Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 20 A (Proper 24)

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Isaiah 45:1-7
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for the day.

We Are Recreated in the Image of God by the Cross of Christ

Plotting against Jesus, the Pharisees attempted “to entangle him in his words” by asking about the payment of taxes to Caesar (Matt. 22:15). The Lord pointed to coins required for the tax, and He answered that we should “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). But if coins bearing the image of Caesar should be rendered to him, then man — who is made in the image of God — must be rendered to the Lord. That tax is paid for us by the Lord Jesus, the image of God in the flesh, by His self-offering on the cross. And from His cross, as the Lord’s anointed, He reigns as the true Caesar over all nations “from the rising of the sun and from the west” (Is. 45:6). The Lord once called and anointed Cyrus “to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings” (Is. 45:1). Now by the preaching of the Gospel, “in power and in the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:5), foreigners from all over the world are “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9–10).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Our God, Our Help in Ages Past (LSB 733)
Holy God, We Praise Thy Name (LSB 940)
O Living Bread from Heaven (LSB 642)
On Eagles’ Wings (LSB 727)
Amazing Grace (LSB 744)

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“You are cordially invited …”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Isaiah 25:6-9
Philippians 4:4-13
Matthew 22:1-14

The closer we get to the end of this month,, the more we are bombarded with various “Tales from the Crypt.” The job of the preacher is to draw attention to tales from the Script. Jesus provided a challenging tale in this Sunday’s Gospel lesson.

Jesus’ kingdom parable this week depicts the kingdom as a wedding banquet. A king prepared everything for his son’s wedding banquet. Then he sent servants to all those who had been invited to tell them to come, but they refused. An invitation from a king is not something that people ordinarily refuse. Such things smack of “command-performance,” rather than a casual “Come by some time.”

Thinking the guests may not have understood the nature of the event, the king sent more servants who described in detail the fattened cattle, sumptuous eats, and joyful, festive atmosphere that awaited them. Nonetheless, they paid no attention and simply continued with everyday business-as-usual. Some of them even seized the servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king chose not to have his authority questioned or his servants treated like that, so he sent his army to deal severely with those murderers.

Then he said to the rest of his servants, “The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.” So the servants gathered all the people they could find, without reference to whether they were considered good people or bad. Soon the wedding hall was filled with guests.

The king was pleased to see everyone having a great time, but then he noticed one fellow who refused to enjoy himself. He had not even accepted the party clothes the king had provided in order to help everyone get into a festive mood. When the king questioned him about this, he chose not to answer a word. The king told the attendants to throw the bum out into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Therein we have Jesus’ image of the kingdom: laughter and singing on the inside–weeping and gnashing on the outside. Jesus closed the parable with: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

When the second group of servants came to those who had originally been invited, to explain the lavish preparations, delicious cuisine, and joyful celebration that was waiting, the could-be-guests who did not mistreat them, simply ignored them. The banquet was unimportant; only the fields and businesses that provided for everyday living were important. That form of idolatry is the most popular form to this very day! God’s invitation, God’s will, God Himself–all these are not as important as making a living. One preacher referred to that attitude as, “making a dying.”

In my telling of the story, I have added a common interpretation. Historians tell us that wealthy people in Jesus’ day provided wedding garments to those who could not afford them. I was very young when I first heard this story, and no interpretation was offered. I wound up feeling very sorry for the poor man who (I thought) could not afford a tuxedo, and wound up being thrown out because of it. As a matter of fact, for a long time I had a fixation on this one character in the entire story. As I grew older that fixation helped me realize just how excellent a storyteller Jesus is. I think that, while there are a number of issues that challenge us in this story, that one character is at its heart.

The opening challenge is the most essential. God is caring and gregarious, not aloof and unapproachable. He chooses to enter into a loving relationship with us, and His invitations are wide-open and manifold. He is not discouraged by our vain and stupid refusals to come to Him, and He extends the invitation again and again. You are cordially invited …

That single character, however, comes to prominence, not because he is a victim of poverty, mistreated by some idle-rich king. He is the groomsman whose tux is rented by the king, and given to him scot-free, but he refuses to wear it and wants to participate in his own choice of garments. I don’t think we can escape the connection to the robe of righteousness that Jesus provides to us from the richest resources of His grace, mercy and forgiveness. Robert Farrar Capon, in The Parables of Judgment, comments on refusing God’s invitation because we want nothing to do with a system that operates on grace through faith. We want our sleazy little merit rewarded, and everyone else’s raunchy behavior punished.

A pastor once told me about a phone call he received from a parishioner. She called him because something had just happened that she felt compelled to share with someone. She was glad he was in his office. Someone had called her and asked for an unfamiliar person. She explained that the caller must have dialed the wrong number. At that point, the voice on the other end of the line insisted: “I did not dial the wrong number. You picked up wrong!” Something tells me that caller would not accept Christ’s wedding garment.

Here at the International Center,, a large trash bin recently appeared in the chapel. My immediate assumption was that the roof had begun to leak. But then I wondered if our chapel speaker had planned some kind of dramatic representation of our righteousness being like filthy rags, or maybe of Paul considering everything else rubbish that he might gain Christ. My first assumption was correct. Jesus’ parable helps us to look at our reluctance to throw away our own righteousness and rely totally on Christ’s gift. But it also reminds us that as Christ’s servants we are continually being sent out to invite everyone to His banquet.

Our mission is to bring everyone in and help everyone get into the wedding clothes supplied at great cost by Jesus Christ. In my childhood interpretation of the parable, I worried about the poor man who could not afford a wedding garment. Now I know that no human being can afford what Christ paid for the “wedding clothes” He gives to us. We have no innocent life to give. He gave His life for us. We have no sinless blood to shed, no guiltless body to be broken. He gave his for us and gives His to us. “The wedding banquet is ready … Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.”

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

The Holy Spirit Equips and Powers Us

“And when He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and He said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping?  Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation’” (Luke 22:45-46).  Jesus was exhausted too.  After all, He was human.  He got hungry and tired, just as His disciples did.  We are prone to shake our heads at those lazy, disloyal disciples, but how often do we say we’re too tired to serve, too poor to give, too inadequate to help?  Like the disciples who were transformed on Pentecost, we have received the Holy Spirit Who equips, enables, and energizes us to be God’s stewards.

Prayer:  Our gracious Heavenly Father, You have given us the message and the power to proclaim the Gospel.  Give us joy and courage in our task.  Forgive us when we fail our responsibility.  Thank You for Your Son Who has lived the perfect life of stewardship for us.  Through Him we ask these things.  Amen.

 

Blessings on your stewardship journey!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 19 A (Proper 23)

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Isaiah 25:6-9
Philippians 4:4-13
Matthew 22:1-14

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for the day.

Clothed in the Righteousness of Christ, We Partake of His Wedding Feast

By His cross and resurrection, the Lord has swallowed up death forever, and by His Gospel He “will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth” (Is. 25:8). Therefore, “let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Is. 25:9). On the mountain of the Lord of hosts — in His Church on earth, as in the kingdom of heaven — He has made “for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine” (Is. 25:6). It is the royal “wedding feast” of the Son of God, “and everything is ready” (Matt. 22:1, 4). Thus, His servants are sent into the highways and byways to invite and gather as many as they find, “both good and bad,” to fill the wedding hall with guests (Matt. 22:8–10). In Holy Baptism, He clothes them all in the “wedding garment” of His own perfect righteousness (Matt. 22:11). Therefore, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” and “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4–6).

These are the hymns we will sing:

We Praise You, O God (LSB 785)
Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee (LSB 803)
Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness (LSB 636)
Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us (LSB 711)

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 18 A (Proper 22)

It seems I forgot to post the lessons and hymns last week. I promise I’ll try to do better this week (and beyond).

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming week:

Isaiah 5:1-7
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers appointed for this Sunday.

The True Vine Redeems the Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts

“The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel” (Is. 5:7), which He planted “on a very fertile hill” (Is. 5:1). He did everything for His vineyard, not only clearing it of stones and planting it with “choice vines,” but also building the “watchtower” of His prophets and hewing out the “wine vat” of His priesthood in its midst (Is. 5:2). But when “he looked for it to yield grapes,” there were only “wild grapes” of bloodshed and unrighteousness (Is. 5:2, 7). The Lord Jesus likewise described the unfaithfulness of those who were called to care for His vineyard (Matt. 21:33–35). But in this He also describes His cross and Passion (Matt. 21:38–39), by which He has redeemed the vineyard for Himself. He is the true Vine, planted by death into the ground, and in His resurrection He brings forth “the fruits in their seasons” (Matt. 21:41). Among those good grapes of the true Vine is the apostle Paul. Once a zealous persecutor of the Church, he “suffered the loss of all things” in order to “gain Christ and be found in him,” to “know him and the power of his resurrection” (Phil. 3:8–10).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Lord, ‘Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee (LSB 573)
O Love, How Deep (LSB 544)
By Grace I’m Saved (LSB 566)
The Man Is Ever Blessed (LSB 705)
Hark, the Voice of Jesus Calling (LSB 827)

“What do you think?”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Philippians 2:1-11
Matthew 21:28-32

An old issue of Lutheran Digest contained this little number from “The Lighter Side”: “Salespeople are so rude these days,” complained a fellow in a leisure suit. “I went to a haberdasher to buy a tie and the salesman held one up for $20. I said, ‘Could you show me something cheaper?’ So he held up a tie for $10. I said, ‘Could you show me something cheaper?’ So he held up a tie for $5. I said, ‘You don’t understand. I’d like to see something real cheap.’ So he held up a mirror.”

Sometimes, seeing something (especially ourselves) from a different perspective is like seeing it for the very first time. Jesus used parables to give people a different perspective on things they thought they had down pat. This Sunday’s Gospel Lesson contains another of those jewels of communication and thought. For reasons known only to those who chose the lessons, the setting of the parable is omitted. If we are to get the point of a pointed story, it is very helpful to know what prompted it.

The place was the Temple courts in Jerusalem. The time was very near the tragic climax and triumphant conclusion of Jesus’ earthly ministry — probably Tuesday of what we call Holy Week. Jesus was teaching the people when some of His primary critics and enemies approached. “By what authority do you do these things?” the chief priests and elders asked. “And who gave you this authority?” As was His favorite way of dealing with them, He answered their question with one of His own. He promised that He would answer their question if they would answer His first.

His question was this little dandy: “John’s baptism — was it from heaven, or from men?” They immediately recognized it for what it was: one of those rock-and-hard-place predicaments. If they said it was from heaven, then Jesus would counter by asking why they didn’t believe John. But if they said it was from men, the people would be upset because they believed John the Baptizer was a prophet. They answered with the favorite response of little children: “We don’t know.”

Faithful to His promise, Jesus didn’t answer their question either, but He did ask another one in the form of a parable: “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

Charles Earle Funk, in Heavens To Betsy! & Other Curious Sayings, surmises that the phrase “over a barrel” comes from an early form of pulmonary resuscitation, performed by lifeguards. They would place the victim facedown over the side of a barrel and then gently roll it back and forth. Obviously, the person was entirely at their mercy. The chief priests and elders were drowning here, but they didn’t know it. Jesus had them over the exact same barrel as before, but they didn’t catch on. They didn’t see any trap here, so they answered that the first son was the one who did what his father wanted. At that point, Jesus gave the barrel a huge shove!

Let’s leave the chief priests and elders rolling along, for a moment, and turn our attention to the question involved. Let’s put ourselves, as much as we can, in Jesus’ time and place. It is the very beginning of the first Christian century in Near Eastern culture. The society is powerfully patriarchal — whether or not father knows best, father is obeyed. In public, father is obeyed without hesitation. Just questioning his authority in public, let alone refusing him, is considered verbal insolence. Such a father would be publicly humiliated and shamefully insulted. Consequently, when Jesus said that the first son refused his father’s order to go and work in the vineyard, we might have heard someone in the audience gasp in disbelief that the father could have such an insolent son. Likewise, we would not be the least bit surprised if the father took the equivalent of a First Century switch to the kid!

One of the most common Old Testament images for the kingdom of God was a vineyard. The very fact that a “father,” his “vineyard,” and his “sons” are involved could and probably should lead the hearers to think that the story might be about God and His people. In that case the insolence is even more ghastly, and the punishment could make a switch look like a wet noodle.

Nonetheless, the chief priests and elders chose the first son as the correct answer because the insolent brat eventually went out to work in the vineyard. Another factor also entered into their decision. By this time in Jesus’ ministry, His short fuse and scathing tongue toward lying and hypocrisy were well-known and documented. The Pharisees had been on the receiving end of more than one jarring tongue-lashing from Him because of it, so the chief priests and elders probably thought that the lying and hypocritical second son would be Jesus’ last choice. If he was the last choice and there were only two choices, their decision seemed easy.

Once they had committed themselves, Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” It seems as if Jesus was saying that they could make the correct intellectual choice, but had made the opposite and wrong life choice. The chief priests and elders were like the second son, sitting in the “yea-and-amen corner” of the synagogue, but not doing the will of the Father. The tax collectors and the prostitutes were like the first son, at first refusing God’s direction for their lives, but then repenting and following Him.

Jesus’ two questions form an introduction and conclusion to this parable: “What do you think? … Which of the two did what his father wanted?” Well, what do you think? And are you more like one son or the other? Those are the questions that matter to us, aren’t they? There is also a marvelous truth that pervades the entire story, but receives little or no emphasis. I wonder if the chief priests and elders caught it — did you?

Both sons are sons at the beginning. Both are sons at the end. The father does not alter that relationship — neither for the first son’s insolence nor the second son’s eventual disobedience. William Willimon wrote, “We may have chosen which son we liked best, but the father has not. We may find ourselves identifying with this or that character in the story, but that does not mean that the father embraces one child instead of another.” God’s call to repent and turn to Him came to everyone — chief priests, elders, tax collectors and prostitutes — when John first uttered it. That same call continued to come to all those groups through Jesus, and it still comes to us today.

Over the years, I have found or invented a number of stories (Feddersen’s Fables) that touch us deeply, but still only give us a tiny glimpse into the amazing grace and love of God. Patience is a totally inadequate word for God’s persistent calling us to repentance and relationship, but Jesus had no story to illustrate it. He became that story — He lived it. In Jesus it becomes clear that even the phrase “undying love” is inadequate, because it fails to take His dying into account. Yet, even at His death, the love of God does not die; it conquers! And in His Resurrection we are guaranteed that our death cannot separate us from the Father’s love.

On the other hand, we can separate ourselves! God’s love allows that for us, because it is totally love – – no restrictions. But what a tragedy it is if we sit on our tails and say “No!” to His call, and never repent and follow Him. His love becomes painfully frustrated, and we are forever lost. If we say “Yes,”
but never respond and follow, the result is the same.

For many years, I helped third through sixth grade boys learn a little something about basketball. I selected and then coached teams in little league competition. It was always tough to make the final choices and cuts. Some kids who didn’t get chosen for the teams were just devastated. But I never chose a player who did not show up for practice and games. I simply cannot imagine it happening. Our Father has chosen us to work His mission . . .

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Perseverance in Faith

In the book of Acts, we read about the beginning of the Christian church, and throughout the twenty-eight chapters the author provides examples of those who persevered so the Gospel could be spread.  Consider Peter and John, who were called before the powerful Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish council and authority.  The members of the Sanhedrin commanded them not to “… speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).  “But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge..  For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard’ ” (Acts 4:19-20).  Following that bold statement, they met for prayer, asking for even more perseverance:  “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to Your servants to continue to speak Your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29).  History tells us that they persevered unto death.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for my faith and keep my faith steadfast. In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

Blessings on your stewardship journey!