(Just wanted to share my thoughts for today.)
Sermon 10/08/17. Savage Matthew 21.33-46
In a follow-up from last week’s lesson, Jesus is continuing his discussion with the Pharisees. The subject, as it always is with the Pharisees, is that of an overwhelming sense of righteousness. “We are good people and God will surely bless us more than those “others” who cluster around Jesus and make it difficult for us to get near". Because Luther’s main theology centered around the great need people have to “feel good” about themselves I thought it might be worth a look at some Lutheran teachings today because Luther taught “we are never good enough”.
First, to look over the reading for today — Jesus is warning the Pharisees their lack of acceptance of God’s Messiah (that is the landlord’s son) will result in their downfall. In the parable for today the tenants were afraid of the landowner, but also they seemed to believe he was an absentee landlord, one who really didn’t care. He was far away so he sent others to do his work for him, first sending slaves and then later his son, so the tenants came to believe they were in charge of the situation. The Pharisees had lived under this idea for generations and now, they (Pharisees, tenants) were threatened by Jesus’ ability to look into their hearts, they afraid of the power of God, and they were afraid of the crowds of people who followed Jesus and listened to and believed his teaching. As we enter the month of October and the recognition of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and the work of Martin Luther, the basic doctrines of our Lutheran teaching take on renewed importance. I like the premise that the church is always in a state of reformation. Reformation, that is renewal, never ends. Nothing ever remains the same. Our personal lives are not static. We are always being called to look at our world and see how can we best proclaim the gospel today. Not that our doctrine is holier than the doctrines of other denominations, but the men and women who have studied the scripture from a Lutheran perspective give us something important to review, to renew and to use.
The core or the heart of Lutheran identity has always been our relationship with God. We say with clear conviction that we know we are saved by God’s grace and by no action of our own, that justification by faith is a free gift and is apart from any works we do. Our work in the world is underscored by the church’s motto, “God’s work, our hands”. We are knowingly pushed into the world by the power of the word of God and the absolute certainty of God’s love and grace to save us. Pretty awesome thoughts.
Jesus instructs his listeners to pay attention to the teachings of God recognizing that Jesus is the Son sent by God in the fullness of time, when the harvest is ready. That is the command that pushes us into the world, that we are workers in the vineyard and ready to bring in the crops. Luther was once asked why people would do good works if it did not earn them any heavenly “brownie points” . “Because they will want to”, he said. Luther believed that when we recognize the gift we have been given — that we are loved by a God who wants only to be loved by his creation, (Augustine said God thirsts to be thirsted after.) when we are overwhelmed by the sheer force of that love, our one main desire will be to do God’s work around us. Everything we see is seen in the light of God’s love. We see the face of God in the “other” — that is, those outside our boundaries. (ex. India, beggars waiting for the Christians after worship because they knew the God they worshiped wanted them to do good works and might give a little something.)
In the light of God’s love and grace, even the commandments benefit from a more expanded viewpoint. The 5th commandment is You shall not kill. Murder can become those times when we do not help our neighbor to survive in times of need, when we have more than enough, the neighbor has nothing and we do not help.
A renewal of the sacraments are also part of viewing the world in a Lutheran way. How do you recognize a sacrament? It is a gift of God’s grace, commanded by Christ and there are physical elements attached. Today we receive the gift of God’s grace through Holy Communion. This sacrament and our baptism are daily reminders that we are sent into the world to be witnesses of God’s love in all we do and say. Holy communion received on a regular basis is meant to renew us, remind us our sins are forgiven, to lift us up, giving us the strength we need to walk the journey we are given in this life. The daily reminder of our baptism, water, the Word of God and the cross are the marks we bear that make us recognizable as Christians to the world and to each other. When I am blessed to officiate at a baptism I get chills when I say the words, “Sealed by the Holy Spirit, you are marked with the Cross of Christ, forever.” A child of God, forever. As I told my confirmation students, “because of your baptism, you can run from God, but you can’t hide.” Psalm 139 gives us the ultimate question, “Where can I go to flee from your presence?” We belong to God and God belongs to us in a relationship that is for all eternity. It is the physical elements of bread and wine and water that are reminders and also give me the strength I need to love and to serve my neighbor each and every day.
Often one of the criticisms of organized religion is that our denominations want to bind people with rules. People say, “There are too many rules. All those “thou shalt not and the should and could and have tos”. I don’t want any part of that.
Reading the epistle lesson from Philippians (3.4b-14) for today we get Paul’s answer. The Pharisees were tightly bound by the Law. Rules were the way their lives were lived — rules for everything. Paul begins the lesson by talking about his upbringing as a Pharisee. He could see the world of the Pharisees from the inside out. He was the devout Pharisee, believing he was blameless and righteous under the law. In the eyes of his fellow Jews, Paul had it all. He belonged to the upper ranks of Jewish society. He had intelligence and power. He belonged to the right group. He had everything his world said was important. But then, in the next verse he says, Yet, whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
Paul practically lays out the ideas of the Reformation for Luther. These were the words that lifted Luther’s burdens and helped him know his chains were broken, that he was set free. Not having a righteousness of my own, but one that comes through faith in Christ. We do not set ourselves free, it is all based on the righteousness of Christ. These are such important words — I make the resurrection my goal because Christ has made me his own. Everything else is forgotten — all the lies, the burdens, the sins, the sorrows. We are set free in Christ — not only freed from sin, we are set free for life in Christ. The hymn Amazing Grace sometimes includes these words “My chains are gone. I’ve been set free.” Freedom in Christ — Dr. Martin Luther King cried in one of his famous speeches, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, free at last!” And that really is the cry of the Reformation. Nothing can bind me — there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen. Amen. And Amen.