They Cast Such a Brilliant Light

Revelation 7:9-17, Matthew 5:1-12

Today is All Saints Sunday—a day of remembrance for Christian people of every time and place. We celebrate the great communion of saints as we remember the dead, some known generally as members of the vast Church universal, and others whose names and cherished memories are treasured in the intimacy of our own hearts. Especially in our close memories, having joined the saints in eternity during 2016-2017, are:

 

Elizabeth Ann Anderson
Rosemary Duncan
Jay Farrell
Alexandra E. "Connie" Kull
William Gregory "Greg" Maloney
Jeri Armstrong Sutphin

Craig DeLong
Ada Lynn (Sappington) English
Richard Klutts
Dean Lentz
Naomi Soto

 

These saints are absent from the body of Christ on
earth and present with the Lord. Thanks be to God.

What It Means to Be Accepted Into Grace

Matthew 22:1-14

It is common enough in our times to see a gate and guard shack in front certain neighborhoods, signs reading “private” and “members only” in front of certain golf clubs or beach resorts, and elaborate screening processes required for membership in certain fraternal orders. In our world, some of the most beautiful places are limited in access by one simple word: exclusive.

Not so with God’s kingdom. Jesus’ death became the salvation for all humanity.  Redemption through God’s grace is offered freely to all persons. Anyone who receives this news is justified before God, and “reborn”. We are accepted through Christ into a new life and a realm where grace is supplied in full measure to all persons, persons of every age, and station and nation.  There is no catch, no condition placed on the entrance to new life in Christ.

There are, however, some house rules once we enter God’s house. The grace which justifies us is only part of the story;  we are meant to grow into that grace, becoming sanctified and sharing the likeness of Christ. In the church, accepting all persons is not the same as condoning all behavior. Put another way: by grace we must clothe ourselves in righteousness.

Lessee What You Got...

Matthew 21:33-46

Chapters 21-23 of Matthew are sometimes referenced as the “confrontation” section of his gospel.  Matthew tell us that when Jesus and his followers had come to Jerusalem, though multitudes of holiday visitors flocked to see him, he was made to feel much less than welcomed by the religious authorities. After openly challenging his authority as a teacher and healer, Jesus replied by telling stories—parables and allegories—which left the disciples wondering and the temple authorities fuming.

The story at the heart of today’s lesson describes a landowner who bought some property, and then leased it to others while he went overseas.  At harvest-time, the landowner sent messengers to receive his share of the yield from his land…but those who’d leased the land were unwilling to part with any of the proceeds.  Instead, they beat up and even killed the messengers and servants the landowner had sent.  In desperation, the owner sent his son (thinking they’d at least respect the family name), but he too was killed. A kind of coup had taken place!

Jesus concluded by asking the religious authorities what they thought the landowner would do when he himself returned, and the authorities rightly judged that the landowner would restore justice.  At which point, Matthew tells us, Jesus told them “you are also tenants, and God has leased his Kingdom into your care.  And now it’s time…the harvest is due…Lessee, what you got?”

Steering Clear of 'Who' Questions

Matthew 21:23-32

If we hang around church long enough, certain questions are bound to arise. Chief among them are the “who” questions:  “Who left the light on in the fellowship hall last night?” Who moved the roasting pans from the kitchen?” “Who told the youth minister she could take the kids bowling on Christmas Eve?”  “Who picked the hymns for that worship service?” It is the voice of the “concerned” church member, the voice of authority speaking on behalf of the church in order to protect its interests. Most congregations feel blessed that someone cares, and is looking out for them.
The challenge for us is that most of the time “who” questions actually get in the way of growing as a congregation.  They isolate us, divide us, set us over and against one another.  Matthew tells us that when Jesus came to Jerusalem, he was drawing large crowds and generating a ton of interest. That’s when the Temple officials came and asked him the “who” question: “by whose authority are you doing these things?” In Jesus’ reply we have a template for what to do with all “who” questions: steer clear of them altogether. Far better for us is to identify what is the issue at hand, and fix it, and in the process keep our brother or sister as a friend!

The Blessing Hidden in the Margins

Matthew 20:1-16

Today’s gospel reading tells a parable about a landowner, a vineyard, and some day laborers and the wages paid to them. Like all of Jesus’ parables, it uses familiar and ordinary imagery: at harvest time workers are needed, and some are hired at the start of the day. The work is more than expected, so more and more workers are hired…some at midmorning, some at noon, some more in the afternoon, and even more with an hour to go in the workday.  The scene is easily recognizable and sensible to the hearers in Jesus’ day and ours, until a surprising twist occurs at the end. The last workers into the field are paid a full day’s wage…and then the first ones hired receive the same wage!

The parable is hard to hear for people who expect “fairness” for a long day’s work. Everyone should get something for their effort, but we prefer to reward the industrious by giving them more than the “under-producers.” Jesus wanted his disciples to know that the Kingdom of God is meant to be every bit as full for the marginal, the lost, the unemployed, and the forsaken ones as it is for the world’s “model citizens.”  The work that God gives us to do carries its own reward, and God’s economy of grace is not the same as the expected natural order of people. For many Christians, the grace God shows to others becomes a stumbling block, but for the marginal ones it brings a chance to fully contribute to the harvest.

Taking Sin Seriously

Matthew 18:21-35

Forgiveness is a defining feature—in fact, the defining feature—of the Christian faith. Of the many systems of justice in the world, across the many nations and peoples and governments, Christianity stand unique in this one respect: “Christian" justice is designed to end up in forgiveness.

We are commanded by Christ to forgive, placing no limits on that forgiveness. But Jesus knew such forgiveness doesn’t come naturally to persons; scars remain, wounds linger, and the impulse to forgive serious infractions remains far off to many of us who’ve been injured. So Jesus told a parable linking forgiveness to gratitude: our ability to forgive flows from our own sense of blessedness and our own experience of forgiveness extended to us.

Forgiveness is taking sin, and sinners, seriously. Christian forgiveness is not the same as permissiveness, moral ambiguity, or acceptance of wrongdoing. Forgiveness assumes the reality of sin, takes it seriously, and extends the grace of God through the community of the forgiven.

Bringing Faith to Life: Part 2

Romans 12:9-21

Today concludes a two-part sermon series—based on the twelfth chapter of Romans—titled “Bringing Faith to Life.”  Today we hear the author of Romans plead with his readers, “by the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…”

In modern times we have tended to over-personalize these words, seeing our relationship with God and our “living sacrifice” as private matters only. But Paul is writing these words to the entire Body of Christ, making clear that our “living sacrifice” involves taking part in the life and mission of Christ’s church by humbly serving where the Holy Spirit directs us.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement in England, once observed “there can be no holiness apart from social holiness.” He meant that while a “Lone Ranger” approach to living the Christian life might take us far in this world, but it cannot take us home. For our faith to truly come to life, we must humbly take our place within the whole Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is where true transformation occurs.

Bringing Faith to Life: Part 1

Romans 12:1-8

Today begins a two-part sermon series—based on the twelfth chapter of Romans—titled “Bringing Faith to Life.”  Today we hear the author of Romans plead with his readers, “by the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…”

In modern times we have tended to over-personalize these words, seeing our relationship with God and our “living sacrifice” as private matters only. But Paul is writing these words to the entire Body of Christ, making clear that our “living sacrifice” involves taking part in the life and mission of Christ’s church by humbly serving where the Holy Spirit directs us.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement in England, once observed “there can be no holiness apart from social holiness.” He meant that while a “Lone Ranger” approach to living the Christian life might take us far in this world, but it cannot take us home. For our faith to truly come to life, we must humbly take our place within the whole Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is where true transformation occurs.