Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB-A)

Matthew 22:1-14; Philippians 4:4-13; Isaiah 25:6-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
To say that Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Feast is perplexing might seem to be an understatement. Our Lord seemingly turns upside down our expectations and our understanding of the meaning of some fundamental terms concerning our Christian faith – invited, worthy, called, and chosen. To be invited is not necessarily to be worthy. To be called is not necessarily to be chosen. What then do these words mean? Jesus would have you see that your invitation to His wedding feast in heaven is not on account of your worth, your value, your merit, your decision, your choice, or anything in you at all. That you are invited is the gracious gift of the King, God the Father, and not an indication of your worthiness to be invited.
No, your worthiness is bound up in your host, your King and LORD, alone. Will you receive your host’s gracious invitation in Spirit-created and given faith and trust and bear forth its fruit of fear, love, and trust – that is, obedience, – or will you reject it in sinful, rebellious unbelief, demonstrating that your fear, love, and trust are in other things that you have set before your LORD, the stuff of His creation which you worship as false gods and idols? Similarly, Jesus would have you see that, simply because you are called is not the same thing as your being chosen. And, herein lies the mystery of predestination and election –  “Many are called, but few are chosen.” What does this mean? The LORD’s Gospel call goes out to all, to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile. Therefore, many, even all, are called. As in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, the Sower scatters His Word/Seed everywhere, upon all kinds of soil/hearts, without discrimination. However, just as the seed only takes root, grows, and bears fruit in the good soil, so only those are chosen “who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” And so, it is the fruit that you bear – fear, love, and trust in the LORD, along with obedience – that makes you worthy and chosen and elect.
In Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Feast, the King, His Father, sent His servants to call His invited guests to the feast, but those who were invited refused to come. The King, being good and kind, patient, and longsuffering, sent even more servants proclaiming that everything was prepared, that there was nothing they had to do but come and enjoy the feast, and still they refused to come, and some even treated the King’s servants shamefully and murdered them! Those invited who refused the King’s gracious invitation and murdered His servants were the religious leadership of the Jews, the Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes. They were invited by their gracious King, but they refused the invitation and rejected Him. The King was angry and He destroyed the cities of those murderers. Those invited were called, but they were found not worthy. They did not fear, love, and trust in the LORD, and they did not bear the fruit of faith. They murdered the LORD’s servants who were sent to them with His gracious invitation, the Gospel, and, ultimately, they murdered the King’s Son, Jesus. It is no coincidence that this parable follows directly after the Parable of the Tenants in which the tenants of the Master’s Vineyard murdered His servants and, finally, His Son. Both of these parables occurred in the days following Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus had the religious leadership of the Jews squarely in mind.
Still, the King sent out His servants yet a third time, this time “to the main roads,” to call and to invite “all whom they found, both bad and good.” You see, there it is, as clear as day – your invitation is not based upon your merit, your worth, your works, your faith, or anything else inside you, but your invitation is by the grace of your King and LORD alone. And so, the King’s hall was filled with the bad and the good regardless of anything attributed to themselves, just like this church today! For, only the sick can be healed. Only sinners can be forgiven. Only the dead can be raised. If you are a guest of the King, it is because of His gracious invitation. And, do not think saying, “Well, I still had to accept the invitation and come,” that you have contributed something. That’s sophistic nonsense. Before your accepting and coming was the LORD’s gracious invitation. Truly, you remain invited even if you reject His invitation. This is the LORD’s doing, alone, and it is glorious in our sight. Do not succumb to the devil’s temptation to reduce the LORD’s grace from a truly free and unconditional gift to a mere prod in the right direction. You are either saved by grace alone or you are not saved at all. You are either invited or you are not. But, all have been invited in Christ Jesus, therefore all are without excuse.
However, “when the King came in to look at the guests, He saw there a man who had no wedding garment.” Now, this was an impossible thing, for the host, the King, provided even the appropriate wedding garment for each invited guest. The only way that this one guest did not have a wedding garment was that he refused to wear it. He didn’t sneak in. He was one of those bad or good who were invited. However, now that he was in, he must have refused to wear the provided wedding garment. Now, much ink (or bytes) has been spilled attempting to explain what the wedding garment represents. However, the wedding garment is not what is essential here, for this unclothed man was already in, he was already a guest just like all the others, he was invited. So, the wedding garment cannot be baptism as many are want to claim, and neither can it be faith, for the unclothed man was already an invited and present guest. No, the wedding garment must be something else. What we must focus upon, however, is not what the wedding garment was, but how it came to be that this invited and present guest, who was most certainly provided a wedding garment, came to be found not wearing one. Again, he must have refused to wear it. If that is the case, then you can well see the disrespect and the irreverence this man showed toward his King. His refusal to wear the provided wedding garment was a display, even a confession, of his lack of fear, love, and trust in the LORD. Now, if the King were merely an earthly monarch, we might consider his reaction to be overly harsh and extreme. However, this King is the LORD God who alone is righteous and holy. He had provided everything for the feast and had graciously invited and clothed all present. To refuse His grace now and disrespect and dishonor Him so would be the height of rebellion and treason meriting the fullness of His wrath against the man’s sinful rebellion and unbelief. This is a parable of judgment, just like the Parables of the Tenants in the Vineyard and of the Wheat and the Tares. The King had the man bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. On the Day of Judgment, the tares, like the unclothed man at the wedding feast, and all who refuse the LORD’s gracious invitation in Jesus Christ, will be bound and thrown into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Once again, it must be stressed that it was the Jewish religious leadership whom Jesus had squarely in mind in this parable, though it has application for all of us. The LORD had sent them numerous servants bearing His gracious invitation through the prophets of old up to John the Baptist who pointed squarely at Jesus in their presence proclaiming, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” and they rejected them and murdered them, and, finally, they murdered God’s only-begotten Son. They were invited. They were in. But, their refusal to believe, in fact, their rejection of Jesus in spite of who they believed and knew Him to be, damned them to hell. They were invited, but they were not worthy. They were called, but they were not chosen. And, even worse, they were false shepherds, even wolves in sheep’s clothing, and they failed to tell their flock that the LORD’s invitation was for them as well. Therefore, because of their refusal and rejection of the King and His Son, the invitation went out to others, even to all, to the bad and the good, and the wedding feast was filled with guests.
The wedding feast is for your Bridegroom Jesus and for you, His Bride, the Church. God the Father is the King and host of the feast and He has graciously invited all the world in His Son. Many are called, indeed, all are called, but few are chosen. To be chosen, to be elect, is not only to be invited, but it is to hear the Word and “hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” The fruit you bear is obedience and good works. They are not the cause of your invitation, but they are consequence and confirmation of it. Thus, your Lord Jesus proclaims that He is the Vine and you are the branches saying, “remain in Me and I will remain in you, and you will bear much fruit.” Fruit bearing is not an option. Producing the fruit of obedience and good works is the living proof of your being chosen and elected. Therefore, St. James declares, “Faith without works is dead.” This is NOT works righteousness. Your righteousness is in Jesus and is the sole reason you have been invited. But, faith in Jesus is living, not dead, bearing the fruit of fear, love, and trust in the LORD, that is obedience, and love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for your neighbor without discrimination or exception.
Therefore, if you are concerned that you are not one of the chosen (the elect), know that the chosen are chosen through the call of the Gospel. Worldliness, hostility to the Word, and distractedness from the Word plague all Christians because of our sinful flesh. If this cuts you to the heart, this foretaste of the Great Wedding Feast to come is precisely for the purpose of binding up your hearts and comforting your troubled consciences. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” “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.” You are invited, but only the life of the Vine Jesus flowing through you and bearing fruit makes you worthy. You are called, but only fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all else makes you chosen in Christ Jesus. Behold, the feast is prepared. Everything is ready. Come and eat. Come and drink. The life of Jesus the Vine is poured out for you to forgive your sins anew, to strengthen your faith, to equip you for good works, and to send you forth bearing good and much fruit in service of your neighbor to the glory of the LORD. Jesus’ blood and righteousness are your glorious dress, even your wedding garment. You are invited and worthy, you are called and chosen, that the world may see it. Go forth in peace.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB-A)

Matthew 21:33-46; Philippians 3:4b-14; Isaiah 5:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
As we approach the 500th commemoration of the Reformation at the end of this month, I am reminded of these words of our Lord Jesus which are often read on the Festival of the Reformation: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” Now, this ought to sound outright absurd to you, the idea that anyone could take the kingdom of heaven by force. As confessional Lutherans, you know fully well that you must receive the kingdom through Spirit-created faith, and that there is absolutely nothing you can do to earn, to merit, or to take it by your own reason, strength, or even violence. And yet, you have Jesus’ words, and you of the flesh know how truly difficult it is simply to receive the kingdom of heaven as a true, perfect, and holy gift of God’s grace apart from any goodness or worthiness in you. Truly, all human attempts to earn, merit, and take God’s kingdom, are wrong-minded, wrong-hearted, and wrong-spirited acts of violence upon our LORD and His kingdom.
And yet, we are a violent people, are we not? Only consider the recent massacre in Las Vegas, not to mention the daily infanticide we commit under the guise of healthcare and personal rights. We are violent, and we are fruitful in violence, producing works of bloodshed and unrighteousness in our lives, words, and deeds. We bear violent fruit, wild grapes laced with the venom and poison of sin and death, as we refuse to show love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness to others, thinking ourselves righteous and justified as we attempt to take the kingdom of heaven by force and violence. Repent, lest the kingdom of heaven be taken away from you, and the Cornerstone of the LORD, Jesus Christ, fall upon you and crush you when He comes again in glory as judge over heaven and earth.
For, once again, you hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a Master of a house who planted a vineyard, protected it with a fence and a watchtower, dug a winepress in it, and then leased it out to tenants who were to care for it and tend it that He might receive the harvest of its fruit from them in due season. The Master of the Vineyard is God the Father, the Vineyard is Israel, and the vines are His people, His children whom He has called to Himself. The LORD established His vineyard in the fertile soil of His grace, cleared it of the stones of their sin, and planted within it the choicest of vines, that is, the people of His calling and His choosing. Moreover, He protected His people with His providential care and set over them the Watchtower of the Priesthood to nurture and to prune them with the teaching of His Word, that His people would be fruitful in faith, love, and obedience overflowing in love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for others to the glory of His holy Name. But, when the time for harvest came, the LORD found that His vineyard did not produce such sweet fruit, but rather violent works that were sour, wild, and fit only for the fire and destruction. Moreover, the tenants to whom He leased His vineyard to care for, protect, and prune, that it should be fruitful, beat and killed His servants, His prophets, whom He sent to gather the harvest. Yet, the LORD is patient and longsuffering; He sent even more servants, and the tenants killed them as well.
Now, who of you would be so patient and longsuffering? Who of you would not immediately retaliate in wrath and violence and destruction? Indeed, our LORD did what was unthinkable to us; He sent His own Son. And, upon seeing His Son and Heir Jesus, the tenants, that is, the religious leaders of Israel, the scribes, Pharisees, elders, and chief priests, rallied the people, and they appealed to the Romans, to murder Him. In Jesus’ parable, they thought, that by murdering the Master’s Son, they would inherit the Master’s vineyard kingdom for themselves. Just think about what that means: The religious leaders of Israel knew fully well who Jesus was, that He was the Son of God and the promised Messiah, and as Caiaphas unwittingly prophesied, they concluded that “It [was] better that one man should die for the people than that the whole nation should perish.” Truly, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, as the violent seek to take it by force.
But, you cannot take the kingdom by violence and force. Indeed, violence and force are as antithetical to the kingdom of heaven as are your attempts to earn and merit your way into heaven. There is only one way to enter the kingdom and to remain a citizen thereof, and that is to receive the kingdom of heaven as a gift of God’s grace, to receive His Son Jesus, and to bear His fruits in your lives, words, and deeds in service of others to the glory of His holy Name. Moreover, do not think that your lifelong membership in some human institution that calls itself the church makes you a citizen of God’s kingdom. And, do not think that your service on a board or a committee, your tithing, or your visiting the sick and the shut-in makes you a citizen of God’s kingdom. Truly, if your fear, love, and trust are in such things, things which are the fruits of the True Vine Jesus, then your fear, love, and trust are in the wrong things, for your fear, love, and trust must be in God, and in His Son Jesus, alone. The religious leaders of Israel misplaced their fear, love, and trust in their works, in their descent from Abraham, in their own self-righteousness. You must identify and repent of these same tendencies in your own hearts and lives as well.
For, in His death and resurrection, Jesus, the True Chosen One of the Father, His Choicest and True Vine, even His only-begotten Son, has redeemed the vineyard of the True Israel. By the hands of evil men, the Father planted the Vine of His Son into the earth in death, and, in His resurrection, He has made Him to be a fruitful Vine. Though you were not originally His branches, you have been grafted into the True Vine through Holy Baptism and Spirit-created faith that His life should flow through you and that you might bear His fruits in your lives, words, and deeds to the glory of His holy Name. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this is the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Among the good grapes of the True Vine Jesus was the apostle Paul. Once a zealous persecutor of the Church, he “suffered the loss of all things” in order to “gain Christ and be found in Him,” to “know Him and the power of His resurrection.” Paul vigorously admonished the people to put not their trust in their flesh, in their ancestry and lineage, in their works, zeal, righteousness, or in anything other than Christ alone. Indeed, Paul excelled in all of these things compared to most, but nevertheless he counted them “as loss for the sake of Christ” that he may have “a righteousness [not] of his own that comes from the Law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Moreover, Paul did not consider this an accomplished goal, but a work in progress, as he became more like Christ, sharing in His sufferings and death that he might share also in His resurrection from the dead. Here St. Paul expounds upon the mystery of Sanctification, that God has declared you to be holy in His Son, and you are indeed holy, even as He now makes you to be holy as His life is lived in and through you and you bear His fruits.
Agricultural imagery abounds throughout the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testaments: The Vine and the Branches; The Wheat and the Tares; The Sower and the Seeds; The Cursed Fig Tree; Even Jesus’ death and resurrection are compared to a grain of wheat that is buried in the earth, dies, and bears fruit a hundredfold; etc. In the Gospels, Jesus uses agricultural imagery repeatedly to show that true and living faith is fruitful in good works of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, which are truly borne of fear, love, trust, and obedience to God, created and sustained by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament. Now the Church has been made the vineyard and Jesus Christ the choice vine. You are His branches, grafted in where unfruitful others have been cut off. Pastors have been called and have been given authority to watch over you and to see that Christ’s Word and Sacraments are preached, taught, and administered faithfully so that His branches may be fruitful in words and deeds of love, mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness to the glory of His holy Name. The harvest time is coming on a day and hour you cannot know. Therefore rejoice in the day that the LORD has made – this day, in which He is present in grace to forgive your sins, to renew and strengthen your faith, to equip you for service in His Vineyard Kingdom, and to send you bearing His fruit in your lives, words, and deeds in service of others to the glory of His Name. This is the day that the LORD has made; He has not promised you a tomorrow. Bear His fruits today and share them with others. Everyday is the harvest in which you glorify His Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB-A)

Matthew 21:23-32; Philippians 2:18; Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“The LORD lifts up the humble; He casts the wicked to the ground.” Notice how the Psalmist says that almost as if it were self-evident: For God to exalt the humble, He must necessarily destroy the wicked. And, indeed that is the case. You see, only those who are low can be lifted up. Likewise, those who are high can only come down. The point here, however, is that, in truth, we are all of low estate. The LORD expects us to realize that, to confess that, and, therefore, to be humble, and not proud.
You’ve heard that pride goeth before a fall, even that the root of all sin is pride, and that the sin of Lucifer, the devil himself, was immense pride. Truly, even though there is no specific commandment against it, pride is a great, perhaps the greatest, sin. Indeed, pride is a transgression against the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” for the one who is prideful has made himself to be his god. The fulfillment of all the Commandments, and of the New Commandment our Lord Jesus has given us, is love: Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and love your neighbor as God has loved you in Jesus Christ. Pride is the exact opposite of love, for love is selfless and sacrificial, and pride is self-centered and self-serving. The prideful cannot love anyone except themselves – least of all God.
And, so it was that the chief priests and elders of the people demanded of Jesus to know by what authority He taught the things He taught, did the things He did, healed, forgave sins, and permitted the people to call Him by Messianic titles. They demanded to know by what authority He did those things because, well, they were the authority, or so they believed, and they knew that it didn’t come from them. However, though they questioned Jesus about authority, they weren’t really concerned about authority, but what they were concerned about was power. I thank the Rev. Dr. John Kleinig for teaching me the difference between authority and power. You see, we often make the mistake of using these two terms interchangeably and synonymously. Yet, there is a very significant difference between authority and power. Authority is always given by others, whereas power is always taken from others. Moreover, authority is given to one that it may be used on behalf of, and for the good of, those who give it, whereas power is taken from the people and is used to subdue them and is lorded over them. The chief priests and the elders were indeed given authority by God through the people to be used for the sake of, and for the good of, the people, but they had abused their authority and had instead taken power from the people and subdued them and lorded their power over them.
Jesus knew this, and he saw through their demand to know by what authority He acted. He knew that they were concerned, not with authority, but with losing their power over the people. After all, Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead, even on the Sabbath. And, Jesus ate and drank and enjoyed fellowship with tax collectors, prostitutes, and all manner of known and public sinners. Most recently, the things that angered the chief priests and the elders and wounded their pride was that Jesus accepted the Messianic titles the people proclaimed of Him when He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and that He cast out the money changers and the vendors of sacrificial animals from the temple. “How dare you!” they protested. “We are the ones who have authority to proclaim who’s the Messiah and who’s not! And, we are the ones who set the rules for what happens in the temple!” No, it was not authority that they were concerned about, but it was that they felt their power being challenged, even as they were losing influence over the people they were attempting to subdue by taking from them power and wielding it over and against them.
Unsurprisingly, Jesus did not take their bait. He would not play their petty and wrong-minded, wrong-spirited, and wrong-hearted game. Instead, Jesus asked them a question: “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And, He had them – just like He always had them – caught between the rockiness of their hearts and the hard place of their pride. For, if they answered that John’s authority came from God, then they stood condemned, because they rejected John and the fact that the people listened to His teaching and believed in Him. However, if they answered that John’s authority came from men, or was no authority at all, then they feared the people who considered John a prophet of the LORD. And, there you have it; they were filled with fear. Why would those who had true authority from God through the people fear the very people they were given authority to serve? Were they not given authority to love the people and to serve the people with the gifts of God? Yes, indeed they were! But, they had long ago given up authority and, instead of loving and serving, they began to take and to accumulate for themselves power, and now they feared losing their power. The priests and the elders knew that Jesus had them, and so they lied to Him saying, “We do not know.” Therefore, Jesus answered them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
However, the truth is, they did know. They knew precisely where John’s authority came from, and they hated him for it. Likewise, they knew precisely where Jesus’ authority came from, and they hated Him for it as well. Moreover, they hated the people through whom, and for whom, they were given authority by God to serve. They hated the people and they despised them, and they took power from the people in order to subdue them and to bolster their own power, position, and pride. And, because they were prideful, they did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but they feared the people, they feared losing their power, and they feared being humbled before God and men.
Sadly, the same thing happens in our world today. Political leaders and magistrates receive authority from the people to be used for the good of the people, but they end up forsaking the authority given and instead taking power from the people to use against them. Yet, even more sadly still, this happens within Christ’s body, the Church, as well. How frequently are persons and committees in the Church, even pastors, given authority to use for the good of the Church, only to forsake that authority and take for themselves power which they now use to control and bolster their own power and pride? This, my dear brothers and sisters, is the work and the influence of our proud enemy the devil, and Satan tempts all of us to this selfish and self-serving abuse of authority that we would despise and hate each other, drive some away, and divide the rest, thus wounding and destroying the body of Christ, the Church.
The way to combat this is humility borne of repentance. Pride is the opposite of humility, and the prideful cannot be repentant, for there is, in their mind and heart, nothing to repent of. That is why pride goeth before a fall, because, from the heights of pride, there is nowhere to go but down. Jesus taught that you must not take the highest place at a banquet, lest someone higher than you be invited and you be demoted and humiliated in front of all as you take the lower place, but, rather, you must take the lowest place, that, by chance, you might be invited to move up higher. That is to say, in the Church, in the family of faith, we are each our brother’s servant. For, Jesus also teaches that, when you serve the least of these His brothers, you serve Him. “The LORD lifts up the humble; He casts the wicked to the ground.” Humble yourselves, therefore, that the LORD may exalt you in His way and in His time. For those who make themselves to be first will be last, and those who are last will be considered first.
This is what St. Paul teaches you saying, “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Moreover, St. Paul says that you should do this “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the Word of Life.” You see, you too have been given authority by God to serve each other in this family of faith, the Church, and even more, those outside these walls, walking in the darkness of sin and death, that they may walk in the Light of Jesus’ Word and Truth to the glory of God.
And, that you may be forgiven, fed and nourished, strengthened, and equipped for this your calling, Jesus humbles Himself to serve you in His Holy Supper, and He invites you to humble yourselves by kneeling at this festal board and receive this mysterious and holy Sacrament. Do not succumb to Satan’s temptation to pride, saying “It’s never been done this way before,” or “By what authority?” You know by what authority, and if you don’t, you have the authority of the Word of God. Humble yourself, search His Word, then come eat, come drink, and live. For, as your Lord Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, so must you His disciples receive His gifts and serve others in love, with His love, to the glory of His most Holy Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB-A)

Matthew 20:1-16; Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30; Isaiah 55:6-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The devil will find work for idle hands to do. You see, there’s no fence straddling when it comes to God. As Jesus teaches, you’re either with Him, or you’re against Him. You’re either a child of God, or your father is the devil. There is no neutral ground between the kingdom of heaven and what exists outside its gates; you’re either in the banquet hall, or you’re on the outside where there is weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
Idleness is akin to complacency and lukewarmness, fence straddling. If you are lukewarm and tepid about the Lord, the Lord will spit you out of His mouth. Truly, He’d rather you be either hot or cold, even against Him, than be unconcerned and nonplussed about your relationship with Him. That’s why He warns you that not all who call Him Lord will be saved, but rather those who hear the Word the Lord and do it.
And, so it is that Jesus teaches that the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a vineyard who hired laborers to go and work in his vineyard. The Master cannot tolerate idleness, for He knows that idleness, indifference, and complacency are inroads for the devil. Therefore, He goes out and He seeks and He calls men and women to work and to serve in His kingdom. Those whom He calls may well have believed that they were merely being idle, neutral – not against the Lord, per se, but not really for Him either, neither hot nor cold – but, do not be deceived! There is no neutral ground. Those who are idle perform the devil’s works, and they bear his evil fruit. Thus, it was an act of mercy, an act of grace, that the Lord has called them, that the Lord has called you, to work and to service in His kingdom that you may bear His fruits.
He called some early in the morning, others later in the morning, others still at midday, and still others near the end of the day – but, He called them each and all from idleness, or worse, to meaningful and fruitful labor and service in His vineyard kingdom. That is to say, they didn’t apply for this job, but they were recruited, they were called. Your calling is your vocation, which literally means, “calling.” When you are doing the work and service you have been called to do, it is always meaningful and fruitful, whether it bears visible and quantifiable fruits, in the eyes of men, or not. That is why Luther said that a mother changing her child’s soiled diaper is doing a holier work than the monk praying in his cell – for, the mother is fulfilling her vocation, her calling, serving the child the Lord has placed under her care. Now, don’t misunderstand, there is nothing wrong with prayer. Prayer is good, very good even, but the highest worship of God is to receive His gifts, and to glorify Him by giving and sharing those gifts with others in service of them to the glory of God’s holy Name.
At the end of the day, the Master told His Foreman to call the laborers and to pay them their wages beginning with those hired last and late in the day. They were each paid a denarius, a full day’s wage, regardless of how little or much they had worked. And, here’s were the Old Man in each of us feels his neck hairs bristle. “Unfair! Unequal! Unjust!” we are want to protest and cry. Yup! But, now, let me tell you why that’s a good thing. Remember, this is a parable about the kingdom of heaven, not some American corporation. It will do you no good to demand what you think you have earned, merited, or deserved. In fact, I would advise you sincerely to never make such a demand from your God and Lord. For, just think about it for a moment, what it would be like if your God and Lord paid you what you have earned, merited, and deserved. No, I’m quite certain that you really and truly don’t want that.
Rather, what you want from your God and Lord is not what you’ve earned, merited, and deserved – temporal and eternal punishment and death – but what you have not earned, merited, or deserved – grace, mercy, kindness, patience, and forgiveness. As we prayed in today’s Collect, “since we cannot stand before You relying on anything we have done, help us trust in Your abiding grace and live according to Your Word.” You see, that’s the problem with the laborers in Jesus’ parable who were hired early in the day – they could only think in terms of what they had earned, merited, and deserved. And, to be truthful, they didn’t become concerned about that until they saw those who were hired later in the day, who worked less, being paid the same as them. And so, Jesus’ parable is much less about a fair wage than it is about how we view others, both those of the family of faith, and those outside alike. Jesus’ parable is really about our love for, or our failure to love, our fellow man.
The kingdom of heaven is like a Master who calls anyone and everyone to work and service in His vineyard kingdom and pays each of them alike regardless of how long they’ve worked – for He pays them in the forgiveness of sins, salvation, and everlasting life. Do you see how absurd it is to become petty with the Lord’s eternal gifts? No one has earned, merited, or deserved what the Lord doles out freely, but if you insist on being paid what you’ve earned, merited, and deserved, then you’d better be prepared for an eternity of punishment in hell, for if you insist on getting what you’ve earned, the Lord will give it to you, for He will not force Himself upon anyone. But, you know better than that. Not only must you not begrudge the Lord His generosity towards others, but knowing His generosity and grace yourself, you must go and show and tell others this Good News about your generous and gracious Lord, and give freely to others of what you have freely received. Indeed, this is part and parcel the work and service you are called to do in your Master’s vineyard kingdom – to love and to serve others with His gifts to the glory of His holy Name.
For, time is running short. No, I’m talking about predictions of the rapture or the return of the Lord or any such foolishness, but simply that, the Lord is coming at a day and hour which no man can know. Therefore, each and every day you draw breath is the day of the Lord’s gracious visitation, the time in which He may be found with His abundant pardon. Thus St. Paul teaches that your salvation is nearer to you today than when you first believed, for each day is another day you live in your Lord’s grace, and there is no promise of tomorrow. Each and every day is an opportunity to be found not idle in the marketplace, but to be found working and serving in your Master’s vineyard kingdom.
This is what Paul is getting at in today’s Epistle saying, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.” For, to live is to live in Christ, for Christ’s life to be lived in and through you, His branches. Christians are fruitful, not because they are good people, holy, or anything of the sort, but Christians are fruitful because they have the life of Christ enlivening and flowing through them. Thus, Paul could also say that for him, to live is Christ. Like many of you, particularly those of you blessed with long life, St. Paul longed to depart this life and to be with Christ. Yet, at the same time, he believed and confessed that, if it was the Lord’s will that he remain here, that his life would be lived to the Lord in loving service of his neighbor.
Yet, in this life and service, you are not alone, but we “are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” and we are not frightened in anything by those who oppose us, for this is a clear sign to them of their destruction and of our salvation in Christ. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake, engaged in the same conflict” with St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Augustine, St. Martin Luther, and all the saints who have gone before us.
It is our Lord who has called us into His family of faith. We, who were no people, He has called and made to be His people, a great and holy nation. We, who were idle, bearing the devil’s fruits of destruction, our Lord has called by His Holy Spirit through the Gospel, enlightened, sanctified, and kept in the true faith that we might be fruitful and give life to world to the glory of His holy Name. However, we do not stand on anything that we do, but our trust in our Lord’s abiding grace, and we strive to live according to His Word. Therefore, we offer up the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and we call upon the Name of the Lord. We present our bodies and our lives as living sacrifices in loving, compassionate, and merciful service to our neighbor to the glory of His holy Name. And we find our sustenance and our life in His Words and Wounds as we lift up the cup of salvation and as He enters under our roofs in Holy Communion. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.