Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from our very present help in trouble. Amen
Today is the Sunday we, as Lutherans,
have set aside to remember our origins
in the protestant reformation,
beginning when the priest and professor Martin Luther
posted some topics he wanted to debate
about certain points of theology and practices of the church.
In drawing up his list
Luther did not foresee or plan
the great upheaval that followed,
he simply wanted to discuss ways
that the church, the primary way that people interacted with God,
could be more faithful,
could do a better job at sharing the grace of God with the people of God.
Now Luther was not the first to make suggestions along these lines
but like a bolt of lightening striking dry grass and setting off a wild fire
his ideas for debate hit at just the right time and place
and set off a fire of their own,
one which shook the foundations of church and society
with great change and the violence that comes with something old resisting something new.
So happy birthday to us?
This heritage of division
is why we commemorate,
rather than celebrate the reformation.
Even as we recognize all the good that came from the time as well.
In the history of the reformation
we are reminded that as Christians
we believe that out of death comes new life,
our faith and salvation are dependent on this belief,
that Christ died and three days later rose from the dead,
we take time to remember our reformation heritage
because the way we encounter God
in worship, song, church structure and history
is based on the new life
that came from the deaths of 500 years ago,
a renewed emphasis on the gift of grace given to us by God through Christ Jesus,
the belief that all people should understand and participate in worship and Bible study,
that Christ comes to us in water, bread and wine offering forgiveness and new life.
With God new life is always springing up all over the place,
or to put it another way,
God is constantly reforming,
working to bring about the kingdom of God
and because this world will not be perfect until the end
reformation is an ongoing process,
yes that means something is always changing,
and with that change comes fear and loss,
resistance and violence
and yes even new life,
and at the center of it all is God,
constantly calling us to ways of faithfulness and sharing the grace of God
with the people of God for our time and place.
While we recognized so called reformers like Luther
the true reformer,
the one at work in all of this and all of us is God,
the one who brings new life out of death.
And in the midst of all this constant reforming
we often wonder where exactly is God and what is God doing?
This is a common response to the workings of God,
we see people all throughout scripture asking these questions
as change swirls around them.
The Psalmists in particular
manage to capture, in the verses of their hymns, t
he truth of upheaval in the world
and the presence of God in the midst of it all.
Somehow they have found a way
to hold two conflicting truths together,
the truth that there is chaos and the truth that God is present.
This is the case for our psalm of the day, Psalm 46,
which describes the rebellion of nature and humanity
at the same time as acclaiming the presence of God,
God who is present in the midst of trouble,
God who is more powerful than the trouble,
God who is a mighty fortress.
“A mighty fortress is our God, a sword and shield victorious;
He breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod and wins salvation glorious.”
Luther penned the words to his famous hymn
as a loose paraphrase of psalm 46,
hopping to apply the message of the psalm
to the situation of his time,
interestingly on one of the earliest copies of the hymn
it is titled “A Hymn of Comfort”
instead of the fight song of the reformation,
which is how we tend to think of this hymn today
it was intended, as was the original psalm,
to comfort and provide hope
during a time of turmoil
when the very foundation of society seemed to be shifting underfoot.
As in the day of Luther
we too are in a time of turmoil,
everyday it seems we hear of another disaster
either natural or political or interpersonal,
and it seems the foundations on which we have long built
are no longer as steady as they once were,
and from across the ages the psalm speaks to our reality,
reflecting the chaos of creation
“though the earth be moved and though the mountains shake in the depth of the sea;”
and people “the nations rage and the kingdoms shake”
and throughout it all a word of hope,
“The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our stronghold”
Whatever changes God is making,
whatever changes we are resisting,
God is present working for good,
offering forgiveness, grace and yes even peace,
calling us to be still
and know who is our true foundation, our fortress.
In reflecting on all of this,
I began to wonder what a paraphrase of psalm 46 for our time might sound like,
And so I will close with my humble offering, thought I didn’t set it to music.
God is our security
A present calm in the midst of chaos
From God we draw our confidence
Even as hurricanes destroy,
Waters rise, and fire consumes the land.
Like the eye of a storm
God’s peace is in the center
the winds swirl around it
But the calm is not shaken
God is present in the center of human winds
Words that stir up storms separating people
One from another, giving into the chaos that divides
But these words are no match for God’s word, Jesus
The word made flesh who makes his home among the people
Though at times it seems hopeless
God will have the last word,
And that word will be peace.
Peace among nations,
peace among peoples,
peace in creation
Be still and know peace,
Experience the security of God
Who is greater than the most powerful person
Who is greatest in all the earth
Though life at times is difficult
God is with us making all things new.
A present calm in the midst of chaos.
This week we welcomed guest preacher Deacon Timothy Siburg to the pulpit, he is director of stewardship for the Nebraska Synod. His sermon can be found here: timothysiburg.com/2017/10/22/give-to-god-what-is-gods-taxes-stewardship-our-relationship-with-god/
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who invites us to the banquet. Amen
So, we’ve got another fun parable this week.
It’s the third and final in this series of parables
that Matthew has Jesus tell
about the kingdom of heaven
and it is all at once outrageous, unbelievable
and at first read presents a depiction of God
that we are unused to and I am at least a little uncomfortable with.
We have a king giving a wedding banquet for his son,
he sends out an invitation early on,
and then when the day arrives
sends his servants out as was the custom
to call the people who had rsvp’d to come to the party.
And these people don’t come.
So the King sends out another round of servants
to tell the guests that the banquet has been prepared,
it’s going to be a good party, everything is ready, come on.
And this time some of the guests intentionally go to their places of business,
while the rest attack the servants.
The makes the king mad,
so he sends his troops to destroy his former guests and their city
and I suppose that makes him feel better
except that he has this lavish banquet all prepared
and no one to eat it,
so he tells his servants
to go out into the streets
and invite anyone they can find,
good or bad he doesn’t care
he just wants the banquet hall filled with guests.
And they do this,
and the king comes in to make sure the hall is filled
and he spots a guy not wearing a wedding robe,
he questions him
and when the man has no answer for why he is not dressed appropriately
has him thrown out into the outer darkness
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And that’s the end of the story
except for the summary line.
For many are called but few are chosen.
What is going on here?
Most scholars agree
that the action in this story
represents the history of God and the people.
The King is God,
the first people invited are the people of Israel,
the first round of servants that go to invite them
are Israel’s prophets, who they ignore.
The second round of servants are Christian missionaries
who are also ignored.
The odd bit about the king destroying the city
represents the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 CE.
And the last part
is the expansion of the mission to gentiles
where everyone is invited to the party
and I think this all makes sense
but then we come to the last scene
with the king and the man without the wedding robe,
which is Matthew’s particular addition to this parable
and is less realistic than most parables,
the man was pulled off the street,
he would not have been expected to have a wedding robe
but Matthew is not thinking realistically,
he’s thinking about the ultimate banquet in the kingdom of heaven.
In the early Church,
the new identity that people assumed
when they converted to Christianity
was often represented by a new set of clothes,
accounts of early baptisms
tell of the newly baptized
being clothed in new robes after they emerged from the font,
and of course this new identity
was accompanied by a new way of life,
one that followed the teachings of Jesus,
shared the good news
and worked to make the kingdom of heaven a reality on earth.
The man at the banquet without a robe
represents those who take the name Christian
but do not accompany that with the corresponding way of life.
Matthew’s ultimate point
is that it is not enough
to merely accept the invitation and show up
something more is called for,
the living of a new way of life covered in the mercy of Christ.
Matthew envisions that at the last judgment
those who just showed up
will be questioned
and when they have no answer
they will be thrown out
because while many are invited
only a few will respond by living out their faith in deeds of love and justice.
Just showing up isn’t good enough.
In Matthew’s understanding,
accepting the invitation to Jesus’ banquet
is a call to action,
there’s more that needs to happen
This reminds me of the distinction
that theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer made
between cheap grace and costly grace.
In his book The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer says this: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
Just showing up isn’t good enough
Thoughts and prayers alone aren’t good enough anymore,
they have to be paired with action, a way of life
so that in the end when we are questioned we will have an answer for God.
And if this is hard to hear,
it means it is exactly the message we need to hear.
If we find ourselves making excuses
for the man without a robe,
perhaps what we are doing
is making excuses for ourselves,
for all the reasons we have for showing up without putting on the robe,
without putting on Christ.
And it is at this point
that we need to remember one more outrageous aspect of this parable,
the sheer number of invitations that are extended to the banquet,
again and again
even after being harshly rebuffed
the king sends out his servants
to bring the guests in,
giving them chance after chance
to accept the invitation,
calling all to fill the banquet hall,
both good and bad are invited and given a seat at the table.
Again and again in life
God extends to us an invitation to come to the banquet
even as God has already claimed us
as God’s own in the waters of baptism.
The baptismal life,
is a daily dying to sin and rising to Christ.
Each new day is another invitation from God,
another chance to put on the wedding robe,
to live into the costly grace of the gift of God, Jesus Christ. Amen
This Sunday we had a guest preacher from the Immanuel Vision Foundation. For more information about their ministry go to: www.immanuel.com/about/immanuel-vision-foundation
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from our God who is revealed in Jesus. Amen
I am one who loves words
I believe in the power of language
but I also realize that there are times
when actions speak louder than words,
despite the ability of words
to convey thoughts and feelings, intentions and regrets
so when I want to know about the character of a person,
I look at how they’ve acted
because actions reveal the un-nuanced truth of our lives,
they show just what we’re willing to do,
our priorities and yes even our weaknesses,
they reveal who we are.
The same goes for God.
Over the years,
God spoke a lot to the people,
God made promises,
entered into covenant agreements
and these were the foundation of the relationship
between the people and God,
but what built the relationship
was how God kept the promises,
giving Abraham and Sarah a son,
preserving the people through famine and sibling rivalry
and leading the people from slavery in Egypt into freedom
and eventually to the promised land.
And of course this relationship was a two way street,
sometimes the people kept up their end of the covenant
and sometimes, a lot of times they broke it
and in response
there were consequences
because that is what God promised would happen,
but there was also always a way forward in the relationship,
when the people repented,
realized the error of their ways,
said they were sorry and promised to do better in the future
God forgave them and the relationship continued.
Given a choice
God will always accept repentance and renewal of relationships
over punishment for a transgression,
and just how willing God is to do this
is born out in our human reaction to God’s willingness to forgive
“that’s not fair” we’ve cried throughout the ages
when God has forgiven the repentant
(and of course it’s always not fair when it is someone else, someone we don’t particularly like that God forgives, we tend not to protest God’s forgiveness of ourselves).
We hear this protest in our first reading from Ezekiel,
God is set on forgiving the people who broke the law
but now have turned away from their wickedness
and the other people cry “that’s not fair”
“What is fair?” God responds
“I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God, Turn, then, and live”
Again and again throughout history
God chooses forgiveness,
God chooses life,
even when it doesn’t seem fair,
this is who God is, in both word and deed.
Is this how you think of God?
So often when we think of God
we get distracted by big words and ideas
that frankly originated with humans,
omnipotent- all powerful,
omnicient- all knowing,
and when we focus so much on these things
that other people have said about God
and we compare it with what is going on in our lives
it all seems so unfair,
we say with Mary at the tomb of her brother Lazarus,
‘Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died”
all the while overlooking the fact
that God is right in front of us,
in the form of God’s ultimate action and revelation, Jesus.
If we really want to know God,
what God wants for and from the world and us,
we look to Jesus.
God’s Word turned into action.
In his letter to the Philippians
Paul writes to build up the community
and encourage them to live out their faith,
as part of his encouragement
he quotes an ancient hymn,
describing the actions of God in Jesus,
actions that speak to the truth of who God is
far better than those big words that get thrown around
or any post that you’re supposed to forward on email or facebook.
The hymn goes:
“Christ Jesus. who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
are marked by solidarity and presence
in and with creation through
becoming one of us,
and humility- living in service to others
even to the point of death on the cross.
Our God is not one who is far removed from us
who dictates that future at whim,
our God is alongside us
suffers with us,
forgives us and finds a way forward
even when the future looks bleak
even as bleak as a cross and a tomb.
This is the God that Paul has shared with the Philippians,
and having reminded them of this
he turns their attention to their own lives,
their own actions which reveal their nature
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” he says
this is not to say that Paul expects the Philippians
to earn salvation through their actions,
rather the grace of God demands a response in kind,
inspired by the awe of being in the presence of God,
“for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
And that is awe inspiring,
God is at work in and through you and me,
what we do reveals who God is to other people,
people for whom it is not too late
because with God it is never too late for repentance,
for actions oriented toward God,
actions that are louder than the words we speak.
16th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who gives us what we need rather than what we deserve. Amen.
It always astounds me
how we as humans can make anything into a complaint,
even the most positive of things.
Take our friend Jonah for instance,
out of his mouth comes a formula of praise
we find in the psalms
he says to God:
“For I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”
All of these things
seem like something we would want in a God
and yet for Jonah,
these are lamentable characteristics.
It is not satisfying to him
that God is gracious and ready to relent from punishing.
Jonah, the reluctant prophet
wanted to see Nineveh,
the original Sin City,
He wanted them held accountable for their wrong doings
to see the fruits of his prophesy,
the destruction of a great city.
To him it’s not fair
that God would just let all that go.
How quickly the man so recently tossed into the sea
and swallowed by a big fish
forgets the grace of God.
Likewise in Matthew
we have some vineyard workers
who are fortunate enough to be hired at the beginning of the day.
For their work they will receive the common daily wage
and they agree to this before they start.
As the day progresses
the vineyard owner hires more and more people
who agree to work for what is right,
there is plenty of work for all to do.
The end of the day comes
and those hired last are paid first.
The workers who started at the very beginning
see them get the common daily wage,
as do the next to last hired
and they start to get excited,
what will they get for doing eight times the work?
When it’s their turn,
they get what they agreed to,
the common daily wage.
But, but, that’s not fair they complain
we worked all day in the heat
and we don’t get more than the guys that only worked an hour?
How quickly workers who might not have had a job
forget they were hired for the day.
In the kingdom of heaven
people get what they need
rather than what they think they deserve
As we listen to these stories
it is easy to see the foolishness of Jonah and the workers
who presume to be entitled
to what are ultimately gifts from God
Jonah is a laughable character,
his preaching achieves what most prophets only dream of,
people paying attention to their message and changing their ways
and the workers,
they shook on a contract,
why would they expect more than what they agreed on with their employer?
That’s just silly
And yet, if I am honest with myself
If I place myself in the shoes of the workers (Jonah is a little more difficult to imagine)
I am actually no different than the workers.
How many times
have I thought that I would receive more than what I agreed to
just because I was fortunate enough to be hired at the beginning of the day
or became jealous
when others seem to accomplish more with less work
or are compensated in a way that doesn’t seem fair.
And that’s the whole point
Grace isn’t fair
We don’t deserve grace
The key to this whole discussion
I think comes out of the mouth of the vineyard owner.
To the grumbling workers he says
“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
In the vineyard of this world
all belongs to God
And God is generous,
gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Everything we have is from God,
given as a generous gift.
and those hired first
again If I am really honest with myself
I am more like the people of Ninevah than Jonah,
in need of repentance and the mercy of God
and I am really more like those hired last,
who are grateful for just an hour’s work
and astounded at the generosity of a whole days pay
than I am like the ones hired first.
Martin Luther, the great reformer
was one who was well aware of his failings and the grace of God
on his death bed it is reported that his last words were
“We are beggars, this is true.”
We are beggars
but we are beggars with a God who is generous beyond reason,
gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love
who gives us everything that we need and more
and calls us to share what we have been given
with those who hunger and thirst for food and water, grace and mercy.
And God’s actions are not fair,
if the vineyard owner were concerned with equal treatment of his employees
the last hired would have been paid less than the first hired.
But God’s concern is justice,
what is right.
God gives us what we need rather than what we deserve
The vineyard owner agrees to pay what is right to those hired later,
for God what is right
what is just
is that all have enough to eat,
a place to live.
And the way God does this
is through God’s people
who are called to work for God’s justice in the world,
to be generous with what they have been first given
to give people what they need rather than what they deserve
We are called by God to start living out the kingdom of heaven now
And that means at all levels of our lives
On an individual level, in our local communities, in our country and in the world
We are called by God
to make sure that people get what they need rather than what they deserve
And if it doesn’t seem fair
The grace of God, the creator of the universe
Who is merciful, slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.