Month: April, 2019

Expectations

Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019 — Deacon Rex Watt

Isaiah 65:17-25 / 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 / Luke 24:1-12

 

 

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Alleluia! Christ is Risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!”  We expected to hear those words this morning, didn’t we?  It is Easter after all.  It is the time of the year that the Church talks a lot about the resurrection of Jesus.  It just goes with the territory so to speak.  But it was not always so.  Just look at our gospel text for today.  On that first Easter morning, the women came to the tomb of Jesus not because they thought He was alive; they came bearing spices needed to prepare His body for proper burial.  If you remember what took place on Good Friday, Jesus hung on the cross from about 9:00 am until 3:00 pm when He cries out with a loud voice and dies.  And after He dies Luke goes on to tell us that a man named Joseph of Arimathea asked Pontius Pilate for the body of Jesus, wrapped it up quickly in a linen shroud and placed it in a tomb nearby because, “It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning.”  God forbid that they should do any work on the Sabbath.  No, the women did not come to the tomb that first Easter morning expecting to find a live Jesus, they came expecting to find a dead Jesus.

They aren’t the only ones who had expectations when it came to Jesus.  Take the two on the road to Emmaus, which is the very next story we find in Luke’s gospel following our reading today.  While they were walking along the road, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.  But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”  After Jesus had asked them what is was that they were discussing along the way, they said they were discussing Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and had him crucified, and how they had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel from its bondage.  They may well have had previous connections to a party called the Zealots, who were all about throwing off the Roman rule in Palestine.  With Jesus of Nazareth’s death, their political dreams were dashed.

And then there was that large crowd of 5,000 who were fed miraculously by Jesus.  After He fed them and left for the other side of the Sea of Galilee, the next day the people got into their boats and followed Him there not because of the sign that He had done, but because they wanted more bread.  They expected Jesus to be their bread basket.

Remember when the people of Capernaum wanted to keep Jesus around as their medical plan after he healed Simon Peter’s mother in law and a bunch of other people in town?

Even His own disciples had expectations of Jesus.  They argued among themselves as to which of them was going to be greatest in the kingdom they thought He was going to establish.  Why even James and John’s mother got into the act by coming to Jesus and asking if her two boys could sit, one at His right hand and one at His left when He came into His kingdom!

People had all kinds of expectations of Jesus.  And on the day that Jesus died, all those expectations died as well.  But all that was about to change.

When the women got to the tomb with the spices they had prepared, they found the stone that covered the opening of the tomb had been rolled away.  They had been wondering all the way from town how they were going to get inside the tomb to finish preparing Jesus’ body according to custom.  They must have been relieved when they arrived and found the tomb open.  But when they went in, they did not find what they expected.  The tomb was empty.  They did not find the body of Jesus.  What they did find were two men, the other gospels call them angels, dressed in dazzling apparel, who said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.  Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified and on the third day rise?”

These words dear saints of Redeemer are among the sweetest words in all of Scripture.  Your Jesus is not in a tomb.  He has risen.  These women who came to the tomb were the first to hear those powerful words that have changed the course of world history, “He is not here, but has risen.”  They couldn’t keep it to themselves so they ran off back to town and told the apostles, and all who were with them, what they had seen and heard.  Unfortunately our text tells us that, “these words seemed to them an idle tale,” which could be rendered in Greek as ‘pure nonsense.’  It was beyond their wildest expectations.  But that’s the way God works.  He doesn’t work according to our expectations; He works beyond our imaginations!

Peter, being Peter, ran to the tomb to see for himself.  Looking in all he saw were the grave cloths, and he went away wondering what this all meant.  Later, Jesus will come to him and restore he who denied his Lord three times, and he will become one of the boldest witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus recorded in the New Testament.

Today, your Jesus works in ways beyond your imagination.  He became flesh to take upon himself all our sins; yours, mine and those of the whole world.  He went to the cross to bear the punishment for those sins, was buried, and as we heard today from the mouth of the angels, raised from the dead.  His resurrection is the beginning of the new creation promised by our Lord, of which we heard in our OT lesson.  Reborn of water and the Holy Spirit you were made partakers of that new creation in your baptisms.  And in a few minutes we will by faith, according to the Word of Christ himself, find His resurrected body – not in a tomb, but right here at this altar in His Holy Supper.  Rejoice dear saints of Redeemer, for He is risen, He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

The Other Side of Judgement

Fifth Sunday in Lent, April 7, 2019 — Deacon Rex Watt

Isaiah 43:16-21 / Philippians 3:4b-14 / Luke 20:9-20

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  +

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Many things in life have two sides: coins; football, baseball and basketball games; and arguments just to name a few.  It has been said that if you visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC and take time to walk around the statue of our 16th President, that you will see his countenance change from one side to the other.  On one side, he looks downcast, as if he is considering the consequences of the war that tore his country apart, costing the lives of over 600,000 people.  From the other side, there seems to be a slight smile on his face, as if he is considering the freedom so many people gained, and that his nation was no longer divided but united and stronger than ever.

The parable of the wicked tenants also has two sides.  It speaks a severe pronouncement of God’s judgement upon the house of Israel, particularly its leaders, for their rebellion and rejection of God’s grace.  However, our Lord also speaks this parable to us today, as members of the new Israel, the holy Christian Church – the “others” referred to in verse 16.  Fortunately for us, it is not a pronouncement of judgement or Law.  This parable lets us view the other side of judgement: God’s grace in Christ.

One the one side, the parable summarizes Israel’s wicked response to God’s patient dealings with them and His judgement upon those who reject His grace.  God had graciously brought His people out of slavery in Egypt, “making a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters” as our OT reading depicted.  He brought them into the Promised Land, which He gave to them, and made them a nation to be reckoned with despite their continued rebellion and apostacy.  Israel would sin, and God would send a judge.  Israel would sin again, and God would send another judge.  Israel sinned again in asking for a king, so that they could be like all the other nations around them; and when the kings led the people astray, God would send prophets.  One after another.

Jesus picks up on this when he tells the parable.  He purposely uses the image of a vineyard because over and over in the Jewish Scriptures, Israel is likened to a vineyard (Isa 5:7).  Jesus tells the people that a man established a vineyard and let it out to tenant farmers.  A tenant farmer was not the owner of the land, he worked the land for the owner, and he could keep a portion of the fruit of the land as his pay; but the crop, the fruits of the land belonged to the owner.  When harvest time came, the owner sent a servant to collect his due.  The tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  So, the owner sent another, and the tenants not only beat this one, they treated him shamefully and sent him away empty handed.  Third time is the charm, right?  The owner sent a third, and this one they wounded and cast him out.

If that were your employee, what would you do?  Every time that you send a representative to collect your rent, your share of the crops, they keep getting treated worse and worse. So, what would you do?  I know!  You’d send your son, wouldn’t you?  Your beloved son.  Your only son.  “What!!” you say?  “Are you nuts?  I’d fire those good for nothing tenants and get me some new ones.”  Alas, dear saints of Redeemer, God’s ways are not your ways.  The owner of the vineyard (the Greek text says ‘Lord’ of the vineyard) sends his son, his beloved son, his only son.

“But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir.  Let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.’”  And they did just that.  They did it in the parable and would do it for real in a few short days.  They killed the son alright, but they got the inheritance thing all wrong.  Jesus concludes the parable by telling the people that the owner (Lord) of the vineyard will come and destroy those wicked tenants, but he’s not going to hire new tenants; he’s going to ‘give’ the vineyard to others.

When the people heard this, they were aghast!  “Surely not!” they said.  “μή γένοιτο”  May it never be!  A phrase used by the Apostle Paul frequently when he is stressing that something is not possible.  “ No way Jesus!  Not possible!”  Then Jesus “Looked directly at them and said, ‘What then is this that is written: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?’  Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”   Jesus is looking directly into the eyes of the people and saying, “Look at me…read my lips!”  He is the rejected son.  He will be killed.  He will be the stone rejected, but become the cornerstone, the foundation stone of a new vineyard – the Church.

The Apostle Paul clearly enumerates that Jesus is the cornerstone of this new household of God in his letter to the Ephesians: “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross….  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph 2:11-21).

You dear saints of Redeemer are part of the new people of God.  Paul says that you who are in Christ, are a new creation (2 Cor 5.17).  He wrote, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.  And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, [even] upon the Israel of God” (Gal 6:15-16).  You, dear saints, are part of the “new thing” that God promised to do as foretold by Isaiah.  You, dear saints, have believed the Gospel; that Jesus became flesh for you to fulfill the commandments of God that you could never fulfill on your own; to suffer God’s wrath on your behalf, and die the death appointed for you on Calvary.  This Jesus, your Jesus, was buried in a borrowed tomb, and the Jewish leaders thought they had won the victory and the inheritance would be theirs.  But God had other plans.  Jesus rose from the dead and became the cornerstone of a new people of God.  In your Baptism you were made part of that new people of God.  You have received that “water of Life” promised by Jesus to the woman at the well.  It is the “water in the wilderness, [the] river in the desert” that gives you drink during your earthly pilgrimage as His chosen people, a people whom He formed for Himself, that you might declare His praise.  He gives all this to you purely out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you.  Purely out of His grace, which is the other side of judgement.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Don’t You Love a Good Ending?

Fourth Sunday in Lent – Deacon Rex Watt

Isaiah 12.1-6 / 2 Corinthians 5.16-21 / Luke 15.1-3, 11-32

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

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our Gospel text for today is the third parable in a series that Jesus tells in response to the criticism he’s been receiving from, of all people, the fine, upstanding, church going crowd – the Pharisees.  He is being accused of fraternizing with “those people.”  You know, the ones not like you.  The tax collectors and sinners.  When they grumbled and said, “This man receives sinners and eats with them”  he told them a parable.

We commonly call this parable “The parable of the Prodigal Son” or the parable of the lost son.  And the younger son does live up to that title, doesn’t he!  His request for his father to divide the inheritance was tantamount to wishing that his father was dead.  Not only that, but his request put the family business at risk because now the father has less working capital with which to run the family business.  What a selfish, greedy child!  Sound like anyone you know?  As we read on in our text we see that this selfish, greedy child frittered away that precious capital on himself with reckless living until it was all gone.  He apparently didn’t spend it on anything of value because when it was all gone and a famine arose in the land, he had nothing to fall back on.  No savings, no jewelry to hawk, not even any friends anymore, for the text says, “…no one gave him anything.”   At least he had enough common sense to get a job!  But the only work he could find was feeding pigs, a humiliating job for a Jew.  No one, not even one of his newfound drinking buddies, bothered to help him out.

Then Jesus tells us that the young man woke up.  He came to his senses.  The light bulb went on.  “If dad would take me back, even as a slave, my life would be better than this,” he reasons.  So, he packs his meager belongings, and on the way home he rehearses his apology.  “Dad, I messed up.  I’m not worthy to be called your son, but if you could find it in your heart, would you give me a job as one of your hired hands?”  While he is rehearsing this speech to his father and approaching his home, Jesus tells us, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion.”  Dad runs out to greet him as though he were the dignitary!  Dad throws a filet mignon on the grill, arranges a welcome-home banquet complete with a DJ, and in front of everyone, puts a ring on the kid’s finger, a pair of Santoni shoes on his feet, and a Giorgio Armani suit on his shoulders.  Whaaat, you say?  “This isn’t fair!” you protest.  But who said God is fair?

The story now turns and introduces probably the most neglected character in the parable, the older son.  The older son comes in from working in the fields, hears all the music and joyful celebration, and asks one of the servants what’s going on?  The servant tells him about his brother’s return and his father’s joy that he has come back home safe and sound.  This older son is not pleased and says to his father, “Why, I’ve slaved for you all these years and never disobeyed you.  I never gave you any grief, yet you never threw me so much as a pizza party!  This self-centered, disrespectful, maverick son of yours returns and you pull out all the stops for him.  Do you really think that I’m going to join in and celebrate his return as if he were some sort of hero?”  This older son, like the Pharisees, thinks that he’s justified in looking down on those “other people”, you know, those who aren’t like him, even if it is his own brother.

I suggest to you that this section may be the main point of this parable.  Recall that Jesus is telling three parables in answer to the Pharisee’s charge, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  All three parables talk about someone, or something, that was lost and gets found.  All three parables talk about the celebration and rejoicing over the sinner who repents.  Yet this parable has one more character.  An older son who thinks he’s one of the 99; an older son, who, like the Pharisees thinks that he’s been the faithful, obedient child and that if anyone should get a party thrown if their favor, it should be he!  Why all this inordinate celebration over “those people?”

Let’s look closely at this older son’s reasoning.  “Look, these many years I have served you…”  Served?  Really?  Then why do you use the word “slaved?”  This older son literally thinks that he is in a “slave/master” relationship with his father.  That what he does for his father is as a slave working for his master.  Ironically, this older son is placing himself in the very relationship that his younger brother sought, because he (the younger boy), having wasted the gifts given to him by his father thought that that was all that he was worthy of.  But what does his father call him?  “Son!”  He was not a slave – but a son.  Any work he does on the property, he does on property that he will inherit.  It’s all his!

“And I have never disobeyed…”  Really?  Like you’re not being disobedient right now as we speak by refusing to join in with the family celebration?  “You never gave me a young goat…to celebrate with my friends.”   This older son would prefer to celebrate, not with family, but with his friends.  Is this an indicator that this older son’s primary affections may not really lie with his father after all, but with his friends?  It gets pretty telling in his next statement, “But when this son of yours…!”   Wow!  He won’t even acknowledge his brother!  John Wesley comments on the significance of the possessive pronouns in this story by writing:  A thousand of these delicate touches in the inspired writings escape an inattentive reader.  The elder son had unkindly and indecently said: This thy son.  The father in his reply mildly reproves him, and tenderly says, This thy brother.  Amazing intimation, that the best of men ought to account the worst sinners their brethren still. (John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, pg. 184)

The father then turns to his older child and says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”  Could there be any more comforting words?

We are not told how this story ends for the older son.  We don’t know whether he accepted his fathers pleading to join the celebration of his little brother’s return, or not.  So, you might ask, “Rex, how come you titled this sermon ‘Don’t You Love a Good Ending?’ when we don’t know how it ends?”  It is because dear Saints of Redeemer, you do know how it ends!  You know that God welcomed you back into His good grace, even when you were alienated and far from Him.  How He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live the life you cannot live and to die the death that you deserved.  How Jesus took all your sins upon Himself in His baptism and nailed them to the cross in His crucifixion.  How He was raised from the dead for your justification and ascended into the heavens to sit down at the right hand of God.  When you became His child in your baptisms, your heavenly Father brought you into His family, called you Son/Daughter, declared that all that He has is yours, and that He would never, ever leave you.  Since God has done all this for us, how dare we ever begrudge it when God’s grace is extended to others, no matter how unworthy they appear to us.  After all, we are all beggars.

“’Come unto Me, ye wand’rers, And I will give you light.’  O loving voice of Jesus, Which comes to cheer the night!  Our hearts were filled with sadness, And we had lost our way; But Thou has brought us gladness, And songs at break of day,”  (LSB 684:2)

“O Christ, our true and only light, Enlighten those who sit in night; Let those afar now hear Your voice, And in Your fold with us rejoice.”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.