SERMON FOR SEPTUAGESIMA, Jan. 28, 2018
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
Today we see the congregation of Israel. God had delivered them from bondage in Egypt. They had been baptized in the cloud and in the sea, delivered through the Red Sea from Pharaoh’s hellish army. They had just received bread from heaven in the form of manna. God had provided for them and shown them He was a God who delivered on his promises - a God to be trusted. And now, what did they do? They grumbled. They complained. They doubted whether God was capable of continuing to provide for them.
But you don’t complain like those grumbling Israelites. You never feel slighted when a coworker gets a promotion and you have to keep slugging it out. You always trust that God has a perfect plan. You trust that God is wise, and good, and always knows what’s best for you.
You believe with every fiber of your being that God will provide for you and your family. That’s why you’re never anxious or worried about what the next day will bring. You never fantasize or day dream about all the things that God has not given you – because you know that he has given you Himself, given you everything. So you trust in him with everything you’ve got.
That’s not you. It’s not me. It’s none of us.
The Israelites too had a sort of baptism, they too had some Old Testament sacraments, water from the rock and manna from heaven. But God teaches us this morning that most of those Israelites, because of their faithlessness and grumblings, were overthrown in the wilderness, and their bodies were scattered throughout the dessert.
St. Paul reminds us today in the epistle that the Christian life is not a spectator sport. Paul teaches us:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
This is a sobering sermon from St. Paul! The Israelites too enjoyed God’s special presence among them, but they persistently grumbled against him. It’s not enough to plant your butt in church. Not enough to hang with the right crowd and serve on the right board. Not enough to go the sacrament in a mere outwardly way.
The Sacraments are to be used, enjoyed even, but as a sign of God’s will toward you, for the purpose of awakening and strengthening repentant faith. The whole nature of them is that they are a promise toward you. A wonderful promise, and to receive them, without trusting in that promise is to abuse them – and brings about judgment and not blessing…Those Israelites overthrown in the wilderness is a warning to all of us. A wake-up call!
In the vineyard this morning. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard we see how dangerous it to grumble against the Lord and to keep track of the ledger - to measure and track our rewards and wages in the kingdom of God.
Those who thought they really deserved something receive nothing. Those who thought they were entitled to heaven get hell. Those who puffed themselves up and boasted of their accomplishments hear from the vineyard owner the most terrifying words one can ever hear. The Vineyard owner simply says: “take what belongs to you and go!”
Those are words of judgment and condemnation because only in the kingdom of hell is there perfect fairness. That’s where the ledgers and scales are perfectly balanced, and everyone gets exactly what they deserve.
But this morning we give thanks and praise to God who is not fair. Because even though we deserve condemnation and judgment, God sent His Son to bear the curse that we deserved. It’s not fair that the holy sinless Son of God should bleed for your sins – and suffer hell on the cross, but he does it anyway. In the vineyard, it’s He and only He who bore the burden of the day and the scorching heat of the Father’s wrath. That’s not fair. And yet this was his passion – and source of his joy – to do this very thing for you.
He trusted in the goodness of His Father even impaled upon the cross, ridiculed and spat upon by the crowds, who all thought he was getting what he deserved. How wrong they were! He was getting what they deserved – what we all deserved!
Out of great love for you He took all your complaining, all your faithlessness, and all your fears into himself. He bore the fiery curse of all your unbelief until it squeezed the last breath out of him.
Only the centurion, the last worker of the vineyard, the 11th hour man, could utter the truest words ever spoken on this side of glory: “Truly this man was righteous!”
Moses took his staff and struck the rock at Horeb and out of that Rock came an artesian well, flowing water, an oasis in the wilderness of sin. But now from his pierced side, struck with the centurion’s spear, out of that Rock, comes a gusher of mercy - flowing waters of baptism which saves. A cleansing of pure delight, that refreshes you, purifies and washes away all sin.
All so that you might stand up in the resurrection, walk out of your grave, leave behind your empty tomb, and boast that your God is not fair. He has rewarded you not according to what you deserve, but only according to His steadfast love and mercy.
So why rubberneck and look around at what others have? The whole vineyard, the whole kingdom of heaven has been given to you!
The owner of the Vineyard, your Lord, doesn’t say “take what belongs to you and go.” Instead he says, “Take what belong to me and go.”
My righteousness, my holiness, my blessedness. Take my victory over the devil and go forth, take my body and my blood and go, take my streets paved with gold, take my heaven and everything that belongs to me. Take my grave and my empty tomb. Take my resurrected life and all that I am.
This morning, don’t begrudge your God’s generosity. From the vineyard of his cross and passion, comes a gusher of mercy.
So this morning let us go confidently to the altar this great rewarding day, and let us all boast, that God has not been fair. He is much better than that. He is generous beyond compare. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Prayer of the Church
Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
For the Holy Church, that all who have been called into the vineyard of the Lord would recognize their unworthiness for such a gracious gift, rejoice in the salvation they have in Christ, and remain steadfast in the Word, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For all pastors in Christ, that they would gladly preach the saving Gospel to all, not counting the cost, and not for their own glory or the praise of men, but for Christ’s glory alone; for all other church workers, that all they do would be in service to this same saving Gospel; and for an increase in these vocations, that the Lord of the harvest would use His laborers as His blessed instruments in bringing sinners into the vineyard of His redemption and love, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For missionary Rev. Jacob Gaugert, and the work carried out at the seminary in Togo, West Africa, that those sitting in darkness would called in His marvelous light, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For our congregation, that we would love one another as Christ has loved us, give generously to support the ministry here and abroad, pray for our enemies, put away all earthly grumbling, and bask in the gracious provisions our Lord lavishly bestows on us, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For all those suffering or recovering from illness especially Gabriel Albers, for those who are sad and sorrowing, for those suffering from broken relationships or financial distress, for those to whom death draws near, and for those who are grieving, that Christ would be their health in sickness, their joy in sorrow and their life in death, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For the most vulnerable among us, especially the unborn and elderly, that we would cherish life from the womb to the grave, seeking to care for them to the best of our ability; and that a culture of life would be embraced by more and more in our society until it becomes the norm, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For the newly baptized, for Job Christopher, for Kalia and Pastor German, for those preparing for the birth of children, for Erica, Helen, and Kristina. That God would give them great comfort and joy, in their blessings, let us pray to the Lord: Lord have mercy.
For those who come to the table of our Lord this day, that they would receive the very body and blood of Jesus in repentance and faith, and to their abundant blessing, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For the faithful who have gone before us and enjoy heavenly bliss, let us give thanks and praise. That we may be brought to share with them the feast of joy that never ends in the eternal vineyard of our Lord, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.