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The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

This is the sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost. The sermon text is: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13. The sermon theme is: Growth is Hard Work

"“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place." (Matt 21:33 NIV11-GK)
““Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place.” (Matt 21:33 NIV11-GK)

Growth is Hard Work

It is difficult growing things. If you have a garden, you know what I mean. It is work to go out and buy the plants that you need. It is work to prepare the soil by throwing down manure and fertilizer. It is work to till the soil. It is work to rip out the weeds around you plants. It’s work to keep the bugs away. And finally, when the fruit or vegetable is ready, it’s work to get out and harvest it all. Growing is hard work. But in the words we look at this morning it’s not plants that are growing. Instead, it’s people. And as Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth we see what sort of effort goes into growing as Christians. Paul tells the Corinthians: 1 As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor 6:1-2 NIV)

Growth is hard work. It’s hard to be a grown-up Christian. But where does it start? It starts with repentance. The Christians in Corinth had a very interesting view about repentance. They liked the fact that they were being forgiven-that Jesus was taking away their sins. What they didn’t like was repentance. Terror over their sin and trust in Jesus wasn’t the highest priority on their “to-do” list. And so, they thought that it was something they could get around to later. They could ask God to forgive their sins later. If they lied to others, they could go to that person and ask for forgiveness later. If they stole something, they could go back and pay the price for what they stole later. And notice what Paul tells them: Now! Now is the time to repent.

And this is a lesson for us to take to heart. Grown-up Christians repent. And we repent continually. That’s where growing starts. And so, we remember that last week we learned that repentance is a gift from God. He is the one who gives us terror over sin and trust in him. But repentance is a gift our \textsc{Lord} expects us to use. He gave it to us and he expects us to run with it. It’s kind of like the quarterback who gets the football and then hands it off to the running-back so that he can run with it. We are the ones who now run with repentance. And if we ask the question, “when should I repent,” the answer is “now.” And if we ask the question, “how many days do we have to repent,” the answer is “how many days per year does your heart desire what it shouldn’t and your mind think of what it should not?” Everyday-that is the answer.

Now we begin to see why growth is such hard work. Because we, just like the Corinthians, like to repent later. We like to see our sins later. We like to ask for forgiveness from God later. We like to repay what we have stolen later. We like to repair the damage done with our words later. Growth starts with repentance-continual repentance. And it’s hard work, isn’t it? To be abundantly clear, it’s impossible work. There is no way we could repent for all of our sin, even if we were aware of all of our sin. So here is where we rejoice in the fact that where growth as Christians is hard work, Jesus is the one who is doing most of the work. He is the one who completely-all on his own took away all of our sin. But now, as Christians who have faith in him, he is still there working with us and inside of us so that we are continually terrified of our sin and trusting in him. It’s true that we repent. But even now he is the one who does the toilsome work. Imagine a quarterback who not only hands off the football to you, but when the guy on the other team comes at you to tackle you, the quarterback blocks the tackle. And when you fumble the football not just once, but several times, the quarterback scoops up the ball and gives it back to you. And then, when you make it all the way to the end zone for the touchdown he congratulates you on what you did. That is what repentance looks like.

Growth as a Christian starts with repentance. And that is the hard work that Jesus does for us and alongside us. But this growth as a Christian leads to another place. Paul writes: 3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor 6:3-10 NIV)

My brothers and sisters in Christ, look at this list. Look at all the ways Paul served selflessly. He got beat up in riots. He went without food. His reputation was ruined. And there’s so much more that Paul speaks about here. Paul acted so selflessly for them-for these Corinthian Christians. And what was their response? Paul tells us, 11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. 12 We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. 13 As a fair exchange – I speak as to my children – open wide your hearts also.” (2 Cor 6:11-13 NIV)

Paul acted selflessly. The Corinthians responded selfishly. The Corinthians had money-lots of money. But they were so childish in their faith that they wouldn’t support Paul. So Paul goes out and gets a job to pay for himself so that he can show them what a grown-up Christian looks like. They are intelligent, smart people. But what they learn with their minds never transfers to their hands.

And here too we see our sins. The Corinthians aren’t the only ones who would like to be served as if they were kings. We too share in their sin. Just look at your life at home. How often do you do what you can to avoid work at home? How often do you take the path of least resistance and least effort at work? How often is the work of cleaning the church here and filling the service roles in the church something that other people are supposed to do?

And to make it worse, when we do serve we expect people to see it and almost bow down and worship us. We served them and we expect to acknowledged and appreciated. And woe to the person who doesn’t appreciate us enough! Growth as a Christian is hard. It starts with repentance. But it leads to service. And just as repentance is hard, so too is service. And because it’s so hard we either avoid it or we demand worship because we do it. And both of those attitudes are sin.

What can be done about our selfishness then? The answer is: nothing. There is nothing we can do to take away our sin. And there is nothing we can do on our own to change this attitude toward service inside of our own hearts. There is nothing we can do. But thankfully, Jesus is the one who serves us. And he does so selflessly. He does this in two ways. First, he continually takes away your sin. We aren’t going to church to do God a favor. The biggest reason we come to church is so that Jesus can come to us once again and take away our sin. For where God’s word is, there he serves us and takes away our sin. The second way he serves us is by giving. Paul here in these words begs the Corinthians to open wide their hearts. And that is exactly what Jesus gives to us through his word. Through his powerful word he gives us a new heart and attitude to see what Jesus has done for us and rejoice in it. He gives us a new heart to thank him by serving others.

And through God’s Spirit that is exactly what we do. We gladly and selflessly serve others. Whether it’s high and mighty tacks or lowly and menial, we serve others. Whether people see and appreciate or never even know, we serve others. And my dear fellow Christians, that is hard work. But just as this continual repentance we do is hard work that our Savior joins in with us, so also is service. He is the one who gives us joy. He is the one who gives us humility. He is the one who gives us selflessness. For growth is hard work that our Savior does with us and for us. It begins with repentance. It leads to service. Amen.

Image courtesy of Stock Xchnge.

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The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This is the sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost. The sermon text is: Matthew 21:28-32. The sermon theme is: Christians Care.

"“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’" (Matt 21:28 NIV11-GK)
““What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’” (Matt 21:28 NIV11-GK)

Christians Care

Change can be good. When you grow tired of all the weeks of summer heat, the change into fall can be good. If you eat one food day after day, it can be good to move onto a different food. Change can be good. But there are also times that change is necessary. It is necessary that children change. It is necessary that they grow up, move out on their own and start their own lives. This morning in this story that Jesus tells we see a change that happens. It is a good change. But it is also a necessary change. In Matthew 21 Jesus tells us: 28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.” (Matt 21:28-29 NIV)

Jesus tells us about a father who had two sons. He tells the first son to go out and to continue to work out in the vineyard.1 But the son, in the most belligerent and rebellious way, says, “I don’t want to.”2 The son doesn’t want to go out and work. And he boldly and bluntly tells his father, “No.” But then there’s a change that happens. It is a good change. And it’s a necessary change. The change that occurs is that he cares.3 First, of all, he cares about his dad. You see, in parables there is usually a twist. Usually there is something that is out of place-something that we would not expect to be there. But it is there. Here in these words what is unexpected is the Father. The father says, “go out into the vineyard today and work.” And when the son says “I don’t want to,” he gets away with it. The father lets him get away with it.

I was speaking to one of the members of our church earlier on in the week. And when he heard these words he said, “When I was young, if I said that to my dad, there would be consequences.” And it’s true, isn’t it? This first son did not care. And his Father let him get away with it. But that shocking and surprising behavior that the dad shows is the very thing that leads the son back. For he recognized that his Father wasn’t treating him like a slave. Instead he was treating him as a son. He wasn’t treating him like and enemy. Instead he was treating him like his beloved child.

And when he saw how much the father loved him there was a change inside of himself. And that change showed itself in action. What he earlier refused to do, he went out and did. And with that he showed that he cared about his father.

Jesus speaks these words not just to the Pharisees gathered around him. He also speaks these words to us. It isn’t just this son in this story that needed a real change, we too need a real change inside of us. We need to care too. For if the Father in the story did what was shocking in letting the son get away with his laziness, how much more shocking is how our Father treats us? He invites us every day to go out and do work in his vineyard. And there needs to be this change in us so that we see the value in the work our Father gives us and so that we see the great love our Father has in giving it to us. Because if we don’t, we can end up like this second son that Jesus tells us about: “”Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.” (Matt 21:30 NIV)

There needed to be a change in this second son. but there wasn’t. There needed to be a change so that he cared about his Father and his own soul. But as we see, there wasn’t. Look at how evil this second son was. He said such polite words. He called his Father, “sir.” He promised with all his heart. You can almost see that look of painted sincerity on his face. But it was a lie. Because he didn’t care. He didn’t care about his Father. And just as bad, he didn’t care about himself. What happens to children who don’t care about their fathers after they grow up? If they carry that same lying apathy with them when they grow up, they get punished. They lose one job after another until finally they die and are punished forever in hell.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is important for us to preach these words to ourselves. It is important for us to compare these two sons to see that we, just like these sons need change inside of ourselves. It was hard for me to read these words because I remember what I was like growing up. I remember how in the hot summer time it was my job to drag this huge hose down the hill and water all the trees on the border of our property. It was a job I hated because I thought it was stupid. And so, instead of watering each tree so that it had enough water I only watered it a little bit. And later on, when I was back home at an absurdly early time, dad asked, “did you water the trees?” And to his face I lied and told him that I did.

All of us in our lives have been this second son-all of us. We should care, but we don’t. We should care about the work our Heavenly Father sets before us, but we don’t. We should care about our Father, but we don’t. We should care about ourselves and where this apathy leads. But so often we don’t. And that leads us to the question: how can I care again? And my dear brothers and sisters in Christ is, “you can’t.” You can’t instantly and magically create this change inside of yourself so that you care. What needs to happen is that God needs to give you repentance.

Well, what is repentance? There are wrong answers to that question, aren’t there? In Luther’s day he was taught that God forgave some of his sins. But out of love for God he had to do the rest of the work. He was the one who had to go out and with his own work and effort earn the Father’s approval. And that lie almost destroyed him. For he knew the only thing he had to offer God was his own sin.

Today there’s another wrong answer to that question. There are churches out there who teach that repentance is some sort of romantic feeling that somehow you have to produce. There’s a church in our area. And on its church sign it said, “Be an organ donor; give your heart to Jesus.” That, my friends, is not how the bible speaks about repentance. Repentance is not me trying to win over Jesus like a boy asking a girl to the prom. “Falling in love with Jesus” is not something the bible ever said.

Well, if then these are the wrong views, then what is the right view? What then is repentance. Repentance boils down to two words: First, repentance is terror. There was terror in that first son’s heart as he saw how horribly he was treating his father who only cared and loved him. There should have been terror in the second son’s heart when he saw that his apathy was paving the path to hell for him. And this terror is what God brings to us. It’s not an emotion that we produce from ourselves. God comes to us in our word and he shakes us up and shows us how evil it is to say, “yes” and then show with our actions that we really mean, “no.”

So repentance is terror. But there is another part to repentance. And that’s trust. Through his word, Our Father gives us trust in him. We trust that Jesus came and lived a perfect life in our place. If his father wanted it, the Son delivered it. And he did so willingly and joyfully. Through God’s word we trust that Jesus obeyed his Father perfectly in our place. And we trust that Jesus earned heaven for us by enduring the hell we deserved in our place. And then the heaven that he won for us he delivered to us in those saving waters of baptism. It is trust in final words that Jesus speaks to us in this section: 31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” (Matt 21:31-32 NIV)

Notice what Jesus says to the Pharisees. He doesn’t say that the prostitutes and tax collectors are getting into heaven instead of them. He says that they are getting in ahead of them. There still is room for a sinner like me. There still is a place for a son like me who says “yes” but really means “no.” Through God’s word he gives us faith to trust what Jesus invites here.

We need a change, don’t we? We need a change so that we care once again about our Father in heaven and about ourselves. And through God’s word that is exactly what Our Father has given us. He has given us repentance. And now we care-both about our Father and about ourselves. Amen.

1 ἐργάζου

2 οὐ θέλω

3 μεταμεληθεὶς

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