“Tenants, Yellow Cards, and a Cornerstone” 10.05.13 Sermon

Matthew 21:33-46 • October 5, 2014

Click here to view a video of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

About a month ago, the ushers handed out a yellow postcard that looked like this. It says, “This week, I am being called to serve the Lord by…” It was an effort to help you and I connect the reality of our everyday lives to the charge that we receive at the end of every worship service to “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” The question that I lifted up in that sermon was why don’t we check in with one another more often to see how we are doing with this charge from God to go in peace. To serve the Lord.

I was pleased with the response to the yellow cards that weekend, about 15% of the cards that were distributed were in fact used. In the world of church work, we’ll take 15% participation and effort any day. The cards that were returned were prayerful offerings about challenges and struggles and celebrations and longing for hope that you and I experience each day in our walk of faith. It has been humbling and a great honor to hold these hopes and dreams, fears and failures in prayer over the past month.

There are many times in scripture when it is possible for us to put ourselves inside a text. To look at it and hear the text allegorically. In today’s gospel reading for example…the landowner with God, the vineyard with God’s reign and Israel, the landowner’s slaves with prophets, and the son with Jesus. But, who are the tenants? In this parable, the tenants are the religious elite, the leaders of the Temple, the people who are starting to get a little irritated with this guy named Jesus.
So, are you ever the landowner – maybe the boss at work or a parent or friend who has authority over others?

Or, are you ever one of the slaves – you’ve been killed by someone else at one time or another? Remember the fifth commandment – You shall not murder. Our Lutheran Small Catechism explains this commandment by saying “We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.” Brothers and sisters, you and I kill our neighbors on a daily basis in ways that have nothing to do with ending their physical existence in this world.

And then we come to the tenants – the farmhands of the landowner. I don’t like these characters! But as I’ve prayed through this gospel reading, maybe the reason I don’t like the tenants is because they speak most directly to who I actually am or how I often catch myself behaving.

Bishop Andy Doyle believes that placing ourselves as characters in scripture is challenging. He makes this claim because so many times we like to put ourselves in the place of Jesus or the prophets. When we do that we end up creating the gospel and forming God’s mission for the world into our own image instead of God’s image. And by doing that, Pastor Doyle argues, we close the doors to Jesus and the prophets and essentially close the doors to what God is calling us to be as God’s children. Just what is God calling us to be?

CS Lewis once wrote that “you never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life or death to you.” So, brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow tenants of God’s vineyard at this time and in this place – I ask you, do you believe that the mission God is calling you to live out is a matter of life or death?

Another leader in the church today might be of help here. She says that “our call is to be fruitful while we are here, not struggle for ownership or control. We don’t run the show; we aren’t in charge. All authority belongs to God, indeed every atom and molecule of creation.”

Your call and mine is to be fruitful while we are here. I ask you, is being fruitful a matter of life or death for you?

Let me share a couple of ways that this can happen as we live out our faith together in this little part of God’s good creation called North Dakota, in a community of faith that we know and love simply as Good Shepherd.

It might mean that you and I can be fruitful by raising money for Camp of the Cross so that our Bible camp can build a Long overdue fellowship center that will bless fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for generations to come.

It might mean that you and I can be fruitful as we gather at the Shepherd’s Table events this fall. Through Bible study and prayer we will wrestle with big questions about God’s Call and mission for our congregation. The first event is next weekend where we will ask the question – “Why for God’s sake does Good Shepherd exist?”

It might mean that you and I can be fruitful by supporting one another as we journey through each week trying to go in peace, to serve the Lord, knowing full well that we will fail from time to time. And when we fail, we will be fruitful in picking each other up and encouraging each other to give it another try.

Or it might mean that you and I will be fruitful and succeed in going in peace and serving the Lord from time to time. And when we do in fact succeed, we need to celebrate together the goodness of God working though our hands!

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, I look forward to seeing more yellow cards from you. I’ll keep holding them in prayer. Because together, you and I have been given the opportunity to discover the goodness of the work that God is calling us to live out. And let’s not forget, let’s never forget, who the true cornerstone of our life together in faith is, the savior of the world – Jesus the Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.


“Trust in _____?” August 10, 2014 Sermon

Matthew 14:22-33 • August 10, 2014

Click here to view a video of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

I found a new website this past week. Dullmensclub.com. Their slogan is “Where dull men – and the women who love dull men – come to celebrate the ordinary.” It’s a place on the internet for guys who feel “born to be mild” and enjoy the adventure of exciting activities like watching grass grow and paint dry.

This past week at Good Shepherd was Vacation Bible School. For the more than 100 children and their adult leaders, it was far from dull or ordinary and a whole lot more exciting than watching paint dry!

Which image is a better one for you to describe your life in Christ as a follower of Jesus? Do you relate to a dull, boring, irrelevant life of faith and a church that celebrates the ordinary and is born to be mild. Or do you relate to an exciting, loud, active life of faith and a church that can’t stop telling and showing others how much God loves them?

I was recently at Luther Seminary in St. Paul for a few days of continuing education lectures around the subject of stewardship. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind as you sit in a church pew and a pastor stands before you and proclaims the word stewardship?

That’s too bad, really. It makes me sad. Ok, I’ll be honest, it makes me a bit angry, that those of us who claim to be followers of the risen savior Jesus, people who are called to be stewards of God’s good creation, have come to believe that stewardship is only about the church wanting to take something from us like money. Has our trust in God and our belief that God is working through us as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ diminished to the point where stewardship in the life of those who claim to follow Jesus is only about money.

Stewardship, and being a steward…a child of God, is about trusting in God and believing that EVERYTHING you and I have is God’s first, everything. All is a gift from God and we are called to be stewards of these gifts.

Jesus’ word to Peter in our gospel reading today, and his word to you and me as well, is “come.” It’s not, “after you accept me into your heart Peter, then you can come.” And it sure isn’t, “I’m not sure if you should come to me yet, Peter, I’ve see your financial giving over the last quarter and it simply doesn’t measure up to my standards.” So, what I’ve been wrestling with in this text from Matthew’s gospel is, do you and I really trust God when Jesus reaches out his hand and says, “come.”?

Hopefully you noticed a little bit of an unusual ritual that our ushers were engaged in today as you entered worship. If you are visiting today, no…the ushers do not give out money every time we worship at Good Shepherd. I wanted to hand out money this weekend because I assumed that our initial response when I asked the question about what the word stewardship means was going to be the church asking for money.

In the United States, our money says, “In God We Trust.” Take a look at that dollar bill and see for yourself. I’d beg to argue about whether we actually live out that the simple yet profound statement of in God we trust on our money and ask the question, do we? Do we really trust God with money? Remember, as children of God, all of our money is God’s first. So, do the things that we spend money on and the ways that we use things like money demonstrate our trust in God? Or does it show our trust in things that have little to do with being a child of God or sharing God’s love for all of God’s children?

 

Hot sun. Salty air. Rhythmic waves. A little boy is on the beach. On his knees he scoops and packs the sand with plastic shovels into a bright red bucket. Then he upends the bucket on the surface and lifts it. And, to the delight of the architect, a cast tower is created.

All afternoon he will work. Spooning out the moat. Packing the walls. Bottle tops will be sentries. Popsicle sticks will be bridges. A sandcastle will be built.

Big city. Busy streets. Rumbling traffic. A man in his office. At his desk he shuffles papers into stacks and delegates assignments. He cradles the phone on his shoulder and punches the keyboard with his fingers. Numbers are juggled and contracts are signed and much to the delight of the man, a profit is made.

All his life he will work. Formulating the plans. Forecasting the future. Annuities will be sentries. Capital gains will be bridges. An empire will be built.

Two builders of two castles. They have much in common. They shape granules into grandeurs. They see nothing and make something. They are diligent and determined. And for both the tide will rise and end will come. Yet that is where the similarities cease. For the boy sees the end while the man ignores it. Watch the boy as the dusk approaches.

As the waves near, the wise child jumps to his feet and begins to clap. There is no sorrow. No fear. No regret. He knew this would happen. He is not surprised. And when the great breaker crashes into his castle and his masterpiece is sucked into the sea, he smiles. He smiles, picks up his tools, takes his father’s hand, and goes home.

The grownup, however, is not so wise. As the wave of years collapses on his castle he is terrified. He hovers over the sandy monument to protect it. He blocks the waves from the walls he has made. Salt-water soaked and shivering he snarls at the incoming tide.

“It’s my castle,” he defies.

The ocean need not respond. Both know to whom the sand belongs…

[Story by Max Lucado from Alice Gray’s book More Stories from the Heart, p. 224-225]

The great Henri Nouwen spoke frequently about the challenges and rewards of placing our trust in God. “The great spiritual task facing me,” Nouwen once said, “is to so trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world – free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless; free also to receive love from people and to be grateful for all the signs of God’s presence in the world.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, everything that you and I have or ever will have is God’s. God’s gift to us. And everything that you and I are or ever will be is God’s. God’s gift to us. Even that dollar bill you received as you entered worship today, is God’s. I hope and pray that you are blessed as you continue to step out of the ordinary and mild in your life in Christ and trust God during all of the adventures that will take place as we journey together in faith. And remember always that even in the times when we fail, and there will be times when you and I fail, Jesus will be there reaching out his hand, and inviting us to “come.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.


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