Sermons

All Saints, November 1, 2020
Matthew 5:1-12

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today, once again, we celebrate all the saints, the countless throngs, the nameless, who themselves are not honored on particular saints’ days at other points in the year. All Saints Day has come to be blended in practice with All Souls Day, November 2, on which day we remember all those others among our family members and friends, especially those who have died in the past year, along with those whom we wish intentionally to call to mind.

Thus, we will incorporate into our prayers of intercession for home worship today a listing of those whom members of Resurrection have requested that we remember.

All Saints is an occasion to look back, to remember those who have gone before us. Our memories may make for wistful nostalgia for perceived better days of yore, particularly when we were united in our lives and routines with our loved ones.

All Saints Day also has a future orientation, when we look for that day when we’ll be reunited with those who have already died in the faith.

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, October 25, 2020
Matthew 22:34-46

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

34When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”   41Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42“What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 Jesus said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,

44‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet” ’?

45If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46No one was able to give Jesus an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Once more, the religious leaders, this time a lawyer, question Jesus to test him. If you’ve been following these sermons each week recently, you know that this kind of interrogation of Jesus has been going on in the gospel readings Sunday after Sunday.

But I love how the passage ends: “No one was able to give [Jesus] an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask [Jesus] any more questions.” (Matthew 22:46) Maybe we’re done with all of these difficult passages from Matthew which feature religious authorities trying to trap Jesus….

Today happens to be Reformation Sunday, the day when we may be given to a bit of Lutheran triumphalism, an occasion for pride in our Lutheranism. But let’s resist such temptation and be about preaching the gospel of Christ, still with admittedly Lutheran accents.

Today’s readings for the twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost focus a great deal on the commandments, the Law of God.

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, October 18, 2020
Matthew 22:15-22

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to Jesus, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then Jesus said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Or in an older translation, perhaps more familiar in the popular mind, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

According to the commentators I read in preparation for this sermon, this well-known phrase attributed to Jesus is not Jesus’ definitive teaching on the separation of church and state.

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 11, 2020
Matthew 22:1-14

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

1Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The dominion of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14“For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Here we go again, another difficult passage from Matthew’s Gospel. If only the reading for today would have ended with the comparatively good news of the wedding banquet hall being filled with people from the streets, both the good and bad, with everyone having a great time. But no….

We have the last few verses about the guy who shows up at the banquet hall without the proper attire of the wedding robe. Not only is he asked to leave, the king, the banquet host, ordered his attendants to do this to the one who didn’t have the proper uniform: “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

As if that’s not enough, then today’s passage concludes with this zinger: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew’s audience would likely have heard this parable and allegorical commentary as yet another indictment of the religious leaders of their day, leaders who did not acknowledge or receive Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

But we are not Matthew’s audience. We are members of the church of the 21st Century, trying to be faithful some 1900 years after the time of Matthew. We are 21st Century Christians engaging in ministry and mission built on the foundation of two millennia of biblical interpretation and theological and liturgical tradition.

Given our realities and circumstances, what might we hear, see, and understand in this passage from Matthew? I’ll tell you what I receive in my engagement with this text.

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost, October 4, 2020
2020-10-03 12:00:00

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

[Jesus said:] 33“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40“Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to Jesus, “The owner will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,

and it is amazing in our eyes’?

43Therefore I tell you, the dominion of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of it. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because the people regarded him as a prophet.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

It’s been two decades since I’ve preached each and every Sunday, especially to the same audience week after week. For several Sundays in a row, we’ve heard particularly challenging readings from the Gospel of Matthew. Week after week, it’s been a steady diet of difficult texts. Now, as a preacher, I love the challenge of preaching the gospel in response to passages that seem lacking in good news. But Matthew has been relentless. Today’s reading is yet another challenging passage.

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 21:23-32

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

23When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

      28“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the dominion of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Scholars believe that the Gospel of Matthew was written somewhere around the year 80 in the Common Era, a generation and more after the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It was ten years after the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 70. So, the time when Matthew was written was a time of tremendous social and religious upheaval.

Because of the destruction of the Temple, Judaism was beginning its emergence from a faith tradition focused on the Jerusalem Temple to an orientation centered on local synagogues. What would become known as Christianity was beginning to emerge as a faith tradition in its own right. The people in what we call the Holy Land still suffered under Roman imperial rule. In short, the latter part of the first century was a revolutionary kind of time. It’s this context of social and religious upheaval that helps us understand what’s going on in the gospel reading for today. The Gospel writer, Matthew, records a confrontation between chief priests, elders and Jesus, who was teaching in the temple. Shortly before this passage in Matthew, Jesus had just overturned the money changers’ tables, driving them out of the Temple.

Naturally, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day questioned his authority to do what he was doing in the Temple.

It’s easy for us to be critical of the chief priests and the religious elders. But let’s put ourselves in their shoes. They were only trying to protect their inherited religious traditions and traditional lines of religious authority.

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 20:1-16

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

[Jesus said:] 1“The dominion of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5“When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

If indeed the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, which we just heard, is about God and God’s dominion of heaven, God is not fair. God is not fair by the measure of typical standards of human fairness and justice.

Children are generally well attuned to and quite vocal about a sense of fairness, about everyone getting their fair share. If one gets a smaller portion of the birthday cake, they will quickly call out the unfairness of it all. A child’s sense of fairness lives somewhere in all of us who are adults. It doesn’t quite go away. Nor should it for the sake of how we organize ourselves in human society. But as we well know, the scriptural witness reveals that God often operates according to a logic different from our own. We see this going on in today’s first reading from Jonah, where Jonah is angry enough to want to die because God ended up withholding divine punishment from the people of Nineveh and graciously spared them. Jonah wanted to see the punishment. God’s logic of grace and mercy ran afoul of Jonah’s more judgmental, they-should-get-what-they-deserve sensibilities.

We also see the conflict between divine and human logic in the gospel parable for today. From the human take on fairness, it’s astonishing that the laborers who arrived at 5:00 in the afternoon, very close to quitting time, would receive the same wage as the laborers who arrived first thing in the morning, and who worked hard all day in the scorching heat. It’s just not fair.

When the grumbling turned into a confrontation with the landowner, the landowner had this to say: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” Another translation reads, “Or do you begrudge me my generosity?”

Again, God’s justice does not operate by the same logic as typical systems of human justice. For God’s justice is rooted in justification. Not self-justification as we might frame it and often practice it, but justification by God’s grace effective through faith, a divine economy in which there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. God’s grace is given to us all as a gift apart from what we do, how hard we work, or what time of day when we show up to do that work.

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 18:21-35
September 13, 2020

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

21Peter came and said to [Jesus], “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

 

      23“For this reason the dominion of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today’s gospel is a continuation of explorations of forgiveness and reconciliation that form the focus of Matthew, Chapter 18. Remember what we heard last week: Jesus in Matthew laid out a three-step process for reconciliation. He spoke of the power of prayerful agreement, gave divine authority to all of the disciples to forgive sins, and promised that he would be among two or three who gather in his name. The message was all about the reconciling power of Jesus’ followers being together.

Because forgiveness and reconciliation are such challenging realities in the human family since we are still in bondage to our fallen state, because we still struggle between being saint and sinner, there is much more to learn and to understand about forgiveness.

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 18:15-20
September 6, 2020

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

[Jesus said to the disciples:] 15“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

The first portion of today’s Gospel reading made it into the constitution for congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The three-step process outlined here in Matthew for holding members of the church accountable for their sins is the foundation for the process outlined in Chapter 15 of ELCA congregation constitutions on the “Discipline of Members and Adjudication.” Chapter 15 of our constitution ends up listing many more steps than three.

I find it unfortunate that the focus in the constitution is primarily on discipline and not reconciliation. Moreover, some read the three steps in Matthew’s Gospel as a prescription for excommunication, a process that leads to severing unrepentant members of the church from participation in the life of the church.

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 16:21-28 August 30, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

21From that time on, [after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah,] Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

      24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

      27“For the Son-of-Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son-of-Man coming in his dominion.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

“Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering…, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” This is one of the moments in Matthew’s Gospel when the narrative turns our attention to Jesus’ death and resurrection, occasions known as Passion Predictions.

Peter’s response to Jesus’ revelation of coming suffering was this: “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” This was a perfectly natural response. Peter had high regard for the one whom he confessed as Messiah and Son of the living God. He was personally invested in Jesus and in his perception of Jesus’ mission. Who would want Jesus or anyone whom we love and respect to endure suffering and death?

Here again is Jesus’ reply to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Jesus turned and spoke these words directly to Peter, even if Jesus is otherwise addressing Satan, who may have been speaking through the vessel that was Peter. You, Satan, Peter, are a stumbling block – or scandal, suggested by the word in biblical Greek.

The issue is that Peter is not yet understanding the divine nature and logic of Jesus’ mission, a logic that defies typical human understanding: “for you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”

What a juxtaposition from “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!” last week to “Get behind me, Satan” this week. But such is the nature of the frail human beings with whom God entrusts participation in the sacred mission. The Bible is filled from cover to cover with such figures, such leaders, such chosen broken vessels.

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