Saturday, February 8, 2020

Septuagesima 2020

Septuagesima Sunday – Matthew 20:1-16 – February 8th and 9th, 2020

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
I am an unabashed fan of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special – and not just for the fact that it's about the one time a year Scripture actually gets read on TV. No, I actually like how dark and cutting some of the humor is. And my favorite part is where Sally has Charlie write out her Christmas Letter and asks Santa to send her tens and twenties – fifties and hundreds today. And when Charlie Brown gives his “good grief” Sally says, “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.” That is fantastic social commentary, and it should remind us today that the more things change, the more they stay the same – all I want is what is coming to me, all I want is my “fair” share.

One could easily imagine the workers in the vineyard, the ones who had come early in the morning and had worked all day saying the same thing. There they were, and they saw the Vineyard owner toss out money to these Johnny come latelies – these lazy bums who had only worked half a day, or barely an hour. Surely, surely when we who have worked the hardest get paid, we will get a just reward! And on receiving [a denarius] they grumbled at the master of the house saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” Where's the money? Pony up the cash? Deniarii in at least 2 and 3s! All we want is what we have coming to us! All we want is our fair share. The story of the workers in the Vineyard is such an interesting story because on the face of it, it does seem quite unfair. We like people to get what they work for. We don't like people to be simply given something when we have to work for it – whether the narrative is how you hate the lazy rich who are just given everything by their parents and never have to work or whether the narrative is grousing at the lazy poor who just get government handouts – even to this day someone getting something for free when we have worked for it always irritates us.

So listen careful when I say this. If you start to think in any what that your salvation is by works, if you think your relationship with God is based upon all that you have done for Him, you will be eternally angry and irate, bitter and mad. Simple as that.

Consider again the story. At first glance we can understand why the laborers who worked all day might be angry and annoyed – why they are so upset at the end of the day. But that happens only when they and we don't understand, don't remember where they were at the beginning of the day.
For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. We hear that and we can just skim on by it, but this is important. Where are the laborers when we start? What's the situation of the laborers before we come across them? They are unemployed. In a day and age when there are no social agencies, when there is no unemployment insurance, when the Law is “If a man does not work, then he shall not eat.” And these laborers, whom the master finds, are people who have no job. Ponder that – they are there, standing, and they literally do not know where their next meal will come from. That's their situation. They wake up and don't know if they will be able to buy bread for their family. And frankly, there's every reason to think that they might not be able to – but then the master comes. Here, come to my vineyard, and I'll give you a good salary – a Denarius – a living wage! He doesn't undercut their pay, he doesn't lowball them – he doesn't minimum wage them, or give them a bit of cash all off the books like migrant workers. This is solid, like a union job falling into their laps. And they were happy – as they ought to have been – this is Kingdom of Heaven stuff, this is how things ought to be.

At that point they knew how generous the master was – because he dealt with them generously in hiring them. No shenanigans, no funny business – just dealing with them generously straight from go. And unsurprisingly, the master continues to be generous. He hires more and more workers throughout the day – finds more and more people who are becoming ever increasingly desperate and despondent, who see more and more doom and gloom and hunger and poverty enveloping them, and over and over the master calls them – here, come, I'll give you what is right. And he does – he takes care of all of them. Everyone gets treated well – a Denarius – a full wage, enough for life and the joys and comforts there of.

But by the end of the day, some of the workers aren't seeing the masters' generosity towards them anymore. Instead, they only see how others took short cuts, got off easy. I had to sweat it out – how come they get the same as me? Greed and envy cloud everything, and their joy and peace is turned to anger and discontent. But what had changed? The master hadn't changed – he was still his same old generous self. Their situation hadn't changed – they got exactly as they were promised – the good that they were promised. No, the only thing that had changed was their idea of what was “fair” - of what they should have coming to them. They forgot that when they woke up that morning it would have been fair for them to go hungry, that poverty and death was what they had coming to them, all except for the fact that this master went out and found them and called them to the vineyard. They forgot, and so they were miserable.

The Kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of grace – that is, it is a kingdom of God's free forgiveness and favor, given not because of what we do or will do but simply because it is God's good and gracious will to redeem sinful man. And that's what we are – sinful men and women – and we must remember that by rights, our “fair share” is death and hell. But to see that we do not get death and hell as our only share, Christ Jesus comes, God Himself becomes man, and He Himself goes to the Cross – He bears the true burden of the day, the true scorching heat in our place so that we do not have to – and He rises, and in His grace and mercy, by the Gospel He gives us life eternal and salvation. He gives it to us – to some of us who have been faithful since childhood, to some of us who have often wandered off but have been called back, to some of us who lived idle lives not knowing Christ until lately – but to all of us the same, incredible gift of life and salvation.

This is wondrous and profound and beautiful. Here we have a congregation – people from various walks of life with different stories, all of whom God has called into His kingdom, and here we receive the same forgiveness and life in Christ. I speak the same absolution to you all, the same Scriptures are read to you, the same sermon is proclaimed to you – the same Holy Supper for you – the same blessing upon you. And we are brought to stand before God forgiven and righteous in Christ and prepared for life everlasting. But know that you will be tempted to despise this. That Satan wants you to hate this. That your sinful flesh wants to fight against this. Oh, it's nice that I get forgiveness – but how can so-and-so just get forgiveness. Why, I'm surprised that lightning doesn't strike them. There's a reason there's a big giant Cross on that wall and not a big giant lightning bolt. We all live under the Cross, all equally forgiven.

But in somethings we are not equal. Not all have the same life, the same story of how God called us here. We don't all have the same talents or gifts or opportunities. We don't all have the same burdens and temptations. We don't all have the same failures, and frankly we don't all have the same opportunity to fail. And so how do we see those differences? Do we see them in light of God's generosity – see how gracious God is in how He has richly blessed my neighbor – see how generous God is in how He has kept me from that harm, that danger – see how generous God is in that He has rescued that person from that trial. Or do we see these differences sinfully with a wicked and jealous eye – why don't I have what they have, why are they here when they've failed so and I haven't, why can't everything just be my way? One way of looking and seeing is by faith, and there is joy and wonder, and always more of it. The other way is of sin and death, and then there is no end to your discontent and sourness. If you start to think in any what that your salvation is by works, if you think your relationship with God is based upon all that you have done for Him, you will be eternally angry and irate, bitter and mad. Simple as that.

Yet once again, this day, the Master calls us unworthy sinners into His Kingdom, and He gives us precisely what He has promised us. He Himself will come and be our God, be with us. He will treat us as His children and the heirs that He has declared us to be in Holy Baptism, and He will give us His rich feast – now, this day as well as eternally in the life of the world to come. And this is for you. This is His generous goodness for you. God grant us His Spirit to strengthen our faith so that we receive it as such. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Presentation of Our Lord

Presentation of our Lord – February 1st and 2nd, 2020 – Luke 2:22-33
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
And I bet you didn't know that Groundhog's Day was a Church holiday. It is – the Presentation of our LORD – 40 days after Christmas, when Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple to offer the sacrifice for a first born son – two turtledoves. The Groundhog stuff isn't in the bible – that's just crazy German folklore, but this date remembers the first time Jesus, our true High Priest, entered the temple to be our Savior.

But when He gets to the temple, before the sacrifice, something happens – a beautiful, wonderful event – so wonderful and beautiful that we will sing it again today in just a few moments. There was an old man named Simeon, an old fellow who lived in Jerusalem. And somehow the Holy Spirit had revealed to this pious old man that he would not die, he would not see death until he saw the promised Messiah – the Messiah who would be the consolation of Israel. Can you think what it would be like? Oh, there is old, faithful Simeon, just waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the Messiah. Would that we believed the Word as he did and show such diligence as he did! But at any rate, as Jesus and Mary and Joseph are at the temple, Simeon comes up, and he sees Jesus, he sees this Child – and he takes Him up in his old aged arms, takes Him out of Mary’s hands into his own and starts giving thanks to God, blesses God, extols God and sings His praises – uses words which are familiar to us all – Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel. We know these words – they are the Nunc Dimittis – Latin for “Now Let Depart” the first phrase of this in Latin. We sing them, even to this day after communion.

Let’s ponder them today, for they teach us much, and we learn much from them. Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word. Such an interesting reaction. I can die now. That’s what he’s saying – when he uses the phrase “depart in peace” he’s not hoping for short lines at the airport for his trip to Florida – Simeon is saying, “Alright Lord, I can die now – You can take me.” Is that not a marvelous faith, a wonder to think on and behold? To be that confident, to be that sure – I can die now. That is a wonderful gift – Simeon has no more fear. Now, the world likes to keep us full of doubt, full of fear – oh no, what will the future hold. The world thrives on fear, fear sells. Fear keeps you on the edge of your seat. Fear keeps you in bondage. Sadly, politics this election year will probably just end up being competing ways of spinning fear. Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word. For Simeon, there is no fear – and why? According to Your Word. Simeon has heard the Word, and Simeon believes. Because Simeon believes the Word, trusts that God will be true and will provide Salvation, indeed, Simeon now holds salvation in his hands – what is there for Simeon to fear? Eh, I can die now, the grave holds no more fear for me – I hold the One who will call me forth from the grave. This is the peace that Christ gives, this is the peace and release from fear that is ours – that we know we have and receive every time we receive our Lord’s Supper. Think on this – you have communed – Christ Jesus has given you His own Body and Blood for your forgiveness – what else is there to fear? What tops that, what is bigger or more powerful than Christ Himself given for you? Like Simeon, you too see and hold and indeed even taste your salvation, and are bold like him. You are right to sing his words, make them your own as well – because you have what he had – you likewise trust in the Word. This is the peace of the Lord that is with you always, because in Him you have an eternal peace, and peace that nothing in this world can take away.

Simeon’s song continues – For my eyes have seen Your salvation, that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples. We know the old adage – seeing is believing. We can hear things, even from good, reliable sources – and we can even know that something is true – but until we see it for ourselves it doesn’t quite hit home. Our eyes are a useful tool – a wonderful gift given to us by God, even if now a days our eyes can all too often be wandering eyes, looking where they ought not, casting covetous glances all around. Old Simeon knew that the Lord’s Word was true – that when the Lord spoke it was as good as done, you can take it to the bank. And Simeon believed – and yet, when this old man sees the Christ Child, he breaks forth into joyous song. He has seen it – He has held the Christ Child in his own hands – he knows it to be true.

Simeon’s response doesn’t surprise God – because God knows how Simeon, how we, how our minds work. We like having tangible things to hold on to – and God deals with us in this way. Think on the Old Testament. God would give the children of Abraham, the children of Israel signs of His covenant. There was the sign of Circumcision – think on how tangible a sign that was – proof that you were part of God’s salvation. You had Passover – you had the glory of the Lord in the pillar of Cloud and Pillar of Fire. God gave the people of the Old Testament things to hold onto, things to grasp.

And now, even today, He prepares salvation in the face of all people in a way that we can grasp. Consider your baptism. We know what it is – it is not plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word – the old comforting words of the Catechism. Have you ever though how kind and loving God is just in how Baptism works? God takes His Word and attaches it, combines it with something that we can see and touch – water. And since those waters of Holy Baptism have been applied to us, we know that God’s Word has been forever well and truly applied to us. Let doubt be done away with, and as for Satan with his accusations that God wouldn’t love one as you, he can take a long walk off of a short pier, for you are baptized, and you have the physical proof that God loves you. It is a historical fact, you are baptized. Period.

Same wonder with the Supper. It is the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and the wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink. Just as Simeon held in his hands the Body of his Savior, the Body of his God made flesh – so shall you in the gift of Holy Communion. What David prophesied in the 34th Psalm you will receive today – Taste and see that the Lord is Good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. Christ Jesus Himself will give you salvation, the highest refuge, in His Supper. Again, something tangible, something that we can wrap not just our minds but our hands around – something that we can taste, can smell, can see – God overwhelms us with His love and forgiveness through all our senses – so that we see and taste and smell and believe.

Simeon’s song concludes A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel. And with Christ, the old testament came to a close. Israel’s job was done, they had produced the Messiah. No longer would they need to be separated off from the other peoples of the world – God tells Peter he can eat pig now, Paul shows that the ceremonies of the law aren’t required. The whole reason for all these things – the dietary laws, the sacrifices, was so that the people of Israel would be separate and distinct from the rest of the world – they would be God’s reminder to all people that He would send a Messiah, a Savior. The people of Nineveh knew this – they repented of their sin and looked to God. The wise men from the East knew that God was sending a king – but they didn’t quite know how or who. God fearing Gentiles from all over knew that God was going to act in and through the people of Israel – and now that is fully revealed. Behold Christ, the Savior of the Nations. Behold Jesus, the Lord is Salvation for all. And Israel is glorified in Him. Luther in the 1520s writes a book entitled “That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew” – and in this he points out that God did not choose to be born of 'pigheaded, crude, drunken Germans' – but He deigned to be born of a Jewish mother – indeed, a glory for that line and heritage and race that no other can claim. Behold, this little Jewish Boy is the God and Creator of all things – the God and Creator who restores His Creation and brings the gifts of heaven to earth.

This is the Child the Simeon holds in his arms, this is the child who grows and goes to the Cross and suffers and dies and rises again to win us salvation. This is the very Body that our Lord gives to us this day for forgiveness. With this in mind, seeing this, we rejoice with Simeon, and with all the saints of every age who are with the Lord now, this day. This is the salvation Christ Jesus has won, and He brings it here to you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World. Amen.