Seputagesima (St. Matthew 20:1-16)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Seputagesima – January 28, 2018
Text: St. Matthew 20:1-16

It’s true that all of the parables Jesus tells teach about the Kingdom of Heaven and how it differs from our earthly life.  While it uses everyday elements, it teaches divine wisdom about God Himself and His workings among His faithful.
This parable is very apropos among people who are greedy for gain.  The ringleader from the musical Oliver was right when he said, “In this life, one thing counts: in the bank large amounts.”
The problem with this parable isn’t that the Master is unjust.  He agrees with the first for a denarius a day, and then he promises the rest “whatever is right” (v. 4)  At the end of the day, those promised a denarius do in fact have a denarius in their hand, and those who worked for shorter happen to have the same.
By that, the Master shows how very good He is.  He goes out to find laborers for His vineyard.  He goes out at the beginning of the day, but also at the third, the sixth, and the ninth hour (9am, noon, and 3pm to us).  Each group is more desperate than the last.  If they don’t get hired, these men will be forced to go home empty-handed to their families.  Finally, even at the 11th hour, the Master finds some who have been waiting to be hired, and He gives them a job too.
Then it’s pay-out time, and the absolutely needy 11th-hour hires receive the means to support their household.  And so do those who have been working since the 9th, the 6th, the 3rd, and the 1st hour.  The Master has had compassion on all, for if He had not come to them, they would have been left idle and empty-handed.
What is translated, “Or do you begrudge my generosity?” if you read the footnote on verse 15, it gives the underlying explanation: “Or is your eye evil because I am good?”  The Master’s goodness actually exposes the evil of our hearts.
In His Word, God promises us forgiveness of sins, resurrection, and eternal life.  But with these, we are not satisfied.  Like the day laborer who thinks his labor is worth more than others, we think God owes us for the work we’ve done in his name: the time spent at church, the sufferings we’ve had to endure, the insults we’ve borne, the people we’ve brought to know Him.  We want those things to be extra credit, and God owes it to us.
Repent.  What He gives is enough.  His grace is sufficient.  It is more than what you deserve; it’s better.
He goes out seeking laborers, meaning that He does indeed call us to work.  The grace of God is not the same as a handout.  He could have gone out and just handed out denarii to the idlers, but He doesn’t.  He gives them work to do, each according to what He has assigned them.  He has given you work to do—as husbands, wives, or widows; as children, employers or employees.  Some are hearers of the Word while others are called to shepherd.  Citizens or rulers, each in the kingdom does the work which the Master has assigned.
But just as we should not shun the work He gives us to do, e must not become proud of it either and covetous for more rewards.  We must not become judges of our fellow laborers, because that comes from the evil heart which accuses God of holding out.  Instead, all of us, as fellow recipients of the Master’s compassion, we labor side by side and awaiting the end of the day.  At that time, we will receive not what we have earned, but what He bestows out of His infinite grace and mercy—even eternal life.  Amen.

February 2018 Newsletter Article – Lead Us Not into Temptation

From the Pastor: Lead Us Not Into Temptation
We are familiar with this prayer, because the Lord taught it to us.  But what are we really asking for?  Is there a chance that God actually would carry us into temptation?
Luther explained it well in the Small Catechism: “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”
Jesus teaches us to pray this, because He knows that there will be no shortage of temptation for Christians.  “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!”  “See that you are not led astray!” “Watch and pray!”[1]
But these temptations are not always easy to identify.  It’s not like a devil appears with a pitchfork and a pointy tail and sits on your shoulder like in the cartoons.  Satan comes into your day to day life to tempt you.  Most often, he tempts you, not with obvious blasphemy and sin, but with doubts and reasonable-sounding arguments.
Each of us has times when Satan will offer a substitute for God’s clear command.  The Word of the Lord says that we should love our enemies and do good to those who abuse us (Luke 6:27-28), but there are so many reasons why some people don’t deserve the time of day from us.  God tells us that we should give back to Him a portion of what He gives us (Malachi 3:8-10; 2 Corinthians 9:6-10), but boy if our budgets look tight and it sure is hard to give with so many demands on our limited income.
Christian congregations as a whole are also under attack.  Satan would have us exchange the truth of God for what seems to “get results.”  He puts the lie in our heads that church is about the externals: the building, the music, and how many pews are filled.  When Satan is at work, the things which God actually commands—being salt and light to our neighbors (Matt. 5:13-16), giving to missions (2 Cor. 8:1-7), and providing a living for the pastor (Galatians 6:6-8)—are sacrificed in the name of what’s more appealing.  Thus Satan subtly turns our eyes (and our prayers) from God, and worries a congregation about “keeping the doors open.” The devil would have us believe the life of a congregation runs under human power.
Pastors, too, are tempted in a variety of ways.  Remember that the devil’s goal is to get them out of the pulpit or make their word ineffectual.  So, Satan attacks pastors’ families and is quick to point out the pastor’s inadequacies.  He points out all the places that their sowing seems to only sprout weeds or die.  He plays the gripes and grumbles of people on repeat in the pastor’s head and is sure to connect every departed member with something the pastor did wrong.
Beloved in the Lord, this is honestly what we’re up against.  Satan is an enemy too powerful for any of us, yet One fights for us who holds the victory.  Jesus is our great Deliverer who crushes the Ancient Serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15, Rev. 20:2-3).  Therefore, pray that He would defend you, your congregation, and your pastor against such spiritual assaults.  And the Almighty Lord will come quickly to your aid!
“Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.” Amen, Lord!  Yes, yes, it shall be so!
[1] Matthew 18:7; Luke 21:8; Matthew 26:41

Transfiguration of Our Lord (Matthew 17:1-9, 2 Peter 1:16-21)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon and Sweet Home, OR
Transfiguration of Our Lord + January 21, 2018
Text: Matthew 17:1-9, 2 Peter 1:16-21

The Transfiguration is vindication for all the Old Testament saints, here represented by Moses and Elijah.  Both of them had moments of vindication during their ministry:
Moses when his brother and sister rebelled against him:
1Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. 2And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. 3Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. 4And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. 5And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. 6And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. 7Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. 8With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” 9And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed. 10When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous.” (Numbers 12:1–10)
Elijah with the prophets of Baal:
21And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. 22Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. 23Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. 24And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”
36And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”” (1 Kings 18:21-24, 36–39)
They experienced these moments of vindication during their lifetime, that they had proclaimed the true God and He answered them with wondrous signs.  When Moses and Elijah are granted the privilege to stand on the Mount of Transfiguration, it is vindication of their entire ministry. Jesus is the goal of all the Law and Prophets.  As He stands there in the flesh glorified, the Father’s declaration affirms: This is He who would not destroy the Law but fulfill it.[1]  This is He whom prophets spoke of and looked ahead to.[2]
But vindication doesn’t always appear.  Not all the prophets were vindicated before men.  Jeremiah exemplifies that:
1Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. 2Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord. 3The next day, when Pashhur released Jeremiah from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, “The Lord does not call your name Pashhur, but Terror on Every Side. 4For thus says the Lord: Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends. They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on. And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon. He shall carry them captive to Babylon, and shall strike them down with the sword.” (Jeremiah 20:1–4)
But during his lifetime, Jeremiah did not see this recompense of God.  Rather, he was continually arrested, put in stocks, beaten, and lowered in a cistern.  Finally, he was carried off to Egypt against his will.[3]  All this led Jeremiah to cry out:
7O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. 8For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.” (Jeremiah 20:7–8)
The lesson for us is that vindication because we belong to the true God isn’t guaranteed in this life.  We hold fast to the Lord, hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it, and yet we suffer.  As a congregation that remains faithful to the Word of God, our numbers are shrinking.  At the same time, we see the numbers increasing at churches that pick and choose what they want from God’s Word, deny Christ’s Sacraments, and use people’s emotions to make them “feel” like God is among them.
Christians in society experience the same disillusionment: they confess with Scripture that abortion is murder and that homosexuality is unnatural and contrary to God’s will.  But we don’t see the fruit of that Word working.  Instead, our state passes the most lenient abortion law in the whole country.  (Measure 101 only backhandedly asks permission to fund this abominable and unjust course of action, couching it in language of healthcare for poor citizens.  Nevermind the disenfranchisement of the babies who will never be born.)  When we take a moral stand against the queer movement, as Concordia Portland did, social media rises up and protests erupt so that the sons of Sodom gloat about how they pressured the administration into getting their way.
We do not see the victory and the truth…yet.  Just as the faithful people of Israel did not see the Christ they hoped in, the Transfiguration was a declaration that their faith was well-founded.  They had followed the true God and hoped for His Christ.
Now we, like God’s people before Christ, are awaiting the revealing of God’s truth.  But we are not left in the dark and uncertain where to find the true God or to know His will.  Consider the Epistle reading:
16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,” (2 Peter 1:16–19)
In the darkness of the present, we can’t see the ending.  We wait for the end of time with eager expectation, and we look for the day when we can rest from our painful labor.  But our one true light in the darkness is the prophetic Word—the Scriptures.  When we hold fast to them, we are indeed on the right track.  Just as the true sons of Israel were faithful to God by keeping His Word, so it is for us until we wait for the Last Day to dawn and Christ to appear.
Even though Jeremiah did not see the vindication, he persevered in faith:
11But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. 12O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” (Jeremiah 20:11–12)
God be your strength in the weakness of mortal life, your light in the darkness, and your Vindicator in eternity. Amen.
[1] Matthew 5:17-21
[2] Matthew 13:16-17; Luke 1:68-75
[3] Jeremiah 43:1-7

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany ( John 2:1-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church and Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon and Sweet Home, OR
2nd Sunday after the Epiphany + January 14, 2018
Text: John 2:1-11

Why did this wedding take place on Tuesday?  That’s what the 3rd day was, after all (Sunday is the first day, etc.).  The third day was the day of double blessing.  In creation, God saw what He had made and declared it good.  First, the separating of land and sea, and second the splendor of plant life.  Nevertheless, God blesses the third day, and so Jewish couples would get married on Tuesday.
But to talk about blessing when Jesus is present at this wedding, is to make this more than an event for one couple.  On this day of Double Blessing, the very One through whom that good came is present.  The Lord blesses marriage with His presence.
The Word of the Lord says in Psalm 127,
    Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
       Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
    It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
       eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
    Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
    Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
    Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
Of course we believe that God blessed marriage for Adam and Eve.  But the more incredible thing about Jesus being at this wedding is that God blesses marriage here, on our side of the fall into sin.
Just ask around though, and see how few marriages look blessed—if they last at all.  From our perspective, the double blessing upon marriage too often ends up being a sizeable material blessing for lawyers.
If you’re looking for God’s blessing upon marriage, don’t look below.  The reason God blesses marriage is the same reason He sets the Third Day apart as sacred.
Jesus is at this wedding as one who is engaged (not in the ordinary sense).  He has promised Himself to His Bride, the faithful people of God, the Church.  For Him, marriage is not first something we do in commitment to each other; it’s what He does for His redeemed
25…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25–27)
The gift He gave His bride was His own life to save her from death, His own blood to wash her from filth, and His own righteousness with which He clothes her.
For Christ and His Bride, the Church, the Third Day truly is a day of double blessing, for it is the day on which He completed His great act of love and faithfulness.  For Him and His Bride, it is not “till death do you part” but “to be united unto eternal life.”
It’s God’s will that our earthly marriages reflect that as much as we are able.  Yet for sinful husbands and wives, repentant divorcees, and grieving widows, our Bridegroom’s double blessing gives forgiveness, renewal, and everlasting hope.

The Baptism of Our Lord (Matthew 3:13-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
The Baptism of Our Lord + January 7, 2018
Text: Matthew 3:13-18

The Baptism of Jesus is one of the pivotal moments in His ministry.  You could say it was the very start of it.  But that it was started with baptism is significant.  Listen again to the exchange that John and Jesus have:
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” (Matthew 3:13–17)
Jesus underwent John’s baptism for sinners.  Yet, He did so for a very special purpose.  Jesus was baptized with sinners, for sinners.  Yes,. His Baptism was the beginning of His ministry, but what a unique ministry that was.
When we call the Son of God Jesus Christ, it’s important to know what Christ means.  As I told our junior confirmands recently, Christ is not just Jesus’ last name.  Christ is a title, meaning One who is Anointed.  It’s the same as the Hebrew “Messiah”[1]  Perhaps we should also pause to consider what anointing is too, because that’s not a common term.  Anointing was the rite of pouring oil over the head of a candidate for a holy office.  There were three offices that oil was used: prophets, priests, and kings.  Elisha was anointed prophet, Aaron and his sons were anointed for their service as priests, and kings were anointed to rule over God’s people.[2]
Yet when Jesus is baptized, He is anointed not just with oil, but with the Holy Spirit:
16And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” (Matthew 3:16–17)
In days of old, different men had served various offices, but now in Christ’s Baptism, He was anointed as the end-times fulfillment of all three:
Jesus is the prophet foretold by Moses, 15“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” (Deuteronomy 18:15)   Jesus is the eternal priest, not after the order of Aaron: 4The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”” (Psalm 110:4)   Jesus is the King and Son of David, 12When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12–13)
Jesus was the one uniquely qualified for that three-fold office of prophet, priest, and king.  Only Jesus spoke the Word of God exactly as He heard it from His Father.  Not only did He speak it, but He fulfilled what had been spoken so that after His resurrection, He truly could say that everything in the law, the prophets, and the Psalms was fulfilled by Him.[3] He alone is the one who offers a sacrifice without having to atone for His own sin first.  More than that, He offers up Himself as the spotless Lamb for the sins of—not just the worshippers present, but—for the whole world.  Jesus alone, unlike all those who came before Him was King without corruption, scandal, or selfish interest.  He rules His people as a perfect servant and a perfect Lord.  That’s why He is the one with whom the Father is well-pleased.
At the Jordan River, Jesus was baptized and anointed into these offices on your behalf and for your salvation.  Now you are baptized into Him—the Sinless One for the sinner, “the Righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God.”[4]  And we know from Romans 6 that everyone of us who is baptized into Him is baptized into His death for the forgiveness of sins, and raised for newness of life.
What you may not know is that you are also baptized and anointed for an office through the Christ your Lord.  4As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4–5)  Every one of us who is baptized into Christ has been made a priest to God.  Do you know what this means?  It means that everything which you carry out in faith is a sacrifice offered to God.  For the baptized, it’s no longer a matter of living for yourself—your personal preferences and looking out for number one; it’s about being called to serve the Lord as a priest and that all your life would be a sacrifice offered in praise to Him who did not spare Himself.
God anointed you for loving service to your neighbor. In the family: 25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:25, 22)   1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  4Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:1, 4)
On the job: 22Bondservants [employees], obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” (Colossians 3:22) 1Masters [bosses], treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 4:1)
In Church: 17Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)  2[Pastors,] shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2–3)
In society, 13Citizens, Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,” (1 Peter 2:13)
This is the description of the office each of us has been baptized into.  Whatever position God places us in, our lives are lived to His glory and honor.
Consider this calling with respect to the relationships God has given you, and in our congregation. If you still haven’t completed your Time and Talents survey, notice the language there “Would like to Serve” “Am Now Serving”, etc.  It’s more than just doing a job.  It’s about reflecting on the gifts God has given you and applying those gifts for service to your neighbor.  It isn’t about trying to serve the Lord so He notices you (He’s already found you when you were lost in your sin), but it’s about living in your baptismal anointing.
“We live on earth only so that we should be a help to other people. Otherwise, it would be best if God would strangle us and let us die as soon as we were baptized and had begun to believe. For this reason, however, He lets us live that we may bring other people also to faith as He has done for us … Everything then should be directed in such a way that you recognize what God has done for you and that you, thereafter, make it your highest priority to proclaim this publically and call everyone to the light to which you are called.” (The Church Comes from All Nations, (CPH, 2003), p. 20)
Christ our Lord was anointed at His Baptism to be Prophet, Priest, and King, and in His perfect work you and I by grace have a place in His Kingdom.  Pray that His Holy Spirit would guide and enable you to perform your own calling as a Kingdom of Priests to our God, “that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16).  Amen.
[1] Psalm 2:2, Isaiah 61:1
[2] 1 Kings 19:16, Exodus 28:41, 2 Samuel 2:4
[3] Luke 24:44
[4] 1 Peter 3:18