Sermon from 18th Oct 2020

Matthew 22:15-22 (EHV)

15 Then the Pharisees went out and plotted together how to trap Jesus in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are truthful and teach the way of God in accord with the truth. You are not concerned about gaining anyone’s approval because you are not swayed by appearances. 17 So tell us, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus knew their evil purpose and said, “Why are you testing me, hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.”

They brought him a denarius.

20 He asked them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied to him.

Then he said to them, “Therefore give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

22 When they heard this, they were amazed. Then they left him and went away.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may give to God what is God’s, through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s mine! All mine! It’s my precious, so give it back!

Have you ever considered how much we humans fight for ownership rights and control of our things?

I mean, we compete with each other over inheritances, over access to children or parents, over who knows best, over how we should spend our money, over who controls the remote for the TV, and over who gets the last slice of cake. Even in the church we’re tempted to argue over the colour of carpets, what styles of music is played, where we get to sit, what the pastor does with his time, and how people are supposed to behave.

The more we want to get or keep or control someone or something, then the harder we fight for it. The more important it is, the more we’re willing to hurt those around us just to get what we want. Because we’re blinded by the idols of jealousy or greed or selfishness, we sometimes don’t care who we hurt, including those closest to us!

Today’s gospel reading is also about control.

You see, the religious people of the day didn’t like what Jesus was saying about them, so they tried to set Jesus up.

This time they thought they were being clever by taking some politicians along with them. In this way, when asked a question about taxes, Jesus was either going to get into trouble with the religious leaders (for saying taxes should be paid to a government which shouldn’t be recognised by the holy people of God), or he was going to get in trouble with the politicians (for saying no taxes should be paid).

But Jesus sees past their pleasant platitudes and fake compliments. He sees past their smiling faces to see their evil intentions. So, Jesus asks a question in return. He asks whose image and inscription is on the common currency.

Just like today in our own culture, the currency of his day bore the image and inscription of the country’s highest authority. Their coin had the image and inscription of their Caesar. Our currency likewise often shows the image and inscription of our Queen as our head of government.

Jesus then says, since it bears their image and inscription, it’s theirs, so give it back to them. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Don’t hold back your taxes, but give to your government what’s theirs.

Now, this might challenge some of us because we may not like, or agree with, our government. If we don’t like them, agree with them, or trust them, then why should we let them get any of our hard-earned money? Since we’ve worked so hard to get what we’ve got, surely we get to decide what we do with our own things, including our money, don’t we?!

Now Jesus doesn’t play politics, but he does know by whose authority the government’s been established. God is behind both religious and secular authorities.

This means God works his grace, forgiveness and salvation through the authority of the Christian church, but he also works to establish good order in our society through all rightly established secular governments.

In this way, no matter what you think of our Prime Minister or Premier, they’re acting under God’s authority, whether they like it or not! They’re acting under God’s authority to maintain peace and good order in our land on his behalf.

As Christians who recognise the hand of God working through Christians and non-Christians alike, we give our leaders the honour due to them as God’s servants in this country, which includes paying them taxes. Not only this, but God commands we should pray for them, and God knows our government needs our prayers and support!

But Jesus didn’t stop there. He says we’re to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. This is right and good. But we’re also to give to God what is God’s.

Now, this means it’s good to ask ourselves: Who, or what, bears the image and inscription of God?

Well, in Genesis we hear ‘God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’ (Gen 1:27). Therefore, the ones who bear the image of God are human beings like you and me. All human beings, including the unborn, the disabled, the frail and the strong, bear the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect.

Not only this, but when we were baptised, the holy name of God was inscribed on us. In this way, we not only bear the image of God, but as Christians we also bear the inscription of God! And since we bear the image and inscription of God, Jesus says ‘give to God what is God’s’.

It’s almost like God’s saying to you, ‘You’re not yours, but you’re mine. Give yourself back to me! After all, I made you in my image and I gave you everything you need – not for you to possess, but to use and look after. I gave you your body, your soul, your eyes, your ears, your limbs and all your senses. I give you everything you need from day to day. Everything you have I gave you. You’re mine! Give yourself back to me!’

But that’s not all. He also says, ‘I made you to be in relationship with me, but you ran away and rebelled by trying to have things your own way. When you want things your own way, it’s like you want to be your own little god who wants to control everything and everyone around you. This upset your relationship with me, so I sought to restore our relationship by sending my own Son, Jesus, to obey me perfectly and pay the full punishment for your sin because you can’t. He paid the price of punishment for all the times you don’t bear my gracious and loving image, and for all those times you’ve hurt those around you who are made in my image. In this way, you’re doubly mine because I not only made you, but I paid the full price to buy you back. But your purchase price wasn’t cheap. Silver and gold wasn’t enough. The price was the precious blood and innocent suffering of my beloved Son, Jesus. So, you’re not yours, but you’re mine! Don’t deny my Lordship, but live as one of my own.’

But what does this mean for you and me?

Well, there may be times you may not think very highly of yourself. You might meditate on all your failures, faults, flaws, and ugliness. You may start to believe the names people call you such as: stupid, useless, ugly, and ‘good for nothing’.

Yet no matter what you think of yourself (or even what others think of you), you’re made in God’s image and you’re his. No matter what inscriptions you give yourself (or what inscriptions others give you), you’re to remember who you are and whose you are. You’re made in the image of God and bear his inscription.

Also remember the people around you are also made in the image of God, no matter what you think of them. This means when you hurt someone who bears the image of God, you also hurt God. The people around you are worthy of respect and love and honour, including those you might wish to argue with or reject, simply because they’re made in the image of God.

Unfortunately, we don’t always bear the image of God very well. Instead of being gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, we tend to be selfish and self-seeking, quick to anger and untrustworthy. Instead of bearing the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control, we tend to bear the bitter fruit of jealousy, dissatisfaction, impatience, hostility, division and disunity.

In the end, the image of God is best reflected in the words and actions of Jesus Christ. He is the perfect image bearer of God.

Jesus bore the perfect image of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, righteousness, holiness, and trust to those around him. Instead of thinking highly about himself and hoarding what was his, he gave up his life through his suffering and death on the cross.

He could have kept all of God’s love to himself, but he shares it with you through his forgiveness. He could have kept the glory due to him for his faithfulness, but he graciously shares his victory spoils with you. So in this way, if you want to know what it means to bear the true image of God, then look to Jesus.

In the same sense, when you’re asked to give to God what is God’s, God is asking you to submit to his will so you may bear his image in your life to those around you. Rather than bearing your own image as if you’re the selfish god who should be obeyed, you’re to show the image of our Triune God in your own gracious and loving actions and words. These actions and words include forgiveness and mercy.

Of course, you can’t do this by yourself, but with the Holy Spirit’s help, you may live out the true image of God through your love, patience, kindness, mercy, grace, and your self-control. Through faith, you may enact the image of God through your forgiveness to those around you.

Through the power of the gospel, you may speak the image of God through your words of encouragement, peace and comfort. In faithful trust, you may live out the image of God in your prayer, praise and thanksgiving to God for all he gives and does for you in this life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I bear the image and inscription of God. He made us and paid the full blood price for us through Jesus’ suffering and death. We’re all doubly his and he’s not going to give us up easily!

So yes, while it’s right and good to give some of our money and possessions to our government, and even give some of it to God through our offerings, we’re also to give ourselves to God in service to our Lord and master Jesus Christ, after all, hasn’t Jesus told us, ‘Give to God what is God’s.’

And the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 11th Oct 2020

Exodus 32:1-14 (EHV)

1 When the people saw that it took so long for Moses to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Get up, make a god for us, who will go before us, because this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt—we do not know what has become of him.”

Aaron said to them, “Pull off the gold earrings from your wives and sons and daughters and bring them to me.”

All the people pulled off their gold earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and shaped it with an engraving tool and made it into a bull calf cast out of metal. Then they said, “This is your god, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it, and Aaron made a proclamation. He said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.”

They got up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought fellowship offerings. Then the people sat down to eat and to drink and got up to celebrate wildly.

The Lord spoke to Moses: “Hurry down, because your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves! They have quickly turned from the way which I commanded them. They have made a calf for themselves out of metal and have worshipped it. They have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’”

The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen these people, and they certainly are a stiff-necked people. 10 So now leave me alone, so that my anger can burn hot against them, so that I may consume them and make you into a great nation.”

11 Moses begged the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your anger burn against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He brought them out for an evil purpose, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn back from your fierce anger and change your mind about inflicting disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self. You said to them, ‘I will multiply your seed like the stars of the sky, and I will give all this land that I have spoken about to your seed, and they shall inherit it forever.’”

14 Then the Lord changed his mind about the disaster which he said he would inflict on his people.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we might learn to worship you rightly through faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

When we read the bible, it can be extremely helpful to ask some basic questions. These questions can help us learn how it also applies to us personally and powerfully. Some examples of good questions are:

  • What is God teaching us about our human problem which reveals our need for a Saviour?
  • What is God teaching us about himself and the way he answers our human problem through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ?

If we applied these questions to our text, we may quickly learn that we humans, no matter how well-intentioned, will either worship the wrong things, or will worship the right God but in the wrong way.

Similarly, we may learn how God, for the sake of his chosen servant, and for the sake of his holy name, relents from treating us as we deserve.

But, how might we come to such conclusions?

Well, it helps to understand the context of our text.

God had originally called Moses at this holy mountain to lead the Israelites out from their slavery to Egypt so that they may worship him and enter the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex 3:12; 5:1). God then rescued his people through powerful signs and graciously provided them water, manna and meat as they travelled through the wilderness to this holy mountain. Now they could begin to worship him as he had promised.

But, so that they might worship him in the right way, he gave them clear instructions how not to worship him. They weren’t to make any carved images in any likeness of anything that is above, on, or under the earth. They also weren’t to worship any golden or silver statues to gain access to him, because his name is enough for them. In response, they agreed to worship him as instructed. (cf. Ex 20:2-5; 22-23; 24:3, 7)

Then Moses went back up the mountain to receive further instructions on how they were to build and furnish a tabernacle, where they could meet with God. It was while he on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights that the people, despite the clear instructions from God, bugged Aaron to make them a god who would go before them, perhaps like the statues and images of gods they had seen in Egypt. For them God’s holy name wasn’t enough. They wanted something they could see and touch. Aaron gave in to them and did what they wanted.

He got them to take off all their rings from their ears and he made an idol in the shape of a bull-calf, which would usually represent a victorious ruler who tramples down their enemies. In a sense, the animal chosen to represent God makes sense as he had trampled down their enemies so powerfully.

But this meant the Israelites were now worshipping God in the very way he told them not to worship him! Not only were they swapping their worship of the Creator for a created item, but they were worshipping the right God in the wrong way.

This brings us back to the lesson mentioned earlier that, we humans, no matter how well-intentioned, will either worship the wrong things, or will worship the right God but in the wrong way.

But, how does this apply to us today?

Well, I don’t think there’s any video evidence of any of us dancing and singing around a golden calf! And, while we may have many different objects in our homes which are important to us, I don’t think anyone here bows down to any statues made of gold or silver.

But as we learn how the Israelites spent their gold on their new god, and spent time and energy worshipping it, we too might consider what we spend much of our time, money or energy on.

Not only this, but we might also listen to Martin Luther who was particularly insightful about idols.

He says in the Large Catechism, that ‘the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true one. Conversely, where your trust is false and wrong, there you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.’ (LC, 1st Commandment, 2b-4)

In fact, Luther believed our idolatry to be the fundamental human problem and the root cause of all human sin.

But how do we know whether our hearts are worshipping an idol or the true God?

Well, Luther also gave us a wonderful tool which helps us self-diagnose our hearts. His explanation to the First Commandment (which tells us the Lord is our God and that we’re to have no other gods) says: ‘We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.’

So, you might ask whom, or what, are you fearing, loving and trusting in?

For example, are you afraid of what people think of you? Are you afraid of admitting your faults? Are you afraid of those who might hurt you? Are you afraid of dying? What are you wanting to preserve or avoid at almost any cost? When you’re afraid of such people and situations, has your fears of them become greater than your fear and trust of God?

Do you love the things God gives you more than the God who gives you these things? Because fears and desires are often related, one way to check this is to ask yourself: ‘What am I worrying or anxious about here? What would it mean to me if this were taken away from me? If I’m getting angry or upset about this, why has this person, or this thing, become so important to me?’

What, or whom, are you really trusting in? When we place our trust in the people around us, we’ll get angry with them when they let us down. When we place our trust in ourselves, we’ll get angry with ourselves when we fail. When we gossip about others, we’re making ourselves into self-appointed judges who reckon we have the right to condemn others and trust the court of public opinion will punish them.

Every time we fear, love or trust in someone, or something, apart from God, even for a second, this makes us into an idolater who worships the wrong god. Every time we think we can provide for our own needs apart from God, or love ourselves more than God, or who trust in our own strength or abilities or ingenuity or knowledge, we worship the wrong God.

Similarly, everyone who thinks they can justify themselves or their actions apart from Christ, or who devise their own paths to God apart from the incarnate Christ, or who by-pass the Spirit-filled Word of God and trust in their own reasoning, or who think they can produce the good fruit of faith without relying on the Holy Spirit, are attempting to worship God in the wrong way. And all these thoughts, words and actions demand much of our time, money and energy.

This means, we humans, no matter how well-intentioned, will either worship the wrong things, or will worship the right God but in the wrong way.

But what about God’s response to our idolatry?

Well, we also learn today how God, for the sake of his chosen servant, and for the sake of his holy name, relents from treating us as we deserve.

God had so far been extremely patient with the people whom he saved from the Egyptians. They had consistently grumbled and complained to him, but it’s their misplaced worship which really upset him. In response he’s decided to disown these stiff-necked people by telling Moses they’re now Moses’ people and Moses’ problem. He says: “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves!” (Ex 32:7)

Now Moses also knew these people very well. He doesn’t make up any excuses for what they’ve done or try to minimise their sin. He knows they have no redeeming qualities about them and don’t deserve any mercy, but he also knows God and his true nature. For this reason, he appeals to God’s honour and reputation.

Firstly, he re-establishes the relationship between God and his people. He says to God “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” It’s like he’s reminding God of the 1st Commandment where God says: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Secondly, he appeals to the honour of God’s name. What would the Egyptians think of him if they find out he saved them only to kill them in the wilderness? You could argue he appeals to the 2nd Commandment which talks about honouring God’s name and reputation.

Moses knows the people won’t keep their promises, but also knows God will always keep his. This is why he thirdly appeals to God’s own promises which he made to Abraham, Isaac and Israel. God had promised them rest in a Promised Land, a Sabbath land where they could worship him in peace and prosperity – which is an appeal to the 3rd Commandment.

So in a sense, Moses uses the Israelite Small Catechism in order to appeal to God’s merciful and forgiving nature, saying, “You are the Lord their God; honour your own name; and bring them to the Promised Land of rest according to your own promise.”

Remarkably, but perhaps not surprisingly, God relented and didn’t destroy his people. But his change of mind doesn’t mean God’s fickle. He has every right to be angry, but by nature he’s also ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love’ (Ex 34:6).

Now we, as New Testament Christians, know that if God listened to the intercessions of Moses, how much more will he listen to the intercessions of his own Son!

In this case, Jesus knows you and your heart more intimately than Moses ever could. He doesn’t make up any excuses for what you’ve done or try to minimise your sin. He knows you don’t deserve any mercy, and this time God didn’t change his mind. God would destroy his people, but his Son Jesus is the One who paid the price of death in our place.

There on the cross Jesus feared, loved and trusted God above all things. There on the cross, God’s name and reputation was honoured as he declared the forgiveness of all your sins. There on the cross, God’s judgment and mercy was displayed in all its ugliness and holiness. As a result of this, Jesus forgives you for all those times you spent too much time, money and energy on the wrong things, and for all those times you feared, desired, or trusted in someone or something else.

What’s more is that Jesus rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and now sits at the right hand of the Father so he may forever intercede for his people, including you and me. His resurrection reassures us of the promise of eternal life in his Promise Land of rest for all who trust in him.

But God is so gracious and compassionate that he will also listen to you and me as we pray for those who don’t deserve his mercy. Like Moses, we too can intercede for all those around us who can’t, or won’t, pray for themselves.

So, today we learn that we humans, no matter how well-intentioned, will either worship the wrong things, or will worship the right God but in the wrong way.

But we also learn how God, for the sake of his chosen suffering servant, Jesus Christ, and for the sake of his holy name, relents from treating us as we deserve.

This is so that the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 4th Oct 2020

Matthew 21:33-46 (EHV)

33 Jesus said: “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. He leased it out to some tenant farmers and went away on a journey. 34 When the time approached to harvest the fruit, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 The tenant farmers seized his servants. They beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then the landowner sent even more servants than the first time. The tenant farmers treated them the same way. 37 Finally, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. 38 But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance!’ 39 They took him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 So when the landowner comes, what will he do to those tenant farmers?”

41 They told him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end. Then he will lease out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his fruit when it is due.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Ps 118:22-23

43 “That is why I tell you the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces its fruit. 44 Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was talking about them. 46 Although they were looking for a way to arrest him, they were afraid of the crowds because the people regarded him as a prophet.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may bear the fruit of love, mercy and grace because we trust in your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

What on earth were they thinking?

I mean, let’s say you’re asked to look after someone else’s farm. Harvest time comes and the owner sends some of his workers to see how well the crop’s going. But instead of proudly showing off all your hard work, you decide to beat one of them up, kill another, and drive over a third. Now, how is this behaviour supposed to help further your career? Do you really think by doing this you and the owner are going to have a good relationship?

Not only this, but when the owner sends more workers to check on the crops, you do the same again! Is this really the way to get you into your boss’s good books?

Then, to top it off, the owner sends his own son. For some bizarre reason, you figure you’ll kill him, hoping by committing this murder you’ll end up inheriting the farm!

What on earth were they thinking?

So, this parable doesn’t seem logical, right or fair. Something’s not adding up. Something’s desperately wrong with the workers, only they don’t seem to realise it and yet have still convinced themselves they’re somehow justified and are doing the right thing.

On the other hand, what on earth was he thinking?

I mean, let’s say you’re the one who owns this farm. You set the farm up nicely with all the right equipment and you’ve carefully prepared the soil so it should produce well. You lease the farm out to some tenants while you go on holidays. Then, at the time when you’re expecting a good harvest, you send some workers to check on the crops. But only one comes back, and he’s all beaten up. The others have been killed!

Now, most people in their right mind would call the police, collect some armed guards, petition some politicians, or maybe even send in the army, but no, you decide to patiently send some more workers to your hijacked farm, and the same thing happens again.

But it seems you’re a slow learner. This time you decide to send your own child into this hostile environment, believing against all reasonable hope that they won’t harm your own offspring. But they murder your dearly loved child instead.

What on earth was he thinking?

So again, this parable doesn’t seem logical, right or fair. Something’s not adding up. Something’s desperately wrong because the owner keeps on acting graciously and patiently when anyone else in their right mind would have acted a lot harsher.

Therefore it’s no surprise when anyone hears this parable, and they’re asked what the owner should do to the evil and vindictive tenants, that they feel justice must be done and reckon the owner should kill his tenants and give the farm to someone who’ll actually look after it and produce good crops.

This seems the logical answer, and it’s the answer the religious people of Jesus’ day give. You see, they’re quite well aware of what injustice looks like and often see themselves as victims. In this case they can easily identify with the suffering owner. It was easy to point out the foolish and rebellious actions of the tenants as deserving of punishment and death. They understood the tenant’s actions were wrong and the fruit of the tenant’s lives was bitter and poisonous.

So, according to the rules of every religion on earth (except one), punishment for such wickedness is not only deserved, but demanded.

But what about you? Would you answer the same way? Do you also think they deserve punishment and death? I mean, they’ve been given so many chances to do the right thing and now have to cook in their own juices! These people aren’t bearing any good fruit in that vineyard and the owner needs to hand his precious vine over to someone else who might bear more gracious, merciful, and loving fruit.

But as the religious leaders of the day eventually recognised Jesus was in fact declaring them to be the wicked tenants who deserved their own judgment of death, could Jesus also be talking about you?

Are you also deserving of punishment and death because of your own selfish, rebellious, and pride-filled actions? For example, has God sent you any pastors or other messengers of God whom you rejected, argued with, complained about, or ignored? Have you badly treated people around you?

I mean, do you always bear fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control in your family life or among your church community, or do you instead bear the bitter fruit of sexual immorality, idolatry, jealousy, fits of anger, and drunkenness? (cf. Gal 5:19-23)

Do you ignore the needy and fill your own house with good things? Do you find it easier to criticise and hate than to be patient, gracious or loving? Do you seek revenge and payback instead of forgiving them? Do you talk about the grace, mercy and love of God, but struggle to put it into action? Do you sometimes act as if people in the church should listen to you more than they listen to God?

And then, if you’re ever convicted of your own sinful actions, how would you feel if your own judgment and sentence against these wicked tenants (or anyone else you’re already judging) was to be used against you instead?

So, no, many people, both then and now, don’t like this parable and what it says to them. Maybe you don’t like it either and want to reject or ignore his message of warning (just like the tenants in the vineyard).

But if this is all you’re going to get out of this parable, then you don’t understand the half of it.

You see, the religious leaders of the day realised this parable spoke about them as much as it speaks about you, convicting you that the fruit you bear isn’t Spirit-filled.

In response they chose not to change their ways, but instead chose to get rid of the messenger. They wanted to get rid of the Son of God who had been sent to them, which meant this parable was fulfilled through Jesus’ death on the cross.

Likewise, many people today still don’t want to hear about their own sin and want to get rid of anyone who points out their wickedness, hoping by getting rid of the messenger they’re now somehow perfect.

But the parable isn’t just about the wicked tenants. It’s also about the patient, loving, and merciful owner. After all, while we established something’s wrong with the tenants earlier, haven’t we also established there’s something very unusual and unexpected about the owner’s actions? It’s this part of the parable which we find a lot harder for us to understand.

You see, we know about crime and punishment. Wicked people should get what they deserve. It’s what we expect from God. It’s what we expect of each other. It’s what we do to each other.

But despite the way you treat each other, God patiently keeps sending his faithful messengers in order to check your fruit. This parable reveals something of the mercy and love of God and just how patient and gracious he is with you.

The chief priests and Pharisees of Jesus’ day thought they were good, righteous and deserving of God’s love. They had worked hard in God’s vineyard with all their religious rites and traditions, but never looked at the fruit they were producing. Yet, when their rotten and poisonous fruit was pointed out to them, they wanted to put their hands over their ears and say ‘lalala…not listening’ and then conspire to kill Jesus, just like their ancestors did with the prophets of the past.

Perhaps, if they had better understood the grace and mercy of God, they would have asked why the owner didn’t come and punish the wicked servants earlier. They would have seen this was unexpected and therefore worthy of more attention. They would have wanted to know more about his undeserving patience and perseverance.

In this sense, do you truly understand the grace, mercy and love of God?

For example, do you realise Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to him, and still did it anyway – for you and me? Do you know he doesn’t treat us as we deserve, but he continues to come to us, speaking his Words of warning when our fruit is rotten, and nourishing us with his Spirit-filled Word and Sacraments? Do you realise he doesn’t expose our sin to punish us, but so that our hearts would be open to his forgiveness? Do you realise he forgives us, not because of anything we’ve done or could ever do, but simply because he loves us?

God persistently gives us wicked tenants chance after chance, and we don’t understand it. We don’t truly understand grace, or mercy, or love such as this. If we did, then maybe we would answer differently than the religious people of the day. If we truly understand God’s loving nature, then we wouldn’t work against him and his messengers, but would instead listen carefully and openly, and, with the Holy Spirit’s help, would seek to bear fruit worthy of repentance.

The fruit we’re to bear are the fruit coming from the roots of the gospel, from the foundations of God’s love, mercy, and peace.

What this looks like is you won’t always treat others as you think they deserve, but even when they’re hurting you or taking advantage of you, you respond instead with patience, kindness, goodness, forgiveness, mercy, and love. You won’t always betray, slander, or lie about people, and you won’t pass on unchecked information which would harm their standing in front of others. Instead, you’ll defend them, speak well of them, and explain their actions in the kindest way.

You see, while God has every right to be angry, that’s not his true nature. His true nature shines through this parable. He’s a God who doesn’t give up easily on his people, no matter how rebellious and hurtful they can be. Despite this, he warns us there’s a limit. It’s not that there’s a limit to God’s goodness and mercy, but there’s a limit to our willingness to open ourselves to him. In the end many people often condemn themselves through their own pride and disobedience.

So yes, there’s something wrong with the people God plants in his vineyard. This shouldn’t surprise us. The whole Bible tells us there’s something wrong with the people whom God loves! But what continues to surprise us is how the Lord is always so merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Ex 34:6).

May we all grow to understand God’s true loving nature and bear the same fruitful actions of mercy, grace, and faithfulness to those around us – whether they deserve it or not.

And in this way, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 27th Sep 2020

Matthew 21:23-32 (EHV)

23 When Jesus went into the temple courts, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him while he was teaching and said, “By what authority are you doing these things?” and “Who gave you this authority?”

24 Jesus answered them, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer it, I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?”

They discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From men,’ we are afraid of the crowd, since they all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”

He said to them, “Then I will not tell you by what authority I do these things.”

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in my vineyard.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not,’ but later he changed his mind and went. 30 He came to the second and said the same thing. The second son answered, ‘I will go, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?”

They said to him, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Amen I tell you: The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, but you did not believe him. However, the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him. Even when you saw this, you did not change your mind and believe him.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may act rightly according to the authority of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“By whose authority are you doing these things?”

“What gave you the right to do that?”

“Who says so?”

Have you ever heard these kinds of questions?

They’re questions of protest, accusation, and doubt, but they’re also words of rebellion. The person who usually asks these questions are challenging whether the other person has the right authority to do or say what they’re doing or saying. In a sense, it’s a basic question of who’s in control; who’s the boss right here, right now.

As Australians, we typically like to challenge every authority.

We like to disobey or question our parents, thinking we know better than them, after all, our parents aren’t young enough to know everything anymore! We like to see how much we can get away with at work, like attempting to fool our bosses by taking sickies on long weekends (unless of course we don’t trust anyone else and want to be self-employed). We flash our lights at oncoming traffic to ‘stick it’ to the police who may have a speed camera up ahead. We like to rubbish or lampoon our prime minister or our politicians. Basically, if anyone thinks they’re above us in any way, we’ll soon cut them down to size!

But when we do these things, we’re attempting to set ourselves up as our own authority, our own boss, or even our own little god who controls our own little world.

This isn’t a new issue. In our readings for today we see the typical human problem where humans challenge those in authority over them…and God’s response.

For example, in the first reading we hear the Israelites grumbling to, and about, their leader: Moses. There wasn’t enough water in the wilderness, and just like we do today, it’s never our fault – it’s always the leader’s fault, so he better fix the problem!

But Moses knows he’s only acting under the authority which God has given him, so therefore, whenever they complained to, or about, Moses, they were really complaining about God!

This means, whenever you complain about your parents, your boss, your prime minister, or your pastor, you’re really complaining about God who placed them in their position of authority in the first place. They don’t even have to be Christian for God to place them there, after all, even Jesus tells Pontius Pilate he recognises his authority to crucify him (or not) as it was given to him from above (Jn 19:10-11).

This means, whenever you challenge or question those whom God has placed in authority over you, you’re really challenging or questioning God’s authority, which brings us to the gospel reading for today.

What we didn’t hear is what happened before our reading. In this case, Jesus had entered Jerusalem on a donkey and overturned the marketing tables in the temple. The local authorities (such as the chief priests and elders) came to challenge Jesus by asking whose authority was he doing these things. In other words, “We’re the local authority, and we reckon you have no authority here, so you better come up with your authorised credentials quickly or you’re in big trouble!”

He, in turn, asked them a question about authority. He wanted them to answer by who’s authority had John the Baptist been baptising people? Was this authority from heaven (which meant it was authorised by God), or was it from humans (which meant it was false, unauthorised, illegitimate, and therefore possibly evil)?

Now, as the local authority experts, they had the choice to back John’s baptisms as authorised by God himself (and therefore give their theological and pastoral blessing to it). They could also reject his baptisms as false and against God’s will. Since they hadn’t acted on stopping John from baptising people earlier, you’d think they’d agree his baptisms were authorised by heaven (which many of the lay people believed it was), but they stopped short of saying this for one simple reason: fear!

Proverbs 29:25 says: ‘The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts the Lord is safe.’

The local authorities were afraid of the people and their opinions. They were also afraid of getting the answer wrong. In the end, they chose not to commit themselves one way or the other.

But, by not answering Jesus’ question, they gave up their authority to say what was of God and what wasn’t. In this way they had disqualified themselves from their position of authority. As disqualified leaders who lacked the courage to trust the work of God, Jesus wouldn’t entrust these incompetent people with the answer to their question.

Similarly, when you’re afraid of what people will think of you and your faith, this means you’re too afraid to listen to, and trust, God’s authority. When you’re afraid of people, you’ve decided that they’re bigger and more powerful than God.

When you’re afraid of what people say, or think, or do to you, the opinions of others become more important to you than anything God would say to you. This means you don’t let God have the final authority and the last word on a matter. You end up letting those who you’re afraid of have the last say.

So, instead of being secure in your identity as children of God who live under the authority and protection of the Creator of heaven and earth, you listen to the opinions of others and submit yourself under their false and illegitimate authority.

In response to the chief priests and elders who were more afraid of people than of God, Jesus went on to teach these disqualified authorities through a parable of two sons – one who said ‘no’, but later obeyed his father’s authority, and the other who said ‘yes’, but then rebelled.

He compared these two sons with two groups of people – the ‘tax-collectors and prostitutes’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven, and the ‘chief priests and elders of the law’ who won’t.

One group lived rebellious lives but ended up believing in John’s and Jesus’ ministry of repentance and faith. These rebellious people repented and trusted God and his authority. They acted in accord with their faith and submitted themselves under the reign and authority of God. They were received into the kingdom of heaven.

On the other hand, the other group did and said all the right things on the surface in order to please the people around them. They seemed righteous in their own eyes and in the eyes of those around them. But they trusted the illegitimate authority of popularity and self-righteousness. Their faith didn’t lead to repentance because they had become their own boss who decided good and evil for themselves. This meant they had rejected God’s reign and authority. Because they submitted to the wrong authority (because their own self-righteous ministry wasn’t of God), they wouldn’t enter the kingdom.

“By what authority are you doing these things?”

As a called and ordained servant of the Word the pastor forgives you all your sins. In the stead of, and by the command of, Christ, the pastor forgives you as Christ’s personal and authorised ambassador.

Of course, you could believe your own opinions or thoughts which might want to challenge those words. You could believe those around you, who keep on reminding you of your failures or mistakes or regrets. You could believe your own fears which might doubt the words of forgiveness. Or you could trust that when Jesus says you’re forgiven, you’re forgiven. Jesus has the divine authority to forgive you and has passed on this heavenly privilege to his church, which is enacted through its authorised servants.

Similarly, whenever a person is baptised in accordance with Christ’s authorised command, that person is baptised with the authority of Jesus Christ Jesus himself. While you may see a pastor do this, they’re acting under the authority of Jesus. This means Jesus himself is the One who washes and claims each person as his own through these holy waters.

Likewise, every parent and godparent promises to use their God-given authority to teach a baptised person about God, and we as a congregation promise to help them with this heavenly task through our own witness and prayer. We pray each baptised person will continue to trust God has authority to do as he has promised through his word.

The authorised pastor also repeats the same words of Christ himself at the Lord’s Supper. Here again God’s word does what it says so that the bread and wine you eat and drink is also the very body and blood of Christ himself given for you for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of your faith.

Of course, you could believe your own opinions about this meal and think it only a symbolic or spiritual re-enactment. On the other hand, you could trust Jesus has authority to do as he says. He gives you his very own body and blood for you, which means heaven itself, in all its fullness, touches you here.

You see, it’s not just by whose authority we’re doing all these things, but how this authority is enacted.

In the reading from Philippians this morning we hear how Jesus didn’t use his authority to lord it over you and me, but he emptied himself and became a suffering servant to do his Father’s will.

He trusted and obeyed his Father’s authority by enduring the cruel cross and dying for you and me. You could say he’s unlike the sons in the parable. He never changed his mind – his answer has always been, and always will be, a ‘yes’ for you – both in intention and in action.

Jesus Christ always exercises his heavenly rule and authority according to the upside-down ways of God’s kingdom for you and me. He comes as a servant for our sake. He serves us by forgiving us, washing us clean, adopting us as his brothers and sisters, feeding us with his own body and blood, teaching us his ways, and blessing us in order that we may also serve as his own authorised humble servants wherever he’s placed us.

He’s also given us the authority to serve – to faithfully serve as a child, a parent, a citizen, or a boss – all under the authority of God. Like Christ himself, we don’t use this authority to rule or bully or belittle those around us, but to serve humbly in such a way we don’t think ourselves as better than any others. In fact, we serve as if the people we serve are better than us. Because we’re united with the suffering Servant, we don’t look for ways to serve our own interests, but we’re to always serve the interest of others.

This means, instead of thinking ‘What’s in it for me?’ you may instead think ‘How may I best serve you today?’

Don’t be like those who grumble about those in authority above them, or like those who seek to deceive out of fear, but let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no’ as you submit yourself under the authority of God to serve each other in humbleness and grace.

Don’t fear what anyone else thinks of you. Don’t submit to the illegitimate authorities of popularity or self-righteousness. Trust in the authority of God who loves you, forgives you, and wants you to live with him forever. Trust he has authority to keep all his promises for you.

By whose authority will you do these things?

Well, what do you think?

Because it’s only the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, which will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 20th Sep 2020

Matthew 20:1-16 (EHV) 

1 Jesus said: “Indeed the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing to pay the workers a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. He also went out about the third hour and saw others standing unemployed in the marketplace. To these he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will give you whatever is right.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour and did the same thing. When he went out about the eleventh hour, he found others standing unemployed. He said to them, ‘Why have you stood here all day unemployed?’

“They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’

“He told them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When it was evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last group and ending with the first.’

“When those who were hired around the eleventh hour came, they each received a denarius. 10 When those who were hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But they each received a denarius too. 11 After they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner: 12 ‘Those who were last worked one hour, and you made them equal to us who have endured the burden of the day and the scorching heat!’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not make an agreement with me for a denarius? 14 Take what is yours and go. I want to give to the last one hired the same as I also gave to you. 15 Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 In the same way, the last will be first, and the first, last.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may repent of our pride, arrogance and greed, but also rejoice in your abundant and undeserving grace, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s just not fair!

It’s not fair some people seem to have everything, including money, lots of shiny cars and gadgets, popularity, beauty, talents, friends, and a full head of hair, while some people don’t. It’s not fair some people live full and healthy lives despite their best attempts to ruin themselves, while others go to great lengths to look after themselves and their health, but still end up with cancer, Dementia, Parkinson’s, and other insidious diseases.

It’s not fair when the young die tragically, while older people who long to go to their eternal home hang around to watch their family and friends go before them.  It’s not fair when natural disasters like storms, floods, fires and earthquakes strike at the innocent. It’s not fair when evil people seem to profit from their crimes, while the innocent suffer at their hands or are criticised for doing the right thing.

It’s not fair when a largely pagan society wants to redefine marriage in such a way it restricts a child’s right to having mums and dads as parents. It’s not fair innocent babies are aborted from life before they have a chance to bless their parent’s lives. It’s not fair when some are born with disabilities or genetic disorders.

Even in church it’s not fair. Why don’t people recognise or thank you for your hard work? Why do they seem to take your hard work for granted? Why do people seem to avoid you and don’t want to listen to your pain? Why are you criticised for your efforts when all you wanted to do was help? Why don’t some of your loved ones have faith in Jesus like you do? And it’s also not fair when Jesus says the last will be first and the first will be last!

It’s just not fair!

Talking about what’s not fair, Jesus uses an unfair picture to illustrate what the kingdom of heaven is like.

He says his kingdom is like a householder going out at 6am in the morning to find some workers to work in his vineyards. They agree to work for him for an average (if not above average) day’s pay. This same householder also goes out at 9am, 12pm, 3pm, and even at 5pm to get more workers. Each time he agrees to pay them what’s right, without specifying the amount.

Then at 6pm he tells his foreman to pay them their wages, starting with the ones who were hired last. Remarkably and very generously, he gave all of them all a full day’s wage, no matter how long they worked.

Now for all those who didn’t work a full day, this wasn’t fair, but the unfairness worked in their favour! They weren’t going to complain because the owner has given them more than their fair share. They didn’t deserve this payment, but the owner decided to be generous toward them. They could thank the landowner for his unfairness.

But seeing the owner’s generosity, the first workers (who started at 6am) expected to receive more than the others, even though they had earlier agreed with the owner to work for exactly the same amount everyone else had just received. Therefore, when they received the same amount as the others, they grumbled about it, saying they worked much harder and longer in the burning sun than anyone else, so why should they receive the same? It’s not fair!

Then the owner reminded them he hasn’t done them wrong. He gave them what they had agreed to. No injustice had been done. He just wanted to give everyone else the same amount, and isn’t it his right to do what he wants with his own things? He then asked them if they’re jealous because of his generosity. Or, literally, he asks them if their eyes are evil because his eyes are good?

And here Jesus puts his finger on our human problem.

Our monstrous eyes of jealousy have decided what’s right and good and fair, at least what is right and good and fair for ourselves. Those same eyes also want to define what’s wrong or evil or unfair, especially when we perceive we’re the ones who have been treated unjustly. Because our eyes are jealous of someone else, we demand to see justice done in our favour, even if this means the other person will be treated unfairly.

But, when we say things are unfair, the focus has shifted away from the generous giver to the jealous eyes of the individual. This means we want to decide good and evil for ourselves, just like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We want to be the judges of right and wrong. We want to be in a position over and above everyone else.

What’s more, when we say it’s unfair, it’s no longer about God and his generosity, but it’s all about us and the way we see things! We’re jealous of God’s generosity toward others, so we end up judging God as unfair. But when we want to tell God what to do, or tell God what’s fair or not fair, we’ve just rejected God’s generosity and set ourselves up as our own god who thinks we have the authority to judge the Creator of heaven and earth.

Not only this, but because every god must have their own religion, we end up making our own self-made religion based upon good works and deserving.

It normally works this way: if you do good, then as god, I think you should be rewarded, but if you do evil, then I, as god, declare you should be punished.

Reward and punishment: isn’t this the way we treat each other? Isn’t this the way we expect to be treated, even by God? Isn’t this why we’re so jealous and discontent with what happens to us or those around us? After all, isn’t this the basis of every other religion on earth, except for Christianity?

This means we’re always going to be challenged by the rules of God’s kingdom because God doesn’t work on deserving or what’s fair. He doesn’t work on our own self-imposed judgements of right and wrong, or our religion of reward and punishment. God works by grace and not by demands.

The grace of God can be quite challenging because God doesn’t work on a deserving basis. God works on a grace system, and grace ignores all the normal rules of reward and punishment.

In Jesus’ parable, the workers who didn’t work the whole day didn’t deserve the full day’s wage, but that’s the point! Grace is unfair, and always will be, because it’s undeserving!

The ones who get upset with God’s grace are often those who think God works (or should work) on a reward system. They’re the ones who are usually proud of their own goodness (or at least their own perception of goodness). So, it’s the proud, who have striven so hard to be one of the firsts in God’s sight, who often get upset because they find God doesn’t work on a reward system, but on a grace system. The grace system makes the first ones last and the last ones first. It’s unfair. It’s undeserving. But that’s what grace is!

So, if God wants to bless someone else, what’s it to you? God can bless whom he wants to bless. He can be gracious and generous with his own things. He can even forgive the worst of sinners because he’s gracious and merciful. It’s not up to you to say what he does with his own gifts. It’s not up to you who should or should not be forgiven. He doesn’t have to answer to you. He hasn’t broken any promises to you.

He still loves you and has provided you with everything you need, like food and clothing, home and family, work and income, strengths, abilities, and senses. He’s already forgiven you and given you the heavenly inheritance of his eternal kingdom. Even if you’re struggling with a life of unfairness and sickness and difficulties here on earth, God still loves you. He still wants you to live with him forever. Your struggles don’t change God’s promises to you.

So, let’s face it – God is unfair! It’s just not fair he sent his own dearly loved Son into this cruel and heartless world to suffer at the hands of sinful, selfish, and jealous humans. It’s not fair that in response to his wise teachings and miraculous healings they would criticise him, beat him, spit on him, and cruelly kill him on a cross set aside for the worst of criminals.

It’s not fair Jesus rescued you when you were lost and sentenced to death. It’s not fair he would shed his innocent blood to pay for your sins. It’s not fair he would receive the punishment you deserve. It’s not fair he would forgive you all your sins. It’s not fair he would do any of this for jealous and arrogant people who often want to set themselves up as their own god.

It’s not fair Jesus would accept you as God’s own precious child even before you could ever deserve it. It’s unfair you would receive all the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection, without earning this right. It’s unfair you would receive eternal life as a free and undeserving gift. It’s not fair that, no matter what time of the day you began life in his kingdom, the gift is still the same!

Even today, it’s not fair Jesus would give you his holy body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. You’ve sinned time and again, but he keeps accepting you at his banquet table. It’s not fair, but God’s grace is always unfair!

And then God asks you to be unfair to others by asking you to also forgive those who sin against you. They don’t deserve it either. They’ll probably hurt you again. It’s unfair, but forgiveness is always unfair! Forgiveness is always a costly gift which can never be earned or deserved.

The unfairness of God lets criminals go free while the innocent One dies. No one here deserves Jesus’ death, and no one here deserves Jesus’ life, but ‘deservings’ go nothing to do with it! All of us equally receive the generous and undeserving gift of eternal life with Jesus in heaven! It’s not fair, but thank God it’s not fair!

Whenever you’re tempted to grumble or complain about life not being fair, look to Jesus on the cross and see the greatest unfairness in the world. But on that same cross you’ll also see the greatest and most generous justice and grace of God.

The grace of God is purposely unfair. On the cross the first One became one of the last ones in order that the last ones like you and me would become like the first One.

No, life and faith isn’t about deserving. It’s just not fair, but remember grace has never been fair – to the glory and praise of God!

May the grace and peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 13th Sep 2020

Matthew 18:21-35 (EHV)

21 Then Peter came up and asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother when he sins against me? As many as seven times?”

22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you as many as seventy-seven times.[a] 23 For this reason the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle them, a man who owed him ten thousand talents[b] was brought to him. 25 Because the man was not able to pay the debt, his master ordered that he be sold, along with his wife, children, and all that he owned to repay the debt.

26 “Then the servant fell down on his knees in front of him, saying, ‘Master, be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’ 27 The master of that servant had pity on him, released him, and forgave him the debt.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred denarii.[c] He grabbed him and began choking him, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’

29 “So his fellow servant fell down and begged him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’ 30 But he refused. Instead he went off and threw the man into prison until he could pay back what he owed.

31 “When his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were very distressed. They went and reported to their master everything that had taken place.

32 “Then his master called him in and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt when you begged me to. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 His master was angry and handed him over to the jailers until he could pay back everything he owed.

35 “This is what my heavenly Father will also do to you unless each one of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

Footnotes

  1. Or seventy times seven
  2. Ten thousand talents was an enormous amount equal to sixty million days’ wages. Each talent was worth six thousand denarii. A denarius was one day’s wage.
  3. This was one hundred days’ wages, since one denarius was equal to one day’s wage.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may forgive each other in the same we have been forgiven by you, for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

I’d like you to imagine or recall a time when someone hurt you.

It could be a bully who picked on you at school. It might be a friend who let you down. It might be someone who embarrassed you or lied about you in front of others. It could be a husband or wife who broke your trust. It could be a child who rejected you or what you taught him or her. It might be a fellow Christian who acted in a such way toward you that you wonder if they’re a Christian at all. It might be a terrifying experience of physical, emotional or spiritual abuse from someone who was once close to you, which has deeply scarred you.

Perhaps you still know this person and they remain part of your life. It could also be that you want nothing to do with them and have dismissed them from your life.

As you think about this person who has hurt you so deeply, how do you respond when you hear the question: “How many times must I forgive my brother or sister when they sin against me?”

Now, you may still be angry with them and figure they don’t deserve your forgiveness.

And it’s true! They don’t deserve your forgiveness. Forgiveness is never deserved. If anyone deserved forgiveness, they wouldn’t need to be forgiven. Forgiveness always costs the giver and not the receiver. Forgiveness therefore is always undeserved and unfair.

It could also be that you haven’t forgiven them because they haven’t repented or said sorry yet. You might be waiting for them to show some kind of sorrow over their words and actions first before you might ever consider forgiving them. You might be waiting for a long time! But do people really have to repent before you’re able to forgive them?

On the other hand, you might reckon you’ve already forgiven the other person. You’re over it. It’s all behind you. You’ve moved on in your life. But have you really?

If you still think about or dwell on what happened, you might not have forgiven them yet.

If you still talk to other people about what this particular person has done to you, you might not have forgiven them yet.

If you still hold this incident against the other person which continues to hinder your relationship with them, you might not have forgiven them yet.

In a world which teaches revenge, restitution, retaliation, retribution, and reprisal, Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness really challenge us! We figure someone has to pay! Someone always has to pay, and it’s not going to be me! We reckon those who hurt us have to make up for everything they’ve done to us, and if they don’t, then we’re going to hold it against them until they do so. We might even consider withholding our forgiveness places us in a powerful position over against the other person. But does it really? Is unforgiveness instead the poison we drink hoping the other person will die?

And, what if they never repent? What if they’re never sorry for what they’ve done? Will you and I continue to be scared of them or angry with them? Will we ever truly be at peace?

More than all this, what about that last statement by Jesus who, just after describing the imprisoning and torture of the unforgiving servant, said that this “is what my heavenly Father will also do to you unless each one of you forgives his brother from his heart”?

Sometimes it’s not about how many times you and I might be able to forgive someone. I might be that we struggle to forgive the other person the first time they hurt us!

So today Jesus tackles the human problem of how we often want to limit, or withhold, our forgiveness. We often refer to this as the ‘Parable of the unforgiving (or unmerciful) servant.’

Firstly, as we listen to Jesus, we soon figure it’s not about how many times we might be expected to forgive. Whether it’s 77 times or 490 times, or whether Jesus is undoing the figure of revenge mentioned by Lamech in Genesis 4:27, it’s not really about the number. It’s not about keeping a tally of how many times you and I might need to forgive someone before we finally get to that magical number when we can stop forgiving someone. There should be no limit to our forgiveness.

To make the point it’s not really about numbers, Jesus uses an illustration with astronomical numbers which are almost impossible to comprehend.

For example, one of the king’s servants had amassed an impossible debt of 10,000 talents.

Now, since we don’t normally use a talent as a unit of currency in Australia, we need to translate this a little.

In this case it helps to understand in Jesus’ day, 1 day’s average wage for a worker was 1 denarius. 1 talent was worth 6,000 denarii. This means, 10,000 talents would be worth 60,000,000 days wages. Remembering most people only work for around 50 years (which equates to around 15,600 days if you worked a six-day working week), this meant this servant had amounted enough debt which would take almost 4,000 lifetimes to ever repay!

In other words, the debt is impossible to ever repay! Even if the king really were to sell the servant, his wife, and his children, the debt still couldn’t be repaid. He’s not just undeserving, but he’s been careless, irresponsible, and reckless to rack up such an impossible debt which could never be repaid.

In desperation he asks the king for patience so he could repay the debt. Remembering the impossibility of repaying this ridiculous financial debt, the request for patience would seem futile and pointless.

Note, there’s no hint of sorrow over the huge debt. No repentance. No change of heart, which becomes even more obvious later. There’s absolutely no reasonable reason the king should do anything except let the servant receive what he deserves for this prodigal debt.

Therefore, when the king forgives and wipes clean the impossible debt, this seems extremely bizarre. The king cancels the servant’s debt for no reason except for his own compassion. The king is compassionate and gracious, slow to get angry and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. There are also no strings attached to this extraordinary act of forgiven debt.

So, it seems this reckless and irresponsible servant gets off scott free! He now has no debt and is free to start again. You’d think this would be a life-changing day for him!

But, no sooner does he go outside, that this freely forgiven servant comes across another servant who owed him 100 denarii – that’s only about 3 months wages. This debt could easily be repaid if the original servant was patient.

And that’s all the second servant asks for – patience. He doesn’t ask for his debt to be cancelled. He promises to repay what he owes, just not right now.

But the original servant, who has been forgiven 4,000 lifetimes of debt wants his 3 months debt paid back right away. He’s not even willing to be patient. He throws the second servant into prison in order that he would repay the debt. Although, how on earth a person is supposed to repay a debt from prison is indeed puzzling!

It just so happens other fellow servants witnessed what happened and reported the original servant’s cruel and unjust behaviour to the king.

In this case, while the king hadn’t attached any strings to his forgiveness to the original servant, he did expect the servant who had received mercy to be merciful to others. The king expected his compassionate act of mercy would rub off on the servant, but it didn’t. The servant’s heart remained selfish and self-seeking. Because the servant wasn’t merciful, he’s handed over to tortuous prison guards in order that his once-forgiven debt would be fully repaid.

And then Jesus says those words to you and me, as Christians who have received the forgiveness and mercy of God, that when we struggle to forgive those around us: “This is what my heavenly Father will also do to you unless each one of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

You could argue the forgiveness of the King was without condition, but it wasn’t without consequences.

Similarly, loving and forgiving your brothers and sisters in Christ isn’t a condition you have to live up to in order to gain God’s grace or mercy. God has already been gracious and merciful to you long before you ever asked for it. Instead, your forgiveness toward those around you is the after-effect and consequence of a believing heart. While a Christian can’t win or earn God’s forgiveness, you can lose it when you refuse to extend the same grace and compassion to your brothers or sisters in Christ.

When you’re struggling to forgive those around you, arguing they need to have a change of heart before you can ever forgive them, Jesus challenges you to consider it’s not the other person’s heart that needs changing. To forgive someone else from your heart means your own heart is the one which needs to be changed first. And the only way your own heart can be changed is to realise the huge debt you’ve already been forgiven by Jesus Christ.

So, hear again the good news of Jesus Christ!

While you were still sinners, Christ died for you.

He didn’t die for you because you’re good people, but because you’ve racked up a huge debt. You see, the wages, or the debt of sin, is death.

Every time you feared, loved, or trusted in something or someone else apart from God, the debt was increased. Every time you neglected to pray to God, or give him thanks, you added to the debt. Every time you angered or dishonoured your parents or teachers or whinged about our parliamentarians, you added to the debt. Every time you told a lie about your neighbour or passed on some gossip unchecked, you increased the debt. Every time you wanted to gain something or someone for yourself because you weren’t content with what God already provided you, the debt got larger.

Despite all this, Jesus paid the full price of that debt of sin through his death. It is finished. Completed. Fully paid for.

He also didn’t suffer and die because you were sorry. In fact, most of the time you may be unaware of how much you offend the people around you. You’re probably also unaware of the depths of your offences toward God. If he had to wait for any of you to be sorry for how you hurt each other or the way you hurt God, Jesus would still be waiting. So, while you were his unrepentant enemies, he died for you and me. Gladly. Willingly. Graciously. Undeservedly.

When you’re struggling to forgive someone, you don’t look for the other person to change. They’re probably not going to anyway. It could be that mercy is the only thing which can change their heart too.

Instead, when you’re struggling to forgive, look to Jesus Christ and what he did for you. He forgave you from his gracious and merciful heart. When your own heart realises and trusts the grace and mercy of Christ, you’ll be more willing to forgive from your heart. Not because you have to, but because your heart has been transformed by God’s grace and mercy.

May God comfort you with the forgiveness which is yours through faith in the words and work of Jesus Christ, who has cleansed and adopted you as God’s own children through baptism, and who offers his own body and blood for the forgiveness of your sin. And by God’s grace, may the forgiveness of Christ help you to forgive those who have hurt you.

And then may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 6th Sep 2020

Matthew 18:15-20 (ESV)

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may care for the ‘little ones’ in our midst, for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today’s Gospel reading is usually one of the very few Scripture passages quoted in our Congregational Constitutions and By-Laws. It often forms the basis of a detailed three-stage process describing church discipline.

Although the By-Laws say all church discipline is to be done ‘in an evangelical manner’ (which means it’s to be done in accordance with the gospel) and that it should be done with the purpose of gaining a member, it seems to encourage us to admonish, or tell off, everyone who does the wrong thing.

Since the church is full of sinful saints, it would seem we’d have a full-time job if we had to tell each other off every time we feel upset by what people say and do! If we ever attempted to rebuke each other every time someone did something wrong, we shouldn’t be surprised people no longer want to be part of our fellowship!

So, does Jesus really wants us to tell each other off every time we feel hurt by each other? Have we misunderstood what he’s saying here, or have we gone about it in the wrong way?

Well, it would serve us well to understand what Jesus says here is only part of his conversation with his disciples. To better understand the context he was speaking into, we need to go back to the beginning of the chapter.

This is where we hear the disciples were wondering who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

In other words, who is more important? Who is more worthy? Who is more valuable? Whose rights should be more prominent in God’s kingdom?

This question in itself shows our inherent human nature which is selfish and self-centred. We want to be merited for our righteous behaviour, and we judge each other based on merit. This question is all about me and where I stand over against the pecking order of the rest of the people of God.

My pride might figure I follow Jesus more nearly, love him more dearly, and see him more clearly than everyone else, and I want to be recognised for this. Surely I’m more important, more prominent, more admirable, more righteous, and more holy than those sinners next to me, aren’t I Jesus? Surely I’ve earned a spot closer to Jesus based on my own efforts and good intentions?

But Jesus turns this type of thinking upside down.

In response he invites a toddler to stand in the middle of the disciples. Now, a very young child, while valuable to his or her parents, normally contributes nothing of value to society. They are powerless, uneducated, unskilled, naïve, and defenceless. Despite their best efforts to convince us the world should revolve around them, they have no right to rule or have a position higher than anyone else.

Yet Jesus says: “Unless you turn and become like a toddler, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3-4).

Now, Jesus isn’t asking his disciples to be childish. He’s asking us to be childlike. He’s turning our world upside down by telling us only the childlike actually get into the kingdom of heaven. The childlike have no authority or power or greatness about them. You see, it’s not about being great or important or valuable or more righteous in God’s kingdom, but about being humble. It’s about being ‘little ones’ in the kingdom.

At this point it’s helpful for us to consider how Jesus, who we consider worthy of praise and honour, humbled himself and emptied himself of his greatness for you and me. He didn’t come to be served, but came to serve all the ‘little ones’ who we would often shun, or look down on, or ostracise, or reject; the ones whom the Pharisees and teachers of the Law criticised and condemned. Jesus welcomed ‘little’ sinners at his table so they may receive his feast of forgiveness. He died for sinners so they may be forgiven and free to live in his kingdom.

Those who puff themselves up and want to be great in the kingdom are challenged by what Jesus says and does, but those who are ‘little’ in the eyes of the world, who are humble and childlike, see him as their Saviour.

As if this wasn’t challenging enough for all of us who want to be seen as good or right or worthy or important or great, Jesus likens himself to a ‘little one.’ Therefore, when you receive a ‘little one’ in Jesus’ name, you also receive Jesus. Of course, this also begs us to ask the question how we can receive Jesus if we can’t receive ‘little ones’ in our midst.

In fact, anyone who might cause a ‘little one’ who believes in Jesus to sin, well, it’s better for them to drown in the sea with a millstone around their neck, or to have their offending part of the body which caused a ‘little one’ to sin to be cut off.

We’re not to despise or look down on the ‘little ones’ (or those we think ‘little’ of) in our fellowship. Instead, like a shepherd who cares so deeply for his ‘little ones’ that he would leave ninety nine sheep to rescue one of his ‘little ones’, we too should be deeply concerned that any ‘little ones’ might perish because they were led to sin by those who considered themselves great in the kingdom of heaven.

For this reason, you could argue a Christian community is to be measured by how they treat their most insignificant, unworthy, useless, and sinful, ‘little ones’.

Then, knowing we humans often judge each other (and ourselves) based on merit and worthiness (or the lack of it), which too often affects the faith of the ‘little ones’ in our midst, Jesus gives us a way to reconcile and win back the recalcitrant sinner.

So, Jesus says to you and me, as people who no longer want to be the greatest but who are ‘little ones,’ that when a brother or sister in Christ sins against us, we should…go.

But this isn’t what we always practice. Many times, we don’t want to go. We want to excuse someone’s behaviour. “That’s just who they are” or “You just have to get used to so-and-so” we might say. We might make out it wasn’t that bad after all and deny the way their sin affects the ‘little ones’ in the community. But, if we’re really concerned for the ‘little ones,’ we need to go, but we go in humbleness and with a readiness to forgive the repentant sinner.

Connected to the ‘go’ is that we approach them one on one and in private.

Again, this isn’t what we practice. We often want to tell everyone else what they’ve done through our careless talk, before checking to see if we misunderstood them in the first place. Before you know it, we’ve publicly shamed and humiliated them behind their back. Through our unchecked gossip, we’ve put them on trial without the possibility of repentance or a proper defence. This isn’t the way to win people over to repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation!

But, even if we were to see them privately, what are we to do, and how are we to do it?

Well, we’re to ‘go and tell him his fault’ or ‘tell him what he did wrong,’ but in such a way that we patiently and lovingly bring the person to the point they realise their own sin.

This is important. You see, we’re often spiritually blind to our own sin, so a ‘he said/she said’ argument of right and wrong won’t always convince someone what they did was wrong, especially in today’s world where the rights of the individual have become more important than the rights of the community.

In this case we prepare carefully and prayerfully so that we may have the courage and perseverance to help them see themselves, their words, their actions, and their intentions, in the light of God’s Word. Let God be the one to change their heart. Once they realise their sin, we’re to forgive the repentant sinner.

It could be ninety percent of our troubled relationships can be dealt with in this manner, without the need for our sins to be made public. The ‘little ones’ will reconcile with those who have sinned against them and the community of faith will continue to experience love and unity and harmony as a powerful witness to the forgiveness of Christ.

However, some will have trouble seeing or admitting their own sinful behaviour.

In this case, we’re to get some of our friends and gang up on them!

No!

When you need to bring others along in an effort to gain back your brother or sister in Christ, you seek objective and spiritually mature people who will carefully investigate the situation (and perhaps also check your own misunderstandings or bias), but most importantly, people who will bear witness to what Christ has done for themselves, and him (or her), and for you. They may have the gifts to communicate more effectively, ask the right questions, and have the wisdom to explore solutions you haven’t thought of yet. These spiritually mature people will seek every opportunity to regain those who have sinned against the ‘little ones.’

Of course, if a heard-hearted person, who professes to be a Christian, refuses to repent, forgive, or be reconciled after repeated appeals, Jesus then commands us to treat him or her like a non-Christian. Of course, like all pagans, tax-collectors and sinners, this person shouldn’t be shunned or written off, but now is in need of our evangelism.

Throughout the whole process, the intention is to forgive and restore the repentant sinner – for their sake, for the sake of the ‘little ones,’ and for the sake of the Christian community.

You see, Jesus is deeply concerned for all of us – for all the ‘little ones’ who humbly look to him for mercy, forgiveness and peace. Through baptism and faith, he has grafted us into his own body and he feeds us with his own body and blood at his Holy Supper. He raises up the humble and gives us a place in his heavenly kingdom.

Jesus also knows people hurt us and that we in turn hurt others. This hurtful behaviour affects the fellowship of believers, affects our unity in the body of Christ, and affects our witness of faith and love and peace. He has given us a wise process to reconcile strained relationships and restore unity and peace in a troubled community.

Where the rest of the world judges each of us on the basis of our worthiness and usefulness (and also looks down on those who are of little value), living in God’s kingdom involves humbleness and respect. We value and love those who many consider to be useless, unworthy, and undeserving. We love and serve them because Jesus suffered and died for all people, no matter how lowly they may be. We also don’t want to lead people into temptation or despair because of the way they’ve been treated, so we have the courage to reveal how sin affects our fellowship. We’re also ready to forgive the repentant sinner so that he or she may experience reconciliation and restoration where possible.

While we have these words from Christ referred to in our Constitutions and By-Laws, let’s never take them out of context. Let’s always be humble and childlike as we live out our faith in Jesus Christ so that we never think of ourselves too highly. Let’s always love the ‘little ones’ so much we may never lead them into temptation or despair because of their experience of sin. Let’s be ready to forgive the repentant sinner and seek to maintain our unity in the body of Christ.

In this way, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.