Posts Tagged ‘Lutheran Sermon’

The Great Reversal

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Nineteenth Sunday in Pentecost, September 21, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

INTRODUCTION: This morning Jesus turns our entire concept of justice on its head with these simple words from our Gospel lesson: “So the last will be first, and the first last.” (v. 16) To understand the meaning of these words, we have to first find the reason He spoke them.  Just before Jesus told this story, a rich young man, full of pride, approached Jesus with this timeless question: “How do I get to heaven?” Jesus answered him by saying Keep the commandments and you are well on your way!  The young man thought about this and said, “Done!”  Oh, really?  “Fine” Jesus says, then here’s what you do next, sell everything you have and follow me!”  Wow! Who would dare say that they can keep all of God’s commandments?  And to make that point, Jesus sends Him back to the very same commandments, the first commandment in fact, and says get rid of your false god (money) and follow the true God (Me)!  Well, that young rich man went away dejected.  Seeing this, Jesus followers began to ask, “If this is the case, then can anyone be saved?”  And to this, Jesus speaks the gospel:  “With man, this is impossible, but for God, all things are possible.” 

Now Peter who has been lectured time and time again about suffering for the Kingdom of God pipes in: “(Lord) See, we have left everything (behind) to follow you, what then will we get?”  And to this, Jesus hearing the pride in Peter’s words says, “Many who are (now) first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Matt. 19:16-30)  This morning we will try to understand what this means by looking into three things: 1. God’s call.  2. Our response to His Call. (and) 3. The final result of His call-the great reversal.

I. God’s Call-“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” (Matthew 20:1) There are many of us here this morning who can confidently say that God first called us when we were just a baby or a small child, and that call came to us through Holy Baptism.  But there are also many others who either were not baptized until they were an adult, or they resisted the call of their baptism until very late in life.  Regardless of how we were called, the fact is-WE WERE CALLED!  In our Old Testament reading Isaiah relates this call to us this way: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;  let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7) And to this Jesus adds that we must seek and find the Lord on His terms, through His means and not our own-Now is the time to seek the Lord.  Look for Him while he can still be found, because the time will come when no matter how hard you look He will not be found. 

People have this intolerable idea that there will always be time to get serious about their faith, but God’s Word says otherwise; there is going to come a time when it will be too late to hear God’s Word!  Have you ever noticed that when the latest gadget comes out with a lot of media hype, people will stand in line for hours just to be the first on the block to have it or experience it?  Remember the long lines of people waiting for up to two days just to be the first to own the iPhone?  Oh dear friends, if we would only see God’s Word in this way.  How many of us have grieved his heart by ignoring His call with the thought of “Not now.  I’m just too busy.  Maybe latter.”  But praise His goodness He is still calling.  He is still out looking.  Jesus demonstrates this truth in His story, by making it clear the “master of the house” who is none other than God the Father is still going out early in the morning, calling to anyone who will listen.  He goes out continuously, even at the last hour!  All are called with the same call, “Come!”

II. What are some examples of our response to God’s call? “After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.” (v. 2)  Like Peter, this first group that was hired even before the sun was out, asked “What’s in it for me?”  What will be my reward?  Did you notice that they were the only group of workers that insisted on a labor contract?  With their combined bargaining efforts, they were able to get the owner of the vineyard to agree to generous sum of 1 denarius.  I can hear them now: “Come on now.  Agree to our terms.  After all, this is hard work…picking grapes in the heat of the day.  We want 1denarius!”   “Done!” the owner of the vineyard says, “Now off you go to work in my vineyard.”  But there’s much to do, and this small workforce that he found will certainly not be sufficient, so he goes out again and again asking and re-asking anyone and everyone to respond to his offer of employment.  To all of these other groups he mentions only this about compensation, “Whatever is right I will give you.”(v. 5) “Sure!” they said, and off to work they go. 

Finally at the 11th hour, one hour before sundown, he brings in a final crew, but to this last bunch of workers he has a little more to say: “Why have you been standing  here idle all day?”  Now, they tried to justify their laziness by making it the owner of the vineyards fault saying, “Because no one has hired us.” Now instead of arguing with them, the owner of the vineyard simply returned their hearts and minds on the important task at hand, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ (vs. 5-7)

ILLUS: In January 1989, Serial killer Ted Bundy, related to Dr. James Dobson of the Focus On The Family Ministry, that just hours before their meeting, he confessed His sins to God, and then accepted the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  How does that make you feel?  Maybe it makes you feel a bit like those workers who were hired first-you know those who did most of the work?   Should Ted Bundy have been offered grace?  Well, I’m getting ahead of our gospel reading, so…Back to our story.  Now the workers hired first have taken their place at the front of the pay line, and they are anxiously awaiting their paycheck, when the foreman tells them to go to the end of the line and let the late comers go first.  “Well that’s not fair.” One man shouts out.  “Wait a minute” he says to the guy next him, “did you see how much those late comers got paid?  They made a whole denarius.  Boy this vineyard owner is generous.  If they made that much, imagine how much we’ll make!” But to their surprise, they are paid exactly what the late comers were paid!  “And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” (vs. 11-12)

Now, we can see a bit of intrigue developing.  The entire work crew is now clearly being divided into two opposite groups: those who are satisfied, and those who are not. Those who were hired first were irritated to see the late comers get a denarius.  Now Jesus is allowing us a glimpse into the heart of God.  It is becoming very evident that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.  But if we pay attention we can begin to see a pattern in the mind of God.  Remember, the workers who were hired after the first group? They had no contract, why they didn’t even have a promise of any kind, they simply knew their employer was kind enough to offer them work. They were just glad to be working for this landowner.  But the first group took their money and began to complain.  And what was their complaint?  The owner wasn’t showing justice!  Wow!  Can you believe that these workers are charging the owner of the vineyard with blatant injustice simply because he’s kind?! And that is precisely the point that Jesus is making about the rich young man’s attitude and Peter’s desire for compensation.  But Jesus isn’t done…no, now it is time for God to respond to all self-righteous hearts…maybe even ours!

“But (the owner of the vineyard) replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. (Didn’t you) agree with me for a denarius?  (Now then)Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to (these) last worker(s) as I give to you.   (Aren’t I) allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?'” (vs. 13-15)  When we hear these words they come to us like the crushing blows of a hammer. You see, if we agree that all good things come to us from the hand of the Lord Himself, then the true target of our anger and envy aren’t those who we feel did not earn their reward, but rather the giver of the reward Himself!  It is as if we are telling God that some people do not deserve his call to enter into His service, His church, or even into eternal life.  Dear friends, when a heart believes that grace is earned then all that it is proving is that it has no real understanding of grace.

III. So what is the result of God’s call?  Well, it really depends on the condition of the heart that’s being called.   A prideful heart that spurns grace and condemns it when it is exercised towards others excludes  itself from the call of grace, because that kind of heart can never receive it, and this is because it will not receive it. This then is “The Great Reversal”-“So the last will be first, and the first last.” (v. 16) But what about a heart that really appreciates the marvelous gift of God’s undeserved mercy and love?  Well, this is the kind of heart that gladly answer His call to work for Him without demand; this kind of heart simply trusts and follows Jesus.  Friends, by sending us out into His vineyard, out into our families, communities, jobs and schools, Jesus delivers us from a life of eternal insignificance. For you see, whatever we are doing we are doing it for the Lord!  When the Tartar tribes of Central Asia curse their enemies, they don’t tell them to “go to hell.” No, instead they say, “May you do nothing forever.” Jesus Christ in His goodness delivers us from that curse.

Dear friends, please do not interpret the denarius in Jesus’ story as representing our salvation; no that fee was paid for by our dear Savior when He died for us upon the cross. And don’t think that the denarius represent your reward or crown in heaven. What greater reward could there be than just being with Jesus forever in heaven? No, our denarius is simply the privilege and the joy of being allowed to work alongside of Jesus here while we further His kingdom.  We do this when we allow Him to love others through our service to them!  Isn’t it wonderful to know that when we are called by Jesus Christ, He doesn’t put us under a contract? Instead He puts us under His grace!  That’s how you became a Christian, and that is precisely the message that He wants you to share with others as you serve them!

CONLUSION:  Friends, the good news is there is still time for anyone who hears the call of the Lord to seek Him!  Peter finally understood this, and when he did he declared God’s message of grace boldly, even at the expense of his own life.  St. Paul understood it as well, and it was his prayer that the church in Philippi would understand God’s message as well and be transformed by that same grace.  Dear friends, when others question your service to the Kingdom of God, it is God’s desire that you pay no attention to their hurtful words; it is God’s will that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side with each other working together, not caring if one has worked longer or harder than another; not counting your own personal sacrifices as something special or superior to others.  Instead, God desires that all of us work together with one mind, and one heart advancing His Kingdom by furthering the faith of the gospel.  It is God’s will that we allow His precious gift of grace to lead us, so that through His presence in our lives we will be empowered to joyfully serve others and tell anyone the Lord puts in our life: “Seek the Lord while he may be found.  Call upon the name of Jesus while he is near!”

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

We Are One as He is One

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

Trinity Sunday, May 18, 2008

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“Whoever desires to be saved must above all, hold the “universal” Christian faith.  And the “universal” Christian faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” [vs. 1-3 of the Athanasian Creed]

God is one.  There is only one God.  The one God exists from eternity as one God.  God alone is eternal.  And to this, your Muslim and Jehovah Witness neighbors would say a loud AMEN!  Does it surprise you to know that they will appeal to this very truth in an attempt to draw you away from your Christian faith?  You see, in addition to confessing that God is one, we Christians also confess that God is love, in fact we say that Love is the very essence of God.  Now your Muslim and JW neighbors will never deny that God loves but they will deny that this love is the essence of God.  You see, they will claim that if God can’t be God unless He loves someone, then God cannot be God without someone to love.  So how can an eternal God be dependent upon His creation in order for Him to be God?  Muslim and JW(s) will tell you that although God does love, love cannot be of God’s very essence, because He is dependent on no one.  But this kind of thinking about God is a lie and it isn’t any better than the lies that come from people who worship many gods.  There’s no difference between having one idol and having a few dozen.  Idols are idols.  The Moslem and the JW god is an idol.  The true God is one, but the mere acknowledgement of this fact doesn’t mean a person is worshiping the true God.  The one true God is also united within Trinity.  The only God who exists is the Triune God.  Any god who isn’t triune is not God because a god who is not triune cannot be love, and God is love.  Dear friends, please do not ever let any devil lead you away from this truth because it is crucial to your very salvation.  If God was not love then he would not have suffered and died upon the cross for you![1] 

I. The love of God is not an attribute that makes Him dependent on us.  It is the eternally defining attribute of God that defines His very essence as God in regards to the relationship shared between the three persons within the One Godhead.  When we say God is love we are also saying that God could not be love unless He was Triune.  You see, there’s an eternal unity of love between the Father who begets and generates the Son who is begotten.  This eternal unity of divine love exists as well between the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is sent from the them.  But as I told the children, this is far too high for us to grasp.  You see, how God relates within Himself is far too much for us to comprehend.  After all, He is the Creator and we are the creature!

While truly understanding God completely is far above us, we can know about Him by paying attention to what He has already revealed about Himself.  We know from scripture that the Father has generated or begotten the Son on many occasions.  It was the Son and two angels who visited Abraham outside of Sodom and Gomorra to warn Abraham of the pending destruction of the two cities, so that His nephew Lot might be saved.  It was the God the Son generated by the Father who took on the form of a burning bush so that Moses might behold some of the Lord’s glory and receive God’s Law that would teach Israel and the people of faith how to relate rightly to a Holy and loving God.  There are many more instances throughout scripture that demonstrate that God the Father generates or begets the Son in order to accomplish the purpose of God, but for us, the best example is found in John 1:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]
Do you hear in those words how the Son is now forever generated or begotten in human flesh yet He still eternally possesses eternal glory, grace and truth.  Do you understand how together the Father and the Son send the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit.  It was God the Spirit who was hovering over the face of the waters in the very beginning of creation. He was sent by the Father and the Son, and together they created the heavens and the earth-He was sent by these Words: “”Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good. [Genesis 1:1-4]  Like a marvelous symphony God’s Word’s of Love spoke forth creation and goodness.  It was an eternal love generated and sent from the heart of the One true God who has revealed Himself in three persons.  But we must not divide the person’s from the One True God or we will loose His essence, which is love.  What do I mean by this?

You see, while it is the Father who generates or begets, and it is the Son who is begotten but not made, and it is the Holy Spirit who is sent together by the Father and the Son, there are not three God’s but One. As One, the three persons created everything that is together.  The divine mystery of God’s triune nature is this: As One they have always existed and since God does not change they will always be One in glory and majesty.  There is only One Uncreated, Eternal, and Almighty God.  When we pray to our Lord in heaven we do not pray to three Lords, but rather we pray to one Lord because the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.  Three persons united eternally in One essence of love, which is God! 

After all of this, I think that we all now agree that God’s ways are far above our ability to understand, so why am I talking about an eternal relationship of love into which you and I could never find our way?  

II. Because God has created a way-He has brought His love to us!  In so doing He has established fellowship with us.  But in order to enjoy all of the benefits of this relationship (eternal grace, mercy, and peace with God and each other), we must also faithfully believe that God the Son took on human flesh.  God did this not because He needed to, but rather He did it because He is love.  We are the ones in need!  We need God to come to us.  Although God’s voice declared all that He had made in the beginning good, it was our own sinfulness that has forever turned good into evil.  Think now, in the privacy of your own hearts, who among us has not thought or done evil already this morning?!  We must agree that without intervention we could never stand before a perfect and righteous God!  There is not a single thing that we can do to save ourselves…we need God’s mercy, pardon, and forgiveness.  And yet the punishment for sin is death, and that is precisely what it will take to pay for our sinfulness.  But as a true champion, our Redeemer God came to us in our own human flesh and paid for our sins himself.  The entire God came to us.  Our creator wrapped Himself in creation, because only He could remedy our hopeless situation.  Why do I say the entire God came to us?  Because if you remember, we can never divide the essence of God.  God always acts as one because He is one.  Now I know that once again, this is far above any of us to understand, but we must believe this truth because it is how God has revealed Himself.  Let me offer a crude representation that might make this a bit more intelligible:

ILLUS: Before a wedding, there were three women in the dressing room putting a dress on the bride, who was one of the three and she participated as well with the putting on of the dress. We could say that all three were dressing her; and yet only one is being attired in the dress and not the other two. Similarly we must understand here that all three Persons, as one God, created the one humanity, clothed the Son in this, and united it with His person, so that only the Son became man, and not the Father or the Holy Spirit, yet because God is One and not three, the Son who from the time of His birth as Jesus would now eternally be fully God and fully man. 

Friends, it was this same Jesus who lived the sinless life on our behalf.  It was this same Jesus who allowed Himself to be put to death by sinful men.  He did not have to do this but rather He chose to suffer and die for us, because God is love.  Please hear me, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,(because it was your sins that compelled God out of love to suffer and die for you.  But be of good cheer), God (has) raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” [Acts 2:23-24]  By His stripes you have been healed.  By His suffering and death you have been released from the eternal punishment for your many sins!  By God’s love you have been saved! 

At the baptismal font God’s work of re-creation was activated for you.  All of the benefits of His suffering and death were given to you.  The old sinful man and woman that was your identify at birth has now been put to death through His same Word of creation that was spoken “In The Beginning”. This re-creation of life from death is now yours because of God’s own suffering and death through Christ Jesus!  Dear friends, do you see what a wonderful gift of love is now yours?  You have been freed from your former body of death and you have been given a new life.  I implore you do not take lightly what God has done for you.  Rather, embrace it and cherish this gift.  Live out this new life with certainty that it is yours.  As wonderful as this new life is and as sinful and undeserving as we may be, we must not doubt that this gift is ours, because it was given out of God’s love.  And yet when the troubles of life creep in, we do doubt, and that is why Jesus has not left us alone in this life as orphans.  He promises that He and the Father are still with us in love, because He has sent us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is, there also are the Father and the Son, because God is One! 

It is the Holy Spirit who moves our hearts to hunger for hearing and studying God’s Word.  It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to remember God’s saving love when we remember our own baptism.  It is the Holy Sprit that creates a hunger within us to gather at the Lord’s Table where we receive His very body and blood when we eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the Holy Spirit that creates in us a clean heart, which in turn moves us to come to God in prayer, asking first for forgiveness and then for all the desires of our heart, with the assurance that God hears us and answers us according to His will.

III. Dear friends, because God is One and God is love, and because we are called into fellowship with Him by love, then we are also called into the fellowship of His Mission to seek and save those that are lost and dying, separated from His love because of sin.  This mission is from the Father, and the Son who is the very message of the mission. This message, which you have been given is nothing less than the good news about the incarnation, suffering and death of Jesus Christ for all sinful men, women, and children.  The message is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Since the source of mission is God the Father and the message of the mission is God the Son, then what of God the Holy Spirit?  Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is the very power of God’s mission.  MISSION IS HOLY SPIRIT POWERED!  What this means is that God’s mission can’t fail because He is the very source, message and power of that mission, but God always uses means to accomplish His mission.  He uses simple things to confound the supposed wisdom of the devil and sinful men.  God chooses to use you and me!

Now while it is true that not all are called to be missionaries and pastors in the strict sense, all of us are called to be witnesses of God’s love in our own lives.  We are all called to be ambassadors of His love and we are to declare His message in our own words, but they are words that are centered in God’s love for us; they are centered in His Word, which is the very Word that has given us new life and sustained us while living out our lives in a sinful world!  As we live out our lives centered around God’s Word, the Holy Spirit is ever active within and around us, leading us out into our communities with the message of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus told his disciples and the church to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, he promised that He would be with them always. [Matthew 28:18-20]  Jesus also promised the disciples (that’s you and me), that He would send the Holy Spirit, the counselor, who would teach them the truth, and this truth will “convince the world concerning sin and righteousness,” He promised that the Spirit would bear witness to Christ, and that He would live in them and endow them with His gifts (John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7-8).  You are God’s disciples.  You are the means by which God intends to reach the lost.

Dear friends, the Holy Spirit is united for eternity with the Father and the Son, and together They lead us by faith so that they may strengthen and grow God’s Church.  The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son propels all believers out into the mission field, our community, armed with the Word and Sacraments, personal witness and Christian living in order “to convince the world concerning sin and righteousness.  And to this truth we answer, “Teach us to love our neighbor as you love us, and lead on O Lord, and let us be one in missionary zeal as you are One-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

In Jesus name…AMEN! 


A paraphrase of an idea expressed in a professional paper by Rev. Rolf Preus-ALC April 2003