Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sermon on Luke 8:4-15, for Sexagesima Sunday, "Faith in Honest and Good Hearts"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The Parable of the Sower that Jesus tells today is the first of a great series of parables in the Gospel of Luke, and describes two basic reactions to His parables. He says in verse 10, before explaining the parable, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” You see, believers will hear and understand the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for unbelievers, they will actually confound them and they won’t understand. This is not just a matter of whether you “get it” or not right away—the disciples didn’t get the parable—but they asked questions to learn more. They were hearing the Word with “honest and good hearts”. Others tuned out or ignored the Word. This parable shows us why sometimes the Word of God is sown like a seed, and it grows and bears fruit—and why other times it sprouts, but never grows to maturity in a person.
The parable tells of four types of soil—the hard path, the rocky soil, thorny soil, and good soil. Now stop and think for a moment…since the Bible tells us that humans judge by appearances, but God judges by the heart…what mistake do you think we will often make? That we can judge who is “good soil” or who is not! We make all kinds of wrong judgements about people by outward appearances, and we must remember that only God sees all hearts, and knows who will or won’t receive His Word. Also, one of the minor points of the parable is about the generosity or liberality of the sower, who scatters the seed over all the types of soil—not picking and choosing who will receive it and where it will go. God urgently desires for all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). The seed falls on every type of soil, and even where it does not establish permanent growth, it still sprouted faith for a while.
The three types of soil where the seed never grows to maturity and to bear fruit, show the way the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh will try to hinder, stop, and choke out God’s Word. The seed that falls on the path is trampled and eaten by birds. Jesus explains this by saying, “The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” This happens whenever the devil causes God’s Word to be trampled or snatched away from people. Someone won’t give God’s Word a serious listen, because they’ve heard it’s “religious nonsense” or “superstition” or “old myths.” People’s hearts are hardened and resist the Word of God entering in and working on them. In this way, the devil tries to stop the good growth of the Word of God, before it can even begin. We can combat this, in turn, by holding the Word of God in high honor, and boldly in word and actions, show the goodness and truth of God’s Word to others.
But sometimes the seed of the Word gets past the devil’s first ploy, and it actually is received with joy, as on the rocky soil. Jesus explains: “when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” In this case, the Word of God produces faith and joy in a person, but only for a short time. But why does faith fail for them? There was no moisture, and no roots! Roots of course, drink in the moisture from the soil, and deep roots give a plant or tree both moisture and stability. But in times of testing, those on the rocky soil fell away. A faith that doesn’t grow deep roots will miss out both on the nourishing living water of Christ, but also the strong foundation and stability of resting on God’s Word through the troubles of life.
So how do we guard against a shallow faith that withers quickly in the heat of hardship? Colossians 2:6–7 says,  “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,  rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” We guard against it by being “rooted and built up” in Christ. Our whole life of discipleship circles around walking in Him and being taught and built up in Him. By you hearing God’s Word, learning it and taking it to heart, the Spirit grows those deep roots in us. This is how God’s Word equips us to stand against the hardships of life causing our faith to wither.
The third soil is the thorny soil, where the seed and thorns grow together, and thorns choke out the growth. Jesus says these hear the Word, “but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” What are the thorns? It’s not hard for us to understand why cares or worries would be “thorns” that  choke and pinch our faith—that we start to doubt or weaken under the sharp pressure of our anxious worries. But riches and pleasures of life? These are thorns? Most people are seeking to have wealth and enjoy the pleasures of life. Jesus is telling me that those are thorns too?! Yes sir! Jesus said you can’t serve two masters, God and money—you’ll hate one and love the other. Jesus also said that if you store up earthly treasures they’ll spoil, rust, or be lost—but if you store up treasures in heaven, they will last. And He also said that if you seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, all these things will be added to you as well.
We might remember that the Bible teaches that it’s the love of money that is the root of all evil. This translates to greed—and greed is a real thorn that pinches and chokes when faith is supposed to trust and rely on God, learning contentment and thanksgiving. Greed is never satisfied. But maybe it’s not just riches, but whatever type of pleasures we seek in life that is choking our faith. The point is, that if we are driven to satisfy only ourselves, and not think of the higher things of God, we will ultimately ignore God’s Word. God’s Word teaches a way of self-sacrifice and self-denial. Life that is filled with these thorns of cares, riches, and pleasure seeking, is a spiritual life that won’t reach maturity, but gets choked out.
Lastly we come to the good soil. If we have reflected on this parable, so far, we’ll probably be wondering what is the condition of our “soil”, our heart. Hopefully we all desire to be that “good soil” that hears and holds fast to the Word with honest and good hearts, and bears fruit with patience. But at the same time, we might start to consider that our lives might just be too crowded with cares, riches and pleasures—God’s Word is already being choked into a tiny stranglehold in our life, barely clinging to existence. Or we might notice that our roots are rather shallow, and we’re not sure whether we are ready for the hardships of life. Or maybe we’ve just hardened our ears and hearts too much and not given God’s Word much of a chance to work in us of late. And if so, we pray that the Holy Spirit would do the groundwork of clearing and readying our ears and hearts, so that we may have honest and good hearts.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear, Jesus calls out. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. “And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” Do you know that a normal good yield for a seed of grain is about tenfold? One seed planted leads to a harvest of an ear of grain with about ten seeds? So what does a hundredfold yield tell us about the power and fruitfulness of God’s Word? It’s incredibly powerful! Where does the power for a living and growing faith, in honest and good hearts come from? From you? No!! From God’s Word! His Word is powerful and active in our hearts, to accomplish just what His purpose is…fruitful and faithful Christians.
Jesus explains that the seed that falls in good soil “ are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience”. There are three actions here—hearing, holding fast to the Word, and bearing fruit. Hearing is God’s chosen way for His Word to enter our hearts. God doesn’t force His way, but comes to all, and enters where He is received. Holding fast to God’s Word is how God roots us deep in Him and establishes our faith, so it is sturdy and confident, trusting in Him. And bearing fruit is the end goal that God has in sight. He wants the seed that He plants, His Word, to grow and be fruitful in our lives. The honesty, goodness of heart, and patience, are examples of the fruit that God produces in us.
On our own, Scripture warns that our heart is the root of all kinds of sin, that our heart is stubborn and stony. Only Jesus and the Holy Spirit can give us a new heart. But this is just why Jesus came. This is just why the sower sows His seeds generously and liberally over all, so that many might hear and believe. Jesus’ Word brings forgiveness to the guilty, the washing away of all our sinful pride, stubbornness, and idolatry, bringing cleansing and humility to our hearts. Jesus’ Word brings life to the dead soil of our hearts, so that the seed springs up into a living and growing faith, that will bear the fruit of His Spirit. The Lutheran preacher John Gerhard talked about how the whole earth is renewed and made alive every year by seeds. All the plants and trees that drop seeds and produce new life. Farms that flourish from planted seeds. Everywhere we see green and life, we see the miracle of seeds.
In just such a way, God sows the seed of His Word in the hearts of men, women, and children all over the earth. Where before the ground was barren and lifeless, He sends His Word in seeds and rain showers, to pass over the earth and give it new life. Each one of us is born and made new by the living Word of Christ. We received Christ so we could walk in Him, rooted and established in faith. In God’s eyes, believers in Christ are a lively, growing green pasture, with a miraculous yield of fruit, created by His bounty and His blessing. Be of good faith and know that it is “God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7). Rejoice and believe in His Word, as it creates faith in honest and good hearts! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen at:

  1. Read Isaiah 55:10-11 and note the similarity to Luke 8:4-15, the parable of the sower. Read carefully for a slight difference though. “Seed” is mentioned in both, but what is the Word of God being compared to in Isaiah 55:10-11? (Hint: see what is “cause and effect” in the example).
  2. What are the “cause and effect” in Luke 8:4-15? Who would rob the hearers of the Word of God? Luke 8:12. How do we know the devil is up to this? 2 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Peter 5:8-9; Ephesians 6:11. What are some ways that we see the Word of God being stolen away from people today?
  3. What two (related) things does the seed growing on rocky soil lack? Luke 8:6, 13. How are good roots established? Ephesians 3:16-17; Colossians 2:6-7. What can’t happen without good roots? How do we ensure that our roots are growing healthy and strong, and are watered?
  4. What chokes the seed growing on thorny ground? Luke 8:14. Read Matthew 6:19-34. What competes for our devotion to God? What do we have to understand about riches and pleasures to see that they are in fact “thorns” that threaten to choke out our faith? 1 Timothy 6:6-10; James 4:1-5; 1 John 2:15-17.
  5. What makes the good soil a home for the seed/Word? Luke 8:15. Name the qualities in this verse. How does God make a home in our hearts? John 14:23.
  6. What does the generosity of the sower, in spreading the seed everywhere, communicate about the nature of God? Acts 1:8; Luke 24:46-47; 1 Timothy 2:4.
  7. What does Luke 8:10 (quoting Isaiah 6:8-13), express about the amazement of unbelief? John 12:40 and Acts 28:26-28 also quote Isaiah to marvel at the unbelief towards God’s Word. What does Acts say this tells us about where the Gospel is destined to go?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 20:1-16, for Septuagesima "Seventy" (Days before Easter), "God is Generous to all who enter"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. [Welcome to all of our Emmanuel Lutheran Preschool families! It’s a delight to have you as part of our ohana, and a blessing for our teachers to share in the joy of raising up our children in the knowledge of our Lord.] Today the parable Jesus tells gives us a surprise about how the kingdom of heaven works. But you’ll have to step out of the world of full-time employment for a moment to get the right picture. The people in the parable are “day-laborers” with no contract except a one day agreement for one day’s work and one day’s wage. At least the first to arrive on the job have that agreement. The ones who come later only have a promise to be paid “whatever is right.”
How uncertain would life be if our employment was day to day, not on a more permanent basis? One thing is for sure, no work = no pay = no food. Consider the life or death value of that denarius—one day’s wage—in the story. The workers who worked the longest felt like they had been cheated—even though the master paid them exactly according to the terms they accepted. Did they presume they now deserved 2 day’s wages, for 1 day’s work, since others arrived later and worked less than a full day? Not to be overly mathematical, but would those who worked one hour survive on 1/12th of a day’s wage? In other words, what is the point of the story? For the grumbling workers, it seemed like the master cheated them. But from the master’s standpoint (and to those he generously provided), the point is about the master’s generosity and His freedom to bless others with what is rightfully His.
Jesus is, of course, painting a picture in this story of God’s own generosity towards us. And God is generous to all those who enter to work in His vineyard. He doesn’t ration His blessings, or share them unequally with those who entered sooner or later. There isn’t a hierarchy of “pay scale”, and none are “short-changed”—they are all given what they actually need and what He generously desires to give.
So let’s look at what the key ideas in the story represent. The master going out to hire workers for His vineyard is a picture of God sending out the Gospel to invite you and I and all people to come work in His kingdom. God invites us into His kingdom, which is His church on earth—not a building, but the gathering of all believers who willingly “come to work” in His vineyard. And the wages are exactly the same for all! God doesn’t love us more or less based on whether we believed in Him sooner or later—whether since childhood or at our deathbed. God doesn’t subtract from the free gift of eternal life, on the basis of when we arrived in His kingdom. His forgiveness for our sins is full and free—not scaled or prorated based on some merit or worthiness in us, but solely on His generous mercy. Our worth and value in His kingdom is not scored against a list of “demerits” for the sins that we have committed, that must be counted against us. Rather, God loves each and every sinner in the world, and when He saves us and brings us into His kingdom, it doesn’t matter however unequal and different our earthly circumstances are—we all have the same one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:5). That is a great comfort to know.
Have you ever put your kids’ (or grandkids’) pictures on your refrigerator? Did you arrange them according to how well they were drawn? If one kid’s drawings weren’t as talented as the others, did you take them off? What does it show about your relationship to your children, that you proudly show drawings from each of them, on your fridge? What does it tell about God’s love that He wants all to enter His kingdom, early or late, and to receive the same blessings? What if you operated a soup kitchen and were going to gather people in for a meal, and some came early, and others late? Would you reduce the portion of the late arrivals? Double the portion of the early-birds? What does the equal care for all, in that situation reveal? Unfairness? No! Generosity for each according to their need. Everyday life is packed full of inequalities and uneven bargains, but God’s kingdom is blessedly generous to all who enter it. 
Back to the parable, I think those examples help us to figure out the real factor that drove the complaining. No one complains that all the artwork on a parent’s fridge isn’t of the same skill level. We know it’s there because people love their children and value their work, period. We don’t complain about the unfairness of soup kitchens. We know that people are dependent on that help, and are glad they receive what they need—their daily bread. But we do complain over unfairness of how our work and effort is measured. Whether the unfairness is real or perceived. A favorite Lutheran author of mine, Bo Giertz, writes that by nature we all tend to be “legalistic self-righteous snobs.” Ouch! But see if the rest of his description doesn’t fit us all too well:
We know when we shine brightly, and we like to remember our shining moments. We think people ought to recognize us for these shining moments and are offended if they don’t. We think it’s unfair if others, who have done much less, are given preference over us. And since God is to be the final judge, we feel that He, if anyone, should judge us fairly, according to our merits and skillfulness. But God doesn’t do that. For our sakes, it’s good that He doesn’t do that. If He did, judgment wouldn’t be in our favor at all. (Bo Giertz, To Live with Christ, 153).

Bo Giertz ends the devotion with these words of prayer: “Help me to remember how good You are to me so I am never jealous of your goodness to others. Even if I am last in Your kingdom, it is much more than I deserve.”
The parable, and this explanation, show us the danger of being jealous of God’s goodness and generosity to others. We end up grasping for recognition and reward, and despising others for having what we were given. Instead of taking what God gives with grateful hearts and thanksgiving on our lips, our eyes are on what others get or have done. We begin to play the game that always loses—to compare ourselves and our effort to everyone else. It’s a lose-lose situation because we either end up smug and self-righteous or discouraged and self-pitying. It’s not a game that leads toward contentment or thanksgiving. But by telling us this story, Jesus is inviting us both to receive and to reflect God’s generosity. The workers could have all gone home, grateful for the opportunity to work, grateful to have received a day’s wage and to be able to feed their family. That simple attitude of thankfulness and contentment can be ours also. It flows from the spirit of God’s own generosity to us—but we have to give up eyeing others for unfairness or insisting on getting what is our due. It takes shape in giving and working dutifully, with no special expectation to receive more than we were promised.
What does this mean for our daily life? Are we supposed to run our businesses this way, paying workers who work one hour the same as those who work twelve? That’s not the point, as I said before, Jesus is contrasting His kingdom to the world. But what should His kingdom do in our life? God’s church on earth is meant to be like a little embassy of God’s kingdom; a little outpost in this world—a place where the principles of God’s kingdom, and His reconciliation with mankind are worked and lived out. Among us, people should be able to get a glimpse of this radically different way of living and thinking—the generous love of God’s kingdom.
As Christians, that’s part of what it means to “work in His vineyard.” To be part of His kingdom is to labor for the goals of our generous and kind master. To be agents of His compassion, His love, and His forgiveness. To strip away our disobedient and selfish attitudes, and admit them to God as sin, so He will forgive us. To seek His kingdom and His righteousness. We’re reminded often enough by critics and sometimes even each other about our shortcomings and failures in living out the Christian life—but we know that it’s not on the basis of our works that God loves and blesses us with His forgiveness, life and salvation. God hasn’t delivered salvation to us on a sliding scale based on our merits or when we began to work in the vineyard.
Rather salvation comes only because of the perfect life and obedience of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. In every way that we fail to imitate God’s generosity—Jesus is the full and perfect image of it. In every way that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God—Jesus has obeyed and fully risen to the glory of God. To every degree that we were late on the job, Jesus has been faithfully at work since the time of creation. And this is not so that we might be demoralized and defeated by the comparison, but so that He could earn in our place the full reward of salvation, and freely give it to us. So that we could be confident of His victory for us—the only thing that matters. It is so that He might live in us by faith, that His living Spirit of obedience, generosity, compassion, and love will take root in and shape our lives to the glory of our Father and the love of our neighbor.
To His very death on the cross, Jesus loved His disciples—to the very end. And He did this, not by putting Himself first and demanding what was owed to Him, but rather by become last and servant of all. He became last of all for our sake, so that He might be first in the kingdom of God. And now He lives, risen from the grave in victory. To be part of His kingdom is to have His life alive and in you. For this reason, let us give up all grudging or reluctant attitudes; let us surrender the greedy or self-pitying eyes, and instead be grateful and content with our part in His kingdom, and rejoice to work for Him. For God is generous to all who enter His kingdom, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen at:

1.    Matthew 20:1-16 tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven. What things are noticeably different about the way God’s kingdom works than the way the world operates? What does this picture point us to? Hint: vs. 14-15. What key principle of God’s kingdom is shown here?
2.    Take yourself out of the world of full-time employment, and put yourself in the pool of people searching for daily employment. How vital to your existence is that daily wage? How does this change your perception of the claim of “unfairness” in v. 11-12. Were the first laborers really treated unfairly? Would the last workers survive on 1/12th day’s wage?
3.    Why are we so demanding of recognition and reward for our work? Since that is not the principle God is operating by in His kingdom, why is it harmful to us and others to begrudge God’s generosity?
4.    Does this parable disregard the value of work, or discourage work in any way? Why is that not a correct understanding of the parable? What is the point that it’s communicating?
5.    What deep joy and comfort is there for us to find in God’s generosity? How do God’s kingdom gifts come to us and all in equal measure, regardless of our status, to all who enter His vineyard to work? What are those gifts of Christ we already enjoy now? How would our lives be impacted, and those of others, if we employed more of that generosity and kindness toward others?
6.    When we put ourselves first, what will God do? Matthew 20:16; 23:12. Who does God raise up or exalt? God’s generosity, by definition, is not earned by us, nor is it up for sale or negotiation. Read Ephesians 2:1-10 to reflect both on the depth of our need for God’s generosity, and the ways and the reasons He shows it. Also how immeasurable and excellent it truly is!

Monday, February 06, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 17:1-9, for theTransfiguration of our Lord, "Jesus Only"

Sermon Outline:
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
·         Who can you call down from heaven to your attention, or to pay honor to you? Underscores the power and identity of Jesus. Son of God.
·         Note Moses and Elijah—alive. Promise of resurrection. Who they were…
·         After six days…setting, time reference, Moses, and events parallel one of Moses’ own mountaintop encounters with God in Ex. 24, the first time he received the stone tablets. Whether or not this intends for us to see the similarities, Moses-Law + Elijah-Prophets = represent OT, together pointing to and in service to Jesus
·         Moses—prophecies of a greater prophet, like him, to be raised up from among them and to speak God’s Word, and we must listen to Him. Elijah—mountaintop encounter with God, hidden in the cave. Ministry of mighty miracles, raising the dead son of a widow (like Jesus would later do for the widow at Nain, and Jairus’ daughter). Bold confrontation of idolatry and hypocrisy, like Jesus would also do.
·         After six days…more immediate connection, foretell of death and resurrection (the cross!). Taking up cross and following Jesus. Peter (and others?) did not want to see Jesus die. No glory in that. Now they see glimpse of glory, but at the end, returns to His focus on the cross—“Tell no one… till the Son of Man is raised…”  Cross first and foremost—glory in its own time.
·         Speaking of glory—how many times did God audibly speak from heaven over Jesus? 3. Last—John 12:27-33. Jesus acknowledges the coming hour of His death, and He’s ready to face it. Asks: “Father, glorify your name”—God speaks, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” Three times approval of Jesus’ actions to carry out God’s will. Christ’s glory would come through the cross. This miracle glimpse of glory on the Mt. of transfiguration is a private event, only for them to see.
·         Greater importance, to hear and listen to His Word!
·         God’s voice—Beloved Son, Well-pleased (repeats from Baptism), Listen to Him. Most important duty for all disciples. Most important for us.
·         More important even than seeing this glorious event. 2nd Peter—prophetic word is “more sure” and we “do well to pay attention”. Peter turns our attention to Jesus, and His Word. Moses and Elijah appear to turn our attention to Jesus, acknowledge His glory. God’s own voice turns us to “listen to Jesus.”  Do we need any other special reminders or warnings?
·         Jesus lifts up frightened heads, and they see Jesus Only. Focus again on Him. How much will our lives profit to focus on Jesus Only? Listen to Him. Worship Him alone. Love Him, no other gods. Trust in all of life—take up the cross and follow me…lose our life for His sake, will find it. Who else can return to us our very life? Who else could return the very life of Moses, Elijah, dead for centuries?
·         Son of Man is raised from the dead…the Son of Man who defeated death Himself can. Resurrection and the Life.
·         Life clutters with so many cares, worries, troubles—but even delights, joys, and amusements. Whether bad or good, it’s all too easy to lose sight of Jesus only. Instead of front and center in my life and trust—too easy to become lost in the crowd or forgotten among a million other things that occupy our attention. Where is Jesus Only? He is in His Word, where He still speaks today. Still as relevant and challenging and comforting and forgiving as ever. He is in Baptism, God’s beloved Son, inviting us to be washed with Him, forgiven and cleansed of every sin and stain—clothing us in His new righteousness. He is in His Supper, a holy meal He has prepared with His own body and blood broken and poured out for the forgiveness of your sins, and to bring you into fellowship with Him and each other. Jesus Only is our Savior. Not hidden on a mountaintop, not waiting for an elusive experience with His glory, but accessible and available to all who would hear the Word of God and listen to Him. God grant that we do! In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen at:

    1. Matthew 17:1 gives a “time marker”: “after six days….” What had taken place in the events between this and the preceding time marker in Matthew 16:21-28? Where was Jesus telling His disciples the journey of His ministry would take Him? What would He face and do?
    2. Who else saw God’s glory and heard God’s voice in a cloud on a mountain, after six days? Exodus 24:15-18. How had Elijah encountered God on a mountain? 1 Kings 19:9-18.
    3. “Transfigured” is metamorphosis in Greek. To change form or appearance. Jesus’ essence or being was not changed—but what about His being shone forth through His changed appearance to the disciples? John 8:12; 10:30.
    4. Peter wants to show hospitality to Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, but is interrupted by God’s own voice, giving him a more important instruction. What was it? Matthew 17:5. Why must we do the same?
    5. God’s voice speaks over Jesus at 3 key times in His ministry: Matthew 3:17; 17:5; John 12:27-33. How do these three episodes each confirm Jesus’ identity and God’s approval of His Son’s actions and teaching?
    6. Does Jesus want His disciples to be fearful? Why not? Consider last week’s message on Matthew 8:23-27, and read 2 Timothy 1:7.
    7. After the vision of glory faded, their focus was left on Jesus alone (Matthew 17:8). We do not live in glory or in uninterrupted bliss. How does having Jesus occupy our focus, enable us to journey through life successfully? Refer back to Matthew 16:24-28.
    8. Why would people be more ready to hear and believe the account of this mountaintop vision, after what Jesus says in 17:9 took place?