charlie Church. Charlie Church looked the part, wore a nice suit to church on Sunday morning, had never been in trouble in his life, Charlie Church could quote the Bible like few other people. Yet, Charlie Church didn’t understand the Kingdom of God.
Whereas the Second Son didn’t look the part. The Second Son was probably intimidated by religion and religious people. The Second son was probably denounced by his neighbors for his vile and disgusting actions no differently than the man caught in adultery or Adrian Peterson.
It was this Second Son who grasped what the Kingdom of God was all about. The key line in Today's Gospel comes as Jesus says to the religious Pharisees “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”
The ones who society spit out will be the first ones that Christ came to save.
Back to Adrian Peterson, it seems the issue isn’t whether Adrian Peterson is a responsible parent (he isn’t). Nor is the issue whether he has anger management problems (I’m sure he does). The issue isn’t even what type of punishment the Vikings or the NFL should give him.
The issue is how people reacted with such disgust at the possibility that a guilty man might get off from what they perceive to be heinous crimes. What his situation reminds us is that we often have a hard time coming to grips with the most central concepts of the gospel in free grace and dying love. We love forgiveness for ourselves, yet we don’t want it to be too indiscriminate.
As we reflect on Adrian Peterson what the average person thinks should be irrelevant. Adrian Peterson did what he did and in the eyes of many his sins could never be atoned.
We are not Adrian Peterson his crimes unless we are on the jury don’t concern us. Just like the sins of our neighbor only concern us when they ask is there a way forward.
The amazing thing about our gospel is the past does not change because we possess the ability to go back in time, go back to the moment before the Vikings season was over. What makes our Gospel have power is that we have an intervention of grace come down from heaven on our behalf on the cross.
As we begin a new year of ministry on this Sunday. We consider a vision for Sychar Lutheran Church, like Adrian Peterson we cannot change the past. The past will reign down whatever consequences that it does. What we can do is begin to seize a vision for our future together. A vision that will define the ministry here at Sychar, The most important question for any church to consider is how it sees it see itself interacting with the wider community. We have a couple different things we can do. We can claim to be like the First Son. We can blame everyone else for the state of the world. We can go on and on about how the weaker members of our flock need to follow the example of the stronger members of our flock. We could even dare to purge the weaker members to make a stronger whole. Plenty of churches are like this. Plenty of religious people think this way.
Or we can embrace who we truly are. We are the Second Son. We are Sychar Lutheran; we are an imperfect church made for imperfect people. We have sinned against God and our neighbor over the years in thought, word, and deed by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We don’t need to hide from this fact. If people want a church where no one has ever done anything wrong, we can feel free to tell them to look elsewhere.
We speak to our failings because it serves as the most powerful of testimonies to the depths of God’s mercy and forgiveness. We do not need to parade anybody’s sin before ourselves, just as they don’t need to parade our own. We come hear to receive the gifts given to us in word and sacrament. Each and everyone comes here today with a common bond; we are all broken people. We’re all in need of a Savior. We are the people who Jesus comes to rescue us from the Road to Hell today by his cross, his death, and his resurrection. Amen
 Glover, Ted. “The Vikings Should Release Adrian Peterson”. Daily Norseman.com. Vox Media. 12. Sept.2014. Web. Sept.27.2014.
 Zingale, Pastor Tim. “What Kind of Sinner Are You”. Sermoncentral.com. Sept.2005. Web. Sept.25.2011.
 Matthew 21:23-32
 Matthew 21:31
 Reflection on the Adrian Peterson situation was inspired by Todd Brewer over at Mockingbird who wrote an article about a similar situation concerning former Balitmore Raven Ray Rice entitled “Ray Rice and the Perils of Relative Righteousness”. This article was published on September 22nd, 2014.
First Lesson: Exodus 16: 2-15
Responsive Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6, 37-45
Second Lesson: Philippians 1: 21-30
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 20: 1-16
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let us begin this morning by considering a hypothetical scenario, imagine your first day in heaven. At first everything seems to be going well, weather is nice, food is good, and everybody seems to be nice. This whole heaven thing is setting up to be pretty good. Then out of the corner of your eye much to your surprise, you see Him! Him could be your old high school bully; Him could be your hothead boss; Him could be your neighbor who was always fighting with his wife, and spent more than one night passed out on his lawn. You never expected to see Him here! Seeing Him here is the one thing about the Kingdom of God that you just don’t understand. We’ll get back to your arch-enemy, your worst person in the world in a little bit.
Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from Matthew the 20th Chapter. Let us reflect on a modern retelling of it as told by Robert Farar Capon.
There was a man named Robert, who owned a vineyard. The weather for the past month or so had been perfect for growing grapes, the harvest was setting up beautifully, yet bad news was on the horizon. The weather was about to turn cold in two days times; the grapes needed to harvest fast, or else ruined would be the whole crop.
So Robert goes down to the local hiring hall first thing on Monday morning at 6 AM to be exact.
Now people that tend to be down at the hiring hall at 6 AM are quite ambitious. The workers that gathered at 6 AM were the cream of the crop, the straight A students, the ones with goals and a plan for their life. The 6 AM crowd was full of hard workers who had no problem getting a little dirty in a vineyard.
These workers were in demand as all the other vineyard owners around wanted to hire them. So Robert decided that he was going to be generous in his offer. Whereas the going rate for a day’s work in a vineyard was two-hundred dollars, Robert was going to double it to attract the best workers, and pay four-hundred dollars for a day’s work. The workers were thrilled to receive such a generous offer; they began to daydream how they were going to spend their bounty at the end of the day, and off to Robert’s vineyard they went.
Around 9 AM, Robert receives word that the weather forecast had changed once again. So Robert decides that he needs more workers and fast. Robert makes another trip down to the local hiring hall, only this time he finds good workers, but not great workers looking for a day’s wages. Robert found the B-students, the ones who liked to sleep in a little bit, the ones who would be content with just a nice steady-life. Robert found the workers who preferred a nine to five rather than a six to six pace.
Yet by noon, even more workers were required. So Robert decides to go back to the hiring hall. The type of people there at noon had more of a work to live, rather than a live to work mindset. The type of people that would only work if nothing better came along, yet Robert hired them by promising them top dollar for their time.
3 PM the hours were winding down in the day. Robert was just going to hire anyone that might be standing around. By this point, Robert didn’t care if they were lazy, he didn’t care if they would sneak a grape to eat now and then.
5 PM the hiring hall was empty, but Robert needed still more help. So Robert walked around the streets outside. Robert saw kids whose pants barely hung above their knees, kids who seemed incapable of proper English with every adjective being a cuss word, kids whose clothes were producing a funky smell, and kids who even Robert knew would be of little use in a harvest yet by 5 PM Robert would hire them anyway. The kids went along figuring an hour’s work would give them a little more cash for the evening’s party.
As each new group of workers got to the Vineyard, they did what every human being would do. They asked about the pay. Word quickly spread that Robert was paying four hundred dollars for a day’s work. New workers kept dividing the hours worked figure into 400 and thought that it still sounded pretty good.
As the day ends, Robert is in a good mood. The grape harvest is a great success. Robert is a rich man, so Robert decides that he is going to be exceptionally generous when issuing payments. Robert calls over his manager instructing him to conduct an odd way of paying the workers. Robert commands him to pay the last hired workers first; this was an odd form of payment as managers normally wanted to see the most valuable workers taken care of first.
So the first guy walks up to the Manager, this guy was a real piece of work, ripped jeans, spiked blue hair, and a nose ring that looked like it belonged on a bull.
The manager knew that this guy contributed next to nothing to the project, yet he handed him an envelope with eight crisp fifty dollar bills. Spikey blue hair walks away as fast as he can hoping the manager wouldn’t notice the error, only to afterwards be astonished when his equally unproductive friends received the same reward for one hour of work in eight crisp fifty dollar bills. Word of Robert’s foolish generosity quickly spread, so much so that the when the first workers heard about it they were eager with anticipation. Their brows were filled with sweat, their hands were beaten, their legs were tired from hours upon hours of standing, they wanted nothing more than a shower, yet they felt like they were about to win the lottery. They figure if the worthless workers had been gifted four-hundred dollars then their payment would be in the thousands of dollars. Yet these workers were in for a shock as they approached the manager only to be handed an envelope with eight fifty dollar bills. The hard workers faces at this moment looked like the kid whose Christmas dreams have just been crushed. They were going to give Robert a piece of their mind about the unfairness of his payment plan. Yet as Robert heard them begin to whine, Robert was getting annoyed, he was being exceedingly generous to all his workers. “So what if he made the last first and the first last.”
Robert had been more generous than anyone could have ever imagined. Robert really didn’t care if the angry workers wanted to go to the local watering hole to talk about the unfairness of their boss. Robert was going to do things his way, because it was his business and nobody else’s.
The story of Robert and the vineyard workers is a modern retelling of the Parable of the Vineyard. This parable is a double-edged sword.
It’s a parable that provides grace to some, and judgment unto others. Judgment falls against those who can’t accept Robert’s foolish generosity, whereas grace is given to those who can’t believe Robert’s generosity.
The thing about grace is that it isn’t merely about bettering our situation a little bit here and there, God’s grace centers on bringing the dead back to life. There is no such thing as just a little dead; there is not anybody in need of a little less or little more Resurrection than anybody else. Our evidence of God’s grace never failing us or letting us go was made known on a cross.
A key tenant about Jesus’ parables is that he takes the notions of first and last and turns them right around. Think back to the story of Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus was thought to be a complete loser in the ways of God, yet Jesus comes into his life and reverses this outcome. The thing to understand about Jesus’ ministry is that the last are often made first, and the first are often made last. We often can’t grasp that slackers like Spikey McBlueHair could be given such a generous gift.
Our parable for today comes right after Jesus encounters a rich young ruler. This young ruler felt that he deserved eternal life because he had kept the commandments, similar to how the Vineyard workers thought they deserved more money, yet the thing about grace is that we don’t deserve anything, yet God gives it to us anyways. Jesus’ ministry is all about turning the world upside down as he promises that the exalted will be humbled and the humble will be exalted.
Today’s parable is a parable about everyday life. It’s a parable for the guys who sit around the bar night after night complaining about how professional baseball players make too much money; it’s a parable that seeks to point us back instead towards a reminder of all the gifts that God gives to us. It’s a parable that reminds us how God’s grace is so great that we don’t know how to respond to it, so we seek to place conditions upon it.
Last weekend, I was in Hawley, Minnesota attending a theological conference put on by a friend of mine named Tom Olson. Tom used to be a missionary in Africa, Tom spent many a day over there drinking and self-loathing. Tom’s mom would worry about him every night turning into nothing more than a lonely, alcoholic pastor. Tom over there meets a woman named Eunice, they get married, yet Tom develops an annoying habit within the marriage. Tom would put himself down at every opportunity till finally his wife snaps as she says “Why won’t you just let me love you without conditions.”
This story and this parable is a reminder of the nature of God’s love for us.
The Parable of the Vineyard is parable about the Kingdom of Heaven it’s a parable that reminds us that on the first day in Heaven there will be all kinds of people there. There will be the seemingly religious success stories: the ministers, the choir boys, the little old ladies who attended every Bible-study for seventy-five years along with those whose presence might shock us, even dare offend us. You might see your neighbor there who ranted whenever you brought up the church, you might see the kids who drove by your house always blaring obnoxious music, and you might even see the worst person in the world.
I remember one time in Seminary talking to John Rasmussen who is a preaching professor at the ILT when we were reflecting upon the age-old question of “If Baptism is so great what about those really despicable people who were baptized?” To which John simply said “I guess if you see them in heaven, then get upset, then YOU could always leave.” This is the Parable of the Vineyard. Amen
 Capon tells this story on pages 391-397 of Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. Print. Additional creative license is taken with Capon’s original version.
 Luke 19:1-10
 Zimmerman, Aaron. “Winners, Losers, Zuccotti Park, and Jesus of Nazareth”. Mockingbird Ministries. Mbird.com Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 9. Dec.2011. Web. Sept.16.2014.
 Matthew 19:16-22
 Matthew 23:12, Luke 14:11
First Lesson: Exodus 12: 1-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 149
Second Lesson: Romans 13: 8-14
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 18: 15-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As long as there has been a Christian church there have been disagreements amongst its members. Let me begin this morning by citing a few examples from the New Testament.
In the book of Philippians, Paul had to address two women named “Euodia” and “Syntache” because their disagreement was negatively affecting the church in Phillipi.
1st Corinthians was written to a church with divided loyalties with recent converts claiming to be followers of the charismatic, new leader Apollos where the old guard members considered themselves to be followers of the Apostle Paul.
Perhaps the most famous church conflict to take place within the New Testament occurs in the Galatians when the early church’s two most prominent leaders go at it. The Apostle Paul is forced to rebuke the head of Jesus’ disciples Peter because Peter refused to associate with non- Jewish Christians because they did not adopt the Jewish ritual of circumcision.
Even outside the New Testament, conflict has been common place within the history of the church. At one of the most famous meetings in the history of the church in the Council of Nicea (from where we get our Nicene Creed), Bishop Nicolas of Myra (or he would later be known as Saint Nicolas or Santa Claus) got so mad at one of his opponents Arius that he slapped him in the face.
Lastly, the Lutheran church was born in conflict as Martin Luther never had any intention to leave the Catholic Church until he was formally excommunicated or kicked out by way of the Papal Bull in 1521.
Now as we consider the meaning of conflict from a Christian perspective, we must always remember that conflict is often a very positive thing. You would never want to tell a church to seek actively to avoid conflict because we would never grow as people. For example, we never would have believed that the Earth revolves around the Sun if Galileo hadn’t created conflict by challenging the status quo.
So our goal as Christian people should never be to avoid “conflict”, but rather “destructive conflict” that eventually destroys human relationships. So with this in mind, I want to speak this morning about why church conflicts get out of control.
The first reason that church conflicts get out of control is faulty spiritual perspective. For example, if two people disagree over what to eat at dinner, it’s pretty likely that they will be able to compromise in a way that both parties leave without too much resentment.
Church conflicts though tend to work themselves out in a different way because people don’t associate what to eat for dinner with anyone’s salvation. So in church conflicts, people tend to dig in their heels because they associate their viewpoint with a higher purpose. Is this a good way to view many of these issues?
Let me bring up an issue that causes more congregational strife than any other in the worship wars of contemporary versus traditional. These arguments often go this way; you get one group saying how young people aren’t in church, and the reason for this is because they prefer the music of the Katy Perry to the music of Vagner.
People claim that if we don’t change to bring these young people into the church then people will end up in Hell. Where the other side says if we abandon such and such traditions that my grandmother loved than people will end up in Hell.
Let me make something very, very clear, write this down, quote me even if this gets me in trouble. “There will not be one more or one less person in the Kingdom of Heaven on the basis of what type of worship style that a church adopts. No one enters the Kingdom of Heaven because they preferred the fresh sounds of guitar chords to boring old organ music.”
People only enter the Kingdom of Heaven because the Holy Spirit creates faith through Word and Sacrament. Since “faith” is not created by marketing, the only non-negotiable goal of a church should be that the Gospel is rightly preached every Sunday.
Every other argument that descends into a debate about someone’s eternal destiny takes place because people not only have a misplaced spiritual perspective, but they also misunderstand the historic teachings of the Lutheran church. While the color that someone paints the kitchen does matter from an aesthetic perspective, it should be a very, very secondary issue to a church’s overall health. Once a church adopts a misplaced spiritual perspective there will be problems.
The second reason that church conflicts get out of control is faulty personal perspectives. One of my favorite one-liners and I’ve used it before is “I am way more worried about the lady writings down the names of everyone going into the bar on Saturday Night then the people inside the bar themselves.”
The reason that church conflicts often get out of control is because people are always very quick to see the speck in their neighbor’s eyes, all the while ignoring the log in their own.
A while back, I was talking to Pastor Warren Baker, who works with congregations in conflict, Warren onetime traveled to a congregation that he felt was in the midst of the one of the worst arguments he had ever seen. As Warren sat down to meet with people one or two families at a time over the course of two days, Warren kept hearing the same things over and again. “The Church Council President was terrible.” ‘The Pastor was terrible.' ‘Their neighbor had done this or that.’ People were raising their voices; people were saying that they were never going to come back to church.
Stories like this highlight why churches often tend to be in conflict. Because when people are expecting the perfect pastor or the perfect leadership or the perfect members, people will inevitability fail other people and conflict will ensue.
The problem with misplaced personal perspective is like the lady writing down the names of everyone going into bar how we love to focus on the speck in our neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in our own.
The simplest way to avoid Church Conflicts getting out of hand is to remember what Martin Luther said in the Small Catechism about the 8th Commandment regarding bearing false witness against our neighbor. That we are at all times called to put the best possible construction or explanation on our neighbor’s actions, no matter how goofy people’s ideas around us might seem at first.”
There is no surer sign of an unhealthy congregation that will always be in conflict when members are always assuming the worst about those around them. When we feel we can be reckless rather than cautious in choosing our words problems will follow.
So with this mind, how should we deal with disagreement within Christian congregations? Our discussion brings us to our Gospel lesson for today from the 18th chapter of Matthew. I’m just going to concentrate on three verses in verses 15-17.
Verse 15, “If your brother has sinned against you, go and tell his fault between you and him alone”. The worst thing you can do in the midst of a conflict is to seek to humiliate someone in public.
For example, I remember being in the 8th Grade and I wrote an English Paper that was in poor taste to try to amuse me and my friends. I’ll freely admit I had done something that I shouldn’t have done.
But I had this English Teacher named Mr.Chrun that wanted to teach me a Lesson. So every day at Chisago Lakes Middle School would begin with a ten minute homeroom period for daily announcements or whatever. In the name of wanting to get his point across Mr.Chrun sends an office runner to bring me up to his classroom during his homeroom.
Mr.Chrun then proceeds to tell me to sit at the back table, Mr. Chrun then proceeds to yell at me at the top of his lungs for what seemed like the whole period. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I’m sure I had tears forming in my eyes. I left that day having been humiliated in front of a bunch of my peers; I probably behaved slightly better after that. Even till this day, even though I know I was in the wrong, even though I know I should be forgiving, it’s tough not to hold resentment on some level.
The reason that Jesus spoke these words today is because when it comes to solving conflict, we are called to go against our very natural instincts. We are called to be patient, when our hearts fill with rage. We are called to be gracious and understanding, when we wish to embrace the harshest of judgments. If we act out whenever the going gets tough, we will inevitability loss every conflict situation that we encounter.
Now let me tell you another story, fast-forward fifteen years later. I remember one day the Chairwoman of the School Board coming up to talk to me about how much her kids liked working with me when I was a substitute teacher. This woman didn’t have the best-behaved kids in the world. Her oldest son had gotten in all sorts of trouble. He was suspended from school for a weapons violation in his car; he had been caught drinking under the bleachers during Homecoming and had to go away to treatment for a month, and he would constantly get in trouble when he was in school. He could tell because of his ways that a lot of teachers were uncomfortable working with him. So the School Board Chair asks me “Why I related to him differently?”
My answer was “Because I’ve been there, because I deserved to have Mr. Chrun yell at me, because I remember making plenty of poor decisions growing up, because I remember how my mind was working when I made these decisions.”
I also am honest enough to admit that I don’t come to one human interaction without my share of personal faults. We all have things we can improve on, and when we come to this realization in dealing with conflict situations one on one. We can comfortably open up about our growing edges, and learning curves while acknowledging how similar we truly are to the one sitting across from us.
Totally different approaches to seeing conflict tend to produce totally different results. For one thing, I’ve always noticed when I hear about church conflicts is the more involved that don’t pertain then the worse they often get. These stories explain why verse 15 “If your brother has sinned against you, go and tell his fault between you and him alone” is so important.
Let’s look at the 2nd part of this passage. “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
These verses bring up an issue that is never addressed in the church of “Would you ever ask someone to leave a church?”
The concept of church discipline is clearly biblical. The Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians says, “Drive the wicked people from among you”. In 2nd Thessalonians, Paul says to have nothing to do with those who deny the church’s teachings.
There are definitely Churches out there that like to emphasize how if certain obligations are not met they can be thrown out then a Christian can be banned from the assembly. For example, the Amish are famous from the practice of shunning or avoiding members as bad influences which have left the assembly. The reason the Amish formed was because they thought the Mennonite church was too soft in their treatment of former members. The Amish throw out Bible Verses supporting their practice.
The problem with churches who remove members for failing to live up to their standard is they often just embrace their own deadly pride and self-righteousness when they ban people. They fail to listen to what Jesus is getting at elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew regarding how we all miss the mark and not to focus so much on the failings of others.
But I do believe there are times that you would ask someone to leave a church, the reasons have nothing to do with not measuring up to some phony’ religious people’s standard. I believe the only reason; you would ask someone to leave the church, whether it is a pastor or another member, is if they were destructive to the Body of Christ by back-biting and being divisive. If someone was looking down at their fellow believers for not being allegedly perfect Christians, at this point, maybe you do encourage people to try to find the perfect church more to their liking.
As we gather together as Sychar Lutheran Church on this day, we have an opportunity to reflect upon the type of church that we wish to be. We could either strive to be the perfect church made up entirely of young-families, overflowing with good and gracious givers, with the type of members who always attentive, patient, and moral that could only be described by Garrison Keillor as being the type of Lutherans that exist only in Lake Wobegon.
We could instead be a different type of church; we could admit to being the imperfect church. The type of church whose membership consists of failed Christians, frail bodies, and genuine human emotion. We can either be the church for the strong or the weak. We can be a church which proclaims earthly successes or we can be a church who proclaims forgiveness.
Let me close this morning on Church Conflict with some very wise insight from a Friend of Mine- Pastor Donovan Riley:
“Sometimes the church has to suffer for the pastor to learn. Sometimes the pastor has to suffer for the church to learn. When the Holy Spirit is at work suffering sinners, abound. But, that's not the final word. When the Spirit of God is at work, it’s love which has the final word: Christ's love for sinners abounds in the forgiveness of sins which binds us together as His suffering, holy body.” Amen
 Phillipians 4:2-6
 Galatians 2
 Matthew 7:3
 Matthew 18:15
 Matthew 18:15
 Matthew 18:16-17
 1 Corinthians 5:13
 2 Thessalonians 3:6
 These words were given by Pastor Riley in a 2011 Facebook Post
First Lesson: Exodus 3: 1-15
Responsive Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6, 23-26, 45b
Second Lesson: Romans 12: 9-21
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 16: 21-28
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Today, I want to reflect on perhaps the most well-known story of the Old Testament in the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. Moses is the most important character in the whole Old Testament. Four books of the Bible (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are written about the story of Moses’ life from the time of his birth to his death after forty years of leading the Israelites through the wilderness to the brink of the Promised Land.
The story of Moses starts about three generations before during the story of Joseph. Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers. He ends up in prison where he showcases the ability to interpret dreams. Pharaoh brings Joseph before him where he interprets Pharaoh’s dream to mean that Egypt will have harvests of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, so they needed to save grain. Egypt because of Joseph’s talent becomes the richest nation in the world. Joseph becomes second in command to Pharaoh himself. The story ends happily with all of Joseph’s huge family of ten half-brothers, one brother, Dad, and others immigrating to Egypt with Pharaoh’s blessing.
As Genesis ends about 65 years passes between the death of Joseph and the birth of Moses. The Egyptian attitude towards the Jewish people changes greatly in this time. The Egyptians figured that the Israelites were becoming too numerous. The Egyptians began to fear that the Israelites could align with Egypt’s enemies in acts of treason. So Pharaoh decided he needs to get harsh with the Israeli immigrants or else supposedly the Egyptians would suffer terrible consequences.
So this background sets up a lot of Moses’ story. Moses’s birth takes place in Egypt at a time when all Jewish boys under the age of two were supposed to be put to death as a way to reign in the Hebrew population. Moses’ mother desperate to save his life puts him in a basket and lets him float down the Nile River taking hope in nothing but dumb luck and chance. Pharaoh’s daughter discovers Baby Moses, and she would soon adopt him.
Moses grows up in privilege but one day his life changes as he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave. Moses snaps at the sight of an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew slave. In an attempt to cover up his crime, Moses hides the body. Only for Moses’ secret to be known by everyone, Moses was a murderer, and Pharaoh was going to find him to put him to death.
Moses then flees from Egypt and becomes a Shepherd for a period of 40 years. One day, while tending to sheep, Moses saw the oddest thing that he had ever seen for a bush was burning yet it wasn’t being consumed into ashes.
As Moses went to get a closer look, Moses heard for the first time in his life the voice of God commanding him to travel back to Egypt so that he may deliver the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery. Moses was hesitant to go about this task. Moses had a speech impediment and figured he would be laughed out of the room when he approached Pharaoh’s throne. The Lord promises Moses that he would walk alongside him and reunite him with his brother Aaron, a silver-tongued orator who was currently living in Egypt. The Lord also commanded Moses to take his shepherd’s staff with him to Egypt. For it was through this staff that Moses would perform signs and wonders in the presence of others to prove that Moses spoke for the Lord. As Moses returns to Egypt to step into Pharaoh’s presence, Pharaoh’s heart was hard. Pharaoh figured that Moses was nothing more than a magician serving a false God.
So Moses with the Lord’s power brought forth ten plagues to the Land of Egypt: water turned to blood; frogs, gnats, and flies covered the land; all the Egyptian livestock died; boils broke out on every man and beast throughout the land; then comes hail storms, locusts, and perpetual darkness. Pharaoh does not change his position though either through the hardening of his own black heart or God hardening Pharaoh’s heart.
Lastly comes forth the most significant of all the plagues of the tenth and final plague in the Passover and the death of the firstborn. It was during this plague that the Angel of Death was going to visit Egypt and take the life of every first-born son. No, differently than Pharaoh attempts to purge Egypt of all Hebrew children in the days of Moses’ birth. The only way for one’s child to survive was to place Lamb’s blood on their door-post so that the Angel of Death would know to pass-over your house with this most horrible of plagues.
It was only after this horrific night that Pharaoh recants his position of never releasing the Israeli slaves, only for Pharaoh to quickly change his mind as he considers how much valuable labor he would be losing. So Pharaoh decides to send his troops out towards the Red Sea to prevent the Israelites from leaving Egypt. Finally, as the Israelites come to the banks of the Red Sea, they appear to be trapped. Only for Moses to pound his staff into the ground so that he may perform his greatest miracle of parting the Red Sea into two so that the Israelites could cross to safety. The Red Sea collapses upon the attacking Egyptian army as soon as the Israelites reached the shore. The Israelites crossing the Red Sea is just a partial history of Moses’ life as we aren’t going to touch on him receiving the Ten Commandments or the forty years spent journeying throughout the wilderness.
But this morning I want to look at the story of Moses from a different angle. I want to explore the question of “Why so much blood had to be shed so that the people of Israel may be let go from Egyptian slavery?”
Let’s consider the bloodshed again in the story of Moses. Pharaoh seeks to kill all Hebrew children born in Egypt. Moses kills an Egyptian. All of Egypt’s livestock is wiped out. The Angel of Death kills all first-born Egyptian sons including Pharaoh’s own. Lastly, Pharaoh’s Army drowns in the Red Sea. All this bloodshed takes place so that the people of Israel may return home, after being forced to move to Egypt because of a famine in the first-place.
What confuses is with all this bloodshed is God’s role in it all? One of the more famous phrases from within the encounter between Moses and Pharaoh is “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” this phrase is present on four separate occasions. These passages have long been one of the scripture’s most fiercely discussed and debated.
Perhaps the greatest debate in all of religion is between free-will and determinism when it comes to human suffering. We could also ask this question as are we responsible for the bad choices that bring about bad things to our life or is God ultimately to blame? We don’t know what to make of these passages with God hardening Pharaoh because they imply that God is the author and the cause of all the evil, death, and destruction that took place within the story of Moses.
I think though to answer the question of God's role in regard to the suffering not only within the story of Moses, but all of human history, we need to go back to the beginning itself with the story of Adam and Eve. What we must remember is before Adam and Eve fell into sin there was no death or destruction, so ultimately human sin is to blame.
As pointed out by Pastor Larry Peters, an important thing to understand about the role of Pharaoh within the story of Moses is that Pharaoh’s heart is only hardened after not only years of abuse being heaped by Pharaoh amongst God’s people. This says nothing of Pharaoh rejecting God’s messengers who sought to correct his wayward course.
For skeptics encountering scripture passages where God actively sees to it that someone acts in such a way that they bring death and destruction to thousands of people naturally assign God being the one to blame.
The reality is that Pharaoh was not some decent, kind-hearted individual who God corrupted to not let his people go. God didn’t turn Pharaoh’s heart black; Pharaoh’s heart was already black rather God merely worked through Pharaoh’s black heart for God’s outcomes.
There are a couple different ways that we can interpret the story of Moses. We can either interpret the story through the means of it or the end of it. The means of the story are all sorts of horrific things taking place within the land of Egypt through God’s intervention and non-intervention. The end of the story has God fulfilling his promise to the people of Israel that he will not abandon, nor will he ever let them go.
As Peters expresses, part of the problem in how we interpret this story has to do with our understanding of God’s role within our lives. Many of us assign all credit for the good things in our life to our talents, and work-ethic, whereas the bad things are assigned to God, who hoists them upon us. Another way to look at this is all good things are seemingly under our control, whereas all bad things are God’s faults. When in reality, how we should be interpreting good and evil is with the remembrance that God works through both good and evil for his ultimate ends.
A while back, there was a Lutheran Pastor who served in the Minnesota legislature who one day was conducting a radio interview, when the Interviewer brought up a recent incident within his home area where a couple children perish within an automobile accident. The Interviewer asked the Pastor what he would say to the children’s parents about their loss?
The Pastor replied “God grieves alongside them in the midst of their pain.” The Pastor would wish to assure that God is there to comfort them and provide care for them in the midst of their suffering. Yet this is precisely the wrong answer to give to such a question of what to say.
For whenever people ask about God’s role in a particularly tragic situation? The only answer that we can give is look towards the cross. I would much rather follow a God who is responsible for death and destruction that can do something about it rather than follow a God who be nice, but is impotent and powerless.
I would rather follow a God, who can intervene in both life and death. As the Apostle Paul makes clear in 1st Corinthians 15 “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is worthless.”
A good friend of mine Warren Baker explained this verse best when he said, “If Christ has not been raised, you should take your Bible and throw it in the fireplace”.
We can look over the story of Moses and Pharaoh see all sorts of death and mayhem then inevitability try to make sense of God’s role in it all. We will ultimately fall short in our search for answers. What we must remember is that God’s role in the story is not about bringing forth death and destruction rather God’s role is about rescuing us from death and destruction. God’s role in the story of Moses points towards God redeeming life, not taking it away, for just as God freed the people of Israel from Egyptian slavery, God would soon free all of his people from our own bondage to sin. As we hear this bloody story of Moses, and Pharaoh what we remember that our God’s ultimate purposes are not death and destruction, but rather our forgiveness and salvation. Amen
 Exodus 1:10
 Exodus 1:22
 Exodus 2:3
 Exodus 2:10
 Exodus 2:11-15
 Exodus 3:2
 Exodus 3:7-10
 Exodus 3:11
 Exodus 4:10
 Exodus 4:14
 Exodus 4:4
 Exodus 4:5, 4:21
 Exodus 7:11
 Exodus 7:14-25
 Exodus 8:1-15
 Exodus 8:16-19
 Exodus 8:20-32
 Exodus 9:1-7
 Exodus 9:8-12
 Exodus 9:13-32
 Exodus 10:1-20
 Exodus 10:21-29
 Exodus 10:27
 Exodus 11
 Exodus 12:1-28
 Exodus 12:29-30
 Exodus 12:31-32
 Exodus 14:5
 Exodus 14:6-9
 Exodus 14:10-12
 Exodus 14:21-22
 Exodus 14:26-29
 Exodus 20
 Exodus 9:12, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10
 Peters, Pastor Larry. “Does God harden the hearts of people?”. Pastoral Meanderings: The Random Thoughts of a Lutheran Parish Pastor. blogger.com. 17.Oct.2013. Web. Aug.26.2014.
 Peters, Pastor Larry. “Does God harden the hearts of people?”.
 1st Corinthians 15:14
First Lesson: Exodus 1:8 - 2:10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 124
Second Lesson: Romans 12: 1-8
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 16: 13-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
In recent years, a popular trend of American society has been to make the Devil into a cartoonish/mythological figure no different than the Easter Bunny. As we turn on the news this week, the big stories came from Ferguson, Missouri. Ferguson reveals the worst of human nature as anger, violence, retribution, and demagoguery are all on display. The news in Ferguson harkens back to the story of Cain and Abel. Cain looked at his brother Abel and got mad. The reason that Cain got so mad is because he felt that all the problems in his life were of Abel’s doing. Cain would rather take his brother Abel’s life than be willing to admit that he was part of the problem.
Father Dwight Longnecker over at Patheos described the culture of scapegoating in this country quite well when he said “Who is to blame? The rich people say the indigent (lazy) poor are to blame. The poor say the greedy rich are to blame. The blacks say the (racist) whites are to blame. The whites say the (criminal) blacks are to blame. The Jews blame the Palestinians. The Palestinians blame the Jews. The Protestants blame the Catholics. The Catholics blame the Protestants. The young blame the old. The old blame the young. The men blame the women. The women blame the men.”
As we come unto an election cycle, the Republicans say the Democrats are to blame, and the Democrats say the Republicans are to blame. All this mindset does is keep spinning our wheels as the world gets more and more of its axis.
Probably each and every one of us in this life know people that if they weren’t complaining about other people than they wouldn’t have anything to say. Once a scapegoat emerges all rational, nuance, or potentially compassionate analysis of the situation goes out the window.
The issue in Ferguson isn’t whether there are cops out there influenced by racism (I’m sure plenty are) nor is the issue whether Cops or any other human being always displays the best judgment (they definitely don’t like any other human being). The issue in Ferguson goes even beyond whose version of the events is right or wrong. The real issue in Ferguson has to do with how we respond to those wrong us. The real issue in Ferguson has to do with who is responsible for all of society’s ills. The issue in Ferguson has to do with charting a course forward from a tragic loss of human life.
The Ferguson Riots bring us to today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew the 16th chapter. It’s a relatively famous Gospel lesson as Peter receives from Jesus the gift of the keys to the kingdom. Catholics have long used this passage as a justification for their adherence to the Pope. Something else is going on here that is way more important than the role of the Pope within the world. Jesus gives Peter a certain authority. Jesus states to Peter,“ I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
These two keys that Peter receives speak to the entire message of the Christian church as it gathers on Sunday morning. Peter is given the power to use these two keys by either binding sins by declaring that one’s sins shall have consequences for one’s life. Peter is also given the ability to loosen sins or declare that we have been set free from sin’s consequences by the power of our Gospel.
Jesus is giving Peter an awesome responsibility within our text in that Peter can either withhold this forgiveness, or Peter can forgive the sins of the world around him. Christ in this text is giving the same responsibility to us.
We wonder how should these two keys work together in our lives?? For many people out there like those protesting in Ferguson, can only see the world working in terms of the first key of the Law. The Ferguson response makes sense since the first key of the Law is the common everyday human experience. As you talk to people about their everyday existence, you constantly encounter troubled burdens beaten down by their day to day interactions. For the truth about our lives is we cannot escape the Law in our life. Divorce is Law. Broken relationships are Law. Guilt is Law. Death is Law. The first key which Christ gives Peter of the Law is the only key that many of us know. So, we naturally assume it’s the solution to all of life’s problems. We experience judgment, so we need to rationalize judgment; we need to cast judgment upon those who sin differently than ourselves since its often the only way we know how to solve problems.
A number of years ago, GK Chesterton who was a famous Catholic philosopher was asked to write for The Times of London regarding “What is wrong with the world?” Here was Chesterton’s letter in its entirety. “Dear Sir: Regarding your article 'What's Wrong with the World?' I am. Yours truly, G.K. Chesterton.”
G.K. Chesterton in this letter dared to do something that very few people today would have the guts to do in that he took the blame. The very first step to going forward as a world is finally admitting that our sin is just as responsible for its downfall as anybody else.
Perhaps the most beautiful story of confession within the Christian gospels occurs in Luke the 18th Chapter the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. One man, a Pharisee, admitted that he had sinned, but wanted to qualify the situation. The Pharisee’s sins weren’t that bad; they weren’t as bad as the sins of the Tax Collector. Contrast this to the Tax Collector who couldn’t even lift his head as he prayed out “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me a sinner.” What made the Tax Collector’s words, so poignant is that he didn’t shift the blame, but rather he took the blame. The Tax Collector admitted that the world was a big, colossal mess for which he was responsible. The only way out would be forgiveness and understanding.
How should the world respond to the situation in Ferguson? I think back on this day to the story of Nelson Mandela. Mandela grew up under a system of governance where the black majority, was brutally suppressed by the white minority. Mandela’s protest of the situation led to him spending twenty-seven years in jail. During Mandela’s years away in prison the situation worsened, even his wife Winnie was taken away from the children for eighteen months. I know how many people would have spent the nights that Nelson Mandela spent in a prison cell, they would have spent these nights plotting out revenge, and they would have spent these nights praying for the destruction of their enemy.
As Nelson Mandela is set free from prison in 1990, his response was different, in that Mandela wanted to forgive those who wronged him. Mandela realized that the anger never helps to soothe the pain of a particular situation of injustice.
At the moment of his release for prison Mandela said the following “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison."
In 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa. In 1995, South Africa played in the Rugby World Cup. The rugby team had been hated during the years of oppression as they were seen as a symbol of white authority. Mandela dared to become the rugby’s team most vocal supporter to the shock of many people within his homeland. What guided Mandela’s beliefs is that he believed in a Messiah, who chose not race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language, who chose not one tribe, rather he believed that his Messiah chose all of an imperfect humanity.
If Nelson Mandela walked to Ferguson today, I believe his response to injustice would have been very different from what we have witnessed. If Jesus were to walk into Ferguson, he would not be shouting with anger. Jesus would rather be praying for those who persecute, Jesus would be extending compassion to those like Officer Darren Wilson, who may feel like the whole world is out to get him, and Jesus would be grieving with the family of Michael Brown. Jesus would encourage us to pray that whatever prejudices exist in the human condition that we may acknowledge them so that we may begin to let them go.
I want to give you two promises this morning. The first promise is that people will wrong. This world will spit you out and swallow you whole. Your spouse will disappoint you; your children will disappoint you; your friends will disappoint you, and the general state of the world will disappoint you. The world will probably make you mad.
We can do one of two things with this information. We can either choose to retain people’s sins against them. We can seek to hold onto hurt so that it defines and ultimately wrecks our lives. We can find plenty of people who will behave this exact way.
Win Jordan, who is a writer, recalls leading a Bible study one day when someone asked the following question “How was Jesus such a loving figure, yet so many people wanted to kill him?” Jordan answered that people hated Jesus’ message of forgiveness because it is an offense to our warped sense of right and wrong; we have a hard time embracing forgiveness since we can’t stand anything that goes against the idea of that which should happen, not happening.
For we can be different, we can speak words that make us uncomfortable. We can look towards, our own day of healing and restoration made known on a cross. The hardest thing to know in life is what to say in those moments when life grows increasingly complex, when we have to tread carefully on our every word as walk a fine line between when to bring the hammer down, when to overlook, enable, forgive, and love. For often in life, we are going to be called to do things that are going to eat us up inside especially as those go against our very nature. As Jesus gave Peter the key to forgiving people’s sins, he was giving him the ability to change one’s entire human experience with just four magic words “Your sins are forgiven.”
The second promise given to us on this morning is the promise that is given to Peter on this day. “I will build my church, and the gates of hades will not prevail against it.”
We are told on this day that the powers of death and damnation are not as strong as the powers of God nor will those evil powers win the battle. The powers of death and evil are all around us whenever we turn on the nightly news, but these evil powers are not stronger than the church and its power of God, who guides it. The promise we are given is that evil will lose out!!!!
The promise that Christ gives Peter and gives to us on this day is one of freedom. Jesus is promising unto Peter a gift of life. Jesus is promising to Peter that the old self shall one day be put to death, only to rise again anew three days later. We leave this place with the hope that the sins of the whole world don’t rest in our hands; they rest in the hands of our Lord and Savior. Amen
 Longnecker, Father Dwight. “Our Ferguson Problem”. Patheos. 19.Aug.2014. Web. 19.Aug.2014
 Matthew 16:19
 Story recalled by Longnecker, Dwight. “Our Ferguson Problem”.
 Luke 18:9-14
 Jordan, Win. “The Idiot Forgiveness of Nelson Mandela”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 6.Dec.2013. Web. Aug.19.2014
 Trimmer, Micheal. “Nelson Mandela and His Faith”. Christianity Today. 10.Dec.2013. Web. Aug.19.2014
 Jordan, Win. “The Idiot Forgivenes of Nelson Mandela.”
 This is based on a Mandela quote as laid out by Trimmer, Micheal in “Nelson Mandela and His Faith”
 Jordan, Win. “The Idiot Forgivenes of Nelson Mandela.”
 Matthew 16:18
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As this country’s news, this week, focuses on the sudden and tragic death of Robin Williams, let me begin with a story.
A man goes to see a doctor. Doctor asks the man “what seems to be the trouble." The man says “Doc, I’m depressed. Simply, I can’t sleep sometimes, I can’t eat, and I feel down and irritable most days. I just can’t feel happy.”
The Doctor figuring it was a simple case of a man being down in the dumps offers a solution saying “Sir, I’ve got the perfect fix for you. In town, tonight is the great clown Pagliacci. He’s considered to be the funniest man in all the land; he will make you laugh until you cry. During his show, you will experience a joy unprecedented.”
Upon hearing this advice, the man broke down beginning to sob hysterically. The Doctor is thoroughly confused by the man’s reaction at this point, so he asks “Why the tears?” At which point the man belts out “Doctor, I am Pagliacci."
What this story along with Williams’ death reminds us is how we can’t judge what’s going on in a person’s life merely on the basis of external appearances. We remember how a man who had brought so many people happiness and laughter throughout the years went through life unable to escape from the darkest of places.
The reality of not only Williams’ death but also our neighbors well-being brings us to our Gospel lesson for today from Matthew the 15th chapter. To understand our story you need to know that it takes place in Tyre and Sidon which were outside the land of Palestine where Jesus spent most of his life. Within Tyre and Sidon, Jesus would have encountered a very different type of religious people from everyone else he would have encountered previously within his ministry.
Let me tell another story, when I was in Seminary I attended quite a few Minnesota Twins games. I was in school during the Twins run of back to back to back division titles. The Twins closest competitors during these years were the Chicago White Sox. The contrast was stark between the big market; power-hitting White Sox versus the small-market, small-ball Twins. I went to a few games between the White Sox and the Twins in Minneapolis during this time. There was the occasional White Sox fan at the games during these times. White Sox fans were wildly outnumbered by Minnesota college kids who had bought $3 tickets. If any White Sox fans got too-bold, there would be trouble.
I liked nothing better than cheering loudly for the White Sox to get beat with tens of thousands of other Twins fans to back me up. Well, a few years after this, I went to a game at US Cellar Field on the South Side of Chicago right in White Sox territory. 2005 was the year the White Sox had the best record in Baseball and would eventually win the World Series. It’s safe to say that I was a lot less bold in my cheering surrounded by inebriated White Sox fans than I was in home territory.
Our lesson for today takes place in the heart of Gentile territory, amongst the Canaanite people. The Canaanite people engaged in every sort of religious practice that good first century Jews like the disciples would have found offensive they engaged in interfaith marriages, and they sacrificed children. These bad feelings between Jews and Canaanites over their religion had stretched back nearly two-thousand years since the days of Abraham. The idea of a Canaanite going to Jesus for religious wisdom seems about as probable as me wearing a White Sox jersey to Target Field.
There was this woman, and this woman was a piece of work.
One of Robin Williams’ most-famous movies roles was the film Mrs. Doubtfire. In this film, Williams plays an unemployed actor, who is loved by his kids, but considered immature by his wife. The wife played by Sally Field eventually divorces Williams’ character, ending up with sole custody of the kids due to Williams’ irresponsibility. Many people would have heard this news and given up. Williams’ character though was going not to stop until he could spend time with his children. Upon Williams finding out that his ex-wife wanted to hire a housekeeper to help watch the children, Williams decides to fake a resume so that he may pose as an elderly Scottish Nanny named Mrs. Doubtfire as a way to spend time with his kids. What gave this rather silly film its heart was the lengths that Williams’ character was willing to go on a daily basis through make-up, ill-fitting clothing, and continuous awkward situations for the sake of his children.
Jesus encounters a woman in Tyre and Sidon who was persistent just like Mrs. Doubtfire. This woman was sassy; this woman was bold, and this woman dared to approach Jesus to ask him to heal her daughter of demon-possession. The Disciples were probably uncomfortable with this scene as it would have been considered scandalous for a religious teacher to be interacting in such a matter with a foreign woman who wasn’t his wife. Jesus seems to at first shrug off this woman’s request, proclaiming that he could only deal with the sheep of his house the House of Israel. Merely saying no isn’t going to deter Mrs. Doubtfire.
This woman who is the star of our gospel lesson reminds me of the lady at Walmart who even though she might not have had a good case for a refund. She is going to be so annoying that the Clerk eventually just throws their hands up in the air, and opens the cash register.
This Lady was not going to stop pestering Jesus until he dealt with her demon-possessed daughter. This woman was not trying to stop Jesus’ mission to the people of Israel; she was merely asking that he bring his ministry beyond the people of his homeland. What this lady wanted on this day was merely scraps from the Master’s table.
What does this story say to us on this day? I think it reminds us of something important about Jesus’ ministry how he is always finding faith outside the traditional religious establishment of his day. What this story reminds us is that the Kingdom of God is about breaking down boundaries every single day that many people thought to be previously unimaginable.
We face some stiff challenges in the days ahead as a congregation. We’re getting older every day; our numbers have been declining for years and years. We pray that something will turn it all around. We assume that we are not up to the task. Some of us have given up hope. We figure we’re not preachers, we assume that we have no way to reach other people.
Let me tell you a story, there once was a teenager girl named Kate. Kate was the first of her friends to get a driver’s license. One of Kate’s friend’s parents decided that they would let Kate drive their new Ford Explorer so that their daughter and her friends could have a good time. So a group of teenage girls goes out having a good time and being silly in the car blasting music when Kate loses control of the car crashes into a telephone pole. The car is unsalvageable. Kate believes her life to be over. Kate had to first call Mrs. Anderson her friends’ mom to explain everything she had done wrong. Eventually, police arrive onto the scene of the accident. Main officer asked questions to Kate; she confessed the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As every discriminating word came out of Kate’s mouth, she grew more and more convinced that she would wind up in jail. Kate sits in the back of a cop car for 45 minutes, when one of the girl’s parents came up wanting to say something to her. Kate didn’t know Jessica’s dad all that well as he approached her. The only thought that could go through Kate’s head at this time was that now she was going to get everything she deserved. As soon as Kate rolled down the window, the first words out of Jessica’s dad’s mouth were “You know one time; I totaled a Porsche when I was test-driving it.” Kate broke down in tears at this very moment. As Jessica’s dad proclaimed “We’re all just so thankful that no one is hurt. Don’t worry; this happens to all of us.”
As Jessica’s dad spoke forgiveness, this was the first time since the accident that Kate didn’t hate herself. A figure that Kate dreaded as a condemning judge chose to pour out grace and empathy instead.
How do we face the challenges before us a church? We’re going to do what Jessica’s dad did. We’re going to proclaim grace when people become convinced that no one else in the church will proclaim to grace to them. We’re going to speak forgiveness, when people don’t believe they can receive forgiveness. We are going to embrace people when not one other person in the world will embrace them. These things do not promise us success, for Jesus wasn’t successful in earthly terms, the disciples weren’t successful in earthly terms, yet they realized that their proclamation was more important than mere success in earthly terms.
It was not easy for the Disciples today to accept that Jesus dared to reach out to such a strange woman in such a strange land. We are often called to reach out to people whose behavior extends beyond what we might dare to consider acceptable.
Loving someone who has hurt you or even could potentially hurt you is tremendously difficult, yet the most-meaningful love that we encounter in this life doesn’t come without struggle or hurt. The most-meaningful love of all was poured out upon the cross.
So who are we trying to reach this morning? We’re going to try to reach Kate the reckless driver. We’re going to try to reach Terry and Kim the upstanding church couple who accidentally had a kid out of wedlock. We’re going to try to reach Steve, the guy who just got busted with a DUI and now needs rides to work every day. The type of woman that Jesus encounters in our Gospel is the type of person that we need to be encountering, the type of person who pours out all her hurts and needs upon Jesus’ feet.
We will reach people by reminding them that no one person in this room has life all figured out. We will remind them that no matter what brought them to this place, we have a God whose grace is bigger than our weakness. We will remind them that everything that people think they know about religion might very well be wrong. These truths are what Jesus taught the Disciples on this day.
We encounter today the very types of people that would have been in Jesus’ mission field. We’re going to let people know that in the midst of deserving judgment that we still love you and Jesus does too. For ultimately there are more than enough table scraps of God’s grace to go around. Amen
 This joke is based on the 1892 Italian Opera Pagliacci. This story/joke was told in the 2009 film Watchmen.
 Matthew 15:22
 Matthew 15:23
 Matthew 15:24
 Matthew 15:27
 Norris, Kate. “Judgment Kills, Love Gives Life”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 26.Oct.2010. Web. Aug.12.2014. This story is from a collection of stories called Judgment and Love put out by Mockingbird Ministries in 2010.
 These were inspired by a article by Corrie Mitchell at On Faith entitled “5 Churchy Phrases Millennials Want To Hear” published on August 14, 2014
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.