Archive for October, 2014

Come Into The Fortress (and Stay There)!

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Twentieth Sunday in Pentecost A, October 26, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message.

Matthew 22:34-46

In 1505, a young but brilliant German law student named Martin Luther found himself caught in an open field, on foot during a violent thunder  storm.  As lightening struck the ground all around him, Luther in fear for his life threw himself on the ground, and with his face in the mud, he  begged God to have mercy on him and spare his life.  He entered into “negotiations” with God by stating that while he knew he was a sinner, if  God would spare his life, he would then dedicate his life to Him and become a monk.

Luther did survive, and true to his word he became an Augustinian monk.  During his time in a monastery, Luther tried to work out his salvation  and become closer to God through study of the Psalms, prayer, fasting, meditation and hard work.  But no matter how hard he tried, he could  not seem to find peace for his troubled soul.  Nothing seemed to shake his feeling that he was a helpless sinner caught in the grasp of an angry  and vengeful God.

In 1507, Luther was ordained to the priesthood and licensed to preach and study Theology at the University of Wittenberg.  Luther’s superiors  soon discovered that God had gifted him with a brilliant mind, but yet he seemed to be held back by his now obvious feelings of guilt.  The  solution?  Luther must make the pilgrimage to Rome, where church tradition taught that the journey itself would earn merit with God and bring  the pilgrim closer to salvation.  Luther was also told that he could purchase certificates of forgiveness called indulgences, which were published by the Pope himself.  These indulgences guaranteed the purchaser of even more favor and love from God.  Well, Luther, ever the obedient monk did as he was told, but he found no peace in the pilgrimage or the possession of indulgences.

All of us, like Martin Luther hunger to be closer to God; we desire to do the things that please Him, but no matter how hard we try to do those good thing, sin, our sin is always there pulling us away from God.  This is the hard lesson Luther learned.  It was not until God, through His Word provided Luther with a faith to trust in Christ alone that Luther was finally freed from his guilt and his bondage to sin.  What does scripture say about faith?  Faith comes from hearing the Word of God, which is the Word of Jesus Christ. [Romans 10:17] Martin Luther discovered this one evening while studying God’s Word in the privacy of his own room.  Through his devotional reading of the Book of Romans, Luther received peace with God through God’s gift of faith.  Listen to the words that jumped out at Luther, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” [Rom. 3:21-24]

By those Words, Luther discovered that God is not angrily staying far away from us and we do not have to try hard to reach Him or please Him.  In fact, the opposite is true.  You and I though born sinful and distant from God are not lost at all, for God Himself through Jesus Christ, has come to us so that we who were once lost are now found and released from the bondage of sin.  Through Christ’s work alone upon the cross, and through the gift of new life given to you within the holy waters of your baptism, you are now right with God!  Now while this is certainly Good News, it is not new news, but rather it is the consistent and old gospel message of grace, which has been handed down from the very beginning; it had simply been overlaid and hidden by the traditions of men.

Luther discovered that God’s grace is like a fortress, a Mighty Fortress, the likes of which the devil Himself can not breech, nor overcome.  Lets look at our Gospel lesson (Matthew 22:34-46) and maybe we too can learn how to not just enter the Mighty Fortress we sang about, but stay in it for life!

Our gospel lesson starts out with the question of a seeker; one who wants to be close to God, but on his own terms. We know this is true, because he starts out on the wrong foot immediately.  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Another way to ask this is, “Which commandment should I consistently fulfill in order to please God?” Or yet another way to ask this is, “What must I do to be saved from my sin?”  Like Martin Luther, this young lawyer, a Pharisee was trapped by his inability to keep all of the commandments of God perfectly, and so he desired to know which commandment out of all of the others would buy favor with God if he can keep that one.

“And (Jesus) said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the greatest commandment.”  Uh oh… the young lawyer and all of the other Pharisees knew Jesus was right of course, but they also knew that each of them failed miserably in keeping this first great commandment.  You see, they knew something most of us know as well, but also like them we conveniently ignore.  The kind of love that Jesus is talking about is not a warm fussy feeling, but a commitment.  This kind of love that Jesus speaks of is the kind of love that God promises to those who love His law and meditate on it day and night.  God promises that no matter what happens, He will never leave nor forsake His child who likewise is committed to Him.  And there is the rub isn’t it?

Like the young lawyer, we too say that we love God, that we are committed to Him but then we do things, we say things… we think things that demonstrate something completely different.  Yes, the truth is we are far more often committed to ourselves than we are committed to God and His Word.  But Jesus is not quite done yet; He still has a little more to say about what we must do to be saved: “And a second (commandment) is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  In other words, Jesus is telling all of us, that if we want to impress God, if we want to be right with Him through our own work, we must love as He loves.

Here’s a little ditty that communicates the enormity of this task of loving like God: “To live above with saints I love, that will be pure heavenly glory, but to live below with saints I know… well that’s a different story!”

Friends, God’s love is a commitment to us to never stop loving us even when we are unlovable.  And in His commandments, He calls us; no He demands that we do the same.  That is the nature of God’s law, it demonstrates perfection in how God acts and then it demands that we do the same without giving any help to “do” that thing.  Now if this was all that God’s Word informed us, we would be no different than any other religion; in essence we would be in big trouble.  But that is not all that God’s Word says, is it?  No, God offers us another way… the way of the gospel; a way that becomes a Mighty Fortress that we must enter and stay in, and that way is Jesus Christ, both the son of David and the Son of God!  And this is the very truth that Jesus must now steer the hearts and minds of both the young lawyer and ourselves to this morning, and He does it with a question of His own.

““What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.”

How sad.  Not only couldn’t they answer His question, but they never bothered to ask Him any follow up questions.  They would not, because they could not; their pride in their own righteousness just would not let them precede any further.  Yes, that is sad, because standing right in front of them was not just a son of David, but the very Son of God.  This is why David called his own descendant Adonai, or Lord, God.  So sad.  They had just heard the little children and thousands of people on Palm Sunday proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah, with the word “Hosanna”, but they could not join in, because they were in bondage to their sinful wills and refused to submit to the will of God.  They could not agree with God the Father that Jesus, the son of  Mary, a simple carpenter was in fact the very Son of God.  But Jesus tried to open their eyes.  He tried to take their eyes off of the law of God as their source of salvation, and instead turn their hearts to God’s one and only means of salvation… Jesus the Christ, the very Son of God.

In a few short days, Jesus would demonstrate God’s final solution for bringing sinful men and women back to Him in a relationship of love and faith.  Jesus would prove His Father’s love for sinful men and women, by allowing Himself to be hung upon the cross.  Jesus would prove that He is in fact both the son of man and the Son of God, by dying as all men die and then taking His life back from the tomb, thus defeating death itself.  But Jesus did not die and come back to life to prove a point; that would simply be a demonstration of God’s wrath.  No, Jesus died and took His life back again so that we would know that God still loves us and that He has provided a way back to Him; a way that is greater than our mortal enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil.

In Jesus death and resurrection, He not only shows a way back to God, but by faith He takes us on that way.  Jesus shows us that it is He alone who can fulfill the commandments of God perfectly, by perfectly demonstrating God’s own love for us.  I doubt that Jesus had warm fuzzy feelings for any of us as He was whipped within an inch of His life, and then as He hung dying upon the cross was insulted and challenged.  While the Son of God may not have felt feelings of warmth He did demonstrate commitment to fulfill His promise of salvation, and that dear friends is divine love!  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” [1 John 4:10]  And “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]

The way of the Cross is the way to enter the Fortress and the way to stay within it. By that I mean to say along with the ancient church and the sainted Rev. Dr. Martin Luther that by grace you are saved through faith, and that this faith comes by scripture (God’s Holy Word, both the Law and the gospel) alone.  Christ’s death and resurrection is a fact that scripture proclaims, but it is a fact that you must both receive and believe.  But you cannot do this on your own; it must be received from God as a gift.  It is a gift that comes from the very heart of God the Father, and it is given through the sacrifice of His Son, but your heart must be taught to both desire and trust this gift of God, and that work is done through the power of the Holy Spirit through scripture alone.

It is Holy Scripture that teaches us the difference between God’s Law and His Gospel.  We are saved by the gospel, God’s work for us sinful men, but we are sustained and led by His Law, which teaches and moves us to love God and our neighbor just as Jesus loves.  The law and gospel work together though in different an opposite ways. (1) The Law teaches us the knowledge of sin, but the Gospel gives us forgiveness of sin; (2) the Law teaches what good works are, but the gospel produces true joy and both and desire and zeal to do those good works; (3) the Law checks our outward sinful behavior, and increases our inward secret sins, but the Gospel destroys both our outward sin and our inward sin.  So the difference between these two works of God can be explained this way, “The law tells us what we must do to be saved and the Gospel does that work for us and through us.”  Or another way to say this is that “The law kills the sinner, but not sin; the gospel kills sin, but not the sinner.”

This morning, you have been gathered together as a ragtag bunch of ragamuffins who have been saved by grace, through faith, which comes to you in God’s Word through the Law and Gospel.  You have been gathered into the Mighty Fortress of God.  And now you are called to both rest within this Mighty Fortress and to live, breath, and find your identity within it.  And our identity is shaped by a few central thoughts.  The first one is this, God does not need your love, He desires it; He wants you to be in a relationship of love with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.  And the second thought is like the first, in that God does not need your good works, your fulfillment of His law, but your neighbor does!  Your neighbor needs you to help them, and you help them when you keep the law of God; when you do your very best unto the Lord.  You see friends; God wants you to allow His love to overtake you so that you will willingly commit yourself to Him and your neighbor.

Who is your neighbor?  Your neighbor is your spouse, your children, your friends and family, even those people that you are afraid of, or those who have hurt you in the past.  But your neighbors are also here within this church, the very place that God gives His gifts to sinners; the very place that becomes the Mighty Fortress of forgiving love for them as well.  Your neighbor needs your love and so does your church.  We all need you to be committed to this place and its people, so that together, we will continue to be a place of refuge, forgiveness, peace, and love.  We need your love so that together we can continue reaching out to the lost and help them both enter and stay within the Mighty Fortress, which is our God and the body of Christ… His Church.

I pray that God will fill you with faith and His mighty love as together we do these very things through the power of God… in Jesus name… AMEN!

Life On the Edge!

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

Eighteenth Sunday in Pentecost A, October 12, 2011

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message.

Matthew 22:1-14

Following Jesus is, well it’s… wonderful, amazing, fulfilling, exciting, and peaceful, but it isn’t easy.  It isn’t easy because it requires faith, and faith requires you to release control of your life and your decisions to God’s direction.  Faith is the substance of things that we hope for, but as of yet unseen!  To live a life following Jesus requires living by faith and not by sight!

This is the message that our gospel reading leads us to this morning; it was the message that Jesus was speaking to the Jewish leaders and others that were listening to Him teach, and it is the message that He is giving to us this morning.  This morning, Jesus speaks this message to all of us who are baptized: live a life of faith by living on the edge!  But as I said, this kind of life isn’t easy; it never has been.

Throughout the history of the Kingdom of God here on earth, we have seen a picture of disappointment, fear, doubt; we see sin becoming stronger, while the joy, courage, and faith of those who live in and proclaim the kingdom seems to be getting progressively weaker.  Jesus story about a King who invited many to his son’s wedding banquet is told to illustrate this very point.  Like His story, the history of the Jews and even our history displays sinful people refusing God’s offer of grace.  Within the ranks of these sinful men are a mixture of open and defiant sinners and those who seem like real believers, but secretly they’re posers, unbelievers; Jesus says that the time is coming when they’ll be unmasked!  Within His story, Jesus has wonderfully compressed all of the New Testament time and even our time, into one story.

What we need to remember throughout the story is that the wedding and the invitations to attend it pictures God’s grace; His undeserved mercy, forgiveness, and love for all of sinful mankind.  But this grace can only come through Jesus Christ, the living Son of God!  The banquet table and the feast that’s being served on it represents the feast of victory for our God; a victory that celebrates first the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and then the very same thing that’s promised to each and every person who is seated at the feast of victory.  Well almost every person.  You see in Jesus’ story, there is one person who doesn’t belong there.  There’s one person who isn’t wearing the robe provided by God!  That one person represents a vast number of people who refuse to turn to Jesus as their Savior, Lord, and King.  And the change of clothes they refuse to be fitted with represents the new identity that each of us is offered and given in our baptisms.

Throughout the life of every person ever created, there are God-created opportunities to receive this new identity, to put it on if you will, to walk around in it and become comfortable in it.  But God in His wisdom allows each of us to reject this new identity and that is what causes tension; it’s what makes us feel like we’re living on the edge of joy and disappointment; the edge of courage and fear; and the edge between faith and doubt!

Living on the edge means living between joy and disappointment.  Have you heard about the family that moved into the neighborhood of a local congregation?  Well the good saints of that church decided to reach out to that family when they heard that they had 12 kids and were for the most part poor. They invited the family to divine service and even brought a package of wonderful suits and dresses to them and said, “We want you to know” they said, “that you and your entire family are welcome at our church anytime. We have bought you these gifts and we want you to feel comfortable and at ease in our congregation. We hope you can use them” and they left. Well Sunday came and the congregation waited for the family, but they never showed. Wondering what could have possibly happened, some members of the board of elders returned to the home and found the family just getting back, all dressed in their new clothes.  “We don’t mean to be nosey but we would like to know what happened. We had hoped to see you this morning in church,” the head elder said.  The father answered, “Well, we got up this morning intending to come. And we sure do appreciate your invitation. But after we showered, shaved, and dressed, why we looked so good we wanted to show off our new look to the folks of my wife’s old church.”

Now that’s a funny way of talking about a serious problem. Invitations are sent to many to come to church but so few people respond. It’s frustrating. Many of you have reached out to neighbors or friends and asked them to come to church and you know all too well the disappointment, how few respond.

Maybe that is why we find this morning’s parable so familiar. But we must remember that Jesus has told us that the Kingdom of God has always been like this; it’s like a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son and many would not come. They are just too busy to respond.  But not you… here you sit at the table!  You got in, so put aside your disappointment and receive the joy of the Lord.

Living on the edge means living between courage and fear.  In Jesus story the royalty, which represented the Jewish nation were the first ones invited to the feast!  As a group, they would not come, so they were destroyed.  In the year 70 AD the nation of Israel, the city of Jerusalem and more importantly their temple, their way of life and worship was destroyed, all because they would not come to a new Holy City, the Kingdom of God which can only be entered through the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  But their empty seats will not even be noticed because God is no longer inviting a nation of people, but all people from every nation, tribe, and tongue; that means He is inviting you!

Now for some people this can cause fear; even fear that can paralyze them.  They see how God punished the nation of Israel for the way they mistreated their invitation, and so they see God as an angry and punishing God.  But if they see Him in this way, as if He has dark storm clouds draped across His face, they aren’t seeing Him correctly!  The very fact that He has invited you first in the waters of your baptism, and the fact that you are seated here right now hearing about His mercy and forgiveness proves that He is a God of love!  And because He loves you, He says to you this morning, “Take courage, put on your new baptismal identity and rest at my table of peace!”

Well finally, living on the edge means living between faith and doubt.  In Jesus’ story, the king invited everyone to the feast. Many have responded, and the dining hall is filled with guests, but there’s a problem. The king sees a man who isn’t wearing the appropriate wedding attire. He is wearing an old, perhaps tattered robe, obviously the garb that he wore in everyday life, his street clothes. “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe,” the king asks. The man was speechless, so the king had him bound and tossed into a place called outer darkness. Jesus concludes the parable with these solemn words: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

What we learn from Jesus story is that everyone is invited into the Kingdom of God, but not everyone will respond to that invitation.  But we also discover that even if you get in you’re not really in unless the King chooses you to stay!  And here is where doubt can creep in; here is where we begin to ask what does it take to really get in?

Well it all depends on what you are wearing!  In your baptism you have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness; in essence, you’ve put on Jesus’ robe of righteousness.  No work or accomplishment of your own can be included.  Naked you came into this world and naked you must leave, accept for the righteous robe of Christ.  Remember, when we’ve done all that we can we are still worthless servants, because we’ve only done that which was our duty to do. [Luke 17:10]

If our garment isn’t the good life we live on this earth for Jesus, then what is it?  It’s faith in what Jesus has done for us!  Theologians call this the imputed righteousness of Jesus which becomes our hope and the object of our faith.  Because faith is the garment that is put on us, all we can do then is rest in it or wear it.  Another way to think of this is to say that our faith is like a cup, it simply holds God’s free gift of righteousness.  In your baptism you can say that, “God has clothed me with His garments of salvation, and He has covered me with the robes of righteousness.”

And here you have the close of Jesus parable.  Oh wait, there is another little matter to address isn’t there?  If the banquet table represents the Kingdom of God, then how did that unbeliever get in there?  Isn’t there a great divided between heaven and hell so that none may cross?  Yes there is, so that means that the banquet table isn’t necessarily the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is the Kingdom of God!  Is there a difference?  Yes and no!  What we need to remember is that the Kingdom of God is where God’s people gather around His gifts.  What are His gifts?  Well they are His means of grace, or His means of faith!  Chief of all of these gifts is His Word, Holy Scripture, which is not just your invitation to the banquet but the very Son of the living God, Jesus Christ.  Within God’s Word you are given the gift of faith to believe that you really belong in God’s Kingdom, both here on earth and in heaven.  So what is the Kingdom of God here on earth?  It is the church, the very bride of Jesus Christ, which receives not just His Word but His Sacraments.  In your baptism, you have been ushered into the Kingdom and at His Table, the Holy Communion, you feast as royalty!  As each of us receive these gifts, we are reminded that we are living a life of dependence on God, a life of faith that’s filled with tension between heaven and hell.  But Jesus assures us that because we are resting in Him and receiving His gifts we will one day join Him at His eternal table of feasting where there will be no more suffering, pain, disappointment, fear, or doubt, and this is the gospel, the good news that gives us peace and joy.  But there are some here, in Christ’s church who will not put on this new baptismal identity.  There are some who are simply posers, mere impostors.  They refuse to be changed and they will not respond!  They already have the reward of living in God’s Kingdom, His Church, but they will not be allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and eternally find their seat at His banquet table.

For these poor souls, there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth in a dark place where they will be forever bound and kept.  All because they would not receive the Word of God; all because they would not keep fighting to retain their baptismal identity; all because they would not confess their sinfulness and be fed their Lord’s meal of forgiveness!

Yes, living the life of faith is living on the edge, but if you are resting in the gifts of God through Jesus Christ you have been assured that even if you experience disappointment, fear, and doubt, one day very soon you will only know joy, love, and peace, all because you walked by faith and not by sight!

Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen!

Living in the Promised Land

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (A), September 28, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” [Isaiah 5:1]

And let the church say Amen!  Amen to the reign of our beloved Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen to life in His vineyard, the church.  But most of us south of Temecula don’t really understand the nature of a vineyard, do we?  I understand that producing grapes is a lot of work, and yet it is completely foreign to me.  So, let’s talk about gardens instead.

Gardening, for many of you is a very satisfying and relaxing endeavor.  Your efforts are rewarded with beautiful flowers, plants, and produce.  But gardening is also a lot of work.  Many of us who worked these last two months to finish the rose garden on the east side of the sanctuary and the Polynesian garden on the west side of the garden can attest to that truth.  Many of us men have had sore backs days after working in those gardens.  We would almost swear to the truth that we perspired gallons of sweat and developed blisters larger than any we have ever had.  And yet, there outside of the windows of our sanctuary are the beautiful gardens, and they will be even more beautiful next year, God willing.

But sometimes you plant something that just doesn’t turn out to be what you expected it to be; it either never takes root or it grows in a wild way that you did not desire, and you know that if you don’t do something about it, it will ruin the entire garden.  So with those kinds of disasters, what is a gardener to do?  You uproot it and start over!

Yes, gardening is a lot of work, but God warned our first parents, Adam and Eve of this sad truth after they fell to sin.  Listen:  “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” [Genesis 3:17-9]  But God promised the faithful descendants of Adam and Eve, that one day He would send a Savior, who would first deliver them from their sins, and then He would also, through this coming Savior bring them back to Eden, the real “Promised Land!”

And that is the situation that the prophet Isaiah speaking for God, is describing in our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 5:1-7) this morning.

The children of Israel, descendants of faithful Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had been resting in God’s vineyard, the promised land for many long years now.  And when they first arrived there, they were told that it would be a land of milk and honey; in other words, God would provide all that they needed to live right and peaceably with Him, each other, and within the land itself.  All that they needed to do was trust in the promise of the coming Savior and then follow God’s commandments, which were to be a hedge of protection for them, and a wall that would separate them from the godless nations that surrounded them.  But…

They began to develop a national pride that caused them to not only look down on other nations but they also forgot about their God who actually planted them there.  There God was the One who prepared the Promised Land for them; He was the One who dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted them there as His choice vines.  He set up the watchtower, which was their form of worship of the One True God, and He was the One through the use of the Law and Gospel, worked within them to put to death their old sinful nature, and bring to life their new circumcised nature, a faithful nature, which waited patiently for the coming Savior.

And as they continued to live as if God did not matter, God took notice.  He sent many prophets and judges who spoke Words of warning and Words of encouragement, so that the people would remember the true God and then see their sinful need for a Savior.  But they would not take notice; they would not yield!

So now O church, judge between God and His vineyard.  What more was there for Him to do for His vineyard?  He looked for a yield of grapes, that is works produced by faith in the coming Savior and the promised return to Eden, but He found only wild grapes, works that glorified man and not their God.  Well there was one more thing that God would do; He would send His Son!

In our Gospel reading (Matthew 21:33-46), Jesus tells another story about a vineyard.  It is a story told to the same sort of religious leaders that Isaiah was speaking to in our Old Testament lesson.  A man planted a garden and rented it out to tenants. But when the owner sent servants (prophets of God) to collect the rent, the tenants killed the servants. In exasperation, he sent his son (His Only begotten Son), and they killed him. Jesus asked his hearers what the owner would do, and the crowd answered, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” (21:41). Looking for grapes, precious grapes, the owner instead got wild grapes, and on top of that, they killed his son too.

You see friends, this morning’s readings aren’t really about vineyards or gardening at all, instead they’re about the people of God, ancient Israel and you and me today.  It’s a warning that we must not become wild in our nature, but remain people of faith; faith in the Savior promised long ago who has come, and faith that one day very soon, He will come again to bring us once and for all back to Eden, the true Promised Land.

We may be tempted to ask God why He chose to place those disobedient people into His vineyard, knowing that they would be wild grapes and produce only bloodshed and outcries, but then we would have to ask Him also, why he brought us into His new vineyard, Christ’s church.  You see, today you and I are supposed to be God’s pleasant planting; we too are suppose to produce fruits, good works of righteousness, but many times we don’t; instead we produce wild grapes.  So why does God plant?  Because He loves His vineyard, His garden; God loves you!

The church, which for now is our promised land, is God’s planting, His vineyard.  It is easy to forget that this isn’t our church, but His.  And it is even easier to forget that it is God who does the real work within us and through us.  Like preparing a vineyard or garden, He plants us in Holy Baptism and then lovingly tends to our growth through His means of grace; His teaching, preaching, and Holy Supper.  It is His work within us that shapes us and prunes us into the very image of His Son, who was killed by the former tenants so that He would rise from that death and fulfill the promise of the coming Savior who would bring us one day back to the final promised land, the Kingdom of Heaven, which is Eden restored!

You see friends, this pleasant planting of the Lord we call the church is for now, as we wait, our promised land; it is where God provides for our needs, and prunes and tends to our growth.  All of this work of God is centered in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ who died, rose, and gives us His Holy Spirit.  Jesus assures us of this when He says, “I an the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” [John 15: 1, 5]

And here we are abiding; simultaneously resting and working within the promised land we call the church, and knowing full well that by God’s grace we will one day enter the final Promised Land.  And as we wait, we have two missions to fulfill.  The first is to grow in faith everyday as we are planted in the church, and the second is to seek out and bring other wild grapes into God’s vineyard through His Son Jesus Christ.

Today is LWML Sunday.  It is a day that we celebrate a very fruitful portion of God’s vineyard; a portion that continues over and over again to bear much fruit.  Through the collection of mites and their faithful service in mission, these faithful ladies not only wait for the return of their Lord, but they serve Him in their waiting with gladness and zeal.  They freely recognize that all of the hard work that they perform throughout the world is possible only because it is their Savior Jesus Christ, who is working in them and through them.

This morning, we recognize the ladies of the LWML because they are living proof that God still does marvelous things within His vineyard.  Where the ladies serve with gladness, the oil of gladness begins to impact those parts of the vine that they are attached to.  Where once a congregation may have been wild or shriveled and old lacking fruit, when the LWML is revived within that congregation, a new spirit of service, as a result of the Spirit of Christ begins to reshape that congregation.  This is why we celebrate the LWML this morning.  We are not celebrating the ladies who serve, but the Savior God within them that proves to all of us that God is still doing great and marvelous things around us, and that He wishes to call each of us into that mission so that He can do great and marvelous things within us and through us!

While I understand that many who love gardening believe that they are closest to God when they are in their garden, I believe, no I know that we are really closest to God, nearest to His heart, when we are in His church.  His presence among us through His means of grace moves our hearts to be thankful beyond words because He has made us a part of His pleasant planting through Jesus Christ.  It is then that each of us will be moved to serve the Lord with gladness!  AMEN!