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.
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.