Luke 17:11-19 An Attitude of Gratitude

When I was a child and asked my mother for something, she would often remind me to say “please”. Then, after she gave me what I asked for, she would remind me to say, “thank you” by saying, “Now what do you say?” I knew what to say, but sometimes I would forget. We all know what to say, but unfortunately, we sometimes forget to say it.

Luke 17:11-19 is a story about ten lepers. A leper is a person who has a disease called leprosy. This disease causes sores all over the body. Leprosy was very common in Jesus’ day, and people who had this disease were thought to be unclean. They were required to stay away from other people because of the fear that they might infect them with their disease.

Priests had great power. Once a priest judged a person to be unclean, that person was cut off from society and family. He could not hold a job or engage in business. He was reduced to begging. To be restored to a normal life required a priest’s judgment that the person was no longer unclean. That was Jesus’ reason for sending these lepers to the priest-so that they might be restored to normal lives. Jesus had another underlying purpose. The lepers would bear testimony to the priests of Jesus’ great healing power. When the priests judged the lepers to be clean, their judgements would authenticate Jesus’ Godly power.

When Jesus told the men to visit the priests, He was telling them to get a certificate of release indicating they were free from the disease. As they followed His instructions, they were cleansed. He did not heal them on the spot. He did not heal them in a distant spot. He healed them as they moved to obey His orders.

When Jesus visited the lepers, He made a big statement. He was saying to them, “You have value to me because I created you in my image.” He also said to those who are not leprous, “These people are just as loved by me as you are.”

Jesus told the lepers to go show themselves to the priests. He directed them back to the temple. That is a challenge to our modern church. Whom have we cast out or ignored? Who are those considered “unclean” among us? They include divorced and remarried women, women who have had abortions, refugees, prisoners, ex-convicts and so on.

The ten lepers didn’t ask for healing. They were looking for pity or a handout. When they obeyed Jesus’ instructions, He gave them much more than they asked for. When God tells us to do something small, all we have to do is obey Him! When we obey Him, He may surprise us by giving us more than we would have ever dared ask of Him.

What was a Samaritan (a foreigner) doing among nine Jews? Leprosy made misery their common denominator, and they joined together in a community of woe. Out of all those who had been healed, the one knowing the least about Jesus returned to thank Him. The most religious people are not always the ones who see life’s graces or think to say thanks. The lepers were Jesus’ fellow Israelites. They knew that He has been healing those in need and they showed Him due respect. The Samaritan-who worshipped God differently enough to be a non-Jewish outsider-knew that Jesus’ power was of God and that to thank Jesus was to glorify God.

The Samaritan was an outsider, and he saw Jesus for who He really is and turned back to throw himself at Jesus’ feet while praising God. In doing so, he showed not that Jesus has come for everyone but that those who are on the margins of society are most likely to see God working through Jesus. The insiders often miss this, preferring to work within the confines of the established institution.

As sinners, we have been defiled with the leprosy of sin. We should put our faith in God and obey His commands with confidence that He will heal us if we follow His instructions. This will be evidence that we have made peace with God.

While the one who returned had the same experience as the others, he had a different expression as a result of this experience. The other nine lepers were healed, but only one was made well. Being made well is more important than being healed. Unless gratitude is part of our human nature, we can’t be whole people. The other nine were merely healed. If ingratitude is more deadly than leprosy, the nine were in worse shape than before. Only one came back and was made whole.

Why didn’t the other nine return? Were they ungrateful, or did they just not know a return to say “thanks” was an expectation? Were they careless, or were they carried away in a mad fury to show their newly healed skin to those they were separated from by that dreadful bacteria? Were they distracted by the celebration with one another? Were they ungrateful, or were they swept up in the possibility of their new lives given in healing? Did they simply forget?

Jesus’ words in verses 17-19 reveal a note of sadness and surprise. The nine Jewish lepers who had been healed went away, clutching their blessings to themselves. Only the Samaritan returned, and Jesus rewarded him with a healing beyond the physical. The power of God cleansed him inwardly from the stain of sin.

One of the most prevalent sins today is ingratitude. God does so much for us, but we rarely (if ever) offer thanks for what He has done. In fact, many Christians fail to offer thanks over their meals, much less offer thanks over all that God does for them in their lives. They are like the little boy who was given an orange by a man. The boy’s mother asked, “What do you say to the nice man?” The little boy thought, handed the orange back to the man and said, “Peel it.”

Gratitude allows us to forgive everyone who has hurt us, especially our parents. Whatever they were, we can forgive them and bless them for our own sake. I know, because I’ve experienced this within my own family. One of my nephews had a difficult relationship with his father for several years because his parents divorced when he was a young child. His father was my brother. That rift was not completely healed until my brother was on his deathbed. His family was at his bedside, and my nephew spent a lot of time talking to his father even though his father could not speak because he was in a coma. At one point we were asked to leave while my brother’s breathing tube was removed at the family’s request. I saw my nephew in the hallway, and I could tell that he was upset. I asked him what was wrong and he said, “I never should have stopped talking to him after he took her side…” I asked my nephew if he was able to forgive his father, and he said, “Yes.” Jesus tells us to bless people who have hurt us, especially our parents. The Bible tells us that if we can’t forgive our parents, our days will be shortened.

Nothing pleases God more than faith, and faith is always expressed and made real through action. If we need a miracle or answer from God (just like the Samaritan leper), we have to do more than just believe that God can do it. We have to respond to our belief with gratitude. As the old saying goes, actions do speak louder than words.

The Samaritan leper praised God, but he still had problems. He lived as an outcast with no family, no job, no home and no village. In spite of these problems, he still praised God. Similarly, all of us have problems. We can focus on our belief that God is bigger than all of our problems and that He is present in the midst of our problems.

For the Samaritan leper, his encounter with Jesus was a life-changing invitation into a kingdom and a new community, into life as a new creation. When he fell at Jesus’ feet, he saw the Son of God who made him well. The Samaritan’s response is a model of discipleship, believing and faith. His grateful response to his healing was the start of a process of reaction. We are not called to respond as he did. We are called to imagine our own grateful response.

Several years ago a dog became stranded in the water at the bottom of a canal in Romania. A passerby saw the dog crying and trying to climb the wall to safety. The passerby scaled the wall, jumped into the water and carried the dog to dry land. The dog ran away and shook itself, but then it quickly returned, ran to its rescuer and showered the man with lots of nuzzles and licks.

We can learn a lot from the dog. Only one of the ten lepers Jesus healed returned to give thanks. Everyone who believes in Christ has been rescued and healed. We’re the most blessed people on earth. Some days may be harder than others, and some seasons of life might be tumultuous. But gratitude isn’t situational. It isn’t based on what we have or what we are, but on our relationship with the God who pulled us out of deep waters, set our feet on a rock, and put a new song of praise in our mouths.

Like the leper, on the way, we are being cured when:

  1. A person who loves us tells us a hard truth we need to hear about ourselves.
  2. We experience, in a loving relationship, opportunities for growth in generosity, forgiveness, patience and humour.
  3. Parenting teaches us to give our lives for another in frequent doses of our time, energy, hopes and tears.
  4. We suffer a broken relationship, go for counselling and the guidance we receive gives us hope for our future.
  5. We seek help for an addiction and the group members offer us wisdom, support and helping hands when we fall and support us “one day at a time.”
  6. We suffer the death of a loved one and family and friends are there to grieve with us and eventually there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Has Jesus done great things for us? Have we returned to give Him thanks? God loves to shower us with blessings, but He is not immune from the pain our lack of gratitude brings Him.  It’s easy to spend our lives worrying and obsessing over the problems of life. It’s also easy to overlook a blessing in times of need or forget to be thankful when troubled times have been put to rest. We must make certain that we don’t become one of the nine lepers who were so happy to be cured that they forgot who cured them.

This passage shows faithfulness in two ways. First, the Samaritan recognizes that mercy has come from Jesus, and returning to thank Jesus is a form of faithfulness to the mercy of God that has been shown. Second, the Samaritan’s thankfulness for his physical healing is a sign of deeper, spiritual healing-and that is our true salvation.

Faith is not only a matter of believing. It is also a matter of seeing. All the lepers were healed, but one saw, noticed, let what happened sink in…and it made a difference. This story is an invitation to recognize that what we see makes a difference. In the face of danger, do we see danger or opportunity? In the face of human need, do we see demand or gift? In the face of the stranger, do we see a potential enemy or a potential friend?

One of the simplest and most powerful ways we can show God’s love for others is by treating them with dignity, no matter who they are or what their relationship to us. When we take time to notice them, greet them and meet their eyes-especially those who serve us-and we speak kindly and patiently with them-even when we feel we are not being well treated-this gives them dignity and shows God’s love.

A life of faith is a life of thankfulness. Leprosy is not unlike a condition that is afflicting us, though ours is much graver. While the lepers were separated from worship in the Temple and the presence of God by their disease, we are eternally separated from God by our sinfulness. There is nothing we can do to heal ourselves. We need a Saviour to perform a miracle, and He did. He cured our problem-spiritual death. Even better, He bestowed on us spiritual life for eternity.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1420)
  2. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
  3. Larsen, B. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 26: Luke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 249-253)
  4. “’Please’ and ‘Thank You.’” Retrieved from www.Sermons4KIds.com
  5. Daniel Darling, “The Ten Percent Rule.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  6. Joni Eareckson Tada, “A Surprise for Your Obedience.” Retrieved from communications@joniandfriends.org
  7. Ron Moore, “Returning for Thanks.” Retrieved from www.ronmoore.org
  8. Mike Benson, “Thankful.” Retrieved from kneemail@welovegod.org
  9. Bobby Schuller, “Decisions=Actions.” Retrieved from hourofpower@hourofpower.org
  10. Jill Carattini, “Body of Hope.” Retrieved from slice@sliceofinfinity.org
  11. Joni Eareckson Tada, “Give Thanks Loudly.” Retrieved from communications@joniandfriends.org
  12. Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for Luke 17:11-19.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  13. Dr. David Jeremiah, “Puppy Love.” Retrieved from turningpoint@davidjeremiah.org
  14. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 28th Sunday, -C-.” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  15. Ryan Duncan, “What are You Thankful For?” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  16. Bob Christopher, “Something Good for the Soul.” Retrieved from bob@basicgospel.net
  17. Diana Kerr, “Follow Your ‘Please’ With a ‘Thank -you.’” Retrieved from www.christianity.com/devotionals/grace-moments-devotions-grace-moments-devotions-june-6-2018.html#
  18. Michael Youssef, Ph.D.,” Our Leprosy.” Retrieved from mydevotional@leadingtheway.org
  19. Katherine Lewis, “The Rhythms of Faith.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4726
  20. John W. Martens, “Lessons from the 10 Lepers.” Retrieved from www.americamagazine.org/faith/2016/09/22/lessons-10-lepers
  21. David Lose, “Commentary on Luke 17:11-19.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=783

Exodus 20:1-21 The Love of God and the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments define the life God wants us to have with him and with each other. Every aspect of our lives is to show that we belong to God. The Ten Commandments are minimum standards for a just society and are the framework for how we are to live our lives. We are to reflect God’s righteousness and justice by obeying God’s Commandments. They are the building blocks for a functioning society. These rules will never be out of date. These rules will never change. These rules will never budge because they are eternally the same.

The phrase “I am the Lord Your God” emphasizes his authority and his relationship with his people. They show the love he has for us. God knows that it will be almost impossible for us to perfectly obey these commandments, so he can heal the broken relationship when we break one of the Ten Commandments.

These rules deal with our relationship with God. For example, God is a jealous God. That is why he does not want his people to worship other gods. He loves us so much that he wants the very best for us, and the very best for us is worshipping the one true God. God loves us so much that he wants us to keep his name sacred. That’s why we are told not to take his name in vain. God loves us so much that he wants us to set aside one day a week to worship him. That is why he tells us to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

These rules also deal with our relationships with other people. Honouring our parents means loving them as much as God loves us. God wants us to love one another as much as he loves us. If we do, we will not kill, commit adultery, steal, covet our neighbour’s goods or lie. Our love for God will bring us to our knees because of our need to be loved. If we obey God, it shows our love for him and it is good for us as well.

These rules also deal with the ethics of life. God sees that the issues addressed by the Ten Commandments are wrong because they go against moral laws. God wants us to respect the hazards of sin. Appropriate fear of God makes us reverent, obedient and worshipful so that we will not sin. We will obey the Commandments because our commitment to God gives us an overwhelming desire to obey him. In fact, we are required to obey God when we hear his voice. The Ten Commandments force us to take responsibility for our actions. They are to be part of our response to what Jesus did for us on the cross.

God is a mystery. He has hidden many things from us. These hidden things combined with our sinful human nature to create a gap between us and him. Throughout the Old Testament several of God’s prophets such as Moses tried to close this gap. The only person who has successfully bridged this gap is Jesus. Jesus is the mediator between us and God. God tries to restore our relationship with him through the Ten Commandments and the two Great Commandments. We can’t ignore this relationship. If it is to be an exclusive relationship, God must be our number one priority. The Ten Commandments are the required response of a grateful people.

We are grateful, but we are not perfect. That’s okay, because God sees us through the eyes of love-the same love that caused him to send his son Jesus to pay the price for our sins. God hopes that we will look at others through the same eyes of love. We are not perfect, but God has prepared a place for us with his saints.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible Software package.
  3. Dunnam, M. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 2: Exodus (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.: 2006)
  5. Radmacher, E.D.; Allen, R.B. & House, H.W.: Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2009)
  6. Robert L. Allen, “Rules for Living.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  7. King Duncan, “Responsible Living.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  8. King Duncan, “Etched in Stone.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com

Matthew 21:33-46 Wicked Tenants in a Wicked World

He was, by all accounts, a successful man. This builder of fine homes in an upscale suburb was known to all as a creative craftsman, a shrewd businessman, a fair-minded employer, and a generous benefactor. But he was aging now, and before he set out for Florida for the winter, he approached his top superintendent and told him that he was retiring. “I want you to build me a home, the finest home this company has ever built. Spare no expense, use the finest materials, employ the most gifted tradesmen, and build me a masterpiece before I come home next spring.”

The next day, the superintendent set out to build that home, but not exactly to orders. If his boss was retiring, that meant he would be losing his job, so he needed to pad his own savings account, lest he be destitute. He ordered inferior concrete blocks for the foundation, but charged the builder for premium blocks, and he pocketed the difference.  He hired inexperienced carpenters, plumbers, electricians, roofers and landscapers, but he charged his boss wages that would be paid to master craftsmen, and he put the difference in his own bank account. He installed cheap appliances and lighting, insufficient insulation, inferior carpet, and drafty windows, and he skimmed a tidy sum off the top for himself. In the spring, when the home was finished, it looked spectacular; it was the signature home in the neighborhood, and the only thing that made the superintendent happier than how the project looked was the bottom line in his personal bank account, which had grown by hundreds of thousands of dollars that winter.

When the elderly business owner arrived home from Florida that spring, he toured this home fit for a king, and he was ecstatic. The superintendent handed him the keys and thanked his boss for the privilege of working for him all these years. And then the owner did an unthinkable thing: he said to the superintendent “You have been a trusted friend and a loyal partner in my business for all of these years; you deserve a home like this.” And he handed him the keys.

When you were growing up, did your parents ever have to take anything away from you because you didn’t look after it? If so, you can understand what Jesus is talking about in the parable of the wicked tenants.  It is a parable of God’s kingdom on earth. Specifically, God is the landowner, the Jewish leaders and people who reject Jesus or do not care about him are the tenants, the Old Testament prophets are the slaves send by the landowner, and Jesus is the landowner’s son. God gave the kingdom to the Israelites to tend and do his work, but they rejected their duties and turned away from God. In return, he sent the Old Testament prophets to warn them, but the Israelites rejected the prophets, even to the point of hurting or killing them. Finally, God sent his son Jesus to warn them, but he was also rejected and crucified.

The parable of the wicked tenants in Matthew 21:33-46 represents our broken relationship with God, his attempts to repair it, and mankind’s rejection of his attempts. In spite of our continual rejection of him, God never gives up on us. His love for us never diminishes.

Greed is what the parable of the wicked tenants is all about, and greed is everywhere. That’s why the parable is so timely and relevant today; because as that wise homebuilder knew the heart of his superintendent, so Jesus knows the selfish condition of our hearts, and he wants us to change our ways. This parable speaks of anger and hatred against not only God, but against those who oppose him. This can be anyone-nonbelievers, criminals, terrorists, or persecutors.

Exodus 17:1-20 and Matthew 21:33-46 are similar stories. In both cases God has told the people what he wants them to do and how he wants them to live their lives, and in both cases the people rejected him. God has done everything possible to give Israel every advantage. He has established an everlasting covenant with them. He has led them through good times and bad. He has given them the Promised Land as their inheritance. He has even given them the law and prophets to guide them. Were the Israelites grateful to God? No. They accepted everything he offered except for the one thing he asked for in return, and that was to worship him and accept him as their Lord and Saviour. As a consequence, the Jewish leadership, which failed to produce good fruit, was disenfranchised and the vineyard was given to the church, which will produce good fruit. Jesus was not so much foreshadowing the shift of God’s emphasis from Jewish to Gentile realms as he was anticipating the replacement of Israel by the church, which united both Jews and Gentiles.

The same situation exists today. God has sent ministers, priests, preachers and godly evangelists such as Billy Graham to us to urge us to change our ways and accept Christ, but we and our worldly society continue to reject him. As men treat God’s people, they would treat Christ himself the same way, if he was with them. If we are faithful to Christ’s cause, how can we expect a favourable reception from a wicked world? Eventually, God will deal with those who reject him just like he dealt with the leaders of the Jewish people. The kingdom will be open only to those who believe him and are willing to do as he asks. Opposition to Jesus is a wrong response as is an attitude of apathy. Those who harbour such attitudes are in danger of being judged.

It is somewhat ironic that the ultimate rejection of Jesus by the Jews led to the foundation of the church-a body of believers who accepted him. It is an example of something that is rejected but that becomes something useful, something that changes history. Another example is Nelson Mandela. For decades he was a prisoner in a South African jail, but he emerged to become the first president of the new South Africa. He was so influential while he was a prisoner that the Apartheid regime held secret meetings with him while he was still in prison. Rebels, young and old, were held with him on Robben Island, and it became a training ground for political leaders. Slowly and painfully South Africa was reformed. A nonracial parliament was elected and chose Nelson Mandela as president. During his inauguration speech on May 10, 1994, he vowed that “never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.” The former prisoner was now president. Once rejected, he was now the cornerstone.

The attitude of the tenants is represented by the Pharisees. They were so concerned about obeying the Ten Commandments that they came up with many rules and regulations governing what the people could and could not do. In time, the Pharisees developed an attitude of being entitled to God’s kingdom even though they disregarded the spirit of God’s law and emphasized the letter of God’s law. They considered themselves to be the only people who were good enough for God’s kingdom. In reality, they rejected him even though they thought they were accepting him.

We have a similar attitude today. Our world is not a playground that God will let us live in. His commandments are a reminder that he has expectations for his chosen people-people who have been chosen not for privilege but for service and witness. When we try to be in charge, it speaks of privilege, our misuse of freedom, or our arrogance. We fall into the trap of thinking we have a right to the many blessings that are part of the world we live in-just like the Israelites thought that they had a right to the blessings God gave them.

If we want to avoid the same fate as the Jewish leaders-if we want to inherit the kingdom-we have to know what God wants us to do with our lives. The only way we can do this is through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading the Bible and worship. If we want God to bless our stewardship, we have to live righteously, care about each other and bear witness to our faith. In other words, we have to be fruitful and multiply.

Churches in the Third World are growing while churches in North America are in decline. Why? One possible reason is that people in the Third World are on fire for God and are filled with the Holy Spirit. They have few resources, but much enthusiasm for the Gospel-so much so that they are willing to share with anyone who will listen.

God wants tenants who will produce for him. Do we want to be his tenants? If so, what will we produce? If we produce, we will receive the kingdom of heaven. It can’t be taken by us. It can only be given to us, but we have to earn it first and then share it with others. The only rent God will charge us is our time, our abilities and a portion of our money. We are called to be stewards of our lives, to give of ourselves in the name of the Lord as ministers of Jesus Christ. We are to share ourselves, our time and our possessions as a sign of God’s love. Wherever we spend vast amounts of our time and energy working at a job, caring for a family, helping those in need, making sure that the less fortunate get a fair deal, etc., these are places for us to be conscious of the fact that we are doing work in God’s vineyard, and we will be held responsible for it at the proper time.

The task isn’t ours alone to complete. God has invested care and concern for the work we do in his vineyard, and in the end, God’s ways are what we are trying to accomplish. We must remember that we are only tenants, and the full responsibility for the success of our work is not only ours.

Giving grows out of loving, and loving comes from God. We know love because God first loved us. We have known love and so we love others in return. Giving is our response to God’s love, and our giving makes things happen. In fact, at the time I’m preparing this sermon it will only be a few days until we celebrate the Canadian Thanksgiving-a time to give thanks to God for all he has given us, including the opportunity to bear good fruit for him. We are to be thankful for the portion of worldly things that God has given us, be content with what we have, and trust God to provide for the future.

Leadership must be about service and about nurturing God’s people. Actions have consequences. Good actions reap good consequences like appreciation, respect, a raise in income, etc. Bad actions reap bad consequences like disrespect, prison, other forms of punishment, or even death. The parable is a statement of God’s concern for his people and a declaration that God’s plan cannot be defeated by man. If we love God, we realize that he knows the best way for us to live. He knows how to keep us from following the ways of the world. He sent his son Jesus to pay for our sins so we could be free from sin and walk in a way worthy of him. Which consequences do we want to reap at the end of our lives?

Bibliography

  1. MacArthur, John: “MacArthur Study Bible: NASB” (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 2006, 2008)
  2. Exegesis for Matthew 21:33-46. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  3. The Rev. Roy T. Lloyd, ELCA, “Wild Grapes and Productivity”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  4. The Rev. Dr. Wiley Stephenson, UMC, “Who’s in Charge Here?” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  5. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions: 27th Sunday (A)” .Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  6. Ira Brent Driggers, “Commentary on Gospel (Matthew 21:33-46)” .Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching_print.aspx?commentary_id=145
  7. The Rev. Charles Hoffacker, “October 2, 2011-Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22, Year A”. Retrieved from www.episcopalchurch.org/sermons_that_work
  8. Fr. John R. Donahue, S.J., “God’s Labour Lost”. Retrieved from www.americanmagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=2501
  9. The Rev. Beth Quick, “Lectionary Notes-21st Sunday after Pentecost”. Retrieved from www.bethquick.com/pentecost21anotes.htm
  10. The Rev. Beth Quick, “Give and Take-Matthew 21:33-46”. Retrieved from www.bethquick.com/sermon10-2-05.htm
  11. Dr. Philip W. McLarty, “Whose Vineyard Is It Anyway?” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  12. Dr. Mickey Anders, “Wicked Tenants”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  13. Pastor Steve Molin, “Speaking of Us”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  14. The Rev. John Bedingfield, “Stewards of the Planet”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  15. Glen Copple, “What’s wrong with This World?” Retrieved from http://ezinearticles.com/?Whats-Wrong-With-This-World?&id=1559975
  16. Matthew Henry Concise Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package

Fr. John Kendrick, O.P., “Working with God”. Retrieved from http://torch.op.org/preaching_sermon_item.php?sermon=5645

Exodus 17:1-7 Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Complain, complain, complain.

Have you ever known people who do nothing but complain? Does it bother you after a while? If so, perhaps you can sympathize with Moses. He had to put up with the Israelites’ constant complaining during the 40 years they spent in the desert. We see a good example of this in the passage we heard from the Book of Exodus.

Wandering through the desert is hard, especially when you don’t have water and you don’t know where to find it. A human body can survive for one hundred hours at average temperatures without access to water. The Sinai Peninsula averages 82 degrees Fahrenheit in May and 91 degrees Fahrenheit in June. For those same months, average high temperatures are 95 degrees and 104 degrees respectively. In such extreme heat, and with exposure to the sun, the timeline for survival is cut in half to about fifty hours. Exertion-such as walking long distances in the daytime, carrying a load, and leading livestock-shortens the timeline even further to about seven hours. One long day’s march was all it would take to finish God’s people.  They were worn out, dehydrated and stuck in a place that doesn’t promise to change their situation.

The Israelites kept forgetting about God’s miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt. God freed them, but at the first sign of uncertainty they wanted to return to Egypt. They preferred certainty and slavery to the uncertainty of an adventure of living with God. They wanted security. They doubted that God would provide for them. God’s providence does not ensure that the path will lead to a particular outcome, and that frightened them. Despite their doubts, God provided. Regardless of what we do, God is faithful and will provide a way when there is no way. Providence will outlast our doubts and provide a way when we see no pathway ahead.

Something about thirst creates desperation. Something about desperation focuses prayer. Something about prayers of desperation creates a context for divine breakthroughs. Something about divine breakthroughs transforms nominal religion into blazing faith. Something about blazing faith changes entire communities and travels up and down generational lines.

The passage from Exodus could easily apply to our personal and church lives today. We see scarcity all around us, especially when the start of the current COVID-19 pandemic led to shortages of toilet paper, of all things! We assume that shortages and death are all around us when in reality we are surrounded with all of the resources we need to survive and thrive.

The road to freedom and real change can be long, difficult, and discouraging. The Israelites found that out. It was hard for them to sustain their initial faith and hope that got them to follow Moses’ invitation. Like them, we are on the difficult journey called life. We are going somewhere and we try to follow the right path, but sometimes life has its wilderness aspects. At those times we are often tempted to turn and look back to the old ways and the old slavery (like the Israelites did).

Where do we find ourselves today? Where are we thirsting and tempted to settle for less than God? Do we look around and see no possible way God can help us? Are the only things we see thirst, wilderness, and rocks? We have to remember that God is full of surprises.

Maybe the Israelites’ position between deliverance from slavery at the Red Sea and entrance into the Promised Land approximates the position of the Church between our deliverance at the cross and resurrection of Jesus and our awaiting the promised land of our heavenly home. In both cases God’s perceived absence is a common occurrence, but the passage from Exodus shows us that God was with the Israelites, and He is with us today. God uses the times of perceived absence to show us how truly present He actually is.

The Israelites constantly challenged both Moses’ leadership and God. It was no different when they got to Rephidim, which is the location for the events in the passage from Exodus. There was no water, and the people were thirsty. They complained to Moses. They forgot that if God could part the Red Sea, He could provide water to drink. To make matters worse, Moses asked them why they put God to the test. Moses could not get them to think about God. Moses was with them, so he was the focus of their anger.

We do the same thing today. We test God. We want Him to constantly prove Himself. We want Him to be involved in the smallest things in our lives, and not just the big events. We need to remember His wondrous movements in our lives when we ask these two questions:

  1. Where has God made a way when there was no way?
  2. Where have divine resources emerged to ensure our well-being?

When we remember how God has worked in our lives, we become aware of possibilities and go from scarcity to abundance. You want food? Ask God. You need water? Whether it’s from a rock, the sky, or the sea, God provides it. Do you need laws to organize your lives? Come to Mount Sinai and God will write them down for you. Do you want to worship? God will tell you how. Do you need land to call your own? Ask God, and He will show you the spot He has saved for you.

God assured Moses that He would provide a rock. This was the rock where revelation would take place. God already selected the place and the miracle.  How can we receive refreshment during a dry place? The answer is found in the solution and command God gave to Moses, “You shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it that the people may drink.” This water is the giving of the Holy Spirit. It is the granting of eternal life and the glory yet revealed to us.

In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul wrote these words on this event: “They drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” The smitten stone in the passage from Exodus pictures Christ who when He was smitten upon the cross, became the fountainhead of blessing, the Redeemer of the world.

God told Moses to use something he had-the rod-and strike the rock. Some people claim that water can pour out of certain desert rock by striking the surface. Moses and God would laugh at this claim. The supplying of water was proof that God was with His people. He never abandons us. He gives us the life-giving water.

God chose to bring water-and the life it represents-out of something that appeared to be lifeless. This represents God’s plans to bring the people life, not death. God will make life flow in unexpected ways, but it will require a certain amount of trust from the people, a willingness to put faith in a God who seems not to do things in the typical way.

Sometimes we wonder if God is with us. As Christians, we go through difficulties at times when we face obstacles on the path of our calling or we feel like we’re hitting a brick wall and our breakthrough is a far-away dream. When this happens, what do we do? What do we ask ourselves? What do we tell others? Do we complain that God has abandoned us like the Israelites did, or do we ask Him to show us His glory, power, and miracles? Do we learn about His character and His attitude towards us through these difficult times and grow in trust with every single victory He grants, or do we still doubt His love for us when things get tough? If we have placed our faith in Him, He has promised to be with us.

God delivers us from bondage, refreshes our spirits, quenches our thirst, forgives our sins, and enables us to face suffering. The deepest, most profound, and unquenchable thirst of everyone is a thirst for the Holy Spirit. God cares deeply for us and helps us move from places of fear and doubt to places of trust. God provides for us and reveals Himself to us. God asks us to trust Him when He doesn’t answer our prayers right away or in the form we would like.

God knows that each and every one of us has something He and His ministry can use. If we are to be God’s instrument, we need three things:

  1. A sense of our iniquities.
  2. A sense of our usefulness.
  3. A change in our daily patterns.

One of the greatest revelations that can come to any Christian is the realization that in every act of Christian ministry there are two agents-God and man. God does not need to be asked to help us, but He wants us to help Him. Our part is the very unimportant and subsidiary one of smiting the rock. His part is to make the water flow.

In every congregation and religious gathering the Holy Spirit is present, eager to glorify Christ, and to pour out rivers of living water for thirsty people. Our duty is to see that we are in a right condition spiritually so He can ally us with Him. We must continue to have faith that He will do His share, and when He does we must not take the glory.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 97)
  2. Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 2: Exodus (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987)
  3. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  4. “Is the Lord Among us or Not?” Retrieved from info@seedsofthekingdom.net
  5. F.B. Meyer, “Our Daily Homily.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  6. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, Third Sunday in Lent (A).” Retrieved from firstimpressions@lists.opsouth.org
  7. Mark Throntveit, “Exodus 17:1-7.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu.
  8. “Wilderness: The Gift of Thirst.” Retrieved from farmteam@seedbed.com
  9. Anathea Porter-Young, “Commentary on Exodus 17:1-7.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3432
  10. Amy Erickson, “Commentary on Exodus 17:1-7.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1067
  11. Nancy deClaisse-Walford, “Commentary on Exodus 17:1-7.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=160
  12. Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary-The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost-September 27, 2020.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2020/09/the-adventurous-lectionary-the-seventeenth-sunday-after-pentecost-september-27,2020
  13. Zach Koons, “Camping People.” Retrieved from http://livingchurch.org
  14. Levi Jones, “Exodus 17:1-7.” Retrieved from www.aplainaccount.org/exodus-171-2-2/
  15. William A. Flippin Jr., “A Rock and a Hard Place.” Retrieved form https://day1.org

Matthew 21:23-32 The First Shall Be Last, and the Last Shall be First

It’s painful to have someone you trust tell you that they are going to do something for you—and they don’t. Many of us can tell stories about people who have let us down by making promises and then not following up on them. For example, there is a story of a young widow whose husband died suddenly and left her to raise their two children. She told her minister that during the wake for her husband, a lot of family and close friends came up to her and told her that they would be there for her. During the following years, some people were there for her when she needed them, including some people who never made that promise, but there were others who were so eager during the wake to offer help and never called or visited.

Life has taught us to be wary of certain people, and it is a lesson I have learned the hard way. These people include not just blatant liars but those who are all talk with no follow-through. There is an old saying that “a promise made is a debt unpaid”. We expect family and friends to keep their word and come through for us when we have a pressing need, but sometimes they don’t. When a friend disappoints us we are not terribly upset. When someone close to us makes a promise and then fails to fulfill it, we are blindsided because often we do not see it coming.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that that there have been times when we have made promises and then not kept them. There might also have been times when, in order to avoid discomfort or confrontation, we’ve given a half-hearted “yes” to someone or something which we never planned to follow up on. Whether we have been on the receiving end of broken promises or have given a half-hearted investment of ourselves to commitments we have made, we are in need of the healing and the challenge the Word of God offers us today.

The Gospel reading from Matthew 21:23-32 is another discussion between the Pharisees and Jesus. It occurs just after Jesus has chased the moneychangers and animal sellers from the temple. Both types of businesses needed the approval of religious authorities to operate in the temple. They provided a necessary service. Only temple currency could be used in the temple, so foreign currency had to be converted to temple currency, albeit at outrageous rates of exchange. Animals that were offered for sacrifice had to be free of blemishes as determined by the temple authorities. Both of these services evolved into profitable enterprises, so it is not surprising that the chief priests and elders were upset. They wanted to know who gave Jesus the authority to do what he did. They wanted God to play by their rules, and they insisted that God’s prophets must make the distinctions they make. Like John, Jesus thinks that God’s freedom includes the freedom to forgive people who are not children by blood of the Covenant, who haven’t offered sacrifice, even the poor person’s sacrifice of a dove, in the Temple, who haven’t done anything to deserve forgiveness.

Jesus’ actions in the Temple not only broke the powerful connection between money and religion, they also freely heal and forgive those who are perceived as cursed, those who are perceived as under punishment, those who need some serious blood atonement. Jesus sought to redirect the tradition of Israel away from ritual legalism and a dominant priesthood toward a more meaningful trust by the individual in the gracious and forgiving love of God. Jesus’ actions are a bullet in the heart of sacrificial religion, and they challenge the ultimate structuring of relationships offered by the so-called authorities. Like Jesus, we too may be called by God to engage in acts of conscience, acts that defy authorities and challenge their right to exist as authorities. We may end up paying a price like Jesus did, but we will also have the chance to turn the questions of our accusers back upon themselves in the hopes that they might see and repent.

We know the answer to the Pharisees’ question, but the chief priests and Pharisees did not. God gave Jesus the authority. The Pharisees and chief priests were rabbis, and they could not believe that Jesus’ authority was greater than theirs. They forgot that God is the ultimate authority. He gave the Jews the Ten Commandments. The Pharisees expanded them with all of their rules and regulations because they were obsessed with not breaking any of the Ten Commandments. The Pharisees considered themselves to be so righteous that they thought they were doing God’s work, but Jesus pointed out in the parable of the sons in Matthew 21:28-32 they were sadly mistaken.

But Jesus uses this trick question to teach the Pharisees about the Kingdom of God. You see, they were living examples of the second son in the parable. Self-righteous Jews were the ones who always gave the appearance of serving God. They followed all the picky religious rules; rules about what they should eat, and what they should wear, and how they should say their prayers. They looked and sounded very religious. But when it came to issues like loving their neighbor, or showing kindness to the poor, or showing compassion to the lowly, they never showed up in the vineyard! They said they would; their religion was very impressive when they were at the synagogue, but they did not live it out in their daily lives.

If we profess that Jesus is our Lord, we must do what he tells us to do. The religious people were the ones who were a problem for Jesus. They were oblivious to the true demands of God’s righteousness. They just didn’t get it. They did not see that God was not so much interested in the pious rhetoric and ceremonial formality.

When Jesus asked the Pharisees if the baptism of John came from heaven or from man, he was really asking them if they thought John was a true prophet or a false prophet. They were caught between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”. If they said that John’s baptism came from heaven, they would be faced with John’s witness to Jesus and their failure to respond to John’s preaching. If they said that it was from man, they would risk upsetting the crowd, many of whom believed in Jesus and John. The Pharisees had the responsibility to know who was and who was not a false prophet. They had the duty to protect the people from false prophets. Their final decision, which was the refusal to answer Jesus, compromised their own authority.

Jesus also indirectly asked the Pharisees if they thought that his authority came from heaven or from man. If Jesus authority is from heaven, then his messianic claim is valid, and the church must stake claim to a unique mission, a mission that relinquishes power in bringing Christ to the world, just as Christ relinquished power in bringing himself to the world. The church living under Christ’s present, heavenly authority will embody Christ’s own ministry as a gracious transformation, a divine reclamation of the world.

Tax collectors and prostitutes were prepared to change their ways, but the religious leaders were not, even though they had time to change. In the parable of the two sons, the older son represented the religious leaders and the younger son represented outsiders such as tax collectors and prostitutes. The faithful son represents the faces of people such as a recovering alcoholic, a small band of worshippers in a storefront, a church that reaches out to the needy in the community, a church member who decided to tithe-all of whom, however reluctantly or painfully, obey Christ. The second son is the person in the pew who refuses Christ entry to the deepest recesses of his or her heart—a preacher whose sermon is designed to please people rather than to please God; the Christian who refuses to obey God in the sensitive areas of sex, money or power; a church that ignores issues of justice and mercy. In other words, they are the people who appear to be faithful but, deep down, are not.

The parable of the two sons means that those who are not religious may sometimes respond to the good news of God’s forgiving love more readily than those whose self-serving religious superiority makes them immune to its appeal. The main key is a person’s sense of self-worth which can deceive even the most perceptive to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think. The truth is that even keeping the rules can lead us astray if we end up with the attitude that we’re good and righteous people, pure as the driven snow. To believe this is a dangerous deception. It can cause us as much grief as if we dive headlong into living an immoral life.

When we believe ourselves to be good and righteous people, then we ignore a large part of who we are. We overlook our dark side, what some psychologists call the shadow. The shadow then acts on its own, swallows us up, and takes others along with us. This can happen without us even recognizing it.

Jesus’ parable asks us how we will respond to the Gospel. Will we change our minds and believe, or not? Will we be the son who says he will obey and does not, or will we be the son who turns around and changes his mind? The parable is an example of the old adage that “actions speak louder than words”. We will be judged not by what we say, but by what we do. The religious leaders wrongly thought that they were better than they really were, and they imagined that they did not need to repent.

How many times have we made commitments to God, only to fail on the follow through? How many times have we made promises to God that for one reason or another, we have not kept? How often do we find ourselves responding to God when we have already told God “no”? What we believe needs to be evident in the way we live and relate. There must not be any break between our words, actions and faith. We must be able to discern God’s voice in those expected and unexpected places. We must not only listen but be willing to change as we grow in our personal and corporate faith.

Most of us have been pretty religious for most of our lives. Still, there are those whose religion seems to be lovely when they are surrounded by other religious persons. They can quote scripture verses by the boatload. They know all the religious language, all the religious rituals. But they don’t go to work in the vineyard. And all the love, and all the kindness, and all the compassion that they speak of in church…tends to stay at church. But there are also those whose lives are laced with sin, whose language would make a sailor blush, and who wouldn’t know a bible from a dictionary if it were handed to them, but they are kind, and generous, and compassionate to no end. They don’t get it when it comes to religion, and yet they are walking examples of the very people Jesus came to love.

Which of those people is doing the will of God? It’s a trick question because neither of them is. But here is the word of grace: Which one of them is God’s daughter or son, which one of them does God want to nurture, and mold and change into walking examples of righteousness in the vineyard? The answer is, “All of us.”

Jesus says that it isn’t the religious folk who are first in the kingdom of heaven. It is those who are most open to turning their lives around who are first in line, those who take action when Jesus says, “follow me”. We need to be careful lest we get to feeling that God owes us something. God sent Christ into the world to die for our sins, because we are sinners, and we are in need of redemption. That applies to all of us—Sunday school teachers, choir members, clergy, and members of the congregation. God does not owe us anything. Our hope for heaven is based on one thing and one thing alone—and that is the grace of God. This parable comes with the flame of Jesus’ Spirit to quicken our resolve to try again to change what needs changing. We have hope that this time, in some small or large way, change is possible because we have heard God’s word and experienced the living Christ through it.

When we look over our recent past and notice the trend our lives have taken, with the thoughts and deeds that speak of our lukewarm disciples, we want the second chance this parable offers us. We want to be able to change our minds, repent and do the good things we know we are called to do—and do them with the wholehearted “Yes” the gospel requires of us.

Bibliography

  1. Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV
  2. Exegesis for Matthew 21:23-32. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  3. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 26th Sunday (A)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  4. Karl Jacobson, “Commentary on Matthew 21:23-32”. Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching_print.aspx?commentary_id=1047
  5. Ira Birt Diggers, “Commentary on Matthew 21:23-32”. Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching_print.aspx?commentary_id=144
  6. Preaching Peace, XVII Pentecost, Year A. Retrieved from www.preachingpeace.org/lectionaries/yeara-proper21
  7. Saturday Night Theologian, 28 September 2008. Retrieved from www.progressivetheology.org/SNT/SNT-2008.09.28.html
  8. Daniel Clenendin, Ph.D., “Repentance: Cleaning Up a Messy House”. Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20080922JJ.shtml?view=print
  9. Sarah Dylan Breuer, “Dylan’s Lectionary Blog, Proper 21, Year A”. Retrieved from www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2005/009/proper_21_year_.html
  10. The Rev. Debbie Royals, “Sept.28, 2008-Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 21, Year a (RCL)”. Retrieved from www.episcopalchurch.org/sermons_that_work_100542_ENG_HTM.htm
  11. The Rev. Beth Quick, “Paved With…Intentions”. Retrieved from www.bethquick.com/sermon9-25-05.htm
  12. John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost, September 25, 2011. Retrieved from http://lectionary.seemslikegod.org/archives/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-september-25-2011.html
  13. Pastor Steve Molin, “Trick Questions”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  14. Dr. Mickey Anders, “Show Me Now”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  15. The Rev. Charles Hoffacker, “The Strange Parade”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.

Philippians 2 verses 1-13 Paul’s Prescription for Christian Love and Unity

Have you ever faced opposition while on your Christian walk of faith? If so, you’re not alone. Opposition to the Christian way of doing things has existed since Christianity began. In the passage from Philippians 2:1-13, Paul is trying to deal with a rift that has occurred within the church at Philippi. He argues that the people of God have an incentive to come together for hope and comfort.

Paul emphasizes three characteristics of love: Harmony, humility and helpfulness. The church at Philippi needed to submit to Christ’s will and serve others. They, like all believers, needed to come together and agree in doctrine and creed, but not at the cost of the truth. Each believer has a responsibility for unity. Each believer has to take ownership of his or her own spirit and disposition. Ambition and conflict are empty works of the flesh. Christ has taught us how to submit to one another out of love instead of fear. We are to care for the interests of others more than we care about our own interests. There is a hurting world full of hurting people. They need our help, even if it is only a hug or a sympathetic ear. We are to do so with humility. When we serve Jesus with humility, he will lift us up and exalt us just like he was exalted and lifted up. When we care for others as much as we care about ourselves, mutual service causes disunity to vanish.

Jesus is the perfect example of Christian unity. Paul tells the story of the crucifixion from Jesus’ viewpoint so that his followers can see that the price of unity was Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus gave up his deity and heavenly position to become a servant. If he could waive his rights, so can we as Christians. He did this because he cared more about the human condition than he cared about his own benefit. Christ showed his humility by pouring out his life both literally and figuratively for us. He submitted himself to God’s authority, especially during his anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he died. When he returns, everyone will submit humbly to his authority-believers in joy, unbelievers in sorrow and remorse.

Not everyone has heard of Jesus, and that’s sad. Today, knowledge of the Bible has been steadily declining. Some people think that Jesus was just a religious leader. Some people think that he was a prophet, and others think that he was a good person, but as believers we know the truth. Jesus was God in the flesh. He gave up his position in heaven to take the form of a humble human in order to save us. Paul invites us to turn away from worldly influences and focus on Jesus’ example of humility. We are to persevere in faith in the face of opposition.

Why would he become a human and give up his life for us? The answer is simple. He did that because he loved us and wanted to give us our lives back. God puts Jesus in our lives through his living word-the Bible. He calls us his own through baptism. He forgives us and lives in us through the Eucharist. He is with us always. Jesus still reaches out to us today. He calls on us to trust him He tells us that we are still precious to him. He’s more than a hero-he’s our Lord and Saviour.

Christ didn’t see his godly position and authority as something to be kept for his own benefit. He was willing to sacrifice them so that he could be the sacrifice that was needed to save humankind. That was hard for the people to accept in Old Testament times, and it’s still hard for us to accept today. Christ left his heavenly position, but he was exalted by his resurrection and ascension. His exaltation will culminate with his Second Coming, when he will judge all the people and separate the saved from the unsaved. Jesus’ name and reputation create his power. That power will cause everyone to pay homage to him when he returns. The people will submit to his power and honour him. When they honour Jesus, they will honour God the Father. Jesus’ power exceeds earthly powers. Nothing is too difficult for him. No prayer is too hard for him to answer. His humble powers restored our broken relationship with God. There was a cost-his life-but to Jesus the cost was worth it.

Jesus is unique. He can’t be imitated. Instead, we must recognize the gifts God has given us, and we must think about each other in the same way that we think about Jesus. We have to look at situations with a mind that is informed by Christ and filled with his Spirit. We can do this because Jesus stirs our hearts, minds, emotions and wills. His name has spiritual power and can’t be mentioned in a neutral way. People either accept him or reject him.

There are some denominations, usually ones that are more fundamental or strict in nature, that claim that the only way we can be lifted up by Jesus is if we follow the denomination’s rules and traditions. This leads to prejudice. When people of different denominations fail to love and understand each other, they fail to show Christian love, and our Christian witness is marred. Instead of focusing on theological differences, Christian denominations need to focus on the basics of the Gospel. The way we treat others affects everyone. If they see us being mean, they will likely copy our behaviour. If they see us loving others, they will hopefully copy the same behaviour.

Our one motive must be to follow him. God wants to walk with us during our journey through life. He will strengthen us during that journey. He will strengthen us when we face hard times and bring us joy through the blessings he will give us. He pays attention to us even if we ignore him, and even when we pray to him. God is at work in the ordinary, mundane things. God is working in our lives right now just like he worked in the lives of the first disciples and his first followers.

Being Christ-like is caused not by imitation but by inhabitation. We allow Christ to live through us through the choices we make. We choose to follow Jesus in all situations and trust God’s Holy Spirit to give us the power, strength, love, faith and wisdom to do it. These gifts are always available for the asking because the Holy Spirit lives in us.

Jesus put our needs before his own, and he calls on us to do the same. Jesus calls on us to be servants, which means that we have to give up our right to be in charge. When we give up that right, we experience great freedom. We become available and vulnerable. We lose our fear of being taken advantage of. True humility is one of the most costly and life-enhancing of all Christian virtues and a powerful part of a spiritually solid believer. That’s why Paul encourages us to imitate Christ and the humility that characterized his life of service. We are to engage the world with three expectations in mind:

  1. Unity. We are to engage the world together as Christians.
  2. Respect. We are to respect other people even if we can’t stand them.
  3. Regard. We must strive to understand and respond to the needs of other people.

A minister was sitting on an airplane when a family of three came aboard. They had purchased their tickets late and could not get seats in the same row. The flight attendant assured them that there were several empty seats, so surely someone would be willing to change seats with them.

In front of the minister were two empty seats, middle and window, and on the other side in the same row the middle and aisle seats were open. The family asked the gentleman sitting in the aisle seat in a courteous manner if he would be willing to move from the right side aisle seat to the left side aisle seat. He refused. He wasn’t even courteous enough to answer verbally. He just stared straight ahead as he shook his head firmly.

There are three stages to the service path for Christians. The first stage is charity. Charity is our emotional response to human need. We want to give something to alleviate the immediate problem. Charity can literally mean the difference between life and death. It is not insignificant. All of us can participate in this work of charity through our willingness to give.

The second stage is advocacy. Advocacy emerges from charity. In this stage of service we work and speak on behalf of others with the goal of changing social and political conditions so that the long term needs of the people can better be met. Advocacy is, by definition, a more controversial stage along the service path. Mother Teresa couldn’t help but move from the work of charity to the poorest of the poor to becoming an international advocate for children—the born and unborn—and women. If God is calling you to participate in the work of advocacy, you’ll not believe the impact it will have for those in need.

And the third stage is justice. We work for justice when we strive to change systems and processes that create the conditions for poverty or limit self-determination. Justice work naturally progresses from charity and advocacy. Justice means standing with the poor, with those in need.

When we focus our attention on Jesus’ humble sacrifice, we see human pride and sin. It’s only when we depend on God that we receive salvation. God calls us to humility each and every day. He calls on us to live out the love and life of Christ to a watching, hurting world around us.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. Pastor Gregory Seltz, “A Hero? No, a Saviour!” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  3. Exegesis for Philippians 2:5-11. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  4. Pastor Bobby Schuller, “There is No Name.” Retrieved from www.hourofpower.org
  5. Jim Burns, “Responding with Love.” Retrieved from www.homewoed.org
  6. Dannah Gresh, “Am I a Mean Girl?” Retrieved from www.proverbs31.org
  7. Pastor D. Geedvadhus, “Humility.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  8. The Rev. Dr. Michael Foss, “A Passion for Christ’s World.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  9. Charles R. Swindoll, “Sharing 101.” Retrieved from www.insightforliving.ca
  10. Dave Branon, “Winners and Losers.” Retrieved from www.rbc.org
  11. Stephen Davey, “Invisibly Involved.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  12. Pastor Rick Warren, “Allow Christ to Live Through You.” Retrieved from www.purposedriven.com
  13. Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 31: Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians/Philemon (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)

Philippians 2:21-30 Our Love for Jesus Will Set Us Free

Finn’s shoulders slumped as he dropped his bike on the lawn and joined his dad in the garage. “What’s wrong, Finn?” Dad asked as he worked on sanding a chair he had recently made.

“I just visited Grandma,” Finn replied. He sighed and picked up a piece of sandpaper to help. “I don’t understand her, Dad.”

“What don’t you understand?”

“Well, I know the doctors can’t cure her disease–and she knows it too–but she actually seems happy about it.” Finn started to help Dad sand an arm of the chair. “She just keeps talking about heaven and how great it’s going to be and how she can’t wait to see Jesus–stuff like that.”

Dad nodded thoughtfully. After a minute he put down his sandpaper and looked at Finn. “Do you remember the old apartment we used to live in?”

Finn stopped working too. “Sure I do! It was a mess. The pipes leaked and the paint was chipping. The floorboards were all rough and rotting.”

“How did you feel when you found out we were going to move?” asked Dad.

“I was so glad!” Finn said, and he started sanding again. “That place was just falling apart, and we really couldn’t live there anymore.”

Dad nodded. “That’s kind of what it’s like for Grandma. She’s stuck inside a body that’s falling apart. In heaven, she won’t be in pain at all anymore. Even better, she’ll get to be with Jesus. One day, when He resurrects all Christians and restores the whole world, she’ll have a body that will never get sick or die. That’s a lot to look forward to.”

“Yeah.” Finn scuffed his toe on the garage floor. “I just hate to think of her being gone. I’ll really miss her!”

“I know. I will too,” Dad said. “Grandma’s death will be hard for us because we love her and will miss her, but it won’t be hard for her at all. She’ll finally be home with Jesus, and she’ll be with Grandpa and other people who’ve already gone to heaven. So even while it makes us sad, we can be happy for her.”

Finn nodded. “When I feel sad, I’ll remember that.”

In Philippians 1:21-30, Paul is caught between his desires and his duty. He is in the ultimate win/win situation in which he sees life and death as equally valuable. If he continues to live, he will come to know, love, and serve the Lord more fully and witness to more people. If he dies, he will completely, finally, and perfectly know Christ.

Paul seems flippant about death, but he is making a point. He is glorifying Christ and crediting Him with the meaning of life. Paul is not condoning suffering of any kind, not does he attribute it to God’s will. His goal is for us to see that our suffering for professing Christ as Lord is proof of the certainty of our future hope of a life with Christ. Most of us don’t suffer for the gospel, but Paul’s instructions to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ still stands. Our devotion to Christ must govern all other loyalties, regardless of the consequences. We must live our lives in ways that are worthy of the gospel. The main reason to remain in this world is to bring others to Christ and to build up believers to do the same. While there is still ministry to do on earth, heaven can wait.

Paul’s confidence is shining brightly. His hope has not wavered despite being in prison in Rome. He is looking forward to the day when he will be with Christ, as all Christians should be.  Paul has come to the point where the earthly distinctions of life and death will mean little. The passage for our earthly life into our eternal life will be like going to sleep. When we fall asleep in death, we will wake up in heaven. Before this can happen, we have to be worthy of the gospel. This means that we have to accept Christ as our Saviour, but it also means that in every area of our life our conduct must be worthy of the Gospel.

Paul addresses four areas that Christians should tend to as they live in this world:

  1. Their conduct-acting worthy of the kingdom of heaven to which they rightly belong as citizen of God’s household.
  2. Their consistency-maintaining integrity and their testimony in spite of persecution and trial.
  3. Their cooperation-remembering to strive together, like athletes against a common foe.
  4. Their courage-facing persecution and enduring pain for the sake of Christ.

Paul urged his supporters at Philippi to keep steadfast in the face of opposition, and he urges us to keep steadfast as well. Paul criticized those who opposed him, but he rejoiced in the knowledge that however it happens, the Gospel will go forth. He urged the Philippians to have the same attitude, and he urges us to have the same attitude today. We are to rejoice in the Gospel and not split the church into factions.

The word “conduct” comes from the Greek word that means “citizenship.” In Greek society before conquest by Rome, the city was the largest political unit, and citizens belonged to a city in the same way that people today belong to their country. Christians are to live, not by distancing themselves from the culture in which they have been placed, but by serving as ambassadors of their true citizenship.

Are our convictions strong? Are they influenced by our environment, our friends, or our social standards? Are we part of a church that is driven by a passion for the Gospel and lost souls? If not, what are we doing to inject that passion into our lives? Do we and the church speak about social and political issues?

Our manner of life in Christ can be summed up in four statements:

  1. The gospel is simple, so we should be simple and plain in our habits, manner, speech, and dress.
  2. The gospel is fearless. It boldly proclaims the truth whether people like it or not. We must also be fearless, faithful, and unflinching.
  3. The gospel is gentle, and we must also be gentle in our words and deeds.
  4. The gospel is very loving. We must be compassionate toward the evilest of people.

The Greek word translated as “terrified” describes inward fear caused by an outward stimulus. This is an appropriate warning for the little band of Christians living in Philippi during a violent time in history. No one wants to suffer but suffering on behalf of Christ and His gospel is different. Many in the early church viewed martyrdom as a high calling and spiritual gift through which God would be made known. As someone wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The cross is a way of life for Christians. That way of life includes suffering and persecution. Paul remembered Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:10-11: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.” If we accept Christ, we must be willing to suffer for Christ. The call to suffer for Christ is a favour and an honour.

Even though we may not be imprisoned for the cause of Christ, and we don’t hear much of the martyrs today, there is an important meaning in this passage from the letter to the Philippians. Because of the love Paul received from the cross, he was also able to love, in spite of the cost. It costs to love, in any time, in any place. The costs may not be chains or death, but they are no less real. It costs to take into our homes a young pregnant woman who has been disowned by her parents and needs love and care. It costs to turn our homes into places of hospitality for wanderers, misplaced, unsettled persons, to give up our privacy and the comfort of routine for a season, so someone might have space and time in their life journey to convalesce and think in settings of love and acceptance. It costs to be “on call” for prayer, listening, and counseling as we seek to minister to people both within and outside of our churches.

Evangelist Bill Fay ran into singer John Denver at an airport one day. He walked over and introduced himself and told him he had a message for him. Several years earlier, Fay led John Denver’s father to Christ, and the father made Fay promise to share Jesus with his son John.

Fay took John through the Gospel, and John understood every verse, but he accepted none of it. He wanted nothing to do with his father’s faith, so Fay asked him, “John, when did you make up your mind that Jesus Christ would never become your Lord and Saviour?” John Denver could remember the time and place. He said a Sunday School teacher told him that Jesus Christ was the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and he just didn’t believe it.

Don’t get frustrated when it feels like you’re not getting anywhere sharing the Gospel with the lost. Belief in Christ is something that is granted to people-it can’t be manufactured. We must trust God to work in His way and in His timing in the lives of the lost.

Lifting the light of Christ will mean facing opposition, but it will also mean living a life of integrity and joy. The more we surrender to Jesus, the happier we will be and the more fearlessly we will stand firm in the face of any trial. It will motivate us and excite us. We will heed Paul’s call, and we will be like Roman soldiers. Paul issued the challenge to stand fast in many other letters. The image refers to the way Roman soldiers would lock their shields together, plant their feet, and present a solid, unified wall of resolution against the enemy. Even in our darkest moments, we can hold on to the promise of permanent joy in God’s company.

Our refusal to show any sign of distress or concern will be evidence to the enemy that his defeat is imminent. If we react with fearful emotions and begin speaking fearful words, we will become prey to the enemy and will be easy to devour. The enemy doesn’t know what we are thinking until it comes out of our mouths. During troubled times we have to put guards on our thoughts and our words.

Paul’s call for genuine unity of heart and mind is based on four things:

  1. The necessity of oneness to win the spiritual battle for the faith.
  2. The love of others in the fellowship.
  3. Genuine humility and self-sacrifice.
  4. The example of Jesus, who proved that sacrifice produces eternal glory.

Life is about Jesus being our Lord and Saviour. We live in Him, and through Him for others. Death can’t even get in the way of Him blessing us with life and salvation, because He gives us eternal life.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1657-1658)
  2. Melissa Montgomery, “A Better Place.” Retrieved from info@keysforkids.org
  3. Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 31: Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians/Philemon (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pp. 267-268)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. Pastor Ken Klaus, “Life on God’s Terms.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  7. Mary Luti, “Visiting.” Retrieved from dailydevotional@ucc.org
  8. Michael Youssef, Ph.D.,” Sweet Surrender.” Retrieved from mydevotional@ltw.org
  9. Dr. Jack Graham, “Giving God Your Best.” retrieved from www.powerppoint.org
  10. “Where Does Faith Come From?” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  11. Randy Kilgore, “Every Moment Matters.” Retrieved from donotreply@emakl.rbc.org
  12. Allister Begg, “Be Worthy.” Retrieved from newsletters@truthforlife.org
  13. Vikki Burke, “Defeating Fear.” Retrieved from administrator@dennisburkeministries.org
  14. Troy Troftgruben, “Commentary on Philippians 1:21-30.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3431
  15.  

Matthew 20:1-16 The First Will Be Last and the Last Will Be First…in God’s Kingdom

What is the difference between fairness and justice?

How many of us have felt that someone treated us unfairly? Has someone favoured another person over us? All of us have endured some hurt when our dreams are dashed or ambitions denied. Preferred treatment can lay the foundation for bitter memories. Does our ill treatment serve a greater good? Do others in need benefit? Sometimes we endure unequal treatment in the name of justice. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus presented the Kingdom as one of justice, not necessarily of fairness. According to Jesus, the faithful, even those who practiced faith all life long, did not earn the Kingdom. God gave His children the Kingdom as a gift.

Jesus told the parable in Matthew 20:1-16 to illustrate His point that “the first will be last, and the last first”.  The landowner hired workers at 9:00 am, 12 noon, 3:00 pm and finally at 5:00 pm. The group hired at the end of the day would have included the sort of workers nobody wanted to hire. The owner promised all the labourers the same wage.

The parable would have had significance in the early church whose members were Jewish Christians. To them the “late arrivals,” the Gentiles, deserved a lesser place in the kingdom. After all, they were not the first invited, as were God’s chosen people. Judging from the heated epistles, like Galatians and the accounts in Acts, the conflict between the two groups could get quite intense.

It also runs contrary to how the world works today. We’re used to being rewarded in proportion to our service. We would be happy to grant the apostles a larger share than we would expect for ourselves if we could expect more than a lesser disciple might receive. We feel for the all-day workers, who received the same pay as the one-hour workers. Is that fair? Don’t they deserve more? Shouldn’t the master treat them better?

We don’t want to be on par.  We want to be on top! We don’t want mercy (what God gives freely) but justice (what we have earned). If God distributes rewards fairly, we who worked all day will get more than those who arrived at the last hour. We will receive what we have earned plus a generous bonus. The irony, of course, is that the little bit we have earned is of no consequence when compared to God’s grace.

The generosity of the landowner in this case shifts our thinking away from what a person can achieve or offer to the way in which a person and their very life is valued by the landowner. This parable calls into question the way our world operates and how it devaluates people and exploits many who work long hours in appalling conditions so those in wealthier countries can have cheap products.

This parable reveals important truths about God’s grace. No matter how many hours they worked, all workers were paid the same wage—the wage that was promised. The workers hired first represent Israel, the recipients of God’s covenant promises. Those hired last, at the end of the day, represent the Gentiles, who were offered the same salvation available to the Jews through faith in Christ.

Jesus repeated His parable from Matthew 19:30 and added that “many are called, but few chosen.” His meaning is essentially the same in both cases; namely, that God lavishes His grace on those He chooses, and those who receive it are blessed beyond anything they can ever hope to earn.

If Christians are just and pay their lawful debts and injure no one, the world has no right to complain if they give the rest of their property to the poor, or devote it to send the gospel to the world, or release a prisoner. It is their own. They have a right to do with it as they please. They are accountable only to God. The world has no right to interfere.

This parable is about the kingdom of God. It presents the nature of God’s grace. Grace is God’s graciousness. He extends his love and mercy to everyone. Not everyone responds alike to His goodness. Some compare and evaluate their own “goodness” and thereby fail to understand God’s graciousness.

The points of the parable are:

  1. The calling to service is in direct relation to the need.
  2. The reward for service is a gracious meeting of our needs.
  3. The integrity of service will respect the integrity of grace in meeting needs equally.

God can and does distribute His gifts and His goodness as He wills. Grace can’t be earned or deserved. God is completely free to parcel out His favour however He chooses.

When we’re envious, we’re in a battle with God. We doubt God’s goodness in our lives. We resent His decision to bless others. We accuse Him of being unfair. We don’t believe He has our best interests at heart. We accuse Him of playing favourites. God has a good reason why we don’t have what we want. He knows us better than we know ourselves.

There are two main reasons to never compare ourselves to anyone else:

  1. We’re unique. God made each one of us special.
  2. If we do start comparing, it’s always going to lead to either envy or pride.

We can easily get trapped by our own patterns of counting and assessing and evaluating that we can miss God’s generosity. We can learn to overcome comparison obsession by focusing on the life God has given to us. As we take time to thank God for everyday blessings, we change our thinking and begin to believe deep down that God is good.

We dare not judge God’s love by our poor standards, nor should we think that once we are in heaven we can choose to go to hell. We should admit that no one deserves to receive freely anything from God. It is His grace that brings salvation. Our work is only a poor “thank you” for what we have received from His mercy and grace.

The generosity of the landowner shifts our thinking away from what a person can achieve or offer to the way in which a person and their very life is valued by God. God wants to give value and opportunity to even the weakest within the faith community. The good news is not just for the privileged few but for all. God will return and seek us out to join the labour as many times as it takes.

It isn’t the amount of faith we have, or when we come to faith, that matters. The object of our faith matters. Constantly comparing ourselves to others robs us of the joy of working for God, who made each of us His treasure. God’s gift of grace is free and undeserved. Each of us is given the grace that is sufficient for us to live our Christian faith. Our response is to rejoice and be glad.

Those who only find Christ later in their lives are the ones who have missed out, for life in Christ is rich and meaningful. To find forgiveness and fullness and meaning and purpose is to find freedom, which is what Jesus intends for all of us. Following Jesus and His way is the way of freedom. Following the ways of the world are the ways of bondage and meaninglessness. Like the workers hired later in the day, the landowner found them “…standing idle…with no purpose.”

The kingdom of heaven image from Jesus comes as a comfort and as a warning. A comfort, because the invitation is always there for each of us. It is never too late for us to turn to God. It is a warning because there will indeed be those who are welcomed into God’s family after we are. Our task is to love them and welcome them just as God does. We are not to feel haughty and more important because we were there first. We must meet them with great joy for their faith.

When God pours out His love and favour toward us, we don’t have to worry. If we take the time to look we will see that God has filled our cup. When God’s favour is extended to those of whom we disapprove, it’s time for us to begin looking at the world the way God looks at the world. We are all equal in God’s eyes.

The story about the workers in the vineyard is about forgiveness. When God forgives our sins, he forgives them all. A brand-new Christian is as welcome to God as the person who has known God for a long, long time. It’s not about fairness. It is about forgiveness. It is about a big and welcoming God who doesn’t make us feel like second class citizens. God takes outsiders and makes them insiders. He treats us not according to our standards but according to His. The measuring stick he uses is generosity.

When God pours out His love and favour towards someone else, we don’t have to worry. If we just take the time to look, we will see that God has filled our cup to the brim too. When God’s favour is extended to those of whom we disapprove, it’s time for us to grow up and begin looking at the world the way that God looks at the world. 

The question for today is this: “Is God fair?” Of course, he is! But do you know what else? The Bible tells us that he is more than fair. The Bible tells us that “God is love.” Does God love us because we love him?” No, the Bible says, “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” That’s not fair—that’s love.

If we got what was fair, none of us would get to heaven. We can rejoice in the knowledge that God doesn’t give us what is fair. He gives us his love and grace, despite what we deserve!

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1316-1317)
  2. Barnes’ Notes on the New testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  3. Augsberger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; p. 18)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. Pastor Rick Warren, “When You Envy, You’re in a Battle with God.” Retrieved from connect@newsletter.purposedriven.com
  6. Pastor Rick Warren, “Get to Know Others so You Won’t Envy Them.” Retrieved from connect@newsletter.purposedriven.com
  7. Marvin Williams, “Comparison Obsession.” Retrieved from www.rbc.org
  8. Rev. Park Ju-Young, “Workers in the Vineyard.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  9. Thomas Skeats, O.P., “God’s Generosity.” Retrieved from www.torch.op.org
  10. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 25th Sunday (A).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  11. Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for Matthew 20:1-6.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  12. “Justice in the Kingdom.” Retrieved from www.wordsunday.com
  13. Rick Morley, “Crazy Talk Grace.” Retrieved form www.rickmorley.com
  14. “Is God Fair?” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.com

Matthew 20:1-16 God’s Version of Labour Relations

The story is told of an Englishman, a Frenchman and a Russian who discovered a bottle with a genie inside.  One of them rubbed the bottle and freed the genie, who generously offered to grant one wish to each of the three.  The Englishman went first and wished that he would be granted a peerage and daily access to the throne.  His wish was immediately granted.  The Frenchman came next and wished that all the beautiful women in the world would suddenly fall at his feet in adoration.  His wish was immediately granted. 

The Russian came last.  Of the three, he was poorest.  Of the three, his needs were greatest.  The genie invited him to take his time and to think of the one thing that would give him the greatest pleasure in life.  At that, his face lit up and he said, “That’s easy.  I wish that my neighbor’s potato crop might fail.”

The parable of the workers and the vineyard is like that.  It proves that the old adage that “the first will be last and the last will be first.” Those who came at the first of the day had their needs met, but they could not focus on that positive aspect of their lives.  Instead, their focus was on their neighbour who, though less deserving, also had his/her needs met.  Instead of finding joy in their own circumstances, those who came at the first of the day found outrage at the apparent unfairness of the situation.  They did not want more for themselves.  They wanted less for their neighbor.

The parable is about a landowner who helps others. It’s about a landowner who sweeps up lost and idle people and gives them a purpose. The landowner hired workers at different times during the day, but he paid all of them the same wage regardless of the number of hours they worked. The workers who were hired first represented God’s chosen people of Israel, the recipients of God’s covenant promises. The workers hired last represented the Gentiles. They were offered the same salvation as the Jews through faith in Christ. They were part of the remnant Paul refers to in Romans 11:1-2, 29-32.

At first glance, this parable seems unfair. After all, it doesn’t seem fair to us that the workers who were hired at the end of the day received the same pay as the workers who were hired first thing in the morning. We must remember though that what is unfair to us is fair to God and vice versa. That’s because God’s kingdom does not work in the same way as our worldly kingdom. The parable is the story of God’s grace and how he gives his grace to anyone he chooses. Those who receive it are blessed beyond anything they can earn or imagine. In God’s eyes, there is no difference between a lifelong Christian and a person who becomes a Christian on his or her deathbed.

Jesus had a bitter message for Christians, especially their leaders. The followers of Jesus would sacrifice a sense of fairness for the Kingdom. Those who grew in the faith would feel lonely. Those who grew in ministry would feel abandoned. God does not have favorites in the Kingdom. But he does have the saved community where the most senior and the neophyte shared equally in God’s very life. Indeed, the first would be last and the last would be first.

We are conditioned to judge value and estimate worth on the basis of compassion and merit. This is how the world operates, but that is not how God operates. God’s world is an economy of grace, and gratitude is the capital. God is free to do what is necessary to work out his will in our lives and in the history of the world. We are to wait upon God, and while we are waiting on God we are to praise him just like Paul and Silas did when they were in jail in Acts 16:25-40.

Our capacity for gratitude is directly related to our capacity to see and experience grace. The first workers in the parable were ungrateful because they saw the landowner’s method of rewarding his workers as unfair. They could not see and experience his grace. Likewise, sometimes we can’t fully see and experience God’s grace because we don’t always show gratitude. Sometimes we look at a deathbed convert and think that it was not fair for God to forgive him because we have been faithful Christians for a long time. When God forgives us, he breaks into our world of reward and punishment.

We can improve our capacity for grace and gratitude by being a blessing to others and giving blessings to others. If we want more gratitude in our lives, we have to be more aware of the spirit of grace in our lives. The more we experience grace, the more we will be filled with gratitude and the more likely we will be to affirm and bless others.

There is a story of a man who faced surgery several years ago, and it happened suddenly. He didn’t have time to emotionally prepare for the surgery. He went to the doctor who sent him directly to the hospital and in hours, he had open heart surgery. This man was grateful for his surgery, his successful life and the extra years that had been given to him. But he also said that he was sad that he was not able to express his love to his children before that critical moment of surgery. He had wanted to tell his children but he didn’t. There wasn’t time. Months passed; years passed; a decade passed. One day, he was at his doctor’s office only to discover that he needed surgery again. Only, this time, he had two days to prepare. He had each child, now adults, come into his hospital room and talk privately with him. He wanted each child, now an adult, to know that he felt this past decade of life were extra years that had been given to him by God. Not only the past ten years, but his whole life had been a gift of God, that they, his children, had been a total gift of God. That God had given him his children, his wife, his family, his work, his faith in Christ. That God had given him an abundant life and that God would give him eternal life as well. He wanted his kids to know how he felt. He wanted to tell his children these things ten years ago, and now he had a second chance to do it. And so he told them, each of them, one by one. It was very emotional, and his wife left the room because she couldn’t handle it.

This man expressed what God wants. Deep down inside, all people have this attitude that life is a gift. Life itself, the abundant life, eternal life, it is all a gift. It is not that God owes us anything.

No matter how badly we mess up, God loves us so much as he ever has or ever will. God’s heart is a giving, self-sacrificing, forgiving heart. God’s heart can turn us into people who rejoice over the good fortunes of other peoples-regardless of our own circumstances. God’s heart injected in us allows us to see what God’s Kingdom is all about. It turns the world’s rules upside-down. In God’s Kingdom:

  1. Greatness is not measured by who ends up on top of the heap.
  2. Being rich does not mean having material possessions.
  3. Getting even with people who wrong us is out.

God is always available to anyone who reaches out to him wherever they reach out to him and whenever they reach out to him. Any time is the right time in God’s eyes. God’s grace never runs out. It is limitless because God is sovereign and just.

The workers who were hired last represent the outcasts of society. These workers were hired last because no one else wanted them. Likewise, the outcasts of our society are not wanted. They stand outside of society, but God invites them and all of his people to be on the inside of his kingdom. God looks for us just like the landowner sought out the workers. In the parable, it would have been undignified for the workers to go looking for a job. They had to be found and asked so that their honour could be kept. True selfless acts are rare in our world, but they inspire us to show the same grace, faith and love to others. Those of us who were called first and early in life are called on to understand our sin-filled world and join Jesus in inviting the lost ones-the poor, the lame, the latecomers, the unimportant-instead of complaining.

God’s gift to us is the gift of eternal life with him. It doesn’t matter to God how long we have been with him in faith. God chooses to invite us to spend eternity with him. We can choose to accept or reject his invitation. If we choose to accept him, we choose to reject the attitudes and behaviours that God does not like. If we think that good works are the key to getting into heaven, we are blinded by our sense of our own goodness and we can’t see the goodness of God’s grace-hence the reference to the blind eye in Matthew 20:15.

If we start asking ourselves who deserves to be forgiven, we soon find out that the answer is no one. No matter how hard we work, we can’t be “good enough.” The good news of the Gospel is that what can’t be obtained by good works, Christ gives to us as a gift of grace. God forgives us and frees us from the mistakes of the past. We are all put on a new and level horizon. No one is higher than anyone else. We sit at the round table. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. Why climb the stairway to heaven when God takes us right to the top floor in an elevator?

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. Chuck Queen, “Living with Gratitude.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  3. Rev. Dr. Luke Bouman, “A Question of Fairness.” Retrieved from www.treeoflifelutheran.org
  4. The Rev. Edward Markquart, “Wages and Gifts.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com
  5. The Rev. Dr. Michael Foss, “The Generosity of God.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  6. Gracia Grindal, “Your God is Too Nice.” Retrieved from www.religion-online.org
  7. Exegesis for Matthew 20:1-16. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org

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Matthew 18:21-35 Forgive…Again…Again…and Again

When it comes to forgiveness, how much is enough? How much do we need to forgive? How often should we be doing all we can to wash away the stains which weaken the bonds between us, which take their toll on our own sense of well-being — our very own peace, not to mention the peace between us?

People come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors, but they have one thing in common—they all make mistakes! We make a lot of mistakes. That is why God sent Jesus to die on the cross — to erase our mistakes. When we do something wrong, we can ask God to forgive us and because of Jesus, He will erase our mistakes and we can start over again, and again, and again.

The parable of the king and the man is designed to show one great truth-the duty of forgiving our brethren, and the great evil of not forgiving someone when we are offended. It also teaches us the following lessons:

  1. Our sins are great.
  2. God freely forgives them.
  3. The offences committed against us by others are small.
  4. We should, therefore, most freely forgive them.
  5. If we don’t, God will be justly angry with us and punish us. God will forgive if we do not.

Rabbinic tradition taught that a brother could be forgiven three times for the same offense, but not four times. Peter, trying to be a better-than-superior law keeper, doubled that and added one-seven times. He did not expect Jesus’ response, which is not congratulations but a correction. Whether the phrase should be rendered “seventy times seven” or seventy-seven is not important; Jesus teaches us that believers in Christ have been forgiven far more than they will ever be asked to forgive. They must cultivate a spirit of forgiveness, not a habit of counting offenses.

Peter knew the power of forgiveness. He made many mistakes during his time with Jesus, the biggest of which was denying Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ crucifixion. Each time Jesus forgave him. Peter still didn’t get the fact that because we are all sinners, real, enduring, reconciling forgiveness is beyond our control. It must be a gift received from God to be a gift unleashed and shared for others.

We are not to limit our forgiveness to any fixed number of times. As often as someone hurts us and asks for forgiveness, we are to forgive them. It is their duty to ask for forgiveness, and it is our duty to forgive.

Under Hebrew law, a debtor and his family could be sold into slavery until the debt was paid. Jesus isn’t giving us a lesson in economics or philanthropy. He points out that there is something more than a debt that has been paid. It’s the eternal mercy of God overcoming our sin debt. When we receive God’s love and forgiveness, it changes things. It’s the power and blessing of God, received by faith that is to be put to good use in our lives and in our relationships.

The king’s act of mercy represents God’s mercy to us. We have sinned. We owe more to God than we can pay. Instead of casting us off, God has mercy on us. When we ask for forgiveness, He forgives us.

The story of the man who refused to forgive someone who owed him money was used by Jesus to teach us that the offences which our fellow men commit against us are very small and insignificant compared to our offences against God. Because we have been the recipients of God’s mercy, who are we to suddenly demand justice from others? God’s compassion calls for us to do the same toward others. Anything less is hypocritical.

God expects His children to take on His likeness. If they do not resemble Him in their willingness to forgive, they prove they are not His children. God is rich in mercy and grace, but He is also holy and just, so those who refuse to forgive should not imagine that God would welcome their unforgiving hearts into His kingdom.

The nature of forgiveness is a profound aspect of reconciling grace. Forgiveness is hard. It means that the forgiving person as the innocent one resolves his/her own wrath over the guilty one and lets the guilty one go free. Forgiveness benefits us and frees us for the option of living.

Forgiveness reveals a deep awareness of sin. We can’t change the facts. Forgiveness costs the innocent one, for he resolves the problem in love. Forgiveness conditions us to forgive others for we are forever accountable for our privilege of freedom.

Refusing to forgive inflicts inner turmoil on us. If we refuse to forgive, God will refuse to forgive us. It isn’t worth the misery. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. We are encouraged to release the poison of all that bitterness. We are encouraged to let it out before God and declare the sincere desire to be free.

Holding on to our anger is not good for our physical health either. Research shows that holding on to anger increases our chances of a heart attack, cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other illnesses. On the other hand, forgiveness boosts our self-esteem and lowers our blood pressure and heart rate. Forgiveness also helps us sleep better at night and boosts a positive change in our attitude.

Forgiveness is the gift that keeps on giving when our giving gives out. It’s the power of the Lord’s Prayer unleashed in our lives in the relationships that we hold dear. Do we want to live with the junk of past hurts? No. If we want to give every day a chance, Jesus says that we must get rid of the trash. We are to give others the grace we have been given. When there is no possibility for an ongoing relationship, especially when the one who has wronged us is unreachable or dead, forgiveness can free us from bitterness and the desire for revenge.

When we sincerely confess our sin, we admit to ourselves that we have hurt someone else. To ask for forgiveness repeatedly is to admit that we do not have the ability or power to change that truth in us. If we need to ask forgiveness from someone, it will help us if we ask God to give us humble hearts and a spirit willing to change. If we are being asked to forgive, it will help us if we ask God to help us to look to Him to help restore the person back in our heart without bitterness.

There are three reasons why we need to forgive:

  1. Because God forgives us
  2. Because resentment leads to self-torture
  3. Because we need forgiveness every day.

Every time we remember the hurt we have received, we make an intentional choice to say, “God, that person really hurt me, and it still hurts. Because I want to be filled with love and not resentment, I am choosing to give up my right to get even and wish bad on that person. I am choosing to bless those who hurt me. God, I pray you’ll bless their life—not because they deserve it. They don’t. I don’t deserve your blessing either, God. But I pray that you’d show grace to them like you’ve shown to me.”

Forgiveness is something that we need every day. We must ask for forgiveness. We must accept forgiveness from God and from others. We must offer forgiveness. It must be continual. It must be enough, and it must be employed.

Forgiveness is not a matter of social grace or necessity. Forgiveness is integral to the Christian lifestyle. As God always forgives sinners, the sinner should always forgive others. This is the most precious gift in the world. We squander this gift so easily when our selfish hearts shut Him out. When we realize our fault and return to Him, He forgives us and renews His life in us. Forgiveness lies at the heart of our faith in God and our love of one another. Forgiveness, which we receive from God, is what God expects from us in our dealings with each other.

The enduring gift of forgiveness began at the cross. Jesus paid the price for our sins. God forgave our sin debt because Jesus paid it for us. We owe our lives to a Holy God because of our sins and failures, but God took the payment of Jesus’ life in our place. Because of God’s great love for us in Christ, He forgives us. He lets us go in His peace. He releases us from the burden of debt and allows us to live in His freedom.

The story of Ruth Bell Graham and Jim Bakker is a story of forgiveness. Many of you might remember evangelist Jim Bakker’s public disgrace. During his darkest days, Jim Bakker found friends in evangelist Billy Graham and his wife Ruth. Billy visited Jim in prison several times. The first Sunday after Jim was released from prison, Ruth hosted him at her own church. She publicly showed her support for him by sitting with him. She showed God’s love. The language of love is always the language of forgiveness. Love is not love unless it is essentially the spirit of forgiveness.

On Ruth’s tombstone at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, is an inscription that she requested herself. It reads, “End of construction. Thank You for your patience.” She lived in an area of North Carolina where construction work was always going on. At the end of every construction zone was a sign with that message on it. She said once that it is a wonderful image for the Christian life. “A work under construction until we go to be with God” she said. We are also works under construction. We need the patience of others to the very end. In return, we must freely give and receive the extravagant forgiveness that Jesus commands.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1314-1315)
  2. Augsberger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; p. 18)
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