Sunday, February 26, 2012

Homily for Invocabit (The First Sunday in Lent)

H-28 Lent 1 (Mt 4.1-11 )


Matthew 4:1-11; 2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Genesis 3:1-21

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

One of the unquestionable pleasures of being a pastor is having the opportunity to baptize a newborn infant. Sometime before that day of joyous rebirth, as it goes, I will have met with the happy parents to catechize them in this Holy Sacrament and in the solemn responsibilities which they are about to undertake. It is during this catechesis that I take pains to convey to them the seriousness of Holy Baptism, that it is nothing less than a death and a resurrection to new life for their child, and that, also, it is the guarantee of a new and powerful enemy, Satan, who will plague and pursue their baptized child throughout his or her entire life until their life ends in physical death, awaiting the resurrection of the body on the Last Day. For, the entire life of a Christian is a life subjected to the devil’s temptations. Indeed, as soon as you are accepted and welcomed as children of God through Holy Baptism, the enemy will not cease to assault you that he might enslave you once again.

Thus Jesus suffered the temptations of the devil for you in the wilderness. Immediately upon being baptized by John in the Jordan, Jesus was lead by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for the purpose that He would be tempted by the devil. In Mark’s Gospel it states that the Holy Spirit drove or threw Jesus into the wilderness. However it is worded, the meaning is clear: After verbally declaring Jesus to be His Son and the fullness of His pleasure, after anointing Him with His Holy Spirit, God the Father sent Jesus into the wilderness to suffer the temptations of the devil forty days and nights, without food, exposed to wild animals. Though God tempts no man, He does permit you to suffer temptation that your faith may be proven true. You may consider this His passive will, or His alien will, but you must accept that, ultimately, suffering, testing, and temptation are God’s will for you. For, you are not automatons, mindless machines, or animals acting on instinct, but you have been given a free will, that is, you have been given the freedom to reject God in unbelief.

Similarly did God the Father permit our First Parents to be tempted by the devil, not in hunger in a barren wilderness, but with full bellies in a garden paradise. God did not tempt them, but He permitted the devil to do so. As always, God provided a way out of the temptation: trust in His Word, and fear and love of Him alone. This gift of faith they already possessed; indeed, they had everything they needed to support their bodies and lives. But, they still had a choice and the freedom to choose it. Their free choice, however, was to disbelieve God and His Word, to fear the devil and the harm he might do to them, and to love their own lives more than God who gave them life. Adam and Eve succumbed to the devil’s temptation. They chose to exercise their own will over and against God’s will. They acted freely, but in so doing, delivered themselves unto bondage and slavery and death. From our First Parents first corruption have all their progeny received the corruption of sin and death, for a bad tree produces only bad fruit.

Because sin and corruption are present from conception, no man is without sin and all bear Adam’s fatal mark. As it was for Noah and the Patriarchs, so it was for Elijah and the Prophets, the Apostles, and so it is for you today. Thus was it necessary for Jesus, the Second Adam, to be baptized and to suffer the temptations of the devil and overcome them by perfect faith and trust in the Word of God for you. And thus is it necessary that you be baptized into Jesus, that you may share in and benefit from His faith and obedience and victory over the devil, death, and the grave. But, as the devil assaulted Jesus with temptations in the wilderness, so too does he assault and tempt those who are members of His body, you children of God in Christ Jesus. It was necessary that Jesus face the devil in the wilderness for you, but that was only the first skirmish in a battle that would end with Christ’s victory over the devil in His death on the cross.

Satan had tried to take the infant Jesus’ life and had failed. Now he thought to attempt to win Jesus over to his side. Why not, he had been successful with Adam, why shouldn’t he be able to do the same thing again? And so, he tempted Jesus in the same way that he tempted our First Parents; he tempted Jesus to doubt what God had said in His Word. “Did God really say?” At Jesus’ baptism the Father had just declared “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased”, now the devil tempts Jesus to doubt this saying, “If you are the Son of God…”. Also, the devil tempted Jesus to satisfy His fleshly desires and passions for food and comfort, respect, and power, much in the same way that he tempted Adam.

You might consider the temptations of Jesus to be the temptation to avoid suffering and the cross that God has chosen for you. The temptation to turn stones into bread is the temptation to believe that feeding the body is the most important thing of all. “There’s a whole lot of hungry people out there in the world that you claim to love so much, Jesus,” says the devil, “won’t you do whatever you can to feed them? C’mon, God wouldn’t mind? You mean well, right?” Makes sense, doesn’t it? It’d be so much easier to believe that Jesus is God in the flesh if only He’d feed all the hungry bellies in the world and take away the suffering of hunger and striving to put bread on our tables. What did God say again? Oh yeah, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

“Well then, Jesus, why don’t you perform some miraculous and uncontestable sign so that everyone will believe you, you know, like throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple or something? God has said that He’ll command His angels concerning You, right? C’mon, it’ll be great!” “Again it is written,” Jesus said, “‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’.”

“This isn’t going so well,” said the devil. “This is going to require the big guns.” So, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me’. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve’.” And thus, the temptation of our First Parents has come full circle. The temptation to make yourself a god has been resisted and overcome by Jesus’ faith and trust in the Word of God for you. Jesus placed His fear, love, and trust in God His Father above all things and He said to the devil, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve’.” Then the devil left Him until an opportune time.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus suffered the assault and temptations of the devil for you. The devil tempted Jesus through the men Jesus came to save to perform impressive and glorious works to convince everyone that He was the Messiah. They tempted Jesus to secure early power and influence and become the new king of Israel who would rally the troops and overcome the subjugation of the Roman occupiers. And, when it became clear that Jesus was not going to do any of those things, but, rather, that He was following a path of selflessness and humility that would end in crucifixion and death, they tempted Him go a different way, man’s away, a way of avoidance of suffering and death, and a way that, if followed, would have left all of us in our sin with eternal death as our ultimate fate and destiny.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus resisted the assaults and temptations of the devil and, when He died upon the cross, He took all that the devil had left to pour out upon Him. Satan harangued and taunted and assaulted Jesus on the cross, and all the world with him, and Jesus willingly bore it all and, when He was ready, He gave up His Spirit and died – no one, no man, not even Satan took His life from Him, but Jesus gave it up willingly for you. And, in the moment of His death, Jesus dealt Satan the death blow; the Seed of the woman crushed the serpent’s head. In His death, Jesus won the victory over death for you, that He could give to you His life.

Paradoxically, after being tempted in the wilderness, Jesus went on to do all things the devil tempted Him to do, and on a grander scale, in accordance with God’s Word and will. He did even better than turning stones into bread when He multiplied the five loaves and two fish, feeding over five thousand. And He did better still by giving His own body with bread in Holy Communion thereby feeding millions with the bread that leads to everlasting life. And, rather than merely circumventing death by having the angels catch His fall, He died and fell into the earth, and He rose again, the first fruits those who sleep in death. And, finally, He does take up rulership of this earth and the heavens, not by force and power grabbing, but by ascension to the right hand of His Father in heaven.

Jesus suffered the temptations of the devil in the wilderness for you. It was necessary that Jesus face the devil in the wilderness for you, but that was only the first skirmish in a battle that would end with Christ’s victory over the devil in His death on the cross. For, Jesus accomplished the salvation of mankind by the tree of the cross that, where death arose, there life also might rise again and that the serpent who overcame by the tree of the garden might likewise by the tree of the cross be overcome. The Second Adam Jesus Christ has atoned for the sins of the First Adam. Your enemy has been defeated that you may place your fear, love, and trust in God alone and find strength in His Word to resist all the temptations the devil may through at you. They are but lies and deceits that cannot harm you. Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill; they shall not overpower us. This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done; one little word can fell him.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Homily for Ash Wednesday


Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; 2 Peter 1:2-11; Joel 2:12-19

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

Today represents a new beginning. However, it is not a beginning from scratch, but rather it is a return to the beginning from whence you came. Thus, you are marked with dust and with ashes, for of such you were created, and their mark upon you is in the form of a cross, the symbol of Jesus Christ who makes all things new.

For, even now, your God and LORD calls you to return to Him. Yes, after all that you have thought, after all that you have spoken, and after all that you have done that was against His Word and His Will, and after all that you have not done that you should have done, yes, even now, your God and LORD calls you to turn back to Him in repentance, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning, and to rend your hearts and not your garments; for the LORD seeks not the death of sinners, but rather that they turn from their wickedness and live. Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.

This is a great opportunity for you to stop whatever it is that you are doing and return to the LORD. Stop eating the bread that leads only to death. Stop working and striving to serve only yourself and your selfish desires. Stop walking the path that leads to death and the grave. Stop, and turn around, for the LORD your God has prepared a feast of salvation for you, grain, wine, and oil, that you may be satisfied and be no longer a reproach among the nations.

For, like the Prodigal Son you have strayed far from your loving Father. You have listened to the tempter’s voice and have begrudged your Father the things that He has not given you while you have disdained the good things that He has given you. You have satisfied your flesh and your passions as if this flesh and life were all there were, with no thought that with each breath you draw closer to death and that each breath is granted you by the God who created you and sustains you still. And, while you were fashioned to have a relationship with your Creator, you fled and hid and ran from Him and sought fellowship with men who perform their wicked deeds under cover of darkness and you crave and desire to fill your bellies with that which is unclean, unhealthy, and unbefitting man created in the image and likeness of God.

Repent and be turned, and rejoice that there is something and someone to return to. For, before you turn He is there, and when you turn you will find your Father running towards you with His arms wide open, ready to kiss you and clothe you in forgiveness and to restore you to life with Him. Indeed, He has killed the fatted calf in celebration that you, His child, who was dead, have been restored to life. But, more than that, He became what you are, sinful, unclean, and subject to death, that you might become what He is, holy and righteous and immortal. He sent His own Son into your flesh and became the Prodigal for you. As a man He forsook all the glory and honor that was rightfully His and He consorted with tax collectors and sinners and the likes of you. He lost everything for you, dying in your place as if He were the rebellious son, the whore, the self-righteous Pharisee, the glutton and the drunkard, to win your forgiveness.

Return to the LORD in repentance. Return to your baptismal purity and be renewed, restored, and washed clean once again in the blood of the Lamb. You need only wash your feet and you are completely clean, for there is one baptism for the remission of your sins. That filthy ash upon your forehead cannot take away the seal your God has placed upon you and still the cross of Jesus Christ shines through. You are His and He will never leave you or forsake you. Indeed, nothing can separate you from His love which is in Jesus Christ your Lord.

Today represents a new beginning for you. You are forgiven and restored; go and sin no more. Do not return to the corruption of this world, being filled with sinful desires, but remain vigilant in prayer, in fasting, and in doing good to all, especially the least in this world. For, the Lord Jesus is with you and, as He has suffered for you, so He suffers with you and will equip you with grace and peace and knowledge, granting you all things that pertain to life and godliness through which you may become partakers of the divine nature.

The LORD’s call is for you today, and then tomorrow, and then each and every day He grants you breath: Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. Each and every day, die to your self and live to God. Return to the LORD in repentance and live in Christ, in love, in mercy, in compassion, and in forgiveness for the sake of Jesus, to the glory of God the Father, in His most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Homily for Quinquagesima


Luke 18:31-43; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Samuel 16:1-13

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

In Jesus’ teaching, seeing and hearing have nothing to do with being able to physically see and hear. That is to say that, neither your possession of fleshly eyes and ears nor their proper functioning will provide you the sight and the hearing to which your Lord is calling you. Indeed, many people in Jesus’ day, as well as in yours, see and hear well enough, and yet their eyes and their ears are closed to Jesus’ Word and teaching. And, if you believe that you see and hear, but you do not do, then Jesus’ Word to you today is a call to repentance that your eyes and ears may be opened more fully to His Word that you may both receive and share His love.

In last week’s Gospel, the Parable of the Sower and the Soil, your Lord called you to have ears of faith that you might hear the Word of God and “hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience”. Today you are told of a conflict which occurred on the road to Jericho between those having eyes to see and a blind beggar sitting along the roadside. In this account you are called to see that neither the seeing nor the blind have the 20/20 vision of faith to believe and hold fast the truth that Jesus must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die and rise again on the third day.

Immediately prior to the encounter with the blind man on the road to Jericho, Jesus had taken His twelve disciples aside to share with them this Paschal mystery. His first word to His disciples was this, “See”. This imperative was much more than a mere attention-getter, but it was a creative and performative Word; it was good and life-bestowing seed having the power to create faith and trust unto fruit-producing life. “See,” Jesus said, “we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.” But, hearing, they did not hear, and seeing, they did not see; “they understood none of these things”. They could not grasp the meaning of Jesus’ Words. Moreover, the Evangelist tells you that the meaning was hidden from them. This is in accord with what you confess in the Small Catechism about the work of the Holy Spirit, that you cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, your Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit must call you by the Gospel, enlighten you with His gifts, sanctify and keep you in the true faith. It is by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone that you receive eyes and ears of faith that you may believe in Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior and bear fruit in love.

Though the disciples certainly believed in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they were blind to the fullness of what that meant. They could not comprehend or believe in the Paschal mystery which Jesus taught them because their hearts were overcome with worldly values, concerns, and anxieties. The soil of their hearts was at times thorny, stony, and even hard. Like Peter, all of them were at once capable of the bold confession that Jesus is Christ and Lord and denial of what the Christ must accomplish. Thus, their faith, like yours, often struggled and languished and, at times, failed to bring forth the fruit of works in love. Indeed, St. Paul provides you a long list in today’s Epistle lesson of seemingly glorious works that count for nothing if they are not borne from a heart of faith and love.

Thus, when Jesus, His disciples, and a great crowd encountered the blind man sitting along the roadside as they traveled to Jericho, their response to the man’s plea for Jesus’ mercy was not to bring Him to their Master but to rebuke him and command him to be silent. Even though they confessed Jesus to be their Lord and Master, they did not understand that He had come to redeem the least of men, whom He counted as brothers. Likely, they considered the man’s blindness to be the result of his sin; thus, rather than show him mercy and compassion, they stood in judgment over him and counted him unworthy of the Master’s presence or time. They failed to understand that Jesus had come in mercy and compassion and in love to all because their eyes and their ears were not fully open to the Word of God. Moments earlier Jesus had taught them that He must be delivered over. Indeed, God the Father, even then, was delivering over Jesus for the sake of sinners, to release them from bondage and slavery to sin, sickness, and death.

When the blind man asked what all the commotion was, the crowd could confess only the humanity of Jesus, His name and hometown. But, the blind man, in his blindness, could see considerably more than they. He cried out to Him saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Though he was blind, he had heard and seen through the Word of the Prophets about the Messiah and what He would do and how He would come. His only plea is for mercy. And, mercy is precisely who Jesus is and what He had come to do. Jesus, God’s anointed, is the love and mercy of God incarnate, dwelling amongst us as our brother. Those having the Spirit-given eyes of faith will see this Truth and cling to it for life and salvation.

When Jesus asked the man “What do you want me to do for you?” the blind man replied, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. Ironically, the blind man could already see better than most who were not blind. He trusted in Jesus completely that He could, and would, restore his sight. Jesus granted the man his vision, but He said that it was the man’s faith that had made him well. Indeed, the restoration of the blind man’s vision was the outward sign of his inward faith, with which he could see already that this man Jesus was the Lord of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love.

Faith in Jesus is the one thing needful. The blind man had faith, arguably even more than the disciples. Even though he was blind, he had the necessary vision to see that Jesus was God’s mercy and compassion in human flesh. Upon his healing, that man became a disciple of Jesus too and followed Him, glorifying God. And yet, even His vision could be improved upon, for the Lord and Master he followed was going to the cross to suffer and die. Though he could see clearly now, could he see that this was necessary and good, that Jesus’ death on the cross was the true healing to which the recovery of his sight only pointed? The truth is, no, he could not. For, in truth, all of Jesus’ disciples abandoned Him unto death and not a one believed that He was raised from the dead until they saw Him in the flesh with their own eyes once again.

Dear Christians, disciples of Christ, brothers and sisters of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, you are those who believe even though you have not seen. Your seeing is a gift of God’s grace and mercy delivered by the Holy Spirit though Word and water, body and blood. You no more chose to believe than does a blind man to see, and yet, you believe, and this is a pure gift of God’s grace by the creative power of the good seed of His Word. You have joined in the train of the disciples and blind Bartimaeus in following Jesus through suffering and death on the cross to the resurrection to new and eternal life. Now we set our faces with our Lord Jesus to go to Jerusalem to die with Him that we might rise and live with Him in the resurrection. In baptism you have already died with Him and have been raised with Him, but still the flesh must have its end and its new beginning. Now you must journey with Jesus down from the mount of Transfiguration glory, where all can see and believe, into the valley of the shadow of death where all men live, where all men experience suffering, pain, loss, and death – for lost and suffering men are whom Jesus was sent to redeem, men just like you.

But, when you have been given eyes to see Jesus for the Suffering Servant, Lord, and Savior He is, then you must share the mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love of Jesus with all you encounter, as did blind Bartimaeus, that all the people, when they see it, give praise to God. And, to forgive you, sustain you, and to strengthen you in faith, Jesus still comes to you in humble means, Word and water, bread and wine, that in receiving Him in these humble and lowly means you may see Him, not according to outward appearances of lowliness, but according to His heart of mercy and compassion, that you might behold Him by faith and follow Him to the cross through death into life.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Homily for Sexagesima



Luke 8:4-15; 2 Corinthians 11:19 – 12:9; Isaiah 55:10-13

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

You must notice the nonchalant, almost cavalier way your Lord speaks about preaching? He presents to you a sower who went out to sow his seed. And, as your Lord tells the story, the sower sowed his seed indiscriminately, the vast majority of it falling amongst rocks, thorns, and thistles, and a quarter of the seed even falling upon the hard, beat down path where it is trampled underfoot and is eaten by the birds. Further, as Jesus told this parable to the crowds who followed Him, He cried out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” He might as well have said, “Understand this, if you are able” or “Let the wise be wise, and the foolish foolish.”

Jesus’ point, of course, is that, while soil must be of a certain quality to produce fruit, so too men’s hearts must be of a certain quality in order to produce the fruit of love in good works in service of their neighbor. It is not enough that the seed merely make contact with soil, for, unless the seed can penetrate the soil, grow a strong root, and receive proper nourishment, light, and water it cannot, and it will not, produce fruit. Likewise, though all men have ears, and most hear sounds quite well, still most do not hear the Word of God and receive it as seed in good soil. Indeed, even men who are physically deaf and unable to hear are, nevertheless, able to hear the Word of God and receive it in faith and hold it fast in an honest and good heart, bearing fruit with patience.

But, this is precisely what Isaiah prophesied concerning the Word of God saying, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” As the rain and the snow fall upon the entirety of the earth indiscriminately, and not only upon the rich, tilled, and weeded soil of the fields, so does the Word of God go out into the world.

And, what is the result of this preaching? What is the result of such indiscriminate sowing of God’s Word? Is it not that the soil of men’s hearts is exposed for what it truly is, stony soil, thorn and thistle infested soil, rock-hard soil that cannot even receive the seed of the Word? For, you must understand that the failure to produce fruit does not rest with the seed, but with the soil. The seed of the Word of God is life-giving, creative, and powerful; it will accomplish that for which it was sent. But, what about the soil? What about the condition of men’s hearts? If the soil of the heart is good – that is, if it has been broken, de-stoned, and weeded through repentance and contrition over sins, then it will receive the seed of the Word of God and the seed will begin to do its work, producing fruit. But, if the soil of the heart is hard and impenetrable, filled through with stones, and infested with thorns and thistles, will not the good seed of God’s Word expose the soil of the heart for what it is? This is why Jesus says “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” God’s Word is either received in repentance and humility or it is rejected in unbelief. If it is received, that is due to God’s grace and the creative power of His Word. If it is rejected, then man’s heart remains what it already and truly is, hard and dead. We all have ears, but not all hear the Word of God. Faith comes by hearing, but hearing comes by the Word of God. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

For, surely you aware that there is no such thing as pre-tilled soil, but all soil is either hard, stony, or infested with weeds, thorns, and thistles. In order to sow seeds, with the hope of producing fruit, soil must be worked and broken, it must be tilled, de-stoned, and weeded. And, soil doesn’t till, de-stone, and weed itself, does it? But, the good seed of God’s Word has the power to break the hardened heart, to pluck out the stones, and to pull the weeds with the preaching of the Law that you might turn in repentance. And, when faith is created, it is nurtured and nourished, pruned and cultivated over time, by trial and tribulation, that it may grow and bear fruit in patience.

In another parable, that of the wheat and the tares, Jesus told His disciples that it was an enemy who had sown the tares in with the wheat. Indeed, from the moment the seed of God’s Word is sown in the hearts of men, the devil begins his attack. Satan snatches the Word away from hard hearts. The riches and pleasures of this life choke off faith. Shallow and emotional belief withers in time of temptation and trouble.

But, take heart, for Christ has borne this attack for you. Christ’s cross was planted in the hard and rocky soil of Golgotha. A crown of thorns was placed upon His head. Satan and His demons hellishly hounded and devoured Him. Yet, through His dying and rising again, He destroyed these enemies of yours. Jesus is Himself the Seed which fell to the ground and died in order that it might sprout forth to new life and produce much grain. He is the vine and you are His branches; baptized into Him, you remain in Him and He remains you, that you will bear much fruit.

And Jesus is the seed of the woman Eve, planted in the virgin soil of Mary’s womb. When the Word of God became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us, He took your flesh, through death, into life, crushing the serpent’s head, and rising again, the first fruits of those who die in Him, a hundredfold.

The Word of God is good seed. It is always efficacious. Whether it be preached to hardened, stony, or thorn infested hearts, or even good soil, it matters not, for the Word of God will not return to Him void, but it will accomplish that for which it was sent. It alone has the power to bring something out of nothing. It alone has the power to create and sustain faith. And it alone has the power to till hardened, stony, and thorn infested hearts and cause them to bear fruit, a harvest a hundredfold.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Homily for Septuagesima

laborers in vineyard


Matthew 20:1-16; 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 10:5; Exodus 17:1-7

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

Outside those doors is a world ruled by man’s wisdom and reason, knowledge and intellect. In that world men are in competition with one-another, much less for survival than for the amassing of power and wealth, material possessions, and for the admiration, envy, and fear of other men. Outside those doors men use political philosophies, business and marketing strategies, coercion, threats, and even force to gain one-upmanship over one-another, to advance the self, and to squash all competition or opposition. That’s what lies outside those doors from whence you came this day. But, when you come through those doors into this place, you must leave all those things behind, check them at the door. For, such philosophies, strategies, and means have no place within the walls of God’s house, and they must find no voice amongst God’s children. And we must not attempt to use them to grow, to maintain, or to defend the Church of Christ, for they are of, and they belong to, the world outside those doors, and, though the Church of Christ is within that world, She must never be, or become, or desire to be, part of that world.

Indeed, in His parable today, Jesus is not describing what lies outside those doors, but He is describing what is inside those doors, the kingdom of heaven, a reality of which our humble assembly in this place is but a dim reflection. It is a parable about a Master who hires laborers to work in His vineyard and who, at the end of the day, pays them exactly what He had promised each of them regardless of how long they had worked or what they believed that they earned, deserved, or merited. To be sure, if Jesus’ parable were enacted as a socio-political philosophy today, neither the capitalist nor the socialist, nor even the libertarian outside those doors would agree or be pleased, for the first principal in Jesus’ parable is grace, which, by definition, cannot be earned, deserved, or merited. For, you must remember, this is a parable about the kingdom of heaven, and not a parable about the crumbling, rotting, selfish, and wicked kingdoms of men.

And, notice this, there is no “go and do likewise” teaching from Jesus here. For, the kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of grace – period. In the end, you are either in the kingdom of God’s grace, or you are outside of it; you are either on this side of those doors, or you are on the outside. Those on the outside of the kingdom of God’s grace will be there by their own choice alone, for the Spirit of the Lord will continue calling laborers to work in the Lord’s vineyard even unto the eleventh hour of this world, and those who enter last will receive the fullness of God’s grace in Jesus Christ even as the first. The only question that is asked of those who enter the kingdom at the eleventh hour is “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” Do not begrudge the Lord His generosity.

Indeed, there is more for you to check at the door when you enter this place than merely your socio-political philosophies and your worldly wisdom and fleshly desires, for you must check every sense of merit, worthiness, and deserving as well. For, you come into the kingdom of heaven much in the way that you came into this worldly kingdom – naked, helpless, and with nothing to offer. Worse than that, you come as damaged goods, broken, selfish and self-centered, envious, greedy, and filled with every corruption. That’s the way you come into the kingdom; but that’s not the way you leave. For, there is not one in the kingdom of heaven that does not receive a 100% share of the Lord’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness for the sake of Jesus Christ. And, there is not one in the kingdom of heaven who is not made to be holy, innocent, and righteous in the atoning incarnation, life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Outside those doors, many men are concerned only about preserving, keeping, and defending what they believe they have rightly earned, deserved, or merited, while, many other men are concerned only about providing for those who are either unable or unwilling to earn, deserve, or merit much of anything at all. As the former may be tempted to self-concern and selfishness, so the latter may be tempted to take, by coercion or by force, from those who have to distribute it to those who have not. But, that is outside those doors. For, inside those doors, in the kingdom of heaven, no one earns, deserves, or merits anything at all, and yet all receive equally and fully of God’s rich grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness for Jesus’ sake. Again, there is no “Go and do likewise” teaching here, but, nevertheless, you are sent back out through those doors into the world, but not of the world. And, you go out into the world differently, as a child of God, as a recipient of God’s boundless grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness, to show and to share to those in the world that they might come through those doors and enter the vineyard kingdom of heaven as well. No, you will not be perfect in your efforts outside those doors; you will pick up some of the old habits, and thoughts, and sinful ways of the flesh. But, when you return, you will leave those things at the door once again and return to the kingdom of heaven in repentance and humility, where you will find that, though you strayed, the kingdom was never far from you, and that you will be restored and renewed in God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness once again for the sake of Jesus Christ your Lord.

For, while the way into this place may be through those doors, the way into the kingdom of heaven is not through those doors, or the doors of any building, but the way into the kingdom of heaven is through the font. For, the font is the womb of the Church, the place where the children of God are conceived and born through water and the Word. And, from the pulpit and the lectern the children of God are nourished and strengthened in faith by the faith creating and sustaining Word of God. And from the altar the children of God are served the finest of meats and the choicest of wines to eat and to drink, that Christ may dwell in you and you in Him. For, as St. Peter has written, “our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

And so it is, dear Christian, that you live your life in two kingdoms – the kingdom of this world outside those doors, and the kingdom of heaven inside those doors. And, as much as the world out there must not influence, change, or affect life in the Church of Christ, so likewise, it is not the mission or the purpose of the Church to conquer and to rule in the world. Rather, you are to be like leaven in the world, you are to be like salt in the world, and you are to be like light in that world of sin, darkness, and death. That is to say that you are to take the grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness that you have received from God in Jesus in His kingdom of grace and you are to live it, to speak it, and to do it in the world, in your vocations, to your neighbors, as God has freely lived, spoken, and done to you in Jesus Christ.

And, as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, you must not seek to use the government or politics or force to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth, for grace does not force itself on anyone, but it is freely given and it must be freely received. Likewise, Jesus nowhere teaches that the children of God should utilize government, politics, or force to take what belongs to one and give to another. Instead your Lord teaches, “Give, as it has been given to you” and “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.” You search the Scriptures in vain for a socio-political philosophy, for Church growth strategies and marketing techniques, for such things are of the kingdom of the world outside those doors, while Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. But, you are the Lord’s laborers in His vineyard, and, notice, there is no description of the kind of work that you do or even of the limits of your work shift, for, the conditions of your hire are a relationship of faith and trust in the good will of your Lord and Master, and the work that you do is to live your life outside those doors in faith and trust in Him and in loving service to your neighbor. Put not your trust in princes, they are but mortal, but put your trust in Jesus Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth. He offers His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness to all, to the last as to the first. Let us not begrudge His generosity but share it in life, word, and deed to the glory of God the Father, in His most Holy Son, in the love of His Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.